Then you know the power of Ill At Ease. Henry Rollins produced this fifth album from the Adelaidean titans, but he can't have had a particularly tough job. Brothers John and Kim Scott and drummer Aaron Hewson were on a roll by and Ill At Ease was the perfect distillation of both the band's aggression and intelligence.
Pummelling heavy rock songs with thoughtful, cutting lyrics. Tough guys have feelings too. It was in the backseat of mum's Mitsubishi Colt that I got my first real introduction to music. There, legs sticking to vinyl seats in the summer heat, I was forced to confront whatever was playing on the stereo. It was a simple act but was probably the first real step I ever took to willingly explore music.
Deborah Conway has always been a hard artist to pin down. On her debut String Of Pearls , we got a sense of the sort of artist she was solo. It's a gorgeous release, albeit sage. But when Bitch Epic came around — damn! Here's something completely different. The sound of an artist getting an edge, not afraid to be confrontational. Just look at the front cover for a statement of artist intent! You can hear similarities between the work of Tori Amos and Fiona Apple through this album, one that also serves as the starting point in what would become a life changing partnership, both musically and personally, with Willy Zygier.
Sick riffs and sick hair. Richie singing about mushroom clouds, Mary Jane and throwing stones. Dosed up on Sabbath, Mudhoney and early Kyuss, my teenage discman was well prepared for the sick-as debut album from Tumbleweed. Finally, an Australian band that could combine sludgy garage-grunge riffs with the kind of melodic choruses that didn't wear thin after repeated listening.
Even a quarter century later. This landmark album is a collection of songs that stem from sorrow, hurtful and troubled times, but told with a voice of strength, wisdom and resilience. In life, on stage and within her community, Ruby Hunter was a larger than life personality to the people that crossed paths with her. Dry wit, Graney's unique theatrics and a knack for flamboyant storytelling underpin the colourful songs on their third album.
Graney has always been one of Australia's most distinctive, unique songwriters and Night Of The Wolverine is an exceptional Australian classic which will always stand the test of time. It was founding member Peter Rivett-Carnac's time with Severed Heads that saw Single Gun Theory signed to a Canadian label, heralding a swift rise to international prominence.
Millions, Like Stars… is the middle sister of the band's three albums, and despite only troubling the middle reaches of the ARIA charts, stands as a significant Australian album of the era. Its fusion of post-club beats and global instrumentation prefaced later artists such as Thievery Corporation and Zero 7, and indeed the entire genre of trip hop. Coupled with Jacqui Hunt's understated vocals, the album sounds remarkably fresh to this day, and certainly deserves wider recognition in a rock-drenched history of Australian music.
They might not have recognised it initially, but Tiddas ' Lou Bennett, Sally Dastey and Amy Saunders could raise hairs and bring tears with their melodic folk songs. Their voices were strong, joyful, purposeful, wonderfully harmonious and, in the 90s, a breath of bloody fresh air. Songwriters write about what they know, and to me it seemed these women knew a lot.
It's not only a great album, but, like a precious old photo album, it provides comfort, connection and continued insight. The final album before Crowded House 's momentous split is dark and experimental with a natural beauty pumping through its veins. They were one of the biggest bands in the world thanks to 's Woodface.
So, why not crane a recording studio into a house in the isolated locale of Karekare on New Zealand's west coast? There is outstanding depth to the record. It's straight up, brutal and bruising. And it's one helluva ride. I was terrified when I saw them play this live at the first Big Day Out in '92, a teenager caught up in the mosh as Tex Perkins prowled the stage above me and spat out those words. But to this day, every time I hear this song, and this album, it makes me want to go out and make trouble.
It's the Beasts Of Bourbon at the height of their raucous, swaggering, sleazy, raw best. With origins dating back to Canberra in the mids, Falling Joys had as good a chance as any of them for mainstream success.
This debut album set them up strongly. With the charm of vocalist Suzie Higgie, the four-piece had built a sizeable fanbase around Sydney. I was completely in awe of her. She sung that song like the future of the world depended on it. She cut right through me, straight to my heart. Even though it was a cover of the Warumpi Band's song, Christine made the song completely hers, and made it the central element of her debut album.
