There are things that burn so brightly in your mind it is like they happened only yesterday. I have many examples of that. Mostly about fires. Pun intended. I used to help Eric with bonfires from about the age of six or seven. When I was ten I was having a bonfire next to the chicken run at Bedfont Lane (the house where Mu was born and brought up). Just to point out that ‘next to the chicken run’ meant about a metre away from the fence so things were a bit tight. I had run out of things to burn so was ransacking the shed for more raw material. I found an old watering can with some liquid sloshing round in it. Not quite sure why but I reckoned it would burn well, chucked it onto the fire and returned to the shed for more supplies. Armed with a fortuitous bundle of wood I re-approached the fire when it suddenly exploded with a satisfying ‘BOOM’ producing a massive cloud of black smoke and pinning me back against the fence. That sloshing liquid? Obviously petrol! If I wasn’t hooked before I was now. Bonfires became my go-to hobby and I still love them to bits today.


As I got older I set a TV on fire in a bed and breakfast after using it as the base for a romantic candle and then falling asleep with the candle still alight.  Woke up to a whooshing sound of the flame, and a lot of black plastic bits floating around in the air. I smouldered away the body of Neddy (my stuffed donkey toy) with a bare lightbulb and a four hour window before waking up to a room full of smoke.  I set next door’s poplar tree on fire while burning our shed. I put it out above ground using easily a month’s worth of showers, but it continued to burn underground for about another three hours, which was quite freaky.


But I would like it placed on the record that I never set my school on fire. Um… that’s quite a random jump. Never dreamed of suggesting you did. (Ed.) If I could continue? Thank you. So, when I was 13 I was accused of trying to set the school on fire. And how was I supposedly going to do that? Well, according to the head, it was by setting a plimsoll alight in the shower block, a lucky coincidence meaning it has a legitimate place here in this blog. WTF Cath! That is pretty hardcore. Is it for real?? Well, no, of course not! For, if I was going to burn a school down I would not have chosen a fully tiled shower room as the starting area nor a plimsoll as the only source of flammable material.


As a reminder, for a successful fire you need three things. A flammable material (the fuel), a source of ignition and oxygen. I had a box of matches (which I had found on the school bus that morning) so that was the ignition. I had oxygen (in the air). And I had something to burn. But it was only a plimsoll, which someone had left on the floor in the changing room. So, to be fair I was a bit short on one important ingredient, especially since I was operating in a highly tiled non-flammable environment. Which I categorially proved by causing a lot of smoke and a satisfying burning rubber smell. But definitely no flame. After a while I got bored and was about to leave and wander back to the main school building to find something else to do. Maybe even attend a lesson but probably not. When my best mate (who was shower monitor that day or some such trumped up position) snitched on me hence my visit to the headmaster’s office. I tried to point out the absurdity of the prosecution’s case but I guess he wasn’t much of a physics person,[1] and Mu and Eric were summoned to the school to plead for clemency on my behalf and explain why I shouldn’t be expelled. Which they succeeded at. Having had prior practice.


Obviously there was no Google back in the day but since this is the modern world I googled ‘Can you burn a plimsoll?’ And got no results. Nothing even near it. Now, that may be down to the fact that no-one wears plimsolls any more. So I replaced plimsoll with Converse All Stars and found this link which does show the footwear burning successfully, but it’s kind of cheating as they have already lit a fire from wood which is burning merrily away before adding the (brand new!) baseball boots.





[1] As a material, rubber doesn’t readily ignite and is considered fire resistant. But when it is alight, the spread of fire and smoke can be rapid, with the material burning at extremely high temperatures.


April 2024 – setting fire to the school showers