In a heatwave week, I've been out drinking every day.
It's time for one of my infrequent meetings with BestMateFromWork. He started in the job earlier than I did, and is somehow still there, to his mixed delight and sorrow. We plump for a geranium-fronted pub in Marylebone, thankfully just as they turn off the big-screen World Cup match and switch the audio to Africa by Toto. The pub does not sell Becks. We find a seat in the empty alcove beside the bar, only to be joined shortly afterwards by a gentleman whose usual hideaway this is. There is much to discuss, including the moving of house, the construction of shed, and the impending of marriage. Discussing the minutiae of work is generally off the menu, plus he's now working from home so there isn't as much gossip as there would have been previously. BMFW drinks fast, always has, but I'm pleased to be keeping up by matching pints with bottles. As 7pm ticks round the football is turned back on, and our neighbouring cider drinker switches into excitable mode, offering unwanted tactical advice and cursing the referee's less convincing decisions. He has no off switch. Through the window I spot a well-known BBC weatherman, post-shift, in shorts and purple trainers, supping sequential beers at the adjacent outside table. My surprise is compounded when I spot that his drinking partner is a former BBC weatherman, whose name I can't initially remember. I bet they're discussing all things meteorological, and more, but a pane of glass safeguards their conversation from us, and ours from them. Two packets of freakishly flavoured crisps sustain us. My hiccups begin during the fifth bottle, so that's where we wrap things up, walking out of the pub just before the twin screen footballing drama climaxes. Cheers, thanks, until next time. I spend the entire journey home trying, and mostly failing, to keep my diaphragm from involuntarily contracting.
It's time for this week's trip round to BestMate's for dinner. It's good to catch up, plus he finds it a good excuse to stop talking to America on the computer for work. At this time of year I enjoy my walk down the Greenway to get there, and tonight's blue skies are cracking, but it is the first time I've been stopped by two badged Mormons along the way. They get short shrift. I arrive within one minute of the allotted time, politely late rather than early, and hike up to the flat. Dinner is in the pan, and partly chopped in bowls to one side. Life is good, indeed BestMate had a bit of an unexpected triumph at the embassy last week, so tonight's beverage option has been upped. Normally a bottle of wine comes out of the fridge, or cupboard, depending, but this time a bottle of the fizzy stuff emerges. We still drink the stuff out of crappy tumblers, of course, all the decent glasses having been unaccountably smashed. There is much to discuss, including the de-greying of beards, the taking of holiday and the Ubering of cheese. Easily his best anecdote is how he ended up going bowling on Sunday night with a random former member of the cast of EastEnders. Eventually the spaghetti gets added, and a fine meal is delivered by tray to the sofa. We end up watching some tacky repackaged drama on a high-numbered satellite channel, then something newer but no more highbrow on a former terrestrial. I don't usually get the chance, so every commercial break is spent slagging off the adverts to an audience. A dish of profiteroles emerges for afters, confirming the specialness of the day. And when the full moon has risen high above the rooftops, and the Uber with the box of cheese finally arrives, I take my leave. My journey home requires public transport, rather than the Greenway at dusk, and is thankfully entirely hiccup-free.
I had been planning to go out for a meal with my Dad. Instead it turns out that, if you live in a Norfolk village and are over a certain age, a communal lunch of decent size is served up every Wednesday, after which there is no need to partake of a serious meal for several hours. We head instead to the supermarket to buy food appropriate for later, and just for a change I nudge a bottle of Becks into the trolley. The East Anglian countryside looks dazzling under a bright blue sky, the dry fields more golden than green, and with a welcoming breeze to take the edge off. Once back at home I locate my favourite mug on the shelf and fill it with tea. The cleaning lady has left me a note asking if I wouldn't mind climbing up onto the worktop to clean the upper half of the kitchen windows. The tomatoes need watering. There is much to discuss, including the mending of printers, the whiteness of shirts and the precise whereabouts of a physiotherapist. The afternoon passes. The hosepipe needs moving. Broad beans are shucked. Only when the requirements of a radio producer's email have been dealt with can a start be made on dinner, which involves fish and crinkle-cut oven chips, plus veg. My bottle of Becks can only be opened with the aid of the family's ancient bottle opener, which was also once used to pierce tins of evaporated milk, and which I eventually manage to locate in the rear section of the cutlery drawer. From the local news we learn that the Royal Norfolk Show has been a big success, and that Danny Boyle is filming crowd scenes in Gorleston. Sufficient crockery has been dirtied for the dishwasher to be fired up, for a change, and a Magnum awaits in the freezer for later.
My uncle's funeral has been an unexpectedly moving affair, the chief surprise being his coffin's arrival to the strains of Bat Out of Hell by Meatloaf. For the wake we reconvene to the village pub, just up the road from the nuclear power station. The downstairs function room is ours for the afternoon, and somewhat rammed, making it hard for the bar staff to emerge with plates of sandwiches, crisps and sausage rolls. An evocative selection of photos is on display, including one showing my uncle grinning outside a 60s holiday chalet, and a family group dressed in fashions that can only be from 1988 (plus or minus twelve months). A vase of flowers topples and has to be mopped up. Drinks are served, mostly in pints or teacups. The throng splits into family and former work colleagues, the latter being the larger group, which seems highly appropriate in the circumstances. I get the opportunity to talk to family members I haven't seen since the last funeral, or in four cases have never met at all, despite being relatively close. There is much to discuss, including Tottenham's new stadium, what the green bits in the sausage rolls were, and that lovely singing by the granddaughter. The two youngest attendees dash off to hang from the climbing equipment rather than have to keep talking to the adults. A veil of cloud rolls over. My aunt is taking everything in her stride, having put down the box of tissues she was clutching earlier, and everyone agrees we really ought to meet up sooner rather than waiting for some other unspoken event to occur.
If my two other aunts are reading, see you down the pub for lunch.