From nowhere comes the rain. Disappointment mingles with the smell of meat and burning prawns. "Oh no, rain," says one of the barbecuers. The large grill hisses and spits, then begins to steam angrily as the rain comes sweeping down. The party pauses before fleeing inside. Is
it just passing? No, it is staying. Splashing, soaking, pouring, it drives the queuing barbecuers and the youth with an oversize chef's hat and steel tongs who had been serving them back through the French windows and into the bar.
The party reforms. Brogues are damp, chinos are sodden, but spirits recover. People laugh, wipe the water from their clothes. Not all, though.
Bloody hell," says one middle-aged barbecuer, balancing a paper plate that holds two chicken wings, a sausage and a pile of coleslaw that I suspect is about to collapse. "Oh, Brian!" a woman with him says, "do cheer up." "Bloody hell," he repeats. "It's bloody May."
It is. It is also Kent, the warmest and sunniest of England's counties, but the water continues to tumble down from a glowering sky and the day is just as dismal as the one in Whitby or Wallsend.
Beyond the garden wall the water ricochets off Range Rovers and Mercedes estates, and on the silent television above the bar, the buttocky face of the new Prime Minister looks sincerely down at the damp barbecuers. "I must say," Brian's wife tells the people around her, "I'm still excited by all this."
Brian is not excited. "What! "He's an idiot. How did he throw that away? My arse could have stood against Brown and won a majority." His arse is copious, and the thought is unsettling. Sensing this, the woman changes subject, asking the others: "More Pimm's?"
But Brian won't have it. He continues to seethe, tossing angry declamations around the bar and poking his finger. "Brian," the woman says. "Do be careful." But on he goes: the Scots are vile little spongers, the Welsh malignant, northerners trolls, but worst of all is a man who is not Scottish or Welsh, but southern English like Brian, and of his class: "And as for fucking Clegg . . ."
The barbecuers grow quiet, unsettled by Brian's language. Brian's wife steps into the silence. "Well, I quite like a coalition and at least they looked neat, the two of them. The last lot looked odd. You know, goggle-eyed. They were all a bit weird, weren't they?" "Besides," says a small and previously quiet barbecuer, “we did actually win." But one winner still feels like loser.
“That man," says Brian, jabbing. "Played us for monkeys." As he jabs, the paper plate gives up and the coleslaw tumbles down his chinos.
Outside, the umbrellas flap and water streams on to tables that are ready for summer and more of the same.