Walking through London on 7 July 2005

If I could avoid this time of year I probably would. I don’t put the TV on and I avoid the news, it’s mostly about the London bombings and the less I hear about it the better.This year seems even worse, being the tenth anniversary, I can’t escape it.

Photo: Ewan Munro via Creative Commons
Photo: Ewan Munro via Creative Commons

To say I was a victim of the bombings would be a lie, when the bombs went off I was at home watching TV, but that day will stick is as raw today as it was all those years ago.

I lived in London, five minutes from Old Street station, and worked in Westminster for a charity known for its response to emergency incidents. Following the 9/11 attacks my boss had become invited to join a government project preparing for a possible attack on London. He’d talked to me on several occasions about the things he had seen and discussed, I suspect he needed to off-load and I was a willing listener.

On the morning of the 7 July I was at home, I had an appointment in Russell Square and was getting ready to leave, the TV was on in the background and I was just packing my bag for what I needed. As a rule I rarely traveled by tube, the bus was my preferred transport. Is was quite a nice day and I was considering whether to walk to my appointment, about a 25 min walk or whether to take a bus.

The news was on and the reporter mentioned a power surge on the tubes, severe delays or no tubes. I imagined the buses would be so busy with annoyed tube users I’d walk.

My journey took me to Old Street station, then along city road to Kings Cross and down to Russell Square, it was a part of London I knew very well. For the first part of it there was nothing particularly different, it was only after passing the Angel station that things started to become noticeable. Normally I would be among many commuters heading in the same direction, but there seemed to be people coming towards me. At first it was small clusters of people, then the clusters became groups. I put it down to their being no tube trains and buses being full and continued. I never realised that I’d not seen a bus pass me until several buses passed at once. There was something about these buses, the people on them, their faces. I can’t describe it, but I knew there was something wrong about it. It would be later that week that I’d discover those buses were taking some of the injured people to hospital.

As I came near to Kings Cross station I was hit by a wall of people walking towards me, out of the crowd I saw a face I recognised. One of the things I will never understand is how many of us carried on without realising the severity of the situation. I stopped the friend and asked where everyone was going, he just said, bomb on the tube and walked away. It was the first time I heard that word.

I suppose in another frame of mind I would have turned and gone home, but like I say, I will never understand my reactions.

I knew Kings Cross very well and decided to take short cuts avoiding the station, if that’s shut then best walking around it. I saw police tape cutting off the main streets, but I knew short cuts and continued without being stopped. Behind some of the buildings is a park area, I decided to cut through there and on to Russell Square.

I think from this moment, most of what I did after that was an automatic reaction, most certainly my mind didn’t register the full extent of what I saw.

The park was being used as an ambulance area, people on stretchers, an air ambulance, paramedics running, blood, bandages, bodies. Still I walked by, Russell Square a few streets away.

As I came near Russell Square I slowed, I saw a man, covered in dust, surrounded by reporters. I needed information, perhaps my mind was adjusting to the situation, but I got as close to him as I could and listened. He’d been on the train as a bomb exploded. Ten years on and that’s the only image I look for, the interview with that man and the knowledge that I was stood next to him, that it was real.

This is what I mean by people not realising the seriousness of what had happened. I would have thought people would have given up on work that day, but they didn’t, not at first. I continued to my appointment. The person I was meeting was late, but it gave me a chance to sit down. We entered the office and sat down, she apologised for being late and said her train had a bomb on it. Everything was so matter of fact, no emotion. We chatted business for a few minutes then we stopped talking and looked at each other. It was then I really noticed her. She had small cuts on her face, her jacket hung up was dusty, her tights torn. It was silent as we both realised the absurdity of the situation. Then she spoke, I think I should go home.

I left the office and wondered what my next move should be. It was clear now that there was no public transport, walking home would be difficult now that such a large area was sealed off. I’d also heard from a passer by that there were several bombs, but he didn’t know how many or where they were. Without knowing what areas were safe I didn’t know where to head next. So I walked towards Oxford Street.

