Perhaps these things are cyclical. Or maybe it’s a blogger’s déjà vu. A karmic reaction to writing about it all in the first place. This evening, cherry picked strands from previous blog posts visit us in condensed form. They visit us, as it happens, in our sitting room.
‘Hang on a second’ I call out into the smoke. ‘I think we’ve already done this.’
It is, naturally, my favourite evening again. That Friday feeling which is intoxicating all day long. The kids are happy. I’m sneaking some newspaper reading on my bed – all gruesome murder tales, what is going on? – followed by googling how to kick off as a freelance something or other. Anything really. Yes it’s time to be a freelancer. There’s much encouragement out there. Something called ‘online content writing’ for a start. I could do that, I’m pretty sure, whatever it is. Sounds like a doddle. I’m congratulating myself on my job search with a cup of tea and indulging in a marshmallow covered rice crispie bun when marque 2 comes to me with my phone, already answered. I can see as he waves it at me that it is one of those numbers you do not need to engage with on a Friday evening. I possibly shoot him a little daggers look. I would not have been available if he hadn’t answered it. A lending bank. Looking for dosh. Or a twelve and a half year old bank clerk as it turns out, with a zillion questions. Cheeky intrusive questions. Slapping me on the wrist. Even though we’re up to date with our interest only agreement, I swear. To keep it going the child clerk is demanding bank statements, pay slips, social welfare slips if applicable. Go to hell I’m mouthing as I dip the bun into the tea to kaleidoscopic effect.
I will not let the cheeky pup put a dampener on the evening, I mumble to myself as I light the fire. We have all we need for a perfectly relaxing night enhanced by some flames. She’s got to me though. I find myself emptying lunch boxes and checking for notes in school bags – the activity of say, a Tuesday evening, not a bloody blissful Friday. I find a note from marque 4’s reading support teacher indicating a sudden waning in effort. I’m concocting an excuse to write back (sick, tired, bored – and that’s just me) and look around the room for inspiration. There’s something not quite right. I can’t see the kids clearly. There’s a fog in here. A dense fume filled fog. And then the alarm that we never expect to hear starts to flash and bleep. The carbon monoxide alarm.
‘Out of the sitting room’ I holler and they run with that out onto the street.
‘The hall guys, just wait in the hall until I put the fire out and open the windows’.
‘No way Mum, we had someone in school yesterday talking about carbon monoxide poisoning. I’m not going back in there’ marque 3 says, standing in the dark wet drive, barefoot, in his PJs. The others echo his sentiments. Mutiny. He coughs. Reminding me that he’s a touch asthmatic. The drama unfurls.
Marque 1 and I set about quenching the flames and opening the back door and windows to the piercing shriek of the alarm. The others fret about us on the driveway, a smidgeon of palpable hysteria, the odd plea to ‘get out of there Mum’. The smoke alarm joins in with the poison alarm just for the hell of it. As mother and protector of this crew there are many conflicting, guilt ridden thoughts. Chimney swept. Tick. Carbon monoxide alarm. Tick. (A gift from my conscientious sister, but tick nonetheless). Instilling calm. Fail. Why won’t they come back in?
‘We’re waiting for Dad. He always knows exactly what to do’ marque 4 calls back and the others echo him. The traitors. Great. He’ll be greeted by a semi-hysterical, semi-clad gang on the street, shrieking about being poisoned. And he’s only been gone for a couple of hours. I think I feel a massive toxic headache coming on.
A potentially blissful Friday night slips from my grasp, again. I google sites for advice and come up with the idea that, for safety, even though the alarm has given up, I’ll phone the local fire station to run through what happened and see if there’s anything else we should do. A simple, natural, reasonable step. Until I phone the local number to be told it’s no longer in use. If you wish to contact this station dial 999 of 112. As the sites recommend this, I take a fumey breath and choose the seemingly less dramatic 112.
‘Which emergency service do you require, ambulance, Garda, Coast guard, fire?’
‘Oh, well I was just hoping to chat to someone about something that happened with the fire earlier’.
‘Fire, putting you through now’.
‘Address where the fire emergency is?’
‘No it’s not an emergency as such. We lit a fire and the carbon monoxide alarm went off and I just want to chat to…’
‘Where is the emergency taking place?’
‘Where do we need to dispatch the fire engine to?’
I’m with Dougal. I want out… I didn’t know what I was getting into.
‘I don’t think it warrants the fire-brigade (again), I just want a chat, I don’t want to be wasting their time’. Or our money.
‘But you dialled 999 and that’s what they do – go out, check with rods, carbon monoxide detectors’.
It wasn’t 999.
‘Could they come without the truck?’ Don’t want to alarm the poor neighbours, again.
