Love and devotion are not always returned.
Years may go by ... and nothing.
But over a lifetime, who can say what will happen?


The Lower Methil Annexe of East Fife Technical College might be long on name, but it was perpetually short on resources. The main College in Kirkcaldy absorbed most of the money, and the Annexe made do with the crumbs. Cinderella would have felt right at home.

In the role of 'Cinders' was Edward 'Buggie' Sparks, the Annexe's Welding Instructor; a natural for the part. Eddie possessed a flair for welding - you name it, Eddie could probably weld it - counterbalanced by a fascination with fire. We were assured that he was completely harmless - by the Principal in Kirkcaldy, no less - when Eddie was transferred through to Methil. And I have to admit that I have never met a gentler man. His interest in the joys of the flame were kept in bounds. Eddie was completely happy to treat fire as a close confidante, with no desire to share it with others or spread it around. He was popular with the students, who called him 'Buggie' to his face. Eddie didn't mind. A man who often lacked eyebrows or a fringe had to be fairly insensitive to public opinion.
Eddie was always ready to help out, and that made him a true Methil Man.

Eddie had his little workshop tucked away in the corner of the Motor Vehicle Mechanics Department. Welding was considered to be an essential part of the Motor Vehicle trade, as most cars of the period had the rust resistance of a deep-sea wreck. Winter salt and low grade steel resulted in crumbling sills and perforated exhausts. In one classic review in a popular car maintenance magazine, which published a drawing showing the likely rust weak-spots in the vehicle being tested, the comment merely said ...
"Rusts everywhere, though the roof is slightly less prone to corrosion."
Eddie was a master at persuading sheet metal to hang together, when the less knowledgeable would write off a car when the sides resembled a lace curtain.

There were always a few students hanging around Eddie's workshop. Doing the odd job for the College - or, more likely, doing a few 'homers', with the College providing the means and the materials. Eddie didn't mind. He would help out with a spot of welding. Even do the job himself if the task was particularly difficult. He didn't so much teach as pass on his skills by example.

A welding shop is never a pristine workplace. Eddie did electric arc welding, gas welding, a bit of brazing and even some blacksmithing, so the workshop was always a bit grubby, and the walls had their own patina of welding sparks and soot. As a consequence of this, people tended to bring in any messy job that might be refused elsewhere.
We had no paint booth . but there was always Eddie's! Spray painting and gas welding is possibly NOT a good combination, but Eddie and fire were always on the best of terms and the risk was never really considered.
Until the day that the students nearly burned the Lower Methil Annexe to the ground. Complex situations often grow from the simplest of steps.

Sam Leckie encouraged the students to use their imaginations, their own skill and talents. He had a stack of old issues of Motorcycle Mechanics magazines, Practical Motorist. All kinds of do-it-yourself publications. When some of the students wanted to customise their bikes, Sam was all in favour. The only proviso was the location. Sam didn't want any of the cars in his workshop to be given a 'custom' paint job.
He gave them a stack of relevant magazines (car, not Playboy!), and pointed them in the direction of Eddie. Eddie happily gave the refugees a space, and left them to get on with it.

One of the problems of painting, is the time a newly painted object takes to dry. A particularly notorious issue of Motorcycle Mechanics provided an answer. An article on custom painting a carburettor with aerosol paint. The secret, the article explained, was to warm up the object before painting. The equivalent of a paint-baking oven. It provided a helpful illustration of a carburettor, hanging from a wire hook, being spray painted. Hanging over a a gas ring. A lit gas ring.
Of course we all know better ... but these were students. Left to their own devices, and following the advice of the professionals. The gas ring that Eddie used for a quick brew-up, was commandeered. The workpiece was suspended over the ring; the gas was lit. A moment to warm, then paint was sprayed.
The result was inevitable.

A fireball lit up the workshop, and in the ensuing panic, the tin of spray paint was dropped on to the gas ring. The slightly singed students moved smartly back from the flame, with a look of awe on their faces.
Eddie - no stranger to fire - summed up the situation. Two awestruck students, a billowing cloud of smoke, and a tin of paint - already beginning to buckle - sitting on the gas ring. A fool would have grabbed the paint tin, but Eddie grabbed the students, and hauled them out of the workshop.
Think about it. A chip pan catches fire and what do people do? They grab the chip pan. First reactions are often last reactions.
As Eddie, with a student in each hand, stumbled through the door into the Motor Vehicle department, the tin of paint exploded. The trio were thrown to the floor, as the blast exploded through the doorway. Fiery shrapnel tore through the space where they had stood, only a moment before.

