A decade on 

The memories of a decade are still pretty fresh. In fact, I was genuinely surprised that it had been 10 years, so vivid are the images stored in my mind.

On July 7th 2005 I was living in Muswell Hill, commuting from the depths of zone 3 into Waterloo. I was nearly 2 months into my new job and my fresh-faced enthusiasm for the commute had worn off. Mornings involved a bus journey to Highgate, then a Northern Line journey of 12 stops. The bus journey, a 10 minute jaunt with no traffic, regularly took up to half an hour at 8am. Muswell Hill’s a great place to live, but it’s a pain to commute from.

On the morning of July 7th, I was running late. On board the bus I discovered that the Northern Line was down, so my brain sought an alternative route from its store of London bus routes. I can’t remember for certain, but I think it involved the 4 from Archway. It may have involved a different route & ultimately boarding the Piccadilly Line. What I’m very grateful for is that I didn’t know about the signal failure before I left the house, as otherwise I would have been on the Piccadilly Line in the direction of Russell Square…

That’s one of the reasons why 7/7 was such huge thing for the people of London. Every commuter has their back up journeys; their quirks and habits; and their routines. Most of the stories you read of those caught up in the attack involve sentences like “my usual line/station was closed, so I…” or “I stood at my usual place on the platform…” 

On that morning, whatever route I took, it was clear upon arriving at Waterloo that something was wrong. Talk was of electrical failure, but as the morning’s work got underway, it quickly became obvious that it was something more sinister. I worked for CMS at the time, in Partnership House on Waterloo Road (known by cabbies as the “Go Forth” building owing to the Bible verse on its frontage). Across the road was London Ambulance HQ and by 10am the road was shut to allow ambulances to have free reign. From the window by my desk, where the day before I’d seen evidence of the 2012 Olympic bid celebrations, I now watched London’s disaster protocol race into action.

Landlines & mobiles went down and the BBC website became excruciatingly slow. My regular work habit of emailing a school friend at her office in Bristol came in handy, as she was able to get hold of my sister to let her know I was fine. She’d heard nothing about it, but was able to put mum’s fears at rest. Talking about that day over lunch yesterday (I think the first time we’ve ever really talked about it as a family) my suspicions were confirmed – Mum had been very worried about me because, unlike the rest of the family, she knew that at least one of the bombs had exploded on a route that was a valid commuting option.

7/7 lives on in the memories of many Londoners simply because it could have been us.

***

Over the last ten years I’ve heard the stories of many friends, colleagues and acquaintances regarding their experiences that July day. The friend teaching in a school near Edgware Road who found herself having to explain something of what had happened to primary aged children; a friend who was on a field trip with a group of hijab-clad women in East London and wondered why they received strange looks on a bus, oblivious to the morning’s events; the one-time colleague who was in an adjacent train at Edgware Road, who received an honour for his First Aid efforts; and clergy friends who were called to the scene or to the aid of emergency responders.

When I moved to work at St George’s, I was very aware of the proximity of Russell Square station (obviously, it was my local station!) and Tavistock Square. In common with many Londoners, I still can’t pass the British Medical Association building without remembering the photo of the number 30 bus, blown apart, debris and blood scattered all around. The church was within 7 minutes walk of two of the bombs. This week, my former incumbent has been sharing his memories of the day he was called to a task that most clergy dread: being on the scene of a major disaster. It had a profound impact upon him personally – as it did with others who responded.

***

That July evening, after a suspect package on a bus outside resulted in the evacuation of my office, I walked through a shocked city. Transport was on lock-down and huge swathes of streets were closed. To return to north London, there was just one option: walking. [My Mum, having ascertained that I was safe, immediately turned her attention to my footwear – did I have anything practical with me? Thankfully, yes.] From Waterloo I crossed the river, toiled up through Tottenham Court Road, past Camden and along Kentish Town Road – at which point, a woman hit me. Not hard and not out of malice, but out of frustration. Her pace was erratic and I’d kept over-taking her, and her annoyance got the better of her. I climbed up the hill to Highgate Village, forgetting just how steep the incline was, and paused on a bench to have a bit of a cry at my extreme tiredness and desperation to be home. At Highgate, I emerged to find red buses travelling towards Muswell Hill and dejectedly boarded one.

Unlike 52 others that day, I got to complete my day’s commute.

Remember the date tomorrow. To honour the victims and remember their families. [Ensure you watch A Song for Jenny on iPlayer.] To recognise the extraordinary efforts of ordinary people caught up in the events. And, most of all, to pray and work towards the end of such senseless violence anywhere and everywhere in the world.

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