Thursday, 7 July 2005
LONDON CELEBRATED AND THEN THE MOOD CHANGED...
Kak Teh watching games in 2012
How fast the mood changed. One day people were rejoicing in the streets, doing the conga, celebrating London as the next happening place for the Olympics, and the next day, less than 24 hours, police cars and ambulances were tearing down the streets of London as bombs exploded here and there sending people yet again onto the streets, and this time in a less jovial mood.
I was out there for both, for lack of better word, occassions. But before I blog about yesterday’s happenings, I would like to thank all of you for the numerous SMS and emails and phone calls – you wouldn't believe it. My phone didnt stop ringing or buzzing. I am touched. And thank you!!
Yesterday was reminiscent of what happened four years ago – 9/11- but this time is closer to home. I was getting ready to go out, when there was breaking news on radio. I switched on the tv and there were lots of reports of blasts but nothing confirmed. The first call I received was from Ewok who wanted to know whether I was okay. Ewok, thank God was driving away from it all towards Portsmouth. I am okay, I assured her and proceeded to get ready. I told my husband I needed to go to the uni and will take the bus as one hour on the bus will give me plenty of time to do some work before my meeting with my professor at SOAS.
At the bus stop, I saw a Malaysian family, looking very lost. I said salam and immediately we got to know each other. Apparently, and I must say this with thousands of thanks to God Almighty, they were staying in a hotel in Bayswater and was here for the son’s convocation. Indeed, London or UK is full of parents attending their children’s convocation. They were going to do some sightseeing but was a minute late when they got to the Circle Line station. They were told the stations were all closed. They decided to take a bus to central London, but being new to Lodnon, they took the bus, the number 7 towards the opposite direction – to where I was waiting for my ride. Had they taken the tube just a little earlier, they would have been stranded, either in the tunnel, OR worse, be at Edgeware Road Station, where one of the explosions occured. I offered to take them back as they were totally lost. By then the whole tube system was down.
Things were happening at stations that we frequent daily. Had I taken the tube, Russel Square would have been my stop. And to have Malaysian meals, most Malaysian visitors to London would go to Edgeware Road, a stone’s throw from Mawar restaurant. There was also an explosion there.
The bus was packed and was not going anywhere near central London. London transport staff were using loudspeakers to tell people to stay at home. I received several pleading phonecalls from my daughter to get off the bus. She told me about the explosion near my uni and was very, very worried. I decided to continue my journey, on foot, with my newfound friend.
It was all very surreal. Its not as if we, Londoners are not used to bomb hoax and false alarms. There were numerous occassions when we had to leave shopping complexes, cinemas and conference halls because of some suspected packages. I was covering a Labour Party Conference in Blackpool when people rushed out of the hall because of an explosion. I sat there and prayed because I was too heavily pregnant to move. That happened after the attack on the Grand Hotel in Brighton, where Mrs Thatcher was at the Tory Party conference. At the BBC where I used to work, hoax and false alarm were quite frequent.
Anyway, by then I was receiving sms’s and calls from, and I am not exagerating – all over the world – from Bangladesh to Sweden, Holland, Germany to Australia, Malaysia and Singapore. And they are still coming. One touching one was from Ijun who almost pleaded with me to get off the bus. By then, there were already news coming in that buses were also targets as one had exploded in Russel Square – outside my university – my destination!! Little did I know that by then my email box was quick filling up with messages from professors and administrators to say that the Uni was closed.
We continued our journey on foot and by then it was raining. I was quite, quite determine to finish my work and needed just a table to work and Whiteleys in Bayswater was ideal. I offered my newfound friends coffee at Starbuck and then decided to walk to Edgeware Road. It was then pouring. I received an urgent call from RTM to do a live voice report – which was quite timely as I was somewhere between Paddington Station and Edgeware Road Station. The whole place was sealed off. People were seeking shelter in coffee shops and restaurants. Ambulances and police cars and fire engines were tearing down the streets and yet, not many people on the streets were aware of what had actually happened. People were receiving news via phones. The mobile network was down for a while, which was quite worrying. People were flocking around shops with TVs. To get to anywhere was almost impossible. My newfound friends decided to buy me lunch at Mawar, in return for my services as tourist guide for the day.
Edgeware Road, normally buzzing with tourists and certainly loads of people from the Middle East, was deserted. We could smell the smoke from the blast. At about 1pm the mainline stations were reopened. The tube stations remained closed. The lady manning Paddinton Station told me that they too were in the dark as to what was happening. She did say that the police were still taking bodies out of Kings Cross station. Tourists were asking her directions and alternative routes and I decided to give her a helping hand by directing tourists to their destinations. Mak Cik Blur menyebok. Bus drivers were exercising their power to the limit, refusing to move or take anymore passengers who were by then pleading. People were getting angry and emotional. Taxis were making a bundle too as they were charging double. Ambulances were parked outside tubes stations and police were not taking any chances with unattended bags or vehicles.
I took the 36 to Whiteleys again to meet up with my husband and Dr Tripat Narayanan who is here for her booksigning. She has had to potphone it to a later date. deserted
Whiteleys was deserted by 5. All the shops were closed and by six the whole place was closed. Police were patrolling the area, going into restaurants and shops. We sat outside eating kebab and sipping mint tea, watching how London was coping with all these. Not too long ago, there was a practise run by emergency services should anything like this happened. I was still in th dark about what actually happened. The Evening Standard was sold out. I bumped into our eldest son, who was frantically trying to phone. My battery was flat. His friend offered us a ride back. Alhamdulillah.
Today is another day. London has seen many too many false alarms and hoaxes. It has finally happened. Sympathies to those affected. Thank you to all who cared and lets pray for a better and safer world.