Yesterday I learnt a sad, hard lesson: I am inept at barbecuing.
Well, that’s not strictly true… I didn’t get far enough to test my skills at the actual cooking. I suppose what I mean to say is that I am inept at lighting barbecues.
There are many factors I could blame for my failure:
- The charcoal was old, and perhaps a little damp
- I didn’t have the right equipment
- It was too windy
- Once the coals started to get warm, the rain began to fall
But as they say, ‘a bad workman blames his tools’ and I know if I’m honest that the failure was not due to any implement, but to an individual. There is one person to blame for my incompetence, and one person alone: my father.
You see, nobody ever taught me to light a barbecue. Surely that was his job! I was taught to tell the time, swim, ride a bike, and spit cherry stones with laser-like precision… but nobody ever taught me how to get little blocks of charcoal hot enough to burn a burger! Why this omission from my otherwise adequate education?
The art of barbecuing is shrouded in mystery and intrigue. People seem strangely cagey about their methodology, and there is something unnervingly ‘cloak and dagger’ (or rather ‘apron and tongs’) about the way in which the secrets are guarded.
It has been this way since primeval man first learnt to burn things and eat them. For many thousands of years, women and children have been banished from the grill, lest they discover the techniques behind the wizardry of the embers. Women were told ‘this is a man’s job’. Or perhaps if he were feeling a little more devious the male in question would adopt a tone of faux-chivalry and say, ‘put your feet up love and let me serve you’, whilst children were scared with stories of explosions, scorchings, and facial-scarring.
But presumably there would be some point at which the child would be taught the methodology of barbecuing? Just the male children, of course. Stone-age fathers who gave birth only to daughters would have been scorned, or considered cursed, for having not produced an heir to the grill.
At some point in time, the young boy would come of age and be allowed into the circle of trust – perhaps once he had undergone a right of passage, such as slaughtering a wild boar with his bare hands, or spending a night in a snake infested cave – only then earning the right to learn the secrets of the cinders. At that point, and not a moment before, would a father take his child to a remote forest, and teach him the ways of barbecuing. And as they left the village, the other stone-age fathers would exchange knowing looks; today is the day a child becomes a man.
Somehow I missed out on this experience.
At some point in the early ‘90s, the father to son transmission of the secrets was interrupted, and I was never inducted into the order of the embers. I feel that perhaps I was the only one. Did I not prove myself? If there was some kind of task I was meant to complete in order to ‘come of age’, nobody ever told me! I would happily have wrestled a bear, or drunk the blood of a goat, or whatever it took to earn the right to learn this precious skill.
And so, alas, last night I spent hours standing before a pile of frigid coals, using an entire box of matches, googling many tips and techniques, writing the majority of them off as old wives’ tales, and finally retreating inside to the hob and the electric grill. I smelt of smoke and had nothing to show for it.
I can’t help but wonder if Rudyard Kipling, author of The Jungle Book, felt the same sense of shame and bewilderment as I did? Was King Louie some self-referential device, used to vent the author’s personal angst at his inability to barbecue?
‘What I desire is man’s red fire, to make my dreams come true.’
All this is to say that I am not to blame for my failure. I am the victim of inadequate parenting! I have been overlooked and under-taught and I protest that my inability to light a barbecue in no way diminishes my masculinity.
That’s my excuse, and I’m clinging to it ‘til I die.
p.s. Dad… I’m only joking; I don’t blame you. But seriously…
‘Give me the power of man’s red flower, so I can be like you!’