Wednesday, 22 September 2010

On Fire

'Do you know I could live alone now till I die.'  I tell Luke, my occasional overnight guest.

This is a very likely possibility, his sigh seems to indicate.  'And maybe you won't,' he adds wearily.

'Yeah but probably I will.  I'll be alone for ever and ever and ever.'

'So what's so bad about that?'

'I don't want to live by myself.  I liked being married.  I had a solitary childhood and spent my whole life with the aim of having someone to cuddle up to at night.'

I realise that I'm in great danger of alienating my sole cuddlee.

'I've always wanted to live alone.'  He says, pointedly.  I am looking into the future and not seeing his and her hand towels - hardly surprising giving that he's cursed with Bridget Paranoia.  'It'll be fine.  You'll get used to it.'

'I don't want to get used to it.'  I say petulantly.

'Go back to sleep.' He urges, and his eyes close, - but sleep has been a rarely visited country since I started exercising my anxieties in bed.
‘But what if there’s a fire?’ I whisper, anxiously to his back.
I'm on the second floor, up a twisty staircase with a thick fire door that effectively blocks both flames and sound.  I can't hear the doorbell.  Nor the fire alarm.  
But youngest daughter, the one who hangs out her window like an Amsterdam Hooker chucking smouldering roll ups on to the roof, having taken the burglar locks off the most easily accessible point of entry in the whole house, is blowing smoke rings into her drawer in a dorm up North.  You, Marion, are in bed, not making toast downstairs or roasting a lamb on a spit in the back garden.  How is the fire going to start, exactly?

Faulty wiring?

In your head, you idiot.

But my fear  is talking to the person who hired an electrician to come in and rewire a bedroom after she smelt burning in the kitchen.  Admittedly this following a scare when our future Fumadora was 'playing Lara Croft' in the hallway, lighting flares (matches) and had dropped a few on the (new) carpet causing some singeing...  It was only when I paid his (large) bill and got another whiff of bonfires and realised that the charred woody smell was in fact coming from the rope of smoked garlic hanging from the pot hook, that I'd bought a few days earlier from the farmers' market...
Still, concentrate.   What happens if there’s a real blazing inferno with smoke belching up the stairs and no comatose teenagers serving as an early warning system.  In the event of a fire, how do I get out?

The answer lies on the internet with the 'speedy escape ladder' that you keep under your bed with the bogey man, then hook onto the window ledge and unroll in the case of fire.  Perfect.  Except my roof goes off at several angles before it drops down like Rapunzel's hair.
'But ma, you're terrified of heights.  You're hardly going to sling a ladder out of a second storey window and climb out.'  Scoffs eldest.

'I'm more afraid of fire, though.'  I retort, annoyed that she is not taking me seriously and would, seemingly, see the possibility of me being fried as a cause of some jollity, like November the 5th without the rockets.
Time to call in your local, friendly, fire officer who according to the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea's website, offers a free fire service.
‘Yes, ma, you call 999 and they come with their hoses.’
‘No I mean, they check your house for fire hazards and give you advice.’  She rolls her eyes.
Ding dong.  The doorbell rings on a lonely Saturday afternoon in the House of Abandoned Mothers.

On the doorstep is not one, but three, burly men.  In boots.  With helmets under their arms.  To my shame I turn into a stereotype and begin to gibber and fluff.
'Firemen,'  I say, giddily and unnecessarily lest someone passing should mistake them for ballerinas.  I even fluff  my hair.

'Hoaw.'  They sort of say - all three making that indeterminate, macho sound that passes for a greeting and which body builders make when they pose.

'Can we come in?'  Said main fireman, the one with the gift of speech, and a recent Riviera tan, no wedding ring and capped, very white, teeth.

I take them into the sitting room.

'I'm going to ask you a few questions while the rest of the men take a look upstairs.'

By this point I'm practically incoherent.  It's like porn for middle aged women.  There is so much hair twirling that I have a head full of ringlets and I'm poised on the sofa expectantly, bodice heaving, smiling like it's an Olympic sport even as the voice in my head, momentarily freed from talking me off the ledge of the empty void of nestlessness, is berating me for being a tart.

'I wasn't expecting three of you.'  I gush.

'We've got the engine outside.'  He says.  And sure enough, through the shutters I see a ruddy big red fire engine.  The entire fire fighting capabilities of Kensington and Chelsea are immobilized because I'm scared of matches.

I hear the tramp of heavy boots upstairs.  For once I find it reassuring.  Firegod asks me questions which he reads from a sheet.

'Do I use the fireplace?'  There are three months of ashes piled up in the grate.  I nod.

'Do I smoke?'  I shake my head, no.  I would say that my daughter does but words will not form.

'Do you use candles?'

I gesture around the room.

It's like a shrine to tallow.

There are three candelabra on the map chest.  Two on the silver chest of drawers.  Several individual candlesticks are dotted around other surfaces. including ten tea light holders and 18 pillar candles in tall glass tubes.  I could be about to hold a black mass.

'Yes.  That's just like my wife.  She loves candles.'  Damn, he has a wife.  Of course he has a wife.  My smile fades to Commonwealth Championship wattage.

He lectures me on the importance of making sure my candles and fires are properly extinguished.  I could just say 'wife' to them.  That would put a dampener on any flames still left burning.

The Firegod attendants return.  'Everything is alright upstairs,'  They say.  I hope I made my bed that morning.  'We've installed two fire alarms.'  They add and Firegod tells me how they work.

'But really, the reason I wanted some advice was on how to get out of the upstairs bedroom if there's a fire.  I was thinking of buying a ladder that you chuck out the window.'

They laugh in unison.  I hope it's not because of the picture of me going out the window bum first, and the slim possibility of my wide posterior actually fitting through the even slimmer window.

'Don't bother.  You'd be wasting your money.'  Says Firegod.  'The fire alarms we installed are very sensitive.'
‘ But if there's a fire on the stairs I can't get out.  All the fire alarm is doing is alerting me to my impending death.'  I'm aware I sound like a pathetic spinster.  The sort that calls out the emergency services because she can't get the lid off the jam jar.

'Put a blanket round the door and call 999 - we'll come and get you.'  Says the dusky Mark Ruffalo look-alike with thighs like small family sedans.
My heard goes clang.
'We're only down the road.  We'll be here in five minutes and we'll get you out. Don't worry.  We won't leave you.  We'll search for you.  Just tell us when you call in that you're on the second floor and we'll be here.'

My heart goes clang, clang, clang, clang, and I realise I haven't taken a breath for what feels like ten minutes.

I’m so overwhelmed with the picture of Mark Ruffalo appearing on an extending ladder outside my bedroom window and rescuing me, that I almost feel like setting the fire myself.

Eventually, like all good things, the firemen come to an end, and they leave only an impression of two large butt cheeks on my sofa and a few footprint outlines on the pelt of my bedroom carpet as proof that they were actually here.

Two days later the fire alarm that they installed on the hall ceiling falls down on the stairs and smashes into several plastic pieces.

I don't know if this constitutes a 999 emergency but it could be worth a try.