Wednesday, 7 July 2010

7/7: Five Years On

Five years ago today, I was a wide-eyed New Zealander who had been in London for only two months, and was still a stranger to the city. I was living in Cricklewood, London, and had just started temping as a travel consultant in Tower Hill. I didn't know many people, and would regularly email home from the internet cafe across from my flat. I was relishing the strangeness of it all, and it was a wonderfully exciting time.

Then the bombs went off. This is the actual email I sent home that day.

-----Original Message-----
From: Claire Nelson
To: Home
Sent: Thu, Jul 7, 2005 9:41 pm
Subject: A very strange day.

A series of bomb attacks on London's transport network has killed more than 30 people and injured about 700 others. 
Thank you for those who have sent me texts and emails - yes I'm safe and well, although it has been the most surreal day. 

This morning I got on the tube as usual, changed at Westminster, and stood packed shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of other commuters. I had my headphones on, and thought how ridiculous it is for people to be squashed in like this but that I was somewhat used to it now. Then, just before we were to pull into Tower Hill station, the train suddenly stopped. There was silence.  (Well, I was listening to T-Rex, but only very quietly). The thing is, I started to feel a bit panicky. There was no reason to – this sort of thing happens all the time – but I did, and I felt silly for it. There was no announcement from the driver initially, and it started to get really really hot. Sweat started to trickle down my face. 

I took my headphones off and looked around me. People were all looking very uncomfortable. I held a cold drink in my bag to my forehead and wondered how long I could stand the heat before I went crazy and smashed a window. I decided I would not be the first to wuss out! Then the driver announced that there was a power surge which had caused the signal failure, and we would be up and running again shortly. And we were. 

As we all stumbled out of the station at Tower Hill there was a barrier up stopping people from coming in. It was raining, and outside there was a large crowd looking furious. An old lady pushed past me into the station. “Sorry ma’am, you can’t come into the station,” said a security officer. I thought there must have been a problem with the line. I didn’t think it was anything serious. Why would I?  
I got to work late, and was left to man the phones while the others had a meeting. A man called to speak to the boss in our area and when I said he was in a meeting he said “Well let him know there was a bomb at Liverpool St Station.” 
Then calls started coming in from colleagues’ family members and friends, checking that they were alive. When the team came back they were all shocked by the news, and suddenly no one could do any work. We managed to get onto the news websites and found out what had gone on.  More bombs had gone off. One of the girls I was working with said she would have been at Liverpool Street except she decided to go swimming this morning, and she was pretty shaken. 
All morning we had more and more updates, and each time it was worse. Suddenly it was luchtime... the morning had gone so quickly... but no one took their breaks. We had even been told at one point not to leave the building, although we knew other places had sent their staff home.

The mobile networks had been shut down so no one could reach anyone else. The rumour behind this was that the bombs had been set off via mobile (as the Madrid bombings had been). I had emailed most of you before I really knew what was happening but once I realised it was serious, I was so relieved to get emails from a lot of you. I thought, “What are you lot doing up so late!” But it made me feel really cared about, so thank you.
I left work early, at 4.40pm, and didn’t arrive at my doorstep until 8:15pm. 
That has to be the longest commute of my life! It involved a 2 hour walk from Tower Hill to Euston station – one of the only stations to be open, and from there I could catch a mainline train to Kilburn Park – not quite home, but somewhere in that vicinity. The underground was closed completely, and all inner-city buses were suspended. People were worried about getting home and many were booking hotels or arranging to stay with friends. I couldn’t do either, so decided to leg it.

When I left my office building and came out into the bright sunshine of the street, there were hundreds of people, most of them in suits, walking the streets with maps. Everyone I passed seemed to be talking about finding a way home. A big shaven-headed fellow walking near me looked at me and shook his head.
“Chaos, innit?” he said. 
“Bit like that.” I replied. Then he asked me for directions. I had a lot of people asking me for directions, probably because I was clutching my A-Z rather desperately.

From there, my walk inevitably took me past Aldgate, Liverpool Street and Kings Cross Stations, each of them a target of the bombings. I passed Aldgate first, being close to Tower Hill, and saw it was blocked off in every direction. There was a tent outside the station amongst the ambulances, which must be for taking care of the injured, or perhaps the dead. 

