Monday, July 07, 2008

Remembering 7/7

7/7 - like 9/11 and for those of us of a certain age, the assassination of Kennedy, the shooting of John Lennon, will always remain scars on our memory.

My daughter called this evening to ask if I was watching Channel 4. She was watching their programme on Islamophobia (an issue she is well informed on, her partner being a Muslim). She tried to describe a Tory who had been speaking, who she was less than impressed with given his attitude to women who wore the Niqab, who apparently did it because they were affiliated to Islamists. I am still trying to figure out who this guy is, apparently blonde, really skinny, speaks with a plum in his mouth and is often on Question Time - any ideas????

So, I am just done watching the programme about the survivors of 7/7 on Channel 4. It was very moving, the triumph of the human spirit, the putting into perspective all the triviality we worry about. But it brought back for me, as I am sure it did for many others, memories of that day three years ago.

I had hmmmd and haaaaad about whether to go into work that day. I had work I could have done at home. In the end I decided to go. When I arrived at the station I was frustrated that Midland Mainline was not running. There were problems at Mill Hill, this meant not only would I have to go on the painfully slow Thameslink, but it would be positively snail like given it was stopping at every stop. Again I debated with myself about whether I should just go home and phone into work to tell them I was working from home. In the end I got on the train. On the way I had a brainwave. I could save time by getting off at West Hampstead and jumping on the Jubilee line. This I did, arriving around 9.25 and taking the short walk along to the tube station.

It was one of those days when you grit your teeth, not only had my journey taken twice as long, now I had arrived at the Jubilee line to find that the gates were being closed. A message flashed up above the gates, there was an electrical problem. Now, how on earth did I get to Canary Wharf? I followed the crowd around the corner to the bus stop, no idea how to get to where I wanted to be. I couldn't get on the bus, it was too crowded. I decided to call work - but, unusually for me, I had left my mobile at home. I walked into the nearest Kebab House and asked if I could use the phone. They kindly allowed me to and I called work. Karen, our administrator answered. She told me that they had heard there were problems in London, something about four explosions, all the buses and tubes had been suspended. She suggested I went home.

I was lucky. I went back to West Hampstead and got on a train going back. Had I gone all the way into St Pancras I would have been stuck. The journey home was surreal. People were picking up news on their mobiles, there was far more chatter than usual. As we travelled the story began to unfold. We tried to signal to people coming the other way on trains that they should get off, but they clearly didn't know what was happening.

I finally got home at about 11.30 - switching on the TV to watch the horrifying story unfold. On my mislaid mobile were 14 missed calls. My children, desperately asking me to call, my friends, some of whom had been called by my children, wondering where I was.............I remembered my daughter's concern when I got my job a year earlier in Canary Wharf - why did I want to work somewhere that was such a terrorist target? She didn't really buy my attempted reassurance that actually Canary Wharf was probably one of the safest places to work.

What was worse was when I got back into work the following Monday. My children had also left heart wrenching messages on my answerphone. All I could think about was how many other such messages had been left on other answerphones across London, the difference being that the recipients had never received them. I also reflected on my journey. The 7/7 bombers had boarded the train at Luton, my hometown. The problems at Mill Hill had clearly affected them too. Their train was late - it reminded me of the Thornton Wilder book the Bridge Over the San Luis Rey, the story of five people who found themselves crossing a bridge in Lima, Peru, when it collapsed. So, presumably, they had intended to arrive in London earlier. I have no doubt, given the time, that more people, but different people, would have died had they arrived earlier.

For anyone caught up in that day it will remain with them forever. So much more for those whose loved ones died, or who were injured. For weeks afterwards we all travelled on the tube suspicious of anyone with a rucksack looking vaguely Asian. And then there was the tragedy of Jean Charles de Menezes. This hit me particularly hard - that could have been my son.

What happened on 7/7 was an outrage. But frankly we must try to understand what motivates intelligent young men to do such terrible things. The alternative is more and worse of the same.

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