Time Out Feature: Extreme London
Now, I know what you’re thinking: why is Kate, the wuss that didn't get her fire safety badge at Brownies because she was too scared of lighting a match, and who still can't light a hob with one now, doing at a fire workshop? In truth, I wanted to find a daring activity that made Editor-at-Large Alexi Duggins' hot wing challenge look about as extreme as getting the 38 night bus home without earplugs. It had nothing on this: this was real, singe-your-eyebrows-off fire.
Despite my similarly extreme wimp levels, I actually had a hoot finding my inner “Master of Flames” with Red Sarah, who's been teaching these kind of fire workshops for some 15 years. It's an exhilarating – and properly sexy – alternative to fannying around Bethnal Green Working Men's Club with a feather boa between your legs. And, best of all, I no longer wince when a stranger offers to light my cigarette with their Zippo.
Read the full story on Time Out or after the jump.
Reasons for spending a Friday night playing with fire in Walthamstow:
1) Keeping it real with the E17 youth;
2) Trying to oust Brian Harvey from his title of ‘Most idiotic accidental self-harmer in Walthamstow’;
3) Learning the ancient (and fully terrifying) art of body burning.
At Red Sarah’s fire workshop, you can tick off number three. But not, I’m really hoping, number two. Tonight’s underpass-based session (it’s well-ventilated and near her house) will involve rolling flaming, paraffin-soaked sticks up my arms, and finish with me kissing and licking them. These tricks are employed by cabaret and burlesque artists to set their stage alight, though I’m just a curious, if completely naive, performance enthusiast.
‘Are you going to spray me with fire retardant?’ I ask tentatively, fixing my hair back with a bandana. Sarah looks at me as if I’ve just asked her whether I can light my next fart. Her arms, I notice, are completely bald. ‘By the way,’ she says, smirking, ‘you’ll burn all the hair off your arms.’ She gently presses a flaming stick on my hand to get used to the heat. It’s hot. Red hot. Though not unbearable.
The key to keeping cool, Sarah shows me, is in how steadily and firmly you move the fire along your skin. She demonstrates gliding a wand up and down her arm in a confident, unwavering motion.
I am, unfortunately, too hesitant. It’s a wobbly, el scorchio ride down my forearm as I keep accidentally catching myself on the hottest part of the flame.
Next we move on to licking: a much harder feat. Not least because the slightest gust of breath can shoot the flames up in your face. Terrified that I’m going to singe my eyebrows off, I take countless tries to get the fire anywhere near my tongue, but eventually manage to give the paraffin-soaked wand a hearty big lick. I am elated. My poor mouth tastes like I’ve been tonguing a used barbecue, but it’s been worth it.
I keep at it until I feel in control, even seductive, showing off my newly fluid strokes to an invisible audience. It’s unexpectedly erotic: Red Sarah doesn’t just teach pro-burlesquers who are bored of just wobbling their bits, but regular women who want to do something new and sexy.
Sexy is, of course, open to interpretation: I’m concentrating so hard I look constipated, but I do feel a dizzying sense of achievement. I am the girl who played with – no, conquered! – fire and held onto her eyebrows. Just, for god’s sake, don’t try it at home. Even Brian Harvey wouldn’t do that. Kate Hutchinson