Spiral Notebook: An alarming time

By Giles Broadbent on January 25, 2013 5:27 PM |

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There were a number of fiddly cross-matched plans I was due to execute the next morning, all reliant on there not being a sticky white meringue atop the railways of southern England.

So it was unsurprising that, come the middle of the night, an alarm sounded in my head. Or so I thought.

Once I had cleared my mind of buzzing Plan Bs, it turned out the alarm was real, emanating from a neighbour's flat.

My first thought was "drunken midnight sausage sandwich".

I never thought fire. Who ever thinks fire? I think heartless snack makers, marinated in Mackeson's, drifting off to Poker TV as sausages blacken in the grill.

(It is to the credit of the London Fire Brigade that, despite the cuts, they do not assume likewise.)

A sleepless night ensued. The sound was only lessened by toilet paper in the ears and a pillow over the head - not the way I dispatched the stout-infused sausage scorcher, you understand, but how I eased the pulsing irritation.

The day's plans thwarted by snow, I made myself at home. As did the alarm, which nestled irksomely in the aural milieu like a herniated fox at the breakfast table.

Contacting the estate manager, I kept silent about my sausage theory, which was unlikely to promote the door-splintering response I required.

Instead, I played upon the vision of smouldering corpses lying undetected while flames probed and prodded at neighbouring walls.

Someone should investigate, I said. He would see what he could do, he said.

By early afternoon, the alarm stopped. Silent applause. For it is a remarkable task, stopping a smoke alarm intent on alarming - requiring tenacity, guile and, generally, a hammer.

Alarms are connected to the mains and back-up batteries and yet when yanked violently free from both they continue to chirrup, like a beaten boxer who won't stay down.

It is as though the ready flow of electricity and dustballs of DNA have shocked into life a new species of highly-strung yelping roof turtle.

After the bomb, it will be the cockroaches and these nervy shell-topped terrors inheriting the earth, gorging on immolated pork products.

So the alarm stopped. Or did it? The high-pitched tone had now smuggled its way into the bandwidth of my tinnitus, acquired by years of nightclubs, rock gigs and roller coasters.

I couldn't be sure. I applied toilet paper and pillow again and still it was there, just above the hum left by Noel Gallagher at Knebworth sometime in 1996.

I hear it now. Real or imagined? I shall investigate once I've made myself a nice sausage sandwich.