Soooo my mysterious watery powers appear to have deserted me. It seems like only yesterday that my friends and other concerned parties were warning me not to visit the Thames Barrier, in case my mere presence caused a massive yet strangely inexplicable rupture of that noble edifice.
Now it appears to be fire’s turn to dog my steps. Despite my lighthearted introduction, it has been a sinister transition. Three days ago I was walking back to my flat. My dad happened to be visiting and as we turned into a small street near my house we saw two fire trucks and a small chorus of emergency vehicles. People stood on the sidewalk peering at a set of first-story windows (that’s one up from the ground, my dear American readers). Stained an opaque dirty gray by the smoke, the panes were shut tight. Ribbons of thick black soot still leaked out, billowing into a smog that settled over the whole street. Water cascaded across the cobbles. Firemen grimly donned smoke masks before approaching the door, heading straight up the stairs to the conflagration. More ambulances and the fire investigation truck arrived as we watched.
We left after a few minutes, but when we walked past again later, the fire had been put out and the windows broken to vent the room. The following day a charred mattress and other remains appeared in the small space railed-in space in front of the house, and a large skip in the road. Plastic sheeting covered the broken windows. I have heard nothing further about the occupants of the house, and strangely, the incident hasn’t appeared on the incidents feed of the London Fire Brigade webpage. I can only assume this means the incident is still being investigated or that it wasn’t important enough to report. Perhaps there was nobody in the house at the time.
Fire was not yet done with me, and came circling closer. Last night as the witching hour approached, I heard a small “Foom!” and the power went out. I was crocheting a beautiful shawl with yarn a friend gave me, so I was piqued to lose the light. I also realised for the first time that I lacked a flashlight, an essential piece of equipment with which every young lady should be furnished. Fortunately, my flatmate Annie had one and together we made our way downstairs to the living room.
In the living room stood John, our third flatmate and her boyfriend. Even by the dim beam of the flashlight it was possible to see the shock on his face.
“The iron exploded,” he said. We looked at the iron, a small part of which had melted where the wiring met the base. We looked at the ironing board, with a rocket-shaped scorch mark running up the side. We smelled the distinctive ozone-y smell of a recently extinguished electrical fire, with overtones of burnt plastic. Indeed, the iron had…well, short-circuited and then caught fire is probably a more accurate description, but exploded is more fun to say.
John described the iron suddenly making a terrible hissing noise, catching fire in his hand and throwing off sparks. It’s a wonder he wasn’t burned, really. He had the good sense to unplug the thing which stopped it sparking everywhere, but was at a loss as to how to extinguish the flames until he realised they were actually only about candle-sized and blew on them. He told us this in the dark, because he is no handyman and couldn’t figure out how to reset the circuit breaker. We gathered around the flat’s fusebox, together perplexed by the fact that none of them appeared to have popped out. We pressed buttons. We turned switches. We then realised that the girl in the flat downstairs had was on the phone describing how the power in her flat was similarly nonfunctional.
“There’s a fusebox in the entranceway as well, isn’t there?” I mused. John concurred. Taking the flashlight with him, he braved the stairs, found the offending circuit breaker and brought light to our building once more.
The wreckage looked no less ominous in the glare of full light. We were all too keyed up to go to bed and so stood round staring at it for a while. In the meantime, we had an impromptu flat meeting about Fire Safety. I was elected Flat Safety Officer on account of my previous experience as a Residence Adviser in a dorm in Exeter. (I do actually have a very official-looking Fire Safety certificate for which I had to put out two fires, one with a blanket and one with a water extinguisher. I highly recommend a Fire Safety course to anyone who has the opportunity.) I treat my responsibility with the utmost seriousness, and we’ve requested a fire safety visit from the fire brigade. I am, of course, in no way influenced by the opportunity to meet an attractive firefighter.
The iron incident was mildly frightening. Seeing someone else’s flat burned to a smoking hull certainly gave me pause–my heart goes out to them, and as ever when seeing something so bleak I appreciate and am grateful for my own good fortune all the more. But there is yet a third form of rumination this intrusion of fire has caused: will it be wind or earth next? Are we talking hurricanes and earthquakes or sylvan breezes and gently rolling hills? I shall continue to keep you appraised of elemental developments as and when they arise. Stay tuned.