Revelling in the central location of our new flat, it was about a quarter to nine when I staggered out onto Camden Street in search of some sort of public transport to get me to my sleepy day job. Well looky here (in an experience not uncommon to Londoners), there's a bus that goes from the stop just outside of the estate to where else but the tube stop just near my work!
Bus is packed, rush hour, whatever...we wind our way through the new Eurostar terminal, come out on to the main road and I look up to see a floodlight on a raised tower thingy....strange. The bus swings past Kings Cross Station, and it's only when I see the half dozen reporters on the other side of the road, standing in front of more floodlights and cameras pointed at them with the station in the background, that I twigged.
It really was a year ago today, wasn't it.
An eerieness quickly crept in when I realised that the time happened to be a couple of minutes past nine o'clock, almost exactly the time, on this day a year ago, that the station was evacuated and I poured out with the river of black white and grey on to this very street, to search in vain for a bus to the next station.....
A year ago...
As the cliche goes, it started, as any one who was in central London that morning will tell you, like any other day. To an overcast morning, I awoke alone in the one bedroom flat I shared with my ex-girlfriend at the time, donned the white shirt and grey pants (too small) necessary for the full-time temping day gig, and ate my cereal and banana in silence before trudging down St Paul's Road to the melee of my local tube station.
Descending into the bowels of the beast, my journey started that day with the Victoria Line, the light blue one, always fast, always packed in the sleepy angst of a London rush hour. "I'm not one of you, you know," I kept telling myself back in those days, even though I fully realised every day what I had (or hadn't) done to end up in the position I was in. And being determined to make it to work every day of those stupid-ass jobs was my way of getting out of it.
I distinctly remember thinking in the couple of days before that things couldn't get any worse.....
Making the change at Kings Cross station to the Northern line, I was standing there with the swaying masses on the southbound platform at what must have been 8.50 AM, when I happened to be staring up at the lights in the ceiling of the tunnel and saw them flicker, and my mother's voice in the back of my head instantly thought that can't be right.
Already running late for the job, I missed the crush for the oncoming tube...damn I'm gonna be late....turns out it didn't matter that day.
The next tube is halted at the previous station. An automated male voice tells us to leave....the usual hissing from the tube crowd....it was that flicker, wasn't it.....overheard someone mention an electrical fault.....
Pouring out with the sea of black white and grey and into the streets of Kings Cross and the already overflowing bus stops...screw this, I'll walk to the next station.
And so I ended up following various lines and stations, cutting southwards across the city, encountering more and more crowds of confused commuters. The Square Mile was cubically full of law and finance minions as far as the eye could see, but there didn't seem to be any sort of confusion. A random foreign woman came up to me out of the crowd, asked me how to get to a station on the other side of the city. I advised her that pulling up in the nearest cafe was probably the best option.
I never twigged, the whole time. I overheard someone mention a bomb, but despite the crowds, despite the occasional fire truck and helicopter, I never stopped to ask anyone or find out what was going on. It was only my fourth month there, still getting used to the place, and absolutely determined to earn some money that day.
It was only when I pulled up at Tower Bridge, the eleventh or twelfth closed station I came across that day, and read the tube info sign advising to 'get out of central London' that I realised something heavy had gone down. Not long after I saw a panicky looking cop hand signal a bus into a driveway. As I walked along the main road heading east out of town, entirely filled with cars both ways, I noticed that the sound of sirens, which had been building continually all morning, had been non-stop for about half an hour....
After three and a half hours walking, I got to within a block of my job when ex-girlfriend A called me up (on a rare mobile call to make it through that day) and filled me in.
I had to stop on the corner for a second as the weight of the events hit me.
I looked up at the lights on the tube platform. The lights flickered, and people died. Meaninglessly.
I soon found out that the most casualties of the morning were on the Piccadilly line, between Russell Square, the next station along, and where I was standing. It could have been any one. The bus explosion at 9.47AM was at Tavistock Square, about a kilometre from Kings Cross, which was about the time I was wandering around that neighbourhood. The bus was a number 30, one of the routes which went past our flat, a bus that A and her sister C caught all the time. Could have been any one.
The next day was like Day of the Triffids, eerie. Angel station was deserted. I entered the DLR carriage to find about half a dozen people with newspapers who all shot a quick glance as I stepped in.
For the next month the city was in lockdown, everyone was wound up so tight. I was living between friends places at the time - heading to a different job one morning, carrying a large black bag with clothes and a small keyboard amplifier, I got pulled over by a bobby at 8AM for a 'regulatory search'. That was some quota they had to fill.....
It's not a remarkable story. I certainly didn't see any blood stained people staggering down the street, didn't hear any explosions, didn't know anyone affected. It's quite a pedestrian account, considering I now live with someone who emerged from his central Manhattan apartment at about 9AM on the 11th September 2001 to witness, shall we say, something new.
But everyone has that special memory reserved for where they were when certain world events occur; a scratch on the surface of the collective consciousness. So I guess that in the future, whenever anyone mentions July 7, then I can say, quite honestly and wholeheartedly, that I was there.