Saturday, 17 June 2017

Reality check!

Well, I think I have sat in my escapist bubble for long enough now. I shall probably get back into my escapist bubble before long but in the meantime her are some thoughts. I have been avoiding making any kind of comment about the tower block fire in London by writing about the weather and odd things that I have noticed about life in Spain.

And all the time I have been reading reports, first about how awful the fire was and then the reports of all the things that were wrong with that tower block: the external cladding which probably let the fire spread, and the use of which is banned in so many other countries; the cost cutting that meant that sprinkler systems and other fire-safety measures were ignored; the ignoring of regulations that said they should be installed; the lack of an adequate escape route in the event of a fire; and on and on. And then the reports that tried to put the blame on residents for not installing sprinklers and even one resident in particular whose faulty fridge may or may not have stated the fire.

Then last night our son sent us a long email, in which he talked about sitting up and watching the election results come in last Thursday night to Friday morning (is it really only just over a week ago?), about the London Bridge attacks and most of all about having to go into work on an early train on Tuesday morning and being able to see the tower block fire from his train. What a terrifying sight!

"And now," he wrote, "London enters a hot weekend as a tinder box. Justifiable anger, but the police tired and stretched. First London Bridge then this. Police who in some cases have done two weeks with no break. Angry, rightly angry, people. But all it needs is one tired, provoked, police to over-react and be caught by a smart phone doing something unacceptably brutal and it could so easily erupt now.

 Summer 2011 - I walked home from Mike's flat to the flat Emma and I had in Tooting after watching a box set (probably Treme, appropriately enough). We turned the news on before I left and I realised that all over London shops, flats, were being burnt. I walked (just five minutes) down empty streets realising that if i needed help, if I dialled 999 for a whole long-weekend no-one would come because every police, every fire-fighter was committed. Hopefully this weekend will be peaceful, but it's on a knife edge. I sit far away on my hill in Buckinghamshire, but I worry for my city."

He moved to London with a bunch of friends after university and it became "his" city in a way that Greater Manchester, where he was born never was. Even though he no longer lives in the city itself, he travels in daily from the end of the Metropolitan line to work in the city centre.

And I understand his feelings because it's what we have felt when Manchester, London, Paris, Nice have been threatened in whatever way. And we felt it when riots took place years ago in Oldham, where we live on the privileged edge of town. Our home in Saddleworth was never threatened by those riots like the centre of town was. And we feel almost guilty to live in such a secure place.

And we feel privileged, and yes, again guilty, to be able to take ourselves away to places like where we are now for a chess tournament (for Phil) and a week of pampering and using the wonderful pool (for me). And I think our son feels some of the same, safe on his "hill in Buckinghamshire". I think back to dystopian novels I have read by Doris Lessing, Margaret Atwood, J. G. Ballard and others, stories of a future where the rich live in gated, indeed fortified, communities with security forces to keep out the rampaging, starving poor and reflect on how they might be coming true.

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