Website - 28 July 2005
It was twenty days after the bloody carnage of 7/7, just six following the sequel of the previous Thursday and five days since the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes. But as I stepped onto my first of six underground journeys trips (St. Pancras to Oxford Circus), there was very little to tell of all this.
Of course, the undeniable tension around King’s Cross and in the tubes was omniscient, but it seemed to flatten like a balloon as the day continued. The subject didn’t even warrant a passing reference, from what I gathered, despite the armed police presence.
The ambiance on the tubes and on the platforms were expectedly characterised by anxiety and suspicion. People seemed to have dropped their books and Metro papers for bag-spotting, and I was no different. After deliberately avoiding the lunchtime rush hour, I made it to Oxford Circus by two o’clock.
It was stimulating to instantly experience the same London I had two years ago, the minute I got out of the Tube station. People were still sipping coffee in street cafés, struggling from designer shops with countless bags of clothes and market traders were haggling over toilet rolls.
Then I had a bewildering thought. The bombs and deaths of 7/7 had been set in the context of clichéd, picture-postcard images of Britain. One bomber played cricket, the other worked in a Fish & Chip shop, with an ending set on a double-decker bus.
I didn’t experience any overt anti-Muslim feeling, but perhaps I needed to read between the lines. I noticed an Evening Standard newspaper board which quoted the headline of the day: “LONDON MOSQUE LINK TO ALL EIGHT BOMBERS”.
Later in the day, with the rain pouring down, I struggled to find the South Kensington station among the crowded streets. I caught a glimpse of a t-shirt someone was wearing bearing the London Underground logo, with the words “Not Afraid” printed in the blue. A tsunami of fear washed over me once again.
As I stood on the packed platform, I saw a Muslim man wearing a headscarf, dressed smart. He looked focused yet slightly uncomfortable. I was aware it was five o’clock, the evening rush hour. The mad scuttle threw us together onto the same carriage; I was roughly six feet away from him. My heart missed a beat when I noticed wires running from his ears to his black shoulder-bag, and I began sweating when I saw him reach into his inside jacket pocket, midway through my journey.
The next sound was not boom, nor screams. Nor was it followed by a chorus of whining sirens and car alarms. The man probably just had an iPod, and I felt a little foolish but relieved.
My visit to London was not at all one of fear. It’s the city it’s always been; the best capital city in the world, and I’ll be going back again this year.