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July 10, 2005

Still Down There

On Thursday, I got to New Cross at about 10.15, en route to Vauxhall to get some very urgent dosh. There was one tube train on the East London Line platform with all its doors closed and I asked the one man leaning against the railings waiting what was happening, but he didn’t speak English and shook his head. So I went through the tunnel over to the British Rail platform for trains to London Bridge and Cannon Street, where quite a crowd was waiting for the next train scheduled for 10.20 or so on the indicators. Over there I asked a rather posh and well-spoken thirtysomething man with a Daily Telegraph what was happening,

and he said they had closed down the whole of the underground because of some explosions at Kings Cross and maybe elsewhere. ‘All of it?’ I asked. ‘So it would seem’, he said, just as the London Bridge and Cannon Street train came in, and everyone including me moved to get on. But then I thought that if there were really no tubes at all, hard though this was to believe, what would become of me when I got to Cannon Street, not having the dosh for a cab and all if it should come to the crunch. So with one foot almost on the train I turned away and walked back home and turned on the radio. They were just reporting the Tavistock Square bus.

Through the rest of the day I wondered what had happened to that well-informed man and all those people who had got on the Cannon Street train, Cannon Street not being a location of choice to get stranded on that long bad day.

On Friday morning, I still didn’t have any dosh, so after checking the Guardian and Transport for London to see what was running I set straight off for the station, if the truth were told not really fancying the snaky bus to Vauxhall after what they’d done to the No. 30 the day before. About 10.30 at New Cross, there weren’t many people around, and while I waited for the East London Line they made an announcement saying please to not feed the pigeons on the concourse as this encouraged what after all were really vermin and caused a lot of damage. I thought this was as cool as it was funny. Then the tube came in and I made my way to Vauxhall via the Jubilee Line from Canada Water then the Victoria Line from Green Park. It was all very quiet but otherwise no big deal, and the tube seemed abnormally efficient and regular. After I got my dosh I went back from Vauxhall to Oxford Circus on the Victoria then to the Gate on the Central and then back to New Cross and the radio and television coverage. During that day I thought the best interviews were with the tall Asian guy with a pony tail who had lost his girl friend at Tavistock Square, the middle aged guy who was shaking after coming up from the tunnel at Kings Cross, I think, who said everyone had been praying and trying to break the window glass with their hands, and a beautiful Indian girl at Edgware Road I think who used her hands very elegantly and sounded extremely brave. I liked Ken Livingstone’s speech about how London made people Londoners and I thought Tony Blair was rather eloquent and Charles Clarke appropriately downbeat and almost humble and George Bush completely off the ball, and I wondered vaguely what had happened to Gordon Brown. I also talked to my friend Franny who said her sister Janet’s boyfriend had been quite seriously burnt at Edgware Road, I think.

Then on Saturday I was back at New Cross this time on my way to see my best friend Georgia in Newington Green, who had been at the Fleet Street Law Courts at 9 am on Thursday, and had walked back through all the action and had heard the bus explode. She had been rather shocked and disgusted at some of the behaviour she had witnessed, especially some tourists fighting viciously over phone boxes and cab drivers switching off their lights, but had also been impressed with some London workmen off a building site carrying on as if nothing was happening, whistling and laughing like always.

To get to Newington Green, I changed at Canada Water for the Jubilee to London Bridge and then changed to the Northern for the Angel, and then a bus. Even when I was at New Cross I had been thinking about the buried carriage on the Piccadilly Line at Kings Cross, and how this was turning into the terrible image of the week, and how it hadn’t helped when that police chief kept going on about the threat of vermin, and how of all jobs, the job I’d definitely want the least in history would be the rescue worker who first cut into that buried carriage, and how the things he would see would really be the ultimate nightmare, a vision worse than hell. By the time I was crossing to the Northern Line at London Bridge, just a few stops down the tunnel from Kings Cross, I was thinking with some urgency that they had to rescue those trapped bodies as soon as in any way possible, because I could already feel them haunting the underground, gradually making a necessary thing harder the longer they were left down there.

Today back in New Cross, the sun has come out at last after what seems a very long time, long before Live 8 and Wimbledon and the Olympic bid. Welcome as it is, though, its not going to do a lot to help the horror of what’s still down in the Piccadilly Line, which has now completely replaced the Tavistock Square bus as the worst thing of all in all of these bad few days, the thing its really best not to think about, if only that were possible.

They really have to rescue those bodies that are still down there before they start to drive everyone mad.

Posted by Iain Stewart at 5:44 PM in london
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