All Turkish toilets have a bidet – not the mysterious free-standing porcelain object characteristic of mid-20th century French hotel bathrooms, but a handy water pipe on the back of the toilet bowl. This means that anyone moving from Britain or the US may become accustomed to a heightened standard of ablution procedure. Upon returning to the largely bidet-free western world, one may feel the need to maintain standards of post-procedural hygiene. Step 1 is simply placing a large bottle of water beside the bowl. This is the nature of the bidet used in this story.
My family moved to Washington State in 2018. For the first few months, we lived in a nice apartment in a six-storey block in central Redmond. One night, the fire alarm went off. I got out of bed and looked in the corridor. It was full of smoke and people were running about in that way one does when one is awoken by hideous noise and apparently life-threatening circumstances.
One man opened the door to the stairwell. He recoiled, yelled ‘FIRE!’ and ran away down the corridor. I opened the same door. The fire was a small one on the stairwell carpet. There seemed to be a white line in the middle of it. Other than the fire, it was completely dark and there was a lot of smoke.
I returned to my apartment where my wife and child absorbed the small amount of information I had. It struck me that the fire was quite small but could grow quickly. I put a towel in a sink and turned on the water. Then I grabbed the wet towel and headed out. Before I left, I picked up the bidet bottle.
The stairwell looked the same. I couldn’t see any sign that the fire was electrical. I emptied the bidet onto the fire. It went out immediately and started emitting more smoke. I checked for flames. None. My family dressed for a cold night and headed past the doused fire to the street. It was about 5am.
The first of the fire trucks arrived, a Medic van and a pumper. I learned the typology of Fire Department vehicles as the morning unfolded. Businesslike people emerged from the pumper and began suiting up. I told them what had happened and a man in medieval armour brandished a battleaxe and headed up the stairs. A tanker and a ladder truck arrived. Further battalions assembled for combat. Eventually, 8 fire units were there along with a varying number of police vehicles.
The inhabitants of the apartment block spread out along the footpaths. Most of them had small designer dogs. The excitement of the alarm gave way to frustrated boredom as everyone wondered whether they could get back inside in time to get ready for work or at least get a cup of coffee.
Eventually a helpful policeman told us that the local coffee shops were opening. Our Starbucks was full of people in pajamas and ruffled lapdogs.
The Fire Brigade did far more damage than the fire. They needed to in order to remove the wall panelling to check that the fire had not spread to the wood below. Apparently, the fluorescent light tube had fallen and set light to the carpet.