I suppose there’s a genuinely valid point to be made about the manner in which Central London has descended into a shameless, superficial whore exclusively opening her legs for every disgustingly wealthy, greedy, grasping Oligarch and Arab to buy her favours and own her outright. Maybe. The appalling inferno that consumed Grenfell Tower in North Kensington in the wee small hours has led to a loss of life that we’ve yet to be told the extent of; but the suggestion that the spread of the fire may have been caused by the cladding recently installed around the tower’s exterior in order to make a characteristically ugly 70s council block more aesthetically easy on the eyes of the building’s luxury apartment neighbours could be summarised as the story of our capital city over the last twenty-five years in a nutshell.
The shocking extent of the blaze, engulfing what appeared to be the entire building, was reminiscent of a similarly horrific fire that destroyed the Summerland entertainment centre on the Isle of Man in 1973. Summerland had been opened for just two years, boasting swimming pools, games rooms, restaurants and dance halls all under one roof; it was intended to increase tourism by appealing to families, but the untested modern materials used in the building’s design proved to be fatal for those trapped inside when a fire broke out on 2 August 1973. The fact the fire exits were locked and bolted to prevent people sneaking-in without paying exacerbated the tragedy that unfolded, one that eventually claimed up to 53 lives – at the time, the worst loss of life via fire since the Blitz.
Images of the gruesome Summerland carcass were echoed in North Kensington today; the charred remains of Grenfell Tower even resemble a hideous evocation of HMS Sheffield during the Falklands War, whilst the horror of a tower block going so badly wrong is reminiscent of the Ronan Point disaster in Newham, East London, in 1968. And if the insulation wrapped around the building was indeed to blame for the speed with which flames swamped the building, there’s a hell of a lot of questions requiring answers.
Part of a social housing complex of the kind we will probably never see erected again – certainly not in Central London – Grenfell Tower has stood for 43 years. It was only last year that an £8.6 million refurbishment under the guise of ‘regeneration’ came to that corner of the capital, motivated in part by a desire to upgrade the appearance of the building, surrounded as it is by the architectural hallmarks of the mega-rich that have indulged in a ghastly game of Monopoly in recent decades. Planning documents for the regeneration of Grenfell Tower claimed the changes, little more than cheap cladding suggesting ‘gentrification’ of the shallowest order, was clearly intended to improve the view seen from apartments of a different nature in the nearby neighbourhoods.
It’s emerged in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire that residents had repeatedly aired fears of the block’s safety relating to fire, and it’s not too far-fetched to speculate that the materials used to insulate the tower were not necessarily the expensive variety proven to be non-flammable; such cladding is apparently commonplace when it comes to representatives of an unfashionable architectural era and corners are undeniably cut, especially when the residents of such residences are amongst the poorest in London. Fires have broken out in other London tower blocks in the last few years, few of which actually contain sprinklers; but it would seem potential dangers have been overlooked and ignored. And look at where that has got us.
An early and somewhat unlikely story of the fire starting via a tenant’s exploding fridge appeared to be one of those that are usually circulated, especially in the 24/7 news age, before facts have been established. But it’s seeming more and more likely that the materials used for the cladding of the building played a large part in the terrible disaster that has reduced what was home to hundreds of people to a charcoal skeleton akin to those we’re familiar with seeing in archive film of the Blitz. An outsourced private company running the flats on behalf of Kensington and Chelsea Council had been criticised by residents associations online long before what happened last night, but ears have been deaf to such protests until now. And now it’s too late.
ANITA PALLENBERG (1944-2017)
A Swinging 60s It Girl and one of many women whose immersion in the unhealthy circle of The Rolling Stones both made her and came close to claiming her, Anita Pallenberg was one of her era’s most exotic and alluring butterflies. Of Italian and German descent, she’d been amongst the hangers-on at Andy Warhol’s Factory until leaving New York for London; she then became the woman on the arm of the Stones’ most stylish member, Brian Jones, with the couple morphing into the stunning Siamese Twins of what Twiggy’s mentor and manager Justin de Villeneuve referred to as ‘the new social aristocracy’.
