7th OF THE 7th
I think this story starts on the 7th July 2005.
On the 7th July 2005 at 0856, I rolled up in Kings Cross station. What happened to me from then on defined my life forever. I felt vulnerable. I was frightened – I felt scared. It took us an hour before we knew what was going on. Primary reports came through that a train had ‘blown up, due to a power surge’. The station was evacuated. We were the only people left. We didn’t know what to do.
I left the station. I could hear the pleas from station staff at the door as we left “does anyone know First Aid?” I stood outside with my colleagues & friends.
The lady behind me was the last person out of the station. They asked her if she knew any First Aid, she said “no, sorry” – they said “we are desperate, even if you can just hold someone’s hand… or do anything?” If they had asked me 1 second earlier, then I would have gone down into those tunnels without a second thought. She went down there and she told me all about it in great detail 7 or 8 hours later…
Naturally, I stood outside the station, wondering what the fuck was going on. Someone played me an offensive song on their mobile phone about the London Underground. Even before we really knew what was happening, I found this moment to play a shitty take on a song by The Jam a pretty poor judgement of taste. It was a time to make people laugh, yes. Laughter releases stress - but it was not a time to ‘try to be funny’. I have listened to the song again since. It is not a piece of art in itself, either by means of music or comedy. It is rubbish. And I don’t mean ‘good’ rubbish.
I wanted to call my mother. I couldn’t. Not because people were playing satirical songs at me on their mobile phones but because the signal was blocked. Everything that had made the day start out rather well suddenly turned to shit.
It was a beautiful hot summer’s day. Live 8 had taken place a few days previously and London had just won the Olympic bid. There was a ‘feel good’ factor about the country that I was enjoying. It’s rare to feel like that as an Englishman, but I felt really proud about my ‘Britishness’ at that period in time. For those few hot sunny days in July 2005, my country seemed pretty happy & smug about itself.
At the time, my job involved feeding fat businessmen & perverts hot sandwiches on intercity trains between Edinburgh and London. I didn’t like it much, mainly because I wasn’t very good at it. I bow my hat to anyone who is good at it as, for me, I think it is one of the most demanding jobs I have ever done. I had a metal case full of all the money and paperwork from the train on the way down in my hands. I thought that metal case so important, that I kept it with me all the time. It contained, amongst other things, about a grand in cash.
My dad called. I was able to tell him I was fine. He said it was hard to get through but having seen that I had tried to call him a couple of times & having heard the news on the radio, he’d tried to get through to me. He said he’d contact everybody else for me... then I lost my signal and we got cut off… It was shortly after this when my partner called to tell me that a bus had “blown up” and I should “go and find some fields or something to sit in”.
Obviously I couldn’t. I was in the middle of central fucking London. It was a stupid suggestion but one I very much wanted to take up at that point in time.
We found somewhere to make ourselves more comfortable, namely outside Tesco just off Euston Road. I was sitting on this metal suitcase of cash.
In the road in front on me, there was a lot of stationary traffic. Now I knew buses were blowing up randomly, I looked before me. 1, 2, 3, 4, … there were about 25 stationary buses, right in front of me. I looked to my left and there were stupid twats playing songs on a mobile phone. I looked to my right and there were dark skinned males, who were in railway staff uniform raising glasses in the pub to their beautiful and happy occasion. The occasion, I believe they were celebrating, was a chance to knock off early and probably not Jihad. Given what was happening, I think for whatever reason they were stood in the pub doorway with pints of cool lager in their hands, laughing and smiling was pretty inappropriate. I came to the conclusion that they were just a bit thick. I think if I had a chance to be offended – I’d be offended then. I wasn’t . I just felt annoyed that they felt it the perfect opportunity to go to the pub. ‘Maybe they were in the pub before all of this kicked off’ you say? No they weren’t.
