So I nearly burnt the house down last night.

I'd only planned to make myself a cup of tea, but instead of putting the teapot (two bags; one for me, one for the pot) on the stove, I put the electric kettle there instead. A couple of minutes later I returned to find plastic bubbling and frothing on the ring and spumes of noxious, grey smoke filling the room. And then the liquid plastic spume caught alight.

I was struck by two thoughts. The first and most practical was: is plastic like chip fat? Can you use water to put it out or not (1)? And secondly, once the fire was out and the children and wife had been dispatched to the mother-in-law's (just in case), was how easy it would have been not to have noticed.

Loading article content

Quite often I'll put a pot of tea on, go into another room, get absorbed in something or other and return to find the tea stewed to bits, darker than a Victoria Beckham scowl. It was probably only because I had my laptop in the kitchen that I noticed the damage.

It wouldn't take much to snuff you out, if you think about it. We're only an unwatched kettle away from annihilation. In fact, what's notable about my own near-death experiences is their banality (2).

When I was eight I was wading through an outdoor pool in Portstewart, pulling my sister in a plastic boat, when my feet started to slide on a particularly slippery piece of lichen on the pool floor. I kept pitching forward and plunging my head underwater and every time I managed to stand up my feet would slip again. Somehow I never cottoned on that it might be an idea to hold my breath.

A couple of years later I bolted between parked cars outside my house only to find a moving one bearing down on me. Thankfully the driver was considerate enough to be travelling under the speed limit, so when he hit me he wasn't going fast enough to kill.

Then there was the time, about 15 years ago, when I was driving my sister-in-law's car from Durham to Scotland with her in the passenger seat. We'd got to Berwick when suddenly I seemed unable to find the brake. Every time I put my foot down I put it on the accelerator. We hurtled across the big roundabout on the A1 but only after undertaking at least two cars in front of me. On the grass verge.

For weeks Maggie, my sister-in-law, would call and say, "Everything's OK, don't worry." But to be honest once I was sure nobody had been hurt I was fine. I'm not one to dwell on my mistakes. Well, given how many I make, I'd never get anything done if I did.

Still, just to be on the safe side, our new kettle's a metal one.


[1] Not having a fire blanket to hand I opted for a towel. It was only afterwards that J pointed out my prompt actions could have actually spread the fire.

[2] That's slightly overstating it perhaps, but you want a bit of drama, don't you?

Twitter: @teddyjamieson