The Grenfell Fire -Or How the Body Burns

Trigger Warning-some might find the images distressful, and my apologies if this is so

A Language Lit by Fire

170614064500-41-london-fire-exlarge-169Did you know that fire has several different voices and that it speaks with its own language? That it can whisper low and soft, all full of warmth and innocence, when tamed in the grate of a cottage fire grate…That it hisses with a vengeful glee when allowed to breath and that it can cackle with malevolence when given more to eat? No wonder it was a source of worship for the ancestors, and why the Gods punished Prometheus for stealing it from them

The Grenfell towers was a tower of babel, a monument to a multiculturalism that came about through few options, poverty, of making friendships, relationships, education, raising families. The towers stand as shells of dreams, amidst the city of the human deluge, and now exist as if in a time capsule.

Yet all the data in the world cannot recapture the life, the loves, the hopes, the disappointments, the thousand and one days and nights that went on behind closed doors. The angry gestures, the romantic words, the erotic fumbling’s after a Friday/Saturday night…the halo of light around the fried chicken shop, that said tonight was over

Bonfire of austerity-Spent and burnt out


Exactly How Does the Human Body Burn?


The sages would have us know that “the thin outer layers of skin fry and begin to peel off as the flames dance across their surface. Then, after around 5 minutes, the thicker dermal layer of skin shrinks and begins to split, allowing the underlying yellow fat to leak out”.

Have you seen what flames can do to meat, bone, clothes, and hair?

The researchers say, like the scalds of old with hoarded knowledge, “that the average body can, a little like a tree branch and up burn to around seven hours?” For men and women the average body consists of between 55-65% of water and that the average body fat will be between 24-31%

In a time when capitalism has lifted all those leaky poverty stricken boats, don’t believe that a tower block full of “all of human life is here” can’t take less than 15 minutes to catch fire and over 60 hours to burn out.

Were visitors from another world to visit today, they might assume it was a temple, a relic left over from a past conflict, where “life was brutal and short”. The Guardian tells us “Men in Blackpool can currently expect to live to just 75.2 years, the lowest life expectancy in the country.”

If the ancient Greeks had seen the Grenfell tower, would they think it one of the Palaces of Hades, seeing as it is slap next to the opulent palaces of the super rich. The outside cladding is as black as his heart and the natures of the wealthy; he would have appreciated their cold-blooded arrogance, because you are all equal when you are dead.

What does a bowl of smoke taste like, what it is to burn? What’s the smell of burning human flesh?

Slate magazine noted in 2007, “ Police in Houston reported, “The remains of a woman who had been strangled by her ex-boyfriend may have been burned over a barbecue on his balcony* Neighbour’s said they noticed an awful, acrid odour coming from the grills for two days. You’ll know it when you smell it. Burning muscle tissue gives off an aroma similar to beef in a frying pan, and body fat smells like a side of fatty pork on the grill. But you probably won’t mistake the scent of human remains for a cookout.


That’s because a whole body includes all sorts of parts that we’d rarely use for a regular barbecue. For example, cattle are bled after slaughter, and the beef and pork we eat contain few blood vessels. When a whole human body burns, all the iron-rich blood still inside can give the smell a coppery, metallic component.

Full bodies also include internal organs, which rarely burn completely because of their high fluid content; they smell like burnt liver. Fire fighters say that cerebrospinal fluid burns up in a musky, sweet perfume.

Burning skin has a charcoal like smell, while setting hair on fire produces a sulphurous odour. This is because the keratin in our hair contains large amounts of cysteine, a sulphur-containing amino acid. * (Hooves and nails also contain keratin.”

The residents of Grenfell tower were located in Kensington & Chelsea, one of the wealthiest of boroughs in London that also has one of the highest concentrations of deprivation.

Nonetheless in June, as part of a long hot summer, they hardly expected their bodies and souls would be fuel for the ‘bonfire of the red tape and regulations’ vanities. Is it still ‘corporate murder’, if you’ve been to all the right schools, clubs and sit on the right charity boards? And smoke? Don’t you know it is bad for you? That “smoke gets in your eyes”, and mouth, lungs, ears, hair, especially when your trying to escape with your kids from a burning building…”burning down the house…

To the Soul?

For the ancient Athenians, it was customary to place the ashes of the deceased beloved one in an urn. They had a horror of an unmarked death, with none of the proper rites and rituals being observed. Hence the humbling of King Priam, during the Trojan War, where he begs Achilles, the noble psychotic for the return of his son Hectors, body.

For the multitude within those walls, the ghosts that have no fingers to tear through the veil that keeps them from the world there will be no preparation of the the body, that gets washed and anointed. No payment for the ferryman of the dead to convey the soul from the world of the living to the world of the dead.

As far as the state was concerned, many of those who died in a blaze of fear, agony, curdled and crisped, were already ghosts, not meant to be here, until caught.

The modern age, the lack of status for those consumed, means that those who have the task of finding them, have to go as Yevgeny Yevtushenko, said in his poem ‘Loss’, “like an old blind woman madly stretching her hand in fog, searching with hopeless incantation for her lost milk cow”

Tower block fire in London

And “Fires were started” or Götterdämmerung

What it is to burn? What it is, to find a home, transformed into a portal to hell? What it is to feel the body being consumed by the devil, to have his hands so tight round your throat that you cannot scream for pities sake or your own? There are 200 pain receptors for every centimetre of the body. What it is to smell your bowels opening, hear the shriek of the flames as they claim you as one of their own?

In Wagner’s “Der Ring des Nibelung” Brünnhilde issues orders for a huge funeral pyre to be assembled by the river. Lighting the pyre with a firebrand, she sends Wotan’s ravens home. The fire flares up, and the hall of the Gibichungs catches fire and collapses, a red glow is seen in the sky. Flames flare up in the Hall of the Gods, hiding it and them from sight completely. And the gods are consumed in the flames.

I hope the residents of Grenfell would have understood Yevgeny Yevtushenko, when he wrote, “Is it true that we no longer exist? Or are we not yet born? We are birthing now, but it’s painful to be born again”.