Like many of you reading this, I sat glued to the screen yesterday. Westminster was under attack. When I turned on the television my initial thought was my son. I calmly dialed his father’s number and when he didn’t respond to the call, anxiety dug its nails in a little harder. I dialed my boy’s number and thankfully he picked up, sleepy even though it was the afternoon. My son works with his father, a Westminster licensed ice-cream seller. Thankful to the weather and the season not having fully started yet…
Relief flooded through me like there was no tomorrow.
For some, this senseless act of terrorism has taken away their tomorrows.
For those that surrounded their lives, tomorrow will never be the same again.
As I sit tapping, the gloom in the air of London blows all around. Currently I’m house/cat sitting, in Hainaut, Outer London – for my mum, who is in America with her siblings, this will probably be the last time that all five of them are together. Thanks to media I was able to reassure her, all was ok
The truth is, all is not ok.
Watching ‘This Morning’ my heart went out to those the media had selected to share their story. I cried for the American lady who was on her way to pray in Westminster Cathedral. For the man who insisted he is not a hero after he had given the CPR to the Police Officer, one of four who lost his life to a terrorist. I listened to his only lifeline as he described the injuries, how he dealt with the dying man, following everything by protocol and that not being enough. The unassuming man, believing anyone else would have done the same.
My thoughts catapulted back to almost 25 years ago. Sixteen days to go to be exact, when I found myself in the same position, caught up in the destruction of the Baltic Exchange Bombing. The feeling of what to do.
The scene like something out of a movie, only you’re there living the worst nightmare imaginable.
Cries for help!
The sound of Sirens coming from every direction.
People running like headless chickens.
My darkest memory, a young man running towards me, whilst I stood rooted to the spot, 5 months pregnant in Middlesex Street. My initial thought was my baby and as I looked up from my small bump, this frantic man was the first thing I saw. Blood was streaming down his face like prison bars. His screams for help were piercing above all of the commotion surrounding us. He kept on running, running, screaming straight past me, he could not stop.
Blinded by his own blood, he just couldn’t stop running.
There is no fight against terrorism.
It is not a war.
How can random attacks on innocent people be fought against?
When nobody seems to know what the fighting is about.
The Burns’ Day Storm, parallel with the strongest European windstorms on record, occurred on the 25th and 26th January 1990, covering north western Europe. The storm has been given no official name, some call it Daria. Starting on the birthday of Scottish poet Robert Burns and the birthday of my dad, it caused damage far and wide with hurricane-force winds. According to the Met Office the storm to 97 lives. Other figures have ranged from 89 to more than 100.
Severe weather warnings were headline news, I sat at home with my folks. I was 21 years old and had just started a job, working for Summers Henderson & Co, as an Insurance Loss Adjusters PA. I was due to begin some training only it never happened. The next day at work I was told to leave early. The storm was hitting London and our office in Shoreditch was shutting early in preparation. I was grateful to the coming winds, today was my dad’s birthday and we were due to order a Chinese meal for five, Stepping out onto Commercial Street the wind took my breath away. Rubbish was blowing down the street like it was in a race. I felt a taste of fear in the air. The street was unusually empty. Turning towards Bishops Gate I could see hundreds of people milling around Liverpool Street Station.
Keeping a steady pace I moved toward them. People in despair, every pay phone had a queue. A handful of people on the new technology called a mobile phone (cell phone) telling those at the other end of the line that the station had been closed due to the winds. Bus stops were a sea of people, stranded and trying to work out the best form of transport. People stood in the middle of the road trying to flag down crammed taxi cabs. The crazy thing was, my dad was out there somewhere in his black taxi, caught up in the jammed packed chaos.
Turning on my heels I thought rationally. I began walking back towards Shoreditch and others seemed to be following. People began talking, finding out about each others lives. People from all over the country who were supposed to be catching there connection to where ever they were trying to get to. The atmosphere was electric.
I carried on walking towards my Nans’ who lived in Stoke Newington, place of my birth and thank fully only 3.7 miles away. Every pay phone was crammed so I kept on just walking. I walked some distance with a interesting woman of roughly my age until she realised she was going the wrong way. I helped an elderly man, who wasn’t sure of his way. Slowly people dwindled as I reached my destination and the comfort of my nans homemade chicken soup. My dad called my Nan and was pleased I had for once used my brain. He met me there a while later, I managed to walk from the city quicker than it had taken him to drive through.
We left my nans and picked up a takeaway en route home. It was lovely to have my birthday dad to myself for the journey back to Hainault in his black taxi.
On the 29th January I returned to SH & Co, the storm had passed for many. Not me, I was thrown right into the deep-end. The company was so busy from all of the insurance claims that I couldn’t cope and there was no time for training. The Burns Storm was my training and it was something they and I could do without. Blown away, I left amicably at the end of the week… little did I know the storm of 2013 would hit me like a tidal wave. The lack of lightening struck twice.
Tonight I sit and type this blog, thinking of my Dadzie on the eve of his Birthday. At this time 27 years ago nothing could have prepared me for what was to come, but my knight, my dad, was there to save me.
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.
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.’