October 22nd, 2004


I filled the vacuum flask with boiling water but forgot to press the button that seals the lid.

Then I shook it.


But I got away with it. The skin of my hand prickled for a while, but I look at it this morning and it's fine. No blistering or peeling. I'm one lucky sumofabitch.

I'm reminded of an earlier accident. The one where I set fire to the cooker. The cat alerted us to it. She was sitting gazing down the corridor with her head to one side. I went to check on what it was she found so interesting and- ohmigod- a room full of orange smoke. And that peasanty wicker-work thing we had hung on the wall behind the cooker (smart- eh?) was snapping and crackling and sending big flames curving up towards the ceiling.

It's a high ceiling, thank goodness, and the flames didn't quite reach.

The pan of oil was blazing like a Christmas pudding and I did what you're not supposed to do and grabbed the handle and tried to carry it to the back door.

I didn't get very far. The flames streamed back over my hand. I dropped the pan on the couch and melted great holes in the fabric. My hand was a mess.

I should have run. Instead I did the other thing you're not supposed to do and slung water about.

Well the cooker got fried, but the fire was out by the time the fire brigade arrived. Whats a little smoke inhalation between friends? I hid my hand because I hate, hate, hate the accident and emergency unit. And I got a story out of it in which I feature as lovably brave but stupid.


The air smells faintly of coke.

Not cocaine or coca-cola, but coke as in Coketown- the processed coal they still allow you to burn in smokeless zones.

The smell of a 1950s winter.

Only then the reek was sharper and harsher. Everyone was burning the hard stuff. If weather conditions were right we had visitations of that thick, sulphurous, man-killing fog that Dickens called a “London peculiar”.

Up on Croham Hurst. Snow on the ground, fog among the trees and me alone and terrified of ghosts. Of one ghost in particular. The ghost of an Edwardian lady rider who’d gone done the slope at full tilt and broken her neck. Friends said that if you scrabbled among the scree you could still find stones with her blood on.

There’s a sound that goes with the smell. It’s the sound of sacks of coal being emptied into the concrete bunker in the back-yard.

(The coal man had a horse and cart)

A sliding roar that ends in a whisper.