rezistance, Uncategorized

At the Camps

credit- Attila Volgyi

Just ten miles down the road from me at Le Vernet, Ariége, two hours by winding train to the Spanish frontier, the post pits of an internment camp are covered by subsidised wheat. I didn’t check it out until I heard they were constructing immigrant holding camps at Kelebia, on the south east Schengen border between Hungary and Serbia.

Le Vernet held anti-fascists escaping Franco’s victorious army and undesirable foreigners between 1939 and 1944. My contact with L’Amicale des Anciens Internés Politiques et Résistants was by way of a discrete conversation in Le Bleu Ciel bookshop in Pamiers with a soixante-huitard who asked me to translate into English new information boards for the visitor centre at the camp. L’Amicale was created in 1945 to look after the interests of the Spanish fighters lately active in the Resistance and to help them integrate into French society. During the cold war L’Amicale was seen as a cover for fifth column work on the part of the Comintern and was suppressed. Most members of L’Amicale are descended from Spanish Republican refugees. Just as the paleolithics holed up in the hills round here, hemmed in by the ice to the north so Spanish exiles made new lives in the region. Round here, Spanish is the usual second language.

I drove to Le Vernet the day they put the new boards up. At the railway station is a goods wagon, standing for all those which ran during the European deportations. It rests on bogus foundations so that visitors may step in easily. Pinned to the wall planking are over life-size graphite portraits by internee Carlos Duchatellier. His eye and hand brushed up the unlovely jackets and scarves of the deportees into something like a sort of luxury, was he in fashion before? Middle aged and comfortably dressed about fifteen of us squeezed our personal spaces up a little. It didn’t take much looking at our small signs of distress to feel how it could be with three times as many in there, all bound for who knows where and no breakfast.

Along the fence beside the railway track are facsimiles of the forms used to register arrivals. Greyish photos of tired men mostly in their late forties or fifties, the generation which came of age in time for the First World War, which carried flag and gun in turbulent Europe and got caught. Losers. At the bottom right corner of the form is a box: does he know how to mount a horse, ride and care for horses, swim, mount a bicycle, drive a car? There had been such a rush to get these undesirables bundled away that the collapsing French State had grabbed the nearest paperwork to hand – Post Office recruitment forms.

Our group leave the railway station and car share down Route Nationale 20 past the blue grain silos and the low rent terrace clothed in beige stucco which had been the guards barracks. Little to see of the camp as the scrappy wooden huts have been pillaged, but there is the water tower and two concrete gateposts. In 1970 the sons and daughters of the fighters kicked L’Amicale back into action and recovered their dead into a new cemetery.

Grit flies up from the wheels as the car swivels around the parking, there is a backdrop of industrial agriculture, a bland ripple of green shedding. I get out of the car. A winding shot-gravel path gives you time past the gingers, the purples, the browns, the hostas, the aloe veras clumped up on artificial mounds before you get to the concrete beds of sleeping men.

There are plastic flowers in celluloid tubes sticking up from the granite chipping heaps of the graves. I crunched the heads of vandalised solar lamps. I straightened scratchy fallen blooms, weather worn pinks and yellows and read the congested consonants, the throaty flourishes of the gilded names on the headstones Weschnevosky, Zamora Montoya, Tikhomirov, Pelc, Rotflug, Tchang Kouang Toung and… Dawson, Eric Dawson.

eric

To be sure, those other names were simply Dawson in foreign tongues but I gaped. Eric Dawson. 11 July 1942 with a question mark for nationality. As I felt my way under the chippings towards Eric, the question mark became who were you? Days later I got a hit on the letters page of the journal of the International Brigade Memorial Trust.

I was moved by a recent visit to the memorial and cemetery of an internment camp in southern France… …Eric Dawson …I’m told that his name does not appear among those on the recently digitised MI5 list of suspected International Brigaders. Can any one shed any light on who he was?

Graham P.

I got my torch out and re-read Arthur Koestler’s account of his time at Le Vernet, The Scum of the Earth:  the freezing huts, the staggering with buckets full of shit to the river, the pounding of stones, the hierarchy of misery but no mention of Eric. With my residents card I got a pass to the departmental archives at Foix. I went up three flights of tiled stairs into the cool of a big room with the file reference L’Amicale had given me. They brought me two sheets of paper: Eric’s enrolment into the camp and the note of his death.

Eric Dawson was born at Annemasse at Haute-Savoie 1904. He was unable to give the recording officer at Le Vernet the name of his father. His mother was an English woman, Clara Cecilia Dawson. His occupation is given as office boy. Under disabilities is written Catholic. He was married in 1925 to Héleine Mazalet at Davos, Switzerland. The photograph shows an unfortunate looking man with even closer set eyes than mine, fighting back a say cheese smile. The death note states that he died two years after he came into the camp of cachexie (starvation) and intestinal tuberculosis.

Where did Eric go wrong? Was he an International Brigader? I somehow think he wasn’t. He arrived at Le Vernet in May 1940 during the panic as the Germans cruised towards Paris. I imagine him scooped up as a dodgy character in one of the Paris bars where the riffraff consoled themselves. I sat for a moment with him before handing him back for re-insertion into L’Amicale’s ranks of earnest fighters. Going down the tiled stairs I imagined a list of undesirable foreigners on which was my name. Fair France. I could be expelled due to fishermen’s tangles. Airlifted with plastic sack of belongings to join all the other kicked out Brits in a re-purposed barracks in Northern Ireland singing God Save the King in line for breakfast, hoping you’ll be served the chelsea bun the right way up as befits a human.

The Scum of the Earth describes one of history’s brown motions squeezing a bunch of people into bare-bones living, primitive sanitation, physical cruelty and sub-existence rations just so, you’d think, a gifted science journalist could bear witness for as long as people can read. I put Eric back where I thought he belonged, listening to Arthur.

