A clipping from this blog when I was in London last year.
I finally heard back from my friend George -- he's the last person I'd been waiting to hear from since Friday. I couldn't find his mobile number in my address book, and I only had an e-mail address. I was getting a little anxious, since it's been five days since I wrote.
He was apparently at work already when it all happened. An excerpt from his e-mail:
"... I work close to these sights [sic] but my neighbohood seemed unphased by the whole incident. it was business as usual. my life was uninterrupted by the events and was just as shocked as the whole world when i saw the images on tv..."
Londoners have been accustomed to bomb threats from years of IRA activity. The first time I went to London in February of 1993 I was in the middle of TWO bomb scares in THREE DAYS. 'Business as usual' seems a harsh way to live, but the skin must thicken if you make London your home.
February 2, 1993
Arrived at Heathrow Airport from a long flight -- Bangkok, Thailand via Sofia, Bulgaria. It was a SMOKING flight, too, and I was sitting in the smoking section beside a German fellow who was especially excited to come away from Bangkok with a carton of Camels WITHOUT FILTERS.
"You can't get these in Germany!" he said enthusiastically, puffing himself into a cloud of Camel smoke. Did I mention it was a long flight?
I was perhaps the last person to get to Passport Control/U.K. Immigration. I was alone. I had next to zero in cash. I had no credit card. My only ties to the U.K. were rather flimsy ones, at best.* I had only a one-year open-return ticket to Bangkok with Balkan Airlines.
I was interrogated, needless to say. For more than two hours. I was finally released after they confiscated my address book and phoned some of the U.K. numbers.**
I was exhausted. But relieved. I went to catch the tube to central London, where I'd found a cheap place to stay.
BOMB SCARE #1. Tube stations immediately shut down, everyone evacuated, forced to catch buses. Chaos, with everyone trying to get on the buses or catch taxis. It was nighttime, and all I could remember was a blur of faces going in every direction. If I hadn't been interrogated, I would've passed Hammersmith station before they shut it down. It took me a long, long time to get to Gloucester station.
Fast-forward two days.
BOMB SCARE #2. I was having dinner in Piccadilly Circus with a guy from Durban, South Africa. We were chatting about universities. Suddenly we were told to get out of the restaurant. When we went out the door, it was eerie -- all of Piccadilly Circus, which is usually teeming with people, was completely deserted.
I went to live in Scotland shortly after that. Not for this reason, but the strong cultural connections did make Scotland a relatively 'safer' place to be in terms of IRA activity.
The following month, March 1993, a bomb exploded in a busy shopping centre in Warrington, Cheshire, killing at least one child and injuring dozens of people. I remember this clearly -- it was just before (British) Mother's Day.
March 20, 1993
A month after that an IRA bomb went off in London, wrecking Liverpool Street station and nearby churches.
April 24, 1993
Those news stories show a chilling timeline of IRA terrorist activity from the 1970s to 2000s, not just around London but other large cities like Manchester. Terrorist activity is not ever something one would like to ignore, but after many years of terrorist threats and realities such as this, it should be less surprising to people why Londoners might express a more subdued reaction to last Thursday than expected.
* Long story.
** If it wasn't for one contact, I probably would have been deported back to Thailand. And then I would've been -- as they say -- really stuffed.