Irrational Encounters With The Modern World

Mitchell Library

When Friendly Fire Is Too Friendly.

I think my favourite voicemail was received, from a friend, in December 2006. The friend and I studied together, both of us graduating to careers in theatre, with work and life meaning our paths stopped crossing as often as they once did.

It had been a while since I had heard from her, and I emerged from my place of employment after the matinee performance of a pantomime to see that I had a message to listen to.

“Hi there,” she began in her cheerful and chatty way. “I hope you’re well, I’ve not seen you in ages. Anyway, I’m working at The Kings just now, and – you probably know this already – but Cafe India is on fire, and I know your flat is right next to it, so I just thought I would tell you. But yeah, speak to you soon.”

Cafe India was not just on fire, it burned so thoroughly that it was later demolished. Writing in 2014, the space now houses a supermarket on the ground floor and an entire block of flats above. It was originally a single-storey restaurant, next to a two-storey backpackers hostel, and then next to that was my tenement flat. I had the top floor, my living room being the gable end, and there were huge cracks in the interior walls. Cracks you could have painted Michaelangelo’s “Creation Of Adam” on, had he not chosen the Sistine Chapel as its location.

I was, therefore, a little concerned to hear that the dwelling that housed all of my possessions might be in danger of combusting. With the adjoining structures drastically weakened, I was not convinced that the tenement’s end wall would stay up. I raced home, circling the police cordon as the last of the smoke billowed from the ruin, and walking past the fire engines in attendance to the rear of the property. My flat was above a pub, and as I walked along the back of the building I saw the landlord. I had briefly worked for him, and went over to speak to him. I found out that the entire row had been evacuated, in case the flames spread, but that tenants were finally being granted access again.

I went upstairs, checked everything was in order, and then had to leave immediately in order to be back in time for the evening’s performance. It was not the most relaxing period I have spent between shows.

Full credit to my friend, however. They always say that “in the event of fire, remain calm.” I do not think she could have been any calmer, absolutely exemplifying that as she relayed the news to me via answer-machine. The panic and the relief both faded, but the message was memorable for its unhurried delivery.

I lived in that flat for three years. It was my first residence in Glasgow, and I moved out four months after the fire – having no desire to live next door to the building site it was destined to become. On the plus side, the structure of the walls proved sound, and the building still stands.

Cafe India fire zoomedAbove: Still taken from STV video footage. My annotations.