As if the village hadn’t been ravaged enough over the past few months. It’s 15th January: a cold, brittle day, with sharp, blue skies and everyone is going about their business as usual.
I am still celebrating the fact that we have water back after a new record of five consecutive days without, (it turned out that those two days earlier in January were a mere training session to see whether we could cope) and so am running a bath. At 1pm. Oh, the decadence! Bath ‘truffles’ are bobbing around slowly unravelling in the hot water, releasing some brown bits that might possibly be flower petals along with a wonderfully relaxing aroma.
I haven’t been in there for long when I hear lots of chattering outside the house. I’ve got my head under the water, so I’m not sure what’s going on; I’ll find out in a minute, I figure as I close my eyes and try to zone out again. Mm. No, it’s no good I can’t relax any more. Standing up, I peer out of the window.
THERE ARE FLAMES LICKING UP THE OUTSIDE OF BIG HAIR’S HOUSE. Smoke pours out from under the roof fascia, through the tiles and between the wooden slats of this beautiful, old, Strandzha house. Before I’m even aware of it myself, I’m in the middle of the bathroom, my phone held to a sopping wet ear calling Big Hair, who it turns out is already speeding his way to the village. This is a bit of luck, as I have no Bulgarian words to explain and my voice doesn’t seem to work properly anyway.
Only then I glance at myself in the mirror and find I haven’t a stitch on, I’m slick with bath water and appear to be covered in petals. I step into whatever clothes I can find.
By this time quite a crowd has gathered outside Big Hair’s house; people who live at the other side of the village have come to have a look at the devastation. It’s a positive schadenfreude-fest. Meanwhile the usual suspects: Ivan, Mitko, Patrick Stewart, Big Hair’s neighbour Raio and even Mr Bez are rallying around Big Hair’s garden – trying to stretch hoses in the direction of the house, but it’s way past that already.
A fire engine arrives, and drenches everything with a fat jet of water.
Big Hair pulls up, barely has time to cut his car engine before running to his property, and tries the key in the door. Too hot? A crowbar is produced. He dashes inside before the fire brigade can stop him, emerging with a guitar and a smoke-blackened keyboard.
In the meantime the water doesn’t appear to be doing anything to extinguish the fire which continues to rage on the other side of the house. The water stops – it’s run out, says somebody. Really? Someone should tell the about that blimmin great reservoir just up the road. Another fire engine is summonsed. Putting more wood on our own fire to keep our home warm seems strangely disrespectful, when just a few metres away they’re doing everything they can to put one out.
Eventually the fire is under control, villagers disperse returning to their respective homes and by nightfall it’s out, but the old cart wright’s house now resembles charcoal. A piece of village history has been irrevocably damaged. Possibly a complete write-off. My heart goes out to Big Hair and family who’ve not only lost their summer retreat, but so many family memories.
I’m not sure I will ever able to bathe comfortably in the middle of the day again.