And in an instant....

A couple of things over the last month have made me muse over the fragility of life. You may think you know where you're going, and what's going to happen but in an instant life can change remarkably and forever. I think everyone in the UK (and probably further afield) has been struck by the horrible tower-block fire at the Grenfell Tower, North Kensington. Besides the sheer waste of life, the numbers of dead and injured, the horrendous stories that appear to suggest that this fire didn't need to take hold the way it did, the inevitable references back to the fears of the film The Towering Inferno (how prophetic 45 years on), dying in this way must rank high up in many people's fears of the worst way to meet your end. Sat down in front of the telly that night, cooking their dinners, reading the kids a bedtime story, or snuggling up for the night thinking about that job that needs to be done tomorrow, that conversation you're not looking forward to, that date that who knows where it might lead, how could anyone believe that only a few hours later their lives, and the lives of those who cared for them, would change forever?

Earlier this week there was a stunning episode of BBC Two's Hospital series following the day to day life of a London hospital trust. The production crew happened to be at a mundane meeting in which staffing vacancies were being discussed, when suddenly mobile phones started to ring frantically - there'd been an attack on Westminster Bridge, and the hospital was suddenly on standby for a major emergency. Two French schoolboys on their last day of a happy holiday were rushed to the hospital along with the perpetrator of the attack, and a man who had been celebrating his 40th birthday. Ironically he and his partner were about to try to flag down a taxi on their way home from swimming with sharks at the London Aquarium. He survived the sharks, but was left with potentially life changing injuries from a short walk across the bridge and a coward who decided to use his car to mow down passers-by.

I could imagine the conversation he would have had with his works colleagues prior to his birthday:
"Got anything planned?"
"Yup! Am going to be swimming with sharks. It's something I've always wanted to do."
"??????. You must be mad, isn't that a bit, er, dangerous?"
"No (slightly nervously), I'm sure it'll be fine. They feed them well at the Aquarium."
Colleagues supportive, but think he's slightly mad.

And yet, the swim with the sharks was fine, it was the ordinary everyday walk that held the hidden danger. A walk that on that day would cost five innocent lives.

Cherry Garden Lane, Chillenden. The site of fateful events.
Josie's journey by Shaun Russell is another account of life-changing events that came out of nowhere. Josie Russell, a 9 year old girl, lived in peaceful, rural Kent with her parents, younger sister, Megan, dog, Lucy, and a host of other animals. One summer's day the girls were walking along a country lane returning from a swimming gala with their Mum and dog, when they were brutally attacked by a man armed with a hammer. Mum Lin, Megan, and even little Lucy were all killed, miraculously Josie survived despite her terrible injuries. Michael Stone was later tried and found guilty of the attack, although there have been constant arguments as to whether he was guilty of the murder ever since. Josie's journey tells of Josie's fight for survival, and her father's attempts to make her life as ordinary as possible despite the extraordinary and life-changing circumstances.

The book wasn't the usual sort of thing I would read, and I didn't feel altogether comfortable about it. Although I appreciated Shaun Russell's need to get the press on side, and to do what he felt was important for Josie, it sometimes sat rather uneasily; and indeed some of the press involvement has led to some of the concerns surrounding Michael Stone's conviction.

It was at times a deeply troubling read - most of all because of the sheer violence of the crime, but also post the scandal surrounding the unsavoury methods used by many newspapers, it brought home how helpless many victims can be not just because of the crime that has affected them, but by other people's action post the event.

But despite these concerns, what shone from the book was an indomitable human spirit, and the love of family and friends. Deeply troubling at times, it was also occasionally surprisingly uplifting.

Josie, by the way, is now a talented textile artist, and some of the beautiful items that she produces from her studio in North Wales can be seen here.


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