One Day in London

As it happens, I was in London yesterday to give an Astrophysics seminar at South Kensington Technical Imperial College. In due course I’ll post the slides as I normally do on such occasions.

It was an enjoyable day, with a train journey from Cardiff nice lunch followed by a question-and-answer session with students followed by the talk followed by a cup of tea, followed by a train ride home – all (for a change) running exactly to schedule. It was also extremely hot which meant the walk between Paddington and Imperial (across Hyde Park) left me rather sweaty. Better than getting rained on I suppose.

My hosts gave me an espresso cup, with an interesting motto on the back.

Usually when I go to Imperial or thereabouts I have a minor quandary about whether to walk or take the tube, with such factors as time, weight of baggage and weather taken into consideration before making a decision. This time, however, there was no decision to make because there were problems on the Underground in the area because of the terrible fire at Grenfell Towers, which has claimed the lives of at least 17 people (and possibly many more). The fire itself was near Latimer Road station, which is not on the line I would have taken, but there were apparently fears that the building might collapse near the line (which is overground at that point) so trains were suspended all the way from Hammersmith to Edgware Road, which disrupted the running of the Circle Line.

The venue for my talk was two or three miles away from Grenfell Towers, but in mid-afternoon you could still see smoke in the distance. It was a grim sight. I think I’ll remember yesterday afternoon very well, not because I gave a seminar, but because of the terrible events that happened earlier the same day.

There are many questions that urgently require answers. How did the fire start? Why did it spread so rapidly? Did the smoke alarms work (and if not why not)? Did the cladding on the outside of the building play a role? Did the fact that there was only a single stairwell – astonishing to my mind for a 20-storey residential building – cost lives?

I hope we’ll find the answers to these questions through a proper public inquiry. In the meantime all I can do is express my deepest condolences to those bereaved by this disaster, and wish a speedy recovery for those injured. They will need to understand what happened, urgently.

On the train home yesterday I looked at Twitter and saw this picture, of grim-faced and exhausted firefighters taking a break. I found it almost unbearably moving. We take these people for granted so much of the time, but they’re heroes – every single one of them:

2 Responses to “One Day in London”

  1. Anton Garrett Says:

    I’d wondered if you were watching England get disappointingly thrashed by Pakistan at Cardiff’s cricket ground, but clearly not.

    I’ve been back to my roots in Stockport the last two Sundays, as June 4th was the 50th anniversary of the Stockport air crash, which as a 10-year-old I remember horribly well:

    June 4th 1967 was also a Sunday and the plane came down at 10.09am BST. At that exact time and place this year there was a service led by the Bishop of Stockport at which a further plaque was unveiled. With the Salvation Army brass band playing, it was a moving occasion. (The Sally Army HQ was just up the road from the crash site and their hall was used as a makeshift mortuary on the day.) Then a week after the service Stockport (and I) witnessed the premiere of a documentary about it, Six Miles From Home.

    The response of ordinary people to these disasters is remarkable and the only decent thing about them. At Stockport some passers-by got into the fuselage with firemen to help pull as many dazed and wounded people out as they could until the fire became impossible. The firefighters were also heroes, of course, as at Grenfell.

    • telescoper Says:

      As I walked to the station in the morning I passed quite a lot of people going to the SWALEC for the match. The date for the seminar had been in my diary for quite some time so I knew I couldn’t attend myself.

      When I got to Imperial, Daniel Mortlock wasted no time in pointing out that England had been bowled out for 211…

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