“Women and children can afford to be careless, but not men,” said Marlon Brando’s Godfather. It is indeed as true in al fresco cookery as it is in organised crime.
It may be often said that behind every successful man is a woman, but every man knows, deep down, that it is his role in life not to take credit for a woman’s work but to dig deep, marshal his prodigious resources and step up to the plate. A powerful mental image indeed.
The summer barbecue is the classic example. The woman (or women, for there are often many at a family or social barbecue) will spend hours in the kitchen preparing the manifold ‘side’ dishes. This might involve the washing, chopping and arranging of a salad or two, the preparation of potatoes, bread, pasta, dips, dressings, vegetables and fruit. A pudding or two might not go amiss either; ooh, how about something fruity and summery? The likely hours of time spent beforehand are merely the build-up to the main event though. They’re the slick warm-up act before the comedian du jour, the support band you’ve not heard of that gives you chance to double-up on your pints by your feet before the actual band starts.
The man enters the arena. You may not realise this ladies, but in his head he actually hears a capacity crowd rise to its feet and start cheering. He’s in his official international strip (amusing apron, witty self-congratulatory slogan or comedy breasts optional, but encouraged) and takes to the field fully equipped with those big bendy tong things with too much spring in them, and possibly a big knife, just in case.
Once the coal is fully saturated, the man then retires to a ‘safe’ distance. ‘Safe’, in air quotes, is an entirely relative term in this context, dependent on the quantity of petrol used and the proximity of flammable objects, including small children
There are three internationally-recognised methods of lighting the barbecue, though only one authentic one. The latter is to douse the charcoal in barbecue lighter fluid, or petrol if any is lying around spare in a convenient container, for between 10 and 30 seconds. Once the coal is fully saturated, the man then retires to a ‘safe’ distance. ‘Safe’, in apostrophes, is an entirely relative term in this context, dependent on the quantity of petrol used and the proximity of flammable objects, including small children. As a rule of thumb though, it is roughly equidistant between a genuinely safe distance and a highly dangerous one. A match should then be struck and flicked casually towards the expectant pyre and, if all goes to plan, a satisyfing mushroom-shaped fireball will herald the impending evening of culinary perfection. On cue, children’s faces should now light up, ideally with pleasure rather than actual flames.
The other two, lesser methods of attaining ignition are the humble firelighter secreted, Easter egg hunt-style, amongst the charcoal bricks (involves fire but, alas, no real peril), or the hands-that-do-dishes modern approach of using a prepared, sealed bag of charcoal that requires but a single match to start proceedings (for actual gays only). No real man could be seen publicly to adopt either of these namby-pamby, nanny-state techniques. Like a barbecuing Macbeth in reverse, only clean, soot-free hands betray guilt.
In return for the hours of behind-the-scenes preparation and honed, effortless skill at chopping, marinating, slicing, dicing and nicing (not a real word), the man will now pay back that debt in full, and with dividends. He’ll stand near that barbecue and DAMN WELL WATCH THAT MEAT COOK FOR A BIT. He really will. For this selfless task he will require nothing more than a stream of well-wishers to give him moral courage, constant praise to provide affirmation of his manful, managerial decisions and, naturally, an unremitting supply of the alcoholic beverage of his choice, delivered straight to that strong, strong hand. If the man is allowed to go dry then there’s a very real chance that his gaze could wander from his delicate charge in search of much-needed refreshment and, well, let’s not thing about what could happen to the meat in those vital seconds.
Once the food has been watched until done to a turd, it can be removed from the flame and entrusted back into the care of the female assistants, while the man takes a seat in one hand, his drink in the other and weakly flops down to a well-deserved rest; his smile faltering briefly as he looks meaningfully into the middle distance, clearly revisiting in his mind the painful close-calls of the previous 13 and a half minutes that he managed to avoid, thank God.
He now holds the rank of ‘Provider’, and is perfectly entitled to ask all diners how the food is every few minutes or so. From time to time it would not be unfair to expect to him to pause, knife and fork hovering about his plate and head cocked slightly to one side, to gaze around the table with a munificent yet humble expression, as he takes in the eager faces of family and friends enjoying honest food from his own hand.
When the feast is over, the ecstatically grateful and sated guests are of course still glued to their seats in anticipation, and reaching for the tissues with tears in their eyes. Which, sadly enough, is pretty much what the next 24 hours or so holds for them as well.