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.

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