Ten years ago today I wasn’t on my way into work in London.
I was sat in a hammock on a small island off the coast of Fethiye in Turkey. We’d wound down from our day-to-day lives and entered that chilled out state where you almost stop thinking about life back home.
Then sometime that morning we started getting text messages.
“Are you ok?”
Had we landed safely? Yes. We were fine. Then more messages. Not everyone knew we were away, some texts were from family and friends who didn’t live in London. They were watching the news.
“There’s been a bomb on a tube train.”
I remember Mrs B bursting into tears. I went numb and wandered out onto the balcony. There was no TV, no papers, and back then wi-fi was scarce. We felt cut off but now not in a good way.
Eventually we accounted for people we knew. For the rest of the day we tried to occupy ourselves but our thoughts and conversation kept returning to home. What had happened? Why? Who had done this?
By the time British newspapers reached us they were days out of date and we followed the story of 7/7 in a strange fog of time delay. When we arrived back in the UK a week later London felt very different. The summer vibe we’d left behind had gone, replaced by tension, suspicion, fear.
On the 14th of July, on my second day back at work, I was walking past Liverpool Street station when something very odd started to happen.
One by one people stopped and stood still. The hum and roar of the city receded. The buses pulled over. A man driving a car who like me hadn’t realised what was going on was forced to halt in the road by people simply standing and staring at him and not moving out of the way.
We all stood in silence as the city clocks struck mid-day. Some people began to cry. There are birds singing in the city but we never hear them. For a minute birdsong and church bells were the only sound.
And then as if someone had pressed play we all began to stretch and move again, but there was a moment where we turned to the person next to us and exchanged a look, or a handshake, even some hugs. Complete strangers hugging in the street.
And then it was gone, the giant machine was in motion again and we were all salmon in the stream.
One week later and I was again at work in Shoreditch. It was a scorching hot day and I was looking forward to meeting Mrs B in a pub in Islington for a meal that evening. I had popped out to get a sandwich and on the way back to the office I heard sirens. People looked nervous. The traffic came to a standstill on Hackney Road. I hurried back and found people gathered around the TV.
There’d been more explosions on tube trains and a bus up the road from our office. Thankfully this time the bombs hadn’t detonated.
It was a summer of suspicion.
People with rucksacks were eyed up, sometimes they were openly questioned. Sadly, but perhaps understandably at the time it was Muslim people who took the brunt.
But there was also a coming together. I saw strangers asking people how they were doing on the commute if someone looked worried or sad. People smiled at each other to give reassurance, to release the tension, or simply because they were alive and at that moment it felt more precious.
We’d been through this before, the IRA, the nail bombs in Brick Lane and Old Compton Street, it comes with the territory. No one was going to let it stop them living their lives. Those who died and were injured wouldn’t want the terrorists to win.
Time passed. Some wounds healed. But no one forgot.
Today there are adults who barely recall those weeks in July 2005, because they were children or didn’t live here. London is ever changing.
What will I tell my son when he grows up? Will he care? Will I sound like my dad talking about the Second World War? Probably.
But I fear there will have been more bombs by then. This year we have seen fresh horror from around the globe. More shootings like the massacre in Tunisia. More news stories we don’t want to hear. Ten years on and terrorism is alive and thriving and shows no sign of abating.
But more than events how do I explain hate to Little B. How do I tell him, as surely he will ask, why the people on the news are crying, or why the man fired the gun into the people enjoying a holiday?
I don’t have an answer. What I can tell him is that most people are not evil.
Most people, whatever their religion, don’t want to hurt each other. So I will tell him about the hugs and handshakes and kindness that burst out like flowers after desert rain.
I will tell him the world is a beautiful place and that he must never be afraid to walk the streets of the city we call home.
Categories: Big Issues