The Summer of ‘76 was a scorcher. The sun burned down every day. It didn’t rain for months, and water was rationed as the reservoirs ran dry. Instead of a beautiful lush green, the England was brown, withered and fit to burst into flames. Which is probably a very bad thing if you’re a ten-year-old pyromaniac.
I just couldn’t help it. I had a thing for fire. My parents didn’t help much by putting me in the cub scouts, which was rubbing two sticks together and blazing camp fires all the way. My most excellent grandfather had a bonfire almost every weekend, and we’d pile anything flammable on top and watch the flames scorch the feathers off birds for a hundred yard radius.
I had to burn things. It was ace.
So it came to pass that I found myself on the wasteland between Loddon Hall and the youth club with nothing to do and a packet of Swan Vestas rattling in my pocket. A hedge ran along one side separating it from the park, and that’s where I found an empty glass coke bottle.
It was then I had one of those lightbulb-over-your-head moments.
“Wouldn’t it be great if I could light a fire in this coke bottle and carry it around with me?”
To a ten year old this genie in a bottle stuff is pretty sound logic, but frankly, nigh on impossible as any fule kno.
I stuffed the bottle with scraps of paper and tinder-dry sticks of which there was a plentiful supply. I struck my first match and put it in. Nothing. As soon as it passed the bottle top it went out. Stupid thing. I tried it again. And again. And again with less paper and sticks in the bottle. Clearly it wasn’t going to work.
My second lightbulb moment.
“What if I lit the fire outside the bottle, and once it’s well lit, I can put it in!”
Genius. I set about building a small fire out of the materials to hand. One match, and up it went like Mount Vesuvius. In the space of approximately five seconds, my small fire had become a raging inferno. And there was no way on earth I was going to pick it up and shove it in a bottle. In fact, the fire was spreading at such an alarming rate over the grass and into the bushes that all thought of my fire-in-a-bottle were forgotten and replaced by an overwhelming urge to run away and hide under my bed.
So that’s what I did. I only lived about a quarter of a mile away, and my feet barely touched the ground. A glance over my shoulder confirmed the worst - the entire hedgerow was aflame in almost biblical proportions. I ran upstairs and dived under my bed. By the light of a blazing match (yes, I really was THAT stupid), I could see that I was alright and clearly hadn’t been followed home by the forces of law and order.
I went downstairs. My mother was standing at the kitchen window watching a column of thick black smoke rising into the sky, punctuated by the odd lick of flame. The sound of sirens could be heard.
“Ooh. I wonder what happened there then?”
I wouldn’t know, mother, I wouldn’t know. I just hoped my eyebrows would grow back before she noticed.
Postscript: I went back to the scene of the crime a few years ago (for the now infamous Wedding From Hell). It’s all grown back now, and I didn’t even have the slightest urge to strike a match. Hardly.