The annoying thing is that I know how to do it. I’m sure I do, even if I don’t have all the vocabulary.
"I want some of those stick-y things please" I ask them in the petrol station.
"Pritt Stick or Blu-Tack?" they ask.
"No, I mean the stick-y things for the fire".
"Ah… you want logs."
"No, I want the stick things that you put on top of the firelighters and scrunched up bits of newspaper, you know, before you put the coal and -"
"Ha ha" they laugh, "you mean cipin" (pronounced kip-EEN).
"I must do" says I, "and a bag of coal and a Galaxy and er, I don’t suppose you have The Idiot’s Guide to Fire-Lighting in stock, do you?"
Frankly, I don’t think it’ll ever be written. It would be like someone writing an instruction manual for washing the dishes or heating baked beans in a microwave.
But try as I might I can’t master the task. Very very occasionally, if I use an entire box of firelighters and am lucky with the old FT scrunchies or kip-EEN, I manage to get a small corner of the fire grate aglow and once or twice – purely by accident – the flame has spread and ignited a few coals further afield but I’ve had little time to bask in the glow of my accomplishment as invariably it’s bedtime by then.
And if I add up the costs of the various elements, well frankly my dear, it’s a very poor investment of my time and money.
Much like the time I decided to bake my first cake at the advanced age of 30+. I’d been to a gorgeous barbecue and in a sun-dappled country garden we were invited to take as many plums from the fruit-laden trees as we could manage.
Coming home with carrier bags brimming with Victorias, I was pleased to discover in a magazine an interesting recipe for plum crumble cake that didn’t require me to beat eggs and butter till they were light and fluffy. I’ve never understood how anyone with less than bulging biceps can possibly do that; I certainly can’t.
A dash to the supermarket to buy flour, marzipan, icing sugar and a hundred other ingredients cost me twenty smackers.
Making the cake took me an entire Sunday afternoon, required every bowl, spoon and tin I could lay my hands on and then the rest of the evening to remove lumps of dough and boiled plums from all the kitchen surfaces.
My partner at the time tried it and dismissed it carelessly with a "no, don’t like it" though some of the guys I worked with declared it the best cake they’d ever tasted and they were right. I even made it for them again, partly because their enthusiasm delighted me but mostly because I still had a carrier bag and a half full of plums.
Making that cake was hard work but worth it — the result was a work of art. That’s what I want for my fire-lighting project; and if you just get on and write that Idiot’s Guide I requested, the idiots will be content.
Till then, I say, let them eat cake.