The joy of watching London throw off its dark recent past
Seven years ago London was a very different place. The GFC hadn’t hit and most people were pretty positive about their lot (albeit with a healthy dose of British scepticism thrown in).
And the city had the chance to hold the greatest show on earth – the Olympic Games. Sure, there were plenty of people who thought the games were going to be too expensive, and with all those extra tourists, the London Underground would be mightily uncomfortable in the middle of summer.
But as the IOC announcement approached, there was still a huge excitement and positivity in the streets. People believed in their town, and many people thought it was a sure thing that London would host the 2012 Olympic Games.
I was living there at the time and, like everyone else, got caught up in the hype. When the announcement was made, I was (almost) as excited as when Sydney won the 2000 games.
I’m pretty sure we abandoned work that afternoon and headed to the pub. So did the rest of London. The warm beer flowed freely, and a few patriotic tunes were belted out over and over again.
I was still on a high despite the hangover the next morning. Morning TV was covering every angle they could think of: the cost of hosting the games, how many medals the UK might win, whether the London Underground could cope.
I don’t remember whether they touched on security.
But they should have. Because as I stepped onto the tube on my way to work, four other people were on trains around London for a very different reason. They wanted to blow them up.
My train that day travelled a couple of stops, but then stopped between stations for what felt like hours. Something was wrong with the train in front.
The driver made a short announcement that we would be abandoning the train at Bond Street and people would have to walk. Not a problem. I needed the walk anyway.
When I finally got to the office, I was alone. People started trickled in with similar tales of having to walk. They were told there was an electrical surge and trains had to be abandoned.
I logged onto the BBC website and saw a picture of a bus with the whole top deck blown off. There was also word that something was wrong on three trains. Clearly this was no electrical surge.
The next few minutes went by as a blur. Where were the rest of our colleagues? Would there be more explosions?
London was under attack; that much we knew. But we had no idea whether there were more people out there, wearing bombs in their backpacks. So the few of us who had made it into the office sat there and waited.
News websites had crashed completely, so we had no way of getting further information.
Police had warned us to stay inside. I worked on Oxford Street in Central London, and if there were more bombers outside, there was a good chance they would be in that area.
Hours passed. We managed to contact a few of our colleagues and knew they were safe. Websites still didn’t work (it was 2005), so someone found an old radio somewhere and we tuned in to hear the news.
Tony Blair’s voice cracked as he confirmed, yes – London was under attack. Dozens of people had died, and hundreds more were injured. And we still didn’t know whether there were more attacks to come.
Less than 24 hours before London was eagerly awaiting to see whether they would host the greatest show on earth. Now Londoners were wondering whether their friends and colleagues were alive.
Sadly for a number of families, the answer was tragic.
Late that afternoon we were allowed out of the building. Helicopters still circled above; but eerily, some shops were still open and people were buying shoes. I walked a few colleagues home. Nobody wanted to be alone.
So, for the second night in a row, we went to the pub. And we were joined by thousands of Londoners that night. Not as an act of celebration, but defiance. London had been attacked, but would not be destroyed.
For the past week I’ve been staying up watching the Olympics and I remember that night. It’s been seven years, and while I’m no longer a Londoner, I’m proud the city is pulling it together.
Read all about it
Up to the minute Twitter chatter
The latest and greatest
Good morning Punchers. After four years of excellent fun and great conversation, this is the final post…
I have had some close calls, one that involved what looked to me like an AK47 pointed my way, followed…
In a world in which there are still people who subscribe to the vile notion that certain victims of sexual…