Tuesday, July 19, 2005

After the bombs

Violence continues unabated in Iraq; there are bombs in tourist resorts in Turkey and elsewhere. But a relative calm has returned to London. There are still big disruptions on some Underground lines, including my own normal route in to work, but people seem to be coping. The low level of road traffic, thanks to the school holidays, helps. In order to avoid the delay-ridden Piccadilly, I am still driving to South Ruislip to take the Central Line, not a long journey, but much easier without the school run cars. There are more announcements about security than before and we continue to have the "assurance" of extra police standing about. However much the trains may fill - and they certainly do - there is no conversation between strangers. I have never heard anyone challenge anyone else about their luggage.

The Muslim "community" is under pressure to condemn the bombers and to "root out" extremists. Very few commentators have pointed out that the word "community" is not only wrong in this context but utterly misleading. There are many varieties of Islam, just as there are huge divisions within Christianity and Judaism, and the idea that young Muslim Britons immigrating to, say, Bolton, from Pakistan have much in common with third generation Bengalis in Southall is as daft as thinking that I, third generation Liberal Jew, have much in common with the ultra Orthodox Charedi Jews in Stamford Hill. Equally misplaced is the idea that young people pay much attention to the wise words of Imams and other leaders.

The one thing that does really grate though, are the apologists for the bombers who say that it is okay because Muslims are angry. We hear a lot about this so-called anger. It is unbelievably selective. There is no anger about Algerian extremists massacring villagers. There is no anger about the Iraqi suicide bombers targeting the ordinary people of Iraq. Bombs in Kashmir? Fine. Bombs in Turkey? Yep, right on. But anger at the "West"? Yes, that excuses anything. There was a bloke on Today on Radio 4 this morning, Mohammed Umar, saying just that. He wouldn't condemn the London Bombers. Sounding uncannily like Tony Blair in his best "look, okay, I believed in WMD" mood, he wanted us all to accept that the bombs had happened, they were real, we should understand it was caused by righteous anger and move on. Is anyone else allowed to be righteously angry? Nope. We seem to be back in medieval Europe where the Church could argue that God is love and the righteous may use extreme violence in his holy name against anyone they deem to be unrighteous. It took several hundred years for Christianity to realise the stupidity of this argument and Islam, younger by nearly six hundred years, seems to be still fascinated by it.

Are we at war with terrorists? Seems like it. So why not intern their supporters "for the duration", as was the case in the Second World War? Then they can be as angry as they like, and the rest of us - including the vast majority of the Muslim "community" - can get on with our lives, including expressing our wills through lawful political protest and throwing out a Government that wilfully lied to its people as a pretext to war.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Bomb attacks in London - 2


...The Spanish press are commenting on how calm Londoners were after the bombs, and that maybe this refusal to succumb to passion is why the country never went down a totalitarian road.

...US service personnel in East Anglia were instructed not to venture into the area bounded by the M25 (yes, really) but the order was rescinded on 12/7, probably because of public derision.

...My journey home is now awful, partly because the Piccadilly is struggling in the aftermath, no trains going beyond Hyde Park eastbound and as a result a very restricted service between Acton Town and Rayners Lane, and partly because my station (Ruislip Manor) is being rebuilt and after six months of a longer morning journey I now have to go on to Ruislip in the evening. Never mind, just getting into London and back is a victory over the bombers. This morning I drove to South Ruislip and used the Central Line. Not bad, but much longer walk from Shepherd's Bush to my office than I have normally so not really a long term prospect especially in the current heatwave. Lets hope the Piccadilly can improve the service a little.

...The police reported today that the bombers are thought to have died in the explosions. Until today it was said that they had planted the bombs and got away. Some raids and arrests in Leeds and Luton. Explosives discovered. The bombers were seen on CCTV at Kings Cross wearing identical rucksacks before parting company.

...Police (or "community" policemen) are visible at most stations and bus stations. They are supposed to make us feel more secure. I would be happier to see them backing up stop-and-searches or just fighting crime generally. I really don't see how standing around at a station entrance makes it safer to travel unless you search everyone going in. And that wouldn't work unless you did it at every station, otherwise the bombers would simply choose an unmanned station.