The Stop Sign' — confusing and gently warping a generation of minds in the process. Album cuts tell us Paul McCartney is a "boring old wanker", that "all homeboys are dickheads", give hot takes on religion, guns and racism, and, not one, but two songs about SBS. This classic was perhaps the most perfect distillation of the band's wit, pop-smarts and polite anarchy. My first taste of The Superjesus came from a mixtape given to me by a new friend when I arrived in Australia in I bought Sumo soon after, a record I had on repeat until it was so scratched it couldn't be played again. The band managed to flawlessly balance 90s grunge and chunky alt-rock with a pop purity that made their signature sound so accessible, perfectly capturing the zeitgeist of the era.
The success of Alex Lloyd 's second album and that song tends to overshadow his excellent debut. Frontman of indie-blues rockers Mother Hubbard, Lloyd went solo to experiment with more diverse sounds. From the get-go, the singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist had the knack for crafting radio friendly songs that straddled alternative and mainstream rock.
In another incarnation, the album could pass as introspective indie-folk. The programmed elements create space in quieter songs and bring force if required. The combination of organic and electronic gave the album a modern edge, broadening its appeal beyond that of sensitive singer-songwriter. An essential Australian album that shares tales of hardship, struggle and unspeakable pain with great wisdom and patience.
To sit down with this record is to spend time with a generous storyteller who guides us through the streets he wandered and the characters he's encountered. And just as these events have shaped Archie Roach , his stories may well change you too. It makes me nostalgic for a period where bands didn't take themselves too seriously; when to make raucous, care-free punk — sometime juvenile, sometimes whip-smart — was not a path to derision but recipe for success.
Front and centre, a woman in black barely turns to show her face, electric guitar poised. In the distance the out-of-focus guys know who's the star. In the late 80s and early 90s, the pop chart was the preferred, and acceptable, female domain. We were desperate for a homegrown rockstar, the next Chrissy. And not just one. Baby Animals ' debut album kept Nevermind off the top of the charts.
Killer singles with hooks for days, it was straight up rock with a hard edge. Suzi DeMarchi was born for the front job, with a powerful, expressive voice and a commanding presence. Best of all, she inspired girls to pick up a guitar and play. It's impossible to overstate Ed Kuepper 's importance and talent. The first half of the 80s saw the ex-Saint throw the jazz rulebook out the window with The Laughing Clowns. Then in , he started a solo career that produced nine wonderfully rich albums in a decade.
This standout dropped in the middle of that purple patch. A truly remarkable songwriter and album. If you're under 30, there's a fair chance you may not have heard one of the most important Australian dance albums ever. You won't find it on Spotify, iTunes or even a record store. It exists now only in the hands of those lucky enough to have picked it up early. Visitor Center Hours Monday—Sunday: Trails are open from dawn to dusk. New eBird data products; birds-of-paradise choosy females; students film rare wildlife in Africa; holiday gift ideas; and more. December's Year of the Bird action is designed for the holiday season.
This year, combine gift-giving with sustainability. If you're looking for a way to help the Cornell Lab and spread awareness of our work among your friends, a great new way to do that is to set up a Facebook Fundraiser. The Haftoms met Jessica Urbano Ramirez — the girl who had been home alone on the 20th floor — on the stairs. According to the phone records, Jessica and the Haftoms were discouraged by other people from going any further down the stairs. Jessica was on the phone with someone at the control centre for a very long time.
But it was confusing: But why were the firefighters not coming up with breathing equipment and helping them down? Jason, like so many family members, ran to the tower and tried to get to the base. They said they were treating people. He heard the police saying to some other people: Mr Urbano was wearing shorts and was wrapped in a towel. He had no shoes on. It happened that one of the firefighters, David Badillo, knew two of the uncles, Carlos and Manfred Ruiz, from the sports centre — they had all worked there as lifeguards — and Melanie gave Badillo her keys to their flat, on the 20th floor.
