Friday, July 08, 2005

The morning after the day before

I can't let the terrible events of yesterday pass without making some comment. I am reluctant to offer words of advice or wisdom. I'm not that kind of person and this isn't that kind of blog. But I was in the center of London while the bombs were going off. I do know people caught up in the chaos and some who witnessed the horror. And I did have to make a slow journey home amid the crowds of bewildered commuters. And so, in that light, here are my personal reflections.

The emergency services were staggeringly efficient. My office is next door to the Ambulance center for South London. Within minutes of the second bomb going off, the police arrived in large numbers and cordoned off the street. Soon, the road was packed with ambulances, paramedic units and mobile clinics. Throughout the day, the emergency services worked with a quiet, organized determination that was apparent to us all. Their professionalism and calm control was incredibly reassuring. I'm sure I'm not alone in feeling comforted that the professionals knew what they were doing and were in command of the chaos.

Similarly, the ordinary people of London were quite remarkable. It may be a cliché to say it - the papers this morning can't stop making the same point - but there was a real sense yesterday of everyone making the best of this terrible situation and doing what they could to help. Even if that was holding on to terrified strangers or just sitting tight to let the emergency services get on with their job. I know that much has been made today of the swift mood change overnight; from jubilation at winning the Olympics to devastation at the terror. But in truth, these are two sides of the same coin. It was the same unity of spirit and sense of community in London that won us the games that got us through the day yesterday.

Throughout the day, the Internet proved crucial. All over London, office workers were constantly updating the BBC home page, sending each other links from Sky News and Guardian Online, fuelling the rumours and the speculation that were spreading like wildfire through the City. Without the Internet, we'd not have known what was going on, where the latest explosions had been, what the travel situation was or how we were going to get home. I did wonder how on earth people coped with terrorist atrocities before the advent of the world wide web?

The mobile phone networks failed almost immediately. Rumours spread that the police had cut off the networks to prevent potential bombers using mobile phones to detonate bombs. Later we were told that it was the sheer volume of calls that caused the networks to fail. Who knows which is correct? While mobile phone calls were impossible, text messages were still feasible and all day txts were sent back and forth to family and friends. Everyone desperately trying to find out if their loved ones were alright. And updating each other on new explosions and the latest information about which stations, roads and bridges were closed.

Later, once I got home, the phone calls kept coming. From friends in London, elsewhere in the UK and abroad. By that time, it was clear that I was fine. But the calls kept coming, not because people needed to know if I was safe but because we just wanted to talk. I think we all felt a need to make contact with everyone we know and love. If only to show that we're thinking of each other. And wanted each other to be safe and well.

This morning, 24 hours on, the city is almost back to normal. I came into work, with thousands of others, on the train and the tube, as if nothing has happened. Life goes on. If it didn't, the terrorists win. Today, the calls from concerned friends are still coming. But now, it's not to find out if we're safe. It's just to talk. Everyone is talking about where they were, how they found out, how they got home. I get the sense that we all have a need to explain our part in this tragedy. What our role was and how we fit in.

And my personal feelings? Well, I made a promise not to reveal too much about myself on this blog. It's not a narcissistic exercise, after all. But I hope it's not too ego-focussed to say that I have an amazing circle of friends, and a terrific family network who looked after me yesterday, physically and emotionally. I couldn't get by without them. And when I got home last night, safe and well, if a little shaken, and secure in the knowledge that my family were all fine too, I was even more delighted and grateful than usual to see Scrappino's smiling face as I walked through the door.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Undoubtedly we all pulled together, showed, organisation, courage, strength and unity.
I as proud of my family, friendss, colleagues and country.

3:51 pm  

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