Remembering 7/7

Was it really four years ago? I have two abiding memories of the day.

The first was my journey into work. I got to Finchley Central only to find the trains weren’t working. Grumbled. Jumped on a bus to Golders Green. Got a bus to Golders Green. Got a number 30 once I reached Baker Street. Throughout my bus journey I was sending snarky text messages about the uselessness of public transport. It was only a little further down the road that I got a panicky phone call from my girlfriend ordering me to get off the bus.

Fortunately it wasn’t that number 30 (indeed I wouldn’t have got the phone call in time if it had been). I carried on my journey to work only to find that the Euston area was completely cordoned off. With no phone reception, I had no idea what was going on at that point. It just seemed surreal.

I do occasionally idly speculate what might have happened if I’d got out of bed half an hour earlier that morning (on a related note, I was meant to be in Manchester city centre performing, um, street theatre, on the morning of 15 June 1996 but decided to have a lie in instead; similarly, I planned to go to the cinema at the Brixton Ritzy on the evening of 15 April 1999 but got sidetracked writing an article – I’ve been a bit of a jammy, if lazy, bugger all told).

Having got to work at last, I monitored the news a bit, spectacularly failed to do anything productive and eventually decided to start the journey home. With the whole tube network out of action, it was no mean feat.

This may not sound like a particularly sensitive thing to say, but my overwhelming sense of the day was quite happy. Seeing the commuting population of a city the size of London walking home, with virtually no traffic, was plain surreal and most of us felt the same way. It was a strangely unifying experience. People were making eye contact and even talking with complete strangers. There was an enormous swell of community spirit.

I’m sure the experience for those more immediately involved in the bombings was nothing like this, but for the rest of us the sense was relief and comaraderie more than panic. It was a unique experience and one I won’t forget.

UPDATE: Hmmm… a little worried this article might make me sound dismissive of all the horror and tragedy of that day. I really don’t mean to sound that way. What I’m trying to get across is that a) I was bloody lucky and b) the bulk of the human race – at least the ones in London – are decent, sensible people who behaved well on that day and gave me a glimmer of hope for humanity more generally.


  1. Yes! Exactly! That was how it felt! Weird (and unsayable).

    Luckily, at the time I worked in Chancery Lane and lived in the Cally Road, so I sometimes walked to work anyway. Getting round the cordoned off area was tricky though. We all had to pick our way, hundreds of us, through these tiny side streets.

    I say luckily – it’s sheer chance and (similarly) laziness that I wasn’t on the Piccadilly tube. My then-boyfriend reckoned he must have been on the one or two in front of it.

  2. Incidentally, why is it that nearly everybody has a story about how they were nearly in one of the areas that got hit? Are some of them lying, or do all 2m Londoners genuinely pass through all the same places every day? And if it comes to that, why does nearly everyone know of someone, if at two or three removes, who was killed? The bloke who used to serve in the wine shop across the road from my office was on one of the trains.

  3. I can’t really answer that question. Personally, I don’t know anyone who died on 7/7 although I do know someone who witnessed the bus exploding and I know the Coop Bank at Angel had a member of staff who died.

  4. Yes, you are quite right – the atmosphere was just as you describe it. It was a warm sunny day. A lot of people seemed to have decided just to hang around sitting outside pubs rather than rush home. The lack of road traffic made the streets quite pleasant to walk in. It gave people an excuse to talk to each other.

    Like you, I can name a couple of occasions – in fact more than that, three I distinctly remember – where I narrowly missed bombs (all various IRA ones). However, I think there’s some sort of coincidence trick with this sort of memory, we were close to it a bit in time and/or place so we think of all the scenarios which would have placed us just there and forget all the many more other ones which wouldn’t.

    For example, when I was a member of Brighton and Hove Young Liberals, we had proposed finding a way into the Conservative Party conference hotel and doing some sort of protest. There’s part of my memory which says we had planned to do that on the day the Grand Hotel was bombed. More careful thinking, however, reminds we had only vaguely talked about it and never had anything planned and it was only one of many daft stunts we talked about in our meetings, most of which never came to anything.

    I was also vaguely in the area of Canary Wharf when the IRA bomb went off there. So again my memory plays tricks and makes me think of various unlikely reasons why I might have been exactly there at that time. As it happens, a constituent of mine in Downham ward was one of the two killed by that bomb.

  5. There is much truth to what you say there Matthew – let’s face it, none of my ‘near misses’ were that close. But if what they serve to do is make one realise that ‘it could have been me’ that is fair enough.

  6. My memory of that day is very different in that when the first garbled reports came in, it really felt like the sky was falling in and it was 9/11 all over again. The jungle drums were coming up with all kinds of rumours (snipers at canary wharf was one I recall in particular)and I felt trapped in my office building in the city (building locked down as a safety measure) when all I wanted to do was run home and hold my family. As the day went on there were more and more panicked calls from family and friends and a feeling of total helplessness whilst waiting for the next atrocity to happen. When people eventually were allowed to leave for the few trains that were running, there was a palpable sense of fear and mistrust in the air as people looked suspiciously at each other boarding trains, particularly anyone who was either a) Not entirely anglo-saxon or b)carrying any kind of holdall. I’m not ashamed to say that when I got home my wife and I both burst into tears as soon as we saw each other just from the release of tension that had been going on throughout the day. I appreciate the sense of community spirit that you observed but I think that that emerges when people feel out of danger and past the worst and whilst still in london and passing through mainline stations which would be prime targets, I and I know my colleagues also still felt under threat, right until we stepped off at our respective home stations.

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