Faith and I flew into Heathrow on Wednesday afternoon, and faced the unenviable trek of crossing rush hour London with a heavy load. The combination of the Olympic decision and the start of the G8 summit meant that due trepidation was given to engaging in such a terrorist target, but needs must. Through central London and up to Euston for an evening train to Liverpool.
For the last two weeks in Bucharest our apartment has been without hot water – all adding to the experience, and nothing to complain about – but it felt homely to arrive at a friends in Rock Ferry for a shower and beer before bed.
It was weird, to watch the newsflash announcing the carnage that was erupting in the very places we’d travelled through the day before. That irrational uneasiness about using the tube had become very real.
My initial and lasting reaction to watching the days events unfurl was “is that all you’ve got?” Without making light of the loss of life, (for any casualty in any war is to be mourned,) we have been waiting for this, and I for one feared worse. About 4 years ago I was in the toilets of the National Theatre, during the interval of a play about an American plane crash. A rumour circulated the room, and a text message from a housemate alerted me to a serious and defining moment but it was only after the play finished and I saw a copy of the Evening Standard that I realised that two planes had been hijacked and flown into the World Trade Centre. That day, back in September 2001 I made my way through the city amidst armed police and worried civilians, straight to Waterloo for a train home to the New Forest. I was thinking that London will be hit, sometime, somehow, and it will be similarly huge. Today wasn’t a patch on 9-11. It would be an insult to the people of New York to claim parity, and that London suffered a smaller hit gives me hope. Over thirty people have died, and the entire public transport system was suspended but the extent of the attack was 4 bombs. No more than the IRA have done previously, and no more than any committed and intelligent group of people could inflict should they desire.
If this was the best they could do, then we are winning. Their “attack” was lame, and shall be soon surmounted.
One final point.
Whenever I visit London I do my best to walk. On Wednesday our heavy luggage dictated our mode of transport, but ordinarily I’ll travel a pied. It gives one a perspective of a city, and permits us to piece together. On the tube a few days ago I saw a sign about Covent Garden, urging passengers to walk from close stations rather than add to the crowds at the nearest. There was also a map of the line with caricature pictures of local landmarks, showing you just what you were travelling underneath. Clearly London Underground has the same thought that I do – people become dependent on the tube to the extent that they forget what lies above. They think so fully in the iconic tube map that they lose all perspective of genuine distance. Yesterday, when forced to abandon the tube it was interesting to see how stranded people were – even though they could clearly walk to their destination. Will Self made this very point on This Week, commenting on a women who spent 4 hours stood at a place just half an hour from her destination. Mass transit is always going to be a target, and we should learn two things from today. If this is their best, then we are winning; and don’t become passive to the risks of public transport, or the delights of perambulation through the organic and leafy streets of the greatest city on earth.