At one point I got to a corner that again was sectioned off, everyone was silent, and many like me were just wandering. Then a man started shouting, an Amercian couple on holiday, shouting at the police because they couldn’t get into their hotel, I looked up the street and saw something, maybe a bus? We were quite a distance from the bus that exploded, and it wasn’t clear, the police had taped off quite a large area and in that area was the couple’s hotel. I felt like shouting back at them, have they no respect? Instead I spoke to the man and pointed him towards a row of shops, suggesting they find a cafe and stay there until they could return.

One other thing from the day was the mobile phones. In a situation like that mobile services are cut so the emergency services can have a clearer service. At some point I managed to text my nephew in Leeds, he was watching it on the news. I wanted to know where the bombs were so I knew what areas to avoid, but he didn’t know London well enough, and getting through was hit and miss.

I had friends who lived behind Oxford Street, so I decided to head there. Oxford street was eerily quiet. No traffic at all, it was like a scene from a movie. Out of all the things I saw that day, Oxford Street will be the one that sticks the most. People were walking along the road, wandering in silence. Shops were shut, apart from one. Dixons had put a wide screen TV in the doorway and had the news playing. A crowd had gathered and watched in silence as they saw images and heard stories from people. It felt as though I stood there forever, but it was only a few minutes. Eventually I pulled myself away and headed to my friends building.

It was the hug from an old friend that brought me to a sense of reality. I stayed with her for a while, until I felt safe to walk home. Thankfully I lived within walking distance, but all the way home I saw people waiting at bus stops, wishing a passing car would give them a lift.

In the weeks following my anger would come, my job kept me busy, but our building became a counselling centre for the victims. I wanted to forget that day ever happened, but each day I had to welcome in people who had been on the trains, had lost family and friends. It’d be a long time before my place of work returned to its usual function and I wouldn’t have to face another person reminding me of that day.

I used to walk everywhere and I used to run, but now I don’t even run for a bus. If I could I’d take a taxi everywhere. It’s been ten years and I still hate walking home. I moved home to Leeds in 2008, no coincidence with what happened that day, well maybe a little. I’m not angry anymore, for me it’s just something I’d rather never speak about. I’d like to live in a world where we never talk about 7/7, but Leeds isn’t that place.

I expected this would be a place where people would feel like I do, not wanting to mention it, but I seem to be meeting people who want to talk, want to remember and want to bring peace to the area.

I recently finished a project called Leeds Poverty Truth, one of the people I worked with was an Imam called Qari Asim. An amazing Muslim man who is determined to bring peace and understanding between people. It was through working and knowing him that I started to lose my anger and try to find my own peace, and finally tell my story.

2 Replies to “Walking through London on 7 July 2005”

  1. Big hugs, proud that you found the ability through your friend to share your story xxxxx

  2. Thank you, Betty, for sharing your story. It must have been very hard to re-visit and write about that day, those days, weeks, and months.

    I suspect that your reaction of continuing with your day was not unusual, and I hope you will be able to forgive yourself for it. I guess you know that it’s one of the things we do when we’re in shock and can be a protective reaction, as illustrated by your colleague.

    People think that because something didn’t directly happen to you, it shouldn’t affect you. But it’s well established that the impact of dealing with the aftermath of such horror – as emergency or counselling services – can be as traumatic. The fact that your workplace became a counselling centre may have been a continuing “secondary”, “vicarious”, trauma.

    From 200 miles away I had very mixed reactions on that day. I can remember feeling really fearful for my sister, who worked in London at the time. When I finally managed to speak to her I realised how angry I felt at these anonymous suicide bombers.

    Later, when it became clear that these young men were not just from Leeds, but from Beeston &amp Holbeck, I felt differently. I felt, and still feel to an extent, that we who have lived in Beeston with them, failed them and the people who were killed and injured by them. I don’t excuse their actions, or deny the impact of racism and UK foreign policy, but I am left with the abiding knowledge that these young men grew up on the streets that we live on, and we never noticed, or didn’t respond appropriately to, their distress and anger. How many other people are foreign policy, austerity and popular racism still alienating and driving away?

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