Badillo went into the building without breathing apparatus and took the lift. According to reports, the lift stopped halfway up and the fireman stepped out on a landing full of smoke. He immediately came back down, Garcia said, grabbed a tank of air and walked back up the stairs, accompanied by a colleague. They went to the 20th floor only to find the door to the flat ajar: In fact, it seems that Jessica had been on the stairs, but further up, when Badillo got to the flat, but he had no way of knowing this.
Jessica had gone up a few floors with Berkti Haftom and her son, on the advice of people on the phone, because, it was said, the air was a little clearer. But no one came to guide them down the stairs. In Flat the Begum family refused to leave their father behind, an year-old Bangladeshi curry chef named Komru Miah.
His two sons, his daughter, and his wife, Rabia Begum, 65, could be heard praying together with him as the fire swept onto their floor. Sakina and Fatemeh Afrasehabi, two Iranian sisters, were having trouble getting out of their flat on the 18th floor. Only the year before she had asked to be housed closer to the ground.
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On the night of the fire, once the lifts were out, the sisters came to accept that Sakina would not make it down. In an attempt to remove themselves from the smoke, they climbed the stairs and made it to Flat on the 23rd floor, with the help of the Afghan man, Mr Neda, who lived on that floor with his wife and son. Fatemeh could hear the helicopters above them. Mr Neda, whose flat they were in, was supposed to follow his family down the stairs.
Both he and his mother survived. In , with all these firefighters, and all these cameras? Biruk Haftom became separated from his mother, who was overcome by smoke on the landing. A great many of those who died ended up on this floor, Jessica included. Gary Maunders had also climbed the stairs to escape the smoke. He was just a wind-up merchant, he really was. His cousin Masoud said the former chef loved his flat, with his hookah and silver samovar.
Something happened to these people, a life, yes indeed, but also a death, a very public one, and to ignore it, or let it go in a cloud of unknowing, would fail to mark their attempts at survival. It is hard to think about, but these people all went up to the top of the tower looking for a chance.
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Most of the stories are hard to bear. The Shawos, who lost sight of their five-year-old son in the black density; his body was later recovered from the 13th floor. Victoria King, who was 71, and her daughter Alexandra Atala, on the 20th floor, never made it out. Anthony Disson, 65, a former bin man and Fulham fan, left it very late before trying to get out of his flat. He had told his family on the phone that the floor of his flat was too hot. He was persuaded to put a wet blanket over his head and make for the stairs, but he only made it to the 19th floor.
From phone messages, it appears many thought they could get onto the roof of the building and be rescued from there, but the door was locked. Mr Tuccu went looking for another way out and tried the stairs. He made it to the bottom but he had inhaled too much smoke and died on the grass near the leisure centre.
It was like watching daisy sprinklers at the scene of a prairie fire. Already it was clear that this was the kind of catastrophe that would be remembered for several generations. As at Aberfan in Wales, in , where a spoil-tip collapsed killing children and 28 adults, and at Hillsborough in , where 96 football fans were crushed to death, people were already wondering what the disaster at Grenfell said about Britain and the way we live. The mass distraction began early with Grenfell. New things were still going very wrong as the commentators assumed their positions and the cameras whirred.
Among the last of those who lived high up to be brought out by firefighters were two children, a five-year-old girl, Tasnim Belkadi, who survived, and her sister, Malak, aged eight, who died of smoke inhalation. They had lived on the 20th floor with their parents, Farah Hamdan, 31, and Omar Belkadi, 32, both of Moroccan descent, and their baby sister, Leena. Khadija Saye, a year-old photographic artist, lived in Flat in the same part of the building with her mother, Mary Mendy.
Khadija was born in Hammersmith and went to school in Ladbroke Grove but her family was originally from Gambia. Their flat was a shrine, of a sort, to all their combined memories and passions. It was a home not a house: There were many photographs, including one of Khadija with her father outside a London mosque. Work of hers had made it into the Diaspora Pavilion at the Venice Biennale.
She wore one of her many headscarves and the African pendant for one of her interviews in Venice. By the end of her time in Venice, she had sold all six of her Victorian-style daguerreotypes and had been offered an internship in New York. I once took my drinking buddy to see Mary and Khadija. She had a giving nature, a Gambian thing.
