“All in all I think that was pretty successful.” George announces as he stands tentatively holding the simmering aluminium barbecue. In the spot where it has been sitting, the already thinning grass has been singed away to leave a flat brown square in the ground. I kneel down, collecting our picnic debris into the Sainsbury’s bag. The sun is just setting on the horizon by the tube station. The man who earlier sat playing a stereotypical ukulele at his stereotypical friends has gone, the speakers pumping out music from the skate park across the common have stopped. The locals have left their dogs and their Frisbees to get in the queue for Saturday night Inferno’s. Everything is quiet, and the wind has a new chill. Time for home.
It had been a day – as many of ours seem to be – of dissatisfying rehearsals. The morning had started well, but the day had not continued in such a manner. The infamous opera scenes concert was drawing near, and George had spent much of his afternoon frantically memorising a piece of Bizet that no one else could bring themselves to learn. The weather was hot and heavy, the sense of summer just about upon us in a sleepy kind of way. When at last we all piled out of the rehearsal, tired and warm, Caitlin announced that she had a bottle of wine hidden upstairs. There was only one thing to do. George went in search of plastic glasses and the rest of us made our way to the terrace to soak up the fumes of the Waterloo Bridge traffic.
“It’s a good job I have a corkscrew on me at all times.”
It was when everybody had left that I decided we would have a barbecue. A barbecue on Clapham Common. It was an excellent plan. Luckily Sainsbury’s had an offer on burger flipping equipment and ketchup, so we didn’t need to travel the extra yards to pick any up from George’s kitchen. We bought sausages, burgers, drumsticks, cheese strings, kebabs, bread, butter and the all-important wine. This, obviously, was purchased in Oddbins, and required a corkscrew. I’ve started to believe that George deliberately buys bottles with corks rather than screw tops so that he can use the attachment on his key ring. Many people have portable bottle openers. Not George. As far as he is concerned, it’s far more likely that he might want to crack open a bottle of wine while out and about, instead of a cool Corona. In this situation it was useful. We enjoyed the wine – a light, sharp Riesling – and snacked on bread and butter as our kebabs sizzled away on the aluminium grate.
“Is it okay to get changed in the middle of a public park?”
The cold surprised us both. George polished off his second hot dog and lay back on the grass, completely full, remarking that it would have been more enjoyable to make his own burger cheese again, rather than buy plastic squares of it. I didn’t have the heart to suggest that neither option was strictly necessary. As his back touched the ground, he realised how cold it was, and suddenly remembered the pair of trousers he happened to have in his bag. He did consider momentarily that it was unacceptable to change where he was. But only momentarily (it was really cold); and so it was that the whole of Clapham Common, bathed in honey-coloured evening sunlight, met George’s ginger legs. Meanwhile I stayed resolutely chilly out of embarrassment. I was not about to put his shorts on over my jeans as an extra layer, or as an interesting hat to stay warm.
“I suppose we could pour wine on it? It wasn’t a wonderful vintage after all…”
The smoke was pluming across Clapham Common in the evening breeze which had picked up, and now spun our empty packets of burgers and plastic cheese sachets up into the air. We chased after them and tried simultaneously to find a way of putting out the fire. We drizzled some of the remaining wine over the liveliest of the charcoals and hoped for the best. While George was warmed by the remnants of the fire and his trousers, my cool new shirt offered no protection from the chill. I picked up the last of the rubbish, briefly considering how much ketchup we’d managed to spill, and then we turned and walked towards the sunset and the bin.