Sunday 31st August 1997, Diana Princess of Wales died from injuries which she sustain in a car crash. Dodi Fayed and Henri Paul were pronounced dead at the scene in the Pont de l’Alma road tunnel in Paris, France.
Woken by the ringing of the landline, I slipped out of bed leaving my fiancé unstirred on what was a rare Sunday lie in. We were due to marry in four days time and I was having my doubts. I made my way downstairs, whoever was on the end of the line, wasn’t giving up. I wasn’t best pleased as I answered the call.
‘Wil’ his pet name for all women ‘Turn on the TV – Diana’s Dead’
His words didn’t have time to sink in before he had hung up.
I turned on the television, every channel flashed with the news that Peoples Princess was gone forever. Then returned upstairs to relay the news to my sleeping fiancé who had recently began in a new post, working at New Scotland Yard as a ranking inspector in CO11 (The Public Order Operational Command Unit) in the Metropolitan Police.
The nation mourned their Princess. I made the journey with my fiancé and walked round St James’ park. Heavy loss hung in the air People paying their respects feeling deep empathy from one another. I was amongst the thousands who lay flowers at Buckingham Palace.
Couples all over the country were cancelling their weddings. I wondered how many of them used the death of Diana as a get out of jail card. I’m ashamed to confess I did consider doing it myself.
We had met at the now famous Faces Nighclub in Gants Hill, Essex. He was one of the ‘famous faces’ as he was an Inspector at the local Barkingside Police Station. He had tried to woo me for months before I excepted his proposal to date. His charm had worked.By the time he proposed marriage to me, he had left Barkingside and was now working in his new post and New Scotland Yard and I had felt a huge change in the air. I put my feelings to him and he assured me that there would be no change between us. How wrong he was. Like Diana I was to face a three way marriage full of unhappiness. And a secret double life that would lead to shocking events.
Two days ago I was asked ‘How can you know nothing about London 2012?’they were dumbfounded.
After the announcement of London winning the Olympic bid during the hot afternoon of 6th July 2005 – I lived with anxiety for seven years. The terrorist attack on London, known as 7/7 did not divert my fear for the future. During those seven years, the old cliché ‘Life is a Rollercoaster’ springs to mind. Nothing could have prepared me for the outcome of Summer 2012.
In 2007 my marriage had finally disintegrated to the point of no return. I plucked up the courage, a second attemp, after relenting eight months earlier when suggesting a separation. He had pleaded with me to give us a second chance. He even had the house decorated. Out went the previous owners carpets. We had moved in, back in May 1997. In his bid to save our marriage he also took me to Stroud in the Cotswolds for a short midweek break. Conveniently his friends who lived in the area, were away. I had never met them. He would often visit them in his spare time. He had met them due to another major disaster and another blog – All were away. except for Jess, who according to my husband, we didn’t need to see…
Our separation started out well, I even helped him find a suitable home. He chose the beautiful medieval town, Saffron Walden, 46 miles drive from our marital home. I spent nights with him. We went away for a couple of days. He showed support when I took part in a 27 mile walk for Breakthrough. I attended Buckingham Palace with him in June 2009, where my estranged husband was awarded the QPM (the Queens Police Medal) for his services to policing, presented to him by Prince Charles.
Two weeks later he retired from the Metropolitan Police after 30 years of service. November 2009 was the last time I saw him or spoke to him again.
We went through an unnecessary, long drawn out process of divorce. Our Decree Absolute dated 31st October 2011. Ding Dong and all that Halloween stuff…
I believe he is now living happy every after in the glorious Cotswolds with his friend we didn’t need to see.
Sadly two weeks before the Absolute arrived in the post, my father was diagnosed with terminal Cancer. Everything else was put into perspective. I had just paid a deposit on my dream home and for the first time years felt I had some direction. My dad was told he had 3 months to live, a year tops with the help of medication. He endured months of chemo, sadly it gave him no extra quality of life. When I arrived to stay with my parents in July 2012 -I knew I wouldn’t return home until after my dads passing.
My son who within a matter of weeks would no longer be a teenager, called me. He was as pleased as punch.
‘Mum, I’m going to be working the opening and closing ceremony of the Olympics.’
I felt like I had taken a huge punch in the gut.
I begged my boy to not work, even offering to give him twice as much money as he would be earning. I was beside myself with worry in case terrorists attacked , but my boy stuck fast. My demon anxiety at the forefront. Fear gripped like a vice around my heart.
The opening ceremony passed in a blur. I was proud of my boy for sticking to his guns and not letting my unfounded fears stop him from being part of British history.
Sadly during the early hours of the 4th August 2012 my dad passed. I was alone with him (well that’s not strictly true,and over the next day or so I will blog some of the details, honestly you couldn’t write it!) And so I missed the Olympics.