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The tower was now completely ablaze. Every floor was on fire apart from a few at the bottom, and yet, here and there at the edges, you could still see individual residents, or pairs, waving T-shirts and shouting for help. Khadija Saye took to Facebook when all seemed lost. She had tried several times with her mother to face the stairwell, but the smoke overwhelmed them and Khadija said she was going to faint.
Back in the flat, she tried to gather herself for a final push. Please pray for me and my mum. Some people never got out of bed, the fumes killing them while they slept. Mrs Moore died in her bed surrounded by photos of her husband, Jim, a retired British soldier, who died a number of years before. Against the odds, Lulya and her mother eventually got out alongside the Gomes family from Flat , also on the 21st. Andreia Gomes was pregnant; her baby Logan was stillborn later that day.
The El Wahabis had been the hub of life on their floor. They told us to go to the back room. Your uncle is talking to them on the other line. As she made her way down the stairwell, Helen Gebremeskel worried about her friends, the Choucair family, in the flat above them. It would be one of the biggest losses that night: Her mother, Sirria, sixty, who lived in the other flat, used to work at the Royal Marsden distributing meals on the wards. Nadia could be seen at a high window with her husband, waving a flag when all hope was gone as the fire raged through the building later that night.
Emergency calls made by the Choucairs suggest they believed to the last that the helicopters above the tower could save them. They died with their three girls, Mierna, 13, Fatima, 11, and Zaynab, three. The Eritrean family who lived in the flat between the two Choucair residences were the Hashims. Firdaws and Yahya were meant to come camping with us this summer. Firdaws was friends with Hiba Ali; they would spend Saturday nights together at the Westway Trust in Acklam Place, talking about their lives and studying the Quran.
Firdaws won awards for writing and debating. A friend of the family stopped me one day a month after the fire. It is a blessed time. On each floor of the tower, there was a bin room and a bin chute, all of them sealed and therefore smoke-free. When police entered the tower later, these rooms were still completely intact. But nobody took refuge there. The emergency services operators were advising people to go into back bedrooms and put down wet towels, but no intelligence appeared to be coming back to these operators from firefighters on the ground, describing the true situation and possible escapes.
The higher up you went in the tower the more alone you felt. No one could talk to anyone outside. That was the biggest failing. The reason it was eerily quiet on the upper floors was simple: In the final hours, neighbour after neighbour tried their best to help and shelter the people around them. Mariem Elgwahry, 27, who worked for the website Quidco, and her Egyptian mother, Eslah, came from the floor below looking for a way out, joining many others at the top.
None of the firemen was truly equipped to reach these victims, whose messages make it clear that they tried to protect one another, especially the children, until time ran out. Mr Neda, the man who had helped an elderly neighbour, and whose son had carried his wife down the stairs to safety, returned to Flat out of options. His next-door neighbours were a young couple from Italy, Marco Gottardi and Gloria Trevisan, 27 and They were in London to work as architects and had told their friends it was heaven. That night, Gloria called her parents and told them the stairs were impassable.
Marco came on the phone and tried to reassure them. The upper floors were now completely quiet, except for the piercing sound of smoke alarms coming from various flats. Rania Ibrahim, the Egyptian woman who dreamed of living in a small Victorian house, had been asleep and was woken by the smoke and the sound of sirens from the street.
When she looked out at the landing there was smoke everywhere and people were wandering about confused. Rania brought several of them into her flat: Mrs Alsanousi used to attend the Arabic school in Kilburn and was a well-known face on the bus.
Her flat was very good but Fathia was always complaining about the height of the tower. Rania later opened the door again and called for Hesham Rahman from next door, who came in from the dark corridor. Rania was talking to her husband, Hassan, who was on the phone from Cairo. From his voice, I knew he was confused. He was worried about what was happening.
A helicopter is coming. Two days before the fire, Rania shared a video on Facebook with the caption: Seven months before the fire she came to me when I was having a child. I said to her: It will be me first. She told her sisters and her friend Naseem that when she died she wanted a celebration where people would eat great food and talk about the good things Rania did. Naseem is the friend who went to the supermarket with her, the friend who was at her graduation from the English class, the one who promised to bring cheese pie to the tower when the fast was over.
