My usual route into London was a drive down the M11, queuing for the last 4 miles to Redbridge then pick up the Central Line to Tottenham Court Rd. On July 7th 2005 I got one of the last spaces in the car park and boarded the tube just before 9.00, which was busy as usual. I am in plenty of time for my meeting at 10.00.
There is a short delay at Mile End, then at Bethnal Green the doors remain open after people get in…a familiar sign of delay. Eventually the driver’s announcement comes:
“Ladies and Gents, please disembark – this train can go no further due to a major power failure up the line”. I remember thinking it was the first time I’d ever heard that.
At the top of the stairs there’s a bus stop, and in practiced commuter style I elbow my way on to the next one and stand in the aisle. In a fragment of conversation I overhear the word “explosion”, but it ‘s only one word so I have to ignore it. At the next bus stop almost nobody gets on and I grab a seat by the window.
My phone rings and it’s my manager, Jamie Moore calling from the Manchester office.
“Where are you, Peter?
“Near Liverpool Street”
“Oh. You okay, buddy?”
“Sure, what’s up?”
“Well, we’re watching the news and I was a bit worried about you. There’s been a terror attack…so get out of London as soon as you can..and if not find somewhere safe and keep your head down.. “
But I am 11 miles from my car at Redbridge. At the next stop the service terminates, everyone off.
I now find myself bewildered; a quiet main street in the City of London at 9.20 a.m. There’s a restaurant opposite with the TV on so standing with about a dozen others I watch live news, and the first chills run down my spine. But it’s still a bit unreal -the pictures are of Aldgate, a 10 minute walk away from where I am standing. I call my wife.
“Where are you, Bev?”
“Just on my way out”
“Okay if you turn on the TV you’ll see why I’m ringing….just to tell you I’m safe….I’m on my way to the office and I’ll be in touch when I can”
My office is still a good ½ hour walk and as I set off I am in empty streets; no taxi or bus, few cars, a bicycle or two. I am walking briskly along Holborn against the flow of the rest, though we pedestrians are few today. There’s more eerie quiet than panic, the shops haven’t opened and the closer I get to my landmark of Centre Point the fewer people are about. It’s a warm day and my laptop bag is over my shoulder, so I am sweating when I get to the office.
Throughout the day there’s a nervous tension,the phone networks are down but SMS gets through intermittently, so I maintain contact with home. At one point the sound of a helicopter causes a few concerns; there’s no traffic noise to drown it out today. The BBC news is on but I am trying to keep busy, I am safe, stay indoors, wait it out. Tavistock Square is just around the corner, though I didn’t realize that until later.
Manchester office takes a London headcount and everyone is accounted for.
Colleagues drift away. At 5.00 the radio tells us there are limited tubes and busses and I eventually get back to Liverpool Street. The mobile phones are working again but there’s no internet on my cheap Nokia so I call a colleague who can see the London transport web site, and he gives me the route that gets me within a mile of Redbridge station. It’s early evening, and even this far out of town the roads are almost deserted. Mine is the only car left in the car park and it’s a real comfort to see it still there.
An hour later I am home and greeted with uncharacteristic enthusiasm by my teenage daughter. TV is showing nothing other than news coverage; the walking wounded, blood and bandages, police interviews, the twisted demented wreckage of the bus in Tavistock Square.
How close was I? In reality not that close –though an earlier tube would have put me in the tunnels around Liverpool Street when the Aldgate bomb went off – but it was close enough to leave a mark on my memory, and I pause for a few minutes on 7/7 every year. The enemy is not people, nor faith, but extremism and intolerance.