Tuesday, 12 July 2005

All Quiet on the West End Front

Since last Thursday, londoners have a new excuse in their extensive arsenal to give when they are late at a meeting or an appointment of some sort: "The roads were block because of a security alert."

Everywhere you hear about how londoners are resilient and resolute in carrying on with their lives (some people even attribute this to Britishness (I think I did just that myself on here at some point), which is probably not quite true considering how unbritish/ cosmopolitan London actually is). On Friday as if nothing had happened, I met up with MFD in Charing Cross and we had one of our usual evenings on the town. The two police vans waiting outside the station and the helicopter hovering over our heads were an obvious reminder of what had happened. Another reminder is the very frequent sound of sirens although their fequency seemed to have diminshed already in the last two days. Apart from that Trafalgar Square looked very much how it usually does. Pigeons milling and tourists flocking.

Still there was something odd about it all. I discussed this with MFD who agreed but neither of us could really pin point what it was. MFD said it was the same atmosphere as during the IRA bombings. I wasn't there, so wouldn't know. My feeling as far as I could discribe it was that London felt unreal, that the city was the same without being the same. I can't say either if this was coming from me or if there was really something different in the air. With hind-sight I think it was probably me as the feeling soon disappeared. We had our usual walk around and ended up in a lovely, kitsch, little italian restaurant we had noticed the week before: Lorelei on Bateman Street in Soho. Things are back to normal.

Almost. On saturday I had a meeting with the Chorus' Steering Committee in Stoke Newington, which meant crossing central London northward (I live near Elephant and Castle). Transport for London's journey planner had informed me I had basically two bus routes to get where I wanted to go. I very rarely use the tube thanks to the very good bus services to and from where I live. One option was through Waterloo and Aldwich, the other through London Bridge. As the second one looked to be the most direct one, I took a bus in that direction. 5 min up the road, the bus was stopped. There was a security alert in London Bridge Station and the bridge was closed even to pedestrians. So much for the direct route. To top it all, I had forgotten my mobile, so had to walk back home (15/20 min walk) and then embark on the other route. Thankfully thinks went smoothly on this one but I was about 30 min late.

Last night, like every monday evening, was rehearsal night for the Chorus. Like every monday, I made my way across town to Camden Town where our rehearsal venue is. Once again I did not go very far without trouble. As the bus rounded the Imax cinema outside Waterloo station, we discovered that Waterloo Bridge was closed to traffic (although, interestingly not to pedestrians coming for the north bank). My bus embarked on a free tour of London, from Blackfriars Bridge all the way to King's Cross, nowhere near its usual route until we reached Euston Station. Discussing this by text message with MFD, I learnt that there had been a security alert in Whitehall. Once again I was late.

This particular trip allowed me to have a quick look at the places where the bombings happened. King's Cross looks pretty much as it usually does, lots of traffic and lots of people going about the business. The two major differences, as far as I could see from my bus are the TV crews doted about the area and the small memorial garden on the side of the entrance to the station where people have left flowers, flags and other mementos. There seems to be book of condolences too.

The street where the bus exploded and which my bus to rehearsal normal uses is still closed. It is blocked by a big white screen behind which the forensics seems to be working none stop helped by the glare of spot lights at night. Security checks restrict access to the screen.

Other than those minor inconveniences, more annoying than anything else, all is quiet on the west end front.

Finally a small dish of food for thought (in the first page of the article anyway).

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