You might think this title is a little bit dramatic, and at first glance you could absolutely be forgiven for that. But read on dear reader, and you'll discover how my dad and I really did save Christmas for our neighbours. Ok, so it's Christmas Eve. I'd finished my shopping, all the gifts were wrapped, the stress and headaches were slowly melting away as I sat on my sofa Xbox control pad in hand.
I was called out into the back yard by my dad with quite a sense of urgency. I dropped the game controller and went to see what was up. He asked if I could hear a noise. I became aware that I could hear something. It was a high-pitched, but fairly faint, beep-beep-beep-beep. Thinking back on it I think I became aware of the noise as I was making my way through the dining room, but my mind might just be adding that in, I can't be sure.
I confirmed I heard the noise and we both began to look about. Just why we did this I'm not sure. Two blokes stood in a yard looking around for a beeping we could both barely hear.
I admit to having absolutely no idea what it was. Then my dad made a suggestion: "Do you think it could be next doors smoke alarm?"
I don't know why I looked, but I'll be forever glad I did.
As I peered over the shoulder-high wall separating the two back yards into next doors kitchen window I saw it. Smoke. Thick. Black. Smoke. It was starting to go quite dark out, but I could still see the smoke. The Christmas lights around the kitchen were in a kind of foggy haze. It took a couple of seconds for my brain to register what was going on:
Within a second we were both running back through the house to the front door. My dad had the good sense to grab a spare set of keys to the neighbours he keeps for emergencies.
All of the fire training I'd sat through bored to tears came flooding back. I checked the handle of the front door with the back of my hand, it was cold. Good sign. I inserted the key and opened the door an inch. No rush of heat. Good sign. I pushed the door open and we headed down the hall.
The smoke detector was going bezerk! It was almost deafening this side of the wall. The hallway was filled with smoke and we were coughing within seconds. I pushed on through the dining room door, my dad right behind me. Scanning, searching for any indication of a fire. Archie, the family dog suddenly appeared through the smoke. Poor little thing was beside himself. My dad calmed him down and got him out of the room while I kept looking. I couldn't find anything openly burning.
My eyes were starting to stream and my lungs were really starting to starting to complain. My dad was the same. I could hear him coughing and retching from somewhere behind me. I turned this way and that and saw the cause of all this noxious horrible smoke.
There, on the stove, a saucepan was smoking fitfully. Plumes were gushing up from whatever was inside, lit underneath by one of the gas rings. My dad had gotten the dog away from the worst of the smoke but I was really starting to suffer now. My mouth had dried out and I wasn't so much coughing as dry-vomiting by this point. I switched the gas off and felt the dog knock into the bottom of my legs. He'd gotten away from my dad and had come back into the kitchen. By the time I'd grabbed his harness my dad was at the back door fumbling with the key to get it open. Once we'd opened it poor Archie, the beloved family guardian, was unceremoniously tossed into the yard and ordered to "Stay!"
So the main danger was dealt with, but we were still choking in the smoke-filled house. At this point more neighbours had arrived and we set about opening windows and trying to clear some of the fumes. Every room was thick with the stuff, and I struggled for every breath as I opened every window possible upstairs. Coming back down the stairs I tried to switch the howling smoke detector off and couldn't. I ended up punching it off the ceiling. Crude, but effective.
While this was happening my dad phoned the lady of the house, let's call her Jo, who thought he was having a heart-attack due to the coughing and choking, and began to freak out herself.
Within a few minutes of every window and door being opened the smoke had dissipated and we tried to get our breath back. A few minutes after that Jo arrived with one of her sons. They'd been last-minute shopping.
It transpired that after being asked to put the slow cooker on while they finished the last of their shopping, Jo's son had accidentally turned the hob on instead. 90 minutes earlier. Accidents happen.
So aside from a rather nasty smell and a huge laundry pile there was no real damage done. The saucepan was destroyed, as was the smoke alarm probably, but that was it. Archie the dog was no worse for the experience.
So the house was saved, and as I said, so was Christmas. At least for our neighbours...
Dave C. Bannerman