I think we all share the same primal fear of losing our security in an instant, and to have everything we know and is familiar pulled away from beneath our feet. We hope that such an event couldn’t happen to us, that we will perpetually remain safe and free from harm.
This is a difficult post to write, for many reasons. Firstly, the memories of the time we lost our home are troubling and difficult. Secondly, there is a sense the words could tumble down into hyperbole and the memory deserves more respect than that. To be stripped bare, completely vulnerable in the universe could honestly be the best thing that could’ve happened to us, and simultaneously the worst!
During a late afternoon on the 4th March 2014, I was visiting my children in Ventnor when a text from Lucy alerted me there was a small fire at the main block of our residence. For context, Lucy and I weren’t housed in the main block – we had an annexe in a converted garage slightly away from the main residencies. The main block contained numerous flats, each one occupied. Lucy’s subsequent texts went to explain that this was just a small fire and that it would probably be ok. In fact, Lucy had been merrily taking photographs at the time – these can be viewed below. However, as you view the sequence, you can see the fire begins to escalate quickly – first billowing smoke, and then a fireball exploding across the property. At this moment precisely, reassuring words such as, ‘small fire’ and, ‘it’s under control’ evaporate and suddenly, this is very serious.
One of the most enduring memories of that night was being driven back to Niton. As dusk fell, the sky was deep, red and orange with flames and smoke. It was the most surreal and heartbreaking of experiences. My heart was in my mouth – it was really difficult to get a grip on what was happening.
I met Lucy by the gates, she had saved the following; our cat Lupin, our cameras, and both of the hard-drives we used for our business. She had a slim opportunity to get these things before being told very firmly to get out by the fire services. All residents were thankfully unharmed, some had the opportunity to grab items of value, others did not have the privilege.
Everyone, including Lucy and I took sanctuary with our mutual friends. It was amazing we were all safe, but it was an endless night waiting to find out what the real cost was, personally and to our livelihoods. Through the night, the fire services fought valiantly to bring the blaze under control…
..Fly Away Home
Surveying the building a couple of days later was like visiting a scene from the apocalypse. Fire crew were still on the scene, containing the area and thankfully the fire was now out.
The ceiling of the main building had completely collapsed and hot, smoggy smoke billowed from piles of bricks and rubble. All of the flats had been decimated. We now had the opportunity to see if our annexe had survived. Thankfully, it had.
Many things run through the mind in such a moment, and it is a complex blend of gratitude, guilt (the other residents hadn’t been so lucky), horror, and humility, amongst many primal and unfamiliar emotions. To be displaced and thrown out into the winds of change requires a lot of letting go, and this change cannot happen overnight. It endures to this day. We were all stripped of our sense of place and time that day and scattered outwards sealed in our shared trauma. We hope that something like this could never happen. But more than the loss of security and material possessions, we fear our own ongoing transformation and ultimately our vulnerability within the universe.