On Eric’s first day at Le Vernet Arthur might have explained to him how human hierarchies get constructed from zero, like a heap of grubs tossed into a jerry-built maze who have to make themselves comfortable in just three moves.

“We studied the higher apes…” Arthur quoted glibly, “…where food source is diverse and mobile the hierarchy is flat with lots of non-serious fighting, but where the food source is fixed and central the hierarchy is rigid which means a lot fewer fights but they end up fatal. In the rigid hierarchy of a closed society a small advantage deployed consistently for gain pushes you upwards; you search for the situation where your advantage will tell. Hierarchy is shaped action.”

Eric felt ill and stupid. He always got caught up with the wrong person. He didn’t understand a word, yet he was still listening. Arthur pushed his muzzle towards him and went on,

“You have natural advantages, acquired advantages or assumed advantages Eric. Some people cannot play their advantage because it is all mixed up with a defect, or drawback. You have to be clear about what your advantage is so that it shines out like a clean bone freed from, excuse me, shit.

There is a form of sorting by having a self-conscious idea of better conditions, more sleep, more space, more food, more security, always in relation to the enclosing power. Here we have two enclosing powers Eric: the gendarmes and the criminals. Between them they run the place, you can’t escape from them you have make do.

You have to go into the worst places inside yourself to be able to do what you have to do. Train yourself to be brutal by touching worms. You will get the jitters sure enough but just look at those who’ve lost their shoes and think they are better off without them. You will be tempted by that nothing state, the musselmen we call them.

You will rehearse your prison number as tho it could tell you something, you will live hungry for food, for books, for warmth, for sleep, for tobacco. Hungry in a word for parcels from the world left behind. Not everyone gets parcels. Those who have parcels become an elite.

You will wish your body was more compact and that your head sat tighter on your shoulders, you wish you were more like a bear than a giraffe. Victory goes to people without necks, you should become reptilian hard, bottom-most brain cogs grinding. Learn how to go about things, husband your resources, always trade up, ‘ware obligations, the small comfort of shoe laces might begin your corruption”

But Eric saw people and oddments, not situations, patterns, force lines. He saw the young Italian  historian Leo Valliani who had spent eight of his twenty nine years in prison for anti-fascist activity and the middle-aged Belgian épicier peaceful in France until his neighbour accuses him of signaling with pigeons. Arrested. He saw the solemn, stupid White Russian giant elected block leader and the pimp from Paris in his gangster fashion teddy-bear coat. He saw the actor who protested his transfer to the old men’s barracks whose tears streaked the rejuvenating make up he’d gone to so much trouble to fabricate. Eric saw the Jewish doctor who declined quickly after a false accusation and became muttering, unkempt, apathetic and the homosexual foreign legionnaire, a Swiss, who gets control of the block thru a deal with the gendarmes and the irreducible German communist sweating ice through the Hitler Stalin pact. And then there was himself, the thirty seven year old office boy with an English mum.

And it could all happen again: at five o’clock the morning of September 7th 1950 there was a mass arrest of hundreds of communist Spanish Republican exiles and Eastern Europeans across France. The action was coded Boléro-Paprika. A text from L’Amicale:

… one day the cars stopped in the middle of a forest. They took off our handcuffs, got back into the cars and drove away. We didn’t know where we were, we had driven for days. We had been abandoned, without food, water, documentation or any explanation next to the East German border.

The Préfet of the French Zone in Germany reported up the chain:

“I beg to inform you that since last January we have passed into East Germany eight hundred and thirty six foreigners expelled from France, either by sentence, thru breaking of work contracts or of dubious past”

The French fantasy was that they were fifth columnists for Stalin. But Stalin did not want the West European peoples to rise up. He had directed them lie down and talk up peace. The reality was that the Communists among the exiles maintained a state of readiness to re-ignite the Spanish conflict and this was contrary to NATO interests.

Aurélie Denoyer, source with Anne Dulphy of this information, writes:

… Boléro-Paprika was an action of mass expulsion. In French law expulsion is defined as the action of chasing someone by violence by or local decision. The individuals concerned are seen not as ut singuli but as anonymous parts of a pre-defined social body.

Aurélie found a piece of paper with the Police time-table written down:

3h00 : wake up and assemble urban personnel

4h00 : secretariat, inspectors and escorts take up position in districts

4h00 : name and address lists circulated

4h15 : teams brought together and instructed in their duties

4h30 : teams leave for their districts

4h30 : riot police reserve positioned

4h45 : urban police radio network on

5h00 : action

It couldn’t be clearer.

It used to be said that if all the world’s population agreed to stand on one leg they could fit onto the Isle of Wight. But that depends on being able to speak to your neighbour and stand his smell, depends on being recognized without derogation on racial or religious grounds. Think of the railway wagon.

The optimists amongst the indigenous people of a territory viewed as attractive and amongst the new arrivals have to practice an unnameable faith, answer the practical question, how deal with the other as an individual? Natural and mutual repugnance is the clay to be worked, mutual because most of the people in the camps come from societies honeycombed by rigid family and clan cells in which people-like-me would never find a place.

Europe evolved thru bloodshed to cope with otherness and federate and mutualize enough to create the état-providence which the people in the camps aspire to enjoy. They should learn that trick. In return, as the état-providence evaporates and we get nudged into twittering, tittering flocks of like-minders under dominant masters the European genius for social collaboration needs the stimulus of the otherness of arriving peoples – different shaped beakers.

Calais began to grow this culture before it got ripped up. Stuff practiced the last twenty years in ZADS could be applied to this harder case. Where better to find a bit of the other than in the camps in the frontier territories or the informal no-man’s wastes? Where better to imagine learning communities in which architects, body culture enthusiasts, pop up cafes, music makers, bicycle menders, nerds, team builders and shady businessmen could circulate exchanging cultural pollen with the transients? Within Schengen, frontiers could become territories of strangeness and discovery with the harder lines and habits blurring away on each side. Who knows what the mediaeval fairs of Champagne were like, perhaps a cultural version of the economic Enterprise Zones of yesteryear?

The river Roya flows out of France into Italy. M. Cédric Herron, in between minding his chickens and olive trees, guides people over the border. His network scouted out an abandoned holiday camp for the incoming Africans. The French constitutional court has just decided that fraternité of that kind is on a par with égalité and solidarité. The boy done good. The incomers inbuilt ability for bricolage (inventive making-do) and trade may be just what post-Brexit Europe needs. Upend the idea of hiding people away and the camps could be market places, not only for contraband and necessities but also for ideas and social practices. Radical libertarian educators instead of the demi thugs of G4S. And right in the middle, a big fat language school as the quickest way out.

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A tragedy of errors – on watching the Grenfell Tower fire public inquiry

Part one: the beginning.

I wouldn’t have known it then age five, nobody did, but Grenfell Tower would push up out of Testerton Street, Blechenden Street and the maze of streets and stables lying just to the north of Henry Dickens Court a step or two away from our house on St Anns Road. The Queen Mum opened Henry Dickens Court in 1953. I know because I saw her, my legs around my father’s neck. The tower and the two low-rise snaky arms to the south sit exactly where the prefabs, each with its neat garden, were put up after bombs fell on Treadgold Street.

Maybe that same year at Fox School, Campden Hill Road, in the corridor that divided off the assembly hall from the classrooms they put a poster colour painting of mine up on the wall. In the foreground, travelling from right to left was a fire engine with a ladder on its back. In the background, up towards the right was a little house on fire. People said it was going away from the fire. I said you don’t know where the road goes off of the picture.

Later. Across from Smiffy’s council flat on Ladbroke Grove is North Kensington Fire Station. Smiffy and I, in a wintry afternoon gas fire fug are head nodding Lisa’s offer to show us her breasts. Rose coral points pop out from her blouse and right then the blaze of a headlight hits the window and I turn to see a red rear end swing down the Grove, spilling water from the indicator tube. North Ken have gone a-hunting.

Nothing happened about fire for a long time after that until one day, holiday working in Holland Park as a leaf sweeper, I saw smoke rising. I was round about Holland House, the smoke pluming straight up from the woods to the north up near the pond. I got to the fence with my witches broom and climbed over. At the foot of a tree was one of those tailors’ dummiesI think they called them mannequinspink and smoking. The tree itself was alight so I set to beating out the fire. As I did so my eye strayed to the dummy and was puzzled to see toenails and frizzled genitalia. It came slowly, gently, to me that this was a real person burnt plastic smooth. The fragile suicide was twenty-four, best friend of writer Redmond O’Hanlon. Petrol siphoned from the tank of his Vincent motorbike. Two detectives from Kensington nick wearing pricey suits vaulted the fence and took me in charge. By the side of the young man they found a notebook, some of the names known to me. At the inquest I gripped the dock, as they say, and gave evidence of discovery. He’d already tried once, off Brighton Beach his father told us. The following week I found a complete set of discarded male clothes under a bush down towards the children’s adventure park, but there wasn’t a body and there wasn’t a fire.

Ten years go by. I have been on Red Watch at Halifax Fire Station, West Yorkshire for a matter of a month or so. Just after change of shift one morning we get a call to a block of flats. Persons reported, as the delightfully flat language has it. My second job as an operational breathing apparatus wearer, (BA). My partner in the back of the V8 Dennis is Chobbles Thurlow, a near Steve McQueen ladies man and part time window cleaner. We storm down Skircoat Moor Road swing out onto Huddersfield Road and left again to a seven storey block. It was that quick. A woman in a housecoat meets us saying she’d smelt smoke and couldn’t get an answer. I think it was on the fourth floor. We break the door, Chobbles and I, and go into the dense smoke just as we were without water. I will have gone into the curious motion used for searching blindfeet swinging as wide as possible, hands windmilling, shouldering open doors. Now I’m coming into a tunnel of heat with a centre. Crawling, exploring the floor, hitting something a corner, a bed and then I put a hand out and burnt myself on something I knew straight away was human. I must have forgotten my gloves. I will have shouted into my mask for Chobbles as I grappled with whatever I might have to do when the smoke began to lift, and so did my rescue, she came off her back in a jerky rise, eyes shut, straggly hair. A long psssst came from her mouththen she fell back. The smoke cleared, four or five of us round the bed, including Divisional Officer Rocky Mountain in the riding boots he’d smuggled thru from Halifax City Brigade. I don’t know if there were any first-aid rites. Old woman smoking in bed, smoke built up all night calmly taking her with it and the air we let in raised the temperature enough for her to have a muscle spasm and give me the fright of my life. We went back to the Station and had the chicken dinner.

The way I left the Service was like this. Another ten years go by. Todmorden Station is very quite. Junior officers like me come and go. The snores and farts drive me out of the dormitory to sleep on the bench in the back of the turntable ladder. At five o’clock on a December morning in 1984, the tannoy gives: Train fire Summit Tunnel. Petrol involved. Oh really? I lift my head from the leather seat cushion as the lights switched from Control buzz and flash up. The Yorkshire mouth of Summit Tunnel is just a mile from the Station so within four minutes of being asleep we are walking into the tunnel carrying fire extinguishers. Far, far in was an orange blob doing the dance of the seven veils. We must have walked half a mile to get up to the blob, the train. The tanks stood up in the tunnel like elephants and the fire was chewing calmly through the wooden under parts. By that time extinguishers felt stupid and naturally the radios weren’t working. Up close, at head height, the tanks were very big, metal walls flexing in the heat straining and groaning. Further down the side of the tanks was one on its side and proper angry flame starting to lick up. Well of course we let off the extinguishers anyway, easier to carry back empty. The smoke was coming down a bit now and some of us had breathing apparatus on. The foam lines reached us and we worked like billy-o dragging the hoses down the sides of the tanks. We got about seven cars down when there was a whoosh and a roar and the tunnel roof lit up like day. All the tanks were flexing and creaking in the heat and big fire was rushing along the brick ceiling of the tunnel to find the airshaft and out. I paired off breathing apparatus wearers with those who hadn’t got a set. I’d hardly finished that when I heard the evacuation whistle. That was a new one. We dropped our gear and began the long walk out. We’d only been out a few minutes when the whole thing went up, as I saw later on the telly, fifty foot plumes of flame and smoke from the airshafts. I thought, that’s my close call; I’m not fit for another. Within a month I’d finished with it. Or so I thought.

