Grenfell Tower fire protest and march

Two men stood with their backs to the police cordon across Lancaster Road, the burnt out shell of Grenfell Tower behind them. They both held large laminated photos – one with three small girls, the other their parents and grandmother. “I am the Uncle to these three girls”, he told me, Mierna Choukair, Fatima Choukair, Zainab Choukair, “here’s my sister Nadia, that’s her husband Bassem, and at the end is my Mum”. He had received no information from the authorities about them, he still doesn’t know if they survived the horrific fire that as of 4pm on Saturday 17th June the police are saying has claimed 58 lives. The crowd that had gathered earlier on Friday evening at Kensinton and Chelsea Town Hall put the death toll much higher. The BBC’s legendary reporter John Sweeney told me that 100 people had died, when I approached him with my camera on the march between the Town Hall and Grenfell Tower, described by some local residents as “the scene of the crime”.

Justice for Grenfell Tower protest
The man’s brother holding the photos of Nadia, Bassem, and Sirria read out the text messages Bassem had sent from his flat while the fire consumed Grenfell Tower. “At 1.15am Bassem sent a message to his workplace saying ‘Morning guys there is a fire in my building on the 4th Floor and I’m living on the 22nd Floor we are not able to leave the building and don’t know what is going to happen. Sorry guys for letting you down.”
“At 2.41 my sister sent a message to me, a voice message saying ‘Hello Nabil there is a fire in our building we are sitting in our flat, ok bye’, and that was it”. He hasn’t heard from them since and the authorities and hospitals aren’t telling them anything.
Grenfell Tower missing persons
The sense among the crowd that had gathered at Kensington and Chelsea Town Hall was one being abandoned, not just in the face of this horrific tragedy, but over years. Of being ignored and maligned. But although there was a sense of anguished grief and anger there was an overwhelming message of unity and togetherness. We stand together in our call for answers and justice, was the popular refrain.

Making our way along Kensington Church Street, Holland Park Ave and Ladbroke Grove, cars and buses trapped in traffic brought to a standstill beeped their horns in support, bus drivers reached out to shake the hands of passing protestors calmly walking up the street. One person directed my camera towards the stalled 328 bus bound for ‘Chelsea World’s End’.

Flowers and candles at Notting Hill Church

As the crowds gathered at the end of Lancaster Road with Grenfell Tower looming behind a lady handed me a bottle of water. She returned a couple of minutes later with a Tuna and Cucumber sandwich. A teenage boy worked through the throng handing out cartons of Capri Sun. Looking at the photocopied pictures of the missing persons taped to the walls and doors of Notting Hill Methodist Church I had to choke back the tears. What has happened here is too terrible to comprehend.

Kensington Church Walk and all that

Donnachadh McCarthy

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Kensington Church Walk

Ezra Pound Kensington Blue Plaque

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I was down in High Street Kensington the other morning to interview Donnachadh McCarthy for Drift Report so it seemed apt to drift afterwards in a more literal sense.

Talking to Donnachadh, who is involved in cycle activism in London, may have made me notice the bike by the railings on the busy High Street. Perhaps it was the juxtaposition of this rusting, shabby machine surrounded by such glitz and glam – either way I had to photograph it – 4 times. It was only now that I noticed the yellow tag attached with a blue plastic tie – what did it say? I’m tormented by this mystery now. What if it spelt out some cryptic clue or a nugget of wisdom. Actually I’d be intrigued if it was just some sort of municipal warning that the bike would be removed by the Council.

I couldn’t help being drawn up Kensington Church Walk – can’t resist these little byways and alleys. When at home I was sure there’d be something about it or a sketch in one of the old topography books I collect – but there’s nothing. It’s exactly the kind of feature that I would have expected James Bone, HV Morton, or Wilfred Whitten to pick up on – but it seems not.

The American modernist poet Ezra Pound lived in Church Walk – they’ve given him a nice Blue Plaque. He visited TS Elliot in my hometown of High Wycombe – that is my main association with Pound. There’s an article in The Guardian about Pound’s London (no mention of trips to visit Elliot in Wycombe) which throws up the image from his Church Walk days of him “sitting on the bed with a volume of Tacitus on his knee.”

It’s such another world down there around Kensington and Notting Hill – a different city altogether, and not just because of the wealth and the lunching oligarchs – although that does constitute a large chunk of its ‘otherness’. I bought a Sainsbury’s ‘Meal Deal’ and pondered this as I munched on my stroll up to Notting Hill then along Bayswater Road to Queensway. I still haven’t completely worked it out.