One morning last week I had used the oven at the crack of dawn to bake whatever it was I fancied for breakfast. I spent the rest of the day worrying in case I had forgotten to switch the oven off. This morning, I was lying on the bed after breakfast, pootling about on the web, when I became aware of a few familiar smells wafting about: first, a rather appetising whiff of crisp bacon, then, yeah, I'm definitely getting school chemi lessons: worsted blazer sleeve in a bunsen burner, a clear note now of melting plastic ruler, must be... FUCK! I dived into the hall where the air was hazy, shot into the sitting room through swirling fatty smoke and steam, and skidded into the kitchen where the frying pan was sizzling on the hob, just about to burst into flames. I chucked the pan bubbling, hissing and squeaking into the sink, opened the windows, switched on all three extractor fans, and cursed the useless smoke detector.
Then I almost burst into tears. Today is a bank holiday, I’m not at work, but just supposing it had happened tomorrow… Imagine! I’d be sitting on the train, oblivious of the fact that my flat and the three others in this building were about to go up in smoke. And it would all be my fault. It doesn’t bear thinking about.
I am still thinking about it, though - crackpot thoughts of a parallel universe where Elvis is still alive, where Iran is an example to the world of reason, justice and tolerance, and where this building is a heap of smouldering cinders and char-grilled pigeons. I just cannot get it out of my mind. My usual routine on leaving the house in the morning involves checking that the heater and computer are switched off, locking the door, opening it again to go back and recheck that the heater and computer are indeed disconnected, locking the door again, taking four or five steps along the terrace and then returning to check that I did actually lock the door. From now on I’m going to have to leave the house five minutes earlier than usual in order to fit in several more paranoid false starts. All this is even more bloody silly when you remember that a locked wooden door will not deter even the least determined of burglars. This place might as well be a gingerbread cottage for all the security it provides.
Pointless worrying seems to be something that comes with age. My grandma was a world-class worrier, and the scenarios she could devise to fret over were extraordinary works of the imagination. They drove my parents nuts. Now at seventy-three my mother can almost match her. So anyone who knows me had better be resigned to the idea that I shall probably become quite tiresomely paranoid in the coming years.