I woke up to the sound of helicopters and only later did I see her message on Snapchat. Rania was running Facebook Live as the situation worsened on the top floor. The neighbours she had brought in were shouting from the windows and her children were in the bedroom. Standing near the door — the smoke is not going to help you. Where is your husband? There is no power and no strength except with Allah.
Rania comes back inside and closes the door. The video cuts out. But later she started the broadcast again, pointing the camera over the window ledge so that they could see the shining lights of the safe city beyond. When we can live everywhere in our minds, when social media can take us anywhere, it feels absurd to be trapped in one building. You can see all the people who were lucky to leave. There is no God but Allah. Her breath grew shorter with panic and she continued to pray.
I seek refuge from sudden death. The police are saying to get out, the whole building is burning and we are on the top floor. To Allah we belong and to him we will return. Oh, the helper of all living things, help us, help us. Her voice evened out and she seemed calmer. A scholar told me she was strong in those moments in her use of Islamic prayer. Peace be upon you all. Mr Rahman returned to his own flat and sat on his yellow sofa, surrounded by all the stuff of his life, his photographs and his combs.
He had been a hairdresser for many years. Karim grew up with him. I saw you playing and you were rubbish. He taught me how to do a tie and he helped me get my first job. But I knew anyhow. At one point, the adults all went back to Grenfell Tower to look for Rania and the girls.
When they got there, there were crowds everywhere and TV cameras with their lights on, and Samia and Munira looked up. They knew the exact flat and they could see that there were flames raging out of all of the windows. It was hell on earth. Mr Rasoul, who has dementia, was sitting in a wheelchair looking up at the building. Can you get me my keys? I want to go home to my flat now. When I went to Kingston to see Matt Wrack, the head of the Fire Brigade Union, he spent the first half of our interview talking about cuts. In the old days, you had to get the permission of the home secretary to close a single fire station.
It was a holdover from the Blitz, and the idea of the fire brigade as a last line of defence. But that began to change during the Blair era and there has been a flurry of reductions in the fire service. Half the fire cover within four miles of Grenfell Tower has gone in the past four or five years. He told me he had spoken to a number of people who had been among the first to arrive, and who had said: A number of fire experts told me the response was weak.
Everyone knows that cost-cutting is a problem but there was also a problem with the way the Grenfell response was managed. The biggest weakness, all my sources agreed, was the slowness in telling residents to evacuate. Quite simply it caused nearly all of the 72 deaths. For a period in the s, my father lived in a block of flats in Irvine, the Scottish town that later became famous for a fire.
One man died and several were injured, and the incident led to a review of safety issues relating to external cladding. It set a new British standard, first enshrined in the Building Scotland Act , which introduced the Building Scotland Regulations , which came into force on 1 May These contain a mandatory regulation: It was revised in , with a new regulation: Six people were killed and twenty injured. The fire spread up the exterior cladding. The coroner had called for better and clearer guidance on the use of plastics on the exterior of tall dwellings: The London Fire Brigade wrote to every borough council in May and told them they needed to re-risk-assess their buildings in the light of the fire, but few of them did in the month that remained before Grenfell.
The marketing of insulation products is notably misleading and contractors are known to use combinations of products that have not been tested together. These two things are believed to be behind the fire at Grenfell Tower. Other people would be found to blame, but manufacturers, and those who help them get away with unacceptable standards of fire safety, are the culprits in this case. The plastic insulation industry is one of the most litigious in the world, but it is common knowledge among fire safety experts that their advertisements and their tests are bogus.
The pursuit of climate change goals has aggravated the situation. Once profiteers and fortune-hunters in those industries see the green opportunity, market pressures begin to warp building controls. The only trouble is that their products were hazardous all along and contravened regulations. The trouble is that the BRE both recommends the standards and tests them in the marketplace, while also being entwined with many of the companies whose products they are testing.
