Nobody mentioned the bombs. The papers talked about little else but even though there must have been over thirty of us gathered in New Cross on Friday, no-one talked about the attacks.
On the way home, the streets were perhaps a little quieter than usual. We took the bus from London Bridge: an different route back to our mate’s place, but then he always experiments. The bus dropped us practically on the doorstep and meant we didn’t have to change. I remember thinking that it was a rather neat route before I realised that we had to take it because King’s Cross tube station was closed.
The Cally road looked just as it always did.
And on Saturday, life looked normal in every respect: the shops were open, the cafés busy. Perhaps the buses were more packed than usual, but I wouldn’t know how busy they usually are on a sunny Saturday afternoon. However, as we turned the corner into King’s Cross, it was as if a curtain had lifted: there was an urgency and an edginess about the crowds. Police was everywhere: roads, platforms and even the tracks were swarming with white vans and officers in fluorescent vests as if someone had poked a stick into an ants’ nest and given it a good shake. From the top deck of the Number 17, I could briefly make out individual faces in the milling crowds: backpackers, visitors and Londoners—some confused, some defiant, all looking haunted.
In between the bustling jackets and fluorescent vests there was a bare patch on the station forecourt. A square of pavement had been fenced off and in it bouquets of flowers were poignantly arranged in neat rows against the wall, bringing home the message that people had died here only hours before. The long lenses of press photographers protruded over the barriers. Within seconds, we had swept past.
I was on the way to our writers’ group meeting. Some of us had been caught up in the delays following the attacks on Thursday, but all had agreed to go ahead with the workshop as planned. It was the right decision. When I arrived at the pub, a wedding crowd was in the process of filing out, leaving a few stragglers at the bar hastily finishing their drinks; their spirits similary undented.
I understand why big events involving tens of thousands of people have been postponed, but why cancel smaller events? Everywhere around us, people were gathering for weddings, reunions (as we did yesterday) or meetings. The British Fantasy Society showcase which was to follow our workshop would have been attended by a few hundred at most, yet it was postponed. At the time I thought that was a knee-jerk reaction, but what do I know?
When we drove back through West London on our way back to Tadley, we saw hundreds of people spilling out of restaurants and clubs and milling in the open doorways of pubs and bars. Something was happening but I could not fathom what. This was a clubbing crowd, yet there were no concerts nearby, no big gatherings earlier on this day. Today I heard in the news that 20 000 people were evacuated from Soho and the West End following a bomb scare. Most of them had spilled out in Clapham Junction, determined to party on.
Everybody is edgy right now. It is understandable, but life has to get back to normal as soon as possible. The papers, rather grandiously, contrasted the recent events with the fear and courage people experienced during the Blitz, but much more recently Londoners had to live with constant bombardments by the IRA. In 1992, I took the tube from Woodside Park to King’s College Knightsbridge evey day; the seats were marked with tags to signify that they had not been tampered with. Some of the tags were missing. Three weeks after we moved, a device exploded at Woodside Park station.
The Blitz did not conquer London’s spirit, neither did the IRA—and nor will Al Qu’aida.
It is important that people continue to visit London. Londoners travelled to New York and to Madrid after the attacks there. Think about it: it is no more dangerous here than in these or other American and European cities.