Friday, July 07, 2006

My Memory of 7/7

I don't know if you remember where you were on the morning of the 7th July last year when you heard the news of the terrorist bombings in London. I was sitting at my desk in the House of Commons (for the uninitiated, I was working for David Davis, the Shadow Home Secretary) and a colleague popped his head round the door to say there was something on the radio about a big bang in a tube station. Shortly afterwards Rachel Sylvester and Alice Thomson arrived to do a feature interview with David. Gradually news started coming in that there were several attacks. I kept interrupting his interview with news. I rang home and rang my parents to reassure them I was OK. I began to get calls from friends.

My work colleague began to get hysterical about her son, who she feared might have been on one of the trains. She rang his school and he had not arrived. As the morning wore on, and she couldn't make contact with him, even I began to fear the worst. But I had to make a decision. I was trying to coordinate our response and ensure the office ran smoothly, yet my colleague (and very good friend) was becoming hysterical. Did I try to soothe her or did I do my job. I'm slightly ashamed to say I chose the latter and 'delegated' the former. Hard bastard, I thought to myself. Her son rang to say he was OK shortly afterwards.

None of us knew what it all meant. The thought ran through my mind that if this was a repeat of 9-11, our office wasn't exactly the best place to be. It was located almost directly under Big Ben. But you just get on with your job. David Davis was the coolest man in London. If ever I doubted his leadership qualities, they were on full display that day. Alice Thomson and Rachel Sylvester would confirm that.

David then had to respond to Charles Clarke's statement in the House of Commons. We were glued to the TV. He caught the mood of the House and gave a speech which even his enemies had to admit was striking.

The next day, I was walking along the Embankment to work with the sound of helicopters and Police sirens ringing through the air. I remember thinking to myself: "This is not the London I love." I felt as if I was walking along a street in an alien city. I admit that a tear rolled down my face. Would life ever be the same?

A year on and life has returned to normal - until the next time. But what's normal anymore? For some, life can never be normal again, because they either lost family or friends on 7/7 or they themselves lost limbs. And it is them who I think of as I write this. And in particular, I think of Rachel from North London - a blogger who has had more effect on people than she probably realises.

Do me a favour. Even if you think what I've written above is a load of rubbish, visit her Blog. And perhaps you'll understand why it makes me a little emotional.

So that's my memory of 7/7. What's yours?


Anonymous said...

I remember that I was on my way back to school from Watford with friends, when we saw this sign as we were driving along the M25. School was in chaos as everyone desperately tried to call their parents (St Albans is a big commuter town, nearly everyones parents passed through Kings Cross each day), luckily everyone turned out to be safe who we knew. The images we saw on the television at lunchtime were devastating and perhaps were even more frightening than those of 9/11, due to how close the events were to us.

Anonymous said...

It is hard to believe a whole year has gone by. I can recall every little detail of that day, despite not being directly caught up, but on a tube train unable to get off at King’s Cross due to what was at that time thought to be a ‘power surge’. I then spent the morning in a cafĂ©, heeding the warnings from Sir Ian Blair not to move, and listening to the news unfold on the radio with the back-drop of never-ending sirens outside.

What has been good to see today is packed tube trains, just as normal. I suspect many, like me, thought it might have been a good day to avoid travelling on the underground, but refusing to let terrorism disrupt our lives is perhaps the most powerful weapon we have.

Anonymous said...

I was in Liverpool St having a coffee when the police very calmly cleared us out.Went to the office rang my mum and was then cleared out of there too.We had heard at the time of the 'power surge' on the tube but then the ambulances and walking wounded began to pass by and the awful truth became apparant.
Went to a cafe and watched Blairs speech and was strangely moved by him perhaps for the first and last time.the calmness of all in the City struck me profoundly that day.I was very proud to be British.

Croydonian said...

I've posted mine over at my gaff. Not that it is especially exciting.

