My 7/7: A lonely walk through a shattered London

Journal columnist Hilton Dawson on his memories of the July 7 bombings 10 years ago

Peter Macdiarmid/PA Wire The number 30 double-decker bus in Tavistock Square, which was destroyed by a bomb
The number 30 double-decker bus in Tavistock Square, which was destroyed by a bomb

An empty, white sand beach, a lapping turquoise sea and the sun burning down out of a cloudless sky. It would only be the absence of palm trees and the sight of two cobles fishing close in to shore which might persuade you that this was Warkworth, one afternoon last week.

How privileged, how fortunate we are to live in a place of such sublime beauty and peace. Indeed, only those concrete blocks, once hastily made on the spot to hamper invasion, and our thoughts of the appalling murder of people in the midst of their holidays might persuade you that things could ever be different.

I was there in London, on July 7, 2005, 10 years ago tomorrow, when we last suffered so many victims of wicked, incomprehensible terrorism.

Just a normal summer’s morning; like a million others going in to work, the first sign that anything was different was the Tube stopping at Canada Water. We were told there was a ‘power surge’ which had somehow affected all trains and then politely, but firmly, asked to leave the station.

Everyone carried on trying to get in to work. I had to get to ChildLine in Spitalfields, so hopped on a bus, so full that no-one was checking any fares, then got off when it came to a halt in the middle of London Bridge and walked. Passing Liverpool Street Station, a side door suddenly opened and there were police officers, themselves dishevelled and dirty, leading filthy, distressed people out into the open air.

At work all the televisions were on and we just stood there, taking it all in, checking that everyone was accounted for, wondering if this was our 9/11.

I rang home to say that I was all right, just before all the communications, phone and email, all over London went down. I’m not sure if there was advice on TV to remain inside, however, I’d just been appointed to a new job, had a meeting arranged with my new employers and decided that I’d go.

That was how I came to be walking across the whole of deserted central London from Spitalfields in the east to Vauxhall in the west expecting that any minute some policeman or soldier would tell me to stop. In truth, they’ll have had much more important things to do.

It was an extraordinary and eerie experience; I remember being on the Strand, in the middle of a fine summer’s day with absolutely no-one else in sight. A police car sped past, its siren blaring; somewhere in the distance there was what looked like a camera crew, indeed the whole scene resembled the set of one of those films where the population has succumbed to some plague leaving only a few survivors.

I walked steadily on, being challenged by no-one, speaking to nobody, thinking to myself that ‘London will never be the same’.

Some people were in the restaurant, still open, where I met my new colleague, where we tried to discuss normal business, over pizza, despite all the abnormality all around.

Later on I set off to walk home. By then about a million of us were on the streets and I anticipated a long evening, with plenty of company, following the Thames to the Isle of Dogs.

No Tube, no trains, no buses, however, extraordinarily the tourist pleasure boats were in operation and whether from good will or great management were providing free transport.

I piled on together with so many others, stood there quietly, calmly in city suits in the evening sun as we were swept down river to Greenwich. Perhaps it was the silence that proved so difficult for the boat operator, perhaps he did the first normal thing that came into his head but providing his usual commentary came as a relief. ‘This ladies and gentlemen is Tower Bridge and further down is Execution Dock, where Captain Kidd hung in chains.’

Then there were the terrible stories of how people had died and been so viciously maimed, the banal ordinariness of the four young men who had so pointlessly destroyed themselves and so many others; the mounting fears when a further terrorist plot was foiled on July 21 and the terrible shooting of poor, innocent, Jean Charles de Menezes at Stockwell tube station.

Like a million others I had gone back to work on July 8 and continued to use the Tube out of necessity and because getting on with your ordinary lives is the best way of defying those who want to destroy them.

Only once, on a fine Saturday afternoon did I give in to the thought that I’d really much rather walk than sit on the Underground worrying about what that man might have in his bag on the floor between us.

We are all part of the same interconnected and sometimes extremely dangerous world, we are all affected by international events and we can all make our contribution by living our lives, sticking to our democratic principles and ensuring that our government play a more effective and principled role on the international stage.

Journalists

David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer