Burning Up

As a child, I was quite worried about spontaneous human combustion. I know that worrying about suddenly bursting into flames is not the average childhood preoccupationtoys, games, and what’s for dinner would have been more normalbut I was fascinated and genuinely worried by it. Any time that I felt hotter than normal, I wondered if it was a precursor to something terrible about to happen.

It’s all down to a documentary we watched in class in primary school. I’m not sure why we were shown that in primary school because I’m pretty sure it wasn’t related to the curriculum in any way, but it’s marginally better than the practical music class I had a couple of years later  where we had to learn the words to the Mash theme song and play along on xylophones, triangles, and tambourines. Nice tune, but terrible lyrics for a child. Imagine, an 11-year-old searching for an E on that xylophone while singing ‘Cause suicide is painless.’ Just wouldn’t happen these days. Or so I hope.

I didn’t tell anyone about this combustion-related concern, so clearly I knew it was unusual, but nonetheless it was very real. In retrospect, it’s probably a good thing I didn’t tell anyone at the time. If people didn’t already think I was a strange child, this would have persuaded them.

As a result, I find it fascinating when I come across articles such as the following about the death of a 65-year-old man in Tulsa on Monday:  Spontaneous Combustion considered in Sequoyah County death. The articles are always inconclusive, as is this one, but the fact that the police would even consider it as a possibility fascinates me. When I read Dickens’ Bleak House, the one part that struck  me was the death of Mr. Krook through spontaneous combustion. An-illustration-from-Dickens-Bleak-House-shows-the-discovery-of-alcoholic-rag-and-bone-man-Krook-a-victim-of-spontaneous-combustionDickens believed spontaneous combustion was real, but his belief went against the current of the times and he received a lot of criticism for including it in the story line. However, there are plenty of other literary references to it. In Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte describes a character as “in a frame of mind and body threatening spontaneous combustion.” Maybe that’s how I was feeling as child! I don’t know that I really believe in it, but it’s an interesting idea, and a convenient explanation for some very strange occurrences.


Related articles
http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/article.aspx?subjectid=11&articleid=20130218_11_0_Sequoy156608
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-15032614
http://www.ultimatehistoryproject.com/combustion.html
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2281158/Man-65-believed-died-spontaneous-combustion-pile-charred-remains-trace-source-damage.html  (Warning: some gruesome images)

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