Yesterday’s WordPress suggested topic was “What’s the most on fire you’ve ever been (literally or figuratively)”. I reckon most people will take the topic figuratively and will write about the most amazing buzz they‘ve ever had. The creatively-minded will write about some wonderful day of writing. The sporty will write about a day in which they wiped the floor with the opposition. Síle Seoige will write about last week’s Kylie concert (Google “Síle Seoige Kylie“ if you wish, dear overseas friends, you’ve never seen such a fuss in the papers over so little).
I’m going to take it slightly more literally by telling a tale in which I do not end up covered in flames, but neither do I end up covered in glory.
It involves a Tinman in his late teens and a chip-pan. As far as I know they are a thing of the past, people tend now to grill chips. Back then however, we didn’t need snowboarding, bungee jumping or parachuting to give us the thrill of danger, because each Saturday we got to fill a deep pan with flammable oil, add some flammable potato, and place it upon a gas flame. You also had to shake it violently every now and then to make sure the chips were evenly cooked, adding to the fun by splashing now boiling oil in all directions.
I was in my parents’ house one day cooking chips when the pan went on fire. Calmly I just opened the back door, fired the blazing oil out onto the grass, and decided I might have cornflakes instead. Then the extractor fan above the cooker suddenly burst into flames. Now I was no longer a man dealing with a burning chip pan, I was a youth dealing with a burning house. With a three-year old nephew asleep upstairs.
There was no time to ring for anyone, no time to shout for anyone, I simply had to put the fire out. So I did what any teenager who’d decided that science was too difficult at school would have done. I filled a saucepan with water and, in a pancake-flipping motion, hurled the water up into the electric fan, and repeated this until the flames went out.
Apparently that was a bad thing to do. Apparently water and electricity do not go well together. I know this now, because I was told. Repeatedly. By just about everyone who was told the story over the next few weeks. Which was just about everyone, in the family, in the town, in the country. “What were you thinking?” was a common question, which the answer “that I had to put this bloody fire out” did not seem to satisfy.
I still don’t know why. Fire put out, nephew safe, back garden weeds comprehensively napalmed.