Yeah, yeah, yeah the wick effect. But really does some slovenly fatso in a terry toweling bathrobe dropping fag ash on himself and then slowly burning for eight hours really match up to the majesty of Spontaneous Human Combustion. Coursnot.

I was first introduced to the mystery of SHC by the Readers Digest Book OF Mysterious Happenings, my teenaged Bible of the Unexplained. They did not couch it in terms that would be consistent with the wick effect. Instead billious, brandied-up bodies, blinded with their bright blaze. The Digest was big on alliteration, but it stuck. All that were left were smoking boots and that nasty smell of charred flesh and hair.

Burning hair stinks.

In the Digest version the blazes were sudden, often at parties where petticoats went up in flames too (petticoats are not wicks). Of course a fotheringaied fire would nearly always be attached to some form of witchcraft, all well and good in my book. Other, fun theories (unlike the boring old wick effect) include thermals rising from the centre of the earth, sunspots and of course demonic possession.

The problem with the wick effect is that it attempts to explain our unexplained phenomenon with no eye for the drama of the situation. Mucky people burning to death whilst on their todd is not Spontaneous Human Combustion the way I know it. Instead it is Home Alone Burning – not unexplained, not interesting.