I went to Warwickshire to see a safety inspections guru called Dave Sibert. He was popular with fire chiefs but also with industry veterans, people who like plain speaking and who are worried about the dangerous new trend of ditching regulations. Mr Sibert was sitting in the lobby of a hotel in Stratford-upon-Avon.
So how did it get to be the way it is now? Well, building control has gone through similar problems to the fire rescue service. The introduction of approved inspectors introduced competition into the building control sector. But it was decided in the s by the Conservative government that they should introduce competition into the building control sector. We were told that competition improves quality. What competition actually does is make service providers deliver more of what the customer wants. When building control was with the local authority, when they were the only people doing it, their customers were the public.
The cynicism is not in the mind of the customer. Very few people will ask construction companies to cut corners — they want their buildings to be safe. The game being played by plastics and insulation companies, by construction firms and competitive regulatory bodies, is hidden under the rubric of keeping costs down.
This new culture had an impact at Grenfell Tower. The fact that no inspector will deeply investigate the flammability and contradict the choices made is chiefly the result of privatisation. Dave Sibert knows very well the man who was responsible for previous inspections at Grenfell Tower. His name is Carl Stokes. A well-trained and experienced fire consultant, Stokes did the fire assessment at Grenfell Tower before the refurbishment, but he was not called back by the TMO after the work was completed.
What they should have done was call back the fire risk assessor to check if the work was OK. They were sent a letter by the London Fire Brigade, as all the borough councils in London were, after the inquest into the Lakanal House fire, which stated that one of the causes of that fire spreading was the combustibility of the material on the outside of the building. There is strong evidence that a concatenation of failures at the level of industry regulation and building controls, more than anything else, caused the inferno that killed 72 people.
More than sixty different organisations and subcontractors were involved in the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower, and many are answerable for small oversights with huge consequences. But the biggest of all has to do with industry regulations about cladding. Councils all over the country were victims of serial perversions of safety standards, overseen by government agencies going back to Many allegations have been made by the Grenfell Action Group.
Their earlier fears about safety issues in the building were being taken as straightforward predictions of what happened. What they do point to is an ownership with a management regime that had absolutely no interest in fire safety. OK, they were minor issues but they were issues that the tenants had raised.
The Grenfell Action Group hate the Tory council. Over many years, the council had been the enemy and to them every move it makes stinks of corruption. The media made much of the group: But that is the lot of many activist groupings. But what could they tell you about the fire and its aftermath? The TMO had never overseen the major refurbishment of a block before, but it was the project lead. She thought it was a good idea to have an organisation in the borough that would run the housing stock. In the press, very little distinction is made between the council and the TMO, but it was the latter who ran the tower, and the cabinet of the council just topped up budgets.
Rawlings and Kerr-Bell suggest, however, that the TMO became more intermeshed with the council under Robert Black, who was chief executive at the time of the refurbishment. I contacted Black, trying to get him to respond to this allegation, but he preferred not to. Some had to do with electrical power surges; others with service vans regularly blocking emergency vehicle access. They had the support of Judith Blakeman, one of the local councillors, in this they later accused her of collusion with the TMO on other matters. We do, however, invite our readers to study a selection of the many photographs we took, and to form their own conclusions.
On 20 August , by which time it was underway, the group sent an email to Ben Dewis, fire safety team leader at the London Fire Brigade. A number of residents of Grenfell Tower are very concerned at the fact that the new improvement works to Grenfell Tower have turned our building into a fire trap. There is only one entry and exit to the tower block itself and, in the event of a fire, the LFB could only gain access to the entrance to the building by climbing four flights of narrow stairs.
Residents of Grenfell Tower do not have any confidence that our building has been satisfactorily assessed to cope with the new improvement works and we are seeking a meeting with the chief fire officer from Kensington Fire Station so that these concerns can be addressed. Fire safety was a regular interest of the group — though they never said anything about cladding or the safety controls relating to the new materials. But this Grenfell group was political. They hated everything the council and the TMO did, no matter what. But it is simply false of them to suggest the refurbishment was forced on them.
