I’ve spent the last few days in the burned-out remains of my in-laws’ farmstead, in rural Lincolnshire. Fortunately, both survived the fire unscathed, as did most of their animals. This massive fire, reported on the BBC, engulfed their properties last Sunday. Fifty firefighters attended the scene, leaving when the fire was fully extinguished, 24 hours after it started. The aftermath resembles a scene from Eastern Ukraine.

The above photograph is my wife’s bedroom. Look carefully, and you will see what remains of her bed. Over the last 21 years, I have stayed in this house, for, cumulatively, many months. My children have spent many a half-term holiday here, exploring the barns, ponds and woods of this rural idyll. It was our second home.

Outside the deaths of loved ones, or the horror-illness which my son sustained, this was the most shocking news of my life. And it wasn’t even my house. Here are some of my personal observations – mostly trite – which I am willing to share.

  1. When telling people this particular news, for the recipient, there’s no playbook to fall back upon; of how to respond. Half the recipients of the news immediately change the subject. Most of us know what to say when someone tells you that a loved one has died, but most have little idea what to say when you tell them your family home has burned down.
  2. Some houses are just that: houses, with stuff in them. Whereas other houses have a profound sense of meaning, of identity; a house which shouldn’t ever be sold, but instead be passed down the generations.
  3. Out of destruction, new opportunities present. And speedily present themselves with 20:20 clarity.
  4. Shared stressful horror experiences have the potential to bring people closer together.
  5. With insurance, premiums are often appropriately calculated.
  6. Possessions can often hold you back.
  7. My in-laws, my kids, and perhaps even my wife and I, could easily have perished in that fire. I think of the Latin saying of Momento mori: “remember you have to die”, goes the translation. Collectively, we have just dodged a bullet, so let’s, collectively, live life to the fullest.