Monday 2nd July. Summer! English summer.... yep! Rain... rain... rain. But no worries! Boss (Heather) had a BBQ planned and, of course, that included cover. Monday was 'team day' but after work we all trooped out of the office to her pad, just a few miles away in nearby Harlow. I took Nickie (as we'd driven in together) and as we drove down the rain-sodden A414 a miracle happened... the sun came out! That was one of its many, but short appearances that night. "She's been on the phone to God," I said.
I stopped for petrol so we eventually arrived about 5.45 and most of the 'crew' were there - about 25 staff and associates. The BBQ was fired up by two smart young men in trendy black and multi-colour chefs 'whites' (er... don't think I can call them whites can I?) and the smell of barbecueing sea bass, mackeral, chicken, sausage, steak and lamb permeated the damp air.
There was a selection of salads, jacket potatoes and new potatoes and jugs and jugs of Pimms (tastes like cough medicine to me, I went for the 'exotic fruit juice). The crowd was relaxed in gentle chatter - gathered round tables, sat in wicker chairs, protected from the vagaries of the indecisive weather by the gazebo (which is not, I am now pleased to reveal, a cross between a gazelle, zebra and a bonobo, but some kind of tent covering. I must admit -I was worried about this before arriving, it would have had to have been a huge animal for us to shelter beneath its warm furry belly). Shani didn't arrive until nearly 7 - it took her hours to come up from one of our clients in South London and the traffic definitely didn't want to play.
The chat was informal, comfortable, good to catch up with colleagues and people we'd not seen in a while and also to natter with colleagues you'd maybe spent the day with, but not had a chance to gossip with. So - what's the gossip? Daine asked. "Well," I said. "You know about the office affair, not much has happened since then." His eyebrows shot up in surprise.
"Oh, you didn't know! I thought everyone did!" I looked embarassed, and Suzanne and Jackie looked at me as if to say 'now you've blown it!'. Well, there is no office affair, but unless Daine reads this, I bet he's still wondering. With everyone playing along, he spent the next hour tyring to guess who with who... I do like a little wind up, I do I do.
The weather was on and off bright then mildly rainy, chilly then warm, but none of this fazed Rocky. Rocky is a large grey Weimariner (gawd how'd you spell that?!) and had been kept upstairs for most of the proceedings. Still, there were leftovers to be had, and all those people to meet and lick and sniff and run round and grin at doggily and ... and... (I'm sure his long tongue took a swipe at that cheesecake.)
Suzanne had been away on holiday the previous week and at one point I was told 'Ask Suzanne about the bat.' The bat? Tell us the story, Suzanne! Do tell... She had been to Longleat (ah! my family home!... but that's another story) and on entering the bat enclosure was more than surprised to find them flying free around her. "Don't scream." said the keeper. Suzanne put her hands over her mouth and started to run through to get out the other side. "They won't come near you, they are fruit bats!" the keeper said. "Yes," replied a muffled Suzanne, "and I've got strawberry lip gloss on."
The food was delicious and the weather didn't really fail until nearly 9pm. Then - those of us left (the stalworts! the stayers!) crept into the warmth of the house. It was now reasonably late and Shani and I kind of figured we'd 'got away' with not pulling the guitars out their cases (though I had volunteered! The previous week I'd said to Heather 'Want us to bring our instruments?' and she'd said yes. But... not Jeremy's trombone please!)
We played in the front room with the die-hards (the BBQ had started at 5pm) and played a specially rehearsed number for our colleagues (it seems to get played on their radio with unfailing regularity). The song was "Nine to Five" - Dolly Parton. Our version was a little, er, haphazard? But the crew sang along loudly and lustily. However, it got off to a rather dodgy start. Rocky - probably never heard live bass and guitar before in his little doggy life, bless him - decided that he could sing! We started three times, and each time Rocky joined in, drowining us out. He howled, barked and generally found his voice (and in time too, which was amazing). Poor fellow was ejected to the upstairs again for a while.
What followed was basically 'human juke box'. We had a 'standards' song book and various material was chosen from it and Shani and I played (at varying levels of ability according to our knowledge of the song) whatever was asked of us. This included American Pie with full actions supplied by Daine (never mind sales, the man is a comic genius), and a 'heavy metal headbanging' from Keeley to ... something or other. I was laughing so much I'm not sure I can remember what we sang or played but I know it included Elvis, Tracy Chapman, Indigo Girls... darn, what happened to good old fashioned folk music?
Whilst they passed the book round and chose a new song for us, Shani and I managed to play a couple of our own songs. Two of hers, two of mine. I played 'dance to love' whilst Rocky (who was now accustomed to our howling and allowed back in to the room) sat and chewed a dried pigs ear, drooling and crunching. Never played to an audience quite like it.... but, though talk was going on, one colleague was obviously listening, and I heard her clear tones joining in on the chorus of my song. I was complimented, pleased. I don't expect people in pubs or at parties to listen to 'original' music - they want 'singalong' stuff. That's fine, it's expected, so to have someone listen and appreciate our music (Shani's songs also got fine rounds of applause) was great.
At the end of the evening (just past ten I'd say) there were only a few of us left, so - tired and still laughing - time to hit the road. We were amongst the last to go (though I gather Neil and Lauren stayed till midnight) and as I left, bass guitar on my back, I very nearly destroyed the hall light with it.
An enjoyable evening. Perhaps if we hadn't started to play they'd have had an evening of stimulating intellectual conversation.... but seeing Daine 'dance', Keeley 'head bang' and hearing everyone join in with the roughest version of Nine to Five ever - well, it was worth it to me. Sod conversation, that's what the internet is for. Er, isn't it?