The smoke alarm went off at one o'clock this morning.

I was in a deep sleep, but it woke me pretty damn quickly. We've got two smoke sensors - one on the landing upstairs and one in the hall - and a heat sensor down in the basement where the washing machine and tumble drier live. They're all linked together (the alarms, not the washing machine and tumble drier), so if one goes off, they all do. Slightly out of synch with each other. And they're very loud, especially in the dead of night. I guess that's the point, really.

The alarms cut out almost as soon as I was awake, but I still had to wander around the house, sniffing and looking to try and work out what had set them off. There was no smoke, no fire, not even excess heat in the basement (although the SausageDog had gone outside through the dog-flap which means he, at least, was paying attention during fire-safety training).

It's not often something wakes me from a deep sleep, and neither is it a particularly pleasant experience. All the time I was searching the house for evidence of combustion, I felt like I was falling over. It was a bit like the unsteadiness of being very drunk but without any of the other symptoms - and since I don't drink on school nights, I couldn't blame booze anyway. When I had finally convinced myself there was no fire, just a malicious electrical pixie having some fun at my expense, I then lay in bed, in the dark, wide awake and quivering,* my heart hammering away in my chest as if I had strayed into a romance novel. Sleep took a long time to come - I recall glancing at the clock and seeing two go past.

Odd things go through your mind at times like this. Well, odd things go through my mind at times like this, anyway. Actually, odd things go through my mind pretty much all the time, but we won't go there. Anyway, as I lay there, watching the dark shadows of the eucalyptus tree outside swaying in the wind, I pretty much managed to convince myself that the ghost of the old lady who used to live here had come back and was playing silly buggers with the smoke alarm in a Poltergeist-esque attempt to get me to leave her home. No doubt she can't forgive me for painting over the horrid salmon pink she coloured all the walls, or thinking about covering up the unusual red fascia boards with ordinary white gloss. Perhaps her roaming spirit is angry with me for dumping a ton of woodchip on top of the grave of her favourite old dog.**

Then I began to wonder whether I hadn't imagined the whole thing. That nagging worry stayed with me until morning, but the Horse Doctor assured me, over her bowl of home-made muesli, that she too had heard the alarm, and next time could I not put the light on and wake her up. I'll be sure to remember that when the flames are licking up the stairs.

Many years ago, when I was still in short trousers and at boarding school, we used to have fairly regular fire practices. You could always tell it was a drill, though, because no sooner had the alarm gone off than a prefect or schoolmaster would appear in the dormitory, switch on the lights and start shouting. I can still remember the sense of disorientation and the surreal feeling of standing on a dew-damp lawn in the dead of night wearing just pyjamas and a dressing gown. There was also the crushing disappointment at discovering the school wasn't in fact on fire and we weren't all going to be sent home early. Last night it all came flooding back, the disorientation, the surreal horror-movie feeling and above all else the crushing disappointment when I realised that the house wasn't actually ablaze.

Ah well. Maybe next time.

* I know that sounds vaguely disgusting, but I can't think of any better word.
** digging anywhere in the garden is a hazard - there's hundreds of old dog graves dotted around, and a memorial plaque laid into the middle of the front lawn.***
*** but I can hardly complain - I planted a plum tree on top of Buddug the cat, after all.


Ellen said…
I sometimes fantasize that my house will burn down, conveniently burning only the accumulation of junk stored in the attic or basement, but harming nothing else!
JamesO said…
I'm the same, Ellen, only then I start thinking about all the individual bits of accumulated junk I don't want burned. I'm sure I could live without almost everything in my house - some of it's been in boxes for almost fifteen years, after all - but it's my stuff. I need it. Really.

Popular Posts