July 2005 bombings

I’ve just had quite an interesting day. Nothing compared to some, I grant you, but I hope some find this worth reading.

I heard the news (at my flat in Stepney Green, a 20 minute walk from Aldgate East) when I finally crawled out of bed this morning at about 9.30am. I had just ignored a call from one of my flatmates who is up in York and was ringing to check on my situation. Unfortunately, by the time I learnt what was going on and tried to call back, the phone networks were down.

I sat on irc (ircnet, #london) with the radio next to me and kept track of everything that was going on, periodically trying to check on my flatmates, one of whom was due to take a train from Kings Cross this morning. I finally got through to them both at around midday. (I hate watching breaking news on television – it’s a frustrating experience and you can learn a lot more a lot quicker online.)

Shortly after noon I received a text message from a friend who had arrived in London from Birmingham this morning for a job interview. She doesn’t know the city at all and sent me a slightly worrying message that simply read “I’m somewhere in central london and really scared. call me as soon as you can.” Of course, with the phone networks down I then spent 20 minutes trying to call her.

Eventually I got through and managed to figure out that she was somewhere near Picadilly and a little confused. She heard one of the blasts go off this morning and didn’t have a clue what was going on.

I packed a rucksack and set off into central london on my flatmate’s bike. The rain was chucking it down. I passed by Royal London hospital where ambulances were pulling up, being closely tracked by various news crews. Then on, past Aldgate East and Liverpool Street, having to continually check my route and cut south to get around the road closures. The police were calm and incredibly helpful.

The roads were empty of cars. Lots of people were walking around the strangely quiet, wet streets, and occasionally a couple of police cars and bikes would fly past me, sirens blaring. The bars and cafes were pretty full with people watching the breaking news. I made my way along the river and cut north at Embankment. The usually busy streets around Trafalgar Square were empty, save for the occasional emergency vehicle. The weather was improving and on tracking down the right Cafe Nero at Picadilly, I caught up with my poor friend, Flick, who was quite relieved to see me. She couldn’t get in touch with her Aunt in Greenwich with whom she is staying tonight.

The atmosphere then was a little strange. From what I saw, away from the bomb sites, things seemed to be rapidly returning to normal – en route I had seen tourists piling onto their coaches parked up on Victoria Embankment. At Trafalgar Square, where we sat for lunch, people were gradually going back to doing regular weekday stuff, taking photographs, chatting, having lunch. The only difference was the lack of traffic and large numbers of people walking everywhere.

After lunch we wandered down to Charing Cross to see the situation with the trains. Hundreds of people were flooding into the station and it will take some many hours to get home tonight. Continuing east along the river, I put my friend on a ferry to Canary Wharf where hopefully she can get the DLR to Greenwich where she’s staying with her family.

One of the strangest moments occurred at around 4pm when suddenly O2 (who appear to have been worst affected) returned to 100% and delivered 7 voicemail messages. Various friends and family had been calling me this morning and had been unable to get through.

The cycle ride back to Stepney Green was surreal. The traffic picked up as I approached Tower Bridge and turned into a mixture of empty and then gridlocked streets as I approached Aldgate. I assume that the police were having to hold off traffic so that emergency services could get access to wherever it was they were going. I have no idea what sort of incidents they were responding to or where they were headed, but a few convoys of emergency vehicles screamed past me in both directions along the empty streets, and squeezed through on the busy ones.

I stopped next to the cordon near Aldgate East and listened to a news reporter talking about the traffic, trying to find out some information as I hadn’t heard a news report since leaving the house. He was saying that the roads were empty but traffic was starting to pick up. He was right in that the road he was stood on was empty, but two streets away, the traffic wasn’t moving.

A guy handing out religious leaflets was not having much luck.

All the roads around Liverpool St and Aldgate East were cordoned off and there was no view of what was happening from where the police line started. I didn’t hang around, preferring to get back and catch up with what was going on. Heading east along the A11, the traffic was being carefully controlled – emergency vehicles were still moving about and I assume that the flow had to be monitored to ensure that police and ambulances were able to move around freely.

The A11 was empty eastbound as I cycled along. The traffic was stationary in the opposite direction. I have no idea why people were trying to head towards the city centre. I passed people waiting at bus stops and told them that there was very little heading east. People will be standing at bus stops for several hours. The 25 bus to Ilford is overloaded at the best of times, so unless people start walking, I don’t know how some of them will get home.

I passed the Royal Hospital again. A few ambulances were pulling up as I passed, and a few news crews were still there. I assume they continued to film those being carried off ambulances.

It’s amazing how calm the city was and how quickly it seemed to be getting back to normal – bar the huge number of pedestrians. I’ve never seen so many people walking across Waterloo Bridge, even during rush hour.

I’m back home and wondering whether to try and make it to the gym tonight.

In all likelihood, I will be having beers in the west end tomorrow evening and I will be down at London’s South Bank on sunday, training just like last week. There’s no point living in fear or changing what you do. Be vigilant, yes, but don’t let the terrorists affect how you live.

Of course I’m no expert on security operations or emergency responses, but the impression that I got from the police was that (as much as they could be) things were under control and there was no cause for alarm. I’ve heard people praising them for their work today and I would like to express my thanks also.