David Webster said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I went to Rachel's blog and didn't like it at all. Where was the anger? Where was the fury? It was a perfect portrait of passive Britain.

Anonymous said...

I work in an office that more or less sits on top of the tube line at Liverpool Street, but the single most striking memory I have was coming to work the next day. There is an arcade of shops at the Metropolitan line entrance to Liverpool St tube station, and one of the shops is a heel bar. In the poster display, the owner had put up an English flag, with the words emblazoned: "Shaking with fear? My a*se", asterisk included in the original. Somehow it was a very English reaction to a day of horror, and one I could identify with completely.

Andrew Ian Dodge said...

This is my memory and reaction to the anniversary of 7/7. A year later and the feelings have not changed one bit.

Anonymous said...

What I've been puzzled by all year is this. On the Friday and Saturday after the bombings, the 7/7 bombings had been spread out across an hour or so. The newspapers were full of big sketch maps showing each location and the exact time at which the bomb went off.

Then suddenly, on the Sunday, we were told that all the Tube bombs had been simultaneous; and that's been the story ever since.

We all know that communications are pretty garbled at the time of a major calamity like this (Thursday afternoon's story of "7 bombs" was a classic example). This is understandable.

But today we live in a world of blogs, texts, emails-- a connected world in which information gathering and dissemination is in the hands of the people as a whole and not of a few harassed media organisations. Any misinformation is instantly corrected by the sheer mass of true information flooding in across the Internet. [For example: during some World Cup games the Wikipedia entries of the players were being updated minute by minute as play progressed].

So - we know that in our new communications age, false information cannot survive for long: especially false information which (as in this case) can be instantly contradicted by hundreds or thousands of eye-witnesses.

And yet the false information survived for 60 hours or so. What happened? Does the blogosphere really not work the way the pundits portray it? Or were the true facts established early on but ignored by the Old Media?

Any serious participant in the blogosphere has to consider why it failed its first big test.

Anonymous said...

I am afraid I remember thinking it an affordable price for globalisation. Pinpricks. Don't know if that was the right thought.

Wasn't at all scared of them or their muddled un-Islamic philosophy. Scared of the bureaucracy's power grab they would enable, which has proved to be the case. Have we all gone soft. We suffered casualties of 1 in a million.

Anonymous said...

I was supposed to be coming up to London to meet a friend, who had just come back from America. He rung me just before I was about to take a train into London saying he had been ordered off the tube at King's Cross and that there was something serious going on.

So I stayed at home, like so many people, and watched the events on television, powerless to do anything.

Anonymous said...

I am not going to go into my memories of 7/7 because that is a waste of everybody'd time. I should, however, like to ask why anybody should think that financial compensation of whatever size should make up for the loss of a parent/child/sibling? Is that what we have been reduced to - money for everything?

Btw Iain, I have seen Rachel's blog before. I fear, I do so fear that the old stiff-upper-lip, Captain Oates, blitz spirit is dead.

Anonymous said...

henry mayhew? I'll pass...

I remember arriving at Kings Cross just as the station was being evacuated. An incredible number of people spilling onto the street, overhearing calls on mobile phones about other stations being closed, but taxis still dropping people off at the station. Seeing a woman sitting crying in a door way with soot on her face, being comforted, but even then me and others not realising what had happpened. Walking to Russell Square to see whether it was possible to catch a tube from there. People gathering outside a coffee shop watching Sky News, and then seeing the emergency vehicles - one after another - rushing to Tavistock Square. Walking towards the Square, a strip of plastic cordoning off the area, several buses stopped and empty.

Sabretache said...

I was in front of a trading screen nursing a short position on the FTSE100 futures contract that was seriously underwater and sinking. I was toying with the panic button when the chart took a vertical dive of well over 100 points and 'seriously underwater' suddenly turned into 'seriously profitable'. About 30 seconds later my ticker showed the
first news of the bombs. Lesson? Market makers get their news quicker than anyone else - even if only by a few seconds that's enough to crash any price when their bids are pulled in sync.

Sorry to sound a mercenary note but you did ask and frankly, stuck out here in the sticks it really wasn't until the evening news bulletins that the real horror of it all struck. Still feel a bit guilty about it though.

On the wider issue of the 'war on terror'; there have been over 3,500 people killed on our roads - 70 times as many as claimed by terrorism - in the past year so, in strict risk terms my counsel is a rational (as opposed to the Corporal Jones type) 'don't panic', because panic will produce even more Charles De Menezes's and Forest Gates' and is totally counter-productive. It is also of great assistance to a government intent on taking away ever more of the individual freedoms that are supposed to distinguish Western societies from those allegedly intent on destroying them.

Anonymous said...

Helen - D'accord. That was the point of my comment above, as well. Has "this bulldog race" really disappeared within a mere nine years?

Everyone's so passive. So accepting. Looking to make a sentimental gesture, like placing teddy bears outside the homes of murdered children. Looking across the miles at Britain, I do not recognize it.

Paul Burgin said...

I was at home that day and I remember seeing a newsflash just before Nine AM mentioning an explosion in the Underground. Don't ask me why but my first suspicion was that it was a bomb.
Then as more news came through and the enormity of what had happened began to sink in, I started ringing, texting, and e-mailing friends who lived and worked in London. One aquaintance I later found had a narrow escape, being on the Russell Sq tube but a carriage away from the suicide bomber in question.
It was a day I found difficult and painful, and yet like many, within a week I was using the Underground. Nervous, tense, concerned that I might be travelling to my death, but determined not to cow tow to terrorism. Many others did the same and standing up to the terrorists by continuing our daily lives is paramount, but let us not forget those who were not as lucky as we were!

Anonymous said...

Sorry Anonymous. That's what I thought at the time - why does that make you angry? Living in a city you're surrounded by noise and confusion all the time. I met a friend as I walked past Holland Park tube station who told me he couldn't get on with his 10 year old son to go to the cricket at Lord's because there had been a "power surge". He is OK, I am OK. That's it. We are all going to die in the next few decades anyway. P.S. Why do you have to be anonymous? What are you afraid of? I am sorry that people were killed, and I am sorry they get run over too. Is that OK with you?

Anonymous said...

I also work in the House of Commons. It was strange because you were in one of the safest buildings in the country but also one of the biggest targets.

I remember police cars screaming past me as I walked into work. I remember telling someone in the staff cafeteria that it seemed if there had been a tube accident but not to worry as no one was hurt.

I remember when suddenly it became clear that this was a terrorist attack and then because the phones were all down I e-mailed my mum to tell her that I didn't know what was going on, that anything could happen and that I loved her. In seconds I got an e-mail back saying, "I'm out of the office until Monday 11th July". It made me laugh.

Anonymous said...


You can't have it both ways- which do you prefer- foaming at the mouth anger at the 'Slims again, or a rational sense of decorum about the matter?

I don't think Rachel North particularly expects anybody to be 'impressed' by her blog. If somebody has a legitimate reason for being aggrieved or upset in a particular way, I'm not going to berate them for not doing it my way.

Personally, I'm rather impressed with the way we dealt with the events of the 7th July (not '7/7', please- it's not a bloody product that needs branding). I found a sense of humour and even a modest reserve amongst people. Frankly, I have little reason to be scornful of them.

Anonymous said...

I was sitting at home in west London that morning, blogging and writing emails and, as normal, had BBC News24 on. It had just gone 9 o'clock or so and it was all about London getting the Olympics. They had a reporter outside Stratford tube station who was attempting to interview people to get their reaction to the great news. As they cut to him, he reported with a little embarrassment that the Tube station was actually closed, and there were a few jokes about how lucky we were that it hadn't happened the day before as we mightn't have won etc. etc. He spoke to a few people nonetheless about the Games, and then they cut back to the studio.

At that point they then began reporting that a few tube stations were closed, as a result of a 'power surge' at Algate - "strange" I thought, but naturally made nothing of it, but kept an eye on the news to see what was happening.

News filtered in of the 'power surge' having caused a couple of simultaneous bangs, and at that point, around 9.25 my flatmate, who was on his way to a big job interview and who had been kicked off the train at Earl's Court, called to ask what was going on. I told him that apparently it was due to a power surge and nothing untoward, but that I would keep him posted if I heard anything else.

At that point I decided to flick to Sky News who, while occasionally a little off the mark, are normally the first with any breaking news, and at 9.50 or just after they took a phone call from one of their producers who had been driving through Russell Square and was on the line telling about a bus that had just blown up. I flicked back to the BBC - they had nothing on this - and back again to Sky. The guy was talking about the smoke and the bang and people running and shouting about the exploding bus, and I have to confess I completely panicked, worrying about my flatmate.

I knew he would be trying, whatever the odds to get to his job interview, and I also knew I only had a very small window of time to get him on his phone before the mobile networks would go down. I grabbed the landline and managed to get him on the third or fourth attempt. I told him about the explosion, during which time unconfirmed reports of further explosions on buses were coming in. I told him just to go inside somewhere, sit down with the paper, and wait for police instructions or watch the news. His response was that he would try and see what work said (stupid sod, you see what I mean?!). I told him not to be so stupid and just stay there and he kind of agreed. I tried to get through to two other friends who I thought might be travelling at that point, as there were reports of several bus bombs at that point, and did manage to get through to one before the phones went down.

I phoned my family in Ireland and boyfriend in the USA, so that they wouldn't turn on the news late/wake up and get worried about me, and at this point I was shaken. My voice was trembling as I told them what was happening but that I was fine, safe in my flat and going nowhere. I couldn't help but look across the trees and roofs towards central London and wonder and dread what was going on over there.

I sat glued to the TV, and eventually my flatmate made it home - much sooner, in fact, than I had imagined. Bus services outside central London resumed with commendable speed, and a little emotionally drained we headed to the pub for some food and a pint to discuss the day's events and, naturally, watch more TV news.

After several beers we came home, and in a funny way what he said encapsulated for me London's response, as we both headed to our rooms for a 6 p.m. nap: "They can bomb our trains and buses, but they'll never take away our ability to get pissed in the afternoon and nap."

Amen to that.

Anonymous said...

James asks: "You can't have it both ways- which do you prefer- foaming at the mouth anger at the 'Slims again, or a rational sense of decorum about the matter?"

I don't "prefer" either of the limited options you propose.

In the light of those awful events, I "prefer" firm action to not be "understanding" about "the Muslim community".

Blair should have been warning "the Muslim community" - if we must have such a canker on our society in preference to integration - to get control over their aggressive young men and malcontented, ignorant and spiteful imams or face the wrath of the British government.

James: "Personally, I'm rather impressed with the way we dealt with the events of the 7th July...".

Yes. Me too. The ordinary people. The government's report card, however, is something you never see these days: a big F. Failed in every respect.

I said on the day, there should have been an immediate cold lockdown on mosques. Every mosque in the country. For two weeks. No exceptions. The government should have been seen to be in absolute control of our country.

Instead, a vapid and frightened prime minister went on TV and warned the blameless British people in their own land not to take reprisals. He should know that that is not our way. But he's weak kneed and fears to offend because his worst nightmare is being "unpopular".

A cold lockdown of mosques. Big police locks on the doors. DO NOT ENTER. Video cameras. The elected government is in charge; not you.

James again: "I don't think Rachel North particularly expects anybody to be 'impressed' by her blog."

Iain recommended that we visit this blog and I did and did not find anything in it I could relate to. I mean no offence against this lady's blog. It didn't speak to me.