...A website called "We are not afraid" posts pictures from people around the world, generally showing themselves with the phrase We are not afraid added. Quite moving.

...We received many messages at work from our professional colleagues around the world, all expressing hope for our safety and solidarity. Very nice to see.

..."I hope I don't panic because then I might have to talk out loud on a tube train" - comment from the weblog of a survivor.

...Some stupid gits have attacked mosques.

...Tony Blair has resisted the Tory kneejerk reaction call for an inquiry. Good for him. Let the police and security services get on with it for the moment without being caught up in futile meetings and paperwork so that some MPs can make it look they are doing something useful.

...No obvious nervousness of my fellow passengers. People still sit quietly. I might have expected much more use of mobiles as people sought reassurance during their journey.

...The bombers are identified as British born of Pakistani origin. No surprises there. Their neighbours express shock that the ordinary quiet lads next door is a mass killer. No surprises there. People always say how shocked they are that a crime should be traced to their community.

...Over 50 died in the bombings but fewer than a dozen have been positively identified nearly a week afterwards, despite the huge efforts of next of kin and friends to trace people who are missing and who are known to have been travelling into London that morning. Very strange and all down to the rules about coroners courts and inquests, apparently.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Bomb attacks in London

The long awaited terrorist attacks took place yesterday morning. 4 separate bombs designed to hit the Underground and road network in Central London. Nearly 40 were killed and many hundreds injured.

I'm recording this not because I have anything special to say but because it cannot be ignored. And by writing down my own, trivial, experiences, the creation of false memories may be prevented.

The attack came the day the G8 summit opened in Scotland and undoubtedly was intended to coincide with it. How bitterly ironic that it also matched the return home from Singapore of the victorious Olympic 2012 team and what a terrible welcome back for those who now must consider the security aspects of the games.

London has seen this before, in the Blitz, in the V1-V2 raids, during the intermittent IRA campaigns. It does not lessen the shock or the horror to remember the past but it adds some perspective. The attacks are dreadful, but most of us are affected only because we experience it through the news or through the paralysing effect on transport.

I was on a Piccadilly line train heading into central London. I think there may already have been a problem because there were more people waiting at Ruislip, and on the first train (a Metropolitan) than usual. At Rayners Lane, at 8:35am, the station attendant announced that the Piccadilly was experiencing delays due to a defective train at Caledonian Road; however a train did come in fairly soon.

Our train moved slowly towards Ealing then we sat motionless outside Acton Town. The driver repeated the story about the train but I knew something was wrong because during some 20 minutes of inaction, not one train passed us in the opposite direction, and this includes the Heathrow branch as well as the Uxbridge. I know now that the first bomb went off at 8:51 on a Circle Line train at Aldgate and the next at 8:56 on a westbound Piccadilly line near Kings Cross. This was the beginning of our hold-up. Eventually our driver announced that the platforms were full but that he had requested one train move off so we could get reach the platform. We reached Acton Town and then, without warning, were ordered not just off the train but to leave the station. Staff, in yellow jackets, were highly visible on the platforms and entrance hall. There was no explanation, but nobody argued since it was obvious that something was badly wrong. Hundreds of people milled in the entrance, urged by the staff to leave. Now we were told that the entire Underground was shut due to a power failure. This was a deliberate untruth since by now the third bomb had gone off on a Circle Line train at Edgware Road; not long after the fourth took the top of a bus in Tavistock Square.

The street outside was jammed with traffic, every bus crammed full. I began walking in what I hoped was the right way toward Acton (Acton Town station is not in any recognisable town centre despite its name) and reached the main road leading into London. I called my office on my mobile several times and had no problem making the calls (there were news reports later of the networks being swamped by calls and unable to cope, but perhaps that was only in central London). There were plenty of buses in both directions but full to the extent that people were blocking the entrance doors. So I walked on and on and eventually managed to squeeze into a bus. It was surprisingly quiet. People were not talking about the problems, and very few were on the phone (not one of those that were spoke English). The driver made no attempt to ask for tickets (and I couldn't reach the box anyway). We made it to Hammersmith, where a board outside the station (the Hammersmith & City part) referred to a problem at Edgware Road as well as Aldgate, and after another walk I got in at 11am. Only then did I learn what had happened.

Living in London there is daily risk from traffic accidents and from street crime. Violence is and always has been relatively high in London compared to the surrounding countryside - see Peter Ackroyds excellent "London - a biography" for accounts spanning a thousand years of riots, fires, jail-breaks and disorderly conduct of every description. The shock of a terrorist attack is not so much of the violence itself but the deliberate intent behind it, and the utter lack of interest in the victims. A political movement that seeks to kill anyone at random? What on earth goes on in their heads? Under what circumstances do they think we will ever have the slightest interest in anything they want? They may threaten us, but since they wish us nothing but harm anyway, their threats have no meaning. We can't negotiate with them. We can't understand them. We will take precautions but in the end we will simply ignore them. Like malaria, we do what we can to eradicate it but we don't seek to understand the motivation of the virus or the mosquito that carries it.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Problems, problems

Is there anything more depressing than to enter your place of work and be greeted by a barrage of colleagues going "The internet's down"? Well, yes, even more depressing is the MD saying there is a virus on her laptop. Couple the two (and bearing in mind how reliant we are on the Internet for anti-virus updates and general information) and this makes for a very serious morning indeed.

And the joys of being put on hold. I tried for about 40 minutes to reach our ISP. No joy. Fortunately our internet connection came back midmorning anyway. Then a long wait to get the antivirus people. I had time to fix the problem (I think) through sheer trial and error before they answered the phone.

Removing viruses is such a mindless job. Run a scan, see what is and is not automatically deleted, switch into safe mode, run utilities and registry checks, reboot, scan again....

So the haggard looking bloke slumped exhausted in his corner seat on the Piccadilly tonight will be me. Or someone with a similar job.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Pink Floyd re-united

I was humming Pink Floyd tunes (to myself, not out loud, I don't want people staring at me over the tops of their newspapers) during this morning's otherwise uneventful journey to work. It was such a pleasure to see the group playing together once more, (sadly, for the last time unless something highly improbable happens) at the Live 8 concert at Hyde Park. It's hard to know how many in the audience knew them, could put their music in context, or had the faintest idea what Roger Waters meant when he dedicated "Wish you were here" to "Syd". To me, having last seen them play live at a concert in the old Wembley Pool in 1975, it was an emotional and stirring moment. Particularly as it was at that concert that they played most of what was to become the album "Wish you were here" including the great tribute to Syd Barrett, "Shine on you crazy diamond". And to be honest when I first heard it, I had no idea what it was about. It has taken many years for me to gain a deeper understanding of their lyrics.

It is amazing to contrast those years with today. Apart from their records and the odd concert on radio, the Floyd were known to us only through the music papers. John Peel played their stuff regularly but few other DJs took an interest. There were no dedicated pop music channels (and I doubt if they would have featured much on them if there had been). There were no videos or dvds, indeed there were no cds at this time. Vinyl or tape, both fragile, were the only media for recordings. Now a plethora of websites list every recording, review, performance and incident in their life. I used to struggle to make out the lyrics on some of their songs. Now they are available, often with the chords (if not the full sheet music) at the touch of a mouse. And on one website, idly browsing after the concert, I stumbled on a recording of Astronomy Domine. Not the track from their first album - a live recording, a VIDEO recording of the band - with Syd - on what looks like an American TV show complete with utterly bemused middle-aged host. I had never seen him (Syd, not the u.b.m-a.h.)playing live. Despite the awful recording, what a magical performance - this was at a time when the height of sophistication in pop was "I love you" or a variant on that theme in a 3 minute song with a chorus repeated four times. The descending alto* line that floats over the metallic sound of the guitars, that I had always assumed was itself a highly distorted guitar, was actually Syd's voice. Watching it I was 17 again.

*or possibly soprano. My wife will know.