Dear visitor, started the sign. What you see is the site of our great loss. Our loss of family, friends, loved ones and neighbours. Please act with respect, and hold our loss in your mind. Please, no photos. Many thanks.
This was the sign as I came out of Latimer Rd Tube station. I had already taken some shots of the Grenfell Tower from the Tube Station platform. I resolved to delete them. I felt uncomfortable about being there, but also as a professional I wanted to look. To try to get a feel, to make some sense, to make some meaning of it all. Grenfell is having a ripple effect, world wide. I hope to see what might be the community responses, the temporary memorials, but also to see the tower. There are still missing people signs up around the entrance to the station. I did take some photos of these, and some of the demands for justice signs. I spent a lot of time there in quiet contemplation about what had happened, and why so many people died, and I truly hope justice will be served.
As much as I could rationalise my visit away, “I am a disaster professional, and being here will help inform our practice etc etc” I felt like a trespasser. I felt like I shouldn’t be there. I think part of it was that I was uninvited. I was wandering the streets like a lost tourist (complete with my case on wheels). In fact, one guy asked me if I was lost. I lied and said I was looking for the station. I talked with my friend and colleague, Shona Whitton afterwards. She felt the same way during her Churchill Fellowship looking at disaster memorials. These are public places, events, and yet also imbued with so much private meaning. IT is as I have written elsewhere, people bereaved in disasters are forced to grieve in the public domain. Their grief is not their own.
The no photos sign really stopped in my tracks. Here was a visible tomb, on display to all in the neighbourhood, and clearly challenging and confronting. With the selfie generation, have we lost some self limiting filter?. Of course, post 9/11 with citizen journalism, and a shrunk 24 hr media cycle, so many barriers are blurred. News is curated rather than created, and we are all exposed to these events, as though they are disaster movies. Boundaries between fact and fiction are blurred. And perhaps this is when the self limiting filter disappears
People have always been drawn with some macabre fascination to disasters. Police and ambulance officers talk about the rubberneckers, those that slow down to get a good look at the car accident. Possibly some of it is about, well that could have been me. I met a student, Þórhildur Heimisdóttir, in Iceland who was studying the sublime attraction to volcanoes. Despite it being unsafe, people go on tours to volcanoes. She interviewed people, and many of the reasons was a) they didn’t think it would happen, but b) they were putting themselves in harms way, in a controlled way (the same way as people jump out of planes etc) to test out their fear. To be confronted by danger.
Andrew O’Connell’s interesting piece in the Harvard Business Review talks about our fascination with disaster stories points to a more deeper ethical challenge. Do these stories challenge us ethically, what would we do in similar circumstances. Grenfell clearly throws up many deep ethical dilemmas, and there will be many people feeling extremely uncomfortable, as they should be. Equally we ask ourselves, would we have stayed as advised to do, or gone. Of course we all say now, we’d have evacuated. But, you place your faith in the system, and the system gives you authoritative advice, then what decisions do you make?
Grenfell is still very much news here in London. As it should be. I watched some of the London Assembly Question Time, and the Mayor faced many questions over Grenfell or Grenfell related issues. My aunt’s block of flats in Portsmouth was recently assessed, and they are having an emergency board meeting.
Back on the platform, I deleted the photos of the tower. You don’t need to take photos. The images are there. They won’t go away.
Joe Jackson, from my Dad’s hometown,something quiet and contemplative.