COLUMN: May 30, 2013

SUMMER had come for its annual overnight visit and I’d already wasted half of it by mowing an unappreciative lawn.

I am not the outdoors type. I know if I am stung by a nettle I should apply a dock leaf, but I have no idea what a dock leaf looks like.

I am best kept indoors, ideally in solitary confinement where I can stay out of trouble and wasps can’t get at me, but even I understand the importance of Vitamin D, and the crucial role of sunlight in its production.

As I did not want rickets I thought I had better make the most of the sunshine. I had already donned t-shirt and shorts – the garb of a small child – in order to increase the surface area of my skin which could be in contact with sunlight.

I felt that was not enough. But there was no way I could remove my t-shirt after what happened last time, when I was wearing beige shorts, and an actual small child spotted me in my garden from the street and informed her father that “the man’s got no clothes on.”

Teatime was coming, and I don’t know what I was thinking. Maybe it was the sun. Maybe it was the feel of an unfamiliar breeze on my legs. Maybe it was my mid-life crisis…

“I know,” I said to the disbelieving people around me, for the first time in my life. “Shall we have… a barbecue?”

As a child, I remember Sunday nights, freshly bathed and pyjama’d, watching Return of the Saint while my mother toasted bread on a fork over the coal fire. Maybe, I thought, I can give my own children a memory like that.

It might seem astonishing that I could reach my very early 40s without ever having barbecued something, but, in my defence, I have a very long list of things I have never done and it takes time to get through it. I only sledged for the first time in January.

I do not even own a barbecue. That is not entirely true. I sort of have one. It is a brick-built thing constructed by former residents of my house, but it is under some foliage.

If I ever use that barbecue you will know about it because my house will appear on the news from the vantage point of a helicopter surveying the charred devastation of my neighbourhood. And no matter what else I achieve in this life my obituary will start with the four words “Barbecue idiot Gary Bainbridge…”

Apart from anything else, we have evolved as a species. We no longer have to cook hunks of mammoth over a fire. Yet there is a romance about the old ways, a folk memory which clings like the smoke to the steak.

So I bought a disposable barbecue from Sainsbury’s and set to work. The instructions told me to place the small tray on two bricks. I am not a man with ready access to bricks. I suppose I could have demolished the Barbecue of Danger, but that would have been an irony too far.

There was a half-brick on top of the sandpit, preventing wind from lifting the lid off it. And I found another brick around the side of the house, with some mortar attached to it. I have no idea where it came from, and I hope the day never comes when I find out.

I balanced the barbecue tray on top and set it alight. I waited till the coals were white-hot, as I had learnt from years of watching Ainsley Harriott, and went inside to get the food.

I returned with two burgers and four sausages. My wife had retained the rest of the food to cook under the grill. Some might consider this a grievous lack of faith in my ability, but I could see where she was coming from and I suspect you can too. Also, the tray was the size of a beer mat.

I dropped the raw bits of processed meat on the grill and waited. It was taking a while so I looked at the instructions again. “If the heat is too low, agitate the tray with implements.”

I don’t know if you have ever tried to agitate a very light and unstable tray filled with white-hot charcoal with tongs without dislodging a sausage, but it is quite difficult. It is even more difficult when a wasp lands on your ear.

I yelped, jerked, and dropped a sausage. Instinctively I picked it up. It was quite hot. I dropped it again, fortunately onto the grill, and decided not to mention it.

I brought the food back indoors. The children had already eaten. The best thing I can say about the whole experience is that nobody died.

And, now I think about it, toast made over a coal fire is bloody horrible.

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