Student Stories – Why Smoke Machines aren’t always a good idea

We use to live in this rather ramshackled house in Oxford (no, not the bit where Inspector Morse was filmed). It was actually owed by the Polytechnic we went to but was on the point of falling down, especially the roof which had about three tiles left on it when we moved it (We should have been alerted to this by all the buckets lying around the place when we first went to see it). Anyway this prompted us to make a twice-weekly trip to the Poly Housing Association Office and complain about it until summer came and they finally came to fix the roof. But the first winter we had to put up with holes in the roof and water running down the walls.

Sometime around march (while we still had a damp house) we decided to arrange a mammoth birthday party for Tim’s then girlfriend and one of the other guys (Also called Tim, we weren’t big on multiple names in our house). Tim (the slightly more insane one) came up with the idea of renting a smoke machine to give the party some atmosphere (dense and smoky as it turned out) so we all chipped in and rented one.

The day of the party dawned. We went and got the smoke machine and wiled away an hour of so playing with it. We then started decorating the house in traditional student style. Can’t remember who came up with the idea of putting red light bulbs in the light fittings but I came up with the idea of stringing up a couple of headlights I had lying around from repairing my old car and hooking them up to a 12V scalextric transformer. Trouble with that was that the impedance was way to low (or high. Come on, I did a Computing degree, how the hell should I know) so the transformer kept tripping out and the lights gave off this flickering orange glow. We all though this was really cool though, so it all worked out.

So the party started and we had a really cool looking house, filled with smoke, dim red lights and the kitchen had a flickering orange glow. Beer and strong spirits were flowing freely. We even got honest to goodness gatecrashers (probably the only time this ever happened to computer nerds) so that must be a sure sign the part was going well. Our party had progressed from the shindig stage to a full-blown hootenanny.

So it must have been about 11pm and there’s this loud knocking on the door. At this point I was slumped in a corner of the living room, Tim was up stairs playing his guitar very loudly and as for the rest of the house I have no clear idea. Anyway, someone opened the door and there outside our house were four firemen, dressed in full fire fighting gear with axes. Behind them were two fire engines, an ambulance and a police car. Turns out that smoke was billowing out of our rather leaky roof and the orange flickering glow from our kitchen had caused one of our neighbours to call the fire brigade.

The moral of the story is: There can be smoke without flames, but you have to explain to the local police exactly why and then apologize to the fire brigade.