A friend has asked me to write about Fire. As a subject, I immediately think of it as a double-edged sword. Beautiful and seductive if tamed, though evil and repulsive if left to its own devices. Heavenly or Satanic. Tantalising. I have always felt an affinity with the fellow who asked me to write this, and I am delighted to say that his choice of subject only strengthens that affinity, because I love fire too. He tells me that fire inspires him to write, and can act as a means of expressing how he feels. Admirable on both counts. As such, I wonder what he would have me write? Well in answer, I shall set down the first five thoughts that whip through me, without censorship or revision. I hope he approves.
First off, a seminal experience with my father. Whilst watching a bonfire in a forest in Devon, my Dad allowed me my first sip of whisky, or ‘fire water’, as he described it. He offered me a friend’s hipflask, and the savage, burning taste of it both repulsed and attracted me. The night was atmospheric. We were gazing at a bonfire, and his bearded face was backlit by amber flames and shadows. He was reading me Viking sagas at the time, and all of those things interlaced. As I think back, I know that at that moment my love of storytelling was forged. I may have only been eight, but I recognised a momentous moment had occurred.
Intrinsic to my own love of fire is the act of fire watching with others. The very act of sitting around a camp or bonfire with other people is very special. I have always found it very intimate. When gazing at an open fire, people’s inhibitions are gently lowered, and in those flickerimg flames a person can see and know another person. It is both a joy and a responsibility to lay, light and tend to a fire, and I have and always will love doing it. I have known many special nights revolving around fires, both inside and out. In the days before WiFi, radio and TV, I don’t doubt that the focus of home was the fire, and all of the warmth and seductive flickering it offered.
Though as much as I love it, fire shall always haunt me. However enticing. I am wracked by an early memory of consigning my childhood teddy in to the flames of an Autumn bonfire. Though I adore the smell of a bonfire on cool air, I am always reminded that I jettisoned my birth-gift to the flames. At the idiotic, tender age of Six, I told my Dad that I didn’t need birth-gift Panda any more, and promptly impaled him on a bamboo cane. As soon as the flames licked towards him I felt awful. Regretful. All my bravado was gone, as he burned and charred away. Ever since that point I have sought to avoid stupid decisions, and occasionally been able to. I have fire to thank for that. A sobering experience.
Yet despite teaching me an early lesson, fire has since become my play-thing. As an amateur fire-diabolist (as the image above attests), I have relished the adrenaline fuelled thrill of controlling something dangerous. As I get older, this is for the delight of other people, but I vividly remember casting flammable items in to a blaze to amuse myself, and sometimes barely escaping the back draft of ricocheting projectiles and flames. Ah, the follies of youth. Yet maybe not all of that was foolish. I wonder whether my friend agrees, but I have always found fire deeply mysterious. It can be conjured, and has a life entirely of its own. I still marvel how coal fires glow a quiet and fierce orangy yellow, but driftwood blazes crackle with bluey-violet rage. I will never know the answer to that question, and do not seek it.
My fifth amd final thought is one of utter respect. I have come to admire and fear the power that fire yields, and keenly understand why so many people use the metaphor ‘getting my fingers burnt’ after learning an important lesson. At the ages of 24 and 33 I burnt both of my hands very severely. Each time I was struck, no seared, by heat. I was appalled at the ferocity of fire, and by how quickly and severely it can harm. Doctors told me I was lucky to retain the use of my hand after the first transgression, which was entirely my own fault. With my second brush with the flames I narrowly escaped skin grafts (and that one was an accident). However disparate though, I am thankful for these incidents. They have taught me to be humble and respectful towards this, the greatest of elements. I dearly hope that I can pass on this hard-earned respect to my Son. You see, I was, am and always will be obsessed with and in love with fire. It suffuses temptation, and even now, after many burnings, I feel my attitude towards it may still be all-too cavalier.
Featured image courtesy of Lee Watson Photography.
© Tom Tide 2016