Kerry’s brilliantly funny post about letting your little trekkers take over running the camp fires reminded me of some of our beach BBQs this summer. As always with us, it never quite goes to plan… The weather had been pretty glorious for the first half of July, so I decided to make a super-fancy packed lunch and head to St Cyrus Nature Reserve to enjoy its huge beach all day with the minxes. As well as packing enough food to feed us all 10 times over, I checked the tide tables so we could aim for low tide (ie maximum space on the beach).
I made sure there was sun screen stick and cream. I took enough water for the 4 of us to survive in a desert for days. Alcohol hand-gel, wipes, napkins, spare towel, charged phone, picnic rug, fire-starter kit and huge marshmallows. They all went in my bag. I think I thought of everything except… the actual weather! The forecast had blithely promised sun and great warmth. The reality was freezing cold, thick, damp fog. Luckily the minxes were on the ball and took their warm buffs, merino leggings and indestructible waterproofs.
Over lunch the girls mucked around, kicking sand at each other and chucking flies at each other’s lunches. The usual kid stuff. Yet again I found myself threatening them with Boiled Egg Roulette at the next packed lunch (boil all eggs except for one, secretly left raw. Mwahahaha!) The weather didn’t help anyone’s mood. Chomping sandy boiled eggs isn’t much fun in the cold and wet! The usual thousand or so birds had headed off down the coast towards the sunnier Montrose Basin, leaving just a couple of gannets in the distance. Worse, the drizzle and fog had made all the driftwood soaking wet, so the marshmallows stayed in their bag. I was thinking of calling the day-out quits and heading for home early once the minxes got fed up with Walking the Plank on the driftwood trees, when Maxi called me over to admire her latest beach sculpture.
It wasn’t her usual 10ft collage it was a little quartz-lined fire pit, with a miniature roasting spit in it. “Can I have a marshmallow to pretend to roast on it?” she begged. “Pleeeeease, Mummy?” My hard heart melted – I have the breaking strain of a kitkat on a hot day - and I suggested we do it for real. The minxes scurried off to collect as much dry-ish driftwood as they could find, while I found my fire-starter kit and emergency handful of tinder. I whipped out the windproof matches and went to start the fire with a smug smile for being so prepared and organised. Except that the match crumbled. Then the next one. And so did the third one. It turned out that Jon had misread the ‘windproof’ and thought they were ‘waterproof’, so had been very lax keeping seawater out of the matchbox.
Jay’s Top Tip they’re really, really not waterproof….Rather than abandon the little would-be fire, I remembered that I had a flint and steel tucked away with a little fluffball of cotton wool in the Second-Emergency Firestarter kit. I set Maxi to work making sparks while Midi and Mini tried to catch them in the cotton wool. I don’t know whether it was the fog or the steel or Maxi, but that fire just would not start. I watched the kids’ faces fall and felt bad. I got angry with the weather, with Jon for letting the matches get wet, and with myself for believing the forecast.“Here, give it to me”, I grouched, then took out all my frustration and exasperation on the little flint and steel. I bashed them together as hard and fast as I could. I really channelled all that anger into my hands. I might even have let out a growl.“Wow!” gasped Maxi as a torrent of bright orange sparks flew from the steel and onto the waiting cotton wool. It went ‘pffffffff’ immediately into a little flame. I was as surprised as she was! The minxes let it fall to the pile of tinder, dropped to their knees in unison, then gleefully blew on the little flame to coax it into a fire.
The little flame guttered and flickered and nearly died out many, many times before our mini tepee of twigs finally caught alight. Such little twigs plus so much damp made for incredible amounts of smoke. This wasn’t a bad thing, because the flies and midges were loving the wind-free foggy day and were lunching on *us*! Maxi helped me whittle two marshmallow forks from straight branches and the trio happily toasted marshmallows / made flaming marshmallow torches / dropped molten marshmallows into the fire.
While they were doing that, I cracked an egg and squirted water into the homemade pancake mix I’d measured into a Treasure Jar and shook it like a cocktail waiter. Then I happily tested my little Trangia frying pan almost to destruction by plonking it on the hot embers of the fire and cooking soggy pancakes for us all, turned with bits of driftwood. Who needs meths or fuel gel?!The sun came out finally and burned a wee hole in the fog just as it really was time to head back home. The minxes abandoned their stone and charcoal painting (well, it was a mix of charcoal from the marshmallow forks and molten sugar…) and walked back through the dunes a different way to our normal path. Just as well, or we’d have missed the strange sight of these stripy cinnabar moth caterpillars!
Written by Jay Greengrass on Wednesday, 30 August 2017.
Posted in Beside the Seaside
Kerry Teague 06 September 2017 at 20 58 | # Aw, I LOVE Maxi's fire and well done for getting it lit - I'm totally rubbish at lighting fires. And what a treat seeing the caterpillars, that's an awesome photograph!
Jay Greengrass 07 September 2017 at 10 51 | # Normally I have to resort to the old 9V battery, wire wool and cotton wool trick, so it was a surprise to me, too! Next time I'll remember to channel my inner Hulk on that flint and steel ;-)