On Thursday, the 7th of July, 2005, I was working in Central London, on Gray’s Inn Road and living seven miles to the north, in East Finchley. It was the day after London had been awarded the 2012 Olympics, and there was a feeling of excitement in the air, an optimism.
In those days, the Northern Line was regularly up shit creek – there had been delays from first thing. So, I didn’t think much of the havoc at King’s Cross* that morning. It was a little busier than normal, but 8.30-9.30 was always a bit of a scramble – an exercise in toleration of getting out of the busy tunnels and to the bus stops above.
08:50 Tanweer detonates his bomb between Liverpool Street and Aldgate, killing seven people and injuring 171. Khan is seen fiddling with his backpack before it goes off near Edgware Road, killing six and injuring 163. Lindsay is on a particularly packed service between King’s Cross and Russell Square, and kills 26 passengers, with more than 340 more injured.
I arrived in work complaining loudly about the Tube (something about the ‘bloody Northern Line’ was probably close to what I said**). We were expecting some Merseyside police officers*** from our case team to arrive that morning for a case conference, but they called en route to say they were heading back to Liverpool, as the mainline trains were screwed up too.
09:47 Hussain has now found a seat on the upper deck of a number 30 bus, which is crowded and on diversion due to the tube chaos. His bomb explodes in Tavistock Square, killing 13 and injuring 110. It is thought that Hussain was either unable to board at King’s Cross, or that his original detonator had failed.
When reports of a terrorist attack started coming through, I couldn’t believe it. I remember the antsiness of wanting to do something; after previously working on a crisis management team, I was unused to carrying on as “normal”. I found it impossible to work, to concentrate on anything. Hearing the cacophony of sirens echoing outside, for hours on end, didn’t help. Our building, like so many others in Central London, was locked down.
Throughout that horrible morning, I relied on a Welsh rugby forum to find out what was going on – it was the only place with capacity as all the news websites kept falling over. Many of my London-based friends were there too, and it was a relief as one-by-one they checked in. Work colleagues too. I called my mother to let her know I was OK – she hadn’t even heard yet. This was before the days of Facebook and Twitter.
They told us to go home early that afternoon. There was no public transport – most roads were still closed – so I was pretty certain I would have to walk at least part of the seven-plus miles back to East Finchley. I had trainers under my desk which I donned. I got into a lift (elevator), only to find it going up instead of down. The people who got on were actually headed in the same direction – north towards Holloway, Archway and Finchley. I still can’t believe how lucky that was. Otherwise I would have had to walk by myself. Company was distraction.
So we walked.
There were thousands of people walking, and it was strangely silent. No one really knew what to say. I can’t remember anyone dawdling, the pace was brisk. It was a dull day, but really warm – close. One of those humid British summer days. There was very little motorised traffic. Just masses and masses of sombre pedestrians, mostly suited and booted, sweating heavily. The clomping of feet breaking the silence. The odd siren that we cringed at.
Some bus stops were overrun with people, mostly those unable to walk any further****. I wasn’t keen to get on a bus.
Our group dwindled until there was three or four. We paced it up Highgate Hill, and then stopped at a pub as a reward. And proceeded to get very, very drunk.
We weren’t the only ones with this idea. After all, heading to the pub for a “quick pint” is default mode for the British. Every place we had passed earlier was packed. Apparently, some didn’t even bother trying to get home, instead booking a hotel room and hitting the town.TV screens were tuned to rolling news, but I can remember trying not to watch, in fear of breaking down.
By the time we left the pub, it was dark, raining, and buses were running.Taxis too. Despite this, it seemed a good idea to walk the rest of the way to East Finchley, where the remaining two of us stopped for Thai.
I can clearly recall not wanting to go home for some reason. By the time I eventually did, I was slaughtered. I watched with horror the news coverage, and wished I hadn’t.
Getting on the tube the next morning was difficult, though I can’t explain why it was so hard. There were several people sitting in the waiting areas, obviously not keen either. Some tears. Many reading the free Metro paper in silence. Also an air of strength, of defiance. We had to continue as normal. We knew what we were doing – defying the terrorists – and the chance of anything else happening was minuscule. However, I was relieved to be off and out of the station. And relieved that the weekend was starting soon.
I didn’t lose anyone I was close to. I carefully scanned the pictures of the victims, and was guilty with relief that I didn’t know any. I still shed tears for them. Such a mix of nationalities, of ethnicities, and of ages and backgrounds. This wasn’t brown versus white, or Muslim versus Christian. It was evil versus innocence.
I don’t understand what led the perpetrators to commit such a despicable and cowardly act – it’s totally beyond my comprehension. How can you possibly justify taking away someone’s mother, father, son or daughter? Someone who’s just going to work, going to a hospital appointment, having a deserved day off, visiting family.
52 people killed, and hundreds of others scarred for life. Loved ones forever gone. Lives ruined. For what?
Mine is the story of thousands, of millions of Londoners on that day. We got to work, we were shocked, and we somehow got home, eventually. Safe and sound. Unlike others. It didn’t necessarily change anything, but for many, not changing was that defiance.
It’s strange. Thinking about that day ten years ago brings back the emotions. The memories and actions may have faded, but the feelings, the impressions still remain.
*King’s Cross was the location of a devastating underground fire in 1987, in which 31 people were killed and 100 injured. When I commuted through there, it was still possible to see traces of what had happened, where fierce heat had scarred and ceilings damaged. Unbeknownst to me at the time, every working day I passed through the ticket hall and used the main stairway shown in the news footage. It’s all been renovated since.
**IIRC, the ‘bloody Northern Line’ already being delayed that morning led to the fourth bomber getting on the bus, in an attempt to fulfull their plans of the bomb locations creating a cross shape. So the metaphorical bloodiness of the Northern Line could have stymied their plans, and moved the devastation above ground.
I can’t re-read the news reports to confirm that though, they tear me up too much as it is. And I mean ‘tear’ in both meanings of the word. (Timeline excerpts in italics from ITV.com)
***Another irony was the Merseyside police officers had to head down to London shortly after, as they were all seconded to the ‘picking up body parts’ teams. Months later, they were released back to the case team. We used to go for drinks and chat about old incidents and cases, but this was one they couldn’t talk about. A rather grim time for them, poor buggers.
****Ten years ago, my joint problems had already started, but with care I could still walk well enough, and uphill was always easier than down. I was sore the next morning, but home, hungover, and whole. Unlike those who never got home that day.