Sunday, 2 July 2017

When Disaster Strikes

I'm still haunted by the images and stories from the Grenfell Tower disaster, nearly three weeks ago.

On the 14th June, just before 1am, a faulty fridge-freezer caught fire in a flat on the fourth floor of this 24-storey tower block of public housing flats in North Kensington. The residents were some of the poorest people, living in one of the richest boroughs of London.

The fire services told all the families in the block to stay in their flats as the fire would be contained, and the one stairwell needed to be clear for the emergency services.

The fire, however, spread rapidly, via (it is thought) the newly applied cladding on the outside of the tower which was not fire resistant.

At least eighty people died that night, in a fire that raged for sixty hours despite the efforts of hundreds of firefighters and forty-five fire engines - men, women and children, mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters.

The pictures that emerged straight after the Grenfell disaster were horrific enough, the numbers and the details of that night even worse. But what is truly haunting is the personal stories that are, as the smoke clears, being told.

Jessica Urbano was only twelve years old, about the same age as my eldest daughter. She lived with her mum on the twentieth floor.

That night her mum, as usual, had gone to work with one of the many unseen, unconsidered, groups of people, who clean the city's offices overnight.

A few hours into her shift she got a call telling her that the tower was on fire. She raced home and ran towards the tower entrance. The firefighters would not, could not, let her in.

Jessica called from a neighbour's mobile. She sobbed "Mum, please come and get me!" but all Jessica's mum could do was to watch the flames roaring up the side of the building and hope and pray that her daughter would make it down the stairs and walk through the entrance.

She never did.

We never know when disaster might strike us, or one of our friends or family. Although, thankfully, these terrible events are rare, they seem to be occurring more and more in London at the moment.

One of the things that, finally, prompted me to stop drinking was the thought that something terrible might happen to one of my children - an accident or an illness - and that I would not be sober enough to deal with it as well as I should.

I would never have forgiven myself.

Many times when my children were small, they would cry in the night because they were hungry, or had a bad dream, and - more often than not - Mr SM would wake up, as I, after a few glasses of wine, was sleeping too deeply to hear them.

Imagine if he had not been there. Imagine if they'd woken, not because of a bad dream but because of smoke or flames.

The Grenfell Tower disaster does have a light side as well as a dark side.

The bravery and dedication of the fire service, who removed (against all regulations) their own face masks to help people escaping down the stairwell. The generosity and spirit of the local community who have worked tirelessly distributing food, clothing and money. The stories of the people who did make it to the ground - the survivors.

Love SM x


  1. I'm doing this. I'm on day 2 and I'm a bit scared. What you have written here really strikes a chord with me. When I read the horrific accounts of what people went through in the Grenfell Tower I did wonder to myself, 'would I have woken up? Would I have been able to give myself and the children the best chance of getting out'? Probably not

  2. This is such a tragedy. Lives lost needlessly to save money and make the block of flats less of an eye sore in a very wealthy neighbourhood. It makes me so angry and tearful at the same time. My son has gone to Thailand for three weeks. I have resolved not to drink during this time in case he needs me. I could not live with myself if I could not be there for him because I had drunk and was not in control of myself

  3. It's tragic and somthing that I can't get out of my mind. Imagine being that mum and not being able to help your daughter, heartbreaking.

    It does seem to be a bad year for the uk, with the MEN bombing and especially London. But we are strong, we are fighters and we will survive, we have survived worse.

    And I know that my sobriety has made me a better mum, I'm 100 per cent there for my girls to make their world the best it can be and be there for them whenever they need me.

    Big hugs to anyone who needs them today xxxxxxxxxxx

  4. Its been awful here. We have a close fried who lives in one of the Camden towers that has now been evacuated as the ongoing precautions continue. Thankfully she is now ok, but our hearts go out to all that have been further affected. xx

  5. A sobering event indeed ... My heart goes out to all those involved and touched by the tragedy, and they will be into the thousands, as the rings spread out from the single event of a fridge catching fire.
    Interestingly it was the arrival of my grandchild which made me halt the wine witch's ever tightening grip on me ... What if they needed me to drive up ... What if something happened while she was on my watch (not so much having a drink, as I had already decided that was a no no ... but longing for when I could .. Ie when they had all gone home ... ) 300 days now and so happy.
    Hang on in there all those in the early days .. It is so worth it :-))

  6. Agree so much with all that has been said above. Love being so fully present for my kids now I'm sober. Cannot begin to imagine what it would be to lose a child. Thoughts and prayers with all going through tragic and sad times xxx

  7. I wouldn't have woken up if I was still drinking, no way. The grace I have been given to make this right with my children goes beyond words. This story about the fire is so utterly heartbreaking.

  8. I am sorry to hear the awful news about the fire, and the poor mother's call from her daughter. How many times could I have been in a terrible situation, being drunk/passed out, etc. and not been able to handle it, way Too Many to count. Another "major" reason to stop drinking for me.