When you’re on fire

There is a difference between what people say they will grab as they run out of their house, if it’s on fire, and what they will really do.

I can understand the feeling that family photos are important, but they are an impractical thing to grab (unless you have prepared a small folder of the most valuable pictures you have, which just happens to sit by the likely fire exit), and these days you could have everything saved in cyberspace.

The other week Anthony McGowan asked me which book I’d take if my house was on fire. I am guessing he wanted to know which of my many volumes I value the most. I turned the question round a bit, by saying that I’d been in this situation, and my experience tells me I couldn’t care less about any books.

When it became clear that night thirteen years ago that it might be prudent to leave, I simply took my two Offspring and sought ‘asylum’ in the house next door. The Resident IT Consultant was doing stuff to the stoptap in the basement, but was eventually prevailed upon to grab his senses and come with us.

In the end this was not too bad a fire, as it was discovered in time. But I learned that belongings of any kind don’t matter. Only people. Pets if you have them.

But I tried to answer Anthony’s question, after I’d disconcerted him with my experience of this. And it’s not necessarily the story as such, since most books can be read after a fire by buying or borrowing a copy of it again. So I thought about signed books. Were any of them more valuable to me? No. Signatures are fun, but unless you can make a fortune selling them, there is more value in remembering how and when the signing happened, than the actual scribble in the book.

Doodles, however, are different. I mean, works of art. Some people spend a lot of time and effort on embellishing that page in their book for you. And when I’d got that far the answer was relatively easy. I have six lovely, velvety novels by Debi Gliori, with the most glorious ‘doodles’ on the title pages.

I’ll take those.

Velvet by Debi Gliori

6 responses to “When you’re on fire

  1. Well, yes, I do know what I’d do. When I was a kid we had a small kitchen fire, and I made sure to take the two little turtles in their turtle bowl out on the sidewalk. I don’t think I took care of them particularly well the rest of the time but I had their backs, or shells in the ultimate crisis.

    When I lived in Colorado, we would have frequent thunderstorms and occasionally, I would worry that the house would catch fire, and would gather up the multitude of kittens or puppies we happened to have at the time in a laundry basket in case we had to be ready to go.

    And then we had the earthquake here in Santa Cruz, and there were no pets, but the house I’d been housesitting fell off the foundations–luckily a little after I had gone to work. I went back to help my friends who usually lived there–the house had been redtagged–as they tried to sort out what to get out of it. I just remember one of them laughing, as if it all meant nothing. And I think that’s pretty much how I would be now. Hopefully I’d manage to bring my wallet. And maybe a few things that friends had actually made if there was time. But other than that–nah.

  2. When we moved out of our house last year, we stood for a while in the street outside, chatting to the new owners (who, I understand, have far nicer belongings than we do) and she was saying that when the removals van drove off from their old house the previous day, she couldn’t care less if she ever saw those things again. It had been such a hassle. And I almost agreed with her.

  3. My sisters and I have been getting my aunt’s house for sale, and run the gamut of holding on and letting go. Even when you don’t care that much about things, it becomes harder when the things remind you of someone you cared about.

  4. I think this is probably one of the nicest things anyone has ever said about my books EVER. Consider yourself e-hugged, kind Bookwitch xxxx

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