Couple of years later, a misty autumn on a train from Hull to Todmorden for a wedding. At Halifax a voice invited passengers to descend from the train owing to fire. On the platform people fussed around one of the carriages and I stood back at the end of the train and waited. And sure enough out of the mist, walking along the track came Red Watch. As they passed me some of them nodded. Some of them I didn’t know but most of them I did: Bradley who hated my southern accent, a temperamental mess manager fluttering over his saucepans like an old hen. Binns the ex-submariner who had to be wheelbarrowed back home when he got too drunk in the Station bar, (yes we had a bar in those days for sober half pints, Station Officer Gill on a stool primly sipping the one gin). Ex Guardsman Baz Davidson still twitching from Belfast with a super fast surreal wit that had us all cackling. Enigmatic Garth with his toff’s accent and string of fancy women. Nick, building a second career racing motorbikes. Knocker Knowles with the Sub’s bars he could have had years before if he hadn’t preferred laughter and freedom. And Gordon Peel, Old Peelie, the last of the smoke-eaters, bald headed, grizzled, permanent turntable ladder. To name a few. I never had a nickname I knew of although on my first shift someone asked me very politely if I was homosexual so I can guess what it might have beenthat and the way I played volleyball. I think they assumed I was on drugs. 

And it was that procession on the station platform, I think, that led me to pass half a summer viewing the Firefighter witnesses to the Grenfell Tower Public Inquiry. I wanted to see if I could find my Red Watch thru the ungendered, unracialised prism of a service that no longer took its management style from the Navy but more from say… Marks & Spencer?

Hilton:redwatch1980

Red Watch, Halifax ready for a charity pub crawl circa 1980

The Queen feels a rip, bends down to inspect her hem and sees tiny figures scurrying about doing their jobs. She orders an Inquiry when something goes badly wrong and can’t be smoothed over. It is too big. She asks the State to look closely at what the underlings think they are doing, for a light to be shone on parts normally covered or obscured. In this way we sometimes see the dedication of those who work in what used to be called public service.


The Inquiry is commanded to scrutinise next year the work of management, design and build that went into the renovation of Grenfell Tower. Counsel to the Inquiry Richard Millett QC is establishing his credentials to tackle those responsible for the disaster by being unsparing with London Fire Brigade witnesses. Too much risks being made of the astonishment of highly paid lawyers at the conditions of everyday life and the behaviour of ordinary people. Phrases like: And on the stairwell did you discuss… show the gap. But establishing a time line is vital and the owlish Counsel with his autistic (in a good way) questions grows patently into his brief day by day. Timings from individual witnesses are being carefully locked into sequence tho as one firefighter said there wasn’t a big clock. The normal effect on time perception of an abnormal rate of sensory input is to convince that longer has passed than it has. The degree of abnormal sensory input experienced by firefighters that night was governed by the speed of the fire and the life risk it represented.

Millett’s tact is not infallible, as when he risks a humorous aside after a passage about the technicalities of fireground radios:

Watch Manager O’Keefe: You’re not a firefighter, so you wouldn’t know…
Richard Millett QC: No, no. Not yet!

The expression on O’Keefe’s battered Irish face if it had been transcribed would have been You’ll never know the half of it chum… or Not on my watch old son… for given the noise level on the fireground the face is an organ of communication. The periods of watch duty isolated as a group, face to face around the mess table, is a period of training, of learning the other by their gestures, their way of moving, their facial expressions so that on the fireground movement can be swift and subtly coordinated, for on the fireground firefighters are self-motivated free radicals whose object is to rescue life and defeat fire, who link wordlessly into various combinations for the time it takes to do a task. And to keep the balance alive around the mess table there is subtlety too. Firefighter Keane, from Paddington, gave an example during his soft-core interrogation by Richard Millett’s junior Andrew Kinnier QC. Keane was being questioned about the weight of a light portable pump, actually a car engine in a tubular metal cage:

FF Keane: I believe it’s eighty four kilos.
Andrew Kinnier QC: So would you be able to carry it on your own or would you need help?
FF Keane: No, you’re not allowed to for health and safety reasons.
Andrew Kinnier QC: How many men would usually…
FF Keane: (interrupts) Four persons, not four men!

There was a suppressed titter in the room at the correction. A surprise from this tattooed down to the wrists firefighter if we hadn’t already recognised his intelligence. Then he deftly restores the balance round the mess table with:

FF Keane: Sorry!
Andrew Kinnier QC How many men or women?
FF Keane: Four

The Chairman, Sir Martin Moore-Bick shuffles the lustrous folds of his suit and his pink and white oval goes: And now Mr Millett, who is your next witness… I stand on Halifax platform and wait the next face out of the mist. Who will it be?

Two spoonfuls of generalisation to put into the soup. The modern firefighter, who may attend fewer incidents, is noticeably physically fitter. The words of Firefighter Bettinson 1 am usually in early as I use the gym first…would have been foreign to Halifax. Secondly, firefighters can be divided into two groups: those who go for promotion and those who don’t. Those who don’t tend to stay in one spot, reservoirs of experience and knowledge. Above them, off station, jealous prelates jostle for place in the bulgy triangle of higher ranks as the prevention and monitoring functions take off.

