There are several things you can do to make yourself feel more of a man. Read up on tanks. Tighten something with a monkey wrench. Watch Any Given Sunday. Reload a gun. Pretend you understand cricket. Walk down the power tool isle in B&Q, stroking each piece of machinery and pretending you know exactly what they all do. Pull off in 2nd gear rather than 1st. Use the phrase ‘bastard wouldn’t budge, but I got there in the end’ regularly. Buy the Racing Post. Set fire to something.
The only problem is, unless you’re Chuck Norris, all of those things are either painful, confusing or just plain difficult. Particularly the latter. I found out just how hard setting fire to something is when I bought a chimenea at the weekend.
Before Saturday, I didn’t even know what one was. However, that evening, we attended a BBQ at a friend’s house, and he knew exactly what a chimenea was. It stood proudly in the centre of their garden, heat fiercely rippling the air above its chimney. Flames whipped up an intense heat in the gaping furnace as it chewed up everything that was thrown at it. Admittedly, it was a small child chucking things into it, and it was highly likely the pieces of paper he’d found were our friend’s insurance documents or car service history. But that didn’t matter. This marvellous contraption was producing man-made fire and I immediately decided that I needed one.
The next day I went for it. Plumping for a slightly smaller clay unit, I immediately felt a bit of a fraud. But that didn’t matter either. I would still be able to create fire in this thing. That evening, I would become a real man.
If you’ve bought a chimenea, you’ll know that they need ‘conditioning’. This involves slowly burning kindling and paper two or three times in order to… ok, I have no idea why, but if you don’t your lovely piece of garden pottery will apparently crack into three billion pieces.
You are instructed to add a little bit of kindling (if you know what that is – I had to look it up) and some rolled up newspaper. So I did. And tried to set fire to it. And absolutely nothing happened. Last week’s Chronicle and Echo lit briefly before dying into a smouldering grey mess. The kindling wood sat at the bottom of the furnace on the bed of sand I’d kindly laid out for it, grinning and clearly very, very cold.
Thankfully, no one was watching. My lack of testosterone wasn’t on display. I briefly considered making the most of the opportunity of solidarity and crying a bit but then decided to consult Google instead.
That didn’t help either. Every ‘how to start a fire’ article assumes you are Ray Mears. They talk of unseasoned wood and lava stones. One even states that you’ll require ‘fire-starting materials’. The only ‘fire-starting materials’ I’m aware of are matches and the hobs on my oven. The latter would have obviously been a logistical and insurance-claim-inducing nightmare, therefore I opted for the matches.
Only, I got through an entire box just trying (and failing) to light one lousy newspaper.
I won’t lie. It took me a good hour to get the thing going. But get going it did. Flames I had made were suddenly dancing around my little fiery cavern and smoke billowed effortlessly from the chimney.
A little over-excited, I decided to do what people in films do when they’re making fires in jungles: blow on it. I knew the introduction of more oxygen, or something, meant the flames would grow more intense and, as I blew, that’s exactly what happened. Only, the sudden gust of man-made wind also sent thousands of burnt bits of the Chronicle out of the chimney and into next door’s pearl white washing swinging on their line, creating a speckled pattern of what was once the Sunday football results on Mr and Mrs Jones’ underwear.
Concluding I was suddenly deep into unchartered man territory and consequently a little out of my depth, I retreated back into the house, and let the fire die out.
Oh, and if this story isn’t enough to convince you to buy a chimenea, before you consider other ways of increasing your manliness, just remember, someone this weekend blew the game out of the water when he aimed his gun at Bin Laden and shot him in the face. I’m not sure that can be topped.