Today I’ve been thinking about fires, Ok that sounds as but scary to start of a post with but there is a reason. I’ve been reminiscing about the first time I went to university, and whilst I was there was a slight incident ‘allegedly’  involving arson that practically destroyed my halls of residence.
For those at the time ‘The Great Aberystwyth Fire’ or, as some knew it, “Yn brydio chan Saesneg efrydyddion” will not be forgotten for a long time. It was one of those events that seems to happen to other people, the kind you watch on the news and think yourself lucky you are not involved.
Except in this case I was, and I was also on the news.
The halls I was staying in was a beautiful Edwardian building on the sea front of the quiet Welsh town of Aberystwyth (the place where I was stopped for looking at menus in take aways). The whole of the seafront has these terraced houses (with shared roof access) which would be a bit of a problem if, oh I don’t know, one of them was to be set on fire.
So, one of them is set on fire.
It just happened to be that next-door-but-one there is an empty hotel that ‘mysteriously’ spontaneously combusts, and the flames find their way into the shared roof space and, fanned by the winds from the Irish sea, spread.
Now people of a certain age will remember the N64 game Goldeneye, and how intensely addictive it is. Which was why there were some from my halls playing it at 4am when they smelt smoke. That’s right as well as being one of the greatest FPS ever made it is also a lifesaver, which I suppose is kind of ironic considering how much of my life was taken by that game. At the time I happened to be sleeping on the floor of another person’s room so was fully clothed as I was woken by the fire alarm, unlike many who assumed it was just a false alarm who just put a coat over their night clothes and proceeded to go stand outside on a chilly November morning, and watched our home go up in flames.
Later we were to learn that fire engines had been called in from all over Wales, there was a concern if the wind changed direction then it would not have just been 3 buildings that was lost there was a good change half of the town could be burnt down.
The funniest (!) part of this was the following day, as nearly a hundred tired and displaced students had to walk around Aberystwyth in search of clothes wearing nothing but their pyjamas and dressing gowns. It was like the inmates had escaped from the asylum, probably not helped by myself and a few others chasing after them going “come on love, we’ll get you back in time for Countdown”.
After the fire was put out we all got the chance to revisit the shell of a building that was once our home, and a few of us had the chance to make a dash back into our smoke and water damaged rooms to retrieve as many items as we could in five minutes. Something which would make an awesome game show now (apart from the burning down someone’s house part).
Entering the room it was pretty evident that anything electronic in a fire is a lost cause, when you move a computer and water comes pouring out you know that it is on permanent control-alt-delete. The same goes for paper based items, there is the chance that if they were kept on a bookshelf they may have been offered some protection but unless it’s a valuable Tudor manuscript you can claim for that copy of Jurassic Park and The Molecular Biology of the Cell on the insurance (as long as you have it – which I did).
In the end my list of recovered items included:
- All my clothes, some of which were a lot cleaner thanks to the washing they had received. These items held such a treasured place in my heart that I’ve only recently disposed of them after a decades worth of use.
- My collection of 1990’s girl band CD’s, as well as my extensive collection of “Now That’s What I Call Music” albums (both 36 and 37). All of which still work if I had a CD player.
- A photo of me and my friends from our holiday in Tenerife
- A pen
- My local pub loyalty card
One of the few items I left was the knife which had accompanied my mum to university and was something of a heirloom. And which I had used to cut and prise my way whilst getting my collection of stuff. I’ve never gotten over leaving that knife, because it would have meant I wouldn’t be constantly reminded that I had.