Yesterday out here at our villa on the south coast of Sicily was relatively uneventful. The clue to the purpose of our extended family’s annual holiday is in the sentence – it’s simply an opportunity to spend a week together.
After the agent had sent us a list as long as your arm of Sicilian archaeological, scenic and culinary dining delights, along with boat excursions, 4 x 4 trips up Mount Etna and ‘an Uncle Tom Cobley and all’ of things to do and see – all at considerable price, I might add – I sensed a metaphorical sigh of disappointment at head office when we responded by choosing just one, a Sicilian dinner delivered and presented by outside caterers on Tuesday night. This isn’t just another opportunity for those below the age of twenty-five to go clubbing, carousing and chasing the opposite sex – they can do that if they wish in the other 51 weeks of the year – it’s simply the chance to chill out with their cousins in pleasant surroundings under the watchful eyes of parents, and indeed a single grandparent.
Having managed 50 lengths of the 20-metre pool before breakfast, I was involved in a food shop and then, upon returning to the villa, an abject 21-16 defeat at the hands of a niece’s boyfriend in the second round of the ping-pong competition. This was made all the more humiliating by the fact that I had won last year’s equivalent in an epic nip-and-tuck tussle with my brother. After he too had slid to ignominious defeat and regained his prone position on his sunbed, he suggested we play an Over-50s competition final on our own … a challenge that, I pointed out to him given his recent birthday, could actually now be an Over-60s event!
Pathologically programmed, mentally and physically, to be hopeless in the kitchen and indeed at washing up, I then found myself cast as sous-chef for the evening meal because it was our family’s turn to ‘do the business’. My father was assigned to assembling a canapé offering of 24 pieces of crisp-bread laid with Brie cheese and topped by a green grape, whilst I was on the stuffed mushroom equivalent. This involved grating a loaf of bread (breadcrumbs) and then about half a pound of some cheese I’d never heard of – a task of considerable manual labour, for those who have never had to do it.
Having assembled my set, I was then ordered to peel prawns for a ‘prawns & chorizo’ bowl with my daughter. The issue here was that those in charge had deliberately chosen tiny prawns with lots of legs and alimentary canals. They were piping hot and there were a lot of them. I’ve always held to the view that women are naturally suited to small fiddly tasks like sewing, crotcheting and peeling prawns, whereas men are not.
After taking a good deal of stick from my fellow-sheller, I was sacked from this job and instead put in charge of cooking the asparagus (“Even you cannot cock that up, Dad – heat the water until it almost boils, put the asparagus in and cook it for five minutes exactly”). Sadly, because in the meantime I was engaged in making large gin-and-tonics for myself and my father, I didn’t quite get my timings right and so my asparagus was binned and the ladies in charge of the meal chose to begin the asparagus item again.
That said, the meal when presented was very successful, if the public response was anything to judge by. The main dish (lasagne with side-salad) was certainly delicious – even though I had nothing to do with it.
After dinner came the quiz. This is a traditional nightly event, with the two sides of the table split into two teams (on this occasion ‘house’ and ‘pool’) with a chairman dishing out help – or not – entirely at his or her whim.
Two nights ago I was in the chair.
The Pool team were asked “Who invented the ball point pen” and gave their answer, through their designated spokesman, as “Biro”. Whilst technically (one might think) correct, mischievously I announced that this was incorrect and passed it to the other side for a 1 point bonus possibility. They tried ‘Bic’… which was also incorrect, of course … and there then followed a general uproar (particularly from the Pool team) when I announced the answer was “Lazlo Biro”. Nevertheless, I retired behind the wall of my traditional pronouncement – made at the beginning of every game I chair – that the only answer I will accept as correct is that specifically given by the quiz book.
Occasionally, we have found questions and answers that are incorrect, or illogical. One evening, one question was “Which legendary king had a sword called Excalibur?” to which the answer given was “Arthur”. However, this was pronounced as incorrect because the quiz book’s answer was “King Arthur”. Not a few people present then pointed out that the question had given the word ‘king’ in the question so, the implication was. that this prefix was specifically not needed in the answer.
As you can imagine, such controversies after a pleasant dinner and about a gallon of hootch each makes for some lively conversations.