My boy also worked the closing ceremony on the 12th August 2012 into the early hours of the following morning. He returned home and later that day we cremated my dad – his grandfather.
London was under terrorist attack on the 7th July 2005. Four Islamist men detonated four bombs. Three with short intervals aboard trains across the London Underground across the city. A while later a fourth was detonated on a double Decker bus passing through Tavistock Square. 52 Civilians were killed. A further 700 were injured in the attacks. Becoming the United Kingdom’s first ever suicide attack.
Sitting upstairs, aboard the 247 bus on the 6th July 2005, sun rays beat through the window. Early afternoon was proving to be very hot. I was heading home from my part time work, a Planning Assistant in a sheet metal factory in Hainault. The bus stopped outside Tesco in Collier Row, Romford. Passengers erupted in cheer as a man boarding had announced ‘London has won the bid for the 2012 Olympics’ – as joy rang round, my heart sunk and fear set in.
The G8 Summit being held at the Gleneagles Hotel, Auchterarder, Scotland, began in the morning. Hosted by Tony Blair it was due to continue over the next few days. I had, had a strange feeling all day that something was to happen for the worse. It seemed my thoughts were now about to be proved right. Though nothing could have prepared me for the reality.
Celebrations had been taking place throughout the night in London. Uneasiness, hung like a cloud over my head when woken by the alarm clock early, Wednesday 7th July 2005. I rolled out of bed and dressed, putting on my trusty trainers, ready for my daily power walk, training to take part in the Aviva, Breakthrough for Breast Cancer 60klm walk in the coming September.
Walking my body felt unusually heavy, my stride wasn’t so strong, even though the weather was glorious. On my return home, I prepared breakfast for my twelve year old son whilst he showered ready to leave for school.
My husband, a Chief Inspector in The Public Order Operational Command Unit (CO11) – Central Operations unit of London’s Metropolitan Police Service. He had been involved in the area of major incident planning since 1996. He was also the National Emergency Procedures Co-ordinator for ACPO (Association of Chief Police Officers) from 2000. And he represented the UK on the Interpol Standing Committee on DVI (Disaster Victim Identification), which was one his specialty areas. His role included police family liaison officer (FLOs) in the disaster context, together with the humanitarian aspects of the disaster response; public inquiries; civil protection standards; and command and control of major incidents. He had already left for work before I arrived home from my work and was heading for New Scotland Yard.
I waved my son off to school, then showered, preparing me for another day at the office. Walking downstairs, towelling my wet hair, the television suddenly caught my attention.
Breaking news:- London in melt down. Horrific scenes filled the screen. Fatal and injured people stuck underground, unexplained explosions. The cloud of doom totally engulfed me.
The ringing landline broke my attention. My husband was at the end of the line…
‘Have you seen the news?’ he had just reached work.
‘Yes’ I gulped. Guilt pang, crept in. I hadn’t for an instant considered that my husband could be involved in all the carnage or worried that he was whilst he used the underground that morning. He had only just returned home after working away for 7 months, involved in the Tsunami.
‘Are you ok?’
He sounded excited, his next career move set in stone and debris alongside that of our already crumbling marriage.
I sat down and cried. Thousands of innocent people touched by this unnecessary devastation whose lives would never be the same, mine included. My tears for the dead and dying were still unaccounted for.
Next morning I made my way home. As I stood on the balcony, outside my 4th floor flat, reality hit as I took in the view of destruction before me. I stood and cried. An eerie silence of devastation engulfed me
On the 10th April 1992 The Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) detonated a bomb at 9:20pm. A large white truck contained the one-ton bomb, made from 45kg of semtex. The explosion killed three people. Paul Butt, 29, Thomas Casey 49, and 15 year old Danielle Carter. Injuring 91 people.
At the time of explosion I was sitting in a Chinese Restaurant called Eat & Drink, in Artillery Passage, 1.2 miles away from where the explosion took place.
I was 5 months pregnant and enjoying a night out with Jay, the father of my unborn child, and Freddie is 12 year old daughter. The restaurant was full with diners, many of them, city workers enjoying the Friday night atmosphere. At 9:20pm there was a Mighty, dooming sound, like nothing I’d ever heard before. Followed, by the window crashing in around me. Shards of glass covered the table, yet none of us were injured.
Moving out of the restaurant and into the street nothing could have prepared us for drama that was unfolding. As we came to the end of Artillery Passage and into Middlesex Street, there was bedlam. People were running through the street in shear panic. A man came towards me, his face unrecognisable, blood covered it. We stood frozen unable, to take in what surrounded us.
As we moved along Middlesex Street, heading for the flat in Petticoat Square, where I was residing at the time, the chaos unfolded like a film set, only the atmosphere intensified by magnitude. Reaching the entrance of the flats, a mile away from St Mary’s Axe, a policeman stopped us from entering. Residents were being evacuated.
