Locked in a Victorian terrace for three months dreaming of green fields, we began to imagine we could cut it as survivalists. Long nights were spent reading online about the merits of the Kelly Kettle compared with an open fire. We bought a mountaineering tent and lightweight titanium plates that double as frying pans. “Flamers” are natural firelighters made from tight bundles of wood shaving and beeswax. They resemble Shredded Wheat; one child was discovered pouring milk over them.
On August 1 we loaded the kit into the cargo bike alongside the younger children and pedalled out to a fenland farm.
The camp cookery book is a burgeoning genre. Some open-air recipes are fiercely ambitious: calzone in the camp oven; whole animals baked underground or jointed and arranged over a vast griddle converted from an old tractor wheel.
More manageable recipes include the unleavened dough ball cooked in open flames then stuffed with butter. In the hands of an artist these would be cooked evenly from core to skin and reach the mouth infused with wood smoke. Mine were black as briquettes on the outside, and although the inside appeared to be raw still, the butter evaporated on impact. One of the more stoical children observed that if fruit could grow on Mars it might resemble mother’s dough balls: dry black skin, liquified yellow flesh, molten hot.
By contrast, Maggi noodles in a polystyrene cup turn out to be a remarkable invention. You open the lid and pour boiling water over them, then wait a few minutes and they are cooked. They are enhanced by a few dehydrated onion slices and some powder of the kind used to flavour crisps. Even this was a little tricky to manage because the camp kettle’s handle is not built for such precision pouring. But by then the children were numb with hunger and offered no complaint.
Delirious from sunburn and ground-sleep, the monosodium glutamate produced in my mind an alternate state of reality. I imagined myself living in a terraced house in an ancient city, with an overgrown garden and a crowd of energetic children huddling around me as I fried eggs on a gas hob.