Puzzling Pictures 9: The Grate Fire

There was no one else in the house; in fact, there was no one else from my immediate family in the country. They were all abroad, enjoying the sunshine in foreign climes. This was a good time to get on with the jobs that needed to be done before the winter weather was upon us. I consulted my “To Do” list. What was next?

I worked hard. I was tired by the middle of the afternoon, but the sun was still shining and there was only a light breeze blowing. Keep going! I got out the ladder and put it up at the front of the house, making sure to find a firm footing and to set it at the correct angle. I opened a can of sealant and gave it a thorough stirring. I put a brush in one back pocket, a cloth in the other, and climbed up with can in hand. I worked for a couple of hours, descending from time to time to move the ladder along, waterproofing the inside of the troughing, section by section.

Towards the end of the afternoon the wind got up, gusting strongly. There was no real danger; but, I couldn’t help imagining what might just possibly happen. I pictured myself struggling to keep my balance, the ladder sliding away beneath me, a dizzying descent, a sudden impact, an agonising pain, and then - darkness. And then?

And then I came down and made a cup of tea, and ate a small handful of those little cheesy biscuits that Christopher so enjoys when he comes to call. I put the ladder back, cleaned up, and tidied things away. 

I had half an hour to spare. What could I do in that time? I looked round the back yard. Ah, yes: there they were, one in the corner, and one by the back door. I picked them up using a large screwdriver and carried them down to the back street. “Puzzling Pictures 9: At The End Of The Day” was taken as the light was fading. Here’s one from a little earlier, so that it’s easier to see what’s going on.

Yes, it’s the ancient ceremony of the burning of the grates, the ones which cover the drains that receive waste water from bathroom, kitchen and cellar. It’s simple: all you do is light a little fire on a patch of waste ground, and place the grates on top of it. Then the grease, dirt and detritus that is clogging them dries up and is burned away. Of course, this only applies to old fashioned cast iron grates. Don’t try it with modern plastic ones.

While I was watching the hot, red, flickering flames, waiting for them to do their work in the gathering gloom, the thought came back to me: what if I had fallen from the ladder, and struck my head hard upon the flagstones below? There was no one in the house to notice, and people were not passing by all that often. Even if death did not come immediately, I could easily have passed away from my injuries, without prompt medical intervention.

The fire was dying down. I went inside and brought out a can of paraffin and threw some on. The flames shot up into the air again. (N.B. Don’t do this at home unless you know what you’re doing.) I stepped back out of the way of the smoke and fumes and squatted down on my haunches and stared into the fire and thought some more. 

Most people make plans to help them get through this life as best they can. They put their time and energy into their education, their career, their family life, their health; they take out insurance on houses, cars, and lives; they subscribe to pension plans; they play the lottery at the weekend, just in case... So much effort, to ensure that things will go well for them, as long as this life lasts. 

However, as poets, priests and philosophers have so often observed: life is short, and you’re a long time dead. How much time and effort have you and I put into preparing for the life to come? 

Autumn is upon us. It’s an appropriate season to consider our eternal destiny. If not now, when? I’ve had to watch a number of people pass out of this life. Mostly, they were in no fit state to consider their fate, or to do anything about it at all: they were lying unconscious and helpless in a hospital bed, being fed through a tube, and having their bodily waste collected in plastic bags beneath them. 

The fire burned down. I retrieved the grates and put them back over the drains. I swept up the ashes and threw a bucket of water over the gravel. No one would have known that there had been a fire there at all, despite my neighbour’s misgivings. A few hundred years from now, and who will remember that you were ever here on this earth? And, most important of all, where will you be then?

Behold, now is the favourable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. (2 Corinthians 6.2)

To be continued.