'It’s a beautiful day… shall I barbecue?’
A warning to women: beware this innocent question…
Picture the scene…
The sun has been shining all day and the evening looks set to be long, light and balmy. The coleslaw has been prepared, the meringues made and there's a huge jug of Pimms in the fridge, topped up with fruit, cucumber and springs of fresh mint.
The barbecue is lit and the coals have just reached the high, consistent temperature that is perfect for slow-roasting the steaks. Your friends arrive laden with cold beers and chilled Chablis and your children are handing round the nuts and olives.
Sounds idyllic, doesn't it?
Come on, girls, speak up. Tell it how it really is. You and I know that, however much we enjoy barbecues, they’re really just a clever piece of male deception, the perfect excuse for men to look busy while actually doing very little.
Think about it. Who actually bought the meat and the salads, made the dressing, hulled the strawberries and whipped the cream? Which one of you drove to the garden centre to buy the charcoal, lugged the heavy bottles from the car into the fridge, got the parasol out of the shed and had to brillo the barbecue set? Was it your husband who wrote the shopping-list, invited the guests, dusted off the garden furniture and remembered to buy juice and crisps for the kids?
The heck it was.
You see, barbecues appear to be the ultimate social leveller, enjoyed by male and female, young and old. They're friendly and relaxed, the perfect choice for club socials, school PTA events, for inviting the lonely young American from your office or welcoming your new neighbours.
There's no etiquette involved, no fretting about a seating-plan or worrying about breakages when you're sitting on picnic rugs in the garden, eating off plastic plates and licking ketchup off your fingers. No dress code either, unless you count the almost obligatory shorts and T-shirts, with Birkenstocks for women and IQ reducers (aka baseball caps worn backwards) for the blokes.
Well, wise-up, women, you're being conned. Barbecues are far from the egalitarian events men want us to think they are. Gender-wise, they are unashamedly chauvinistic, a throwback to the days when the male brought honour and glory on himself by bringing home a dead animal, still bleeding, and roasted it over an open fire at the cave mouth.
Just as carving the Sunday roast allows a suburban chartered accountant to brandish a large knife and kid himself that underneath his grey suit he's a fearless hunter-gatherer who risks life and limb to provide for his family, the barbecue allows an idle man to look like he's doing all the work.
Look at the self-important smirk on your chap's face when he turns the burgers. Doesn't it remind you of the expression he assumes when he lifts the car bonnet, when you know he hasn't the first clue about mechanics?
Far from being a chance for New Man to give his wife or girlfriend a break from the kitchen, the barbecue is today's urban male's chance to swagger like some unshaven Texan cowboy, or pretend he's a muscled Argentinian gaucho out on the Pampas, when, really, he's just swigging lager and burning a few sausages, often to great applause. (How many times have you heard a male barbecue guest shout 'my compliments to the chef' and then ask the host’s wife if she's enjoyed her day off?)
And don't get me started on all the male-bonding that goes on at a barbie, the meat-and-machismo rituals they indulge in, while ostensibly checking the embers. While the women refill everyone's glasses, find the mustards and pickles and lay the table, the men stand around, bow-legged, braving the heat while downing their beers and talking sport. It’s the Home Counties answer to the Hollywood ‘bromance’.
Let's be honest, British barbecues are for wimps. They are hardly the rugged, all day ‘asados’ of South America, where whole sides of beef are cooked only until the blood oozes out of them. Our back garden affairs are full of ready-made sausages, burgers and kebabs that usually end up dry and charred, rendered edible only by lashings of chutneys or mayonnaise.
Perhaps, men, the time has come to admit defeat and hand the fork and tongs over to the women. Just so long as you're the ones making the summer pudding, washing the lettuce and chopping the cucumber...