So shortly before this debacle and slight inconvenience, we had the Live 8 concerts with the likes of Pink Floyd performing live in central London. We all watched with open mouths, because it was amazing. 2 days later London was awarded the Olympics Games for 2012 – the UK was feeling uncharacteristically good. It was beautiful for a nation who berates itself so often and was able to achieve a mass euphoria. It was a nice feeling.
We got on the bus, we checked under all of the seats and had our well-deserved sit down. My phone rang, ‘ring ring’, “hello”. It was my partner…”stay away from buses OK!!!”. What could I say? I was sitting on a bus! I said, and I remember what I said, because I knew it was the right thing to say at that moment, “don’t worry, we have found a park with grass and trees and stuff. There’s not even a building in sight. Oh look! A red squirrel!”
I had a conversation with the guy who was the cleaner on our train. He didn’t speak much at work and I just put it down to shyness but today I discovered that he just didn’t speak much English. He was trying to ask me what was going on. He had no idea. He’d just followed us when we moved because we were the only people he knew. He apologised that he couldn’t speak English and I told him, via the medium of mime and dance that it was fine. He told me he was taking night classes to learn, three nights a week. Today, this guy can speak better English than I can. Although, I am an idiot. He’s the sweetest, most polite man you could ever meet – and now he can say ‘hello’ to you in the street. What a fine chap. All of a sudden the world came down on me – I’m not totally sure what was happening, but at least I could take in the few bits of information we were getting. This poor lad has been here for hours and still has no idea what the fuck was going on. I made sure he was with us everywhere we went. Nobody else seemed to realise he was lost and clinging to us.
Anyway, word had it we had to get back to Kings Cross in order to work a train. I’d heard reports of people walking down the tracks to get to London. Why they wanted to be here, I don’t know.
We crossed the police cordon and went into Kings Cross station. It was empty and eerie. Very, very quiet and strange. The automated evacuation announcement was still going on… The first man I saw was a man in a kind of official suit who said “Can you move out of the way? What are you doing?”. We explained and he said “Ahh! You might be able to give us a hand… the walking wounded have been moved, so we’re just bringing the dead up now, can you give us a hand?”
Everybody, I mean everybody, ran away crying. There were only 2 or maybe 3 of us left. I dropped the big case of money in an office and rolled up my sleeves.
When I came back, we were just required to find food and drink. So I and my only compadre raided trains for food and drink. There were 2 or maybe 3 trains in the station. All 3 had obviously been looted. Robbed of the things we needed right now. The south end carriages were littered with accidentally dropped cans of Stella.
We fed these people as best we could. Policeman with black faces as if they had been at a coal face, victims who wanted to know how to make a phone call, fireman who just wanted to phone their wives and policewomen with blooded hands.
I took a look outside, into the vast station. I was worried about dropping all of that money in an empty office & now that everything had calmed down a bit– I might be able to just pick it up & that would be that.
I saw a man hopping from the Underground. I think he had probably walked in with 2 legs. I saw people screaming in pain. I saw dead people. I felt compelled to do something. I left the money and got back to giving out cups of sugary tea.
I felt disabled. I could not do anything for these poor dead people. I always thought I could make a difference – I thought I’d be able to help anyone. I had never seen a dead person before and I don’t think seeing those in such volume helped the matter. I was struck down in shock. The velocity of what has just happened still had not hit. On that day, it just seemed like a normal vision to have before my eyes. In the vast magnitude and chaos of what was going on, the stretchers with wrapped-up bodies just washed past me as if I wasn’t actually there. Blood was spilt on the station floor’s ceramic tiles. I didn’t feel the need to put out a ‘wet floor’ sign.
Eventually we were given a train to work. We worked it. We needed to get back home.
I could just manage to get a signal on my mobile phone and after having lent my phone to many people that day, worked out that if you kept trying it was possible to dial out on it. I found a guard and a driver and they used my mobile phone to sort out a train. Between them, they managed to get a train staffed to operate.
