This is Clare (to prove it: I love Errol Flynn. And Philip Lynott, and that Morrison bloke. And the dude with the tight jeans and big blond hair.)
I am OK. I am now home. Am off to Lancaster tomorrow (not today as Mikey thought) so I wanted to post now. I want also to say that I’m genuinely moved and all that by the emails and stuff I’ve received. I’m sorry I couldn’t respond, but I haven’t been anywhere near the internet since I left home on Thursday, which now seems quite a few weeks ago.
I was in Central London yesterday. Had I tried to get into London from home on the morning of my interview, there is a genuine chance that I’d have been on a train involved at King’s Cross or at the very least, had everything turned upside down. Fortunately, I have a Grandad who lives right on the outskirts of the City of London (the Square Mile) and who insists on me being up early and getting places ridiculously early so I missed whatever happened at Moorgate. As it happens, I had a minor hitch because I was on a tube when it all happened, but not one of the tubes. I got to my test/interview thing with time to spare. Time in which I got to watch a TV and discover that my hitch on the tube wasn’t a cock-up of any kind. This is how it happened for me:
I was on a tube train travelling on the District Line when stuff started to happen. We thought there had been a power cut at the stations, because the lights were all out on the platforms at Mansion House and the next few stops, but the train could still go. At Embankment, we were told that the train wouldn’t be stopping until Victoria, so I got off and walked from there all the way to my test at Westminster. By the time I got there, the TV in the common room we were told to wait in was reporting ‘power surges’.
I was personally immediately suspicious. I will make jokes about the incompetence of the London Underground, but there’s no way power surges happen at four different places on the same day. As we were about to go in for the aptitude tests, we heard about the bus on Sky News.
I failed my tests and therefore do not go through to the next stage. I can try again in six months without having to apply again. I don’t know if I failed because I’m no good with numbers (or, it transpires apparently, shapes), but I do know I was sat there worrying about my Grandad. He lives two minutes away from Old Street, two minutes away from Moorgate and about five/ten minutes away from Liverpool Street. So when I was told I’d failed my tests but I was welcome to stay in the lobby because the advice was to stay put, I put on my iPod and started walking.
I walked down past the Houses of Parliament and then walked the length of Victoria Embankment along the Thames until I reached Blackfriars Bridge, then up past St Pauls towards Moorgate. Avoided actual Moorgate because it was mostly unnecessary. Basically, I walked 3.5miles in the rain. In new boots. When I reached my grandad’s, I couldn’t have been wetter if I’d jumped in the bloody river. I have a massive blister on the side of my right foot and I’ve had a genuinely horrific headache since getting back to Grandad’s. I ended up having to take some of his paracetamols. I’ve missed work today because I only just now got home (train pulled into my town just after midday) and I’m in the clothes I put on on Wednesday afternoon- the trousers of my suit and a Guinness rugby style shirt I wore to preserve my white shirt for the tests.
Incidentally, despite having been told to stay indoors, there were an awful lot of people around as I walked down the embankment. Even during a massive terrorist action, a lot of London kept on going for a few hours, until it came time to try and go home. It was only as I got closer to Moorgate that things quietened down. There were hardly any cars anywhere, and certainly no buses, as I walked, but there were a fair number of people. Perhaps they were like me and refused to stay put if there was somewhere better for them to be. I don’t know, but even during, the great spirit of London (of which more in a minute) was not entirely crushed.
I had no real hope of getting home yesterday, and I didn’t need to, because like I said, my grandad lives right near the Barbican. My afternoon yesterday, once I was dry and fed, was spent watching very old RKO Astaire/Rogers movies.
You have no fucking idea how lucky I feel. You have no idea what it was like to arrive back in my own suburban little town today to find everything exactly as normal after leaving a place trying very hard to feel like it was normal. You probably don’t have any idea what it was like waiting for a return text from Richard, the oldest of my friends after I realised that he works somewhere in central London but not knowing where. The feeling of getting that return text was a little better.
Suffice to say it was very strange getting on the train this morning. I’ve taken the train out of Moorgate hundreds of times at all times of the day, and it’s never been like this. I’ve been there when it’s quiet, but it was never this eerie before. There was never the tense feeling of ‘er, hope it’s all OK down here’ because at Moorgate, even the mainline, regular trains start out underground until it emerges into daylight at Drayton Park.
You have no idea how it felt this morning to be told by my mum on the phone (rentals are on holiday) that I always seem to be around these things (I was in LA when 9/11 happened and in California for the months of aftermath). She meant it as a joke, but I find it so hard to find amusing. Maybe it’s my fatalistic attitude.
But don’t get me wrong: if you think for one tiny second that this is really going to change my beloved London, you’re under some deep misapprehensions about that place. The people of London have been facing, fending off and living with attacks against them since the beginning of it all. I bet that when the survivor guy from Troy arrived with his rock thing (weird old legend thing), there were attacks then.
In terms of living with fear, well, our town lived through both World Wars. I walked past Paternoster Square on my way back yesterday. This chunk of London, right near St Pauls, was the centre of publishing before the Second World War and was flattened by a bomb. So Paternoster Row became Paternoster Square. The museum mile down near Hyde Park bears the scars of bombings. So do the nasty estates that sprang up after the war to replace thousands of homes.
But more than that, we find it a perverse blessing that we lived with twenty five years of the IRA. It’s true that our emergency services are incredibly good at this sort of thing because they’ve dealt with it on different scales before. Our bomb experts are some of the best in the world because we’ve done it before. We put the Lockerbie plane back together so succesfully that the tape deck was tracked down and the bombers discovered.
But that’s not really the nasty blessing I’m talking about. Anyone who’s lived or worked in London for more than ten years will certainly remember bombings. The blockades and checkpoints in many streets into the City of London (I remember asking my dad about that stuff when I was very small). The continuing absence of rubbish bins in almost any train station in the country because that’s where some bombs got put. I’ve myself been caught up in a bomb scare at Kings Cross- we had to find a different way home.
Yes, this is different. There seems, to me at least, to be an added level of barbarity about this- the IRA used to send warnings, albeit coded, before bombings or threatened bombings. It was less about killing than disruption. And you know what? I didn’t accept it then. If I won’t accept this from the Irish, I certainly won’t accept it from anyone else. Nor will anyone else in this town.
You see, we’ve done this before. Do you know how many Romans it took to subdue England? And I don’t want to keep invoking the war, but I will say this: if Adolf Hitler’s constant bombing of London didn’t take us down, do you think this nasty, underhanded ‘war’ will?
I don’t think so. I suggest to all would-be bombers that you just don’t try. You took out our tube for a day and caused a bit of chaos. It’s running again today. Wasted your time, didn’t you?
Terrorism, as Sam Seaborn said in the special post-9/11 West Wing, has a 100% failure rate. If you try it with London, you’ll find that number actually goes up.
Adolf didn’t manage it.
The Irish Republican Nutters didn’t manage it.
These people won’t either.
Take heart my dears, for London is greater than anything. Like Ancient Rome once was, London is a state of mind. It is a greater thing than bricks, mortar, tarmac, congestion charges, great cathedrals or palaces. It is a greater thing than a few people. It is the sum of its parts plus thousands of years of history and a hundred other things.
We won’t fight you on the beaches this time, we will fight you in our own hearts, minds and streets. And you know what? We’ll win.
So, who’s up for some Olympics now? I am.