Friday, 15 February 2013

Warning: This is not a post about libraries


If you've ever attempted to take me out for a romantic, candle-lit dinner for two, you'll be very aware of my freaky fear of fire.

So it makes perfect sense that someone that can't turn the hob on without whimpering is attempting to walk across hot coals in aid of St. Peter's Hospice. Right? Er... maybe not. But that's what I'm going to do.

I came across the flyer for this event a few days ago. Picked it up. Stuck it in my bag. Mentioned it to a colleague at work. Who told horror stories about people with severe burns limping around. Pondered. Thought about it a bit more. And then rang my Mum.

"St. Peters Hospice are doing a sponsored fire-walk. I thought I'd take part..."

I can't publish her response. It's a little rude and contained the word 'crazy'. But suffice to say there was laughter involved. After the laughter had stopped, she realised I was serious. "I'm sorry. That wasn't very supportive. I'm not sure I want to watch my daughter torture herself from the sidelines, but I'll come down watch."

The idea that I could walk across hot coals IS funny. Ever since I can remember, I've had what the family fondly call 'a freaky fear of fire'. Or anything that gets remotely hot. I can clearly remember several incidents...

An aunt appearing unexpectedly when I was home alone. The house was cold. I didn't put the heating on. I wore extra jumpers. She asked me to put the fire on. Just the thought of walking over to the 1980's gas fire and turning it on was enough for the tears to flow. She was rather puzzled.

Aged 19, living on my own for the first time. A time to be independent, right? I tried. The cooker I owned was a little old and the ignition had failed. My Dad had bought me extra long tapers so I could light it. That was the idea anyway. I could practically stand on the other side of my kitchen and light the oven. Once I could light the actual taper with an extra-long match. 45 minutes of tears and a lot of phone calls to my Dad, I finally managed to light the oven. I wasn't in a hurry to do it again. I'm lucky my Dad is patient. He's been on the end of the phone when the iron self-imploded (I might be exaggerating there. But a freaky fear of hot things is a GREAT excuse not to do the ironing!) or when I've been hyperventilating as I've attempted to flick a switch to turn on an appliance. Toasters are a no-no. I removed the electric fireplace from my lounge. It was never going to be used. The iron rarely makes an appearance. And don't even get me started on light bulbs. Evil inventions. It's only very recently, with a little help that I turned on the grill in my kitchen for the first time.  I've lived in this house for nearly four years. Now I need to learn to do it without holding my breath and screaming.

I often get asked 'Why?'. Why do I have this fear? What happened? The truth? I have no idea. I don't remember. My parents often considered things that had happened to me as a child. Was it an accident when I was younger? There was an incident which resulted in a dash to the local hospital after old shower-hose caused severe burning. But I was fine around hot water. 

I didn't recall. Did it matter why?

It was at my Grandpa's funeral two years ago that we finally got to the bottom of why I have this freaky fear of fire. During a humanist ceremony, we shared family photo's and memories of Grandpa, things we loved, things that infuriated us, made us laugh. We're a family spread out geographically over many countries and it's rare we came together as a whole. As the afternoon wore on, I was listening to a conversation between my parents and my uncle, sharing a well-trodden joke about his inabilities as a child-minder and one of his many adventures that happened whilst he was left in charge of me. "You were the one that threw her up in the air - UNDER A DOORWAY and bonked her on the head." He retorted "Yeah, but do you remember when you let her SET FIRE TO HER HAIR?"  Excuse me? I needed to hear the explanation. Apparently, during my Christening, the vicar had given me a candle to hold. I was under four years old. Stood at the front of the church, with my baby sister. Waving a candle around, I set fire to my long hair.

I turned to my parents. "Do you think THAT might be why I have a fear of fire then?"

They'd totally forgotten the story until then.

Grandpa had been diagnosed with suspected Motor Neurone Disease. He was 89 years old when he died in June 2009. St. Peter's Hospice were there to help us when we could no longer care for him and make him comfortable at home. During his illness I was one of many family members who pulled together to help care for him during his stay in hospital, his return home and then to St. Peters. During that time, I learned more about my family, myself and about a charity that I had been plonking donations in for most of my adult life, but never really encountered on a personal level.

This is my way of remembering Grandpa. And saying 'Thank you' to St. Peters Hospice.

So, if you're bored on Friday 22nd March and fancy some entertainment, I can highly recommend coming down to Millennium Square in Bristol. Where more than 30 of us will be running as quickly as we can over the hot coals in order to raise money. With a smile on our faces. Look ma, no hands! (Or feet!) And yes. I know. It's all about physics. It's a fancy parlour trick and one that's not that impressive either. I tend to think I'm a scientific person. But try saying 'it's just a trick' to my sub-conscious...

It's easy for me to join in the local 'St Peters lotto', to donate clothes I've grown out of to the local shop, and pop a penny in the box, but I wanted to do something more. This is the scariest thing I could think of doing. 

I hope you think it's worth a small donation

If you just want to come down and support the fire-walkers on the day, details are on the events page on Facebook. The fun for the on-lookers kicks off around 7.30pm.

Please bring ice. And large quantities of chocolate. Thank you! :-)

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