Week 22: The Time I Set Fire To My House

Friday June 1st 2018

Reading time 04 minutes 53 seconds

If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen – Buck Fizz *

Some time ago I almost burned down my house.

It was during a Spring half term, my Dad was at work and I had the house to myself. I was 15 and like all teenagers thought the world owed me a living and I wanted to know where to collect. In other words, I was only interested in me. My friend came over to my house which we had arranged without mobile phones. That’s because there weren’t any.

Not for the first time I had a crush on a girl and she had also agreed to pop over with her friend and I was hoping there was going to be some kissing. Maybe if I was lucky there would be some canoodling. Because the internet hadn’t been invented no one of my age knew anything of any real value on canoodling and a Pears Encyclopaedia didn’t give me what I needed so if we canoodled I was going in cold.

To impress the girls, I decided to cook and whilst I was no Keith Floyd I could hold my own. I decided on chips. I made great chips. 

Not shop bought chips but proper home-made chips like your Nan would have made. These chips were going to be canoodle tastic. 

My dad taught me that to make chips you needed a one litre bottle of oil in a pan, turn the gas to high and never leave it alone in case it catches fire.

My canoodle plan was missing something. 


Really loud music. I turned on my Dads stereo in the front room and cranked it up to 11. 

Seconds later ‘Every Day’ by Buddy Holly had filled the house, two fifteen-year-old boys were dancing and the chip pan was doing great. Then just as Buddy hit his swing he became very quiet and tinny. I went into the front room and although the dial was clearly at 11 there was almost no sound coming from the speakers.

“We’ve broken your dads stereo” said my mate. “It’s probably a tweeter, or a woofer.” He wasn’t being funny or technical he was just quoting a Not The Nine O’clock News sketch back at me.

My Dad loved that stereo. He loved to sit in our [his] front room and listen to music. He’d created this space for himself (think in the style of Austin Powers meeting Ray Winstone) and I must admit it was a really cool looking room. 

Being invincible teenagers, we thought we could tackle the problem and we started to tinker with the speakers. After about 10 minutes we looked up from the bits of speaker and noticed through the serving hatch this luminescent captivating volcanic orange glow. Accompanied by plumes of smoke it was a sight to behold.

The serenity of this moment faded when I realised that the kitchen was on fire. 

In addition to teaching me how to cook my Dad also showed me how to deal with a chip pan fire. It’s as if he knew this day would come and when it did I was fairly calm and my training kicked in. I turned off the gas, soaked a tea towel in water and smothered the flames. In the interim my mate had phoned the fire brigade and we were saved.

That’s what I remember anyway.

My friend says it was the other way around and he was the hero who put out the fire as I had wanted to carry the chip pan flames into the garden. The weird thing is we both remember assessing the situation and as the flames were licking up the walls all around us we were discussing our plan of action. Either way the fire was out as the wet tea towel had starved the fire of oxygen which was ironic as Oxygen starvation was about to lay in my short lived future. 

At this point our potential canoodelers turned up. They were quickly followed by the fire brigade arrived who piled into the house. I explained what happened and they looked at me, my mate, the two girls and laughed. I remember thinking their insensitivity was inappropriate given the severity of the situation. 

They praised us for tackling the fire and said it was a good job we didn’t try and carry it outside. At the very least I thought we’d get a badge or commendation but all we received was a wink from a fireman who mistakenly believed that canoodling was still on the cards. In hindsight I should have asked to borrow his uniform.

The fireman left.

The girls left.

My mate left.

My Dad returned from work and to my utter amazement he didn’t go mental. He said he was just glad I was OK and popped off to go and relax in our [his] front room by listening to some music. In all the excitement I had forgotten about the stereo and hoped he wouldn’t notice.

He noticed.

That’s when I discovered how much he loved that stereo.

I stayed at a friend’s house that night and on returning my life savings were immediately confiscated to pay for the damages. My dad bought a deep fat fryer as well as a new stereo. 

Despite this, and years later, he still visits my home every Christmas but I’ll be damned if I leave him alone in my kitchen as he has a vengeful streak.

My friend, who was with me that day, believes the episode had a such an effect on his life that he is not allowed to leave a room if a candle is burning or even if the light is turned on.

I’m not quite as affected as I still cook chips. I still listen to Buddy Holly. And on those very rare occasions I have the odd canoodle.

Photo: The actual phone used on that day. This photo must have been taken a few weeks before.

*If you’re reading this Cheryl Baker, I’m still waiting for you to sweep me off my feet