Simon Reeve shares the unique bonding qualities of gathering the family around a fire, cooking, camping and spending time outdoors.
I struck a match to light our campfire and fear spread across Jake’s face, followed, rather too quickly, by a broad smile and evident excitement.
‘Oh no,’ groaned my wife Anya, as she saw our toddler’s look of utter glee, and watched as his eyes follow the match to the tinder I was lighting to cook our evening meal. ‘Not another pyromaniac that I have to keep an eye on.’
She had a point. We haveform as firebugs in this family. Or at least I do. By the age of nine, I was riding around Acton on my BMX bike setting fire to rubbish bins. I can vividly remember being chased down the street by a couple of French tourists after I started a blaze next to a bus stop. ‘Don’t be so deestructeev!’ they shouted.
My pyro urges are now almost completely under control, but I do still think a fire can bond a family. Not a little urban charcoal barbecue, or – even worse – a gas cheater. For flames and an open fire, friends lug a heavy firebowl around whenever they camp, while we take a cast-iron tripod and grill (I can recommend the one from survivalandsafetyschool.co.uk). It’s one of the most wonderful pieces of kit you can own: great for cooking a decent amount of food for a family gathering.
An open fire takes us back to our Stone Age soul. The flicker of flames and the smell of burning wood are encoded in our DNA. Think of the times you have spent around an open fire. They are, surely, some of the cosiest moments in life.
‘Are we going to make a fire, Daddy?’ Jake now asks innocently whenever we mention that we’re off for a couple of nights’ camping in a field by the coast. At three-and-a-half years, he’s now graduated from watching blazes to starting them with a long match under my very close supervision.
Just remember that you can’t light a thick piece of wood with a match. You need to start small. Gather some bone-dry tinder and some slender sticks (thinner than a drinking straw). They can’t be damp. They need to feel like they’ve just come out of your airing cupboard. Get those roaring before you work up to the logs.
Then, whether it’s in your garden, a Spanish campsite or a hotel beach in the Maldives, spark up a fire, huddle around, and watch the smiles spread across the faces of children and adults alike.
Fires aren’t just for camping. An evening around roaring flames turns even the most mundane resort holiday into an adventure. Grab some food from the hotel buffet, buy a pack of marshmallows, wander the beach for a quick driftwood hunt, and then light a fire as the sun sets.
Having something to do provides a focus for your mission, so ideally you want to have something to cook. And something pre-cooked to rely on if your fire-starting skills haven’t been honed at the Ray Mears academy.
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The TV adventurer and author Simon Reeve has travelled to more than 120 countries. He is the presenter of multiple BBC TV series, including Indian Ocean, Tropic of Cancer, Pilgrimage, Australia and Sacred Rivers.