The weeks after the subway attacks in 1995, Tokyo was a city living on rumour and nerves. Armed police on every street corner, wild stories of hidden Russian tanks and helicopters ready to spray death across the city. The Friday after the atrocity, rumours of more attacks spread like wildfire — people left the city in droves, my friends bulk-buying tickets out and offering them to anyone who wanted to leave. We stayed. It was a beautiful Spring evening, pink blossom in Aaoyama. Nothing happened.
London, two days after the bombs, seems psychically back to its old self. True there are fewer people braving public transport, but then services are still very disrupted, and will remain so for weeks. And many businesses simply shut their offices yesterday, rather than trying to limp on with reduced staff and in uncertain safety. But there’s little if any panic in the air. There’s some strong vein of strength in the London psyche that people have simply, again, tapped into, as they do in the face of the depressing weather, the creaking infrastructure and (historically) other attacks on the city.
Personally, I feel OK. Not normal, but OK. I’ve been walking everywhere rather than getting public transport, but then that’s what I usually do anyway. Thursday afternoon, after walking home, I sat here at the table a long time, mind empty, watching the clouds over the Thames valley between here and the Crystal Palace TV tower on the opposite rise. Here, high up, the white sky blends with the white walls of the terrace: home feels safe, above the fall. Endless sirens in the middle distance at Aldgate, the air ambulance on low descent into the Royal London, a few seconds’ flight time from here.
Two things that I haven’t seen mentioned in the media:
- On the day of the attack, one of the first people interviewed was a barrister who had very narrowly escaped one of the attacks. He was clearly in shock, but talked at some length about what he had seen and been through. At the end of the interview, the reporter asked him if he thought the bombs were set by Islamist terrorists. His response was something like ‘I’m a barrister. We shouldn’t judge before all the evidence is in’. And when asked what he thought about the poeple who had done this, his reply was ‘Pity them’. The reporter was surprised. ‘Why pity them?’. ‘Because anyone who is capable of such a thing deserves pity.’
Other parts of his interview have been repeated on rolling news. Those bits seem to have been edited out. I don’t have words for such humanity in such a moment.
- In the photos of the number 30 bus, the remaining part of the film poster visible on the left hand side of the bus says simply:
OUTRIGHT TERROR. BOLD AND BRILLIANT *****