Friday, 16 June 2017

The real London

I only wrote this poem a week ago, but already it seems horridly out of date. My intentions were good, my feelings were honest, but I read it back this morning, and nearly every line accuses me of missing the point, of bowdlerizing the city I love, insensitive to its deeper truths. It's a London leaver's work - I wouldn't have written it like that if I still lived there, I think.

Grenfell Tower is the London that non-Londoners (and plenty of Londoners) don't understand. When Kensington and Chelsea shockingly went Labour last week, we all said, "see, even the richest folk are voting Labour now", but that wasn't it. There are two sides to Kensington and Chelsea. It's true of much of London. Wealth within touching distance of poverty.

I used to play football there - firstly at the Westway Sports Centre, under the Westway (which is the centre of the relief effort), then later on some little 5-a-side pitches right in the shadow of Grenfell. I can't say I ever really noticed it. It was just another high-rise. I tended to keep my head down and enjoy my football.

It was edgy round there - not worryingly so, but it was the kind of place to keep your wits about you. Kids from the estate playing on the next pitch as we played - various people are remarking about the grief they're feeling now, as if someone in the family has died. I suppose different people will have different reasons for this - it was so close, people Londoners will have walked past, worked with every day. But too many of us forgot about them.

I forgot about them as I romanticised Trellick Tower, West London's most notable brutalist tower block. "Look at Trellick, isn't it strangely beautiful". I never gave a thought to the less striking Grenfell, and I only occasionally dwelt on the people inside the tower, rather than the tower itself.

I forgot about it when I defended gentrification - gentrification is only defensible when it makes some significant attempt to carry everyone with it.

With this most awful event - what feels like the most awful event in our city's memory - maybe we can glorify and elevate the people of the tower, the people too long forgotten. Already the potted biographies of the missing remind you of the immensity of every life - the 1000 perils they might have already got through, the imagination, the graft, the goodness, the unbearable sadness now.

There's a lot to be said about it, there's a lot being said. We all know there's a big scandal waiting to be fully unearthed. I don't want to go on too much. Maybe it will change the way we all think, that's all.

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