Thursday, July 07, 2005

I suppose, when there can be no words, words will have to do.

Today London is a very strange and scary place to be.

My office is five minutes from Liverpool Street, two minutes from Old Street. Nowhere in Central London is very far away from anywhere else, or at least that's what it feels like today. The sensation of hearing the sirens on the television, and then walking a few steps and listening to the same sirens wailing through the windows is terrifying and pervasive.

This morning I walked into London Bridge tube station only to be confronted with an ocean of black suited people, all trying in vain to board the tube and be whisked off to work, none of us understanding the disruption in our routines. When there are delays in public transport, you can clearly pick out the patient 'it's out of my hands' people, and differentiate them quickly from the angry, impatient people who push, shove and battle their way through the immense crowds as if the ocean should part immediately for them. I'm not sure whether this is something I have since imagined, but I think the atmosphere had been altered this morning. There were less of the latter people, there was less impatience and frustrated anger, but simultaneously there was less understanding of the cause of the delay. Confusion reigned supreme.

Confusion still reigns, I suppose.

I got on a bus outside London Bridge, heading up to Liverpool Street. As we rode along we passed endless streams of people, all dressed in what in retrospect seems like funereal black, when in fact, of course, it was just the dark uniform of the city worker. Trooping across the bridge, the staunch resolution to get to work seemed to transform each individual to just one tiny part of a pulsating mass, focused and unerring.
By the time we were nearing Liverpool Street, the atmosphere had thickened, there were more people on the pavements. The roads were blocked, and knowing that Liverpool Street was less than five minutes walk away, I and most of the other passenges got off the bus. Snippets of conversation on the pavement. Fleeting words caught but left unexplained. Explosion. Terrorists. Bomb.

Walking two hundred metres up the road I could see the fluorescence of the many police officers' jackets flashing through the Thursday morning drizzle and contrasting starkly against the looming grey towers of Central London. The areas cordoned off seemed almost randomly selected, and as streams of people drifted in and out policemen would walk up and with a light touch on the arm guide them out, deflecting questions as they moved on to the next misguided individual.


There have been three/four/nobody knows exactly how many bombs. Nobody knew where I was. It was a small explosion, or a power surge. There was nobody saying all of of this. I walked to work. People were walking in the roads, huddled with strangers frantically questioning and giving each other answers based on conjecture or rumour. There were policemen with sniffer dogs and sombre expressions patrolling the streets. Small groups collected worriedly outside offices, sharing cigarettes and wiping the rain from their pale faces.

It was, just to throw you with a wild understatement, strange.

Part of the strangeness is maybe derived from the fact that it feels like nobody knows quite what it is we're all so close to. There is this understated panic that nobody can really name, but that makes us all call our families and friends, and stare at strangers in the street, grateful they're alive.

I can still hear the helicopters overhead and the sirens echoing. Other than that, and the omnipresent television presenters' voices, the whole of London seems oddly quiet. In shock? In anticipation? Maybe we're all just holding our collective breath.

What a strange day to be in London.

13 Comments:

Blogger Rigmor said...

I am between Russell Square and King's cross. The chaos was extreme and hands trembling. Have been keeping busy until now, but Now I Shall Try To Go Home.

I hope you have safe journey home too.

4:06 pm

 
Anonymous Dave Thomas said...

It was very strange and very disconcerting. Im slap bang in the middle of 3 of the blasts. The way its gone from such deafening noise this morning to such eerie silence. I went to brick lane to find some food for everyone in the office and it was completely empty like a scene from 28 days. Then seeing hordes of strangers walking (almost marching) home together just hit a real deep part of my humanity, More importantly I'm so glad you and all our mutual friends ive heard from are ok. I thought id leave you all with some great words from a great man: "If we are . . . going to be destroyed by [a] bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things--praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts--not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs."
--C.S. Lewis

take care Lx

4:14 pm

 
Blogger Doug said...

I think Dave took the quotation right out of my keyboard (seeing as C.S.Lewis is a favoriate of mine). I was not in NYC during the terrorist attacks on 9/11 but I have a good friend who lives in the city and I spent hours trying to get a hold of him. Then, after we all left work, I was standing on the front porch of my house and realized how quite the counttry was. There were hardly any people driving since everyone was glued to the TV watching the aftermath. Then it hit me as well, there was no sound from the skies. All air traffic had been stopped and when you looked up at the sky it was hard to picture the beuatifl day it actually was. You could only imagine the unimaginable and search the skies for some sign of normalcy.

4:32 pm

 
Anonymous Jenny said...

Great post. I'm glad you're alright.

6:23 pm

 
Blogger Leah said...

