July 7 2012

The Winner is ‘London’, London wins the Olympic Bid, followed by terrorist bombings

With the opening ceremony of the London Olympics merely a week away, I remember back to the year 2005 when I lived in London and the host city for the 2012 games was announced.  I purchased a copy of ‘The Guardian’ on the 7th July, the day after the announcement took place, the front page story .a great contrast to what would be shown on the cover of the 8th July edition.

I worked in (and lived in) a pub, The Greenman, 243 Euston Road, NW1  ( the centre of zone 1 London).  The news was announced and the city of London revelled in joy.  I rung the bell at closing time on the 6th July, and tried to kick out the remaining stragglers at the pub, a group of which were some Aussies, who picked up on my accent and attempted to appeal to my ‘shared homeland’ sympathy and give them some more time to finish their pints and carry on.   Being tired from my twelve hour shift, I wouldn’t have any of it, then one of them said “c’mon, let us stay, have a drink with us, we won the Olympics!”.  I acknowledged and agreed with this statement – ‘We won the Olympics!’, for about two seconds before I had to again politely ask them to finish their drinks and leave at last.

We’ claimed London as our home, because we fleetingly lived there on working holiday visas and gap years.  We worked in pubs and hotels, as Au pairs, and signed up to temping agencies when we were sick of the hospitality industry.    We met Brazilians, Italians, Spanish, French, Polish and Lithuanians – who were here in search of a better life or to learn English and improve their chances of a better life back home upon return.  We met Irish, and then hundreds of other Australians, New Zealanders and South Africans here doing the same things.  We took it for granted what we had back home.  The London we found was not the London we read about in Dickens or Sherlock Holmes; it was not just Piccadilly Circus, Hyde Park, the Thames, Hamleys, St Paul’s Cathedral.   It was this thriving international epicentre, where people from all over the world came to try to make a life for themselves, to pursue their dreams, to party, and to drink their nights away.

The morning of the 7th July 2012, I went for a walk down to Oxford St, bought the newspaper along the way and had been planning to walk up to Kings Cross St Pancras to purchase some National Rail tickets for a trip to Edinburgh, but first stopped back at the Greenman – where the bar staff immediately accosted me with ‘Where have you been? We were worried about you!  Stay in the building and do not leave!!’.

The London Underground had been bombed.  Three major locations were attacked: Kings Cross St. Pancras, Aldgate and Liverpool St Station.  A bomb was set off in a bus at Tavistock Square.

The pub was flooded with passers by the rest of the morning.  We watched the news on the small TV that we had in the pub, it was as crowded as the pub got when a football match was on. Public transport was suspended until 4 pm.  We waited for more news.  We were worried about more bombs.  The city was in shutdown.

I went out to Tesco’s next door later in the day, at about 4:30 pm but found a hand written sign saying ‘Due to the events of today we are closed’.   I wandered further to a Sainsbury’s in hope of finding something to eat and found the same sign.  As the end of the business day approached, workers began leaving their offices for the journey home, with rampant fear of public transport.

I walked up Tottenham Court Road at around 5:30 pm, pedestrian peak hour.  The people walked  in worry and fear.  It was a mass exodus from the city on foot, in silence.  What a day.  The next morning I purchased the Guardian, the front page news in great contrast to the excitement of winning the Olympic bid.

Two weeks after the incident, there were more attempts at bombing attacks.  Along Euston Road, bus stops were covered in missing person signs – I presume, of people whose whereabouts were unknown since that day, the unidentified injured or dead.  Fifty-two people were killed and over 700 injured on the 7th July.

I have read some chilling recollections from survivors of the blasts, and how everyone in London who was there that day recounts their choices about which tube train they were ‘meant to catch’ that morning but didn’t.  One of the survivors from the blasts lost her legs (her story is here).  She looks forward to the London Olympics, and will be competing as a paralympian.

I absolutely dread going through customs in the USA.  After September 11, the London Bombings and other terrorist incidents, those of us who journey across continents will all be treated indiscriminately as a security risk until rigorous body screening and inquisition has shown otherwise.

It saddens and angers me that our collective anticipation of international sporting events such as the Olympics and the World Cup now also come hand in hand with increased security, and a heightened fear of terrorist threats.  After coming home from London later in 2005, I immediately felt safe and secure back in Australia: World Wars have not been fought on our soil, multiculturalism is increasingly embraced, we are seemingly devoid of class tensions and are generally a tolerant lot.  I admit that these notions I hold are simply ideals – problems are brewing in our society.  The future is a global future.  Ideology will be attacked by those who vehemently disagree – history shows that this has always been the case through the millenia.  The threat of terrorism abounds, we can live on with awareness of terrorist threats but we can’t live on with fear.  Just as the people of London have lived on with awareness of terrorism and have moved on with their lives, they have now got the Olympic games in their home city to celebrate.