Indian in England

Musings of a student

Sunday, April 11, 2004

Burning Bournemouth

BOURNEMOUTH is a town that is always setting itself on fire here or there.

Every five minutes there is a fire tender tearing down the town centre roundabout on two wheels. Sometimes there are two, blaring sirens and all, followed by an ambulance driven by a succession of pretty girls (or is it just one girl, going back and forth?). Gosh, what a din they create.

The frequency of this road-race seriously alarmed me. The last thing I wanted was the town to burn itself out before I finished my thesis. So I threw myself into frenzied research.

A few weeks ago I was huffing it out in the university gym when the fire alarm sounded. Unused to obeying silly sounds I continued huffing -- till an instructor dragged me off the treadmill.

I tried to tell her I was from India, where we walked through fire all the time, and anyway I didn’t burn easily. But she pushed me towards the door.

“Hang on,” I said. “Let me get my clothes.”

“No, no, out!”


“Out! NOW!”

So I stepped out into the cold and modelled in my shorts and singlet. After five minutes, I was ready for some serious defrosting.

Worse, there was no sign of fire, not even a wisp of smoke. But they would not let us in. The alarm had sounded and the premise evacuated. Now nobody could go in till the fire force arrived and gave the all-clear. That was that.

Just as I was seriously considering setting fire to the place myself, the fire tender arrived. A couple of firemen got out calmly. After a lengthy, painstaking investigation lasting 30 seconds they confirmed nothing was burning.

The next day I keyed in ‘UK fire statistics’ in Google and came up with this bit of official info: In 2001 there were 1,027,500 fire alarms across the country -- of which 481,000 were false.

And of the false alarms, which has increased by four per cent, more than half (279,800) were due to apparatus malfunction -- an increase of six per cent since 2000.

Now I know Bournemouth is not burning. We just happen to have a lot of faulty fire alarms here.