Tenants asked for it to happen, heat insulation on the tower was not good and the windows were poor, and the understanding was that the refurbishment would regenerate the block and to some extent compensate residents for having put up for so long with the building work on the academy down below. Other residents argue the school was necessary and the leisure centre a boon.
Tenants very much tended to stay. In any event, whatever the arguments, the members of the group, who would come to be seen as the wise men and women of the disaster, had a long history of objecting to the council and its representatives. The objections took the form, first, of argument and blog postings and emails, later of denunciations in the media.
What the group had to say would be worrying in any context, but now, retrospectively, it seems devastating, like deaths foretold. Nobody was talking about cladding and nobody was talking about corrupt building regulations. We believe that our attempts to highlight the seriousness of this event were covered up by the KCTMO with the help of the RBKC Scrutiny Committee who refused to investigate the legitimate concerns of tenants and leaseholders.
Very early in the morning, as the tower still burned, people began mobilising these arguments and creating a high judicial platform for them. We wanted political scalps before the fire was out, even if it meant that the worst failures of the night would take a long time to be recognised. A game of political name-calling and blaming began, which appeared, for the better part of the coming year, to meet the needs of a world that demanded stock villains.
It was a sign of the times: The firefighting operation at Grenfell was a huge and dramatic failure, though nobody wanted to say so. And journalism, hour by hour and day by day, showed by its feasting on half-baked items that it had lost the power to treat reality fairly. You saw it everywhere. In a world of perpetual commentary in which everyone and anyone is allowed their own facts, accusation stands as evidence. Ella was able to act for Sepideh, who felt too shocked; she had left her medicine behind and Ella quickly raised a prescription.
The council worker spoke to some of her colleagues, all of whom, from early in the morning, had been engaged with the question of where residents from the tower were going to sleep. Sepideh had asked to be near friends. She arranged the visas with the Home Office. It was a painstaking process, but they came eventually and the council put the family all together in a temporary four-bedroom flat in Sussex Gardens. He just shook his head. The tower was completely engulfed in flames. When she told him about Rania and what floor she was on, he looked away and was hesitant.
She was kicking on the floor, beside herself. A woman she knew came and took her into the church to eat something. As she was leaving the rugby club Naseem took out her phone and saw the post Rania had left on Snapchat as the fire reached her flat. She hopes it is also true for Nura, who died with her whole family in the bedroom of the El Wahabi flat. Most of them had no interest in apportioning blame or fighting over compensation.
At the rugby trust that night, many voluntary groups and community leaders had set up operations, trying to help people who were suddenly without soap, toothbrushes, clothes, car keys or bank cards. Charities would play a crucial role in the story of Grenfell, neighbourhood charities particularly, of which the rugby trust was the most prominent people tend to call it the rugby club. Chris, the caretaker, and his wife, Jan, who does the cooking, opened the building at 1. Mark Simms, chief executive of the trust, came in as soon as he got the message. I got to the club and it was pandemonium in there, but all our volunteers had turned out, our entire London team.
By early morning there was a great phalanx of reporters at the door and nobody to control them. Simms and his staff quickly learned that a number of the survivors were diabetic: From the minute people started talking to the media, it was generally accepted that the council had done nothing at all to help the victims, that it had caused the fire, and that they, as Tories, hated people who lived in social housing.
You see it in the earliest reports. It was a set of suspicions, or wishes, swiftly taken for granted. The community, and London on the whole, does well in a crisis: So the first thing that happened was that local voluntary organisations — many of them, though no one admitted it, maintained, supported or set up by the council — took on the role of frontline provision. A local car hire firm spent a week and a half transporting survivors from rest centres to hotels; another company gave evacuees a new mobile phone with free credit; there were laptops being given out, and money.
Questions about financial donations would come later, but the first wave of help was substantial, community and business-led. Of course, there was immediate anger at what had happened, and who could be surprised? Rugby Portobello understood this from the off, saying: Kensington and Chelsea Council mobilised staff on 14 June, some of them coming in from Hammersmith and Fulham and Westminster.
According to the action logs, they worked on the case from the morning of the fire, and the number of workers grew as the days passed. David says his first thought was for some of the families he knew who lived in the tower. David had family meetings with them and had spoken regularly to them on the phone.