Firefighters who stay, like Brown or Bedillo or O’Beirne (on the first attendance at Grenfell from North Kensington) are like the keepers of the temple or, you might say given the taste for shaven heads, warrior priests. The keepers of the craft. Not that there aren’t variations, Firefighter Dorgu is of the temple breed and yet O’Beirne can rib him saying: the outlet being upside down he went about screwing it the wrong way since he’s more the academic type. O’Beirne himself was a local electrician before he joinedhe was of Notting Dale. We of Notting Dale are notoriously mixed-race, all that slumming it with Rachman, all those parties. Me Swedish Jewish WelshO’Beirne his Irish side and Brown his African.

I remember temple time, sweeping the underground vehicle workshop at Halifax in denim coveralls and the black shoes with elastic gussets we had for work around the station. The solid rubber boots with steel toe-caps and pull on handles I managed to get away with and they sit on the terrace, cut down for gardening. Temple time, like gone fishing, time to chew over one’s life. And then the bells would go down and it would be: stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood…

You might say Brown is a child of fire, formed by fire, since he joined at twenty and went straight to North Kensington from training. On the night of the fire he had been at North Kensington twenty seven years. He had his heart in the job. Questioned about earlier inspection visits to Grenfell Tower he can’t hold back a riff:

FF Brown…then… it wasn’t just a familiarisation visit … what it was a fire safety enforcement visit to ensure that the building was meeting its fire regulations and to make sure that the fire systems in place are there, and not just making sure they’re there, but we’d test them, we’d look at them, we’d physicallywe would test everything… you’d arrive, you’d look for the hydrant, you’d make sure that the accessif there was a fire gate, you’d make sure that that was clear, you’d make sure if there’s yellow lines which is a keep clear, you’d make sure that no one parked on there and if there was, you’d go to the concierge and say, “Sort that out, do not let people park there”.
Then you’d go to the fire lifts, you’d make sure they had the fire lifts in place. You’d make sure it works. You didn’t just look at it and say, “There’s a fire lift”; you’d then check this fire lift. It’s part of the fire safety enforcement. You’d actually physically put the key in and operate the fire lift and see that it would work. You’d then go up to the top floor, you’d look at emergency lighting, you’d look at fire doors, you’d make sure the self-closures were there. And not only would you make sure the self-closures were there, you’d test the self-closures worked.
Millett QC: It sounds as if, from that answer, this is something you would do in the distant past but didn’t do anymore?
FF Brown: We don’t do it anymore because it’s all been taken away, it’s all been privatised. It’s no longer our responsibility to make sure that these fire enforcements and fire certificates and fire safety things in place
it’s not our business anymore, apparently; it’s all been privatised.
Millett QC: Okay. We’re perhaps straying away from some factual questions.

O’Beirne we’d heard about from the startabout him scampering about high up in the Tower. Free radical. Curiosity. Likewise Bedillo who got caught into a freelance operation and broke the rulesand didn’t get the girl. Bedillo was tight lipped, taut skinned and shaven, with splendid dignity. He was the first witness to sport the yellow Grenfell heart badge. He has also been, so far, the only witness to answer the, just for the form, question have you discussed your evidence with anyone with a frank yes with my family and with the family of…Jessica.


Some witnesses wore medal ribbons. Either the London Fire Brigade long service full spectrum stripe or a pattern that signalled military service to those in the know. Quite a few of the junior officers sported them and reminded me that there is a certain sort of NCO bearing which is very effective on the parade ground and in the orderly rooma sort of super clerkdom. The first officer to take the stand after WM Dowden, who did sport one of these ribbons, was Crew Manager Batterbee who didn’t. Batterbee was the first witness who chose to sit and as he took his place one saw the future, certainly Group Manager, possible Assistant Commissioner. He was comfortable behind a desk. Batterbee was the man who’d put the fire out in the kitchen of flat sixteen only to discover that it had got away from him. He was a tough looking, blocky man with a thinker’s head. Been in the job six years, stationed at North Kensington.

Thru his evidence we saw the fire as a thing in itself, an element with a character, for fire licks with many tongues, it roars, it has an appetite. You fight it, wrestle it to the ground. You are often on the ground yourself, kneeling, lying, crawling where the air is cooler. Batterbee was on the ground with Brown in the corridor of flat sixteen by the door to the kitchen, they opened the door and pulsed water into the black smoke. The first mention of something uncanny about the fire came from Batterbee: it was hot and steam cut thru my PPE… I had never felt that level of heat before either in training or operationally… it felt like it totally wrapped all around me… it felt like something else was going on… Batterbee was kneeling up higher than Brown who was applying water. Brown had a different experience but it came to the same thing …the forceful curtain of flame on my left was… strangely just disappearing into the ceiling… I hit the flames with the branch but nothing happened… I thought this was really weird…

The time was 01:14:46. From this armchair it seems a pity that the information passed on when North Ken rolled up by Mr Kebede the occupant of flat sixteen: the fire is in the kitchen and there is no-one in the flat was not fully taken in. At 01:09:26 while Batterbee and Brown were diligently searching the first bedroom, flame broke out of the kitchen compartment and began its climb up and around and back into the tower. By 01:16:04 there is …a well developed fire within the fabric of the building spreading from the fourth to the sixth or seventh floor.