Panic spreads. Rapidly. Sam Leckie, a cooler head in a rapidly overheating situation, started gathering students who were running around in a mindless stampede, and ushered them to safety. Once out of the Motor Vehicle Department, they scattered in every direction. I was nearly trampled myself, by the rush along the corridor.
Being ex-Coal Board, safety trained, and a member of the College staff, I looked into the workshop. In the thickening smoke, I could see Sam bringing a terrified student out with him. Incredibly, he had the presence of mind to bring the class register with him. He pointed to where Eddie and the two students were climbing to their feet.
"Give Eddie a hand to get those two out!" Not shouted, but very much a command.

Even in this emergency, I could see a certain humour in the situation. The senses are heightened, the attention to detail is increased. The figures I was reaching for, looked like some comic trio. Short, frizzy hair. No eyebrows. Sooty faces. And little, smouldering spots on their overalls.
Eddie pushed the two towards me.
"Take them out! I've got to go back."
I looked at the flames that were beginning to lick at the edge of the door to Eddie's workshop. As I pulled the students towards safety, I was looking at Eddie.
"Why, for heaven's sake! Is there anyone left in there?"
"No!" replied Eddie. "The gas bottles!"
Eddie dived back into the workshop. I did the sensible thing, and led the students to safety. Eddie's place had cylinders of acetylene, butane and oxygen. No place to be near in a fire.

Once out into the fresh air, I handed my charges to Sam Leckie.
"Is everyone out?"
Sam checked the class register.
"Yes. They're all out."
He looked at me, then moved to look past me into the department.
"Where's Eddie?"
"He's gone back to see about the gas bottles."
Sam moved to go back in.
"No, Sam. You look after the students. I'll go get him."

It's not courage. I had hated leaving Eddie, hated doing the 'sensible thing'. I ran back towards the fire. Just as I reached the Welding Workshop door, Eddie walked out.
"Are you OK, Eddie?"
Eddie nodded.
There were tears streaming down his face, leaving white streaks where they washed the soot away. My own eyes were beginning to sting.
"What about the gas bottles? Are they safe?"
Eddie nodded again.
"What about the fire?"
Eddie said nothing. Just walked away through the smoke in the Motor Vehicle Department. There was an air of sadness about him. The comic face with the tear-streaked make-up. Like a circus clown. I might have been mistaken, but I could swear that he held something cupped between his hands. Perhaps some Annexe mouse that had succumbed to the smoke?
And yet, there seemed to be a flicker of light between his fingers, like the flame from a cigarette lighter. How strange.
A stray draught of air cleared the smoke away between us, and I could see Eddie close his hands for a moment. Another tear rolled down that tragic face. Then the hands were open again.
Whatever had been, was gone.
Eddie walked away.

The atmosphere was clearing rapidly, now, and walked out after Eddie.
Someone must have dialled 999, because a fireman appeared in front of me.
"Where's the fire?"
I guess that all firemen are trained to say that.
"In the workshop."
I indicated Eddie's workshop door.
Another fireman appeared, and they both moved to tackle the fire. Or so I supposed. I was barely out into the main corridor, when the first fireman was back.
"Well done! You managed to put the fire out before it spread."
I coughed a bit, spat out some soot, then shook my head.
"Not me. Try asking Eddie. He was in there, dealing with it."
We looked. But Eddie was gone. We did not see him until the next day. And Eddie said nothing.

In the aftermath of the 'Annexe Inferno' (I quote the local paper), it was generally agreed that the dubious painting technique was the cause of the fire. Sam Leckie was credited with his cool thinking, and his part in bringing all the students to a place of safety. Eddie was celebrated as the hero who had gone back to prevent the spread of the fire to the gas cylinders, and prevented a far greater catastrophe. I got a brief mention as one of those present at the scene. They got my name wrong, but I didn't mind. I was glad to be out of there.
The only question, that nobody asked, was how the fire had been extinguished. I found out, later, that the CO2 fire extinguisher in the workshop, had been emptied by some students engaged in typical student horseplay. I thought it politic, not to bring the matter up. All kind of ways to deal with fire would be revised over the next few weeks. And I would keep a closer eye on fire extinguishers and the like.

I know that the initial fire had been quite dramatic. The flames had spread to the oily rags that decorate industrial workshops. The paint on the walls had started to burn. And yet, Eddie had extinguished that blaze without any kind of fire-fighting equipment.

Am I the only person to believe that Eddie never extinguished the blaze in the workshop?
Did he, just like Sam Leckie, take those in his care, out of the building?
Did Eddie hold that flame in his hand; take it with him as he left.
Did it flicker, and die; unable to survive in the open.
Were Eddie's tears merely the result of the acrid smoke?

Edward 'Buggie' Sparks.
A moth with his own, personal flame.

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