Thursday, July 07, 2005

London's Turn

Today Mrs G and I were scheduled to visit friends outside of London. We'd planned on taking the London Underground (subway) from Baker Street to Paddington mainline station, then a fast train from there to our friends' town.

Early reports of unexplained explosions came in as we prepared to leave - no deaths reported but multiple incidents, so we guessed some sort of attack. We've lived most of our adult lives with real and threatened IRA bombings, and like most Londoners, we've learned to press on regardless. So, quick change of plan - switch to walking shoes and more comfortable clothing, rainproof outerwear and umbrellas (July in England!), take pocket map, and cash not credit cards in case telecoms is knocked out.

We walked to Baker Street station, which was closed along with the rest of the London Underground. Passed crowds watching store TVs, eerily reminiscent of Minneapolis on the morning of 9/11. The sidewalks were full of people walking, talking on cellphones and asking directions. Many roads were closed to traffic by police roadblocks.

A policeman who looked about 16 years old told us that a bus had been bombed and so buses were not running, and that trains into London were being turned round before reaching the capital.

Our experience is that London quickly recovers from emergencies, so we set out to walk to Paddington station. All the attacks had taken place within a mile or so, so the streets were full of emergency vehicles with sirens blaring - ambulances, police, fire and rescue trucks. Big disaster management trucks and blood supply vans roared by, which suggested that this was a serious incident.

We passed a local store that had been turned into a field hospital for victims of one of the subway bombings. Police and medical teams were everywhere.

The crowds walked on. The usual friendly and helpful, multicolored London mix - smartly suited City types, casual professionals, overalled working men.

At Paddington, the station had just re-opened. Security forces and railway workers had things well under control, and we crammed ourselves onto the first train out, spending the journey standing and swapping war stories with fellow passengers. We arrived at our destination just 10 minutes later than we'd planned, and spent an enjoyable day with our friends.

Along the way, we tracked down family members, hampered by saturated cellphone networks. Eventually confirmed that all were OK. Gandalfette called from Milan to check we were OK. Then Gandalf Junior called to say he'd just missed one of the bombs! We'd thought he was in Italy too, turned out he's not going until Saturday & he traveled to work along an Underground line just before it was hit. Gulp.

News filtered in. Army deployed in central London, 37 people dead & hundreds injured. Good speech by Blair. Many messages of support from Brit Muslim community.

Then back to London on a fast train running to efficiently-organized emergency schedule, then walked back to our apartment through crowds of people making their weary ways home.

On past performance, most people will come in to London to work tomorrow, walking where they can't ride, and hoping they'll get through the day safe.

My conclusions?

1. Always know exactly where your kids are.

2. Whoever did this has no conception of how hardened the Brits are to adversity and how impervious they and their economy are to attack.

3. Brit security and emergency services are very well trained and equipped. Which makes the Brits hard to kill and the killers easy to catch.

And we're quite proud to be British.