‘Will we be charged €500?’
‘I can’t say’.
‘Can I just talk to one of them?’
‘I can’t give over any numbers’. So understand this. If you are concerned at all, about fire related issues, there are no half-way choices. It’s all bells and whistles. Oh and the probability of a €500 charge. Or nothing. No helpline, where you can run through your concerns once you’ve handled the emergency yourself. Why the hell not?
I delegate. Hand the phone to the person who always knows exactly what to do. He is perhaps a little surprised to be talking to the emergency services. Even more to be discussing the imminent arrival of the fire brigade to our quenched detoxifying home. He’s wondering if I’m losing it. So am I. Oh well.
He declines the offer of the brigade on grounds of cost and drama. Just like me. Isn’t there perhaps something a little worrying about this though? We, and I’d guess many more like us, have to weigh up the odds, take a chance that all will be well safety wise. Otherwise invite a ginormous flashing truck and a ginormous bill. Are people risking their lives or injuring themselves putting out their own fires because of the bill? Shouldn’t there be a middle ground solution? A chat with someone, who might just pop by in a car, check it out, for an eighth of the cost? I know that the firemen themselves are unhappy about the charge. They told us so the last time they came out. It’s disgraceful to stress people in an emergency situation out further. But it’s not their call, it’s the Government’s. Aren’t we already paying for these services with our taxes? It is a bad, unsafe, governmental call. Something needs to be done about it.
He decides as a means to getting that middle ground to pay a visit to the fire station up the road. For a chat. But it’s hard to get into it. The doors are closed and everyone, it seems is asleep, storing up for the night hours ahead. Fingers crossed they won’t need it. He finds a fireman at a side-door, fixing it, and has the chat. He comes back with reassuring messages. No flames, no smoke, unlikely that there’s poison. It diffuses and dissipates apparently. Doesn’t hang around after the source is killed, waiting to kill. I feel a little better, I think.
Yet it’s like the Friday before Christmas when I lost my appetite due to a brush with a burglar. In case he decided to come back. And the night when the chimney was on fire and the brigade came for real. And the night when the burglars came for real. Tonight again I am on high alert. The fact that carbon monoxide has been knocking around all these precious little people. I tug the positives out of it, though. How lucky we are that it happened early in the evening, before we dozed off. Often on a Friday we all stay in the sitting room eating and drinking and watching the Late Late. Often, one by one, we doze. We bring the kids up when we are going ourselves. Carbon monoxide poisoning happens most often when people are sleeping. The incident helps to put being dressed down by a bank clerk into perspective too. We are here. We are safe. The rest will work itself out.
It’s Saturday morning and I phone a chimney guy. I tell him about the plumes of smoke and the poison alarm and the likelihood that something is suddenly blocking the chimney. He asks if I have kids (oh, just the five) and suggests something plastic might’ve gone up the breast.
‘That’s what happened to the family in Sligo’ he says. I had been thinking about them last night. The simple act of throwing a crisp bag into the fireplace, it getting sucked up the breast and stuck, preventing the fumes from being released out into the air. Silently dispersing them around the cozy room. No alarms to indicate their presence. I’m popping out to get the cash to pay the guy and I look up at our roof. Something is different. It takes a moment to work it out. The chimney pot – the orange thing that juts out of the chimney stack – is misshapen, at least half of it missing. Bingo. The chimney pot has broken and fallen, in all likelihood, back down the breast. Blocking it completely. We are very lucky.
The excellent chimney guy arrives at the time he says he will, complete with a cherry-picker to get up on the roof. He sails up past the sitting room window, thrilling us all, and sets about plucking and mending. His partner is in with us sweeping and pulling and chatting away. Then he whips out some cement and fixes a few cracks on the fire wall.
‘Could you fix some more cracks while you’re here please?’ marque 5 pipes up, and I hush him while his brothers laugh. These are delightful friendly, competent folk and I’m waiting cynically for the sting. The ‘that’ll be €hundreds’ for all the mending and the cherry picker. Nope. They charge less than a sixth of what the fire engine would’ve cost, and of course the firemen wouldn’t have fixed the pot. So today we feel vindicated in the choice that we made last night. We got away with it after all. But we are left with a feeling of ill-ease about the likelihood of others being forced, through financial constraints, to choose to deal with their own fire-related emergencies and not getting away with it. That charge should be dropped or cut right back. And there needs to be a section of the service designated to deal with people experiencing minor emergencies or who are worried about safety after an emergency. A small, rational ask in an economy on the up.
Now I’m going to stop writing about hazardous fires and burglars in the hope that they will stop visiting. I think I’ll start writing about winning the lotto instead.