By 01:08:27 the whole of the first attendance have arrived. At, or about, 01:16:04 what are these twenty people doing? Batterbee and Brown are kneeling at the kitchen door. On the second floor lobby is the breathing apparatus (BA) entry control team CM Secrett and Firefighter De St Aubin with the back-up BA team O’Hanlon and Barton from Hammersmith. WM O’Keefe is jogging up the stairs to take over the bridgehead. Dorgu and Badillo are laying out the second line of hose from the third floor to the fourth. O’Beirne, looking thru a letterbox is finding fire in a flat on the fifth floor. CM Davies has just sent an Informative message on behalf of Dowden. Dowden is aware the external cladding is alight: it was sparking and spitting in a similar way to when magnesium catches fire and was making me feel uncomfortable. Firefighters Abel and Bills have just laid out and set up a line and branch for use as a covering jet outside by Firefighter Archer who hands over to Firefighters Murphy and Cornelius when he is ordered to don BA. CM Stern and Firefighter Hippel are at the bridgehead being briefed to investigate fire spread on the fifth and sixth floor. Firefighter Broderick has just sent a make-up message for six pumps and an aerial appliance. The snapshot: the attack is still focussed on flat sixteen but the bridgehead is already pointing new arrivals to the floors above. The lift being unreliable or dangerous the floors above are reached by the single concrete staircase just over a metre wide. This choke point radically reduces the speed of fire attack and rescue.

At 01:27:39 CCTV captures Badillo chancing the lift. He is going to ride up above the floors involved in fire to the twentieth. He has been given the keys to a flat and it is his intention to come back with the sister of the girl who gave him the keys. He is on his own, with no BA and no fire-fighting media. He has triggered himself outside of Brigade policy. He gets a shock:

…unexpectedly the lift doors opened on the fifteenth floor and straight away the lift filled with thick black smoke. I felt my way out of the lift and into the stairwell while holding my breath. I ran downstairs and back to the pump ladder with the aim of getting my BA set on to try again. I got to ground floor level and when I got outside I saw the side of the building was alight about two thirds of the way up and spreading fast. Watch Manager Dowden was just running off to do something and I decided he needed to know what was happening higher up. I asked him if he had made them up and he told me he had just made pumps 20. As he was running off I said We need more guv and he shouted Go on then. I radioed Make pumps 25…

By 01:31:00 vigorous flame was spreading to the top by way of the corner flats on the east face and had begun to punch in thru the windows, to worry away at the fabric of the north face. The laws of physics and biology had the jump on the firefighters and would determine who would survive and who would not. Around this time in the morning only one hundred and thirty nine residents had been positively counted out of the building. The total occupancy estimate during the night running between three and four hundred the saveable life stood somewhere between one and two hundred. At the bridgehead was a queue of firefighters. They would be briefed to go to a flatpot luck. There was a list on the wall recording calls. A call from Ms Zainab Deen had made it onto the list: flat one hundred and fifteen on the fourteenth floor, there was also a call from Dennis Murphy in flat one hundred and eleven on the same floor. BA teams nine and ten of two firefighters each were briefed to get up there. They started their climb at 01:51:00.


Firefighters motivation is built with slabs heaved into place early in life: a liking for helping strangers, a masochistic desire to struggle against encumbrance or physical difficulty, a need for social recognition, a taste for the unusual, a wish to be truly exhausted, a need to be measured, a desire to atone for some darkness in the soul, a strong sense of their own physicality as an object, a curiosity about how things work… These slabs will be visible as rocks in a landscape with a thin covering of soil. The thin soil is Policy, the accumulated good practice designed to balance risk. Keeping the balance meant that although there was pain enough for everybody that night no firefighters died. When firefighters stepped beyond Policy that night (and they did) it was from those slabs of motivation. Sometimes Policy was built in. There is a device on the BA set called an ADSU, an automatic distress signal unit. In my time, before electronics, this was something you pressed if you had a problem, it gave off a raucous whine and your mates came and helped you out. Today the device is linked back to the Entry Control Board and can only be switched off by going back there. If you don’t go back they commit an emergency team. Progress was slowed for two man BA team nine on their way to the fourteenth floor. In the crowded concrete stairwell with its melée of bodies one of them was bumped hard enough to set off the ADSU. They struggled down to Entry Control on the 3rd Floor and then climbed back up the mountain. This left two man BA team ten climbing up on their own.
After the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower a typical floor had six flats, one in each corner and smaller ones squeezed into the east and west sides. On the fourteenth floor that night was a representative population of Grenfell Tower. Marlon Mangoba, Marlon Mangoba Jnr and Nida Mangoba, Zainab Deen and her son Jeremiah, Dennis Murphy, Mohammad and Omar al-Haj, Oluwaseun ‘Ollie’ Talabi, his girlfriend Nida, and their daughter Keziah. At 01:30:11 the Mangoba’s are seen to leave the building.

When BA team ten got there, minus team nine as we have seen, Zainab Deen had just told Control that her flat, 115 on the East, fire exposed, face, was smoke logged. Dennis Murphy had retreated to the bathroom of Flat 111 also on the East face and reported difficulty breathing.

WM O’Keefe: They had reached Flat 111 and found the male occupant. They had had to force the door open to the apartment where they then encountered seven other persons. At the same time two persons next door opened the door crying, saying, “Can you save us?” They told me that they had put all eight people in the safest area they could find, in one flat. (Flat 113 on the west face)

The two persons next door were the al-Haj brothers.

WM O’Keefe: They (team ten) told me that they were really overwhelmed and that they feared for their own lives. They couldn’t see anything. To find the apartments, they were up against the wall with their lamps and trying to feel the number by touch. It was extremely hot. They told me that they dropped their firefighting equipment and made their way out.

If they had still been with team nine they might have adopted the solution devised by a five man team from Paddington, team seven. They found themselves in a flat on the ninth floor with a mother and a child. They knew that it would be impossible to get them down thru the smoke. In the flat they blocked out the smoke and took their masks off to talk. Three of the team opted to go down and fetch BA for the woman and child. Firefighter Bettinson had a diamond shape stencilled onto his helmet to let others know he was still on probation:

… we knew we were running out of time, the smoke was getting worse every second. I went out into the corridor a couple of times to monitor the situation and see if the others were coming yet. The whole of the corridor was compromised, totally full of thick black hot smoke and I looked through the letter box of the next door flat and saw that they whole thing looked to be on fire.

