Saturday, July 23, 2005

from an unbombed kerry

july 23rd

Current level of conviction in own genius (out of 10): 6
Hours of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: 1
Hair day: bowing under the weight of overgrown length – any attempts at styling are futile

So, had minor heart attack on Thursday when I was told at school about the rumours of more attacks in London, before checking it out on the Guardo’s website and breathing a sigh of relief when it looked like 4 failed attempts. No deaths = no worries. Felt relatively blasé about my laboured journey home of snailing buses, and barely raised an eyebrow when the next day bore news of a man shot dead at Stockwell, even though the danger crept nearer, with not only that tube stop affected but possibly a bag put on the tube here at Brixton. And a house was later raided in my manor, 15 mins walk up the road. It’s obviously completely dispiriting, making us realise that we’re seemingly in for the long haul, in a battle with home-grown terrorists who will be impossible to trace unless every underground station comes complete with all-new x-ray scanners and specially-trained bomb-sniffing dogs, and every London bus with a gun-toting SAS man seated next to the luggage rack. Fucking bastards; these people (no matter how many times Tony et al say that brave stiff-upper-lipped Londoners will keep going about their hard-nosed business) are making every traveller dart-eyed and jumpy around their fellow passengers. I’ve watched people around me get into a carriage and check out every single passenger, face first, then bag. It’s making London a tense, suspicious, non-welcoming place.

Big bro has just reported that the man chased by armed police and shot 5 times in the head in front of tube passengers at Stockwell was an innocent man. Shit. It couldn’t be more inflammatory - an Asian man in a winter coat left the block of flats that they were watching and legged it when he saw 20 men (in plain clothes, remember) bearing down on him with guns. Of course, he might have been some dodgy crim who thought that they were after him for a different reason; or he could have been simply a completely terrified, possibly non-English-speaking, bystander. This will not look good. Muslims are going to start asking whether anyone of a certain complexion is going to be killed for looking a bit shifty. Feel like the city is already fighting against a tide of its own prejudice.

Yet London, at its best, is a thing of almost-graspable joy and beauty. Two richly eclectic gigs this week, both at the Purcell Rooms: the first was seemly multi-limbed percussionist Joby Burgess showing off his MIDIed-up marimba-like instrument, adding the feisty and fab Elysian Quartet for a second half of live Kraftwerk numbers. Last night’s event was a showing of brill German Expressionist movie The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1919), accompanied by Geoff Smith’s soundtrack on my new favourite instrument, the hammer dulcimer. In fact, not one, but three (tuned thusly - one diatonic, one chromatic and one microtonal, for the musos out there), to supplement the angular, shadowy sets and thick-kohled eyes and hilariously over-dramatic grimaces. This was followed by dinner at Studio 6 in Gabriel’s Wharf and a stroll to drink in my most-adored view of the capital: a low tide lapping at a muddy beach, and the iconic skyline of the glittering Gherkin, Tower 42 and St Paul’s - an in-yer-face visual boom with its bosomy dome rising over the rest of the dark city like a protective angel. Boy, do we need one right now…

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

the week after the thursday before

july 13th

Current level of conviction in own genius: 5.5
Amount of creative activity in last 24 hours: 1 hour
Hair day: Very floppy, refusing to be moulded by various hair putties. Needs cutting.

Humph. London's staunch defiance and stoicism my not-very-toned arse. People are not diving merrily onto the tubes waving two fingers in terrorism's general direction. We are getting on the tubes and the packed buses because we have to, otherwise no money would line our coffers. We're scared but we have little choice, unless we live near enough to work to develop calves like melons by cycling in. Sitting on the bus or travelling the underground fills me with a heavy-hearted resignation about my impending death (just to add to my feelings about flying then), and I spend the time trying to decide which seat will leave me with the most limbs intact, whilst it's inescpapable not to eye fellow passengers, scoping out bag size, skin colour and demeanour. Dammit. It's of course so much worse that 4 West Yorkshire lads, with decent backgrounds including young families and employment as a youth/disabled worker, are the perpetrators. They're not evil foreign intruders. They're ours, British-born; home-grown mass-murderers.

On a more sanguine note, in efforts to retain normal cosy mosey through life, I saw Sigur Ros at Somerset House on Sunday. It was a charming gig if not mind-blowing, with the setting making it: as it got later, the inner courtyard walls reddened in the twilight, and seagulls above seemed to sail on the glowing arcs flung up by the bowed electric guitar onstage, bellies warmed from the light below; clouds seemed to slowly darken and expand, like wool in water, and stars quietly unfolded themselves one by one. It was just the right kind of ambience for that horror-filled weekend, a gentle sonic embrace that allowed time to reflect, think on your own continuing unbombed existence, and savour the company of the ones you love.

Saturday, July 09, 2005


july 9th

Current level of conviction in own genius (out of 10): veering between indifference and must-get-on-with-being-a-genius vibes
Hours of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: only PhDing at the mo, very very boring but necessary as deadline for handing in looms large
Hair day: Each hair has a distinct air of disinterest in volume and shine

NB The following is a little weighty but isn’t trying to be particularly poetic – I am not, after all, Will Self in the Indie or Ian McEwan in the Guardian, commissioned to put capital-goers’ horror into black and white. But I have to get it all down somehow... so forgive any elegiac undertones…

London. Beautiful, messy multicultural London, sweaty with workers and tourists and foreign students and immigrants, where the next person could be of any or no faith, could have a familial background from Nigeria to Ecuador, Poland to New Zealand, has been incisively dissected and gutted, its insides gouged out from deep underground.

It was always going to happen, and if you live in London, you’re going to have to be slightly savoir-faire about the possibility of an attack on the capital, particularly after Madrid and given our involvement in Iraq (that’s both Gulf Wars), as well as Britain’s general political masturbation of America, its involvement in the arms trade, etc etc. But that doesn’t make it any less galling and dumb-striking when it actually happens, made more horrific by mostly occurring in London’s underground maze, meaning we’re comparatively starved of the images that help us come to terms with it all.

Apart from, that is, the lasting picture of the mangled corpse of the no. 30 bus from Hackney Wick, packed to the rafters due to the tube being shut down, and peeled open like a banana in a millisecond. It was doubly appalling that only two were confirmed dead for all of Thursday, when the insides of the bus must have been popped out. The carnage of severed bodies and scattered limbs, of course, were making it tricky to estimate numbers.

I’ve been a little itchy on the tube of late, but more often than not it’s been due to fretting about being stuck underground due to a technical problem and thusly evacuated, a little traumatised and grubby and claustrophobic and cursing the bloody tubes. Or about being pushed in front of a hurtling carriage by some recent psychiatric outpatient. You forget about the prospect of a bomb. Or three.

On July 7th, 8.40amish, I was half-asleep on the Victoria Line and on my way to school in Little Venice; I would normally change at Oxford Circus, hop on the Bakerloo, and pass through Edgware Road on my way to Warwick Avenue. Just before Green Park, we were told that the Bakerloo was suspended up to Paddington due to an engineering fault (this being unrelated to the bombings) – I had two choices: either get on the Jubilee and change at Baker Street for the Circle Line to Paddington and then up, or change at Oxford Circus and go out and up. For absolutely no reason at all, except to ignore the weird tightness in my chest that kept giving me sharp twinges of pain, I stayed on until Oxford Circus and got out at Notting Hill. By then, after 8.50am, we’d had reports of ‘a serious incident’ or ‘an electrical fault’ or ‘a possible collision’ at Liverpool Street, conflicting enough to make me prick my ears up and text both boyfriend and brother to check it out. After waiting for a District or Circle Line to take me to Paddington, the reports kept trickling through, and both lines were then suspended. I hovered in and around the tube station, got on the Central Line to get back into the centre of town before this was also suspended and off I got again. As I walked back up, underground staff suddenly began telling us to leave, with not a little urgency in their voices, I noted.

I waited for a bus up to Edgware Road from after 9am for about 45 mins, as every crammed bus snailed past, not stopping. Still feeling weird, I got on another bus. I got off. I waited some more. I stopped in a Starbucks to warm up after 90 minutes standing in the chilly grizzly weather. I cursed the stupid underground system, a day after London’s cheery Olympic triumph and promise of regeneration, for seemingly being completely stymied by a (I had concluded) power cut at Liverpool Street that had somehow shut down the whole network. I waited for more buses. The countdown screens were by now saying that no buses were running in Zone 1. I tried to call school again, or anybody, before realising that the mobile phone networks had collapsed under the strain. I walked back to Notting Hill, and past a McDonald’s where people were peering in it the windows at the widescreen tv. I went in and joined other stranded commuters, taking in the news of 7 explosions on tubes and buses less with shock than with a seeping realisation. It suddenly seemed perfectly obvious why London had been paralysed.

I wandered round Notting Hill wanting to cry slightly, wondering whether passers-by knew what was going on or not. I queued up to use a payphone which then got jammed. I tried to use 2 more to no avail. I waited for buses to get the hell out of Zone 1 borders, but all the double deckers rolling up only ejected all their passengers and rumbled to a halt. Mum rang, beside herself. Dad rang, his sensibly advisory self. I walked to Kensington, and got on a bus to Hammersmith, rationalising that it was unlikely that I was about to be blown to bits out there. Hammersmith bus station was teeming and there wasn’t a chance of getting anywhere. I walked 3 miles to Wandsworth, passing the odd tv screen in a pub, in increasing rain. I walked past a cordoned-off area surrounded by police in which a dead body lay under a foil sheet, one female foot sticking out, in another incident. I finally got on a bus, and then another which crawled back to Brixton. Fell into the house, turned on the tv and cried my eyes out for an hour.

Boring details, I’m sure. I can’t help it. Since I got back on Thursday afternoon, my mind has constantly strayed to working through my movements, minute by minute, in order to see how close I came. Especially now that it has been confirmed that the 3 tube explosions went off virtually simultaneously, at 8.50am. Just one roll of the dice and I could have been on a Circle line train going westbound through Edgware Road, at, I swear, 8.50am. It’s not quite close enough to feel a thrill at being alive and want to go trekking in the Andes, but I’m obsessing over it in a way that is driving me crazy.

I realise that this is a very selfish way to react. Thousands of people were on the tubes at that time of the morning, and thousands will have altered their journeys slightly and thus definitely avoided incident. Bro tells me not to dwell on it. Everybody else, in comparison, seems to be acting relatively normally, but all I can think about is those chest pains and walking through underpasses, hopping on and off tubes and buses all morning.

And once I get fed up with that, and fed up with the idea of all of my friends, my boyfriend’s friends, my brother’s friends, old students and teachers and acquaintances filtering through the capital’s transport system every damn day, I just feel incredibly sad. I wonder what it’s like to be deafened by the sonic boom, or to have glass in your arms, or your clothes peeled off by the blast. I think of twisted horror-sculptures of metal and bodies, 100ft underground, or the postcards of the missing curling at the corners outside Kings Cross station.

I realise that London’s inevitable attack is no different from events all over the world and that the death toll is a drop in the ocean compared to so many horrors, but the difference is that it’s happened here, in my city. Not just close to home but at home.