Saturday, 17 June 2017

Burning Flats

Having spent a significant portion of my life living in a block of council flats, and with friends and family still living in towers of various sizes and configurations – including my daughter on the White City Estate, just a few minutes' walk west from the blaze – I felt the nightmare of Grenfell Tower quite keenly. There was a tower-block fire in my neighbourhood here in Southampton a couple of years ago, in which two firefighters lost their lives. Like fire at sea in the mind of a sailor, it's a horror that lurks constantly in the back of any flat-dweller's mind. How would I escape? What would I save? What is it like to burn to death, or to be suffocated by smoke, trapped within a building?

Perhaps you, like me, sense a turn in the national political mood. Corbyn, improbably, is up; May, less improbably, is down. It's enough to make you believe in astrology. Doing everything for the public benefit grudgingly and on the cheap, mocking "health and safety culture", getting rid of "red tape" restrictions on the rapacity of business, zero-hours contracts, the absurdity of housing policies that emphasise ownership over secure, fair-rent tenancies... Suddenly, these are things to be ashamed of, and the apologists for unfettered, neoliberal, global capital are on the defensive. Seemingly, anyway; and "seeming" can sometimes be enough, when it comes time to vote.

Building it together...


Anonymous said...

My wife and I watched some live videos about the demonstrations in the aftermath of the fire on For me, it was surprising how quickly this attained a political dimension. A young lady said that Kensington is most likely the wealthiest borough in the world, and for the cladding of this particular building (which is council housing) they scrimped on fire proof material. Other speakers talked about gentrification, and about low housing standards for the 99%. It was also claimed that politics and media tried to purposely downplay the no. of casualties.

I wouldn't be surprised if this fire would be considered a political turning point a couple of years from now.

Best, Thomas

Mike C. said...


I think when the objective, sober assessments of what actually happened and what went wrong are delivered, this will turn out to have been a perfect storm of negligence, where everyone involved and everything that was done (and, crucially, not done) will turn out to be sub-standard. Because these were poor people, and Britain no longer does its best by the poor. Because no-one wants to pay the necessary taxes.

As you say, this could well be a turning point. What a cost, though...


Poetry24 said...

As you know, Mike, I'm a social housing tenant. Have been for the past 17 years (we could never afford to buy in this neck of the woods). But on the subject of wood, that is what our staircase is built from. I refer to the communal means of getting from our first floor flat to safety, in the event of fire. Hmm, I suppose we could always jump and fall the 12 feet or so to the grass below. But hell, wooden staircase/fire escape? Come on, please. We are hardly a block, much less a tower, but safety is safety, and you'd think someone would be on the case. Who knows? Maybe someone will be, in the wake of the Grenfell tragedy.

Mike C. said...


Some flats I once lived in had these bizarre drums of cable by each window, presumably so you could lower yourself to safety (don't think it was meant as an alternative to the lift). No-one ever demonstrated or explained how it worked, of course! Thankfully, I never had to try it out.


Martyn Cornell said...

I'm a believer in karma not because I think there's any great cosmic lawmaker doling out justice but because arseholery will generally be taken too far one time too many by its perpetrators, and punishment will then finally fall on their heads. Unfortunaterly it's taken 70-plus awful deaths for the arseholes who thought it was OK to use flammable cladding on a high-rise block because it was cheap to be threatened with justice.

Mike C. said...


Agreed, but also the Master Arseholes will, as always, get away with it by sacrificing some overworked, underpaid, short-staffed inspectors. In fact, look for the MAs in the front row by the scaffold, bellowing "String 'em up!"