Remember, Remember The Fifth of November...
Oh, but I do.
Three years ago today, I was lying in bed, late at night. You know that wintry weather that smells cold? I could hear fireworks, and smell the smoke from bonfires, and I fell asleep.
Suddenly, I woke up to the sharp piercing noise of the smoke alarm in the living room. Half-asleep, I open my bedroom door, and the whole hall is filled with a kind of dirty brown smoke that chokes me. Panicking, I run and wake up my flatmate. I open the flat's front door and my downstairs neighbour is there (she sleeps just below my smoke alarm) - everything OK? This all happens in about one millisecond. We go to the kitchen, and through the smoke can see that the washing machine is on fire. Actually, it's not even a very big fire, it's just the plastic burning creates an evil smoke that feels like it'll kill you.
Now, of course, I know about electrical fires, but I don't at 1am in the morning in a panic, so I filled a bucket of water, and threw it on the fire. Never do that, kiddies. The fire seemed to go out, and so did everything in the whole house, as I'd fused all the electrics. I was calm-and-panicky at the same time, and didn't really know what to do. I decided to call the fire brigade because I didn't know if the fire was out: they arrived in about two minutes (but then the fire station is at the end of Mill Lane, but still, it was bonfire night). They made sure the fire was out, gave us oxygen, and said "another one of those Zanussi washer-dryers bursting into flame?" They also told me never to throw water on an electric fire.
I told them that my favourite piece of no-longer-in-production SecretSupportTM underwear was locked in the mangled remains of the washer, and they extracted it for me. I had a half awareness that I used to work with someone who had a real thing about firemen and I had like four in my house. If you're wondering where my flatmate was, she'd gone round to her boyfriends (previous flatmate, I should say), so there I was, in my still semi-smoke-filled house, no electricity, lights &c, wondering what to do. The damage was minimal: couple of burned cupboards, but the granite work tops seemed to have stopped the fire spreading too far.
In the end, at around 2am I called an electrician, who fixed everyything for some huge middle-of-the-night call-out charge. As I was writing him a cheque he said to me, "ever wanted to change your life? I'm involved in a slef-improvement scheme that - ". I stopped him there: I don't want to be sold into a pyramid selling scheme at the best of times, but never when my house has narrowly escaped from burning down.
Went back to bed. Couldn't sleep. All the might-haves floating through my mind: what if I didn't have a smoke alarm? What if I didn't wake up? What if -
My insurance company insisted that they replace the machine with the exact same one. Zanussi refused to admit any kind of responsibility. For a few days, no-one would take away the old machine. The insurance company sent professional cleaners in, but for months later, everytime I opened a cupboard bits of black smoke-stuff fell out.
The moral of the story? (1) Avoid buying a Zanussi washer-dryer at all costs (a few months later, I met a bloke at a party whose whole house had burned down. Same model). (2) Never leave the dryer on when you go to bed/go out. (3) Always check the batteries in your smoke alarm.