CAVANMAN'S DIARY: How the BBQ maketh the man

Story by Paul Fitzpatrick

Friday, 12th July, 2019 1:26pm

CAVANMAN'S DIARY: How the BBQ maketh the man

'Can I just have the salad?'

Paul Fitzpatrick

Man talk, Episode 3,476. A couple of weeks ago, the sun was shining and I had a rush of blood to the head. I reached for the phone and sent out some texts. Would anyone like to call over on Saturday evening for a barbecue in my back garden?

Soon, it was pinging. We had a confirmed crowd. The only problem was, I didn’t possess a barbecue or, as readers of this column will surely expect, any knowledge about how to go about operating one. But that was not going to deter me.

In such a situation, there was only one thing for it so I did what I always do. I called our friendly neighbourhood football commentator. You see, Damien Donohoe is the type of guy who knows about these things. 

“I want to buy a barbecue, Damo,” I began. “Well, it’s not that I want to buy one. I kind of have to buy one now.”

There was a pause and I thought I detected a weary sigh. Here we go again, it said. 

Because Donohoe knows my form on such matters (installing shelves, finding out which is the correct fuel for the lawnmower or how to take down the back seats in the car, to list just a few examples).

“Are you still there?” I wondered.

“I’ll pick you up in five minutes,” he replied. And the line immediately went dead.

Sure enough, he did and soon, I was getting a detailed tutorial on the best options. It turns out - and this was news to me - that there are such things as charcoal and gas barbecues. 

And you don’t just rock up to a shop and leave with a new piece of kit; for the discerning grillmaster (which, as you will discover, I now am), there are many factors to consider before deciding which sort of barbecue to purchase.

Some costs hundreds; the cheapest one I could find was €45 in Argos. Being a cheapskate and also keen to hedge my bets in case of disaster, I went for the basic one. 

But with that came risks - basically, this contraption, given its discount nature, was not exactly idiot-proof. 

And if you are as unhandy as me, you will know that this provides a considerable challenge.

Anyway, I lobbed the barbecue - a carbon steel, chrome-plated little number, complete with warming rack - into the back of Donohoe’s jeep and then waited. After a minute or so, he broke the silence.

“I suppose you want me to assemble this thing?” he said, mentally cancelling any appointments he had in the next hour. I thought he’d never ask. 

So, while I watched, chez Donohoe, walking round in circles with my hands in my pockets while discussing Cavan’s chances in the All-Ireland qualifiers, in a blur of spanners and screwie things and other implements beyond my pay grade, he put this flatpacked beast together with the flourish of an expert in such matters.

Soon, I pronounced him a prince and ferried my shiny new barbecue back to Virginia along with a few bags of ready-to-light charcoal.

The countdown began. This was Friday morning and before I knew it, it was Saturday evening and the partygoers had arrived, armed with drink, big greasy lumps of chicken and hope.

But by now - I won’t lie - I was feeling the pressure. Within minutes of lighting the flames, the visitors were all up in my grill - as the Yanks say, and no pun intended - questioning what I was doing.

Should I not have been turning that burger now? Why was there so much smoke? Was I sure that chicken wasn’t going to land the whole lot of them in Cavan General with food poisoning? Why did those sausages look like black pudding? What are these charred yokes? Is it okay if I just have the salad?

I struggled to find answers to their queries but I stuck resolutely to my task with a confidence which belied my complete lack of understanding of how these things work.

All I knew for certain  was based on Damien’s assertion that I would be able to tell when the barbecue was hot enough by the sizzle when the grub hit the metal.

And, soon enough, I heard that sweet sound and knew I was on to a winner. And as I flipped the burgers with a nifty backhand, there was instant gratification. 

For the first time since that bit of strimming I did back in May, I felt like a real man, an outdoorsy type of man.

The sort of man, you could say, who would own a pair of scuffed steel-toed work boots and, in his spare time, likes to peel apples with his pen knife.

The sort of man who would walk out through his back door of a morning while drinking a mug of tea, survey a fence he needs to paint and skite the last drop of the scald on to his back street. I’m talking about a handy sort of a man, a solid type of bloke. A barbecue man!

Anyway, the moment came and all agreed that the food was indeed edible, which, to be fair, was the only dietary requirement they had provided in advance of the occasion.

Later that night, when everyone had gone home well-marinated and the meat sweats had subsided, I took stock of my towering achievement and felt I better inform my tutor of my success.

“BBQ a big hit,” I breathlessly texted, “nobody sick at time of departure.”

“Good man,” came the reply. “You’ll probably get a column out of this. Ha ha. Only joking, even you are not that sad.”

Au contraire, Damien. Au contraire... 

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