A Canadian At Your Barbeque

Words: Rob Cutforth
Illustrations: Rob White
Thursday 23 June 2011
reading time: min, words

"Leonard Cohen wouldn’t tolerate frigging squeaky cheese on his grill, I can tell you that"


Ah, it’s that time of year again, British Summertime. Or as people in other countries call it, ‘Spring’.

British summertime is the three weeks or so in this country when short pants, patios and white beer suddenly make sense. You never see a convertible all year, and then April comes around and they’re everywhere - usually driven by some penis in a pair of aviators with his collar up. Yeah mate, you’re super-cool with your top down (to show everyone you like to party) and windows up (because it’s still nippy, and you need to protect your pretty bouffant - you don’t want to look like you’re having too much fun).
Summer - like everything else in this country - is all about being careful. You drive your convertible with its windows up to the beach, then you erect a weird little canvas fort to keep the sand away. Then you put out some sandwiches on a picnic table (no open flames to cook on, of course), and play a game of ‘spin the family around the table so the sun isn’t on anyone’s neck for too long’. Preparation for the outdoors in the British summertime is an afternoon’s activity in itself; it usually entails a two-hour conversation on what to bring. “Shorts? Check. Jeans? Check. Hat? Check. Fleece? Check. Should we take a bottle of wine? Have you seen my Mac? Should I make an egg salad? Sun cream? Have we got enough sun cream? It’s only factor 15? Are you crazy? We’ll be killed! Oh, what’s the point?”

And then there is the British barbecue. I’m actually surprised that barbecues are even allowed over here, to be honest. Fire and coal? Outside? You could burn someone’s face off! It’s only a matter of time before the health and safety people force a luminescent vest on the barbecuer and have the grill itself surrounded by traffic cones and police tape.
Because it only happens once or twice a year, you Brits don’t know what to do; you get all giddy and throw just about anything on there. Sausages. Chicken. Courgettes? Cheese? Sliced courgette on a barbecue is bad enough, but cheese has as much place on a barbecue as chocolate does on a harmonica. It’s not even nice cheese you put on there either, like maybe a slice of Stilton on top of a burger; no, it’s that horrible halloumi stuff, and you put it right on the grill. That horrible squeaking it does on your teeth – yargh! I’m rubbing my own teeth right now just thinking about it. It’s like eating salty styrofoam.

I know the cheese is on there to appease the veggies in the crowd, but seriously: what is a veggie doing at a barbecue in the first place? Can’t they have their own, I dunno… casserole party or something? My wife is one of these veggies. She’s not a real veggie, thank God; she at least eats fish. Fake veggies like her annoy the proper ones even more than us animal murderers do. At a barbecue once, a Real Veggie gave my wife grief for eating fish and calling herself a vegetarian, “People who eat fish and call themselves vegetarians make it hard for us proper vegetarians when we eat out!” I was going to remind her that she was at a freakin’ BARBECUE and not an Animal Liberation Front rally, but I resisted. I’m too passive-aggressive for that sort of thing. So I just squeezed some sausage juice on her halloumi kebab when she wasn’t looking.
I didn’t realise barbecuing was a big Canadian stereotype until I moved over here. There aren’t many proper Canadian stereotypes that apply to me; I’ve never chopped a tree down, I’ve never met Michael Bublé and there are few things I despise more than maple syrup. Maybe it’s because people here assume that Canadians don’t actually have kitchens in their log cabins, but no matter; they think I know what I’m talking about (unless an Aussie is around, of course; then I’m pretty much ignored). I’ve been to a few British barbecues and been given a pre-emptive apology that it will not be up to ‘Canadian standards’. I have absolutely no idea what ‘Canadian standards’ are, but Leonard Cohen wouldn’t tolerate frigging squeaky cheese on his grill, I can tell you that.
British barbecue activities are interesting as well. This is the only country where I’ve seen outdoor badminton played with a racquet in one hand and an umbrella in the other. Not for the rain of course, but for the sun. Sunbrellas! Jesus. When I was a kid in Canada, we played lawn darts. ‘Dart’ is a tad misleading; ‘mini-javelin’ would be more apt. It’s basically a foot-long, heavy metal projectile that you toss into the air (underhand) toward a circle in the grass about twenty feet away. Of course, Grandma would want a go after a couple sherries and take the dog’s eye out, but that’s the price you pay for a little Canadian fun. At the last British barbecue I was at, people rolled some balls on the grass and played a game called ‘Pulse’ which basically consisted of sitting down quietly and holding hands. How you people won all those wars, I will never know.
So, in conclusion, it’s safe to say the sun makes you people a bit like me when the cricket’s on – all smiley, yet massively confused. Roll on July, I say, so we can all go back to hiding in pubs out of the drizzle, eating heavy Sunday lunches and drinking even heavier beers. After all, that’s what the British summer is really all about.

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