I’m finding it very hard to believe that this time five years ago I was sat by the side of an Australian motorway, racked with worry over a stranger’s text saying that London had been bombed.
The complete sickly feeling of fear is still as palpable today as it was then: although my auntie was the only Londoner I knew, nestled in suburban Wandsworth, miles from the bombings, thousands of scenarios rushed into my mind about how my parents or my best friends could have been called to the capital that day. My travel partner and I tried to phone and text home for hours, but our calls kept failing to connect as I suppose thousands of expats did the same thing.
All we could do was log on to the hostel computers and read the news updates as they came in, biting our nails and pleading with God, with ourselves, with the internet to tell us it was all a crazy Australian hoax. The movie-like timeline and pictures were simply too terrible to be true.
Now five years have passed and I live close to the bomb sites. Had I been told in 2005 that I would now live quite so near to the heart of the attack, I would have walked away from the lunatic. But though these five years have sped past quicker than I could have imagined, they have dampened the shock far more as well. If I’m honest, I probably feel more when I see my ex from five years’ ago than I do when I hear “July 7”.
Every now and then July 7 is mentioned – not with nearly the same tone of horror as September 11, but more as the Foot and Mouth outbreak is remembered – with vague, distant sympathy for those involved. Perhaps the Londoners’ spirit is more resiliant than New Yorkers’ – I know people who laugh about a conference on July 7 being ruined, and I’m sure millions have nudged each other and joked when a bearded, dark-skinned man boards a tube train – or perhaps it was just too close to our normal lives. The familiar buses and tubes that we board every day in our millions were heartlessly attacked, but we still use them. We need to use them.
If Big Ben or Tower Bridge or another landmark had been attacked, though fewer people would have been harmed, I wonder whether the image of these icons being destroyed would have provoked a stronger sense of grim wonder. It is sad to think that, perhaps, had the lions of Trafalgar Square’s faces been smashed like the Tavistock Square bus’s face was, the city might have remembered it better. But as it turns out, instead we just got back on our horses (or public transport), kept our chins up and became numb to the fear of July 2005.