Wednesday 21 June 2017

Fire in a Tower Block

Hello, thank you for dropping in.  It's lovely to see that you are here, really lovely.  Thank you
A couple of weeks ago, Rosie wrote that she is "keeping on keeping on" and that struck a chord with me.  I wake up in the morning and quickly turn on the news, wondering what may have happened overnight in this country which we have considered to be a peaceful, safe, democratic place in which to live.  The political situation is uncertain and the recent terror attacks on people of this country are frightening, but the event which has upset me most of all is the fire at Grenfell Tower and I should like to share with you the reason why.
When my girls were young, I worked in an eleven-storey block of flats which belonged to the local social housing provider, a housing association which had asked the local ecumenical council of churches to run a community project there.  The tenancies were offered to people between the ages of 17 and 29 but they were secure tenancies and many people had lived there for years because they liked it, so their ages ranged from seventeen to sixtysomething.  Some of them had babies (although not the sixtysomethings!).  Some were working, some were unemployed and some were retired, making it a mixed community of ages, genders and cultures.  There were fifty-seven flats, each housing one, two or three people, and I knew all of them.
The community project was open during limited daytime hours from Monday to Friday and from 6pm to 3am every night of the year because people tend to have their emotional crises
during the night, when limited support is available elsewhere.  I was regularly that support.  The importance of fire safety was impressed upon all staff members and we attempted to impress that importance upon all the tenants, but working at night, it was up to staff to enforce it.  So, during my nine hour shift I would check all twelve landings three times, once between 6pm and 7pm, once between 9pm and midnight and once between midnight and 3am.  I would close any doors which had been left open, remove any bags of rubbish which had been left and check that the dry risers had not been tampered with.  If the rubbish chute was blocked and I couldn't unblock it, I would ring the emergency maintenance team and they would come out before my shift was over and unblock it because rubbish is a fire hazard.  Similarly, I would check outside the building and if anything had been dumped there, I would ring the emergency maintenance team and they would come out and remove it before the end of my shift, because it was a fire hazard.  Three times every night of the year these checks were performed and written down to leave a paper trail. 
We were told that if there were a fire, the floor on which the fire started and one floor above and below would be affected but that the construction of the building was such that the fire service would put out the fire before it could spread further.  We were told that the fireproof doors, including the front doors of every flat, would give an hour's protection, by which time the fire would be out.  We tested the fire alarms weekly.  We were told that if there were a fire, we shouldn't touch the fire alarm system control panel in the staff office,  but we should wait in the office until the arrival of the fire brigade (we still called it that then) and that the Incident Commander would then deal with the panel.  Nobody else would touch it.  At that point, staff should take instruction from the Incident Commander about what to do next.  Nobody could remember there ever having been a fire in the thirty-odd years of the building's existence, but we took the risk very seriously, so perhaps that's why there hadn't been a fire.
Late one night there was a fire, a malicious act of arson on the fourth floor.  The fire alarms went off and the panel in my office went doolally.  The lifts stopped working and some people evacuated the building, using the only stairwell.  I was the only member of staff on duty but I felt quite calm because I knew exactly what to do: I waited for the fire brigade who arrived within minutes, shortly after the police.  The Incident Commander came into my office and started dealing with the fire panel.  By this time, the alarm had been going for a while, longer than usual, and tenants were anxiously ringing down from their flats to ask if it were a real fire or a drill and should they evacuate, so I asked the Incident Commander what I should tell them.  "Yes, get them out," he replied, so that's what I did.  As I knew all the tenants, I knew who was still inside the building so I rang round every flat until I had spoken to all the tenants.  Although I could feel adrenaline start to take hold, I was calm because I thought our procedures were sound.
The problem was this: there was one stairwell and so many people were rushing down the stairs that the fire officers could not get up them to the fourth floor, so the fire was spreading.  Once all the tenants were outside, I left the building, leaving it to the firefighters who soon put out the fire.  I was calm.  Nobody was hurt, I reassured myself, those stuck inside the burning flat having been rescued by the firefighters and their long ladder.  The fourth floor was badly damaged but the fire hadn't spread any further and quite soon, everyone else was able to re-enter the building and return to their homes and their belongings.  I finished my shift and calmly wrote my incident report for the manager to read in the morning.  When I got home at about 3.20am, I took off my professional head and discovered that I was too agitated to go to bed for hours, thinking about what might have been.
A couple of weeks later I was asked to attend a multi-agency meeting with my manager to discuss the night's events.  Representatives were also there from the housing association, the local authority and the fire service.  At the meeting, I was asked why I had evacuated the building because that action had seriously impeded the firefighters and prolonged the life of the fire.  I explained that the Incident Commander had told me to and the fire officer at the meeting said, "I was the Incident Commander that night and I didn't give that instruction."  I felt stunned.  I explained that I had been told that only the Incident Commander would use the fire panel and that as the officer in question had been doing just that, I had assumed him to the be Incident Commander.  He then told me that I should have known who was who by the number of stripes on their helmets(!!) but somebody else spoke up for me and said that that was unreasonable and that if a person wearing any firefighter's uniform tells you what to do, you do it.  I left the meeting exonerated.
When I woke up last Wednesday morning and saw the news unfolding of the fire at Grenfell Tower, all of this came back to me in vivid detail.  I told a friend who I saw that morning that I felt "a bit traumatised" and although I meant it honestly, I feel embarrassed about that word now: the people who have lost their homes, their possessions and those who they know and love are traumatised, my feelings pale in comparison.  I have no right.  Every day since, I have replayed that night in my mind, and I count my blessings as I hungrily search for updates on the former residents of Grenfell Tower.

