Saturday, 27 September 2008

An Execration upon Vulcan



We were woken at 2am by the sound of the house on the other side of the street - literally fifteen paces away - burning down. I heard bangings and crashings as I slept, enjoying a fitful dream, and when I opened my eyes I could dimly see orange flames reflected on the curtains. With the kind of cold instant alertness that possesses one at times like these, I leapt out of bed, ran up the front stairs - ran back, put some clothes on, ran out again - and saw fifteen-foot flames licking the front of the house directly facing ours in our small urban street. A parked car was five feet from the blaze, with its petrol tank already no doubt on a rolling boil. As usual in Britain, people were standing around in quilted dressing gowns drinking mugs of tea - I half expected the genteel old queen who lives next door to be out there cracking open the Harveys Bristol Cream and suggesting a round of community kumbayah-ing.

Fortunately, no one was in the house; it's a student property that was being redecorated. The builders had tossed all the crap from the renovations - rotten plasterboard, card, old planks and so on - into the tiny bit of front garden instead of into a skip. On top of this ziggurat of crud they had placed an old-fashioned 70's foam sofa, with a particularly eye-watering orange paisley cover. No doubt some drunken cretin had thought, as they shambled past with a kebab, that it would be good clean fun to set light to this inflammable appurtenance. The inhabitants of the house had until recently been a band of bastards who had held incredibly noisy late-night parties and who were prone to sticking techno on at 6.30am, making our lives a misery. I found myself hoping that they were merely on holiday and their wretched stereo had been reduced to a plasticy puddle. Alas, I'm fairly sure they'd moved out, and it will doubtless be the poor landlord who has to pick up the tab. (Brand new UPVC windows, incidentally, go up a treat, with lovely ribbony, greasy, black and orange flames.)

The fire engine came, and it took the fire crew twenty minutes or so to get the blaze under control. I went back to bed, and lay awake listening to the pocks and tumbling thuds made by glass breaking and water-saturated plaster collapsing.

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