Thanks for your thoughts, Vintage!
There were a large number of residents who were lighting up, and I realised that it was one of those situations where I would have felt desperate for a smoke myself in the past. But at the same time, I was also aware that there was no way I'd use it as an excuse to succumb to past habits, rather than carrying on with reaping the benefits of being smoke-free,
The image of coming down the road towards the building, and seeing the blaze directly in front of me, is going to be forever etched in my mind. It was 1am and the streets were deserted. It was very quiet, so the sound of the debris falling down onto the pavement, and onto the window sills of the flats underneath, really stood out. The whole flat was on fire, and I only had two thoughts cross my mind - that there might be someone trapped in the flames, and that it might spread to the neighbouring flats, including mine, and possibly even destroy the whole building. I knew straight away whose flat is was. My phone is actually an 8" 3G tablet which is too big to fit into my pocket, and I hadn't wanted to take a bag with me, just for taking my dog up the nearby hill for a half hour walk. But it made me feel helpless not to be able to phone 999, so I'll probably always have it with me in the future whenever I leave the house. All I could do was to run towards the building, and hope that I'd see another person somewhere on the streets. I was so relieved when I saw some people coming out of their house. I shouted at them, asking if they had any mobile on them. They asked why, and I pointed towards the blaze, and all they could say was 'Oh my God!'. One of them went running back into the house to get their phone. Then we ran towards the entrance on the other side of the house that wasn't on fire (the house has got two entrances), and they went from floor to floor shouting for people to get out, while I left my dog with one of the people downstairs, and went to the second floor where the head of the Tenant's Association lives (the grandmother of the girl whose flat was on fire). Her husband answered the door, and they had obviously been sleeping. I told him that his granddaughter's flat was ablaze before I ran down again. By the time I got downstairs, the emergency services had arrived.
Here is one more photo, of the exact view that I had when I came towards the building from the side road - I promise it is going to be the last one:
The person in the flat on the other side of hers said in the local paper that he slept all the way through the fire, and only woke up at 3am when everything was nearly over and he heard a lot of shouting outside - no idea how he managed that!
Yes, it was the girl who had been having all those troublesome visitors. The same afternoon, before the fire happened, I took my dog for his early evening walk. When I left my flat, the girl's grandmother was there, and there was a pile of her belongings (you can see part of a large flatscreen TV on the picture taken outside the flats). Apparently her boyfriend had beaten her up on a number of occasions in the past, and she had reported him to the police three times - but each time, he had intimidated her, and she had retracted her statements again, so that they were unable to do anything. It was also he whom all the other people had come to see, banging on the door late at night and shouting to be let in, and parties regularly ending up with violent fighting, with the police and paramedics being called. Apparently, he had beaten her up again the previous night, and he had smashed up everything in the flat, including the large TV and a smaller one, which had been left outside the flat together with other belongings. She assured me that all trouble would be over now, as he had been arrested and was being interrogated at the police station at the time we were talking. He had previously been banned from the building, and if he ever entered it again, it was likely that he would go to prison for it.
Obviously, she has an addiction problem, which is probably one of the main reasons why she kept going back to an abusive person. When someone got killed in the same building in February of this year (and not last year, as I had believed), alcohol was also involved. Although he was a very likeable person, and a very active community campaigner who was involved in a number of organisations, very few people knew that he had an alcohol problem (myself included). The local newspaper reported a few months after the incident about the enquiry. Apparently the result had been that he had become confused due to being drunk, and that in his confusion he had gone to the far end of the flat where he had become trapped by the flames, instead of towards the exit. And in this recent case, I believe that someone without her kind of problems would have been far less likely to just leave a candle burning on their mattress while falling asleep.
Similarly, when I ended up waking up in a burning room in the early to mid nineties, I was also going through a 7-year phase of being drunk every single day. Although I had been homeless a number of times, up to several months at a time, I had always had somewhere to stay, and it was the first night ever that I didn't have anywhere to go. Someone else whom I had been drinking with that day was in the same position, and after everyone else whom we had been drinking with that day had gone home, we went to get another six-pack of beer, which we shared with an older homeless person whom we met in the park. He told us that he and his friends were staying in an empty house that was nearby, where they had plenty of blankets and sleeping bags. It was a narrow room, with sleeping bags along one of the long sides, and tables which were piled with mattresses, duvets and more sleeping bags along the whole other side, with candles burning in between. I woke up in the middle of the night, and the whole wall opposite us was burning all the way up to the ceiling, just a few feet from where we had been sleeping. I woke up the others, and in my panic I jumped through the closed window. It was only on the ground floor, but I cut myself on the glass, and I rushed to the nearest phone box, leaving a trail of blood behind me (this was when mobile phones were extremely rare). I was taken to hospital, and it turned out that I had severed a nerve in one of my hands, and a tendon in one of my feet. I was hospitalised for about four weeks, and after that I had to walk for ages using underarm crutches, and it was a very painful recovery. At first they thought my foot would need a skin graft, but in the end everything healed well enough.
All these experiences have showed me that it's not only important for me to stay clean myself, but that it is indeed dangerous to even be around people who have serious substance abuse issues. It doesn't matter how careful I am if someone else in my surroundings places me in danger. After I had got all those books from my father, I was thinking what would happen if someone set the house on fire, and I lost everything due to someone else's fault - and now the person in the flat directly next to mine nearly made that happen, and it is the second time in just over half a year that a flat in the same building has been gutted by fire! I really don't want to stay there any longer than possible, but with my current financial situation there is no way that I can move anywhere else, so it is something that I will need to build into my planning.
On Thursday I am going to have my first counselling session (so I'll need to go back home on Wednesday at the latest). When I applied, I was told that the waiting list was twelve weeks, but it will only have been a month since I handed in my application. I guess it helped that I answered that it didn't matter, when I was asked whether I had any preferences with regards to my counsellor, e.g. their gender or sexuality.
I think it is going to be another nine weeks or so before my sister will be allowed to leave the clinic where she is currently staying, and she can come to England. Someone who lives in the same village as my parents contacted me on Facebook, and said to get in touch so we could meet up while I'm here. I can't remember him, or how he got onto my friend's list, but he must be one of my sister's friends from the nineties, whom we went to rave parties with when she was still living in England, so it will be interesting to meet someone whom I haven't seen for twenty years, He is working towards a PhD in Oriental and African music, so it is good to see that not everyone whom I used to know at the time has become a hopeless dropout, or has evolved into a boring square. Neither of those two options appear very tempting to me. Despite having matured a lot since that time, I am also aware that I will always be a very alternative person, with my very own views that will often vary considerably from those of the mainstream.
Before I started writing this post, I was out in nature on what was my longest walk that I had had in a long time. There is nothing quite likke the smell of freshly manured fields, and I am feeling pleasantly exhausted.