The One Where I Set Fire To The Hotel

During my residence in Whitley Bay in the late 1970’s I had perchance to venture up the street from the previously mentioned Per Mar Guest House to another salubrious residence that went by the name of “The Maroo”.

The Maroo was of exactly the same design as the Per Mar being that they were in the same street of terraced houses – think “Blackpool Guest House” and you’ll get the picture, and I only ventured there for a change and because I’d heard that the food was a few steps up the excellence ladder to the rat pie at the Per Mar.

In fact the food at The Maroo was of an excellent standard, the owner was/had been a very good chef somewhere and the kitchen and tiny dining room was his domain which left his wife to run the rest of a the guest house, an arrangement that worked very well for the “Vacancies” sign at The Maroo was rarely displayed, they had a very loyal clientele among the contractors-working-away who brought their £4 a night expenses to Whitley Bay in the 1970’s.

I set fire to the place one night.

But whilst the husband/wife team worked very well…

“Wait a minute” I hear you all yell, “whats all this about setting fire to the place ?”

Well I did, but you’ll have to read to the end of the story …

So the husband and wife team worked very well, until their paths crossed, for when their paths crossed, and especially when their paths crossed in the kitchen at tea time then world war three broke out – every night – for they hated each other with a terrible, vicious, black hearted hatred, I doubt whether they are still alive for they hated each other so much that they have surely killed each other by now.

Like I nearly did when I set fire to their hotel one night…

You’d sit in the tiny dining room with some glorious smells coming from the open doored kitchen in front of you and the wife would walk in with a menu, they actually had a menu to pick from, for £4 a night you got a choice of food, unheard of, just unheard of.

You placed your order and she’d go into the kitchen and two seconds later you’d hear him shout “How does he want his meat ?” and she’d admit that she’d never asked so he’d call her a fucking stupid cow and tell her to get back out there and ask him, and you’d sit there and think, “oh heck” and slide down in your chair a little while she shouted back that she wasn’t a fucking stupid cow but he was a fucking idiot and should shut his fucking foul mouth, and he’d shout back, and she’d shout back, and it was off and running and the row would go on all night until the guests quietly slipped out of the dining room and went for a takeaway instead…

(this is the bit where I set the hotel on fire)

And one cold winters night I retired to my room early, it was the first real cold night of the year and the hotel did not have any heating of any description outside of the residents sitting room coal fire, but each room did have a huge gas wall heater operated by means of a coin operated meter under the sink – I had noticed the facility when I first checked in but did not have need to make use of it until the first cold night…

So I popped out to the shops and bought myself a box of matches for lighting the pilot light on the gas fire and I made sure that I got a five pence in my change for that is what the meter took.

I retired early and crawled under the sink to drop the five pence in the meter and turn the knob on it, gas flowed freely from the wall heater as the previous resident had left the heater switched on. Not bothering to switch the heater off before I lit it I fumbled with a match for a short while and got one alight, but the little hatch where the pilot light was supposed to be was really fiddly and quite impossible to hold open while trying to poke a match through without burning your fingers and I struggled, kneeling in front of the contraption for a while before deciding that if I held the hatch open with my right hand instead then maybe…

I grasped the pilot light hatch with my right hand and lifted, and thats when the whole of the gas heater fell off the wall.

I kid not when I say the whole of the gas heater fell off the wall, and it was a big gas heater, it fell off the two screws that had been holding it to the wall and hit the floor with a loud thump and lay there, totally useless as a heating implement now as it had disconnected itself from the gas supply pipe as it fell……

and there was the gas pipe, still fastened to the wall, still gushing forth with five pence worth of the finest North Sea Gas……

…and I sat there on the floor for what seemed like hours, but in fact was a matter of milliseconds, sat there staring at the pipe puking out copious amounts of extremely flammable gas while in my other hand I held the still lighted match, not even one foot away from the gas pipe.

I looked again at the gas pipe, then back to the match, and again at the gas pipe, and again at the still lighted match, and then just as a message arrived from my brain telling me to shut the gas off at the meter you fookin idiot the invisible cloud of gas reached the lighted match in my hand and with a huge “WHOOSH” a nine foot high wall of flame shot up the wall and started across the ceiling.

I was impressed.
And instantly I was very warm.
This was an impressive way to heat your formally cold room.
Although not strictly safe.

Like a rabbit caught in a car headlight I sat there on the floor, one foot away from what was now resembling an oil refinery burn-off valve, if I left it much longer the Maroo landlord would need to be ringing for Red Adair to put this one out, but still, it was warm now.

In slow motion I sw my hand reach for the gas meter and turn the valve off and sadly my new-found wall of flame disappeared leaving just small shards of wallpaper smouldering where loose bits had caught fire, I used the Maroo’s towels to smother the flames, picked up the wall heater and hooked it back onto its two small screws.

I checked out the next morning, never told them and never went back.

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