Silence Is Golden

I don’t believe it. Another disturbed night’s sleep.

At a quarter to two this morning we leapt out of bed to an ear splitting electronic screeching. No fire, thankfully, but the smoke alarm had chosen that particular moment to notify the universe that its battery was about to run out. What sort of timing is that? And how, exactly, do you make these things stop? Eventually, Mike unscrewed it from the ceiling and ripped the battery from the unit. After some ten minutes of its incessant racket, peace was finally restored. It took a whole lot longer to get back to sleep.




Six years ago I’d just finished full time work. We were living in another old thatched cottage and I was casting around for something to do next. Between holding down a hectic job and the travelling that entailed there hadn’t been much time for work on the house. It seemed as good a place as any to start. The smoke alarm there was the bee’s knees. It was wired in to a burglar alarm system which, in its turn, was connected to a 24 hour security call centre.

I’d decided to repaint the back hall and the first morning got stuck in with the sander. Less than five minutes later a claxon goes off at full rip. I launch myself in the direction of the alarm board, grabbing the phone mid run and trying to ignore the trail of thick dust following in my wake. I already knew what I’d find in the control board’s display.

It took an age to get through to the control centre and to complete their identification routine. “I need to cancel a call, it’s a false alarm”

The woman on the other end was calmer than me. “Your smoke alarm seems to have been activated.”

“I know, I was sanding. Please cancel the call.”

“I’m sorry, Madam, I can’t do that. The Fire Service has already been alerted.”


“I’m sorry, Madam, it’s standard procedure.”

“How do I stop it??”

“Call 999…”




“Which service do you require?”

“Fire, but I don’t want to call a fire engine, I want to stop one”

This operator is even calmer than the last. Essential procedure I know, but she needs to take down all my details before anything can happen at all. My stress levels are going through the roof and there’s not even a fire. “I need to stop the call out, there’s no fire, I was sanding..”

“I’m sorry, Madam, I can’t do that.”


“It’s standard practice Madam, if there is a call out we have to answer it.” The Fire Service will always check for themselves. “I’ll put a call through to the appliance and get them to turn off the siren, how’s that?”




It didn’t take them long. A knock on the door and six burly firemen are standing on the lawn. All of them pile into the cottage, helmets and all. In the cramped hallway we’re like sardines in a can. They peer into every room, suggest that perhaps next time Madam might want to put a plastic bag over the smoke alarm.. and get ready to depart.

“I’m so sorry”

“It’s OK, it was a nice run out. And good to know where you are.”

Six firemen. Is that one fire engine or two?

Oh, the embarrassment.


Silence Is Golden

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