Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Friday, 23 September 2011

Fire from Heaven in the Emerald Isle

(No, it's not UARS this time; if that's what you're after, you want the post before this one.)

Here at the Tavern, we are always interested in manifestations of the mysterious and unexplained; today's news has furnished a prime example in the verdict handed down by a coroner in Ireland.

A man who burned to death in his home died as a result of spontaneous combustion, an Irish coroner has ruled.

"This fire was thoroughly investigated and I'm left with the conclusion that this fits into the category of spontaneous human combustion, for which there is no adequate explanation," he said.

Anyone who read 'Fire From Heaven' - the definitive popular book on the subject - as a teenager will instantly recognize the classic signs; an elderly victim, a nearby heat source and the surroundings relatively untouched despite the high temperatures that consumed the body.

Spontaneous human combustion has long been acknowledged as a phenomenon - no need to mention here Dickens' use of it as a plot device (or, for that matter, its appearance in 'This is Spinal Tap') - though this is thought to be the first case of its sort in Ireland.

I refer anyone seeking further information to what may be the most awesome TV documentary ever - 'Bruce Dickinson Investigates Spontaneous Human Combustion'.

Meanwhile, a dissenting voice has appeared in the form of retired professor of pathology Mike Green, who claims that there must have been an ignition source of which the fire subsequently eliminated all trace; something he claims accounts for all cases of SHC.

The pragmatic professor does not agree that combustion could have started spontaneously; not surprisingly, he also dismisses the historical explanation of divine intervention, demonstrating an opinion of his fellow man that I suspect is shared by many of you, my dear readers:

"I think if the heavens were striking in cases of spontaneous combustion then there would be a lot more cases."

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