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"Use every man after his desert, and who should 'scape whipping?"

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Losing the will to live (in London)

Fire rips through the roof of Battersea Arts Centre's great hall, Friday 13th 2015

Sitting here, trying to write, a week ago, feeling glum as the bleakest and longest winter in living memory drags on, look out window, and see a huge pall of billowing, dark grey smoke rising from the middle distance, with an angry snake pit of snapping flames at its roots.

It's a serious fire, and it takes little time to work out where it's coming from - behind that church on Lavender Hill, it can only be the Battersea Arts Centre. No, surely I can't be - the place is so well loved, such a big part in so many lives, it is such a rare jewel in this godforsaken borough - it can't be BAC, can it, please?

Soon our worst fears are confirmed on news websites.

Heart plummets even further - and uncharitable thoughts rise. Why, with all these revolting new luxury apartment blocks going up in this area, why when there are so many hideous, ugly, lousy buildings in this area, does the fire have to choose this one last true beacon of democratic culture, art for all of us, high art, low art, entertainment, yoga -  in the whole of south west London?

Drawn like a sad moth to the flames, by bicycle, this sorry individual cranks up Lavender Hill, which  is still open at this stage though the cops are desperately trying to shoo cars through side streets. Half a dozen fire engines are there, the pavements around are packed with people, not the gawkers so much as people who have perhaps just been evacuated from BAC and neighbouring buildings, many clearly in a state of shock. Some are crying, others wandering around with that terrible look on their faces - grief.

That great angry tangle of flames was so shocking - like seeing some ferocious wild animal stalking prey in the south London suburban streets, a terrifying force, blind greed of those licking  flames. It was amazing to see how much water the LFB can get onto a high roof in such a short time, the thick plume of dark gray smoke lightens as steam replaces the burning wood smoke.

Here, now, a week later we know this story had a relatively happy ending. The brilliant LFB caught the blaze in time, so that only the grand hall is ruined - it is now roofless. But the front two-thirds of BAC is fine and open, and they're busily trying to raise more money…..

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