Tuesday, 7 July 2020

7/7 Fifteen years on

Today is the 15th anniversary of the 7/7 attack. In 2008 I wrote an article for the Barnet Times, recalling my experience. It was one of the strangest days of my life. I was on the bus behind the one which got blown up, although I was blissfully unaware of this at the time.

It was all fresh in my mind then. It is worth re-reading

As we come to the anniversary of the 7/7 bombs, I thought it only fitting that we should pause for a moment and remember the victims, their families and that terrible day. Here are my memories of the day.
At the time, I was doing a some contract work at Aldgate, so normally I would take Thameslink to Farringdon and get the Met line on to Aldgate. On 7/7 I had a meeting in Oxford St so the plan was to go to Kings Cross and get the Victoria line to Oxford Circus. The day didn't start well as the radio travel announced that there was disruption on the Thameslink route due to work between Mill Hill and Hendon. An emergency timetable was running and all trains were stopping all stations. I went to the station and decided to try my luck anyway. As luck would have it an absolutely packed train pulled in and I was on my way. In hindsight one of the things which has always puzzled me to this day is the fact that despite the report of engineering work, there were no workmen on the line.
On arrival at Kings Cross there was a scene of mayhem. All of the tube lines were shut and I couldn't even get a mobile phone signal. By now I was late for my meeting and I needed to let someone know. The only announcements were that there were power problems and the network was closed. Then I got a signal and phoned the wife, who told me the same thing. Then the phone went dead. At this point I decided to get a bus. Again I was in luck. A no 30 pulled up and I jumped on. This goes to Marble Arch, so I thought I could walk down from Gt Portman Street. Unfortunately the bus only got about 50 yards when a policeman jumped on and screamed at the driver "Get everyone off this bus now" The driver asked why and the Policeman shouted "don't argue, get them off now" at which point the driver got us all to disembark. I now decided to walk, as it is not too far. As I got to Russell Street, I saw a rather odd sight. walking towards me was a little, old chinese looking guy. My first thought was "he's been at a great wedding party" as he looked as if he was covered in confetti and he was staggering rather unsteadily with a glazed look. As he got closer, I realised it wasn't confetti but bits of wood & other debris. How strange I thought. (not realising that the wreckage of the number 30 bus which had just blown up was about 100 yards down the road). Police were now frantically sealing the road off. Fire engines were hurthling towards me. All rather strange. I asked a policeman what was going on and he just moved me on.
As I got to Tottenham Court Road, I was a telly screen with Sky News on it. The infobar was my first inkling of the true enormity of what was taking place. Up until then I'd just thought it was power problems on the tube. The info bar mentioned "several bombs" "large bang heard at Aldgate" "Tube network shut" "many casualties reported" .
My first concern was my friends at Aldgate who I was working with. Still no phone signal though. By now I was very late for my meeting, so I jogged the last little bit.
When I got to my destination, none of the people I was due to see had turned up. My first concern was to call the office and the landline was working so I called in. Thankfully they were all OK. They agreed that I might as well go home. Now at this point it was still unclear as to the true extent of the carnage. As there were no buses, tubes or anything else, I thought I'd go to Selfridges and get my wife a belated birthday present. This had always been my plan for when the meeting finished. London was like a ghost town. Oxford Street was deserted. I went into Selfridges and I was the only customer. All of the staff were asking me what I knew and I had my own personal shopping assistants. I then decided to have some breakfast in the hope that the tube service would be restored.
By now it was 11.30. No buses, no news. I decided to start walking. I hatched a cunning plan. At each pub I passed I would nip in, have a half, and see what news was on the TV. At each stop the news got worse as the story unfolded. When I got to Swiss Cottage, it seemed there were buses running. I asked an inspector and he said "Jump on the first one mate, and get as far as you can"
At that moment an old routemaster on the no 13 route drew up. This would take me to Golders Green, so I was off. As I sat on the upper deck, I thought how strange that my last journey on a Routemaster (it had been announced they were going) would be in such circumstances. It seemed a very "London" way to travel home that day. At Golders Green, the 240 came in and I was on my way home.
At home, I just spent the rest of the evening watching the story unfold. The news wasn't good, but thankfully none of my close friends or people I worked with were hurt. Then I saw Mrs Fatayi-Williams make her famous plea on the news. When I saw her I recognised her as a lady who attends the same church as our family. Now over the years I've written songs, poems, speeches, articles, blogs. I like to think I'm pretty good, but nothing I've written has the power of her words.
When I'm feeling low about things I still look at what she said occasionally. Now I don't know Mrs Fatayi-Williams although I've seen her on many occasions, but she is an inspiration for those of us who have to deal with grief. I feel a strange bond with her. Her son is buried in the same cemetry as my beloved Dad. I have to walk past his grave when I put flowers on my dads grave. My dad had a full life and died naturally when his time came. Anthony's life was cruelly stolen from him. Rest in peace Anthony and all of the other victims. Let us all hope and pray that this will be the very last ever atrocity in our beloved city and that we can all learn to resolve our disputes without violence.
That would be a fitting tribute to all of the victims. 

Sadly since I wrote those words we have had all manner of atrocities. But we can still hope

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