Like any responsible parent, I would not leave a loaded gun in the children’s playroom or keep my painkillers in their sweetie tin. But it turns out that for two years there has been a nuclear bomb in one of my kitchen cupboards, between the tomato ketchup and the Rice Krispies.
It’s an American chilli sauce that was bought by my wife as a joky Christmas present. And, like all joky Christmas presents, it was put in a drawer and forgotten about. It’s called limited-edition Insanity private reserve and it came in a little wooden box, along with various warning notices. “Use this product one drop at a time,” it said. “Keep away from eyes, pets and children. Not for people with heart or respiratory problems. Use extreme caution.”
Unfortunately, we live in a world where everything comes with a warning notice. Railings. Vacuum cleaners. Energy drinks. My quad bike has so many stickers warning me of decapitation, death and impalement that they become a nonsensical blur.
The result is simple. We know these labels are drawn up to protect the manufacturer legally, should you decide one day to insert a vacuum-cleaner pipe up your bottom, or to try to remove your eye with a teaspoon. So we ignore them. They are meaningless. One drop at a time! Use extreme caution! On a sauce. Pah. Plainly it was just American lawyer twaddle.
I like a hot sauce. My bloody marys are known to cure squints. And at an Indian restaurant I will often order a vindaloo, sometimes without the involvement of a wager. So when I accidentally found that bottle of Insanity, I poured maybe half a teaspoonful onto my paella. And tucked in.
Burns victims often say that when they are actually on fire, there is no pain. It has something to do with the body pumping out adrenaline in such vast quantities that the nerve endings stop working. Well, it wasn’t like that for me.
The pain started out mildly, but I knew from past experience that this would build to a delightful fiery sensation. I was even looking forward to it. But the moment soon passed. In a matter of seconds I was in agony. After maybe a minute I was frightened that I might die. After five I was frightened that I might not.
The searing fire had surged throughout my head. My eyes were streaming. Molten lava was flooding out of my nose. My mouth was a shattered ruin. Even my hair hurt.
And all the time, I was thinking: “If it’s doing this to my head, what in the name of all that's holy is it doing to my innards?” I felt certain that at any moment my stomach would open and everything — my intestines, my liver, my heart, even — would simply splosh onto the floor. This is not an exaggeration. I really did think I was dissolving from the inside out.
Trying to keep calm, I raced, screaming, for the fridge and ate handfuls of crushed ice. This made everything worse. So, dimly remembering that Indians use bread when they've overdone the chillies, I cut a slice, threw it away and ate what remained of the very expensive Daylesford loaf, like a dog.
Nothing was working. And such was my desperation, I downed two litres of skimmed milk — something I would never normally touch with a barge pole. I was sweating profusely as my body frenziedly sought to realign its internal thermostat. I felt sick but didn’t dare regurgitate the poison for fear of the damage it would cause on the way out.
Even now, the following morning, I feel weak, shell-shocked, like I may die at any moment. And all I’d ingested was a drop.
Limited-edition Insanity sauce is ridiculous. It’s made in Costa Rica, from hot pepper extract, crushed red savina peppers, red tabasco pepper pulp, green tabasco pepper pulp, crushed red habanero peppers, crushed green habanero peppers, red habanero pepper powder and fruit juice.
Well, that’s what it says on the tin. But I don’t believe it. I think it’s made from uranium, plutonium, fertiliser, sulphuric acid, nitric acid, hydrochloric acid and ammonia, with a splash of mace. I do not believe it’s a foodstuff. It’s a weapon.
And I may have a point, since on the Scoville scale, which measures the intensity of chilli peppers, the habanero sits just below the “daisy cutter”, that American bomb designed to wipe out nations.
At present you are allowed to take 100ml of liquid onto a plane because the authorities believe such a small amount could not possibly bring down an airliner. They are wrong. If I painted just 1ml of Insanity sauce on the window of a 747, it would melt. And this is stuff you can buy on the internet. Stuff that has been sitting in my kitchen for two years.
So, what’s to be done? As you know, I am not Gordon Brown. I do not think problems can be solved with a ban, even though I really believe that a bottle of Insanity sauce is more deadly than a machinegun.
The obvious course of action is to remove warning notices from household goods that are not dangerous — cakes, for instance, and staplers. This way, we would pay more attention when something is supplied with labels advising us of great peril ahead.
Sadly, however, since we are now one of the most litigious countries in the world, this will never happen. Nor can Insanity be uninvented. It exists. A bottle of the damn stuff is sitting on my desk now and I have no idea what I should do with it.
I can’t pour it down the sink because it would get into the water table. I can’t put it in the bin because it would end up as landfill. And that’s no good for something which has a half-life of several thousand years. I can’t even take it — as I would with a grenade I’d found — to the police because they’d be tempted to use it as a legal device for getting information out of criminals. And that wouldn’t work at all. Last night, when the bread had failed and the milk was finished, I would happily have confessed to 43 counts of homosexual rape. Plus there is a side effect — certain death.