Walkway Copyright© 2005, Stefanie Varga

London Underground Explosions 7/7

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner,
That I love London so.
Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner
That I think of her wherever I go.

From: Maybe It's Because I'm A Londoner by Hubert Gregg

S and myself were up to 4am on the 7th July, watching a film called, Red Planet on the television. When the film ended S switched to CNN and we felt that numb unreal feeling when we heard someone talking about bombs going off in the Underground in London. How could this be happening, for it was only yesterday that it was announced that London was to host the Olympic Games in 2012 and the mood then had seemed to be one of celebration and happiness?

Watching the News from London while the cat watches us!

I grew up in dusty post-war London, on the fringes of the East End, and knew the fearful joy of exploring old bomb sites, listening endlessly to BBC radio with its Hancock’s Half-Hour, The Clitheroe Kid, The Huggett’s and watched Muffin-the-Mule, The Appleyards and Bill and Ben the Flowerpot Men on our wavy lined, black and white television set. You can see this time period in the films made by Ealing Studios—Passport to Pimlico, The Lavender Hill Mob and Hue and Cry.

Later, I saw grey and dowdy post-war London, dusted down, spruced up and colourised by the youthful energy of Mary Quant, Biba, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles–everything, that was to become known around the world as Swinging London.

Like everyone else, I lived through happy and unhappy times in London. One time, living near the Thames in Lambeth, I experienced an unhappy period in my life. It was strange, because from the living room of the flat I was living in, I had this wonderful view of Lambeth Palace, the Thames, and further along, The Houses of Parliament. One afternoon, there was a thunderstorm and torrential rain which seemed to harmonise with my mood. For some reason, I wandered out on to the balcony and I looked over the gray rooftops towards the City of London, and there in the distance was St Paul’s cathedral. At that moment, the clouds cleared to reveal a patch of blue sky and a brilliant rainbow, arching high over the dome of St Paul’s. Seeing that rainbow, I knew inwardly that everything was going to be alright, it was as if I had read a little of that cosmic semaphore that touches our lives in times of need.

The terrible events of this last week will be long remembered but will of themselves not overcome the spirit of Londoners. How could it, when that same spirit saw them safely through The Great Plague, The Fire of London and the Blitz of 1940?

For me London was always a labyrinth, so vast it seemed to have no beginning or end. Out of its depths came all the angels and demons mirrored in your own being. Yet it was traveling this coiling labyrinth that I first glimpsed the Path of Light—which I have struggled to follow—with mixed success— ever since.

As a Londoner, now living in California, I have been following all the news about the terrorist attacks in London. I have been thinking about the Brazilian who was shot by the police. It seems to me that the police had little choice but to shoot this man, even though he turned out not to be a terrorist—later a Scotland Yard spokesman described his death as "a tragedy."

Apparently this man "refused to stop" when ordered to do so by police and instead of stopping fled in wild panic. One eye witness reported that this man had a look of terror in his eyes. This reminded me of an experience I had many years ago when I was a student living in England. One night I had missed the last bus and was walking home (Kingston-Upon-Thames) through the quiet streets at about 2am. Suddenly a car roared up (as if from nowhere) and cruised along side me as I walked. A window wound down and a voice said something like, "Come here...Where are you going?" The car was unmarked and all I could see were four shadowy men in the car and no sign that they were police at all. I felt a flood of fear and ran along a street, terrified to see that the car was following me. Finally, seeing I could not escape, I rushed up a garden path to a house and banged loudly on the door asking for help. A man rudely woken from sleep opened the door and very kindly phoned for the police. Meanwhile the four occupants got out of the car surrounded me but did not touch me. Minutes later, a police car arrived with a "real" policeman. I was taken to my flat and after the police asked a few questions, looked around a bit and then left. They asked me why I had run? Well, I had run because I thought they were a gang of ruffians about to rob me or something.

I wonder if this is what happened to the Brazilian who was shot? Perhaps, the very presence of the police triggered off past memories and experiences of police behaviour in Brazil? Who knows? I mention this because in dangerous or threatening situations it is not always easy to be calm and rational—some other instinct takes over—for good or ill.

Some Americans here seem amazed that Londoners "carried on" after the bombings. I'm not sure what they thought Londoners would do; sit at home twiddling their thumbs, watch the BBC all day, while swilling back endless cups of tea? If you would like to know something of that indomitable "spirit" you might dip into the wartime diary of an "ordinary Londoner":
"Thursday, 26th September, 1940. Worst night on record! Yet I slept the best since I returned to London into the blitz. I got so drowsy with the lovely fire that when I spread my mattress at a quarter to twelve, I fell asleep before midnight. I was aroused at 1:20am by the whole house shaking to its foundations and terrific explosions rending the air..."
From: Few Eggs and No Oranges: The Diaries of Vere Hodgson 1940-1945 by Vere Hodgson. London: Persephone Books Ltd, 1999.

Walkway with Trees Copyright© 2005, Stefanie Varga

Rachman Hopwood

Copyright© 2007, Undiscovered Worlds Press