Fear and fireworks

What a totally shit month we’ve had. Two London terrorist attacks, one Manchester attack and then the fire. The awful, awful fire.

Londoners last night were raging at the insensitivity of a massive firework display booming and exploding people’s hearts in panic across the capital. Twitter was trending with gunpowder  outrage.

Last night wasn’t the first time this had happened . Back in 2005 after the bus and tube bombings we had firework explosions  but we didn’t  have Twitter to be reassured that it was just pyrotechnics.

I was a single mum in London during the bus and tube attacks of 7/7.  On the day it happened I was teaching Zoë-the-daughter’s nursery class how to make flapjacks at her Camden Town school.

The headteacher interrupted the class to pull me aside and say that Ged (now husband, then boyfriend) had called the school phone to check if I was ok.  “Why would he do that?” I’d asked her, thinking he must have gone mad.

“Because there are bombs going off allover London” she’d replied.

I ran home with ambulances screaming past us taking the injured to the Royal Free (where Zoë was born). I held Zoë in my arms and ran as fast as I could up Haverstock Hill because feeling the familiar rumble of the tube trains below the pavement had never felt so utterly terrifying. I held Zoë up because I hoped she would be saved if the ground exploded beneath my feet. 

The streets were filled with people holding their mobiles to their ears but silent. We didn’t know that the signals had been shut down in case further bombs were detonated by phone. We all kept trying. Punching the numbers to tell the people we loved that we were ok – for the time being at least.

As soon as we were home I called mum on the landline and asked her to call everyone else in my family while I started calling friends in London to make sure they were safe. 

The next night, in bed,  I was awoken by explosions.and then the phone ringing. It was my friend Debbie (also a single mum) in tears saying she’d just called the police to ask what was going on. They said it was probably fireworks.

We didn’t believe this because we couldn’t see them (neither of us had a window looking in the right direction and we were not going to risk going outside) and we absolutely could not believe that anyone would be so insensitive to let off dozens and dozens of fireworks the night  after a bomb attack. But they were.

A few days later , as I walked with Zoë  to  Camden Town Sainsbury’s the sound of war spread towards us as the sky above was obscured by a low flying Chinook helicopter. There was a no fly zone above London at the time and the empty silent skies had been enough of a shock to us. To see this beast and hear the thud, thud, thud of its  propellers  could only mean we were at war.

The Chinook was on its way to a pre-organised air display that would cost too much to cancel.  And how did we know that it was going to an air display? Because we called the police again as thousands of other people did. How’s that for an unnecessary waste of police time?

Before Twitter we had no other option than calling the authorities and then calling each other to get the information out to stop the panic.  We organised telephone chains and allocated seats in available cars to mums  and kids in our friend’s group should we need to make the escape from the city. We tired to make sure there was always enough petrol in the cars to get away. 

We also packed emergency bags with water and spare clothes, tinned food, energy bars and first aid kits. 

I remember (apparently incorrectly) receiving the government’s ‘Be Prepared’ leaflet AFTER the 2005 attacks but this excellent report here, tells how it was sent in 2004 to every household in Britain. I also wrongly believed that it was only Londoners who received them. 

What I do know is that after 2005, I followed everything it said in the leaflet. We were told to “Go in, Tune in, Stay in’.  The tuning in bit (the leaflet recommended a small, battery radio and extra supplies of batteries in case power was cut) led to every electrical shop on Tottenham Court Rd displaying  signs in their windows saying  ‘All radios sold out’ within two days of the attack.  I finally found a little Sony at Argos and we still use it and refer to it as ‘the war radio’.

We also bought tape for the windows in case of chemical  or dirty bomb  attack. We bought a camping stove and extra gas canisters, cases of water bottles and a mountain of tinned food.

Do I do that now? No. Although I’m no longer in the city but I know that my friends who were prepared back in 2005 have unpacked their survival kits long ago. Maybe they’ll  be re-thinking that soon and maybe we’ll see another issue of those long lost ‘Be prepared’ leaflets.