I have a penchant for nostalgic posts, and this one is no different. But before I get into that, I must quickly talk about my awesome weekend in the UK.
Last weekend was the christening of Zoë and Richard's youngest child. Zoë is my oldest friend, we’ve known each other since we were 14. Zoë and I haven’t lived near each other since 2000, but it’s one of those friendships that doesn’t require close proximity, or even super frequent contact to thrive.
Zoë and I have shared a lot in the last 17 years (17 bloody years!!) and she’s now happily married with 2 beautiful kids. I was honoured to be her Maid of Honour last year, and was equally honoured to be asked to be Godmother to her youngest child.
This weekend was his christening and it was a great weekend. I headed over to Zoë’s parents on Saturday afternoon to be able to see the kids, and spend some time with Zoë and her folks, before heading out for some food that night with her, Richard and her brother Leon.
Sunday was the christening itself, and although I’m not a religious person, I do like Bradford Cathedral and its services. I went with Zoë a few times before the wedding, then the actual wedding, plus the two christenings. It’s probably my most frequented religious establishment! The christening was done by the same Canon who married Zoë and Richard, so there was a nice personal touch to the whole event. It was also a bit of a farewell as they moved to Cambridge the day after the christening.
Once the service was complete, we all headed back to Zoë’s family home for some food etc. Zoë, her mum & her future sister in law had spent all of Sat making a delicious spread and it went down a storm. There was previously a tradition of an August Bank Holiday weekend BBQ at the Severn house due to the close proximity in birthdays of Zoë and her dad, and her parents wedding anniversary. These BBQs ended for good a few years back, but they’d run for nigh on 10 yrs previous to that (maybe longer!). It was partly due to this fact that I had absolutely no issues about heading to the christening on my own, sans companion. As I mentioned before, I’ve known Zoë 17 years, so by association I know her family well. From attendance at the annual BBQs I’ve gotten to know a wide range of their friends too, supplemented by the wedding and a christening last year.
I got home at 10.30pm, having been picked up at 9.30am. I ate, I drank, I played with the kids (responsibly of course!), I laughed till I cried and I got to spend a lovely time with Zoë, Richard, the kids, and everyone else there. So, thanks again to Zoë and Richard for their decision to make me Godmother to their son, and for a wonderful weekend. See you both in your new home in Cambridge!
Now onto the nostalgia….
Given that Zoë’s parents home is only a 5 min drive away from my parents house, it made sense for me to stay with Dad and Lesley (my stepmum) for the weekend. They're moving to Wetherby once their current house sells, and chatting about this on Friday caused us to realise that the next day was the 17yr anniversary of us moving to that house. I actually moved out of the house when I was 19 but it is the longest family home I’ve ever had. It’ll be bloody weird when they sell it and I will miss it. I have many many memories in that house, some good, and some not so good…I was a teen in the house, it was fraught time! I’m not going to recount every memory, obviously. But there is one that deserves special mention owing to its spectacular nature. It involves me, and a chip pan…
It was April 1997, I was 15 years old. Lesley and Dad were out for the evening at a corporate thing and I was trusted to be on my own. Normally not an issue. We’d recently acquired a chip pan, but not an electric one, just a big pan with oil in it. Before I go any further I need to say something about the layout of the house. It’s a 3 storey house, with the kitchen and separate dining room on the level as you walk in, then downstairs is the lounge and study (with a door at the top of the stairs), and then the bedrooms upstairs.
I did my homework in the study downstairs as I had access to a computer and a desk. I’d started my homework, and then headed upstairs to the kitchen to put dinner on. I’d opted for chicken nuggets and put the chip pan on the gas hob before nipping downstairs to turn off the music and come back up to supervise the food. This was genuinely my intention. I can be a total ditz at times but I didn’t walk away with the intention of being away for long. In the 2 mins whilst I was downstairs to turn the music off, the phone rang and it was my school friend Emma ringing to ask about one of the bits of homework. This distraction meant that my original intention of being away from the kitchen for a few mins was now non existent. And I’d closed the door as I came downstairs, so I didn’t hear the smoke alarm going off. It must have been a good 20/25 mins (maybe less) before mid conversation with Emma, I decided to go back up to the kitchen.
