The Firestarter

We had just collected all of the sticks and sorted them into 5 separate piles depending on their size and created a pyramid like structure ready for lighting. All the other fire lighting equipment was on the side too including spare newspaper, a secret stash of matches and vaseline to cover the cotton wool in to make it easier to light if we needed to.

’Right, are you ready?’ I say.

‘Yeah! I’m awesome at lighting fires!’ my student replies.

‘Great, come and show me how you do it then.’

I produce a flint and steel striker from my pocket and hand it over to him. A look of confusion spread across his face as he tries to figure out how it works.

‘What the hell is this?!’ He exclaims. ‘Where are the matches?!’ The look of confusion was starting to turn to frustration, as he looks at me like I was the biggest con artist of the century.

‘We’re not using matches today, we’re going to be using a flint and steel to start the fire.’ I explain.

‘But these don’t even work though.’ He retorts as he jangles the striker in the air.

I turn and walk to the fire pit. I pull a second striker kit out of my pocket and a single piece of cotton wool. I place the cotton wool on the floor, crouch down and slide the steel down the flint, flicking sparks out the end onto the cotton wool. Tack, tack. One of the sparks catches the cotton wool and the fire spreads, engulfing the whole of it.

‘Looks like they work to me.’ I said turning to my student who was crouching next to me, mesmerised by what he’s seen.

‘Ok! Let me have a go!’ he says enthusiastically.

‘Go for it! You can light the big fire that we prepared earlier.’ I reply.

I gave him a quick rundown of how to hold the striker and how to do the overall technique. He crouches down by the cotton wool at the bottom of the fire we’d prepared. He put the flint and steel to the wool and gives it a go. Tack, tack, tack went the striker. Nothing. He looked over at me bemused and confused. Then he turned his attention back to the wool and striker. Tack, tack, tack. One single spark pinged off to the side this time.

‘I can’t do this Ben.’ He says.

‘Yet. You can’t do this yet. Have another go.’ I reply.

He crouches back down and put the striker in place. Tack, tack, tack. A single spark again. Tack, tack, tack. Nothing. He lets out a frustrated grunt and grits his teeth. Tack, tack, tack. Nothing.

‘Ben, this doesn’t work. I can’t do it!’ He proclaims.

‘Yet.’ I add on before he can say any more.

He huffs and goes back to the fire pit. Tack, tack, tack. Nothing. Tack, tack, tack, tack, tack, tack, tack, tack, tack, tack, tack, tack, TACK, TACK, TACK. Nothing.

‘ARRRRRGHHHHHHHHHH!!!’ He yells from the top of his lungs.

He slams the striker on the floor, strides over to a tree and starts hitting it with nearby deadwood as hard as he can.

‘I can’t do it!’ He shouts in between whacking the tree.

‘Yet!’ I echo after him.

‘Shut up! I can’t do it, it’s too hard!’ He screams.

He then walks off, hitting trees and smashing deadwood on the ground. He’s muttering to himself and working himself up more and more. After about 10 minutes of this he comes back and sits down on the bench, sullen and smouldering in what anger he hasn’t vented. We both sit there for 5 minutes until the atmosphere feels a bit calmer.

Then I turn to him and calmly say, ‘I know that you think that you can’t do it yet. But remember when you did fire lighting with matches before and it took you a while? You were able to figure out how to do it and it felt awesome, didn’t it? This is the same, you know how to do it and you can do it. When you want to give it another go let me know.’

He sits there considering my words in silence. I leave him to his thoughts and go about gathering wood for another fire. After another 5 minutes he gets up, finds the striker amongst the dirt and crouches down next to the fire. Tack, tack, tack. A few sparks this time. Tack, tack, tack. Nothing. Tack, tack, tack. Direct hit! The wool catches fire and spreads rapidly throughout the tinder. All the wool catches fire and soon the whole pyramid of sticks is ablaze.

‘I did it Ben! I did it! I did it!’ He shrieks with delight.

‘Yes you did, well done! I knew you could do it!’ I exclaim as I stash the vaseline in my pocket.

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