Although I live near, less than 2miles from Grenfell Tower and though I remember hearing about it at 4.30am when I awoke, while it was happening, I have never had an inclination to go there. I remember that morning wondering whether to go down and help, and deciding not to when I heard they were swamped with helpers. I had no idea of the enormity of the event, but knew there was going to be big reverberations about it. Today, 28th July, was the first time I had wanted to go near Grenfell. I had seen enough images of the burnt out tower. It was in the news again today -the police reckon they now have enough evidence to sue Kensington and Chelsea Council for ‘corporate manslaughter.' Today,for the first time I felt the urge to go there.
I caught the tube from Edgware Road and travelled the 4stops to Latimer Road station. It only took a few minutes and I thought of my few encounters with out of control fire and fear.
I remember when I was 15 the church a few doors up caught fire in the early morning and although I couldn’t see the window there was a red glow on the wall and my father shouting get up and get out the house!
I remember when I was a young boy being near a heathfire at Blackbushe Aerodrome watching these wild flames consuming land and I remember being scared whether to watch or move as the wind blew the wild flames unpredictably.
I remember sitting by the warm fireside and hearth at home, staring into the flames of burning logs and learning from my father how to build fires.
I remember as an 11 year-old as schoolboy prank starting a small fire that got out of hand, setting fire to about 100 yards of railway embankment.
I remembered the last time of being in NYC in July 2001 and from the roof of our place on 2nd Avenue between 4th and 5th and seeing the top of the Empire StateBuilding in midtown round to the two towers of the World Trade Centre and couldn’t imagine that those towers has less than 2 months left.
And now heading to Grenfell I had that same sick feeling only fire and tragedy can arouse.
Coming out of the tube station at Latimer Road and looking up at the burnt out block, a familiar image but its always small in a newspaper or on a screen and it does not prepare you for the enormity of the looming dark presence towering above you and I couldn’t look without imagining the hell what was now such a still shel. That area will not beging to recover until it is demolishedThe eerie quiet in the streets around, a lot of flowers, (some old, some fresh) yellow ribands tied round trees, railings, candles and lanterns in pavement corners knitted tributes everywhere, shop windows had hurriedlly printed pictures of people missing. the area had obviously been inundated with visitors who trampled and gawped - a sign saying ‘Please keep off- we’re growing a garden here’ the residents resigned sad and resentful with that tired knowing slow look. A couple of police officers walking slowly around. On a deserted street corner with the burnt out block behind them a tv crew and besuited reporter stuck out like an inevitable sore thumb. A man came up to me and complained that he couldn’t get close enough to get a good picture ‘I bet there were many good pics on the night’ he said not realising how gross he sounded he used to work in the area he said. The sadness of the place was bigger than his sickness. I couldn't judge him. What was I doing there?I didn’t want to stay long, but I needed to witness this, I needed to be there. I was glad to leave the area. It's sad and suffocating. I returned to the tube to get out and directed a woman with a big bunch of flowers to where other had laid theirs.