Despite my two and a half house fires and my little forest fire, the fact I gained not even the tiniest bit of pleasure in any of them proves that I am not actually a pyromaniac. O.K. that has been established.
My second house fire, like my first, started after a night filled up by drinking capability-altering-liquid. Now before you suggest that there is a pattern forming, I was entirely sober during my forest fire. I was 12 after all.
I had spent a lovely evening with several dear friends. Food, red wine and much hilarity. Upon my return I didn't feel like going to sleep straightaway so I put on some music and lit a candle - so that I could lose myself in ponderous ponderings. I often find alcohol can make things seem more profound and candlelight seems to enhance this delusion further. The candle I lit stood in a very wobbly candle holder that I had bought from QD stores for 40p. One could just about make it stand upright by fiddling around with it for a while - so it wasn't completely useless.
Eventually, I went to bed. I had absolutely no recollection of any bedtime procedures being attended to. That meant I took to my bed without cleaning my teeth, getting out of day clothes, getting into night-wear, toileting, turning out the light or putting out any unattended flames.
I was actually lucky to have survived this fire (one of my nine lives definitely). A noise woke me I think. I was still under the influence but not so much as to not realise that my room didn't usually have a crackling sound coming from the corner, a nasty burning plastic smokey smell or a greeny-yellow fog. What I describe next, happened in about two minutes, two and a half at most.
I shuffled over to the fire and saw that several of my CD cases were alight. I was pretty blase at this point (I was after all an old hand at house fires) and casually opened my window and started to throw the burning CDs out of it. I looked out of the window to see there were now flames in the back yard and my not-thinking-overly-logically concern turned to the idea that the flames might burn my lodger's bike tyres (I had thrown the CDs somewhat carelessly). I rushed downstairs to the back door but could not find a key to unlock it. At this point in my life, I nearly always wore my house key tied to some string round my neck - even to my day job (yes, it does give some insight into how I was back then) but for some reason it wasn't there. I do remember stroking my front repeatedly in disbelief that my key wasn't there. The key-round-my-neck was probably the most reliable thing in my life throughout my twenties - but this night, of all nights - it let me down.
I ran back upstairs to see the plastic fire was still spitting. I decided I would smother it. I had a choice of tool: a manky old synthetic duvet or a deluxe Russian goose feather one. I think I chose wrong as the result was a lot of feathers floating about the room and the end of the ownership of a rather lovely bed cover. The fire appeared unaffected by the attept to remove oxygen from the fuel+air+heat=fire equation. At this point I acknowledged that I had inaccurately estimated my firefighting capabilities and I started to panic. Fire in the house..... fire that might burn lodger's tyres...ahhh...clear thinking failed me and I burst into my lodger's room and shouted ......well what would most people shout at this point do you think?
'Keys,' was the expletive I chose. My lodger (Irish Mike) had been asleep and was now muttering little Irish curses. He wasn't quick to rise. Retrospective analysis has taught me that when there is a fire, 'fire' is undoubtedly the best thing to shout. It conveys a more to-the-point message. I am a great believer in learning from experience and can notch that up as certainly an improvement in my approach to dealing with fire.
I returned to my room to find the fire still burning and then went back downstairs again. I really did not have a plan other than running around a lot torn between the room and the bike tyres like a person with absolutely no higher level thinking capacity. Luckily Mike had not only got up, he had found some keys and was unlocking the back door. We opened it to discover our Welsh neighbour, Tony, with a salad bowl filled with water (no salad bowl in the forest fire - so again - no pattern). He appeared like the Welsh firefighting salad bowl bearing fairy I would have wished for, had I had a plan.
We all ran upstairs. Someone said,
'turn on the light,' someone else said,
'it is on.'
the room was extremely smokey and feathery at this point and the light was obscured. I have a sink in my room and with a salad bowl as his tool, Tony put the fire out. Hurray for Tony. I don't recall if or how Mike and I helped. We might have waved our arms about a bit.
End of two, possibly, two and a half minutes of fast motion.
I slept in the neighbour's spare room that night and for about five weeks afterwards (kind neighbours). The next day, still not properly adult, I figured I needed to tidy up so the evidence of a fire didn't notice any more. It was after a few hours of smearing walls covered in smoke dust that someone suggested that my insurance company might help out. It did and I had my first ever lesson in why insurance is a great thing (when it works - which it did). They tidied up, redecorated, I got new stuff and I didn't even get told off.
But the best bit about this story is this. Not having a room to shut myself in after a day's teaching unsettled me slightly. So much so, I went to the pub on the Monday evening after the fire. I bumped into my brother and his new musical partner: Mr Andy Kirkham and it was on that night that I enticed him back to mine with the immortal words,
'Would you like to come back to mine and see my fire damage?' and he's still here.
He would know not to fall for it now though.