London Calling - 7 Days Later

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by Joe Ambrose, Literary Editor for outsideleft.com
originally published: July, 2005
in the bars, small groups of people were drinking heavily

London calling to the faraway towns.
Now war is declared, and battle come down.
                                                   The Clash.

The night after the bombs went off, seven days ago, I went up town in the evening to see how things were. I live about fifteen minutes walk from Kings Cross. That district, and Russell Square where two of the other bombs exploded, are part of my regular beat.

I knew from previous experience of London under bombs that it was best to stay indoors all day and watch it on TV. The city goes into rigid lockdown in times of trauma and you can never get anywhere. A thaw of sorts came into effect around 9pm. The buses were back on but the Tube was totally switched off.

The atmosphere was rancid in the city centre. Gigs like Sum 41 at the Astoria were cancelled; the supermarkets were all closed down. The streets were virtually deserted and cold dank rain was falling. The only premises open were the more disreputable takeaway food joints and bars in which small groups of people were drinking heavily. There was none of the bounce for which the city is, legitimately, famous.

London was not overjoyed to be awarded the Olympics the day before the bombs went off. Most Londoners either dread the thing or are indifferent to it. The government and the athletics establishment bussed in a load of athletics freaks and local yokels to give the TV impression, in Trafalgar Square, that the "nation" was rejoicing.

Now the same elements are saying that London is grief-stricken but stern and resolute in the face of terrorism. Londoners are worried they're about to get blown up, they're sorry for the dead people and their families, but many of them are otherwise indifferent. An Italian photographer spoke for many foreigners living in the city full of foreigners when he said to me, "What can you expect? When you hit somebody they hit you back."

I went to the celebration of the end of WWII on The Mall last Sunday, The Royal Family was on display - I went because all these ancient 1940s bombers and planes were doing a flypast. The old timers who fought the War (perhaps the last major conflict fought for a just cause) are now in a very sad state, wheelchairs and walking sticks. About 30% of them were ship shape and Bristol fashion, to use a phrase they'd understand. As we made to leave, they played a song called London Pride by Noel Coward through the PA. It was an attractive song but spoke of a confident, very English, London which no longer exists.

The Queen, for the first time since I moved to London, is now talking and acting like a wartime monarch.

When I got home I put on London Calling by The Clash, a band I've sort of gone off over the years. Joe Strummer sang, "And you know what they said? Well, some of it was true!"

Read Joe's portentous fictional account of an attack of Victoria Station, written in 2003, The Fatal Advantage. Originally published by Pulp Fiction Books in the UK.

Joe Ambrose
Literary Editor

Joe Ambrose has written 12 books, the most recent being Chelsea Hotel Manhattan and The Fenian Reader. He is currently writing a book about the Spanish Civil War.

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