My job takes me to New York, China, Switzerland, Germany, and yesterday it was supposed to take me to Milton Keynes, such is the glamour of my existence with Sweatshop Busters Inc.
The plan was to meet my boss on the Circle Line platform underneath Paddington Station, but thanks to my own personal disinclination to get on a crowded train at Reading, I arrived a few minutes late – a few minutes after they closed the gates, telling everyone there was a power failure. I called my boss and left a message saying I would get a bus to Euston; I assumed she would do the same thing.
It took a while to push through the crowds and work out which bus I needed, but when it arrived there was simply no chance of getting on. As I stood waiting for the next one, the police closed the road; at that point I decided to walk. An official outside Paddington advised me it would take about 15 or 20 minutes, which is testament to the reigning confusion; what with the detour caused by Edgware Road being sealed off [and my subsequent wrong turning], it took an hour.
At Edgware Road I saw what looked to me like a bomb-squad sort of vehicle, and first heard the rumour of two explosions. As I walked, emergency vehicles were screaming by, and every tube station was sealed. I started to worry because my boss still hadn’t returned my call; also I was lost by this point, so I phoned Pete for directions, and he told me a bit more about what was going on, when I could hear him through the sirens.
It took me about an hour to reach Euston, and by the time I got there, the station was completely closed, and all mainline services out of the capital were suspended. It sank in very slowly, that not only could I not get to my client, nor could I get home. Nor could I get hold of anyone in London, because the mobile networks were so busy; and it didn’t feel like anywhere was safe. That was a lonely moment.
My boss finally called me; she had been trapped in the underground for two hours, and when I spoke to her, she had no idea what had been going on; she wondered why I was so glad to hear from her. As far as she was concerned, she had been inconvenienced by a local power failure, spent a couple of hours observing the funny Brits being all blitz-spirity, and then had a high old time walking along the underground tracks to be rescued. I’m really glad that, when she was stuck in that train, she had no idea why she was stuck in it.
She told me to get a cab to her flat in Kensington; well – someone must have been able to get a taxi in London yesterday, because there were a lot of them about, but they were all taken. I walked, and it occurred to me that I might want to avoid the main roads; it occurred to lots of other people, too, but the text messages saying avoid Kings Cross and walk through the park only reached me in occasional batches.
I managed to get a cab at Knightsbridge, by which point I didn’t think I could walk another step. A quarter of a mile down the road, he let me out again because the road was sealed. He charged me £3 for the brief sit-down.
There was a constant flow of information updating me about what was happening. I had seen the Evening Standard headline saying people had been killed by now, and a graphic of the targeted areas on Sky News in a TV shop window; Pete and my office kept calling me with warnings and news; and I just kept walking. Even while helicopters hung over our heads, London felt like it was somehow in control of the situation. There was no panic. The traffic wasn’t entirely at a standstill. London was suddenly full of people doggedly trying to get to where they had been going before they were so rudely interrupted.
Eventually I was rescued, given tea at my boss’s flat, where she kindly allowed me to work all afternoon. The quality of weblog reporting seems to have improved a lot since 2001, but maybe that’s because I read more weblogs that are actually based in London, so the quality of information is better. It was good to know when the trains started running again, and it was particularly good when Mr Sevitz offered to walk me to the bus to Clapham.
I appreciate how lucky I was yesterday, that the bus didn’t explode outside Paddington, and that I didn’t get down to the tube a few minutes earlier. I’m happy that all I’ve suffered is enormous blisters and aching legs. I’m really impressed that London was so cool in the face of attack. And I was bloody glad to get home to Pete last night.