We crossed to road making our way into the Bell Pub. Jay made a call to a friend who was living on the 39th floor, Shakespeare Tower at the Barbican. We were lucky to get into a taxi and stayed there for the night. I lay awake all night waiting for my unborn child to kick. Eventually in the early hours of the 11th April, I felt movement and was able to fall asleep. About the same time the IRA detonated another bomb at Staples Corner underneath the A406 flyover. The explosion could be felt from miles away.
Next morning I made my way home. As I stood on the balcony, outside my flat on the fourth floor, reality hit as I took in the view of destruction before me. I stood and cried. An eerie silence of devastation engulfed me.
On the Monday morning, 13th April 1992, I decided to head to the safety of my parents home in Hainault, Essex. As I boarded a tube on the Central Line, I noticed someone had left a brief case on the seat. I immediately pulled the emergency cord. Without waiting I walked off of the train and I stride up the escalator and straight out of Liverpool Street station.
The fateful night of Friday 10th April 1992 has stayed with me forever. I flash back as if it was yesterday. Sadly one of the residents from the flats also died that night from a heart attack. Was it due to the shock of explosion? Did the IRA kill four people that night?
As I post this blog my heart goes out to those remembering their loved ones, to the emergency services who fought a horrific battle and one I know, has battled with the images in his mind, since that night. To the many injured whose lives will never be the same. And for who I am today.
Today at St Mary’s Axe the Gherkin stands proud, and is proof that life goes on. Every day I see life as a blessing. Twenty four years on I look at my son, and Ithank my lucky stars.
The architect’s vision of contented tenants living in harmony
Built in the Borough of Brent, Northwest London, and located in the Wembley Park area, Chalkhill was developed as a ‘Metroland’ estate since 1921. Between 1966 and 1970, based on the design of Park Hill in Sheffield, about 1900 houses and flats were developed, designed to provide homes for 1,400 families.
Buddings Circle and Wellsprings Crescent, where I once found a red purse lying in the curb and went with my father to hand it into the police station, consisted of low rise two-storey developments. The main housing, 30 five-storey blocks, were built using the ‘Bison’ system of pre-cast concrete panels, ensuring fast and precise construction.
Chalkhill Estate, with its unappealing concrete exterior, boasted dwellings, with spacious rooms, along corridors. Each accommodation had a ducted heating system and ‘state-of-the art’ electric utilising. There were no dustbins as every kitchen was fitted with a novel waste disposal unit called a ‘Garchey’, in its sink that chewed up all the rubbish. My mother found this a godsend, though the noise scared me, and the unit sometimes figured in my nightmares.
Arranged in crab-claw configurations, the blocks connected by ‘walkways in the sky’ named Goldbeaters Walk, Greenrigg Walk, Redcliffe Walk and Bluebird Walk and had decks running their length, designed for hand-pulled milk floats that could make door to door deliveries, via service lifts.
As well as providing good living conditions, Chalkhill Estate also contained a row of local shops, a medical centre, car parking and a tenants meeting room. Open space was developed, providing a number recreational facilities for children and the elderly. There were seating areas with flower beds, climbing frames and other such things at almost every corner. My mother once scared me as I came down a big slide. I watched the fear etch her face because she thought I was going to fall off. I never attempted to climb one for a lot of years after.
Adjacent to the shops was a paddling pool and sand-pit – both were popular in the summer as a meeting point for parents and children. When playing there, I was always guaranteed an ice-lolly.
When completed in 1970, Chalkhill was described (in the “Sunday Telegraph”) as ‘one of the finest municipal housing estates in Britain’. They offered homes for 1,100 families, but initially around half of these laid empty. Many remained vacant for long periods because rents at £6 for one bedroom and £11 for a five bedroom were beyond the means of many would be tenants. With a big shortage of council accommodation, controversy struck.
With the intention of filling the flats, Brent Council offered homes for rent to private tenants. Included were families where the parents had come to England from the West Indies to work for London Transport or as nurses in the hospital or families of Asian origin escaping from discrimination against them in East African countries following their independence. Passports had to be produced and references provided to prove they were of good character, with sufficient income to pay the rent, along with people from the council’s housing waiting list and those from overcrowded Victorian tenement flats, without bathrooms – one of which I lived in with my parents and was the reason we came to reside at Chalkhill, when I was eighteen months old in the early summer of 1970. The estate became a mixed community, which felt like one big family for many living there.
As families moved to Chalkhill, it was essential to build a new school for their children. The Chalk Hill Infant School was taking pupils by the end of 1970. Shortage of funds meant that the junior school did not open until 1972. When finally completed, the 250 pupil Chalkhill Primary School, where I became a pupil, was the first in the country to be built on an open plan system.
