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July 10, 2005

-- Opinion --

Carrying on in London

By Cassie Lloyd Perrin

Returning to the classroom late on the last day of the summer term Thursday, after an unscheduled, emergency prefects meeting, an unusual sight greeted my eyes.

All 12 members of my form were on their mobile phones -- not unusual in itself, but the fact that my teacher was present in the room at the time when such a large number of contraband items of technology were in use during school hours was more than slightly odd.

It was then that I heard -- while my head was full of ‘get involved’ initiatives and applications for the ‘Sport Support’ team -- that the bombing of London we had all been told was not a question of if, but when, had occurred.

The phones were out in desperate bids to check on the status of loved ones.

Unfortunately for those of us with parents who commute the short distance to work on the London Underground network every morning, all mobile phone coverage in Central London was either jammed or switched off to prevent further attacks.

But we did not know this at the time.

Uncertainty was rife.

No one, not even the 24 hour news stations, the police or the government knew the precise number of blasts or where and why they occurred.

Rumours abounded, and yet another strange event took place. Year 8s were allowed to venture into the sixth form common room. This was taken well by usually ferociously protective sixth formers, as the younger girls – with tears in their eyes – crowded round one of the few televisions in the school anyone had access to without a key from security.

In our perhaps strangely upbeat and short assembly, the message was one that we would see repeated in newspapers and in person by all of London that day.

We were told that no matter what, we would keep going and keep together -- the first of the manifestations of so-called ‘blitz spirit’ I saw after the shocking explosions of that morning.

On the way home, most only noticed the inconvenience of being unable to use the trains which form the arteries of the heart of London and its outlying suburbs.

For us, at most it meant catching a lift from a friend or parent not at work in central London .

For people caught inside London itself, however, many were reduced to walking miles or staying overnight in suddenly exorbitantly expensive hotels, as profiteering became suddenly commonplace in a city shocked to its core.

And this was only the story of those not caught in one of the terrifying blasts.

The stories we heard of the bravery of those deep underground, trapped in tunnels filled with acrid smoke and screams, were both horrific and inspiring. The best qualities in many were able to shine through as compassion and common sense emerged in each situation, keeping all calm.

Trapped at King’s Cross, on one of the deepest lines on the network, people broke through the famously tough doors with bare hands to get air to carriages.

Of all the bravery we heard about, that of the emergency services, which reacted amazingly quickly and efficiently, was the most reassuring and inspiring for those watching the scenes unfold in disbelief that this had happened to us.

Previous drills and safety procedures had prepared our firefighters, hospitals and police, to name a few of those involved in the amazing rescue effort.

No one was sure what really happened at first - whether it was an electrical fault, or if it really was terrorists; if the root cause was G8, or if it was a protest at our achievement of being named the host for the 2012 Olympics.

But Londoners took a collective decision at the end of the day. We decided to keep going, because we had to.

On Friday, the tubes were running again, albeit with a number of damaged stations closed.

More visible police and those lines majorly affected shutting a minority of their stations were the only signs we could really see of the devastation of the day before. Trains were packed in rush hour, and people walked or cycled when they found their journeys less easy than before.

This was London ’s ‘blitz spirit.’

On Thursday night, most streets, bars and clubs were empty. Only the truly hardy ventured out.

But now things are getting back to normal.

London may have been bombed, but we refuse to be cowed by a minority voice attacking us for our way of life.

In the current climate of black and white, ‘good’ against ‘evil,’ we have chosen to carry on, and refused to be scared into submission.

Even if there are more bombs destined for our city out there, a lot of Londoners will refuse to live in a world of fear, and carry on regardless.

 


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