The Joy of a Backyard Fire

Last weekend I received an sms invitation to birthday drinks – a ‘wee small fireside affair’. It was a particularly cold night and hibernating at home was tempting. But as well as wanting to celebrate the occasion, it was the promise of a fire that lured me out.

The crunch of autumn leaves underfoot on the narrow side path was soon indistinct from the snap and crackle of thefire beckoning.

On first sight, the dozen or so darkened figures sitting snug in a circle looked like a ring of fireplace stones, their faces lit up warm and welcoming.

Handed a mug of mulled wine, I took up residence on one of the wooden benches and greeted with a smile the mostly unfamiliar companions.

Set in a large ceramic bowl, the fire was chewing away happily on some small logs, a thick bed of coals amassing in the base. Slipping off my boots and socks, I let out a deep sigh as my cold toes met with golden warmth.

Feeling a little shy, I was glad of the option to direct my gaze into the flames. Instead of the rapid exchange expected at a bar or restaurant gathering, it seemed socially acceptable to fall into silent contemplation of the central figure in the circle. Others too, rested their attention on the fire between stories; the silences filled by the antics of the lively extrovert.

Gradually the fire warmed me intowords, my shyness thawing as did my fingers.

The conversation turned towards the fire itself.

“I searched hard rubbish for the inside of a washing machine,” said the host, describing her search for a fire container.

A perfect recycled receptacle for a backyard fire, I’ve also perched around store-bought braziers in brick courtyardsand wooden verandahs, stood around blazing half barrels, and sat cross-legged around fire-pits dug into the grass.

While I’ve never sought to ask too many questions, my understanding is that backyard fires are legalif used for cooking purposes, (assuming there’s not a total fire ban).

It seems to me a legal loophole harking back to swaggie and jackaroo days. Who can deny the rights of a citizen to strike match to a bundle of sticks when in need of a good billy of tea?

While hardly a necessity for most of us, it’s a historical anachronism that still affords us the undeniable pleasure of an outdoor fire close to home, so long as there’s a few spuds stashed in the coals.

Even so, it always feels like a slightly radical act; a shunning of the city’s offerings of instant gas and commercial gathering places in lieu of something simple, and free.

Reflecting on this, I happened to catch my friend Arian’s photos on Facebook this week of him cooking up a stir-fry in his tiny east London backyard. Moving to the metropolis after thirty years living in the bush I wondered how he would cope without his regularoutdoor cook-ups. Apart from a couple of suitcases, the one thing he shipped to his new home was camping gear, including the set of home black-smithed campsite cooking equipment.

It made me almost as happy as he appeared in the photos, to see the Aussie bushy sitting next to a fire amidst the concrete, enjoying the simple but profound joy of a meal cooked on an open fire. May it always be so.