I opened the door at the top of the stairs and was greeted by the noise of the smoke alarm, a fair bit of smoke and our rather terrified looking dog, Jenny, hurtling towards me down the hallway. I told Emma my kitchen was on fire and then accidentally cut her off. I looked into the kitchen to see the chip pan on fire, and it was on fire a lot. I did what I’d always been taught, I got a tea towel from the dining room and I wet it in the sink but as I turned I realised I couldn’t get anywhere near the fire. It was much too big for a wet tea towel to handle. I panicked. I grabbed my keys and the dog and I ran outside. I didn’t think to call 999, I was in a blind panic. I ran next door to Sue and told her what was going on and she rang the fire brigade. In the meantime, a random car had stopped. The window opposite the cooker in the kitchen faces the road meaning the driver had seen the fire and stopped. He had an extinguisher in his car, and using my school jumper as a makeshift mask, he went inside and put the fire out.
I’m not entirely sure how long the fire brigade took to arrive, but because the cooker hood was wooden, had been alight and so was smouldering and the gas hob was still on; the fire re-ignited, but only a few mins before the fire brigade arrived. They went in and did their bit, and I was given oxygen partly to calm me down and partly to cover me for any smoke inhalation.
Whilst I’m sat on the wall with an oxygen mask on, 3 of my mates (one of whom was my boyfriend at the time) walk round the corner on their way to my house anyway. They’re rather taken aback to see all the commotion. I don’t remember how long the fire brigade were there for, but they left at some point. My neighbour was there so must have vouched for me being ok without my parents being there, but like I say I don’t remember exactly. It’s a bit of a panicky blur. I do remember Mark (then boyf) and other mates coming into the house to try and clean up a bit. Bless them, it was a fruitless exercise. The kitchen was ruined. The cooker and cooker hood was a burnt and melted mess. The rest of the kitchen was black with soot and there was smoke damage throughout the dining room, and the rest of the house smelt of it too. I also remember my then best mate Jo phoning her parents who came up to get me. They left a note for my parents (days before mobiles!) to say I was with them, and I spent the night at theirs. I didn’t go to school the next day and headed home to face the music.
My timing couldn’t have been better really….we’d just had the kitchen refitted and the decorator was coming to next day to finish the final bits off. My parents had to phone him to tell him there was no point in coming. I don’t remember much about the next few days/weeks to be honest, I think I’ve blocked them out.
One thing I do know is that I’ve never been more terrified in my life as I was upon opening that door and seeing the smoke. I also know that had it not been for the dude driving past stopping and putting the fire out, the whole house would have gone up. The 5 mins or so that the fire was out for before re-igniting made a massive amount of difference. I’ve never owned a chip pan since, either manual or electric. Although if I ever were to own one, it’d be an electric one. Significantly cuts down the chances of such an incident.
I remember the exact song that was playing on the stereo as I paused it to answer the phone to Emma: Patrick Swayze She’s Like the Wind. Unfortunately Emma is no longer with us, having passed away after a short battle with Leukaemia in 2002. But she used to mention that night occasionally. The last she heard from me on the phone was “Shit, the kitchen’s on fire!” before the line went dead. She had no idea what was going on and whether I was ok or not until the next day.
It’s an experience I never want to relive, and one that I’ll remember vividly for a long time to come. But, it just goes to show that I paid attention to those fire safety thingies in school. I knew what to do…I just couldn’t do it.
It’s easy to see those fire safety adverts and think “It’ll never happen to me”. It can, and believe me you never want it to. Always make sure your smoke alarms are functional, and never ever leave a pan of oil unattended, even if you have every intention of coming back. You never know what could happen in the meantime.
So, a rather serious one this time folks. Not much else I can say!
Until next time, much love.