This article originally appeared in Strangehaven issue #18, September 2005.
London, you may have noticed, has been the in the news a bit over the past month or two. I live in Leigh-on-Sea at the mouth of the Thames estuary, just about where it meets the English Channel. It’s a small but busy town built around an old fishing village. It’s about 40 miles by road (or a 45 minute train journey) from central London.
I visit the city fairly often these days, for conventions, shopping, art galleries, business meetings, concerts and football matches. In my younger days, I used to travel up once a week or more. It’s kind of hard to ignore the fact that one of the world’s most exciting, vibrant, cosmopolitan cities is right on my doorstep.
A dry recounting of the summer’s events
Take for example the second day of July earlier this summer. Hyde Park hosted an estimated 200,000 for the UK’s Live 8 concert, while on the same day another 25,000 took to the streets for the London Pride Parade from Park Lane to Trafalgar Square. Meanwhile, another 30,000 were at Lord’s Cricket Ground, where England and Australia played out an extraordinary tie in their one-day NatWest Series final; and another 15,000 or so saw Venus Williams beat Lindsay Davenport in the Ladies’ Singles final at the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships.
A few days later, on the 6th July, the International Olympic Committee officially announced that London would host the 2012 Olympic Games, beating out the favourites Paris. It was a pleasant surprise to most, even though the UK had been tipped as the only realistic rival to France’s bid. Personally, I was amazed that London won – England doesn’t usually do so well in international popular votes. I certainly hope that the forthcoming games will realise their promise of regenerating parts of East London, and in particular, Hackney, the place of my birth.
But the euphoria was cut short the following morning shortly before 9:00 AM when reports of the terrorist suicide attacks started coming in. When I first heard the rumours of bombs in the city, I thought there was an element of Chinese whispers and typical media over-reaction. But it soon became apparent that it wasn’t. 52 people ultimately died, many were injured and in the immediate aftermath, and travel chaos ensued for most living or working in the central London area.
Some of the places targeted by the bombers will be familiar to many millions of visitors to the capital, comics aficionados included. The bombs at Russell Square and Tavistock Place were in the immediate vicinity of both the old London UKAC shows (held at the University of London) and the more recent London Winter Festivals (Holiday Inn Bloomsbury). The Aldgate tube blast was in close proximity to Liverpool Street station – a major hub for rail travel to London from my part of the country.
As luck would have it, I wasn’t in London that day – although my nephew Reece was at work in Shoreditch and was stranded overnight in London. Fortunately the worst he suffered was the lack of a change of underpants.
A short, ill-informed & half-baked rant on belief systems
What intrigues me about suicide bombers is how anyone can be so convinced of something as to be prepared to kill themselves (and others) for a religious ideology without any independent proof of its existence.
I mean, I’m not a religious person, and some might surmise that my belief system is modern science. Because of that, I may believe a lot of nonsense because it’s been written up in a paper by a prominent physicist. But, would I risk my life (or anyone else’s) for, say, the Copenhagen interpretation of Quantum Theory, without demonstrable proof? No, I wouldn’t.
I’m not necessarily ruling out an afterlife of some kind, but to believe in it so wholeheartedly, so completely that I would take my own life (and as many others as possible, whether they agree with me or not) in the conviction that I would be rewarded in the hereafter, is simply blind faith; blind faith that so many people appear to possess can only be explained by religious indoctrination, or to be even more blunt, brainwashing (that’s not to say that I don’t appreciate how powerful martyrdom is, nor how much hatred can be generated by the western world’s actions, but that’s a different discussion).
It is, of course, an incredibly complex issue which will continue to confound intellects far greater than mine for the foreseeable future and beyond.
The bulldog spirit
Anyhow, exactly two weeks later and reports are coming in of an unsuccessful attempt of further bombings (which followed the fatal shooting of an illegal immigrant Brazilian running from Police on the London Underground); it’s not clear whether these fresh attacks are directly related to the original bombings, or some kind of copycat attack. It all seems more like work of a fictional writer like Frederick Forsyth than real life.
But it is real life. Fortunately, the British people in general – and Londoners in particular – are a resilient lot. London has suffered throughout history – the plague, the great fire, the Luftwaffe, the IRA bombings…and so, only three days after the original attacks, the 60th anniversary VE Day celebrations went ahead in central London as planned, with the Queen paying tribute to war veterans on a beautiful summer’s day.
As I watched Lord’s playing host to another International cricket match between Australia and England on TV, there was a magical moment of national pride and defiance when the crowd stood and applauded the flypast of WWII aircraft which went on to drop one million poppies onto the crowd assembled in The Mall.
Bringing it back to comics
A week and a half before the July 7th bombings, I was at the 2005 London Film & Comic Con at Earl’s Court (25-26 June). Not the sort of event I usually attend as either guest or punter; far too many minor actors from long-cancelled TV shows selling their signatures for some vastly inflated price and not enough comics-related talks or guests for my liking. In fact, the closest the 2004 event had to a comics guest was ’60s TV Batman Adam West, and as much as I loved that show, he’s actually nothing much to do with comics.
You can read more about my report on the 2005 London Film & Comic Con here. It was an (unexpectedly) enjoyable weekend and one which I hope to repeat next year.
And to end, a tenuous link to football
A couple of months before the Earl’s Court event, I was in London again, at Stamford Bridge, home to my beloved Chelsea, FC. On 7th May I saw them beat Charlton 1-0 (with a last minute goal from Claude Makelele) and lift the Premiership trophy for the first time in precisely 50 years. Having supported the Blues since the late 1960s and experienced their many ups and downs, it was quite something to witness the actual presentation of the biggest domestic prize Chelsea have won since before I was born. Even the sun came out when the trophy did. What a splendid day that was.
And I shall be returning on August 21st to see Chelsea’s first home game of the 2005-06 season versus arch rivals Arsenal, terrorists or no terrorists.
The only way I can see that you can really combat indiscriminate and apparently purposeless terrorism is to carry on as usual; continue working, putting out my comics as often as circumstances allow me to, and to visit London as often as necessary. Otherwise, they’ve won, haven’t they?