However, Jones was a troubled soul and it would seem the pair weren’t exactly well-suited; an ill-fated trip to Morocco with Brian and Keith in 1968 saw Pallenberg swap partners; she and Keith were partners in both the romantic and narcotic sense for the best part of a decade, though she bore him three children. Early on in their relationship, she played one of Mick Jagger’s two female companions in the sublimely dark ‘Performance’, a part that Keith remains convinced wasn’t entirely acted.
Anita Pallenberg had a few more notable movie roles, including a deliciously sexy villainess in Roger Vadim’s ‘Barbarella’, but her reputation as a Swinging 60s survivor in the decades thereafter was largely based on ‘Performance’. I pen this brief obituary because that film, as disturbing as it occasionally is, remains one of the most unforgettable and irresistible cinematic temptations I’ve ever been seduced by. Part of me still wants to be Turner Purple and still wants to inhabit that malevolently erotic household; Anita Pallenberg sold a dream that was also a nightmare, but I can’t see anyone today opening such a lascivious portal to such a divinely decadent world; and our world is all the blander for it.
© The Editor
3 thoughts on “CLAD IN BLACK”
Those of us fortunate to live in single-occupancy buildings tend to be quite unaware of the shared risks with which others, particularly those in tall tower-blocks, have to live. Personally, I find it astonishing that any living accommodation higher than the reach of standard fire-hoses does not have oft-tested sprinklers as a mandatory requirement. More than 40 years ago I worked in a slim 10-storey tower which, even then, had two lifts and two staircases, a main and a secondary – apparently Grenfell Tower only had one for its 24 storeys.
The pursuit of blame will now scamper down many alleys and may never reach a true culprit: chances are there were a number of contributory factors, each bearing a percentage of the responsibility for this inferno and its devastating consequences on so many innocent lives.
Indeed, Ronan Point back in 1968 may even carry some indirect ‘blame’ itself. After that particular gas-based disaster, mains gas was largely excluded from tower-blocks like Grenfell – trouble is, many of the residents are no fans of electricity-alone for cooking and heating, particularly in some immigrant communities, and thus often choose to use paraffin appliances for heating and cooking.
Given that it is currently Ramadan, most of the Muslim inhabitants of that diverse block will have been preparing/eating their daily Iftah meal around 11pm, very shortly before the fire began. If there was any quantity of paraffin kept in any number of those flats, then the whole block would have become as a 24-storey fire-lighter, just waiting for a spark.
This is not a ‘blame the Muslims’ comment, it’s merely adding another potential aspect for why this fire may have started when it did and spread as it did. The suspect external cladding may have burnt without compromising the interior, unless a highly-flammable interior gave it some accelerant assistance.
House-fires are usually caused by people and, therefore, it is impossible to eliminate every potential fire-risk. However, in such high-risk accommodation, I think it is incumbent on the authorities to develop and impose safety standards which limit the consequences to the minimum feasible: in the case of Grenfell, whatever its causes, the standards applied there seem woefully lacking.
But Grenfell is council-owned, albeit operated at arm’s length, so any more stringent standards imposed by the council would simply add to the same council’s bottom-line costs.
Do you want better fire-safety in council tower-blocks or decent care for the elderly? You decide – because that’s the challenge faced by every local council every day.
LikeLiked by 1 person
My dad’s occupation on my birth certificate is listed as ‘sprinkler fitter’; I’ve no idea if he was installing them in residential blocks or office blocks, but it was the late 60s so I’ve no doubt these were towers. Apparently, it’s only been legally compulsory to have sprinklers in such buildings in recent years, and then in only newly-built properties, which seems mind-boggling. I don’t remember Ronan Point, but an auntie of mine lived in a tower block in the 70s and I remember it was all-electric on account of what happened at Ronan Point. I only remember this because I was there once during a power-cut at the time of the Three Day-Week and she couldn’t even put the fire on.
One interviewee reported ‘hearing the gas popping as it reached each flat’ – that may indicate many propane containers being used in addition to paraffin – an explosive accelerant mix.
Still sad and quite inexcusable to have so many residents at so much risk.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Comments are closed.