Our school gas ovens have a small pilot light inside at the back of the oven which is kept alight so when you turn the oven switch the gas burner inside the oven booms into action. Today is a busy shortcrust pastry lesson with all three shelves in all twelve ovens operating at full blast and soon the ovens will be stacked with cheese straws, sausage rolls, apple turnovers and multicoloured jam tarts and we need to work hard.
Ray calls me over.
‘Miss, me oven won’t light!’
We’re late. There’s lots to cook before the bell goes. I speed over, light the taper from the pilot light
on top of the stove and open the oven door. Bang! The oven explodes and a wall of flame rushes
over me. There’s a strong, burning smell around me. As I touch my head, clumps of singed hair fall
to the floor and bits of nylon overall crumple in brown, crisp pieces.
I stumble back in shock as the class cooks on. The bell will go soon, and the room is a tip. I have to carry on.
‘Are you alright miss?’ Ray stares at my face and seems alarmed.
Is he more worried about his cooking than me?
‘Yes, yes – just put your cooking in another oven.’
I reel around pulling out smouldering hair and catching bits of burnt overall.
An array of amazing pastries piles up on wire cooling racks and there’s washing up to do.
‘Sorry class, clear up, give yourself a mark, pack up and go!’
Lucky! Let off! The bell goes and they rush out, some stuffing cheese straws and jam tarts into their mouths, unaware that their teacher has been blown up and burnt.
The mirror in the school flat reflects the damage – my face is stripped of eyebrows and eyelashes and the front of my hair is missing. I’m lucky my contact lenses didn’t fuse to my eyeballs.
Ray has stayed behind, waiting for his tarts to cook..
‘Shall I help you clear up Miss?’
Wearily we collect dishcloths and teatowels to go in the twin tub. But I’m too shaky to do the washing – it will have to wait until tomorrow. And I still have to drive back to my bedsit in rush hour traffic.
Next day, it takes me much longer to prepare for school. My eyes look bald with no lashes so I stick on my party pair of false eyelashes and paint black lash lines on my lower lids, just like Twiggy shows on magazine covers. I draw in curves for my missing eyebrows and finish my eye makeup with a fashionable swish of purple eye shadow. There’s some strange stares at my new look but I feel fine, if rather hairless.
Gas ovens today are ignited by an electric ignition system which saves the major hazard of explosions.