this is the great outdoors. at least much of it is if you step over the threshold and admire the acres and acres of sky. it's the biggest difference i notice if i head into the country's greater conurbations; there it's only possible to see about a postage stamp's worth of grey or blue, while areas of green and trees are either arranged in an orderly fashion along street edges, or gathered into compact corrals randomly dotted about the big cities. no doubt new yorkers have convinced themselves that central park is living on the edge (perhaps that's the case on a saturday night). though the great outdoors here on the edge of the atlantic offers a wealth of scrubbly bits on which to hammer aimlessly on a mountain bike, i have eschewed this option in favour of skinny tyres, bendy bars and the freedom of the open road. not that the open roads bear much of a resemblance to the common definition of tarmac, but it's the best we've got, and complaining rather undermines a love of the spring classics. i'd hate to think of myself as hypocritical.
gorse bushes, roadside ditches, acres of sky, fearsome winds, sheep and cows in the middle of those so-called roads; truly what bbc's countryfile portrays as the rugged alternative to buses, taxis, traffic lights, the tube and pointless cycle lanes, and an alternative i am happy to embrace as long as there's a debbies at the end of it when i tire of being bear grills on two wheels. sanitised widlerness just the way i like it.
mr hastings, on the other hand, has ruggedness coursing through his veins; leave him on his own on one of the islets dotting the coast of islay with only a biro, a book token and a copy of the radio times, and he'll organise a three course feast for 37, wallpaper a cave and domesticate the nearest herd of wild goats before breakfast. i, on the other hand, would struggle to find change for the phone box at carnduncan and i get homesick on the ferry. being aware of all this, i felt quite justified on making several re-reads of an e-mail offering to send me an mkettle for test and review on the post. wrongly addressed perhaps?
however, i am nothing if not intrepid, ever ready to suffer from my art and readership, and could see no real reason to say no, since a modicum of outdoor cred never did a wimp any real harm (did it?).
the mkettle is an ingenious device for, rather obviously, boiling water in the wild without need for electricity or a little canister of camping gaz (for which i am eternally grateful; gas gives me the heebie jeebies) it consists of two parts: the kettle and what i prefer to refer to as the furnace. the kettle has a cone shaped funnel occupying the centre of an neoprene sleeved, aluminium canister the outer skin of which is prime real estate to contain water. the furnace, when inverted, fits neatly inside the bottom of the canister for compact packing inside a waterproof bag, itself featuring two d-rings to allow for strapping to panniers, rucksacks or even handlebars.
remove the furnace from its place of repose, flip it over, and the cylindrical kettle sits comfortably atop. the furnace has a substantial hole in the side, to ostensibly cram combustibles necessary for the boiling of water. ever confident of my ability to survive in the wild, bereft of anything resembling a soya cappuccino, i set out a few weeks ago with my filled mkettle stuffed in a rapha backpack, eager to find a corner of this great land in which i could partake of a cuppa away from prying and sniggering eyes. though all of the uk, including that of the hebrides, is currently covered in white, at the time which i describe, everything was merely damp. this i offer as legitimate excuse as to why, after forty-five minutes, i was possessed of a considerable pile of charred ferns and sticks, but barely lukewarm water.
the principle was sound enough, the spirit more than willing, but it seems incompetence flows freely through these veins. i headed south for a proper coffee.
the aforementioned mr hastings has, however, a kind bone in his body that kicks in every now and again, so, inches of snow covering notwithstanding, he offered to show just how it should be done. while the gathering of winter fuel is likely best left to the spring and summer months, inhabiting the world of 'here's some i made earlier' has much to commend it. we set the furnace on the ruined wall of a derelict building on the frozen shores of loch indaal, and jez filled it with a few scraps of dry paper and bits of thistledown taken from a brown cloth bag that had been secreted about his rucksack. using the modern equivalent of rubbing two boy scouts together, he set the amalgam alight, popped the mkettle on the top and started dropping bits of dry wooden stick in through the top of the chimney. although the hole in the side of the furnace exists for similar use, jez figures it to be a far less successful method of regularly adding fuel.
i confess that on discovering the method of water heating, i feared greatly for the neoprene sleeve around the mkettle, convinced that i would be confronted with melting gloop long before 100 degrees c was reached. thankfully, i was wrong; the neoprene sleeve exists to prevent scalding when the kettle is lifted from the flames. this time round, with experienced supervision and know-how, the water boiled in little over five minutes, at which point we filled two mugs of instant drinking chocolate and toasted any car that passed on its way to bruichladdich. in present circumstances, the flames were extinguished by covering with substantial quantities of snow, but normally, excess water from the kettle ought to take care of such duty. it's a good idea to remember that kettle and furnace will remain hot for a while or so, when thinking about packing away.
the mkettle has a rubbery plasticky bung that, for projectile reasons, should not remain in place when boiling the water. it's also not water-tight if you don't push the bung in far enough (oops); a quick look inside my rapha musette and you'd understand why. perhaps safer to fill a regular water bottle and carry that separately, filling the mkettle prior to heating. all these tips and tricks i can alert you to, now that i have joined the ranks of the outdoor management consultants, skilled in the art of survival.
the mkettle is a triumph of industrial and aesthetic design, culminating in a marvellously practical and efficient means of boiling water while on tour, or merely playing on knobbly tyres in the great outdoors (cyclocross of course). it may perhaps encourage re-invention of the art of the drum-up that used to be a part of every weekend peloton ride prior to the onset of the mavic car. if you're about to head off on a round the world cycle, or just have less than confidence that the paris-roubaix challenge can be completed in under a fortnight, this is the very item you need in that backpack (or in the mavic car). that and some instant drinking chocolate.
the mkettle can be purchased and despatched to all four corners of the world from the safety of mkettle.com for only £47.
posted wednesday 22nd december 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................