“I love the smell of naproxen in the morning,” said the grizzled veteran, surveying the flames and inadvertently disclosing his day job as a pharmaceutical adviser. “Smells of . . . economy—and bendroflumethiazide,” he continued, starting to ramble pointlessly, “That’s cheap and all, just the kind of drug a commie pinko would take. ACEs, they’re more the American way.”
Another fireman came dashing up.
“There are people trapped on the first floor,” he shouted at me enthusiastically. “But you can’t go in there: it’s far too dangerous; you’d be risking your life.”
“Yes, absolutely, no problem,” I said. “There are NICE guidelines for this kind of situation, which I cannot transgress. In case of fire, they clearly state, always take the advice of the experts. I’ll just wait here then, shall I, while you chaps establish a perimeter, break down the doors with hatchets, get the hoses and ladders going, look macho, pose nude for charity calendars, and do your thing.”
The firemen appeared rather discomfited by this response. Briefly at a loss, they looked from me to the fire, then back to me.
“Don’t even think about it,” said the first, gamely trying again, “It’s an old house made of wood, there’s an oil tank in the basement, the roof is unstable and could go anytime, and the stairs are on fire and they mightn’t bear your weight. It’s a death trap.”
The crowd had seen it on television; they knew the drill. “Don’t go in there, you crazy fool,” they cried, “You’ll only get yourself killed; it’s madness, you’ll never make it out alive.”
The sense of expectation was suffocating, noblesse oblige and all that, and eventually I cracked, “seeking the bubble reputation even in the cannon’s mouth,” storming though the front door, racing up the stairs, heaving all available bodies onto my shoulders, stopping briefly to check my hair in a mirror.
“For a moment there I thought we were in trouble,” I deadpanned, then leapt out the window after accessorising with a convenient baby (for theatrical purposes), grabbed from an unqualified lay person. One far fierce hour and sweet, the crowd was ecstatic, and I handed the baby to a shadowy American Christian adoption agency, discreetly palming the fee.
“Look after the little mite,” I said, by now utterly in thrall to the stereotype, (and impressed by the fee), “I gotta go back, there may be more babies in there.”