Your post was moving, yet horrifying at the same time. You're right, though, I remember the absolute silence after 9/11 even though I was in Denver -- 2,000 miles away from NYC. I guess there's no reason to be unafraid anymore, wherever you are...

6:28 pm

 
Anonymous Chris said...

I can honestly say your description of the atmosphere in London really moved me. Much better than any of the rubbish I've heard on T.V. all day, and even the people I've interviewed who struggled to put their emotions into words.
I'm sad not to be in London at a time like this, but equally being in a newsroom as events unfolded was incredible - like living history.
I'm glad you're ok. I'll be at the office into the small hours, editing our correspondents' interviews as they come in from London and keeping the website up to date with the latest events. It feels a banal thing to be doing when so many people have suffered so much. I pray London will not change - it has so much to be proud of, its people most of all.
Big love
Chris x

7:29 pm

 
Blogger A Career Woman and A Housewife said...

My thoughts, prayers and my heart go out to all of you in London today. I wish I could say the feeling of uncertainty will go away but here I sit 4 years later after 9/11 and still have that "what if" feeling stuck in the back of my head no matter where I go. Security is beefed up here in Boston today. A flood of sadness overwelms me. Your post gave me shivers and made me think of how I sat there the morning of 9/11 crying with a 4 week old baby in my arms wondering what kind of world I brought this innocent life into. It's terribly devistating. The quote by C.S Lewis is beautiful and gives me peace and stregnth. I will try to think of it from now on when the "what if" feeling takes over. Stay strong and know that although it seems like caos right now, it will only pull your country and it's people closer in the end.
-Housewife

7:48 pm

 
Blogger Erin said...

this is such a terrible thing to happen to one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
i thought of you today, worried about you and if you were okay.
my heart goes out to you and your city and country, wishing all of you well thoughts and prayers.
i can't think of anything else to say, but have experienced what a wonderful feeling it is to have a group of people come together after a horrific time like this, and there is no greater feeling than a feeling of unity and togetherness, and i hope that london can find the same thing.
god bless you.

1:36 am

 
Anonymous number1hypocrite said...

It seems everyone else expressed the obvious similarites with the horrible events in London today, with the 9/11 incidents almost four years ago in the US. And while each of us can relate to how tragic, unexpected, and awful this is, thats not why I'm writing this.

I was at work when I heard the news about the attacks in London. I had to wait nine hours to be able to check this blog to make sure that Leonie was, if shaken and upset, alright.

I'm glad to know that you are safe. My heart is with you and yours as these events unfold.

4:03 am

 
Anonymous Paul said...

Hey everyone.
Léonie, that post was amazing - it sums up exactly the feeling of being in London yesterday. I was unlucky enough to walk right past Edgeware Road, where one of the bombs went off, just after it happened, to see panicked police clearing the area and a steady stream of people covered in dust and occasionally blood, weeping almost unconsciously, numb with disbelief.

Then I realised I was in London, not a movie, when a middle-aged, suited businessman with a bandage on his head walked past and said, with his best 'mildly disgruntled' voice, 'Bloody hell. It's fucking chaos. Daft bastards'.

What a thing it is to be British. I felt a small prick of bizarre pride to be part of a nation that, having escaped unknown death in an underground passage, can still complain about infrastructure.

This morning was surreal, if only because everything seems so nearly normal, only shifted ever so slightly along a plain we weren't really aware of before. For example: this morning, the trains were nearly as full as normal, but everyone was watching everybody else, staring at the floor for stray bags and packages. Even worse, we were stood on the tube staring at photos in newspapers of the underground yesterday, torn apart and full of dust and screams.

The actions of the emergency services, and the support of people around the world, have both been awesome. I think everyone in London is grateful for the kind words and genuine sympathy that have flooded in. I personally am just so glad that everyone I love was out of harm's way. Best wishes to everyone, especially those in London.
P

10:11 am

 
Anonymous MistressMary said...

Hi. Posting from Washington DC here. Glad you're ok. My kids returned from the UK just 3 days ago. Of course this brings me back to 9/11. What I remember the most clearly is not being able to take in what had happened. My mind could not wrap itself around the event.

Be strong. Take care

12:01 pm

 
Anonymous MistressMary said...

Hi again Leonie,
I linked to your post today, but I also copied and pasted part of Paul's comment into my entry (giving him and you credit, of course.) Is that ok with you? Let me know if it's not good and I will take it down. Thanks.

3:59 pm

 
Blogger Léonie said...

Thank you all so much for your words. Mistress Mary - of course it's more than alright and I feel pretty safe in answering for Paul as well.
Thank you thank you so much.
xxxxx

2:41 pm

 

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