After twenty minutes the extra sets are there. They put one on the mother and Bettinson splices off a mask for the child whom he carries. They get down safely.

Climbing the stairwell about ten minutes after team seven was Paddington’s Extended Duration Breathing Apparatus team. EDBA sets, carried on twelve special appliances distributed round London, lasted about double the time of normal sets. They had been given the task of extinguishing the fire from above, straight out of the Manual of Firemanship for dealing with chimney fires. When they found Fadumo Ahmed slumped on the half landing between the twentieth and twenty first floors they out-voted their Crew Manager and decided to get her out. She had come up from Flat 164 on the nineteenth floor. Firefighter Gillam slung her over his shoulder and down they went:

… I’ve got one arm around her legs and one arm on the back of his (Deano’s) cylinder, although he is a few steps ahead of me, if I fall I’m going to fall onto him and the other boys are behind.

On the way down what hurt most was the band of intense heat around floors ten and eleven. The casualty lost consciousness. The fire was winding into the building, biting thru apartments and exploiting the shaft of the central stairwell whenever it could. Fire stop doors went up like paper.

So we took her down, she is unconscious but she is gagging, then she was throwing up and then nothing at all from her… at this point it was really hot. I’ve never been in a job like it, the heat was ridiculous. I’ve been a few really hot basement jobs but it was like nothing I’ve ever felt. My whole head, my neck and ears was just burning. I remember saying to whoever was behind me “are you burning?” and he said “yeah I’m burning.” So I said “we need to get out of here.” There wasn’t much visibility at all. We are probably on like eleven now. We are basically just going down through a chimney. I keep myself fit all the time but I had nothing, I was completely gone…

They got her out.

Stretching out and back and up from the Tower the chain of command has been expanding almost as fast as the fire. Despite many cultural changes the Fire Service has managed to resist multi-level entry so that everyone right up to Commissioner has worked at firefighter level and earned their promotion. All over London senior officers are scrambling to their cars and popping on magnetic blue lights.

At around the time Badillo has led a BA team back up the Tower to the twentieth floor Assistant Commissioner Roe has been awakened and informed of the fire and Station Manager Walton is finding his way thru the maze of blocked and congested streets to take over from Dowden. As Badillo Secrett and Dorgu search flat 176 in vain Group Manager Goulbourne is dressing in a hurry and confirming to control he is on his way. Deputy Assistant Commissioner O’Loughlin arrives 01:54 and goes straight to the bottom of the Tower to take over from SM Walton just as Badillo, Secrett and Dorgu reach the bridgehead and report conditions on the twentieth. They say they have seen fire at the windows; they had suffered an extremely rapid rise in temperature when low on air and a long way from home. They could see nothing in the smoke; they managed to slide on their stomachs back towards the stairwell but mistook the door to the bin store at first. They stumbled down the stairwell:

After coming down 3–4 floors I realised we had lost Chris (Dorgu). I asked Dave (Badillo) to shout for Chris because I had no energy to do it. Neither did he. We sat there. I looked at my gauge and saw I only had 15 bar left; I was in big trouble. I put myself in a corner of the stairwell because I did not want to be in anyone else’s way if I didn’t make it out.

Dr Barbara Lane, the Inquiry’s Fire Safety Engineering expert reports: at or about 02:00 the north elevation was alight, the south elevation had just caught and the east elevation was fully involved. There were still some one hundred and thirty people in the building.

Big pressure on the one concrete staircase and dodgy lifts. The conundrum was that the more people moved down into that narrow stairwell the more likely it was that it would become blocked. There are twenty two firefighters working in breathing apparatus somewhere in the Tower. Some of the people who left their flats got out on their own, some of them died on the stairs or in the lobby, some of them were met and rescued by firefighters. But all the people who stayed put died unless they were rescued. Somewhere in there was a harsh logic: the higher the number of people who stayed put, the more chance for those who refused to stay put or who were advised to leave in time.

Watch Manager Walton from Hammersmith said later: Once the fire caught the cladding, and surrounded the building, we could have had a lot more firefighters on the ground but we wouldn’t have put that job out. It moved so fast. The building didn’t do its job and the building beat us. I came away thinking that we lost the battle and the building beat us. I know we saved a lot of people but I know we lost a lot of people. I came away from that job on a low as although we did the best we could, circumstances, particularly the building, beat us.

 

grenfellfftwr

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Banks & Wigmore – the Brexit baronny games the world.

123701946-98ccb893-ee3b-4ac0-8703-469d389b393bThatcher’s chicks have come home to roost – perfectly adapted to mondialisation since crime knows no frontiers. The barons yearn to be as openly bent contract as the orientals and latins they do business with. Thatcher released them from the idea of society – all there is is sex and shopping. They are the future and they know it. Dusty old tropes like democracy, civic virtue, public service have gone out of the window at about the same rate that the natural world has been destroyed. Extinct notions, extinct species.

The delicate protective structures we,  the herbivores, assembled in centuries of patient work built are smashed  by the baron’s clear-sighted amoral zeal (and heavy boots). And we can’t be sure who the forces of law and order will obey.

Watch the theatre of their appearance before the digital, culture, media and sport select committee of the UK parliament, jackets off straightaway – into battle. Their contempt was evident. They had the liberated shiny look of those who have thrown out everything except self-interest. The nobility of their transparent dishonesty contrasted with the woeful, compromised futility of the committee interviewing them. (see this account). Any attempt to diminish them as  individuals called up how people laughed at the Brownshirts tk at first – before the windows went in.

