Saturday, July 09, 2005

London - 7 July 2005

I’ve been trying to find the way to put into words how it’s felt to live in London in the last few days.

The bombings were terrifying, obviously. It seems silly to even mention that. Of course it was terrifying.

I didn’t even realize until I’d arrived at work that something was wrong. The buses were busier than usual, and I knew that the tube was shut down, but that can, and does, happen from time to time for any number of reasons. There have been power cuts and surges before, so I really didn’t think anything of it.

The first indication I had that there was a problem was one person on the 31 bus from Camden to Kilburn who was saying that there had been a bomb on the tube. But no one was really listening to him – there’s always the one guy who sees the worst in any given situation and will find the conspiracy or doom and gloom and imagine the worst. We all just assumed he was that guy.

I got to work only 10 minutes late, and found the office empty, except for Chris who was just sanding by the radio. He was the one that told me what was happening. At that point, they were still saying “power surges”, but there had just been reports that a bus had blown up in Russell Square, so it was seeming less and less likely that the answer was anything as harmless as a power problem.

Buffy works in Russell Square, so my first thought was of her – I called her, and it took a few tries to get through. The mobile networks were already starting to get overloaded. She was fine – she’d just left the tube station and was walking towards her office, so she wasn’t in any danger. She asked if I’d heard from Clare, as her office is on Tavistock Place, where the explosion had occurred. Fortunately, Clare was home from work on Thursday. She was fine.

I tried to call the people I worked with, but wasn’t getting through. I’d heard from Jo and Julie, so I knew they were okay, but I hadn’t had any word from Kerrie or Brendan. I sent out an email to my friends around the city, just to check that they were okay. I wasn’t worried that something had happened to them, really. London is so big – what are the chances that whatever this was had affected people I care about?

It was at this point that there was a report from the Tube workers union that someone had seen an explosive device on the tracks. And that’s when we started to realize what had really happened. We really didn’t know what was going on – there were rumours that there had been anywhere between four and six explosions, and they’d all gone off within minutes of each other. It was pretty obvious that it had been a terrorist attack. No one was claiming responsibility, and there was no word on how many people had been injured or killed.

I started getting emails back from my friends, and more than I’d expected had been personally affected.

Marcus was kicked off at train at 9:15 because of "power surges" and walked to his office. After he arrived, a colleague turned up and said he’d cycled past a bust that had been blown apart.

Heather had a meeting in Marylebone that morning. If she hadn’t had that meeting, she would have been on the Piccadilly line near Kings Cross when the bombs went off.

Leanne was actually on the platform at Kings Cross, but thought it was too crowded and went to take a bus. When she got to the bus stop, the bomb went off in the tube.

Jamie was on his way to Kings Cross when the tube went down. He got out and took the 390 bus. After sitting in traffic for ages, he got out and wondered why there were so many ambulances and fire trucks everywhere. He then got a call from Clare who told him what had happened, and he walked home. If he’d left home 15 minutes earlier, he’d have been in Kings Cross when it happened.

Clare works 10 meters from where the bus exploded. She was home ill, but her boss had just arrived when the bomb went off.

Tim normally works on Brick Lane, but wasn’t on Thursday. If he had been, he’d have passed Liverpool Street & Aldgate on the way in.

Kerrie doesn’t normally take the Circle Line, but she missed her train at Blackheath Station, so took an alternate way in to the office. When she got on the Circle Line, she got onto the waiting train, but the jumped off to double check the route she was taking. She missed that train, and had to get the next one. The train she was on was behind the one that exploded at Edgware Road station. She was trapped underground for two hours, and had to walk out along the tracks. It took her hours to get home.

I didn’t get any work done on Thursday. I spent the whole day listening to the news on the radio, checking the BBC and Sky One and CNN news sites and emailing friends. When I tried to work, I couldn’t concentrate.

I felt shaky and scared and like I wanted to cry all day. Nothing happened to me, and while some of the people I loved had close calls, everyone was okay.

I was reading the first person accounts on the BBC website, and they kept making me tear up. A comment from a reader in Paris had me choked up:

Yesterday, we were annoyed with Londoners and English people. London won the games and Paris lost them. And today we wake up. We realise that these little fights between old friends are for spoilt children. We are all facing a huge challenge. We have all to fight terrorism. We are all Londoners today.

In the course of a week, London had three topics of conversation. Live 8 dominated the beginning of the week. The Olympics were all anyone could talk about on Wednesday. And on Thursday, the entire city was feeling the same feelings of shock and horror and fear. But there was a feeling of unity, and a feeling that this would not stop London from functioning. That we wouldn’t be stopped by this, and we wouldn’t live our lives in fear.

On Friday morning, I got on a bus, the same as I do every morning. And like I do every morning, I went to the top level and sat in the front seat. It crossed my mind that had I been on that seat in a bus in Russell Square on Thursday, I could have lost my life, but I didn’t myself think about that. I listened to the radio, and daydreamed, as I do every morning.

Jo and Julie took the tube into work, as they always do. Jo had a moment of panic as she stepped on a train, but she sat down and read on the tube, just as she does every morning.

Millions of other Londoners did the exact same thing – went about their lives the same way they do every day. It’s pretty inspiring.

I’m not saying that people will ever forget what happened. I can’t imagine that they will. And there certainly will be people who are too afraid to get on a tube, at least for a little while.

But life continues as it always has. We’re all just a little more aware how fragile life is, and how much we lucky we all are to have the people we love in our lives. I know I feel that way.

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