Friday, July 08, 2005

Making sense of it all

This has been an extraordinary 24 hours for London. Yesterday afternoon, the International Olympic Committee awarded London the 2012 Summer Games. I was in Trafalgar Square when the announcement came, and the place went crazy. There was shouting and hugging and dancing. It seemed somehow bizarre. It seemed very ... un-English.

But the reaction to today’s attacks feels incredibly English. When I left the quiet area right around the bus bombing and returned to the busy streets of Holborn and Soho, London appeared just as it always is.

The natural state of the English is a kind of gloomy diligence, which is why they do so well in hard times. In 1940, Londoners went dutifully on with their business while the Luftwaffe bombed the hell out of them. Today, most of them are doing the same. I was in Washington for 9/11, and the whole city went into a panic. Offices emptied, stores shut, downtown D.C. became a ghost town. But in London today, everyone still has a cell phone clutched to their ear. The delivery vans are still racing about, seeking shortcuts around all the street closures. The Starbucks is packed.

And when I walked by the Queen’s Larder Pub, not half a mile from the Tavistock Square wreckage, at 11 a.m., a half-dozen men were sitting together at a sidewalk table, hoisting their morning pints of ale. Civilization must go on, after all.

The morning after the day before. I am, of course, not in London but in Belfast, but last weekend, visiting my old city again, I felt it was very much still home. So I feel very strange this morning. The biggest feeling is wanting to be there, wanting to be around my friends there, to be a part of it all.

Wikipedia has dry versions of events here, here and here. Get London Bloggers’ take on the day. A guy who was on the Edgware Road train gives his account.

The Guardian News Blog’s post about the day. Quite thorough. (Although, to be fair, London wasn’t actually plunged into chaos at all.) The obligatory MetaFilter thread. There’s some good linkage in there, actually. But Project Nothing’s linkage and info is better.

Now I’m just going to link you to some Guardian coverage of what’s happened, more or less because it’s a fine news source:

Emergency services rushed to east, west and central London as the bombs went off in sequence and without warning over a 50-minute period.

The first device exploded at 8.51am on a Circle line train between Aldgate East and Liverpool Street stations. Seven people were killed.

At 8.56am a second device exploded on a train between King's Cross and Russell Square, killing 21 people.

At 9.17am there was another blast on a train at Edgware Road station which blew a hole through a wall into another train on an adjoining platform. Two other trains were affected and seven people were killed.

At 9.47am a fourth blast blew the top off a doubledecker bus in Tavistock Square, central London, possibly killing more than a dozen people.

Where the bombers struck. ‘Savagely woken from a pleasant dream’ ‘…we will face again that deal we must constantly make and remake with the state — how much power must we grant Leviathan, how much freedom will we be asked to trade for our security?’ Photo gallery. Stay off work if you can. Experts to trace footprint of blasts. Finally, the Leading Article.

I feel sad and concerned, and indignant, that this has been done to my favourite city, my former and future home. But watching from afar, talking online to the people who I had a picnic with last weekend, I also feel very proud of London, and Londoners, whether native or not. They reacted, and then got on with their lives. The support of nice people continuing to be nice held firm.

Of course, next time I go to London, there will be changes. I’ll definitely need to get a passport before travelling. This summer’s Proms will change slightly to provide commemoration. Movement and existence within the city will be a bit more cautious. But the fear that descended over America on 9/11 has not smothered the UK after ‘7/7’. That is a testament to the continued humanity of everyone here. So, to my friends, old and new: I’m so glad you’re all safe. And I’m so glad you’re you.

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