During the mid-1970s the drafty ‘walkways in the sky’ rapidly became suitable escape routes for criminals. Chalkhill Estate was earning a reputation as a crime hotspot attracting any number of unsavory characters from neighboring areas, the two high-rise car parks an ideal hiding place for stolen cars and shady drug-deals. A constant stink of urine filled the air coming from the lifts when they were operational. My family was one of the lucky ones who lived on the ground floor of Greenrigg walk. We rarely needed to use the lift. Milkmen who delivered all types of provisions to the residents’ doorsteps, restricted their operations due to the high number of robberies. On numerous occasions, football hooligans would visit the estate after matches at the nearby Wembley Stadium, vandalising property and buildings and attacking local residents.
The sand-pit became dangerous due to the large quantity of broken glass; the paddling pool, a lonely circle of empty destruction. Local shops were frequently robbed.
The flower beds and seating areas were destroyed no sooner than they were repaired. One by one, the privilege of using these facilities was gradually lost, some removed due to poor maintenance and vandalism, others replaced by different facilities only to become vandalised once again. When my father returned home from work, sometimes in the dark, he would walk with a stick, even though he was perfectly fit. He also carried a sock full of change, which he used whilst driving his London Taxi. It provided a good cosh due to the fear of walking through the estate, until he was safe behind our front-door. Thankfully, he never had to use it.
In August of 1976, during a heat-wave, the hottest recorded UK summer, my parents moved us, including the addition of my two siblings, to Hainault in Essex. My last memory of Chalkhill, the night before diverging, was of being drawn to a noise in an upstairs window of our family flat. As I peeped out, bottles came hurtling, some filled with fire, lighting the night-sky. Saved only by the strong double glazing, my mother came into the room and guided me away. If I close my eyes tight, I can still picture the motley crew, too many to count, their faces contorted in revulsion.
During the years that followed, due to concerns about the conditions on the estate including poor quality and notoriety, the initiative of closing walkways and installing door entry systems could not prevent the decision of the demolition and remediation stages of the final 450 house scheme.
They demolished 1900 houses and flats and Chalkhill Estate was refurbished early 2000. Over the years, I have returned to Wembley several times to watch concerts, including Michael Jackson and Bon Jovi, at Wembley Stadium though I’ve never revisited Chalkhill Estate. The stadium was demolished in 2003. And rebuilt in 2007.
Sadly the restored Chalkhill has been given the nickname ‘Crack Hill’.
From the late 200s, the local youths in the area began to refer to their gang as the ‘Crack Hill Mob’ – ‘The Chalk Hill Boys’ and ‘The Blue Gang’
The dream was ‘A road to the sky. Whole communities would move to the area; it would be care free.’
Martin Luther King and Senator Robert Francis Kennedy were assassinated.
During the early hours, two thirds through November, I entered the world. That day would have been the Senator’s 43rd Birthday. Queen Elizabeth II & Prince Philip awoke celebrating twenty one years of marriage. ‘Hey Jude’ by the Beatles was number one in the US singles chart. Seventy eight men lost their lives in West Virginia, USA, in what became known as the Farmington Mine Disaster, an unexplained explosion that could be felt from twelve miles away. The unconnected event was to set off a pattern of disasters throughout my life. And one day I would find myself during a moment of peace a short distance away from where the explosion took place
My parents had married a couple of years earlier. Mum was just twenty, and dad was a year older. They had been courting since she was twelve, and he a teenager. What should have been a perfect little family unit was marred by the fact that my mum had just found out that dad was having an affair with a prostitute. And my grandmother had given the lady a hideaway at her flat! Needless to say Mum was distraught.
My mother had given up her career as a window dresser to have me. My dad had passed ‘The Knowledge’ a year or so beforehand, and was going out to work each night from our little flat in London N16, heading for the West End, in his Hackney Carriage, otherwise known as a Black Cab. My father didn’t work much. Instead, he’d be gambling what he did earn, playing Kalooki (also known as Jamaican Rummy) in smoke holes across London and frequenting the Gaiety Club, a regular haunt for taxi drivers who liked to gamble and the working girl.
When he did work, he made a lot of money by carting punters to Soho hot spots and to the ‘Ladies of the night’ – He’d earn a bonus from the clubs and Working Girls, at £5 a time – nowadays a value of around £75. My folks were a good looking couple; dad was not only handsome, but quick witted He would not only collect his money from these ladies. Sometimes he would give them a lift home and instead of payment, he would have sex with many of them.
I have no idea how they worked through their marriage problem, but they did… hat’s off to my mother, as it baffles me how you would recover from a situation like that. Then again, as life continued, some would question the standard of morals that I set for myself.