I spent my whole childhood and adulthood living in West London, save 5 years at uni in Liverpool, in fact I only moved out of the area when I was 37. It is my home, my place, my familiar.
My mum and I started off in the area housed in bedsits in Paddington, I was 18 months old and my mum was a lone parent at the age of 23. Westbourne Gove and Queensway weren’t the cafe strewn Daylesford organic destination they are now. It was grotty hotels and a little down at heel but the area has always had quite a stunning mix of very wealthy and very poor residents. See the multi million pound houses for sale in Blenheim Crescent that lead onto those gorgeous private gardens you glimpsed in Richard Curtis’ Nottinghill and then remember the council housing estates at the end of the same road.
And it was into one of these council blocks that my mum and I moved for our first ever proper home. Flat 152 (floor 15, flat 2) Grenfell Tower, Lancaster Road, W11, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. We moved into our flat as soon as the building was completed but the greens at the base of the tower block were still rubble and the landscaping continued for a while after we arrived. It was big and shiny and new, all 23 floors of it. Our flat was one of two on the far right hand corner when you exited the lift. From the windows we could see what was to be one of my primary school, St Clements. My orignal primary school St James burnt down when in was 9 so we were all moved to first Avondale and then portakabins in the playground of St Clements, which has since closed. Far in the distance you could see Holland Park, Portobello Road and the old BBC TV Centre in Shepherds Bush, though as hard as I tried I just couldn’t see the Blue Peter Garden. Don’t worry though, I got to see it a few years later on a school trip. Woohoo. Remember when Blue Peter used to do these huge balloon releases, and they had tags attached, if you found one you wrote in and got a prize? I used to watch those but never found a balloon.
Grenfell Tower was a lovely community, my mum made friends, I made friends, it was clean and safe, though that wasnt the rumour in the neighbour hood. Believe it or not the milk man used to deliver to all the flats. That stopped after a couple of years for rather unsavoury reason I believe.We had a two bedroom flat and for the first few months all we had a rocking chair and a mattress to adorn it, very minimalist, but after my grandma gave us some money we also got a sofa and a cooker – fancy huh!
We were exceptionally high up but our neighbour, Bob, used to clean windows in the block and my mum would always hide in the bathroom as she couldn’t bear watching him clinging to the outside of the building while he washed and cleaned. Nothing fazed him, remarkable really, but obviously something that would never be allowed to happen now.
We were burgled once, poor fools, we had absolutely nothing for them to take so instead they ripped up every singular one of my mum’s photos into tiny irreparable pieces. This was in the 1970s, the days with out back up disk of pics, if you didn’t have the negatives then bye bye photos. That is why there is not one singe baby picture of me. The police told us that the burglars were clearly pissed off and decided to ransack and ruin the place instead, but honestly who burgles the flat of a single mum in a tower block, what were they expecting, jewels?
We had made friends with a lady and her daughter who were on the 7th floor and I remember being invited for a birthday tea but of course my mum had no money to buy a gift so we found the smartest looking of my Ladybird books to give as gift. I remember to this day being very sad as I loved each and every one of my books but needs must. No one living there had any money, that’s just the way it was.
There were a few fires while we lived there, basically people setting fire to the rubbish chute which ran from the top of the building to the bottom, ending in big bins at the bottom. I remember my mum bundling me up in a duvet and carrying me down the 15 floors in the middle of the night and we would stand outside with all the other pyjamaed residents while the fire brigade did the necessary.
Despite being such a new building the lifts, 2 of them, were frequently out of order and my mum suffered from quite bad back problems, still does to this day, and she sensibly decided that carrying a child and/or shopping up and down 15 floors was going to do nothing to ease her pain so she applied to the local housing association for a ground floor flat and we were given one, down the road, near the Elgin Pub, anyone remember that place? and just off the Nottinghill Carnival Route.
And that where we remained for many happy years. We moved in there in time to celebrate my 5th birthday. Did we miss Grenfell Tower, yes we did. I have only happy memories of living there and now it is all gone. My mother woke me up on the morning of the fire to tell me it had happened. I was shocked and desperately saddened, all those people, all those children, one stair case. It really doesn’t bear thinking about.
I rarely return to the area these days, I moved out to Buckinghamshire when I was pregnant 7 years ago and I work near Euston but yesterday I returned to Holland Park to see my dentist. I am completely dental phobic and refused to move from the chap who has looked after my teeth for the last 30 years. As I walked down the avenue, loving the leafy trees and reminiscing I knew I would eventually view the tower, I searched the skyline as I crossed each road and finally there it was, a black smudged shell. You could see the day light streaming through the smashed window and out the other side, it was a shocking sight and I can only imagine how terrifying it had been for all involved. My mum won’t go and see it though she wants to pay her respects, it is too much for her.
I couldn’t think of anything to do to help, practical donations of clothes and food had flooded in, to help those who needed assistance, thankfully. But I did see that there were T shirts available to buy where the proft went towards a fund for the victims, so I ordered one. See Lulu in the main picture wearing it, and below.
If you would like to buy one they are £10 plus postage each and available online at http://www.love4.london All profits goes to the residents affected.