Smoke Without Fire

In February last year the Scottish government took it upon themselves, in their infinite wisdom, to order all households to install interconnected wifi smoke alarms. This meant that if an alarm went off in one wing of the house, all would go off. It came at a time during lockdown when the seemingly unnecessary expense of a hundred pounds for something that only people with big houses would benefit from, struck many as excessive. Eventually I only capitulated in case we had a fire and insurance was mitigated by the fact we didn’t have them.

So I splashed out and ordered Amazon’s choice of two smoke alarms and a heat detector for the kitchen. When they arrived, I distinctly yet fuzzily remember taking one out its box, along with instructions and tiny remote control, and having a mess about with it to try and see how it worked. After that, my memory is a blank. Try as I might, I could not find that smoke alarm or the instructions and began to question that I’d ever experimented with that particular device. The second smoke and heat alarm were still in their boxes. I dutifully affixed them to the walls in the desired places near the old alarms which I left up.

Fast forward a year later, 4:30 am, and the wifi smoke alarms all go off at once. I run downstairs to see what the story is, note the absence of any smoke or heat, and do my best to assure our new puppy that everything is okay. In my sleepy dazed state and after confirming the house is not in fact burning down, I depress the front of one of the alarms until it stops its infernal racket and return to my blissful slumber, only to be awoken once again ten minutes later.

Hooda guessed smoke alarms have snooze buttons?

I leap out of bed and repeat the process, wondering if maybe it’s carbon monoxide. The puppy regards me with the expression ‘Dude, wtf, again?’ But the CO detector in the kitchen flashes silently and reassuringly. And anyway, we have an electric cooker now, which surely must reduce risk of CO poisoning, unless they’d not capped the gas off properly? I don’t know.

Anyway, I rotate the alarms out of their holders and hold the front buttons again until they are silent. This they duly were. For another ten minutes. 

At their dratted shrieking I get up, press the front buttons longer this time (of course you can’t just take the batteries out anymore), wrap them both in oven gloves, stuff them in a drawer, and go back to bed like a responsible dad.

And there they stayed. We still had the old ones attached, so it didn’t bother me too much the damn new-fangled things were out of commission.

Anyway, weeks go by and we got back to normal, or as normal as you can be, getting your puppy used to doing its business outside. Late one night when I was ‘peeing the dog’ I heard a distant beeping noise which sounded like it was coming from a neighbour’s garden. I shrugged, murmured, ‘Hmm,’ under my breath and thought no more about it.

A few nights later it happened again. ‘Bloody neighbours,’ I mused. ‘Can’t even get their bloody electronic gadgets from bloody bleeping.’

The next night the same thing. ‘What a second,’ I thought, ‘Is that coming from our shed?’ On further investigation I wondered if it might not have been emanating from the compost bin. It sounded like one of my son’s old toys. But why on earth would it be coming from the compost bin?

Despite the rain and dark I put a head torch on and got the spade out, upended the wheelbarrow and began digging compost out like a crazy person. I was a man obsessed, determined to get to the bottom of this, literally if needs be. So much to our puppy’s joy and amusement, I transferred rotting food waste from the compost bin to the wheelbarrow as the beeping noise seemed to get tantalisingly closer and closer until finally – tap!

I’d struck something. 

I dug around with my gardening gloves and took out an unidentified composting object, round, plastic, covered in a decaying, soft plastic wrapper and beeping self-importantly.

The other smoke alarm.

How in all mulching Hell had it gotten in there!?

Over the years we’ve found some strange items in our compost bin. Numerous bits of plastic, a fork, a potato peeler, the head of Alfredo Garcia, and now this. It’s like the universe’s last ditch place to hide items that don’t want to be found. 

“Hey, Universe, I need a place to lie low for a while. I’m done forkin’, peelin’ or detectin’ smoke.”

Universe: “I have just the place.”

So what I deduced is this: in my office I have three wastepaper baskets – one for recycling, one for general waste, and the third for compost.  Sometime in the past year, the smoke alarm I’d opened and messed about with must have slipped off a shelf or table into the bin destined for compost, and remained there hidden and activated until I threw it without much ceremony into the compost bin outside. There it lay, waiting patiently for the perfect moment in the cold, wet dark. As more and more kitchen waste got thrown on top of it, the soft plastic wrapper slowly disintegrated until finally some liquid or bit of decaying food matter pressed its way smoke-like in between two sensors, and-


Operation POACH (Piss Off And Confound Human) is initiated.