Thursday, 26 July 2007


This morning I was woken up by a siren, presumably the fire alarm, which might have meant that Dovecot Towers was ablaze. I didn’t panic. I was calm, but the alarm kept on blaring, so I peered into the corridor. I wasn’t expecting hordes of panicky residents racing for the exit, hauling sobbing children, hefty loved ones and livestock (with many chickens – these scenarios always include chickens) but nobody else seemed to bother.

What if it really was a fire? I wondered where I should go, and what I should do. Of course the alarm would be wired to the fire station, so the fire brigade would automatically be racing over out to dampen the flames and save us all. Or would they? I wondered if I should call them. The alarm was whining on, and still nobody moved.

Previously I have lived in social housing, where - if nothing else - they cared about safety. Alarms were tested regularly. We recognised the familiar screech of the siren, and were drilled efficiently until we knew automatically where to assemble. Mind you, we were also blessed with a resident pyromaniac. Wearing an ill fitting dressing gown, he set many fires, and enjoyed the ensuing chaos from a special vantage spot on the street corner below. This got to be quite annoying. Eventually other residents tried to lynch him.

We were then advised to remain inside unless firemen hammered on the door, confirmed the fire was genuine, and ordered us to evacuate. Residents then started more fires, attempting to fulfil a common sexual fantasy involving a fireman’s hose.

But here in Dovecot Towers, what should I do? Even in my private flat in Glasgow, the fire assembly point was prominently displayed. There is nothing in Dovecot Towers, no drill, no signs, nothing. Not even a notice warning the dozy and smoke befuddled not to use the lifts. Nothing.

But did this mystery siren even come from Dovecot Towers? Perhaps it was the block next door, but I still didn’t see any movement. Maybe it was the security alarm from the building opposite, as scallies often breach defences intending to treat the cranes and diggers as their own personal adventure playground.

Eventually, I decided that this was a generic non urgent warning siren, indicating either that it was Tuesday, raining, or set off just to annoy me in particular; there was no blaze, and I wasn’t going to die, or lose everything I owned to smoke damage. Later, as I made my way into town, I heard the city’s sound track: a cacophony of sirens, bells, and electric warning devices. Car alarms ring out, to the disdain of everyone. Recorded messages assail my ears, advising me with fine and chilling hauteur, to: ‘…please close the door behind me/mind the gap’ and highly vocal lifts inform me quite imperiously which floor I am on. We are accustomed and immune to these warnings, until the genuine item is irrelevant. It’s as if the city itself is crying wolf.

Meanwhile, in Dovecot Towers, I am aware that - just as with the shoddy fittings, finishes, and poor attitude to security for the buy to let tenants who make up the majority of residents - the management company has ignored fire safety. It will take a disaster to stir them into action, and then only if makes the news.

No comments: