Friday, 7 July 2006

A walk in July

I went for a walk this morning.

I got off at Russell Square station at twenty past eight. The station has been reconfigured so one exits the lift straight onto the street. Immediately the yellow high-visibility jackets are visible everywhere, and the press were already present - penned in by metal railings to keep them a certain distance from the station, although as usual they lack much subtlety.

I walked up Marchmont Street then onto Tavistock Place. Tavistock Square was closed to vehicles, but pedestrians walked around pretty much as usual. Signs on the street gave information about the park in the centre of the square being closed to provide some privacy to those directly involved in the events of last year, and the bus stops being closed, but otherwise the people seemed much the same as always - hurrying to work.

The news crews have gathered (or been told to congregate as such) around Upper Woburn Place and the south end of Endsleigh Street. They were frantically laying cables, testing equipment and getting just the right angle for their shot of the location the number 30 exploded. On seeing the media vans some passers by seemed more aware of the date, although this form of resonance is probably more media generated than personal.

I walked to Euston Road and then toward King’s Cross. A helicopter chopped above us and the sound reflected off the buildings, and other than the road closures previously mentioned it was in almost all ways a quotidian experience.

The cavernous new western ticket hall at King’s Cross was largely closed off - only a small staircase took you down to the lower level, with blue full-height barriers blocking off the station in a way rather discordant with the normally expansive layout. I walked up to the remembrance garden at the base of York Way and saw a sizeable crowd. The media were again out, this time in greater numbers. They were in front of a metal barrier, we were behind. There was a stark contrast between the media and the public: the media were laughing and chatting with each other and rushing about. The public were most urbane, simply waiting.

As 08:50 came Ken Livingstone, Tessa Jowell, Tim O’Toole and Peter Hendy walked in to the garden, accompanied by a member of the church. They lay flowers and stood in a silence shared with the public for about five minutes. During this time the press received calls on their phones, fidgeted for better composition of their piece and a late coming cameraman pushed the public aside attempting to get as close to the front as possible. Despite these intrusions the event was powerful - a somber, simple and unsentimental occasion.

After a time the group left the garden and walked, under police escort, towards the entrance to King’s Cross mainline station. A woman broke down in tears in front of them - they stopped, stood and listened to her. All of them looked earnest and sincere, particularly Tim, Ken and Peter, of whom it was clear that this event held genuine significance. As the lady was calmed they walked into the station, tears in Ken’s eyes while Peter and Tim looked shaken, but proud to be present.

I walked down to the underground station and took the Piccadilly line south to continue my journey to Victoria, making a trip that one year ago was impossible.

I’m glad I decided to take this diversion on the way to work this morning. I don’t believe that such anniversaries require mass hysteria, but quiet reflection of what has happened in the past year. I spoke to Johnny Bucknell, a former councillor in Camden two weeks ago - I’m sure he won’t mind me quoting him here. We didn’t agree on very much, but on one thing we were in total concordance. The best way of making defeating terrorism is to get on the train the next morning and come to work.

I think the rational reflection I observed, with the otherwise bustling tubes today showed that this statement is not only right, but what London did.

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