Are they alive and what can we do to support them? David and Sally did a lot of running around — for instance, getting a government grant and a laptop for a family in hospital, doing lots of practical arranging, shopping, replacing lost items, and getting items to hotels. But we were there doing everything that feasibly could be done at that stage. We had worked with lots of people in the community for a long time so everybody rang everybody.
I went with another social worker. We went to their briefings and their emergency response meetings, we went to numerous wards. I went to intensive care, and at that point we had three children in intensive care, one of which, luckily, had family members around. Two different family groups, both families completely overwhelmed, and not sure what was going on, not sure where their remaining family members were, asking us all sorts of questions: Serena is a young social worker who helped Karen Aboud and her children to come out of the building.
Have they got prescriptions? Have they got appointments coming up? Going to school, getting kids to and from school. I am motivated by injustice and inequality and I think everybody should be housed decently in this country. And I travel 75 minutes to work, half of my wages go on rent, and I joined the profession to help people who need help not to ignore them. Workers in all departments of the council that morning set about compiling reliable lists of who was in the building on the morning of 14 June. As it happened there were lots of centres, in churches and mosques and so on.
The housing officers were there and everybody was active. And at one point early on, one of my colleagues called and said: And there were too many donations. And there were too many crazies. I think there was one small article in the Times. When I began to meet these people, I had been speaking to families, survivors and people in the community for months, and they were wary and many of them spoke anonymously. But they were relieved to speak, at last, and I set out to corroborate everything they said with documentary evidence. The council found hotels for hundreds of residents that day.
Everyone from the tower who wanted to go and everybody from the blocks below. Housing officers arrived at the town hall while the tower was still on fire, and some of them barely left the office for days. Officers were being asked these questions, and the council was being blamed for not being able to say whether a family member was alive or not, but it was never our job.
The council was being presented with an impossible task. But something strange began to happen. At one level, the narrative was connected with something both the public and the media wanted: It was very difficult. We had officers here working 18 hours a day. I spoke to the officer who liaised with the TMO and she listened before sighing and throwing her hands up.
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I clicked the links they sent, and there were thousands. But we were bombarded. Respect for the narrative became a badge of honour and people who questioned any aspect of it were themselves deemed questionable. She wanted to see my questions for him and for Grenfell United, and told me they might reply and they might not. Grenfell United also had the prime minister to talk to. Initially, like everyone else, I felt angered by the sight of the burning building.
In time, hoping to get to the bottom of what happened there, I set up an office near the tower and took on researchers so that we could examine everything. I imagined a Jeremiad would follow: And then I listened more closely, and I began to notice the inventions, and I would check what was being said against the documents and emails, and I could see the manipulations, great and small, but persistent. I left the office after a while and ended up on my own again, testing everything that was said against what actually happened, such as the amount of council presence there was after the fire.
And I saw something: The local council had serious questions to answer, and from the beginning I could see that they had never done effective enough consulting in their wards. The answer may lie in what could be called the dislocations of compassion. It may seem right, in these times, to place compassion before composure, and to feel insulted by authorities who appear to think when they should be feeling. Seven years into austerity, and so soon after a close election, which the Labour candidate, Dent Coad, had won in Kensington by twenty votes, the climate was right for the storm of disapproval that was about to hit the council.
Nowadays, when we hate the establishment, we accuse it of not caring. A toxic brand of cheap compassion threatened, from early on, to distract us from finding out what really caused those deaths. The clues to the tragedy were hiding in several tons of ash: It was a story of deregulation and industrial malfeasance enabled by the actions of several governments, Labour, Tory and coalition. The council made a mistake by not having its officers wear tabards the whole time they worked in public, and it made another mistake in not establishing its lead over all the voluntary groups active from the morning of the fire.
But its biggest mistake was perhaps in not looking sufficiently guilty in front of the cameras. Not a single media outlet reported over the course of those first days that housing officers from Kensington and Chelsea went to the Rugby Portobello Trust and the other centres to help the victims. Or that more than three hundred staff were deployed immediately.