If you put wet wood on a fire, it spits. If you use pressure-treated wood on a fire it spits like Satan with a bad dose of catarrh. If you are putting wood on top of a coal fire you're an idiot. Fireguards are there to catch spits and crackles before they hit the carpet.
I knew these things when I was seven. I was allowed to build and light the fire in the living room at that age and trusted to be left alone with it long before that. Careless parents? No. Respect for fire and how to deal with the problems it might cause were drummed into me from as far back as I can remember.
Fireplaces were the only source of heat in those days. Therefore, anyone with children had to be certain their children knew all about the fire and its dangers. About the fireguard, why it was there, why it should not be touched. All of it.
This is not to place any blame on the mother who has lost four children to a fire. Not at all. These days, few people know how to set a fire and keep it going safely. It's a skill that must be learned and Greenery has ensured that two generations have no idea how to deal with it. I will not blame the mother in this instance.
Others will. But not for the right reasons.
Mr Hunter read from a statement given
by Mrs Burrows in which she said: 'It was generally known that Rachel
liked a drink and I used to see her with a glass or a bottle in her
'She never used to hide it.'
Mr Hunter asked if she and her husband considered Ms Henson’s alcohol consumption above average and she said: 'Yes.'
When she was taken into Mrs Burrows’ kitchen she said she was 'very vacant.'
'She asked for a cigarette and I said ‘We don’t smoke’. Somebody brought her one in, I can’t remember who.
opened the back door and I told her that she had got to come in and
close the back door because the smoke was coming into the kitchen and
she just fell backwards on the doorstep.'
She is not being blamed for not understanding fire. She is being blamed for smoking and drinking. Evidence? Who needs it? Hearsay is good enough when it's a smoker or drinker in the firing line.
There is nothing to suggest that her smoking or drinking were in any way the cause of this tragedy. She fell over a step, but maybe her house doesn't have a step there so she wasn't expecting one. The neighbours who consider her drinking 'above average' would no doubt consider mine 'positively Satanic'. They objected to her cigarette smoke coming into the house while she was outside and rather than close the door, they insisted she stop. Nice people? I don't think so. I bet they do.
The likely cause of this was the actions of people just like those who try to condemn her for being a smoky-drinker. Those who have prevented children learning about that most basic of human skills, the safe use of fire. Without which we would still be huddled together in caves.
The woman has lost four children and what is the prosecution's case? Another case of smoking and drinking demonisation. She will be told it's her own fault. Is there anything more disgusting?
Give me at least half a bottle of whisky (good stuff, or I will not drink it) and point me at a fireplace and you will see a perfectly safe and correctly banked fire roaring away within half an hour. Drunk? Doesn't matter. This is subconscious now, it's been ingrained since childhood. Give me the rest of that bottle and then hand me wet wood for the fire and I won't put it on. It will spit, and wood should not be on top of coal anyway. Coal burns too hot to be supplemented with wood. One or the other. Coal or wood fire. Start as you mean to go on.
Again, it's set so deep into my mind that it no longer matters whether I'm thinking in words or in bottle shapes. I have never burned myself with fire. Once with phenol and twice with electric grills, with electric irons and other gadgetry, but never with open fire.
The problem here is not booze, and it's certainly not smoking. The problem is education.
Not school education. Real life education.
Handling fire is basic in a way that even learning to read and write can never be. Failing to teach children about fire is failing to teach them how to be human.
Have we really forgotten so much?