Barbecue blues: Be careful not to lose the run of yourself in the sun

An incident with a fireball and some facial hair taught me an important lesson

'In a sudden flash of mad brilliance, I decided I would buy, assemble, light and cook that evening’s dinner on a charcoal barbecue.'

'In a sudden flash of mad brilliance, I decided I would buy, assemble, light and cook that evening’s dinner on a charcoal barbecue.'

 

It was one of the first truly hot days of the year and I felt a little cooped up in our city apartment. I was off work in the middle of the week – the downside of working on a newsroom roster – with nobody to distract me and no plans put in place. A recipe for disaster.

After washing my hair, hoovering the carpet and reorganising the hotpress I began pacing the living room floor longing for some other menial task to settle myself. The May sunshine, which flooded in our wrap-around windows, only added to the anxiety.

In a sudden flash of mad brilliance, I decided I would buy, assemble, light and cook that evening’s dinner on a charcoal barbecue.

Once I’d set my mind to the task not even a Siberian snow storm would stand in my way.

Little did I know, however, that I would soon lose myself to my own marvellous master plan.

Losing the run of yourself is an old Irish tradition. My mother told me once that Irish people’s collective tendency to lose the run of ourselves is why we had such a severe financial crash.

“We came from nothing, got bucket loads of cash and absolutely lost the run of ourselves with it.”

This is kind of what happened to me after I decided to buy the barbecue.

Given I had nothing else to distract myself with, I fixated on the barbecue plan as if I were executing some sort of lifelong ambition.

I shopped around. I measured the balcony. I considered at length the financial implications of gas versus coal.

I bought fire lighters – but, crucially, not enough of them. Little did I know that this would be my undoing.

By the time I had haphazardly put the barbecue together, the people I had asked to join us had already landed home; hungry.

My time-keeping skills are as bad as my cooking, and this pendulum was about to fly off its string.

We set about lighting the charcoals – about two hours too late – a task none of us were too familiar with.

When the firelighters ran out and the words “stick on the grill” were thrown about, all sensible logic pointed towards calling it a day. But in my head, on this day, that barbecue was my raison d’être. There would be no giving up (aka grilling).

I called a halt to the alternative cooking methods, flew down to the shops in the car and came back locked and loaded with firelighters, kindling and lighter fluid. A dangerous arsenal in any circumstance, but certainly in the arms of woman on a mission to flambé.

My cheeks are still flushed with the shame of realising my stubbornness could have resulted in serious injury

We filled the thing to the gills with a bucket of firelighters, charcoal and – most stupidly – lighter fluid.

With the flick of a lighter it blazed away happily, but when the lid fell down and I demanded it be opened, things took a turn for the worse.

The time spent under a lid had turned my concoction of lighter fluid and fumes into an enormous rolling fireball, which leapt out of the barbecue as soon as the lid was opened.

It was a miracle the curtains, which hung nearby, did not catch light.

Less fortunate, however, were my sous chef’s eyebrows.

On closer inspection, the eyelashes got a good doing too – as well as the fringe and a little bit of arm hair.

The eyelashes had a little lump of melted hair on the end, while the eyebrows looked like they had highlights, such was the amber hue that my monster inferno had left behind it.

There were little bits of shrivelled-up, ashy hair falling on his shoulders like a bog that had been cleared of heather.

And just like that, the guilt hit me like a train. Having finally realised I had completely and utterly lost the run of myself, I was horrified.

I couldn’t sleep for the smell of singe hanging around the house and the regret which was stuck like a lump in the back of my throat.

My cheeks are still flushed with the shame of realising my stubbornness could have resulted in serious injury and the guilt haunts me like a bad dream.

Even trying to make a joke of the sacrificial facial hair has made me realise there is nothing funny about that evening at all.

Three lessons I’ve taken from the incident:

1: Always keep yourself in check.

2: Never buy a charcoal barbecue.

3. Definitely don’t joke about it in the paper.

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