London rises again
The mood on the streets was grim, but determined.
Yesterday afternoon outside London’s King’s Cross station, the streets were orderly and quiet. Normally tetchy commuters waited in line outside the two buses that looked as if they might be going somewhere soon. People shared A to Zs, and swapped advice on the best way of getting home. The instinct was not to panic or think only of number one, but to show some civic spirit. ‘Whichever is easiest for you’, one man told another; ‘nice talking to you’, a woman smiled at me.
It looked something like the exodus, with rivers of Londoners setting out to walk home. Some had a couple of hours’ trek ahead of them, but were generally unfazed. A narrow alley near King’s Cross offered the only route by which people heading north could skirt the cordoned area, and it quickly became a bottleneck. There was no need for official instructions, though: ‘single file!’, a young woman shouted down the line, and the crowd funnelled obediently.
Danger brought people’s inner resilience to the fore. ‘We have to keep going’, one retired teacher told me, ‘otherwise they’ve won’. A policeman said that he wouldn’t have expected anything else. ‘Of course we’re calm. That’s London. We can deal with things in London.’ Those who had Blitz stories, told them. ‘When the Germans bombed stations, the trains kept on going in and out’, said the retired teacher. The elderly cleaner at my office made a point of defying relatives’ advice not to come to work that evening. ‘If I survived the war, I can survive this.’ Others went back still further, to the 1666 Fire of London. Indeed, the monument to the Fire bears the inscription: ‘Haste is seen everywhere. London rises again.’
A similar spirit was in evidence this morning. On an overground train into Liverpool Street, commuters scoured the papers carrying the horror of the day before. It was unnaturally quiet, but there was a grim determination. ‘We’ve got to go on’, said one young IT worker, who was heading for a meeting in Russell Square near where the bus had blown up. ‘Hopefully it’s a one off.’ Some commuters looked worried. But others were positively striding towards their City jobs, briefcase in hand, as if just being there were an act of defiance. Outside Liverpool Street station, the buses were running on schedule. ‘It’s happened before. We just have to be as normal as possible’, said one man waiting at the bus stop.
Londoners seem to accept that this is a normal part of life now. Attacks will happen, from time to time, and we will deal with them as best we can. ‘It’s always going to be there. There isn’t a lot you can do about it’, judged a businessman, standing outside his office with morning coffee and cigar. ‘I was expecting it’, said a maintenance worker in his thirties. ‘They got America, and we’re number two. But we have to show that we’re not as bad as them.’ There is a feeling that we have to be alert, without being fearful. ‘Be vigilant when you’re walking around’, a man advised, as he parked his car near Liverpool Street.
The difficulty is that we don’t know where this threat is coming from. Both German and IRA bombs were delivered for a reason: you knew pretty much when to expect them, and what they were about. Today’s terrorists don’t give warnings, and don’t even give reasons. Some Londoners were hazarding guesses yesterday. A few thought it was payback for Iraq: one man thought it could be Iraqi Baathists, another said it was ‘a direct result of Blair’s foreign policy’. Meanwhile, a young woman wondered whether it had something to do with winning the Olympics. But one city worker was closer to the truth, with his comment: ‘There’s no reason for it. They just want to cause fear and destruction.’
Just as I was about to head off, there was a bomb scare outside Liverpool Street station. A suspect package had apparently been found in the street where I had chained my bike. The strain clearly showed on people’s faces, as we watched police cars scream up and sniffer dogs check the street. ‘I’m a bit scared’, one woman, a young account manager, told me – ‘I can’t help but be’. Police were shouting to clear the area, but nobody knew where the threat was or where they should be going. ‘We were evacuated from the bank’, said one young man. ‘I don’t know where I’m supposed to go, or what I’m supposed to do’.
Then he smiled. ‘To work, I guess. Have a good day.’ As I jogged back to the office, the only bangs I heard were from construction works, as diggers broke the ground for a new building.
To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.