Whilst looking back at enquiries & CCTV footage I realise how lucky I was that day. I didn’t realise I was in Boots or WH Smiths trying to buy cigarettes at the same time as a suicide bomber was looking at my train home. I didn’t realise I was just around the corner when my best friend’s sister was on a bus being blown up into smithereens. She survived. I think we were all lucky that day. Some were not so lucky, and that’s what makes you realise how fragile life is.
The train was about to depart and Kings Cross was still closed down, so we were to stop at Finsbury Park to pick up stranded passengers and all stops from there on to Newcastle. Baring in mind we had raided the trains earlier, we had no food on board and in hindsight, I think a good way of dealing with trauma and stress is probably food and drink – especially if you need to delay that trauma and stress until you get home.
Well, we wondered whether we should sell the stuff we had or to just give it away. Given the fact we were all knackered and we had almost been blown up that day – we decided we should just let everybody help themselves. The Chief Executive of our company was still throwing sandwiches onto the back of the train shouting “SELL, SELL, SELL!!” The man was probably just being a hot-headed fuckwit and he was actually the best Chief Executive you could possibly have in normal circumstances. Anyway, we soon worked out we didn’t have enough food to give away to everybody and that we would have to charge money for it in order to ration it. We gave away free snacks and cups of tea – but if anybody wanted a can of beer they’d have to pay. One man came back to complain that his can of Stella was warm. In my 15 years of working in customer service, this is the only time ever I have resolved such an issuing by telling the customer to “Fuck off”.
So, we made this makeshift train slowly move toward Newcastle, picking up all of the people who were stranded across the country as we went. Ours was the first train to make its way North since 0930 that morning and I think it was now late afternoon. A man got on at Stevenage and told me he’d got scared in London and got a taxi to Stevenage just to get out of the way – it cost him £100. I told him he’d probably done the right thing. I remember being frightened at one point to push the little button to open the train door. I had not touched anything electrical since I was told a train had blown up due to a ‘power surge’. What if the button was rigged? There was only one way to find out. I pressed the button and the door opened. The world may’ve been able to take on some form of reality again from this moment on.
I served people warm sandwiches that had been thrown on the back of the train by the Chief Executive from the buffet car. My colleagues mainly just sat down and left me to it, which was fine by me as I think their heads were shot and I was happy to be left to my own devises.
Half way through the journey, the train driver, who had just been taken over came down to the buffet and started chatting with me. He started from the beginning – his face was white and his speech stuttering. The shock was obviously dawning upon him and whilst I’d been constantly talking and telling an idiot to “fuck off” he had been on his own, driving the train. This is where I saw the science and methods behind psychotherapy actually in practice. If you’re left alone to deal with shit then you are not as able to cope as you are if you are around people in order to talk through your experiences and your problems. I was learning a lot of new shit on this day. I stood and chatted with him for the rest of the journey. He started to brighten up after a while.
I got home to Newcastle, I remember walking across the station with the cash from the train that morning still in my hands. I remember walking past my fellow colleagues, open mouthed with not a word to say to anybody, and nobody exchanged words with me. I had nothing left to say and I wanted to get home. I got on a Metro train home, then onto a bus and eventually to my front door.
I switched on the TV and turned to a news channel. Then I sat and bawled my eyes out… I cried and cried.
Then I got changed and went out to the pub. It was my mate’s leaving do that night from his shop job. I HAD to go. I’d arranged to go and no fucker who blows themselves up is gonna stop me! Maybe had it been a fire or an accident of some kind I may have called to take a raincheck on the evening’s celebrations but not for this… there was no way I was going to let anybody down. I know it seems silly, but if I had stayed home - it would have almost been like letting the terrorists win.
And that is the reason you can never ever give up your ambitions and hopes. What would be the point? I realise there is a generation before us who fought with their lives for our freedom. My granddad fought for my right to be able to stand in front of a handful of strangers in an upstairs room in a Newcastle pub and play shit music for a little bit too long. I will be utilising that right to its full extent.
Peace & love x
See Martin at Northumberland Hussar, Heaton on 20th July - full details here.