7 Jul 2015

7/7 : contemplation after a terrifying and confused day

It is approaching the hour, the minute – 08.50. Aldgate tube station in east London has been quietly shut, the grilled metal fence pulled across the entrance, several police officers adopting that legs apart, arms folded, not-expecting-anything-untoward stance of theirs.

One looks to his side, where a man dressed entirely in black sits crossed legged on the pavement, hands together in silent prayer with a tiny posy of white flowers laid at the station door in front of him. Tears stream down his face. The constable watches silently,  accommodating the needs of this man, making a space for him. An image of tolerance on a day recalling the very opposite.

Ten years ago, as I rushed here from Liverpool Street station, I was intent on covering a major power surge which was bringing the tube network to its knees at peak morning rush hour. Or that was the supposition.

The screaming of ambulances got louder by the minute as traffic faded away. Buses returned to depots. The entire tube network closed down. Then fire crews and breathing apparatus. No power surge, you see, but something else entirely.

Ten years back nobody had any doubt and any tourist thronging London’s centre somehow seemed to dematerialise.

So different today. Seeing our camera and tripod, tourists around St Paul’s and Aldgate constantly approach to ask what is going on. No need for any inquiries a decade ago as the streets fell empty but for the sounds of sirens and of other people walking.

No sign today of the baffling contrast of pockets of siren-sounding, hi-vis action of a major disaster response – and then utter tranquillity just a few hundred yards away across empty arterial roads and squares across the centre of the city.

A decade back so many wanted, needed, to speak of what they had seen and experienced, to share. Today the relatives of those killed and injured were shepherded carefully into Aldgate and St Paul’s well away from any cameras.

Most, understandably, wanted to reflect privately. A day of contemplation after that terrifying and confused day of struggling to respond, cope, comprehend.

Outside St Paul’s, Esther Hyman has come to the commemoration ceremony. Not for her the black clothing of funereal remembrance. Instead a purple kaftan and a ready smile  at the media and state’s need for an event, anniversary, date, occasion.


For Esther that happens every day in the indelible memory of the sister, Miriam, she lost in the bus bomb at Tavistock Square (picture above) that day. And the hope too, that lives on in the trust set up in her name to bring improved healthcare to thousands in India.

A coping mechanism, she says, of course, but surely something concrete and positive to emerge from the sheer bloody, random, butchery of it all.

As the bells peal for the Great and the Good and the victims and relatives at St Paul’s, wider reflections on all this too.

For there are families today across Afghanistan and Iraq who have lost equally innocent brothers, sisters, parents and children in the long wars we have waged.

That – the bombers said – was the genesis of their attack. That is not to defend it – clearly there is no justification for taking innocent life anywhere across the world.

While denying that British foreign policy was to blame, even Tony Blair, then prime minister, today acknowledged that we must look at 7/7 in terms of “the bigger context” in order to understand.

One thing that perhaps we can all agree on is this. That every victim worldwide deserves our remembrance, every bit as much as the 52 killed so horribly in this city 10 years ago.

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