Normally, Clare works in Oxfordshire, but yesterday she had a training session, so she travelled into work with me. I work in central London.
The trip in was slow, but uneventful. On the tube, there were delays due to a defective train at Picadilly Circus, so we got off at Regent’s Park. Handy for Clare, but I had a long walk down Great Portland St. I arrived into work in Soho at 8:50, just as the first bomb went off.
An email from our MD at about 9:30 talked about power surges on the tube shutting the network down, and that we should not be surprised if collegues are late in. By then, I was already getting text alerts about a bomb going off on a bus in Tavistock Square, and the tone of the mail seemed suddenly absurd. Events were moving far too quickly.
The morning was a blur as I tried to carry on with some work, while being constantly drawn back to the TV in the kitchen for news updates. The reports were fluid, the situation ever-changing. At one point there were seven bombs. There were troops on the streets in Covent Garden. Luke in VT started talking about martial law and curfews.
The phones were up. The phones were down. The word got out to my family, Clare’s family, my friends. Everyone but Clare. But I dropped her off pretty much at the door. Surely, surely…
Finally, a text at about 11. Check your email. I did. Nothing. Then, with a flash of inspiration, I checked the .Mac account. Bingo. From one of her mates at work. I’m fine. Mail me back to let me know you’re OK. Come and get me later, and we’ll work out how to get home. LuvU.
The day blurred past, Lunch with Dom, where we hunkered in a Pret and tried and failed to talk about normal things. In and out of the kitchen, where the jokes were already forming. Man in blue and white striped jumper and beret seen leaving scene trailing onions. The news tickers described the bus in Tavistock Square as “formally a double decker.” The same footage, cycling on a loop. The death and injured toll, ever-rising.
I left at 5, giving up on work for the day. Soho was eerily quiet. Most of the shops and pubs were shut. Many of them had signs on the windows beginning “due to the current circumstances…” There were hardly any cars on the roads. But pedestrians were everywhere, marching intently towards train stations, or just resigning themselves to a long walk home.
I met Clare at Park Crescent, and we started our own long walk towards Paddington. At one point, she’d been offered a hotel room for the night, initially taken it, then turned it down when she’d heard the mainline stations were open. She just wanted to go home. Her and me both.
We held hands pretty much the whole way to the station.
Walking past Edgeware Road, there was no obvious signs of damage, but police cordons were everywhere. No traffic on Praed St, but the pubs were heaving. Punters fortifying themselves for the journey ahead.
At Paddington, against all reports, a normal service was running. We got my usual train back to Reading. We had no problems getting a seat.
Home by half seven. Me and Clare swap the phones, checking in on people, including my mate Chris in Norfolk, who’d caught the news late and left a worried answerphone message. Clare caught up on the news reports. Tony Blair in his earlier conference had looked grey-faced and shocked. Ken Livingstone had came across as positively Churchillian. Then we just crashed. In bed by half ten, and I have to do the whole journey again. Clare’s back in Harwell, lucky thing. There’s a normal train service running today into London. I wonder how busy it’ll be.

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Hello. Been busy, but I will be blogging again soon, hopefully during our holiday to Florida. Hopefully with pics. Thusly, here’s a test. You know you’ve been watching too much Star Wars when…

So, it’s the New Year, and the media is on our backs to get off our arses and do something about the filthy disgusting slobs we’ve turned ourselves into over Christmas. The papers and mags are full of diets. “Drop a Jean Size In Two Weeks.” “The Ten-Day Detox Diet.” The All-Sprout and Lentil Fart Yourself Thin Plan. Carol Vorderman’s “Totally Realistic Eat Yourself Slim, Go Up A Bra Size And Shag Brad Pitt In A Week Diet.” Lot of swiss chard in that one. My personal favourite, the McDonald’s “Buy One Big Mac Get One Free Fuck Dieting Diet.”

And of course the anti-smoking lobby gets into full swing, rubbing in that New Years Resolution guilt trip. And yes, smoking is foul and disgusting and of course giving up is a good thing to do. But you’re at your weakest when you’re fighting an addiction, and you can be damn sure there’ll be some evil bastard ready to take advantage of your need for a crutch.

