I Nearly Died

Cleaned and repaired, but still looking somewhat Daliesque

Sorry, I suppose I shouldn’t have intimated that I was nearly killed and then not signed in for two days. You might have thought I’d succumbed to my injuries. However exactly one goes about succumbing.

In fact it’s Christmas shopping that’s kept me too busy to write. I wasn’t injured at all. It was just my mother’s house that nearly burned down.

Fortunately I was staying at my mother’s. Even more fortunately, I was still awake at half past two in the morning. OK I’m usually awake at half past two in the morning, but it’s lucky that this is usual.

The power went. A bit unexpected, but it is the middle of winter. I thought I heard one of the trips go in the circuit breaker box though (or fusebox, as we still call it).

Then another click, and the power was back on. Weird. Another, and it was off again. OK this was not good. Especially not when you begin to smell smoke.

I went to look at the fuse box, and saw something that put the fear through me. Picture the biggest wire in the house, the one that carries power in from the mains supply and is several times thicker than the ordinary domestic wiring.

Now picture that glowing like the filament of a light bulb. That’s pretty scary, isn’t it? And the only reason I could see it was that the casing of the fusebox was already starting to melt. This cable was coming off what looked like a combination of really heavy-duty circuit breaker and a huge fuse. Yet neither had stopped the current flowing – the breaker seemed to be stuck in the on position.

Fortunately it wasn’t too hot to touch, and I could trip it manually. The glowing and the smoking stopped, and the wooden board the box was mounted on survived with only a scorching. But clearly there had nearly been a fire. If my mother had been in the house alone, I dread to think.

Next day, after we replaced the failed breaker and the one that’s supposed to back it up, I also bought an extra smoke alarm. And replaced the battery of our existing one even though it still passed the test. And we are going to change the bedroom windows to ones you can escape through. It still doesn’t feel like enough though. Apparently this is not a freak occurrence. They age and fail – even though this installation was only about twenty-five years old.

I’m astonished and disturbed, frankly. With well over a century of design behind them, I would have thought – hell, I’d taken for granted – that household power systems would not have a single point of potentially lethal failure.