• Alison Tennent

The Great Australian Barbie

And Its Sad Cousin The Scottish Sausage Sizzle

Deposit photos with permission standard license

The Great Australian Barbie. Unlike many of the myths you may have heard along the way, this is one time honoured Aussie cliche that holds up to scrutiny. It turns out that Aussies really do love charring meat and occasionally shrimp on a metal plate under the searing sun, whilst indulging in a beer or 19.

It's a time honoured scene. The kids are playing cricket, sticky and fussy and occasionally beating one another over the head with the bats. Faint screams of agony wafting on the sticky, lackadaisical breeze. Someone's rubbing aloe vera on cherry coloured cheeks and women are glugging back a well earned Chardy, discussing in unfavourable detail whichever of them happens not to be present at the moment. The gentle aroma of DEET wafts over all in a futile attempt to avoid being forcibly drained of blood by the ever present Australian friend, the mossie.

Draped over everything edible are giant nets and covers in an ultimately doomed attempt to prevent flies from enjoying more of the feast than the humans. Ants have formed a conga line, making off with entire chickens that someone picked up from Coles because they forgot to bring a plate. Yes, in Australia, they have a custom called "bringing a plate". If you should be asked to do this, do not bring an actual plate, unless it has food on it covered in cling wrap.

In 1980s Glasgow, it would have been the height of bad manners to turn up with food to a luncheon invite. Here, the opposite is true. If you arrive without at least a "slice" (which basically means a flat cake) Noeleen and Darlene will wait till you've waved Ooroo and start making snooty comments. BYO alcohol on the other hand is an expectation on both continents.

But one great falsehood in the Aussie barbie mythos is that the men actually do very much. Behind every great barbie is a woman who spent the day before marinating steak and lamb chops, creating burger mixture with that secret special ingredient (we all know it's hamburger helper Kylie), purchasing corn on the cob and potatoes and creating her famous noodle salad, stocking up on soft drinks and grog (mainly grog) scrubbing the house spotless and organising the battle plan weeks in advance so that on the day her mate can stand next to the barbecue with tongs in his hand and appear to be in charge; and she can breezily claim it was a last minute thing that she threw together.

On barbie day the hunter gatherers circle their fire, poking at it restlessly with metal sticks and offering speculations as to the readiness of the meat, bonding over grunts about sport.

When my kids were young we went to barbies at the beach, back yards and parks, without much variation on this theme except the scenery. And all bloody good fun too, I might add.

And Aussie barbies always inevitably give me a moment's reflection on the one and only only Scottish barbecue I ever attended. Possibly the only Scottish barbie ever attempted in that decade. Unless you count that time we wrapped potatoes in tinfoil and stuck them in a bonfire.

We were all deeply excited and equally confused when the invitation came for an outdoor sausage sizzle. How exotic! Charring meat outdoors in a backyard environment hasn't really caught on in Glasgow. I'll leave you to consider the possible reasons why. (Hint: weather, and nearly everybody I knew lived in flats).

But what should we bring? Phone calls were made. Episodes of Neighbours were consulted. I think we opted for bespoke sausages in the end, which were met with a slightly offended "Oh, you didn't have to bring anything!" It was a pleasant day. The rain held off and the lady of the house had recently had breast implants. We found this fascinating as it was unheard of in 1990s Scotland. We all tried not to be caught surreptitiously staring at her plastic breasts perched perkily high on her ribcage. All I'm saying is she must have been concave before she got them.

It was a pleasant enough day, due in large part to the quantities of alcohol available. Between the 15 or so guests, we could have opened a small pub. Our hostess with the mostess was convivial in a slightly hectic social climbing sort of way. In the Upside Down, back yards often have a covered patio area - not so in Glasgow. As I intimated, few amongst us had a back garden at all, so we all milled around near the back door clutching our glasses and peering suspiciously at the sky.

And so the food was cooked. Very, very slowly. Fortunately I was drinking my lunch and was quite happy with the interminable delay. The barbecue grill in question turned out to be very tiny, so the guests basically took turns eating in groups of four while the unlucky contestants still waiting their turn watched them sourly with a gimlet gaze.

