I’ve just had a new wood-burning stove installed but the weather has been too warm to light it. However, yesterday it was lashing down with rain and I’d been out all day. When I got home I worked on the computer for a few hours and felt quite chilly. I decided it was time to light the stove to try it out. Once lit, I settled down to watch TV. Soon, my eyes started to smart, my throat kept catching and the TV screen didn’t look as clear as it had. Suddenly the alarms went off and I realized my room was filling with smoke. I spent the evening with the wondow and doors open, thus defeating the object of the exercise. It did, however, remind me of a couple of incidents that happened shortly after I moved here.
The first was when I took over the tenancy of a b&b and tea-room. It was in a 4-bedroomed house, the downstairs of which had been converted to a tea-room. Two of the bedrooms were for guests and my accommodation was in the other two. All bedrooms had fireplaces and chimneys so I turned one of my rooms into a living-room and had the other as my bedroom. The walls in the upstairs rooms were damp and the owner assured me that lighting the fires would get rid of that. Not having ever had an open fire before (I’ve lived a sheltered life) I was rather apprehensive. However, I tentatively lit the one in my livingroom using firelighters and logs. As it started to catch hold I left it to go downstairs to the kitchen for a hot drink but when I returned the room was filled with black smoke. I managed to find my way to the window, got it open and threw a fire blanket over the fire in the mistaken opinion that this would put the flames out. Wrong. Firelighters keep on burning, no matter what.
I phoned the Fire Brigade to see if I could throw water onto it and was horrified when she said she’d send out a fire tender to deal with the problem. I tried to stop her – wasn’t that wasting precious time when they could be dealing with a real fire and saving chilren’s lives? Two huge fire engines arrived with all klaxons blaring and several tall chunky men rushed past me and put the fire out. I have never been so embarrassed in my life. Not only was I a delightful sight with black smoke marks round my mouth and nostrils, but the smoke showed up all the cobwebs I’d not got round to cleaning. (Yes, I’m anally retentive.)They told me that there was a bird’s nest in the chimney, which they cleared for me, but had I not had the chimney swept before lighting the fire? I wanted to crawl away and die. And whatever fantasies I may have entertained about being rescued by hunky firemen were now shattered and tinged with humiliation.
And then there was the second incident. I had started a relationship with a man and it was in the first flushes of romance and excitement. He had been away in London and I had a key to his house as I’d been watering his plants and feeding his fish. He rang to say he’d be back late and would see me the following day but I decided to surprise him. I thought I’d give myself to him as a present for him to unwrap and carted lots of candles, tealights and incense cones over to his house. I made a trail of tealights from the front door to the bedroom, scattered rose petals and put several incense cones into a large glass ashtray. I then showered and laid out a new teddy I’d bought along with some ribbon to wrap myself in.
It was getting near his arrival time so I lit everything, was getting dressed in the teddy, one foot in the other out, when the glass ashtray shattered with the heat. The lighted cones fell to the floor, but one of them fell down the side of a settee. Trying to put out the flames in bare feet isn’t recommended, nor is opening the front door in the nude to stop the smoke alarms, especially when elderly neighbours are walking their dogs. He arrived home to find his bedroom swimming in water and me very bedraggled, nursing burnt feet. Not quite the homecoming I’d envisaged. The relationship didn’t last either, so I suppose there’s a moral in there somewhere.
I like to see those two incidents as being a metaphor for my life. I go off half-cocked and throw myself whole-heartedly without thinking things through or the consequences. But somehow, in the middle of the muddles I create or the smoke that obscures my vision, there is salvation somewhere, be it an external agency like the fire service, or through my own efforts with a bucket and water.
Life would be very boring without a few flames every now and again.