Saturday, 7 July 2012

Memories of seven years ago

Seven years ago yesterday, I was one of many people in Britain celebrating that the Olympics would be hosted in London in 2012. In those days I was commuting daily except for Thursdays - having one day away a week allowed me to cope with the exhausting five-hour round trip from home to town. Thus it was not unusual for me to be in I was on 7th July 2005. I had a text from my boss at the time just as I was coming into Paddington that there had been a power surge at Aldgate, and the station was closed. Effect, not cause, as I was to find out later.

I arrived at Paddington about 09:20 to find the tube station shut. No explanations, so I just walked. The 205 bus stops outside Paddington and outside where I worked then, as it does now - I have just moved along the Ring Road. But no hopes of catching a 205 that day - it was trying to be the Circle, Hammersmith and City and Bakerloo lines all at once. So I decide to walk.

In those days I had a Nokia phone with a tiny screen, as I'm sure many of you did. I was one of the few able to access the Internet, so I was able to 'confirm' a power surge at Aldgate. I can't have been the only one who wondered why that would close Paddington, six miles away. I wasn't able to walk for long along the 205 route, as it was taped off by the police near Edgware Road station. By this time, I've realised something serious is wrong, and I try to access the BBC. No mobile coverage, a situation which was to remain for hours. So I couldn't tell my boss I would be late.

I've known my way across London since learning maps at about the age of seven, so no problem heading south to Bayswater Road then along Oxford Street towards the City. Anyone with any sense would have turned round and gone home, but for all I knew the high speed trains weren't running either. I realised pretty quickly there were no buses, at which point there were no doubts in my mind what had happened had closed transport in London.

I continued along High Holborn towards St. Paul's, but I didn't get far before the road was taped off. Understandably the police didn't want people heading into the City, and I headed for Clerkenwell and Shoreditch. I thought it would be easy to get into work via Smithfields, but the cordon around Aldgate was huge, and I had to divert half a mile east. Fortunately for me, work was just outside the cordon.

I arrived at work to find out that 52 had perished that day due to the actions of four suicide bombers. Three bombs had been on trains - at Edgware Road, Aldgate and Russell Square - and one on a bus at Tavistock Square. The train bombs had gone off at 8:50am - about the time I would arrive at Aldgate to be at work for 9am. I often wonder how many others thank their lucky stars that their behaviour deviated from the norm that day.

I rang my wife at work, who told me that my mother was frantic. I promptly called her, then my dad - who had been out in the garden and was blissfully unaware. A half-full and rather nervy office then continued with its normal day-to-day work, so different to the day before when we had all been so pleased about the Olympics.

The bombings changed the way we behaved, if only for a short while. On the evening after the bombs, shops sold out of the London A-Z, as people had to walk on the streets they had for so long been driven under on the tube. People smiled at strangers and talked on the tube. Some wore name tags to show they weren't a threat. The message went out load and clear: WE ARE NOT AFRAID.

I want to finish as I started, by talking about the Olympics. In three weeks' time, the greatest sporting event in the world will open in the greatest city in the world. The way that we will have a final victory over those who would want us to be afraid of travelling in London would be to have an incident-free Games. If that means that security is tighter for a while, I'll live with that. To return to how we felt in the aftermath of 7th July 2005 is not an option.

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