Rosamicula (rosamicula) wrote,

London 07/07/05

7.57 Waterloo Station: A young couple locked in an embrace block my path to the platform; I tut at them and push past, as does the man behind me.

8.54 The towpath along the Thames at Kingston: A flotilla of elegantly gloomy swans cuddle their long necks into their tail feathers against the sudden, unseasonable chill. A lone duck, feathers punked up in the cold, hurtles around them like a skateboarder through a chicane.

9.15 Raven's Ait: My colleagues and I, teachers all, begin fidgeting and squirming and rifling through handbags for peppermints and glassy-eyed doodling on the unread accompanying notes. Teachers make very bad students; we have already liberated all the spare stationery and biscuit packs. We know we will be bored today.

10.15 Raven's Ait: We cluster around a tinny radio with an ariel too weak for the BBC. In between adverts for double glazing and car insurance, we hear about the bombs. When the oikish presenter asks for listeners to email in any pictures they may have of 'the tragic events unfolding' my oldest colleague, and I, the youngest, reach forward as one to switch it off.

10.20 Raven's Ait: We cling to our phones as if they were rosaries, each digital ping and click and flash of melody means a loved one is safe, or is checking on us. We count them like beads. All the people I love in London are safe, except one, the one I need to be alive and unharmed, as my lungs need air, as my eyes need their eyelids to protect them if they are to continue to see. A Luddite colleague who has never used a mobile phone before suddenly has a face like a child's, crumpled with exasperation, staring at the malevolent plastic toy in his hand that refuses to confirm that his wife is safe.

11.33 Raven's Ait: He calls, at last, while I am standing outside in the rain chainsmoking. I let his voice pour over me and melt into my skin like a perfume. I turn back into the room and my face speaks for me. They are good people, and even the most anxious of them smiles at with pleasure at my relief. I stuff my phone carelessly back into my bag, and the Luddite flinches.

2.15 The Thames: There are no trains. I blag my way onto a party boat heading back to Richmond, then onto a requisitioned pleasure cruiser full of Special Constables and medical staff heading for Westminster Pier. I sail into London in a garden party dress and four inch heels surrounded by men and women in uniforms and orange jackets. We veer between laughing, companionable chatter, then sudden silences where each of us retreats into our own thoughts, like the swans into their feathers earlier. Though it is sunny now some us still shiver.

4.00 The Thames: Slowly we turn towards Westminster and the sunlit, silent city. I think of Wordsworth's lines composed at the same spot 200 years before: 'Earth has not anything to show more fair: dull would he be of soul who could pass by a sight so touching in it's majesty.' This city has no need of prayers, prayers are the work of those who did this; those who are not evil, but are merely fools and cowards, gullible products of a dark-age mentality that this city shrugged off centuries ago. This city has no need of prayer, it has poetry. It is poetry. It is the most beautiful city on earth.

4.30 Waterloo Bridge: I am the only one on my side of the bridge heading North into the city. I walk through hundreds of people making their way to Waterloo Station, now reopened and nearly normal. The only sounds I can hear are our feet and our voices. There are no cars, no horns, mercifully, no more sirens, only these human sounds. Hundreds of commuters, most of whom by this stage know that their own loved ones are unharmed, walking and chatting to strangers. Some have walked far and are tired, but many have something of the air of children let out early from school. I see the same expression, again and again, like a uniform. A look of anxiety, relief, bewilderment, bemusement, determination. Many smile at me, going the wrong way in a party dress.

4.40 The Strand: I ask the young policeman how to get to Chancery Lane. He doesn't know. 'I'm from Essex' he says, smiling, 'Don't tell anyone! But I've got an A-Z'. As he flicks through it I see his thumbnail is bitten to the quick. He's been drafted in from the Home Counties to protect a city he barely knows. I wish there were some way to convey how reassured I am by his presence - and his nervousness. I walk, because I can, down the middle of the empty street. All the shops and cafes and offices are closed. Only a shoe repair shop is open and the cobbler carries on with his work, listening to Glenn Miller. The strains of Pennsylvania 6500 ring out across the quiet street, as its gramophone ancestor might have done fifty years ago.

5.00 Chancery Lane: Usually this majestic, arrogant street is full of lawyers, like smugly black-clad crows, and all the lesser birds that flock with them. Today it is all but empty and has the somnolent grandeur of a leafy victorian suburb. The loudest sound here is that of birdsong. It is altogether too quiet. I check my phone and listen to my missed calls. He has changed his plans, he must be elsewhere. I don't quite cry. This day has made widows of some women; I have no right to complain at the disappointment inherent in being the Other Woman. Though I cannot rest my head on it tonight, I know his heart still beats.

5.40 Waterloo Road: The city is coming back to life, there are buses again and some cars. I watch the miraculously orderly queues, the smiles and the 'no, you go aheads', the 'excuse-mes' and the 'sorrys'. In the Tandoori House window is a cardboard sign that reads, with various mispellings, 'we have water, toilets, phones, street maps. All food half price. We are Muslim. We are sorry.' Wet-eyed, I buy a samosa.

6.30: Elephant & Castle: I stand on my balcony high above the silence of London's noisiest roundabout. I count nine huge cranes dotted around St Paul's and the city, caught in oddly balletic poses, as though the Eiffel tower had just dropped a litter of children over London and they were tentatively trying out their lacy legs for the first time. This city is still growing, rising. As always. I do not turn on the TV. Somewhere, in the East End, perhaps, or a back room of the Regent's Park Mosque, the mediocrities that did this and those that support them are watching the continuous loop of images of the broken and bleeding, cheering at each rise in the death toll and drinking whatever it is these joyless bastards drink when they celebrate. I will not see what they see. I have seen only beauty on this ugliest of days. I have seen the soft underbelly of the city. In a matter of days we will go back to pushing and shoving and tutting and scrupulously avoiding eye contact with each other. But if trouble comes again we will again form an orderly, amicable army of calm and competence. We are London. We are invincible.
  • Post a new comment


    Anonymous comments are disabled in this journal

    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded