What a difference a week makes
Last Saturday, London was rocked to its core when the news of another terror attack spread across the city. We followed the details as they unfolded on Twitter, a minute-by-minute update of the carnage that was taking place in London Bridge. A sick, sinking feeling engulfed me as I recalled the various times we’d been in Borough Market with friends in the last few weeks and months. Just that day, we’d been in Camden with family – spending the day eating and drinking and watching live music in busy, popular venues like the ones in London Bridge. If it could happen there, it could just as easily happen anywhere. My husband and I went to bed, holding each other a little tighter than usual, feeling overwhelmed by relief and gratitude that we and our loved ones were safe, knowing that for others, this would not be the case. The reality of this stuck in my throat like a bone, and kept me awake for hours.
The next morning, we sat glued to the television as we digested further details about the attack on the news. Teresa May addressed the nation with another solemn statement about another unspeakable incident, and I cried listening to her words in relation to our country. Enough is enough, she said. Really? Because we all thought that enough was enough the first time.
As the reality of the news sunk in, a feeling of paranoia and unease seeped into our bones. There was a silent, but mutual acknowledgement that the attack in Westminster only a few months ago, and the explosion in Manchester, could no longer be considered one-offs. When we went out on Sunday, I was alert to everyone and everything around me. I didn’t walk close to the road, and every police car, every loud noise, every bang, made me panic that something bad was happening.
The day before, we’d woken up to blue skies and sunshine, but towards the end of the weekend, we felt a storm brewing, reflecting the mood deep within our bellies. On Monday, the rain came in fits and starts and the wind whipped the trees up into a frenzy. By Tuesday morning, the heavens opened - as if the mood across the capital wasn't sombre enough - and our commutes to and from work were even more silent and subdued than normal. The city didn’t feel the same anymore. I didn’t feel the same.
Tensions rose throughout the week in the build-up to the election, with the main focus now being on the security of our nation, and people asked themselves under whom would we be most safe? The uncertainty was exacerbated on Friday morning when we woke to the news that the Tories had won, but hadn’t really won, and the runner up was being hailed as a national treasure. Voters on both sides were left wondering whether to be pleased or not. We were in a state of political disorientation, but at least there was a hint of change on the horizon. And it had stopped raining.
On Saturday night, some friends and I had plans to go out. It had been arranged for months, but one by one we revealed that we all had reservations about still going. For the first time in my life, when it came to finalising details, we actually gave consideration to where would be safest to visit. Should we go somewhere central - and busy - with lots of police? Or somewhere less busy, with fewer police? Should we stand inside or outside? Near the door or away from the door? In the end, we decided to do what we would have done a week ago. Asking ourselves these sorts of questions was a kind of guessing game that we should not be playing.
We met in central London - in Covent Garden, where thousands of people visit every day- and we stood outside a bar in the early evening sunshine. There were a few moments of tension, when a siren rang out on a nearby street, or a loud voice shouted in the distance, but for the most part, we enjoyed chatting and laughing together, slowly relaxing and realising that we were right to come here.
That said, we were relieved to see the police out in force, and reassured to enter the next bar where several security guards manned the doors and everybody who entered had their ID checked and scanned. We walked downstairs into the club and subconsciously clocked the emergency exits and the toilets. We didn’t speak about it, but in my mind I had mapped out various strategies of what we could do if one of those unspeakable events unfolded here, now.
But of course, we didn’t need any of them. We drank and danced and laughed and took photos, amid a crowd of hen parties and birthday parties and holiday makers and Londoners. Amid a crowd of fun, and freedom, and celebration and joy. Amid a crowd of people from all around the world, of different races and religions and skin colours, where guys kissed girls and guys kissed guys, and girls wrapped their arms around each other and sang their hearts out, while a band played songs that everybody knew and that brought everyone together. If ever there were a scene that epitomised, ‘Great Britain’, it was this.
At the end of the night, as I stepped out into the balmy early-morning air, and walked along the Strand towards Trafalgar Square, amongst the lights and the sounds, and the buses and the taxis, and the street lamps and the people, I felt like I was walking through the same old city that I recognised from eight days ago. It was glorious feeling of hope. It felt like London was ours again.