Thursday, 13 August 2009

It's a "grunge thing".

I'm bored. Very bored. I’m watching a television show called Time Team where the host Tony Robinson was shown standing in a muddy trench, saying “Hello and welcome to a ditch in Cambridge”. Rawr. What a sexy show this is. A ditch you say? Well blow me down.

Sadly however Time Team's been the highlight of my night so far.

Man, I'm so bored I've even signed up for a free online Tarot Card reading (Gee Note: You had me at the word free). That's how low I've sunk. Reduced to depths of trawling the internet looking for a quick fix for my boredom. I think I need help.

Thank God for iTunes. With my dashing new laptop, my girlfriend is now able to enjoy all the delights her iPod has to offer her, which includes downloading the album covers for songs on the iPod to make it look that little bit snazzier. Which is great. Except when iTunes get's itself in to a tizzy and can't correctly pick out the right album cover. For example, here's what it came up with for the Christina Aguilera album Back to Basics.

No really. That's what it downloaded. I mean either Christina's really let herself go recently or iTunes has gone completely mad. One of the two.

Also thank God for the BBC website. According to a news report on there a Russian woman had been enjoying a day out at the Louvre in Paris earlier this month when she came across Leonardo Da Vinci's masterpiece The Mona Lisa. Obviously the excitement of seeing such an iconic work of art was a wee bit too much for the poor lass, and she promptly flipped out and threw a cup at the portrait. Luckily ol' Lisa is protected by bullet proof (Gee Note: And cup proof apparently) glass and so no damage was done. Why the woman decided to hurl a ceramic mug in an art gallery in the first place remains a mystery.

All of which has got me thinking about my all time favourite curiosity, the story of Robert Francis Bailey. For those not familiar with the tale, feel free to fix yourself a hot drink, pull up a chair, and put your feet up. This might take some explaining.

Bailey was a homeless man who lived in and around London during the Swinging Sixties. By 1967 he found himself in the South East of the nations capital, and on the 12th September that year he had discovered an abandoned house in the borough of Lambeth in which to take shelter. The house, situated at 49 Auckland Street, would end up being the last place this weary traveller called home, as his lifeless body was discovered in the early hours of the following morning.

Which in itself isn't so shocking. Every year tens of thousands of homeless folk pass away due to exposure to the elements, illnesses that get left untreated, or drug and alcohol abuse. Except, and here's the thing, Robert Bailey Francis's demise wasn't caused by any of the above. Instead according to the coroners report filed by one Dr. Gavin Thurston, Bailey's cause of death was listed as "asphyxia due to inhalation of fire fumes".

Here's what happened. At 5.19 am on the 13th September a call was made to the emergency services reporting a fire at 49 Auckland Street. The call was made by an unnamed female office worker who had been waiting with her colleagues outside the property at a nearby bus stop. The group had noticed flickering blue flames through an upper window in the premises and assumed that a gas leak had ignited.

At 5.26 am the fire brigade arrived with Commander John Stacey leading the charge (Gee Note: By the way when I was growing up there was a Welsh kids TV show called "Fireman Sam" which was ace. It also had a kick ass theme tune. Cos he always on the scene. Fireman Sam. With his engine bright and clean. Fireman Sam. You cannot ignooooore. Sam is the hero next door. YEAH! They really don't make 'em like that anymore). They bust down the door and did all that heroic tumbling around and stuff until they saw what had caused the blaze in the first place. So said Stacey:

"When I got in through the window I found the body of a tramp named Bailey laying at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the second floor. He was lying partly on his left side. There was a four-inch (102 mm) slit in his abdomen from which was issuing, at force, a blue flame. The flame was beginning to burn the wooden stairs. We extinguished the flames by playing a hose into the abdominal cavity. Bailey was alive when he started burning. He must have been in terrible pain. His teeth were sunk into the mahogany newel post of the staircase. I had to prise his jaws apart to release the body. The fire was coming from within the abdomen of his body."

Stacey went on to describe the flame spouting from the body as blue and "just like a blow torch". Bailey's clothing, save for the area around his abdomen, was left untouched by the fire. The rest of the room, with the exception of those parts that were in direct contact with the flame, was also bereft of any fire damage. No sources of ignition such as matches or lighters were found at the premises, and due to it's derelict nature the buildings electricity and gas supplies had been cut off years ago.

So to recap, in September 1967 a London hobo's stomach exploded like it was a dodgy Chinese firework for, er, no reason what so ever and it didn't kill him. (Gee Note: Man, that sounds like one hell of a story. It should be made in to a movie. But who would play the hobo? We'd need someone with a proven track record of being able to act with fire. Hmmm. Wait! I've got it! How about that guy who played Pyro in the X-Men films? Aaron Stanford. He'd be perfect.) However the flame from the resultant explosion emitted toxic fumes that did kill him. There is no doubt that the fire started internally, although no form of ignition was found inside his body.

What the hell?

No really. What the hell?

Only one explanation has been put forward which doesn't sound completely bonkers. Bailey was a renowned alcoholic and had taken to drinking methylated spirits (Gee Note: Or floor polish to you and me). Spirits with a high alcohol content burn with a blue flame. Therefore if the meths in Bailey's system had somehow ignited it would have created a flame that would have looked like a blow torch. But there's a couple of problems with this theory. Firstly, why didn't the rest of Bailey light up like Times Square when the fire started? I mean I managed to set a perfectly nice hat ablaze once while enjoying a mid afternoon cigar. If you've been drinking meths solidly since God knows when, not only is your blood alcohol level going to be a lot more combustible than it should be, but the chances are your clothes are going to have the odd spot of spilt spirit here and there as well.

Secondly even if we take for granted that a human being can drink enough meths to create a pool of flammable liquid in their stomach without poisoning themselves to death 12 times over, what the deuce would ignite that pool in the first place? Bailey was known as a non-smoker, hence the lack of matches or lighters found at the property. So unless he decided to finish of his lethal cocktail by swallowing one of those emergency flares that Nicholas Cage uses at the end of The Rock (Gee Note: You know that bit where he lights up the top of Alcatraz with green smoke warning the US Air Force not to shoot missiles at him, only for the US Air Force to completely ignore it and shoot missiles at him. I love movies that depict the armed forces as bumbling idiots, possibly because it makes me forget for a second that those guys are way more accomplished than I’ll ever be. Also anyone of them could kick my ass without breaking a sweat. But do you see me accidentally dropping bombs on Nicholas Cage? Hell no. I ’aint a moron. No siree. Not like those Air Force goons) then I just don’t see it happening.

But that’s part of the brilliance about things that fall in to the category of “stuff that don’t make sense”. Because if you could rationalise any of it, it wouldn’t be at all interesting. And I’d be sitting here counting the number of times I can throw around a miniature rugby ball without dropping it (Gee Note: Which, considering my amazing lack of grace when it comes to physical activity, is actually a hell of a lot more challenging than it should be), instead of being fascinated by a dead tramp.

Now if you’ll excuse me I’ve just received an email from Tara the online Tarot card reader telling me that I, and I quote, “can count on her help“. Damn she must be good at that card reading stuff.

I mean how else would she have known that I needed help?

1 comment:

J. Thomas said...

You're right, that's a stumper. It doesn't fit the wick-effect profile at all, it's very odd. One would assume that had he swallowed something else flammable, it would have been recorded in a coroner's report or something.