There was an eerie feeling in my stomach the night before. I was waiting for my daughter to give birth for the first time and on the platform of the underground station, one of those nasty tiffs between a few drunken louts was happening where you worry that one of them will fall onto the train tracks and die an Anna Karenina –type death. An omen, I later realized.
The baby was born that night and I planned to go and meet her the next morning.
“Don’t go into town, mum,” my older daughter phoned at 9 o’clock. “Kenny took the Liverpool Street train at 8 and said there was something wrong with the electrics on the underground network.” I was in North London and the baby was at Kings College Hospital in South London where her mother and sister were born. Then about an hour and a half later, she called again.
“Mum, there’s been a bomb. No-one is going anywhere.”
What to do? I had a new granddaughter and couldn’t see her. I turned on the television and the details were only beginning to emerge. A co-ordinated series of attacks had targeted four different trains and a bus right near elegant Endsleigh Square where I had stayed a year ago. It was mid-summer so the trees were in full bloom and there was that air of utter hedonistic pleasure that comes in a cold place where sometimes you get no summers at all. Every bit of sunshine is celebrated as if it might be the last.
For claustrophobes the idea of being attacked when you are in a train far under the good earth is frightening. All your fantasies of being trapped, helpless abandoned come to the surface. But that’s what happened to the 52 people who died on that day, clawing and screaming to get out of the carriages, whilst 700 others lay bleeding or dying around them. I had lived through the years of the IRA bombs and the hoaxes and there was nothing like this. Like the war in Afhganistan where young diggers are dying, it was for nothing – that is the worst part. Not for any noble idea, not to rid the world of a Hitler. People’s lives shattered for nothing. A few lunatics with a grudge against the country that had brought them up very imperfectly.
On television there were images of police systematically closing off everything. All the phone networks were jammed. As in a crisis, family and friends pulled together. When you could get through to someone, there were anxious voices: “Where are you? Are you alright? You’re nowhere near.......”
I went to the street market nearby usually full of Cockney traders calling out, ”Come on, termaters (tomatoes) 50 pence! Last orders please.”
What hit me was silence. It was warm but the sky was grey and closing in on me. No-one spoke. Although it was only about 11 am, one by one the market stalls were being dismantled. Everything was shutting down. Is this what the end of the world will feel like? And there at the opposite end of town wailed my first grandchild, blissfully unaware of what kind of world she had come into.
In the only shop that stayed open a fat family sat eating greasy chips.
For days you couldn’t go anywhere. The brand new University College Hospital couldn’t cope with the confusion and the deluge of patients. Now there are warnings everywhere: “Emergency Rooms This Way.” They’ve learnt how to manage a crisis.
I couldn’t use the underground for weeks. I got the bus to Kings Cross and everywhere there were big signs saying: “Have you seen my brother/sister/friend?” with accompanying photographs.
A woman who spoke on the BBC this week remembered her daughter who died aged 24. After all, this was 9.10 am on a weekday so the bombers hit those who had jobs and were on their way to work. The mother was a pillar of the community, an Anglican priest and a marriage celebrant. She had been forced to give up her work. “I can’t forgive them for taking my only daughter away. So how can I stand up there and preach love and forgiveness?”
“In the midst of life we are in death.”
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”
And for most of us the fear does go away, those whose lives have not been shattered and who haven’t had to pick up the pieces and start all over again. Anniversaries remind us of those who suffered, and that we are all vulnerable wherever we are, to the whims of nature or to the blind rage of youths who use religion as a cover for their unarticulated feelings. .