It's a beautifully warm day. The sun is shining and the afternoon stretching
languidly before you; your house is full of friends and everyone has had
a lot to drink.
Then it starts: Oh come on, your friends urge - don't be so boring. What's
the harm? Everybody else is doing it. Go on - just the once - you never
need to do it again. And you think - hell - why not?
But don't. Do not, I repeat, not - go there. Take a deep breath and say
it with me like a mantra - do not barbecue.
It's a mug's game. It's dirty, anti-social and downright bad for your
health. Furthermore, it gives men who never set foot in the kitchen the
idea that, just because they have a sausage in one hand and a pair of
tongs in the other, this means they can actually cook.
Charring meat is not cooking. There is no art to burning food. It's easy.
You don't need to trundle out the barbecue, scrub down the grill, clear
out the ashes, dead beetles and families of snails from last summer, drive
to the hardware store for sacks of charcoal and firelighters, turn the
house upside down for a box of matches and then ritually slaughter a sheep.
You simply put a pot on the stove, add some oil, a pound of minced beef
and walk away and leave it. It's easy. I do it all the time and no-one
ever tells me what a fantastic cook I am.
Charring meat is carcinogenic. It fills your body with toxins and your
garden with reeking, billowing smoke. It irritates the neighbours, stinks
up the house - because, of course, no matter where you situate the grill,
the smoke with always blow inside - and draws forth children like members
of a Zoroastrian fire worshipping sect.
Come into the garden, it's a lovely day - you say to a line of small bodies
slumped in front of the television.
You have a lawn full of swings, climbing frames, slides, sandpits and
paddling pools, but - perish the thought - play outside together? You
might as well ask the Palestinians and the Israelis round for a friendly
game of Monopoly.
But set light to a couple of handfuls of charcoal with the help of a bottle
of noxious flammable liquid - and instantly, the grill is surrounded by
The search for the holy grail of unsuitable toys is over.
Keep away from the flames, you say.
They start feeding the fire with twigs and ask if they can pour more paraffin
on to the charcoal.
No - just keep away from the flames - you say again, marginally louder.
Then they begin to roast Action man on a home made spit.
Keep away from the darn flames - you yell.
Next they're leaping over them.
You rush out with a fire extinguisher and a 20 decibel roar, screaming
- keep away from the bloody flames.
But nothing deters them - well not until the food is ready. Then they
lose interest and won't eat anything because it has burnt bits.
Barbecuing too often turns into a way of serving inferior food to intoxicated
people who wipe their mouths on your al-fresco tablecloth. I hate carbonised
chicken legs and cheap, fatty, thick-skinned, high rusk content, past
their sell by date sausages. I don't want to eat barely defrosted E-coli
offal-burgers, or salmonella kebabs.
And if you use the oven on to finish the food off, or zap it in the microwave
for five minutes to ensure it's properly cooked, why bother faffing about
flame fanning the charcoal?
Even posh barbecues on gas grills are worrying. The wooden skewers catch
fire - the vegetarians won't have their tofu done on the same grill as
the deboned leg of lamb, the monkfish cooks in minutes but the peppers
are still raw, and then you discover that no-one likes coriander - after
you've marinated every piece of meat in it.
Then finally, when you've ready, steady, scorched all the ingredients
and the food spread out on the table, everyone is too drunk to eat. The
man with the apron, the fork and the culinary mission to incinerate everything
in sight, decides he's done his bit, sits down and leaves you to clear
up. And the children want toast.
This is before we even get to wasps, bees and flies dropping into your
beer. The ruined lawn. The leftover meat lying around in the hot sun breeding
bacteria which you will have to throw out, uneaten. The vile spitting
steaks that dot your arms with hot grease spots, and the odd, accidental
second degree burn (but how did the child manage to fall in the fire?)
Not to mention the visit from the local environmental health officer who
reminds you that you live in a smokeless zone.
Barbecuing is filthy habit - there should be a helpline for people caught
in its smouldering, wrought iron grip. The easiest thing is just not to
start in the first place. Resist temptation and make a round of sandwiches.
Just say no.