Monday, July 25, 2005

While there doesn't seem to be any reduction in the numbers commuting to work every day, the Tube at the weekend was noticeably less crowded than usual. I don't think I've ever seen that before. I confess to being surprised about the local reaction to the recent attacks - until last Thursday (the failed second wave of chemistry-set suicide bombings) it seemed people here were pretty sanguine, but now it seems a lot more panicky and disproportionate than normal, especially after the Stockwell shooting.

Now I'm not in any sense urging pointless defiance, or suggesting we all parade around the centre of ol' London Town only to show how hard and Blitz-spirit we all are ("I'm not brave / I'm not special..."), but with 3,000,000 of us using the underground daily, I just can't see that the chances of being blown up on it are substantially higher than those of being wiped out above ground - the road I live on is pockmarked regularly by pavement debris, collapsed bollards and bits of metal following the incessant speeding and / or drinking of motorists, and has its own, well known and entirely predictable annual death toll. (Or, more disturbingly, it can't be too fanciful to suggest that the bombers' next target is at least as likely to be an overground train, a bus queue, a busy shop or a pub as it is an increasingly policed subway).

I tell you what did scare me though. On the tube on Saturday evening, between Highbury & Islington and King's Cross, I was accosted by one of a couple of lairy lads, who insisted on showing me the movie on his mobile phone. "This", he said with pride, "is our mates beating up some Pakis the other night". Yes the pictures were horrific, and the shouting on the soundtrack echoed down the aisle. I was too frightened, frankly, to move away, especially given the understandable sudden desire of the rest of the carriage to bury their heads in their Sunday supplements and Harry Potters - although what worried me most was the boys' initial assumption that I might share their prejudices. And "We hate Pakis, we're British", was their parting sho(u)t to the rest of the train. This stuff has never gone away - (although no end of otherwise intelligent people I know have felt able to tell me that racism isn't a problem in Britain any more over the past few years) - it's just that, right now, we need to be at our most vigilant to combat it.

But, especially right now, I don't see why keeping our eyes and ears out should stop us living and enjoying the rest of our lives as usual - so hopefully next time I post it will only be to bore you with fond recollections of the Windmills and Picture Center show this Saturday night.

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