2006 March


Burning a pile of last years cuttings in the garden reminded me of my first job when, in the school holidays, I went to work in the local park. The park keeper was a man, who seemed quite old to me but was in reality, I suppose, in his late twenties. He was called Ray and was unusual in appearance as he had a black patch over his right eye, his left hand was always encased in a black leather glove and no matter how hot the weather he always wore a woolly hat. He told me had suffered an accident when he was younger but other than that seemed unwilling to discuss the matter and I never pushed him to do so.

A large pile of cuttings from around the park had accumulated in an area behind the potting shed and had reached a height of about four feet and covered an area of about 20 feet in diameter, when one hot summer day he decided it had become dry enough to burn. Whilst I watched, from the doorway of the shed, he poured a five gallon can of petrol all over the pile before returning to stand with me in the shed doorway.

Ray had quite a leisurely approach to life and had gently reprimanded me on several occasions for working too hard, so he was in no hurry to light the fire and stood chatting for many minutes. Eventually he walked towards the pile with a box of matches in his hand and when some paces away, struck the match with the obvious intention of throwing it onto the heap. However, as his hand came forward holding the burning match, a tongue of flame leapt from it and simultaneously there was a very large WHUMP and the pile of cuttings took off towards the sky in a sheet of flame. As I leapt backwards into the shed I could see Ray still standing in the same attitude with his hand outstretched, frozen in shock, as the piles of cuttings rained down around him, but for the first time ever he was missing his woolly cap.

He was completely unharmed but from that moment I never needed to ask what sort of accident he had when he was younger.

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