Burning Issues – Geo-politics and Small Fires


With the inexorable rise of the internet, maybe the final resting place for the newspaper is in the kitchen.

The morning after the presidential election, the Guardian’s updated political map of the USA lay casually across the kitchen table, like a multi-coloured tablecloth. Each state was a mosaic of reds and blues depending on their counties’ democratic or republican taste. We sat around like victorious generals in a war bunker, examining where the battle lines had landed, analysing exactly how the west had been won. We learned that 55% of women and  60% of under 30s had voted Obama. Meanwhile, 59% of whites and 56% of the wealthy had voted Romney. And yet, even though Obama (green) had won, the map was almost entirely red. Smart people in dense areas of population must vote democrat.

Having exhausted the geo-political analysis, we exploited the map for other purposes. I found it necessary to point out just where in Pennsylvania my great-grandfather had been killed by a falling slate in a coal-mine. My son and I retraced our famous drive through five states from NJ to Washington and recalled the biblical deluge we had sailed through on the way back to Atlantic City.

I recalled my trip with a friend through Louisiana and Mississippi, remarking on how squiggly the state lines are along that endless snake of a river. The borders not defined by geography are impossibly linear. It was as if, in another place and time, on a different kitchen table, a handful of men with rulers had sat around a skeletal map of this great continent and divided it up forever it with a few casual lines.

Wyoming is entirely rectangular, achieving this only by biting a corner out of Utah and riding roughshod over Idaho and Montana’s attempts to follow the mountain-line. It looks like the final playing card tossed onto a table to win the poker game. Or the last patch applied on a patchwork. Wyoming is the pinnacle of every American’s desire to live in a polygon. I challenged my fellow cartophiles to find a state without at least one straight-line border. Hawaii wasn’t allowed.

I asked my wife to name the five states beginning with the letter “I”.  She was entirely disinterested in such a challenge. I received one of “those” looks and she went off to make a fire.

None of this would have happened on a computer. A flat screen, whatever its size is less physical, less tactile, less shareable and certainly less horizontal. We simply would not have had as much fun gathered around Google maps, even with the 3D versions of major cities.

We had analysed the new political landscape of (still) the world’s most influential country. How important would the election result be? Would 911 have happened had the final chards hung in favour of Al Gore rather than George W?  As we mused these seismic uncertainties upon which history swings, my attention was diverted by a small but eye-catching item on page 4 of the Loughborough Echo.

Bin Fire Extinguished. Loughborough firemen put out a bin in Trackside Close at 12.20am on November 4, after it was set alight, using a hose reel jet.

I smiled at the vagaries of the English language. How ingenious to set a bin alight using a hose reel jet, and how irresponsible of the firemen to open the front door and put it out, along with the cat and the milk bottles? 

I continued to flick through the pages. Imagine my horror at finding a similar story tucked away on page 6.

Bin is set on fire. A bin in Sharpley Road, Loughborough, was set on fire around 12.40am on November 4.

So, only 20 minutes later, our phantom bin-lighter had struck again. And this time, there was no sign of the Loughborough firemen or their hose reel jet . One can only suspect they were still pre-occupied at Trackside Close. Our aspiring Guy Fawkes was one step ahead.

But surely it would not take the full resources of the Loughborough fire brigade to put out a simple bin fire? Page 15 provided a further clue.

Unattended bonfire. An unattended bonfire was taken care of by Loughborough firefighters off Boundary Road Mountsorrel, at 11.40pm on November 3rd at 11.40pm, using a hose.

 I had an image of “taken care of” including rescuing it, taking it back to the station and feeding it on a saucer of gasoline. But whatever, this incident on the other side of Loughborough – just 30 minutes ahead of the first bin-attack – would surely have given our bin-lighter the perfect distraction for his dastardly deeds.

I shall be writing to the editor of the Loughborough Echo suggesting he has a consolidated fire-incident page. Spreading these incidents randomly across his newspaper plays into the hands of the serial pyrotechnic. Only the most avid reader would see the insidious connection between three seemingly unrelated incidents on separate pages. 

I was compelled to pursue this line of inquiry into the previous week’s paper. Page 8 contained this alarming story:-

Out of Control Bonfire. An out-of-control bonfire in Carington Street, Loughborough was tackled by firefighters at 6.40pm on October 24. The crew used breathing equipment to hose out the fire.

Surely, they would have been better advised to use a hose reel jet? Clearly all ones needs to tackle fires at home is an oxygen cylinder or two.

A most disappointing end to a call on page 13.

Gas leak false alarm. Loughborough fire crews attended reports of a gas leak in Paget Street at 11am on October 27. No leak was detected in the area.  

They came all the way out to Paget Street to attend a gas leak and there wasn’t one. Like attending a  football match only to find it postponed. One can almost taste the pathos. And more disappointment for our frustrated fire crews on Page 19:-

Rubbish fire tackled.

Disappointing for our heroic Loughborough firefighters to be called out with the prospect of a decent inferno only to discover a fire which can only be described as “rubbish”. They treated it with the contempt it deserved.

They were called out just after 8pm on October 20 and put out the flames with a bucket of water.

Good job they brought one with them. Slightly better news on page 33.

Cooking Fire Tackled. Unattended cooking caused a fire in Russell Street, Loughborough at 5pm on October 27. Ventilation equipment was used to clear smoke. Only the food was damaged.

Welcome to my kitchen. And pleased that the newspapers survived. I just hope the food is receiving the necessary therapy..

So here in the pages of our local newspaper, are the minutia and trivia of life in all their glory and regular disappointment. Local news is but the microcosm or the international news. The Loughborough Echo is the bottom of the pyramid, the Guardian is nearer the top.

The world is made up of millions of communities, just like Loughborough. Each has its own local news and small fires. This week millions of people in small communities – black, white, old, young, male, female, rich and poor – exercised their democratic prerogative. Individual Votes which were counted up to counties, accumulated up to electoral colleges, summed up to states and added up to four more years of Obama. A new political map of America made up of millions of pixels like an impressionist painting.

But the real morals of the story? Read your newspapers carefully. Don’t leave your cooking unattended. Keep a hose jet reel and a bucket of water handy. And if you really must light fires, please light them in your own garden and not in our local bins. Thank you.

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