July 2005: It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)

bus

I stop the Macbeth video and flick on the radio. My Year 7’s leap around, shrieking and pink-cheeked. Ties are flapping.

IOC President Jacques Rogge begins, and with delightful, British style, the boys link arms and make a circle. Their camaraderie is catching. I laugh. Either way, we’re about to have a moment.

At 12:46 pm and ‘Lon-don,’ they erupt. England to host the 2012 Olympics! It’s lovely, and I’m happy for them, but the day after, I can barely believe it happened. A terrible contrast was coming.

*

‘Chris goes through Liverpool Street Station about this time,’ says Jane, tears starting, ‘and I can’t get him on his phone.’

‘I’m sure you’ll reach him soon,’ I offer, her panic cloaking me. Texting to check on friends, I agonize, the seconds stretching, waiting for my phone to pronounce their safety.

It’s July 7. I’m at school in St Albans, where news of the suicide bombings rushes upon us. In our desperate and sightless ways, we try to tether ourselves. The stabs of horror come quickly, as just to our south, London is wounded. This bespoke violence makes home seem mercilessly remote.

Emerging from her Hammersmith train, Juanita messages in that cheery way Australians often have during a crisis- “all good mate.” She’s only escaped by minutes. Jane gets through to her husband, finally. He’s arrived at his office in the City.

We lived twenty-five miles north of the Themes, in cloistered, handsome Hertfordshire. That evening our answering machine blurts a succession of messages from Australia. Our parents; hotly anxious, friends; fretful, and even people we’d seldom talk with have called.

The day is draining, and forces a deep, pounding introspection. It’s our twenty-fourth month away.

In his remarkable Guardian op-ed piece* Booker prize winner Ian McEwen calls the terrorists’ minds ‘unknowable’ and asks, ‘How could we have forgotten that this was always going to happen?’

*

REM’s Around the Sun concert is postponed because of the attacks, and on Saturday week as we board the Jubilee line I try to think of the fun ahead. It’s our first Tube journey since the unspeakable awfulness, and my hands become sticky as our train crashes through the uneasy dark. My fear races like gas. My eyes zip incessantly.

A streak of jets howls across, the full moon beams, and here we are with 85,000 folk, just across from The Serpentine, in Hyde Park. It’s chardonnay and sushi, not black t-shirts and insurrection. It’s wonderful. Kerry buys a slice of watermelon.

For me, today again confirms London as the planet’s finest theme park. Just walking about is compelling theatre. Send me out on foot for the day, let me meander, and then late afternoon, tip me into a boozer like The Moon and Sixpence in Soho. Sorted.

Twilight falls. REM begins. The concert’s more gorgeous picnic than Glastonbury. Mainstream’s replaced alternative edginess for these Athens, Georgia natives.

Jangly pop doyens, they also have picturesque moments. “Electrolite” from New Adventures in Hi-Fi is one, and I’m thrilled to hear it. It’s their tribute to an often unloved Los Angeles, but the joyousness applies, right here, right now

You are the star tonight
You shine electric outta sight
Your light eclipsed the moon tonight
Electrolite
You’re outta sight

Unhurried and summery, it’s threaded by Mike Mills’ jaunty piano and Peter Buck’s banjo, and insulates us, fleetingly, against our broader catastrophes.

Michael Stipe introduces punk iconoclast Patti Smith to sing on ‘E-bow the Letter.’ It’s her sole appearance on the tour, but in that quotidian, London way, she’s in town. After, with a coda of swirling, Sonic Youth-like guitar feedback, ‘It’s the End of the World as We Know It’ closes their show.

The wife and I zip through the crowds along Oxford Street, and then turn towards Kings Cross. An accusatory light blazes out at us. There are police everywhere, and yellow police tape.

It is Tavistock Square. On the street beneath the light is a silenced double-decker bus, untimely torn by the bomb that detonated ten days ago. Our musical buzz vaporizes.

This tableau’s between University College Hospital and Great Ormond Street Hospital, but for those on the number 30 Stagecoach, both were too far. How could this occur in Bloomsbury? Once associated with arts, education and medicine, and now death. We go home.

July 2005 continues, as it must. Lance Armstrong retires after winning a seventh consecutive Tour de France. Mumbai receives forty inches of rain within a day, and its city decelerates massively, but like London, cannot be halted.

And later, as witness to the gargantuan persistence of this capital, the cricket! Yes, the slow, strange cricket in which we find sanctuary commences with the opening Ashes Test at Lord’s. While Australia wins this match, the longer narrative develops astonishingly, and reminds us of all that’s decent and affirming. In Yorkshire and Cumbria and Cornwell, summer’s in bloom.

We stumble on.

ashes

* http://www.theguardian.com/world/2005/jul/08/terrorism.july74

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