There isn’t enough time for the discomfiture of family. There isn’t enough time for the transient nature of friendship.
It would have been a cruel British irony that the rain would begin Sunday 22nd July after months of record breaking dryness. The moor fire on the hill behind the farm had only been extinguished days before. Blissful precipitation had relieved the peated land and the valley below brightened at dawn with the scent of sweet petrichor.
The cool and moist morning air became an indication that the summer nights would begin to draw in. The poppies will recede as the gladioli take hold of the first border, a timely reminder of the heartache since the turn of the year. Dolly’s single egg produced in her short time is buried next to Rosemary at first light. She became the first loss the Retreat has seen this calendar year, but not the first in the extended family.
As the meat is prepared and the vegetables chopped, the reverberant pings from both devices warn of the cancellations; excuses born from both indolence and ignorance. The outré human resistance to potential family civility or friendship interaction. The initial excitement turns to despondency. An embracement intended to bring back reassurance, is necessary.
The mood is more sombre than anticipated and the air is filled with moisture, teasing the prophetic disaster of the following twelve hours. It isn’t rain; it isn’t even drizzle, but it is enough to disrupt plans.
Such proposed disappointment weakens as the first guest arrives to help with the assembly of the gazebo. Frustrating toil quickly turns to satisfaction as it raises and provides temporary shelter from the damp air. The first beer of the day is cracked; an ambrosial APA from Abbeydale, but truthfully it could have been anything. It just needed to be beer.
The rain passes. The sun distends.
Company arrives in manageable groups giving the opportunity for greetings and introductions. Nothing is rushed. Nothing is hurried. The beer garden area begins to fill. New chicks are observed. Dogs are excited. A couple of brief tears are shed for the mother who was so grateful to have made it.
People from differing families and friendship circles connect around glass and plastic cups of varying liquids. Everybody has brought beer, adhering to the only rule of the day. Bring your own - and the multitudinous choice is palpable. There are variations in the types of macro lager, supermarket small cans, London's finest macro Hells appears on a couple of rosters, an attendee's latest hombrew even features, alongside growler fills of the burgeoning Cornish brewer's latest IPA. Thank you gifts for the hosts are left and are made of beer.
The food can’t be cooked quickly enough. The beef burgers are a success; the staple of all British barbecues freshly prepared by the grill. So revered they are that the chef doesn't even get to taste one to be sure. The sausages are the only food source from round one not created in the kitchen that morning. There are even a couple of experimental vegan dishes created for our vegan friends – who, inevitably, are amongst the no-shows.
There is no longer time to care for them. The early morning melancholy turns to rapture.
The niece and nephew enjoy their first visit to the play area. The old pal expected to join the throng of revocations turns up on form. The friend's toddler shares a burger with the Golden Retriever eight times her size. The visitors hoping to see and stroke a Silkie are not disappointed.
The growler is cracked and shared at the Beer Shed bar, with close friends only made through a love of beer. That doesn't mean that pitchers of Estrella with added ice cannot be joyously poured for all. Beer is what you make of it - and it can be whatever you choose it to be. It is only beer they remind the world repeatedly, but it was only beer that made some of the strongest friendships at this gathering. It was only beer that welcomed a friend and their child to the party. It was only beer that brought people together at the pub that led to the bonds that brought them together that Sunday.
It was only beer that brought the hosts together by chance connections made possible through beer.
As the final party members leave, the two sit in the fading light until they can barely see one another, outside the shed that would only be a storage place for garden tools and cat carriers if it wasn't for beer, They end the night drinking the cocktail favourite of 2009; spiced rum, coke, lime and nitro stout; a final drink on a day of reminders of the power of family, friendships and ... beer. Recent grief and lamentations soothed away for a day by the feeling Bacharach encouraged more of.
They fall asleep on the sofa, with both cats sprawled across them and the Retriever asleep at their feet.
But it's only beer.