London, The Beautiful


Unable to stay in, as instructed, watching increasingly pornographic news coverage of the bombings – “How many injured? What kind of injuries? How many dead?” – I ventured out on my bicycle. The numbing rain that had mirrored everyone’s mood was being replaced by kinder sunshine. Somehow I felt that I wanted to be out and about in London – not stuck in doors. I was fine, completely unaffected by the biggest attack on the city, but I felt I wanted be out IN the city, not hidden at home.

The streets were quiet, but when I got to Kensington Gardens on my bike, there was vast crowds of people walking out of Central London. All the transport was down – no buses, obviously no Tubes, taxis all taken – so most people walked westward through the park. There was a steady stream of people in the sunshine. All heading one way, like in those disaster movies, but smiling mostly. Getting on with it. It made me happy to see Londoners just “getting on with it”. I suppose we’ve all been waiting for it so long, that when it came it was a horrid relief. There was definitely a surge of “we survived it” gluing us all together.

I continued into town. There were a few police cordons near the American Embassy, otherwise it was deserted. Like a quiet Sunday afternoon. No buses which left the streets feeling very spacious. Peaceful even.

I had too much energy to stop. So I headed to the gym. Although I wasn’t at all conscious of being in shock – infact, I felt rather detached from it all – I guess my body needed to reassert itself, relish the fact that it was still around. Not bashed or torn in a underground tunnel. So I did a workout. In an all-but-deserted gym.

The whole of Soho was 3/4 shut. Most bars, restaurants, shops closed. I met a few friends wandering round, bemused. I thought the streets might be full of people celebrating their continued existence. It was actually very quiet. Though as the evening came there was an amazing almost surreal light over the city. The sort of lurid sunshine you get directly before or after a storm.

Joshua cycled in and we went for a drink. Vaguely euphoric. We wandered down through Leicester Sq and down to Trafalgar Square. Suddenly I was overwhelmed with love for the city. Much more than winning the Olympic bid, the stoic beauty of London in the face of such hateful violence seemed wonderful to me. Big Ben was distant down Whitehall, the column with Nelson’s back to me, those comically mournful Lions, the words of Ken Livingstone, that London will always be a beacon for freedom and people will always come here to be free. How strange that London and Londoners can turn such carnage into something so strong. I felt honoured to live here.


  1. Amy

    September 14, 2005 at 11:52 pm

    Alistair, I got shivers just reading that.
    I’ve only just discovered your blog after a summer sans internet.
    It’s beautiful. Well done, and thank you.


  2. Joe

    November 18, 2005 at 5:32 am

    Alistair…I was reading your blog tonight & this entry stopped me. I went to work on Sept 11th & gradually, slowly as news filtered in watched the events unfurled on tv in real time…My car was in the shop & I had to ask a ride to the subway. As I entered the city, alone, I watched cars filled exiting the city. At metro center i saw millitary trains, designated, also heading for the city core….I watched the Pentagon buring from my roof top on Capitol Hill and that night listened to the planes & hellicopters overhead as the President addressed Congress. I went on-line into a chat room & said hello from Washington. The response was overwelming & I regret that the world’s reaction, so kind , so responsive to us is not the same now….You have an incredible depth & I’m glad I found that out through your essays. Thank you…………

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