London tower fire puts trivial hardships into stark relief

My wife and I have been together for nine years – not long in the scheme of things but long enough for those things to scheme a totally different life for us.

When we first met we slept on a single mattress on the floor because I had never fully committed to living full-time in Hobart. It was pretty cramped.

Now it is a king size bed but there is actually less room once you add two little humans who wrangle their way in most days – morning if we are lucky, late at night if not.

It is those long nights, precariously balanced on a sliver of the mattress like a mountain goat on a razorback edge, that take their toll.

The nearly three-year-old is not a still sleeper – he thrashes around like an octopus in a knife fight with a squid.

Last week he flung his head back and left me with a lip swollen like a collagen injection gone wrong.

The one-year-old has just found his voice, which calls out like a Siren in the darkness; only it is not the mellifluous mythical voice lulling you to sleep but keeping you from it.

“Mumma, Mumma, Mumma,” he repeats on a loop until he is comforted. But he takes more comfort in waking his big brother up by clambering at him and over him.

These boys take perverse pleasure in waking the other up, which only ends badly for all: miniature masochists in the making.

In the morning we wake up – no, that’s not the right terms because you have to sleep to wake up, we get up – bedraggled and bent in curious angles from contorting around these threshing machines.

But complaining about such “hardship” has always been trivial and is only more so given recent terrible events abroad.

The tower block fire in London is just about the most horrific event one could imagine your family experiencing: trapped in a burning building with no way to escape.

Waiting while the smoke and flames spread, calling for help that cannot come and trying to decide what actions to take.

Reports of families begging at windows for help before disappearing from sight or parents throwing their children from the building are beyond devastating.

I am not particularly religious – the fundamentalists on all sides enrage me – but my favourite author is Cormac McCarthy and he writes in a neo-biblical style, if that counts.

In McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic novel The Road, the protagonist looks at his sleeping son and thinks, “All I know is the child is my warrant and if he is not the word of God, then God never spoke”.

Every parent holds that duty of protector and feels a connection to something deeper because of it; whether that is religion or the universe or something else, it does not matter.

Many families would have had the conversation about what they would do if put in that situation and it is not pleasant.

You do not have to be a parent, of course, to feel sadness or shock or horror.

But there is a feeling of absolute gut-wrenching dread that parents feels when lying awake at night watching their kids sleep and thinking about the unthinkable, “What would I do?” “How would I cope?”

It is hard to know what to say about that: words are of scant comfort, no doubt.

We feel genuine sympathy for those affected and hope the support of family, friends and the wider community can offer something.

But making sense of the senseless, of the random vagaries, can be hard.

  • Mark Baker is Fairfax Tasmania managing editor