Sometimes when I feel like writing something, I don’t really have anything much to say to start with (and it’s possible you can tell). Other times, there is so much to write about – a saturation of things, like how my hideous tooth-stump got crowned, and the night last week when Rebecca, Lorraine, Tomas and I hosted a pub quiz to raise funds for our communal garden play area and pretty much no one came, and then how we went to all those summer fair things over the last few weekends and there was too much lemonade in the Pimms and too much sunburn. It’s a weird time of the year: everything fun is squeezed into a month, and the weather has been so hot that everyone is a bit sweatily punchdrunk and we are all being poisoned by the dirty air while we waft around in last summer’s sleeveless dresses and we wonder why our arms aren’t at all sculpted even after four months of committed yoga classes. There’s a little persistent arthritic knee action and we keep having marital disagreements about who should cook on the weekend. What a time to be alive!
But then, of course, there’s quite a few of us who aren’t alive anymore. Manchester, London Bridge, that dickhead who ran into the mosque last week, and then the terrible, awful, devastating fire at Grenfell Tower have changed my worldview a bit. I have never known a tragedy before – not really, not one that sits so close. The tower is near us; it’s walking distance in the neighbourhood west of ours, streets away from the crummy old soft play area where our kids all had their birthday parties when they were little, a glance to the left when we are all at Portobello Road market scoffing crepes and vietnamese baguettes. It’s the tower you drive past on your way out of the city, along the A40, as you pootle along in your Landrover on your way to a National Trust garden to scramble around the countryside and eat a pub lunch in the manner of carefree middle-class comfortably housed people. It’s in the neighbourhood where some of your friends grew up, where some of your friend’s families lived, where one friend’s mother worked in the nursery at the base of the tower. You could see the smoke filling the sky on Wednesday morning from my Bishop’s Bridge school-run vantage point and on my Thursday morning early jog, the air around the canal was acrid with plasticky chemical fumes. At Barnaby’s secondary school, where they are planning a whole-school peaceful fundraising walk from Holland Park to Kensington Gardens on Friday, one of their pupils escaped, another pupil and his family are still ‘missing’, and an ex-pupil is missing as well. (‘Missing’, of course, is just the shittiest euphemism for ‘dead in the sweltering burned-out tower that used to be their home’.)
So of course I have no ownership over this ugly and avoidable thing that happened last week – it wasn’t my home, or my mum, or my stuff that was cremated, and I don’t want to pretend that I am affected in any real way. I have a safe home. I am cared for. My kids are safe when they sleep. And while it is raw, and it is real, and it is local, it is also so much more that that, because I guess it doesn’t really matter that I can walk down there to sign the wall or that I can say ‘I know someone who knows someone’, because, well, whatever – it is a human thing, and a political thing, wider than the postcode.
There were babies and kids the age of my kids’ age who died in there. There were disabled elderly people in that tower. People from different parts of the world, parents who also took their kids to the soft play area and people who also considered west London their home, all lived there. They probably also ate those crepes sometimes and dropped their kids off at the holiday programme at the Westway Sports Centre to learn how to spray paint graffiti onto MDF and came out to watch the Notting Hill Carnival in August every year and eat curried goat. Some of those kids who lived in that tower wore the same school uniform as my kid does. The week before last, Grenfell residents voted in the general election and some fasted for Ramadan and many of them probably spent too much time playing on their phones. And for no reason at all, their homes burned and some of them died. Or, maybe more importantly, they died because people in charge didn’t see them as worth protecting or caring for, although that was their mandate. A systematic and shameful series of hard-eyed choices led to that horrible burnt out tower and to those few hours of horror and poisonous smoke and ruined lives.
So what do you do? Donations of Otis’s too-small jeans isn’t going to cut it. Visiting the tower again and getting in the way of the people who are busy trying to rebuild their community – well, that’s a bit shit too. Crying quite a lot about it – equally useless.
There was one girl who got out of the tower and the next morning, in the clothes she had escaped in, she sat her chemistry GCSE’s. Smoke in her hair, damaged, without her chemistry notes, and no home to go back to. With neighbours dead. What a bloody hero. We should all employ people like her. Maybe the best thing we can do is start seeing everyone as just as important and valuable as The People Who Are Like Us. And maybe we need to be getting involved and helping when things have calmed down a bit – when it isn’t dominating the news every night, and when the donation money has dried up. Time to join the Labour party, maybe.
Summer Fair stuff
Soho Food Feast and Marylebone Summer Fayre shenanigans, and haircuts and cheap aviators:
Second one is down, about to be edited – we will release our 45 minutes of pure conversational brilliance very soon. Probably.
One Last Thing
When I asked Helen, wise and glorious Helen, brainy lady and vicar’s wife Helen, what you might say or pray to God after such a terrible thing as Grenfell Tower, she sent me this. St Augustine, apparently:
Watch, O Lord, with those who wake, or watch, or weep tonight,
and give Your Angels and Saints charge over those who sleep.
Tend Your sick ones, O Lord Christ.
Rest Your weary ones.
Bless Your dying ones.
Soothe Your suffering ones.
Pity Your afflicted ones.
Shield Your joyous ones.
And all for Your love’s sake. Amen.
I would add: VOTE. Always and with care. The fire was brought to you by people who thought costs were more important than public safety. Just like people in today’s US White House and Congress. (I am across the water from you.) I am deeply sorry for all people around the world who are going to be hurt and will die as a result of these policies and this greed.
In the US they are only reporting the known dead numbers from your fire …. ignoring the missing reality. Grim. Thank you for writing on this topic.
Congratulations on your new tooth and thank you for your children. Gives me hope.
You are so right about the ability for us all to vote – what a powerful tool. I think the youth are finally getting it – at least here, the wakeup call has clearly sounded.