Tuesday, 7 July 2015

That Summer day

Somewhat inevitably, I was running very late on the morning of 7 July 2005. At the time I was working near Waterloo station, so my usual commute was to take the Piccadilly line from Bounds Green to Piccadilly Circus, then change to the Bakerloo line to Lambeth North. I caught the BBC London travel bulletin around 08:55, which said that there were ongoing severe delays with the Northern, Piccadilly (there had been an earlier fire alert at Caledonian Road), and Bakerloo lines, and so decided to walk to Bounds Green to see what the situation was. If it was a non-starter, I'd back-track to the nearby Bowes Park National Rail station for my usual "Plan B" route via the West Anglia Great Northern service into Moorgate.

Just after I left home around 09:10 - by which time I'd switched the TV off - I got a text from a friend from Manchester asking if I was already at work, which I thought was a bit odd. Around 09:25 I turned the final corner 50 metres from Bounds Green, but could see that the station gates were closed, so immediately turned around and headed back to Bowes Park. I didn't rush because I knew that while I'd just missed the 09:23 train, the next wasn't until 09:38, but reaching the top of the stairs leading down from the bridge over the tracks to the station, I could see that there was a train already standing on the platform. Having run down the steps and virtually dived through the open doors, however, I was informed by another passenger that the train hadn't moved "for ages."

I then texted a work colleague to say that I was going to be more than usually late, but she replied to the effect that she herself was stuck on a train at Clapham Junction, and otherwise didn't know what was going on, leaving me with a growing realisation that something must be very wrong. A couple of minutes later the driver of our stationary train came on the PA to inform us that not only had the entire London Underground had been shut down, but that our train would only be moving on to the next station - Alexandra Palace - where it would terminate. Faced with no reasonable way to get to work, I got off and headed home. As I walked back, I got a call from the friend in Manchester who'd texted earlier, asking if I was okay, what with all these "power surges" and stuff....

My arrival at home at about 09:45 woke my then-flatmate, Claire, who was having a lie-in as she'd already finished Uni for the summer. Blearily, she asked: "What's going on? Why are you back?" I said she'd better turn on the TV in the lounge, while I went to my bedroom to change out of my work clothes, switching on the set in there at the same time. I eventually joined her on the couch, and we ended up watching the live coverage of events in a state of numbed horror until well into the afternoon, our own bewildered speculation about what could have happened punctuated by texts and calls from worried friends and relatives in London checking in, and from those further afield making sure we were OK.

I ahve always been very philosophical about the possibility that I could eaasily have been on the Piccadilly line train that was bombed, especially when it became apparent that the explosion had occurred at the front of it. Because of the position of the passageways between the Piccadilly and Bakerloo lines at Piccadilly Circus, I usually got on at the back of the train at Bounds Green (that part of the platform ironically being marked with a plaque commemorating the civilians killed there when the station was bombed on 14 October 1940). On the other hand, if I had just come down the escalators and there had been a train already waiting, I would have got on in the middle of it. The absolute worst case scenario as I saw it was that, yes, I could have been on the train that was bombed, but not in or near any of the cars directly affected. For Claire, though, this wasn't enough reassurance. We'd been sharing the flat strictly platonically for three years, but the events of that day were a significant part of the process of her realising how she really felt about me, not that she said anything at the time (to cut a long story short, we became a couple in early 2006, and married in September 2008).

On the evening of 7 July, I recorded that night's Channel 4 News, more simply as an historical document as anything else. I'd long had an interest in the history of the London Underground, especially events relating to it during the Second World War, a side effect of that day's events being that my website on the subject received a sudden and massive spike in activity, the inevitable result of it containg the words "London," "Underground," "bomb," and many of the affected station names.

The next morning, while the bus network and much of the Underground was operating at least in some form, commuters were being strongly advised not to travel into central London unless absolutely necessary. Although working for the National Health Service, my job was hardly "frontline," and yet I didn't have much doubt about going in to work. Whether the bombers themselves were alive or dead (it still wasn't clear at that stage that they were actually suicide bombers), there were undoubtedly others - helpers, sponsors, or even just sympathisers - who would have wanted nothing more than seeing the capital crippled and cowed for yet another day. I wasn't going to be a part of that, even a tiny passive one.

The Piccadilly line was only operating at its extreme ends, the line blocked in the middle by the wreckage of the bombed train stalled between King's Cross-St Pancras and Russell Square. Replacement buses were operating from Bounds Green, taking passengers either west to the Northern line, or east to the Victoria. Many people could be understandably excused for wanting to avoid trains in general and the Underground in particular as much as possible that day, but I decided that I'd go straight to Bowes Park and get the train to Moorgate, reflecting on the fact that the tunnelled section between Drayton Park and Moorgate had - as the "Northern City Line" - been part of the Underground network until 1975.

Arriving at Bowes Park, I found the scene more akin to a Saturday afternoon than a weekday rush-hour, with barely a score of people waiting on the southbound platform. Hardly anyone was talking, but there seemed to be a tangible sense of defiance in how the few of us who were there held ourselves. As unobtrusively as I could, I used the compact 35mm camera I always carried with me to take a photograph of the scene for posterity. With a few minutes to spare, I walked idly to the northern end of the platform, and as I moved closer something caught my eye. At the bottom of the slope down to the track bed, amongst the broken and weedy earth, a clump of vivid red poppies had taken root, swaying gently in the breeze....

For me personally, 7/7 will always been that day I didn't get on a train, but so many people died, or were injured, or suffered in other ways because they did. Ordinary people, going about their normal everyday lives.


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