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Thursday, 21 April 2011

Fire Starter

As I was walking home from the pub on Tuesday night (stone cold sober, unfortunately), I was surprised to see smoke rising from the pavement a few yards in front of me. I was on the phone, as I'm apt to be when I'm out at eleven o'clock at night, and was advised to get out of there quickly. Well, I followed orders, but the incident's stuck with me nonetheless.

It looked like an Argos catalogue that had been set alight. It was smouldering in the middle of the pavement beside a reasonably busy road near Wakefield College, and, judging from the look of it, it had been there a while. There's a little waste ground off to the side and, had someone wanted to cause real damage, there's plenty of grass and weeds there which would've gone up like paper given the dry atmosphere we've been experiencing lately. So why didn't they go for the big distraction? Situated right beside the railway line, they could've screwed up the East Coast Mainline for a few hours at least.

Things like this, that are unexplainable, really get the writer in me going. I can drag so many questions out of that and, yet, I'll never know for sure. I suppose this is partly why human beings are so interested in writing: they want to provide satisfactory conclusions for scenarios never fully uncovered. More broadly (and related to my PhD), writers want to examine the human element behind a strange activity. If we can understand something then it loses some of it's terror. The sensation authors I'm looking at wrote to titillate, yes, but they also wanted to delve into the minds of murderers like Constance Kent and William Palmer. Unfortunately, most of them didn't manage to progress past titillation. Villainous characters were left blank as authors struggled to reconcile the desire to create compelling fiction which could find an audience with the urge to put themselves in the shoes of their villains. After all, although Victorian readers enjoyed flirting with danger by identifying with the wicked character, the status quo of Good/Evil was almost always maintained at the end of the novel. There's a danger that progressing too far into the mind of an 'evil' personality can lead to too much sympathy with the villain over the 'good' character.

Today, we've got the successful anti-hero. We're more open to following the exploits of a criminal and actually rooting for them because we know their motivations. I'm not suggesting this is a recent invention, but I certainly think modern society is more liberal in accepting these characters.

As for the fire starter... I want an explanation but I'm not going to get it. Maybe I need to invent it myself.


Steven Chapman said...

Spontaneous catalogue combustion...I’ve heard of that. When the contents get too hot to handle the paper just ignites, not sure why an Argos catalogue deemed its products too hot to handle though?? Maybe the prices were so high it shot into flames out of shame? Flame shame?

CharmedLassie said...

Flame shame... I like it.

An Argos catalogue feels shame because of all the minimum-wage labour encapsulated within the pages. The catalogue revolted... I feel a musical number coming on.