When I was a child bonfires were the most exciting thing; every so often there would be a garden bonfire to burn dead plants and weeds, things which wouldn’t compost, and then of course there would be bonfire night which was altogether more spectacular in a small domestic back garden way! Up until I was a teenager we always had a coal fire at home, in fact, apart from a paraffin heater that was all we had to heat the flat we lived in – I’m not complaining, that’s just the way it was. If we were cold we put on more clothes and had hot water bottles in bed!
I have positive and benign memories of fire, but thinking about it today, as Saddleworth Moor burns there are other thoughts on fire, on its destructive and terrible power and effect. Seeing fire engines charging by as a child was exciting, but I never thought of the poor people whose house was aflame, except for imagined fictional and miraculous rescues by gallant firemen.
Then I had a summer job strawberry picking and the woman beside me was Austrian (not that it has anything to do with my tale!) She told me her house had recently burnt down and she and her daughters had been lucky to escape in just their nightwear. Everything was lost. People had rallied round and she found somewhere else to live. We talked about what she had lost ‘all her memories’ she said – not just photos and memorabilia but little things, her children’s paintings from school, their baby clothes, ornaments and souvenirs she had bought – small, valueless items which could never, never be replaced… and then there were practical things. In her new place she wanted to sew a button on something… her sewing kit was gone.
This made a big impact – as you can tell, I was about seventeen when I met this lady. Years later, when I had done my degree, worked, done my teaching certificate and got my first teaching job in Manchester, I arrived at my new school and there was the acrid smell of smoke. Some arsonist student had set the school stage on fire six months before I arrived… and the school still reeked. In a peculiar coincidence, four years later, when I started another job, in Oldham, I arrived to the same smell of smoke and burned things… some other young arsonist had set fire to that school stage!
Now wild fire is raging across Somerset Moor, not far from where we used to live. A pall of smoke hangs across the area, drifting across Manchester, Derbyshire and Cheshire as fire fighters battle to control it and new fires ignite the tinder dry heather and grass heathland.
I’ve never written about fire – I had a burning building idea for one of my books, but it didn’t fit and was put aside… maybe it will come back, but fire is such a horrifying thing, so frightening, I’m not sure I’m quite ready to write about it yet.
My featured image is looking across a reservoir to the moor – this view would be obscured by smoke now…
A link to my books… no fire, plenty of other drama though!