So far, there are seventy-nine people confirmed dead or missing, presumed dead.  The first funeral was today.  Those people who survived have lost everything except their lives. 

See you soon.
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x


Thursday 15 June 2017

I Crocheted A Rainbow

When The Teacher told me that her friend was pregnant I decided that I wanted to crochet a blanket for the baby, something soft and snuggly to play on, sleep beneath and wrap up in.  I have been learning to crochet for a year or so, dipping in and out of a project, but deciding to actually finish something, before a deadline, spurred me on to develop a level of skill that would produce something good enough to give to somebody else.  So, I looked around the internet for inspiration and found these gorgeus rainbow blankets made by Heather at Little Tin Bird.  As soon as I saw them, I knew that I wanted to crochet a rainbow: The Mathematician says that rainbows make people happy and what better wish is there for a new little person than happiness?

I followed Heather's colour scheme to the letter: Stylecraft Special DK in lipstick, spice, saffron, lime, turquoise, violet and magenta, ten rows of trebles in each colour.  I began at home, sitting in front of the computer and trying to master a chainless foundation row, frogging it, trying again, frogging again, beginning again... six or seven times before I had a smooth, straight(ish) row of 104 stitches.  Your comments after I showed you my first stripe of magenta in April encouraged me to keep at it.  I was glad when I reached the yellow because until then, it looked like a peacock and whilst I love peacock colours, I wanted to give the baby a happy rainbow. 

All the hours I spent in the passenger seat of the car during April were spent mastering the hook and Knit and Knatter on Thursday afternoons became Crochet and Cnatter.  I crocheted in the summerhouse, on the sofa and in bed. 

In a fortnight, the blanket was done.  I sewed in the ends and thought about a border.  I am not very good at choosing colours and with so many colours in the blanket itself, I didn't know what to do, although I was repeatedly drawn back to a ball of copper-coloured yarn.  Neither did I know how to make a border.  So, back to the internet I went and when I saw Lucy's spot on edging over at Attic 24 I had a flash of inspiration: the small tortoiseshell butterfly has a row of turquoise spots around its wings.  I wanted to crochet a border of turquoise spots within a copper band, butterfly wings to enclose the rainbow. 
So without further ado, here is the finished blanket, a rainbow held in a butterfly's wings. 

I know that it's not perfect, it's only three simple stitches and many of you make far more complex and delicate things with your hooks and yarn, but I am SOOOOOOOOO ridiculously proud of myself.  This blanket makes me happy every time I look at it.  I hope that it makes Baby Nate happy too.

The blanket certainly made someone happy - I have been asked to make another!  Get me!!
See you soon.
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x

Saturday 10 June 2017


Hello, thank you for calling in.  Is all well?  Thank you for your comments on  my last post, especially for your condolences.  My bookish aunt's funeral went well: my cousin played some Ravel on her flute, I gave my well-rehearsed eulogy without embarrassing myself (crying / falling over / leaving my skirt tucked into my knickers) and as at all the best funerals, there was some applause and some laughter as well as some tears.  I think we're going to be all right.
During the half term holiday the Best Beloved and I went camping in Somerset.  We went there for the first time last year and enjoyed it so much that we decided to return to the same campsite in a rural spot on the Levels.  As we turned down the lane, bounded by green hedges and frothy cow parsley, a small rabbit hopped ahead to show us the way  to the empty camping paddock and I instantly relaxed into happy holiday mode.  There were the ponies, the alpacas and the swallows, just as last year, and there was the view across the Levels to Glastonbury Tor, just as last year.
Ah, that view.  We had intended to eat out a couple of times but in the end we didn't bother because, as I said to the Best Beloved,  we wouldn't find anywhere with a better view than the one from our tent, so eating dinner whilst watching dusk settle over the Levels was our nightly pleasure. 
The view was a morning pleasure as well, particularly at 5am on our final morning, when it looked like this -
Behind our tent was a field which two friendly horses shared with quite a lot of hoppity bunnies and...a harrier jump jet.  I kid you not.  The campsite owner bought it on ebay a few years ago and is restoring it.  The aeroplane lives in a hangar but two fuel tanks lie casually by the gate. 

We drove out to the coast one day and visited Watchet, a pretty little town whose harbour inspired Samuel Taylor Coleridge to write The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.  We sat by that harbour and watched the comings and goings while we ate our sandwiches, we visited the little museum, one of those which is firmly rooted in the history of its place, and later, we sat in a pub courtyard and drank chilled cider.  'Twas a very good day.

On a gloriously sunny day we visited Wells Cathedral and marvelled at its twelfth century architecture.  In a rather tense situation involving satnav, wifenav, an unfamiliar town and a very busy carpark "we" (by which I mean "he", obviously) managed to leave the camera in the car so the Best Beloved had only his 'phone for photographic duties.
The scissor arches in the nave were "a medieval solution to sinking tower foundations", according to the guide. 

We arrived in time for an organ recital and were invited to sit in the quire to listen.  The quire is the oldest part of the cathedral and the seating is usually roped off, so this was a very special treat. 
I am not a great fan of organ music but to hear a skilful, professional organist (Robert Gower) play the right music for the right instrument in the right place and to hear the sound fill the space was another treat.
The cathedral has "one of the most substantial collections of medieval stained glass in England".
Wells was lovely and I think we shall have to return, with the camera so that we can take some proper photographs, preferably when there is an organ recital. 
See you soon.
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x