But still, free food, right? (If you don't count the sausages). We all ate with knives and forks. I'd never seen a burger eaten with a knife and fork before, but due to the many deficiencies in my social graces assumed this might be a normal part of barbecue etiquette. They were plastic too. The knives and forks, not the burgers.

By mid afternoon I was pished. There's no other word for it. I was holding my drink well however, as I generally did back in my drinking days. Sometimes I would encounter the zombie leg syndrome, but my mouth was always the last thing to go. Unlike my boyfriend at the time. A pause to remember S. 6 feet 1 inches of burbling big girl's blouse. Not only could I drink him under the table, not only did he lose the power of speech fairly early in the proceedings, he threw a punch like a toddler, though he was much more likely to be spied hoofing it away from any fracas at full speed than actually defending himself anyway.

And he wore jackets with the sleeves rolled up - a la Don Johnson. Even for the 90s that was deeply embarrassing unless you were – as he considered himself - quite the catch. Well, someone had to.

One of his saving graces, however, was that he was a pretty good musician. He could play guitar, piano, bass, a few wind instruments, and carry a tune fairly melodically. I'd actually met him at a gig, where he was on the keyboards. He didn't read music, but had a natural ear for it and could pretty much manage to fake most songs, given time.

Except when he couldn't. And, being the King of Conceit, he would not be told when he couldn't.

A favourite song from my youth was I don't like Mondays by the Boom Town Rats. Back when schoolchildren massacring their peers was still considered shocking in the USA.

S had made an attempt at the song a few times, but I had asked, begged and pleaded with him to stop winging it and actually learn it - or just leave it alone. There's a big, highly memorable piano intro to that song which sets the tone for the whole piece. Without the piano intro, it's not I don't like Mondays. But it was just too much trouble for his greatness to learn it, so he continued, in his arrogance, to muddle through the famous opening notes.

Because we hung around with musos, there was often a sing song looming, and today was no exception. And in his sozzled state S made the decision to once again murder my favourite Boom Town Rats song, as it would garnerhim some much needed attention, it had, after all, been almost 5 minutes since he'd received a compliment.

The guests all gathered around the piano, as he plinked and plonked away. And I sat there, steaming on two fronts and quietly seething. I bode my time.

As the last notes echoed faintly in the air and S turned with a smug smile to his admirers, ready for his adulation, I stated firmly in a loud clear and deeply venomous voice:

"That was absolute SHITE."

The look of complete shock replacing his expectant pretence of humility. The gaping surprise of the guests. My little smirk of triumph. Their hasty retreat. His angry remonstrances. What a memory. What a day.

Moral - don't fuck with me when I'm on the piss. Simply add cider to an irritated Alison to create Alisonium. An unstable and somewhat volatile substance.

The day ended as many of our days did, hurling abuse at one another in a taxi heading home and wakening up the next morning with a murderous hangover. I can't imagine why we split up a few months later, after the famous chicken throwing episode. Clearly, a match made in heaven.

But that next morning, I recall him turning to me, as we peeled our eyelids open, groaning into the horrifying morning light and his querying croak "Did you get the number?" "Number?" I whispered, fuzzily. "Of the bus that ran over my head" he replied.

I would have giggled except my own head might've fallen off.

It took me several years to learn the moral of the story: "Don't drink Campbelton Loch Dry every time you go out" and also "Don't date wankers".

I haven't been to a barbecue nor drunk copious amounts of alcohol in years. Perhaps this stumble down memory lane will inspire me to send out an invite to the usual suspects:

Party at our place. Free DEET, plenty of beer - and don't forget to bring a plate.

If I do, don't worry, I'm bound to write about it ;)

Alison Tennent, Queensland, Australia, July 2021 Copyright Alison Tennent 2021, all rights reserved. Scottish by birth, upbringing and bloodline, Australian by citizenship. If you’re reading this anywhere but The Garrulous Glaswegian, Vocal+ or Medium, this work may have been plagiarized.

13 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All