Central Italy, July. It had been 35C during the afternoon and by early evening it was just beginning to cool down. There wasn't a breath of wind. I had some lamb steaks marinading in herbs and at such times everything just tells you 'barbecue'.
Perhapas it's that little bit of the caveman in every male - because it's a man thing, isn't it?. It's only a very little bit of caveman in me, and usually well-hidden, but there I was with the raw meat (I hadn't actually killed the lamb, but, you know, I might have done). There's the fire you have laid yourself, the flames dying down to a satisfactory white heat, the fact that you attend to it standing up, looking competent. Yes, there's definitely something about it.
But now, today, I am emerging from the non-barbecue closet. I am coming out. I can't do it.
We usually only have one barbecue a year because it takes me 11 months to forget the personal humiliation of the exercise, but there comes a time, usually in July, when last year's events have been excised from my conscious mind and I'm up and at it. Like a caveman.
Finding the barbecue proved to be an early, confidence building success. It was underneath the strimmer. I brought it out and began the assembly procedure, as complex as the launch preparation for space travel. The pan or holder is round, it fits on to a tripod and the grill fits with a spigot into a hole in the bottom of the pan. But why only three legs? Every time I set it up it fell over on to the side with no leg. My partner, a mere girlie, what View from the Boundary would describe as 'someone of the female persuasion' fixed it. She's an engineer. It was probably something about the angle of incidence or reflection, or something.
Now the top, or business end. It wouldn't come out. The spigot on the grill thingy simply would not come out of the hole in the pan. Whilst for cooking this was how you wanted it, I knew I wasn't going to be able to get the charcoal in, which is, of course, a sine qua non. I pulled and twisted, twisted and pulled. I put it on the ground and, placing my foot on the pan, pulled with all my strength. No joy. I paused for breath. This was getting personal but I knew that the solution lay with brain rather than brawn. Did I tell you I went to Oxford? Holding the handles to the grilly bit, I wedged the circular pan under a stone table and jumped upwards. Some disturbance to the table and an unexpected pain in my right shoulder but no result. Then, perhaps injudiciously I gave the thing a hearty buffet against the trailer to the tractor (I am nothing of not rustic).
I should have told you that underneath the pan there is a sort of metal bar with a knob, for the technical, which regulates how far down the spigot can go and thus the height of the grill off the charcoal. I bent this, or rather the trailer did. So it was that when the girlie engineer, tired of the worsening invective, came to remove the grill and its spigot from the pan (probably something about Newton's third law) and I got the charcoal in, the grill would only descend to several inches off the charcoal. Tant pis. Charcoal, firelighters, matches and the caveman was ready to go.
Evening was descending by now and with it a slight breeze, so I can scarcely be blamed for not being able to light the firelighters. But I persisted and after the better part of a box of long matches I had a merry little blaze going. Of white, petroly things.
Obviously there are two types of charcoal: the regular sort and another which they have made non-inflammable. This was what I was using. So, more firelighters, more of a different type of charcoal, another box of matches and we were off. After the firelighters had expended I could see there was some action here, with the occasional spark illuminating the by now darkened sky. We just had to wait for it to be ready to cook. At least we wouldn't be disturbing the neighbours who would have gone to bed long ago.
I had been nibbling bits of bread to mop up the wine I had been pouring down, and we sat down, tipsy, at what seemed like the following day. And, do you know?, the food wasn't bad.
But I had lost my appetite.