Megan Armstrong - nanny, London, England

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

The following is a guest post from Megan Armstrong, an Otago graduate now working as a nanny in London.

A post about the London bombings

Since moving to London nearly a year ago, you could say that I've taken this city into my heart. Sure it's polluted, the traffic is a nightmare to negotiate and the cost of living is appallingly high. But on the flipside of that, it's also the city where on any given day you can walk down the street and hear 10 different languages being spoken. It's the city where there's always something amazing happening, whether it's a street carnival in Notting Hill or a film premiere in Leicester Square. It's also the city that never seems to stand still, where everyone is constantly moving about from one place to the other as they go about their daily lives.

Last Thursday, July 7, the whole of London seemed to collectively slow down and pause for breath as the day's terrible events unfolded. In the space of a day, Londoners had gone from being in full-on celebration mode after winning the 2012 Olympic bid to watching in stunned silence as terrorism once again returned to their doors.

As is the case for most people I'm sure, the day started fairly normally for me, though I got enjoy a rare sleep-in as the girls I look after (I'm a nanny) were taken to school by their Dad. The first indication I got that something bad had happened came while watching This Morning - similar to Good Morning in New Zealand though instead of Mary Lambie they've got Phil and Fern. In the midst of their witty banter, a rolling headline appeared at the bottom of the screen, saying that there had been some sort of explosion on the Tube, and that it was most likely caused by a power surge. This happened at about 9:15 a.m., and I thought they would immediately cross over to the news, but instead they carried on with the show, leaving me wondering just what the hell was going on. I flipped over to the BBC who were slightly more up with the play, though they too reported that there had been three explosions on the tube caused by a power surge and that the entire tube network had been suspended indefinitely.

To be honest, my first reaction was not "It’s a terrorist attack," but "How am I supposed to travel around London?" Normally I have a car that I use to take the girls to and from school, but as it was in the garage being fixed I'd been picking them up on the tube. While it's not a huge distance from our house in Stockwell to the girls' schools in Chelsea, it would still take me couple of hours to walk there and get them. My next option was to take a bus, so I went on the Transport for London website to work out which one to take. It was while I was doing this with the BBC news channel going in the background that I heard about the bus explosion. Ok then, I thought, I guess I won't be taking a bus either.

From that point on my eyes were glued to the television, literally watching the news as it happened. As I sat watching the drama unfold before my eyes, there was a certain sense of unreality to it all. I'm not sure I can explain it very well but it felt like "I know that what I'm watching is real and that it's happening now, and those people who are bleeding on television are bleeding for real" but I guess because it's mediated through a TV screen your mind takes time to contextualize it.

I phoned my family in New Zealand at about 11 a.m. as I knew that the bombing was likely to be all over the late news so wanted to let them know I was ok. Mum and Dad were both out (typical) so I talked to my little brother and made him write a note for when they got home saying I'd called and was safe. I also collected the car from the garage, not that I was able to drive anywhere for the time being – the official advice from the police was to stay indoors as I suppose they didn't really know if the attacks were over. And to be honest, I really didn't want to get stuck in a traffic jam if there were bombs going off all over London.

There was never a point where I felt really afraid, though there was definitely a 'holy shit' moment when the news rolled across the screen that the tube station around the corner from my house had been cordoned off because of a suspected bomb threat, which later turned out to be a false alarm. At about 3:30 p.m. the news came through that people could go out in their cars if it was absolutely necessary and begin making their way home from work, so I set off for Chelsea to collect the girls. I went expecting to be stuck in traffic for quite a long time – my previous record was about two hours when Batman decided to pay the Queen a visit at Buckingham Palace last year (you see what a cool place London is?), but it actually only took me about 40 minutes because there were hardly any cars at all.

The pavements, however, were crowded with people making their way home, many sporting newly-bought running shoes rather then suffering the pain of walking lord-knows-how-many miles in high heels. It was quite a strange but uplifting thing to watch because normally when you're out in London people pretty much keep to themselves, not making eye contact and just concentrating on whichever direction they're headed in. It was different on Thursday in that, while the mood was definitely sombre, people acknowledged each other, sharing a smile and a few words as they trudged home, some stopping off in a bar along the way to hear each other's experiences from what had been an emotional day for all Londoners.

There is definitely a sense of resilience as we get through these difficult days after the bombings. I say "we" because, even though I'll always be a Kiwi girl at heart, I love London and feel like a Londoner – these attacks have affected me as much as any Cockney geezer from the East end who's lived here all his life. Yes, it is devastating watching the news as someone's mother or husband or friend holds a photo up to the camera weeping and begging for any information about their missing loved one, knowing in their hearts that they probably aren't coming home. And yes, we're a lot more wary, especially with those responsible for these atrocities still at large. But we are also determined to keep living our lives as best we can. Today I took the tube and a bus because it was the only way for me to get where I needed to go. I could have stayed at home rather than risk the possibility that something bad might happen, but then I would have missed out on a great day out in an amazing city.

In the end it was an easy decision to make.