Take the nicotine gum people. They’re easy! They’re convenient! They come in vaguely palatable fruit-like flavours! They’ll give you the power to beat the crap out of the six-foot tall cigarettes that you’re now hallucinating in your weakened state!

But you read the small print and you get a different story. At the bottom of every pack, on every poster, at the end of every advert, there are the two magic words. “Requires Willpower.”

Hang on a minute. You need willpower to give up smoking, chewy or no chewy. All the gum’s doing is giving you the nicotine you’re craving at a slightly reduced dose to ease you away from the fags. Nicotine’s the last thing you need. Nicotine’s the problem in the first place! You’re telling me that I’m going to be spending as much on chewing gum as I was on the old coffin nails, and I’m still going to be gnawing my fingernails down to the knuckle to fight off the need for just one more lungful of that sweet sweet smoke? As far as I’m concerned, if you’re on the gum or the see-through plasters, you’re still smoking! You’re just making it more difficult to justify the fag breaks!

That’s a thing no-one talks about. You’re not just giving up the bad stuff about smoking. You’re giving up the good stuff as well. You’re giving up your fag break buddies. You’re giving up that excuse to slope off from your desk for fifteen minutes every oh, half-hour or so. There you are one day, puffing away with that skinny bloke from accounts with the twitch and the bad teeth, and that receptionist you wouldn’t get the time of day from if you weren’t puffing Lambert and Butler at her. Next thing they know, you’re missing in action.

“What happened to Rob?” “He’s no longer with us.” “You mean…?” “I’m afraid so. Patches.” “Why? Why is it always the pretty ones? Why did I not tell him I loved him when I had the chance?”

I think what smokers need isn’t gum with nicotine. I think smokers need gum with willpower in it. Pop a couple of those babies and you’d be able to face down a crack jones with a jaunty shrug. “I have a craving!” Poink. “No. I. Don’t. Graaaaaaahhhh! Eye of the tiger!”

Fantastic stuff! You wouldn’t just have to use it for addictions. You could use it for any tough decision. That problem with the boss. “I can’t stand that self-absorbed arsemonkey a nanosecond longer! Don’t hold me back! I’m marching into that fucking corner office right this minute, tear his head off and spit down the hollow end!” “Wow! How’d Rob get so assertive?” “Willpower gum.” “Oooohhh…”

Break-ups? “No, you can’t have the Barry Manilow records! I bought them, I’m keeping them!” An altercation at the checkout? “I said there’s 5p off this can of beans! Grraaaaahhhh! Eye of the Tiger!” It’s self-confidence in a blisterpak!

Only problem is, you could overshoot the mark a little, of course. “Yeah, I’m smoking. It’s hard and the blonde on reception likes it when I blow smoke at her. Wanna make something of it?”

I was never a great believer in astrology (in fact I view it as pseudo-science of the worst kind), but I was none the less amused to find that I am not (a member of?) the star sign I thought I was.

Apparently there are thirteen signs to the zodiac, not twelve. I am not the Sagittarian I beieved myself to be, but Ophiuchan.

How cool is that? I can ignore the horoscopes even more thoroughly now!

We had our first carol singer last night. A little lad, about 15, I guess. He nervously quavered his way through a couple of standards (not ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’, thank Bob, although it wouldn’t surprise me if the street urchin population are trying it, claiming all proceeds are going to Live Aid, as opposed to the local Co-Ops cheap lager department), I gave him a couple of quid, full marks for nerve, all v. festive, cheers and lovely.

Half-an-hour later, he tries again. And it takes a full ten seconds of quzzical eyebrow raising from TLC before he realises and ‘Silent Night’ wavers to a halt. Christmas clearly does funny things to the head…

I turned 38 at the weekend. Much drink and food intake, a visit to the local flea pit (for The Incredibles, of course. How good is this film? TLC, who don’t got a geeky bone in her body, dug it almost as much as me. THAT’S how good.) Gifties? Money mostly, and a bottle of Glenlivet. Yummy. Oh, and one of these.

However, I’ve done something odd to my back now, and am hobbling around like an old man, feeling the weight of the world on my scrawny shoulders. Fate playing payback? Who said age ain’t nothing but a number?