I love the Discovery Channel and its reruns of Bear Grylls and Ray Mears. But watching soggy survivalists setting up camp with only a binbag and a plastic bottle, I feel ashamed that if I was stuck in the middle of nowhere, I'd be unable to whip up even a tiny fire. Given that Bear and Ray make on-the-go ignition, without matches, look simple, surely I could do it.
Testing methods of fire-making ended up being a family affair – I spent a Sunday afternoon with my husband, father, stepmother, little brother and sister setting fire to newspapers and wood shavings from the pet shop.
Having canvassed opinion from my dad's dinner guests the night before ("try two boy scouts rubbed together!"), I tried three methods – the schoolboyish magnifying glass and sunshine; using a flint-and-striker keyring that we'd picked up years ago in an outdoors shop, and the wildcard way, that of using wire wool and a nine-volt battery to create sparks.
I was amazed that, with cotton wool for kindling, each method worked. The magnifying glass took an age, but when I used dried leaves as fuel, I had flames. The wire wool was less successful; the only type available in the supermarket was impregnated with cleaning fluid.
But the winner was the flint – a few brisk stokes of metal on it produced a satisfying cascade of sparks that soon had my pile of paper, sticks and wool alight. So next time I'm out in the wilderness I'll take the keyring, some cotton wool and be happy in the knowledge that I can hold a candle to Bear and co.