Philobiblon: After the first shock

Thursday, July 07, 2005

After the first shock

I cycled to work this afternoon at three, six hours after the bombings. (It had been my day off, as it was on 9/11 - perhaps they should institute extra security according to my rota).

The streets of central London were filled with a tide of people, yet oddly quietly. Few were talking, and even those on mobile phones were moderating the volume. These commuters turned pedestrians - pudgy men sweating in once-ironed shirts, suit jackets slung over their arms, and women in heels trailing disconsolate, unhopeful arms at the odd passing cab - had decided like some giant organism that they now owned the streets, and were taking no notice of traffic lights, road rules or anything else, presenting a new cycling hazard.

But there was little need to worry about traffic. The authorities had blocked huge areas around the affected Tube stations; there were no effective routes through the city, and hence no vehicles.

Police and the new fast-multiplying breed of "community support officers" were much in evidence, but were doing only the traditional job of the London bobbie, providing directions to the lost, not, this time, tourists, but workers suddenly discovering the ribbon of land between work and home that they usually burrow beneath.

Pubs were full of those who'd decided the drink their way through the duration, but a continual stream of the hopeful or the clueless was pouring into Fenchurch Street station, which must have been about to burst its worn seams. They were hoping for a train, some time; who knew when they'd get one.

On Cheapside many of the shops were shut. "Security reasons" said a handwritten sign on the door of an expensive cosmetics boutique. Starbucks too was dark and empty, without explanation.

But the banks were open, as was Boots, and shoppers were about their ordinary business. It was as if this ancient market; which has seen in its time Norman, Viking, French and Dutch raiders, had shrugged and said: "This too will pass."

Near Tower Hill, the lights were still shining from St Olave's church hall - an undistinguished lump of 1950s brick that replaced ancient stone knocked down by the Luftwaffe. A banner was strung from its windows: "Antique Fair today". It had customers.

Most, though, had adopted the classic shoulder-set of a refugee, trudging slowly but steadily on; their routes were radial - fanning out from the scene of the disaster.

Outside the central ring of the city, the traffic was also disaster movie-style - mostly stationary and intermittantly panicky, the road hog monsters of the rich suddenly at a disadvantage.

They were passed by a man wheeling a bicycle, his daughter of seven perched uncomfortably but excitably on the seat, her feet on the crossbar. Her long blonde hair was tied back in a bright ribbon.

A woman with a central European accent, riding a surely borrowed bike that was far too big for her, asked anxiously: "Which way to Stratford? I don't know where I am." I set her on the simplest route I could map.


Blogger Miriam Jones said...

Stay safe.

7/07/2005 11:48:00 pm  

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