04 July, 2006

Time shift

The first anniversary of London's suicide bombings is fast approaching, and with it a slew of programmes ostensibly seeking to commemorate the events of that day.

Quite why, as a correspondent in this week's Radio Times rightfully points out, the BBC have seen fit to hire Natasha Kaplinksy to "present" the two-minute silence remains to be seen (and presumably not heard).

But at least there's no big budget docu-drama recreation lined up, or anything in the way of Channel Five's Diana Night, roled out precisely one year after the titular Princess died and which included I Dream of Diana (various accounts of people fantasising about the deceased royal in their sleep), The People's Princess: A Tribute (a fictionalised retelling of her final twelve months) and, most unbelievable of all, a 100 Per Cent Special (a Diana-themed edition of C5's quick-fire general knowledge quiz).

I'm speaking honestly when I say that in all the times I've travelled on the Underground since moving to London, not once have I involutarily thought that I might be sitting on a train that is about to blow up. Not once. The concept has never entered my mind. There have been a couple of times where reading an article in the paper or overhearing somebody's conversation has planted the topic in my brain. But that's it. I just don't think about it.

It was very different a year ago when I'd planned to come down to London for a job interview actually on 7th July itself, but the night before had suddenly decided against it.

I wrote at the time how "I just can't find any enthusiasm for the job and this would undoubtedly show through at the interview. Weighing up the pros and cons of it all is pointless, because it assumes I'd be offered the job, so I won't do it." I remember emailing the particular organisation with a big fib: I said I was ill and wouldn't be travelling to London after all.

As it turned out I wouldn't have been able to get to London even if I'd tried, because by the time I would have been nearing the city all mainline stations were already closed. Instead I sat in my old office with my colleagues (I hadn't booked the day off - I was simply going to phone in ill) watching the TV that sat on my desk tuned to the BBC and not doing any work.

One thing I recall very vividly is that we were all quietly impressed by the way Tony Blair appeared to be handling the situation, especially the statement he made live from the G8 summit with the world's most powerful leaders arranged behind him. Strange days.

I then had to go back to London for a different job interview later in the month. I was shitting myself as it was, but the dozens and dozens of armed police all over the mainline and Underground stations merely conspired to alarm rather than reassure. They all appeared on edge, a bit trigger-happy, a bit menacing.

Which is, of course, a shamelessly ironic thing to say in retrospect, given I was visiting on 20th July, and less than 24 hours later four more bombers attempted to blow themselves up but failed, and less than 24 hours after that some of these self-same policeman cheerfully emptied seven bullets into the head of an innocent passenger.

By accident rather than design I won't be in work on Friday to see how they choose to mark the two-minute silence - I'm on holiday. Still, at least I've got Natasha Kaplinky to tell me what to think.


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