Saturday, 18 February 2017

What would you save from your burning house?

by Lu Hersey

On Boxing Day, we had a house fire. It happened fast. Scarily fast.

I’d gone round to a friend’s place, and my daughters were settled in the front room, watching a film on Netflix. Twenty minutes into their film, there was a noise like a heavy bookcase falling over, followed by an indoor hailstorm. My freezer had exploded. Who knew that was even possible? 

Racing out to see what the hell was going on, the girls were confronted by a wall of fire in the hall, which was spreading quickly up the stairs, massively helped by the sheets drying over the banisters (think about this - you probably dry your sheets over the banisters sometimes too…)

Leaving the house so fast they didn’t even take their coats, bags or keys, they called the fire brigade (of course they had their phones – they’d probably burn to a crisp before they left their phones…) And then they called me.

I got back home within five minutes. By that time, firemen had broken down the door (the girls’ keys were locked inside) and were stomping all over the house spraying water everywhere. Fire engines filled the entire road and ALL the neighbours had come out to see what was happening.

At this point my son returned with a friend, both carrying a few beers, to collect an Xbox game – they'd planned a night of retro gaming.
‘Er, street party?’ he asked, looking slightly bewildered.
At least he made me laugh.

The firemen finally put out the fire and said it was safe enough to go back in to collect any urgent stuff we needed, before they secured the door.

The house was dark, because the electricity had blown in the fire, and it stank. The staircase was badly burnt, and there were puddles of water everywhere.
My son found his zombie apocalypse game.
My daughters went and got their bags.
I spent a quite a while looking for the cat, seriously worried he might have died in the blaze. (Fortunately he hadn't. He turned up the next day, covered in ash and looking very sorry for himself)
When I couldn't find him, with a heavy heart, I grabbed my macbook (practical choice - all my work is in there somewhere)…and a Neolithic grinding stone.

Yes, I know. Frankly, I’m not sure either. Obviously I should have rescued irreplaceable photo albums, my notebooks – or even something sensible like pants and socks.

But the grinding stone…

What can I say? It was given to me by a bored attendant at a Neolithic site at Antequera in Spain when I was seven years old. Even then, it felt like a very special gift. I loved it.

When me and the kids last moved (20 years ago) I thought I'd lost it for good in the chaos. At one point I even snuck back to the old house to check it hadn't been chucked in the rockery. Then recently, thinking I was about to move again, I found it buried at the bottom of a trunk in the attic. It felt like being reunited with a long lost friend.

The stone fits perfectly in your hand. Surfaces worn smooth by years of Neolithic use, it gives you a direct link to a point some 5000 years back in time.

Since the fire, the new book I've started writing has a strong Neolithic theme running through it - so maybe it wasn’t such a weird choice after all?

Okay, imagine your house is on fire right now – what are you going to save? 

Lu Hersey
Twitter: @LuWrites
Instagram: luwrites
Wordpress blog: Lu Writes

Deep Water, published by Usborne, out now


Anne Booth said...

Oh my goodness. What a terrible thing to happen. So glad that everyone (including the cat) was OK. I had no idea that freezers could explode. How on earth do you prevent something like that happening? I really want to know now.

I really like the fact that your new book has got a neolithic theme - there must have been a good reason why you chose that stone.

LuWrites said...

I hope so, Anne - it seems a pretty weird choice otherwise! I'm also very keen to find out how to prevent fires. Fire alarms are essential if annoying - but this happened so fast, they didn't make any difference...

Hilary Hawkes said...

Oh, Lu, how awful. So glad you were all safe though. What would I save? After ensuring everyone was out or getting out I might grab my laptop with all my work on if I was near enough. I have some objects right next to it with sentimental or emotionally strengthening value (like a singing bowl, or a wooden leaf with the word 'resilience' painted on it!) I did experience a house fire once as a child - I don't think my parents grabbed anything except for us. Fortunately it wasn't bad though.

Sue Purkiss said...

How awful! I'd probably grab my laptop, because it has lots of photos and my work on it. But who knows what you'd go for in the heat (sorry!) of the moment. Is your house back to normal now?

LuWrites said...

Think most writers would save their laptops first (even I managed that!) but love the sound of your sentimental attachment things, Hilary! House won't be back to normal for at least six months, sadly - but at least we all survived, which is the main thing.

Rowena House said...

Such a horrific thing. And I've never heard of a freezer exploding either. Extraordinary. Think I'd have grabbed photos first: wedding, son's baby pics, ones of mum etc. But I totally get the stone. Very special.

Becca McCallum said...

What a horrible thing to happen. Er, if my house (my mum's actually) was on fire right now, I'd probably grab my story notebook that's right in front of me now (that's a paper notebook, not a laptop!) and yell for my brother upstairs in the attic and make sure he was awake and downstairs.

LuWrites said...

The one common theme seems to be writers think of grabbing their laptops or notebooks before practically everything apart from family!

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Stroppy Author said...

What a terrible, frightening thing to happen! So glad you are all OK.
No need to grab my laptop as everything is on Dropbox and so easily retrieved from any other computer. If I was in the right room to grab it, I've always thought it would be a tiny cardboard palazzo, complete with velvet canal, that my daughter made me when she was little - as a stand-in until she could afford to buy me a real palazzo in Venice. (Still waiting...)