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London’s Heart Of Darkness

We came up on it suddenly.  Just a few seconds realisation of what we would arrive at, a few moments to adjust. It was physical, the impact. A grip on my throat and ice down my spine.

It always was a slightly surreal journey – along the Euston Road, through the underpass, Madame Tussauds on the right, and Edgware Road to the left. Bright lights, big buildings, corpulent corporate extravagance and then up and over. Like a roller-coaster the first hump of the elevated section – less so now the speed limit’s been cut but then up again and soaring over inner west London towards White City, Westfield, Park Royal, flicking a “v” at the Hanger Lane Gyratory and pushing on to Buckinghamshire’s green and pleasant lands……..

But that first bit, the stretch from Paddington to White City. The British “Bonfire of the Vanities”, the footfall of “This Boy”,  tower blocks like cocktail sticks with the concrete ribbon of Westway flirting here and the with the overground tube line. The notion of two different worlds sided right by side has always been very strong, day or night, but the Grenfell Tower tragedy has surely changed this forever.

That’s what I came upon, knew I would come upon, had not come upon since that terrible night in June.

In July 2005, middle of the month, I inadvertently found myself in Tavistock Square. The shell of the bombed out bus had long gone, of course, but the atmosphere was leaden. Something so bad had happened there. I shuddered and every sound seemed to die away.  That’s the closest I’ve come to the feeling I had looking at the cocktail stick tower blocks, all mostly all lit up at this time on an October night, with one immense  silhouette, hard to see it was so dark against the night.  But unmissable.  How can you live, looking out on that every day said my wife, nodding to the tower blocks all around.

And how can you.  How do the survivors try to repair their lives,  with loved ones unrecoverable, many (most) still living in hotels, a lengthy public inquiry still to come (and by-the-by, I’ve worked with Martin Moore-Bick and he is, I believe,  a good man).

Because of course, it was all so avoidable.  It was forewarned about. It should never have happened. The victims should never have died, the rescuers and survivors never been so traumatised. It was, truly, a defining moment when the bust, broken, short term, low cost, snob-laden, profit-for-the-few model of society reached the end of the line.

But there is nothing pre-ordained or inevitable about this. We can veer away from this “brutal system of rampant inequality, hollowed-out public services and disdain for the powerless and the poor.” In this sense some good can come from such tragedy. Is not the sense of obligation to do what we can to find some good in times of despair an enduring human characteristic?  I write these words more in hope than expectation, but the path from thoughts like these to deeds is well-trodden

But, that can never rebuild what the Grenfell tragedy destroyed. For me, for now and perhaps forever, the tower block’s silhouette is a black hole from which no warmth, light, life or hope escapes.

Image credit: Google Maps

Details of the Grenfell Tower enquiry are at https://www.grenfelltowerinquiry.org.uk/

The gateway for support for Grenfell survivors is https://grenfellsupport.wordpress.com/

There is a memorial trust for the victims and survivors of Tavistock Square: http://www.tavistocksquarememorialtrust.org/index.html

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