The barons are the ones who will get the contracts to stem the flow from Africa, for the fences and camps now being projected in far far away vague places out of old-fashioned gaze – to be staffed by willing butchers from the sorry Balkan statelets – themselves heavily mafiosisch.

But that’s another story – to which we will return. Didn’t we try the camps before with a people we felt uneasy about? Didn’t turn out too well did it.

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Shankar A. Singham & Global Britain

Shankar

A response to Trade tools for the 21st Century published by the Legatum Institute

Another of those cod latin names – you know what’s coming, corporate muscle flexing to make sure us timid ones stay way back in our burrows.

While capitalism’s failures – unwanted goods & services – choke the natural globe these people still believe that because their mouths grow wider the cake does too. The argument runs make more and more people able to act aquisivetely and the pyramid can grow on mounting to the clouds, with of course, rockets shooting off the top of it to other “cleaner” planets where there will be no poor people.

Shankar is quite clear who he wants inside the ring: Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Singapore, Switzerland, UK, US. The powers that be protected by costly military servants who in their lower ranks merge with criminal milieu. (Think G4S)

 This template is the one used by Global Britain. Let us get on with becoming richer and aquiring goods and oh, let someone occupy themselves with, in  Foreign Secretary Johnson’s words – “getting rid of the dead bodies” –   which becomes for  Shankar and his associates “getting rid of the poor, since it is quite out of the question for them all to become rich or even comfortably off – the natural globe won’t stand it.

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Fantasia for armchair

ce

The reign of the people of many colored hair is coming to an end in a welter of consumer selfishness, concentrating down to a hard knot of military-industrials and their regalian adjuncts.

The protestant virtues  are no longer needed in a supa automated world – other values like group think, effacement of self, herd communication come out top which is why islam, fundamentally mendacious, has the mass.

I see a broad muddy lane stretched out towards a pale, empty horizon. On my left is what was once a car but now is wheel less. To the right a makeshift fence made of pallets partly hides a low brow cottage. Where am I?

Central europe – the mindless muddy wasteland, bogs, putrid lakes, forests being destroyed by proto capitalists and all the undead and the buried horrors of the wars and state murders of the last two hundred years. Central Europe, the place people if they have any spark wish to move out from. The part of the world where neanderthal interbreeding with homo sapiens lasted longest.

Dust has not settled, wet, gluey, poisoned dust after the collapse of the Communist building. Western Ukraine, Poland, Hungary are beefing themselves up as nationalist, authoritarian, catholic against the soft liberal elitist mass of the Brussels European project.

The Americans are interested, always have been. They supported Ukrainian Nationalists as late as the middle 1950’s. Strong sympathetic juntas hard up against Russia’s side ready to be one half a pincer to nip off the useful bits of Europe (the mercantile triangle in the north-west). The other half of the pincer will a Brexit Britain keen to have an authoritarian barrier between itself and the hordes from Africa.

Germany, god bless her, hovers. Shall she come down on the side of the hards or the softs? Meanwhile Austria has spotted the gap and nipped in – the first state to have deployed the army against the immigrants. No doubt somewhere in a Carpathian health resort her generals are meeting in mufti with those of Hungary and Poland in order to construct a seamless security mechanism.

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Stealing the Emporer’s clothes – appropriation example.

passagenwerk

photo ref. passagenwerk

I am an independent artist with a solutions-driven culture, providing strategic inspiration capabilities through a unique blend of imagination and linguistic savvy deliverable through a global footprint.

I seek a strategic business partner committed to the highest standards of cultural perception.

Experience, drive, and commitment will be the bedrock of our success; delivering a superior and exceptional service to our clients while exhibiting high integrity and trustworthiness. In return, each will have the tools to meet or exceed their full potential, and to flourish in a hardworking but unstuffy environment.

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Gitanisation

men woman car

An old Spanish gypsy song has it (with a laugh, a hop and a cry) that the world is full of objects made by others for the taking. Why soil your hands with work when there are others who seem to need the status that goes with it? Let them produce the goods, we will take them when we need them.

Soiling their hands with work (until the lay offs began with the neo-liberal order) meant that people had a relation however dulled and abused with the process of production, with fabrication and its attendant skills.

This relation to production that the gitanie spurned for reasons of honor (the nomad code) is now absent in the new populations growing up into worklessness.

As it was for the hunter gather of the stone age the world is stuffed full of objects and nowadays since there is no relation to production, objects can be seen as natural or given. so that there is a seamless progression from walking down a street and plucking apples from trees growing on the railway embankment to zooming around on a scooter and plucking Rolex watches “come from the other side”.

When the neo-liberals began their crusade they did not think about whether creation would keep pace with destruction. Since they were not interested in social questions they did not ask what would happen if despite discouraging circumstances the poor increased their birthrate in adversity. And then learnt from other cultures fatalism and absence of civic sense. And began after three half-generations to be socially creative in the manufacture first of gangs then tribes who saw the world as a collection of objects to take, if you were fit enough to do so.

Paralell with the neo-liberal crusade another universe of objects has been built. The Internet. By now it is near enough to be called a rough and ready Borgian copy of everything people recognise on Earth. Millions of cameras attached 24/7 act as eyes and ears of a gigantic occurrence beast. There are visual artists like Richard Prince who make fortunes just from re-working this traffic flow.

Habituation to the experience of seeing images of Rolex watches transforms the original object into a template carried in the head. There is then an obsession to actualize it. The brain can only take so much stimulation before it throws up deferred pleasure and goes for the real thing, whatever the risk, or rather becomes eager to enter the risk area for its sense of lightness, its absence of hand holds, its tingle of the present moment and the fascinating idea you might not come back.

You could say the scooter robbers are copying and pasting, except those sticky old concrete objects refuse to duplicate. Don’t worry, in time the Rolex will re-grow on your wrist – the insurance companies are working on it.

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