It was hard to work out a route home on my A-Z as so many streets were cordoned off with tape and police officers. People were wandering all over the place, looking bewildered, following other people, but not exactly knowing how to get home. It was like mice in a maze. The roads had mostly been closed off so there were very few vehicles about... just a few taxis and a lot of police cars & ambulances.  I wandered down Bishopsgate, past Liverpool Street. This had been the street I spent my lunch hours wandering along a couple of weeks back when working for the European Bank. If I had still been working there then I would have definitely been at Liverpool Street Station at 8:49am when the first bomb went off in the tunnel there. I can't let go of that reality but I feel a bit sick to think about it. 

All the shops in the area had long been closed, and the windows were dark. People filled the footpaths, wandering in a mass exodus towards the station, which to my surprise had just been reopened. A crowd surged in through the entrance. There was no way in hell I was going back into the underground today – I didn’t even contemplate it. I bought a paper outside the station, which was packed full of dramatic headlines, and carried on.

The weather was off and on all day. It was getting really hot, and I was sweltering. I didn’t really know where I was going, but tried following my map along main roads to keep it easier.  I overheard a man telling someone on his phone that he was heading to Euston station so I followed him for a bit. He was wearing an olive green suit so it was easy to tail him.
Passing Kings Cross a little later was unnerving. It is such a large station, and a bit of a landmark, but the streets all around were closed. Even little side streets with small hotels along it were closed. Police stood at each street entrance and were giving people directions for detours. Looking down each street you could see the station looming at the end of it, no sign of damage to the outside, but looking rather dead, as if you could sense the awful scenes inside it. That may sound silly to you but it gave me the shivers.
Cherry pickers with camera men on the top stood at the ends of some of the streets, getting close ups of the station. It had started to get cold when I finally reached Euston station.  Total madhouse – again, entrances were cordoned off nearby, camera crews were setting up all over the place, not to film the station but to film other scenes close to it. I didn’t stop to see what they were filming, I just wanted to get home.

*[I later learned I had just walked past the scene of the bus bomb at Tavistock square]

I spoke to a nice ticket man who confirmed that yes, my travelcard would get me on the Silverline to Kilburn Park. But what the nice ticket man didn’t tell me was that Kilburn Park station was not open today. It was weird enough getting on the train after what went on this morning. There was a general sense of unease in the air. Strangers on the train were all talking to each other about conflicting information they’d been given regarding stations and which ones were open. But then we were off, and it wasn’t until I ended up in [?] that I realised this train wasn’t any use to me. I stood on the platform, feeling rather deflated. It started to rain and I was currently carrying the world’s smallest umbrella. I really wanted a cuddle and a cup of tea at that point. Instead, I got directions from a rail representative, and caught a bus back towards home. It took two more buses actually, before I arrived in Cricklewood. 
I wanted to crawl into bed and read a book but the sun has come out again and it's still light.  There is a strange energy in the streets, and I can’t stop thinking about today. I keep thinking that I shouldn’t be so dramatic, it’s over, and that’s the end of it, I have lost no one and nothing, and I am grateful for it. 
But then every few minutes the enormity of it all sinks in a little and I feel a bit shaken.  I am sure by tomorrow I will feel normal again. 

I might even go back on the underground in the morning... I really don’t fancy that walk again.
Lots of love,


  1. Thank you for that, brings it all flooding back, remember watching on the tele and also makes me very grateful for living here in the countryside

  2. I wasn't living in London at the time so, to me, this is all stuff that happened on the news. Hearing how you were affected, even though you weren't (thankfully) at the scene of any of the bombs, really brings it home to me just how big this was. I'm sad I didn't know you then so I wasn't around to give you cuddles when you needed them.

    Strange how people can't find their way around without the tube. I always carry a small map book in my handbag - you never know when you might need one.

  3. Wow...very, very powerful email you wrote there. You can "feel" everything in the text. What a surreal day that was, how big and how heavy on everyone.
    You really have left me without words... what a powerful testimony.