Monday, April 30, 2007

Update from me...

Hello, I'm back after a break. My wedding to J on Saturday in Norwich Cathedral was the best day of my life. More on that later. For now, I'm back in London and for the next 48 hours I will be working with some of the other survivors and families of the 7/7 atrocity to put across our message about the need for an independent inquiry into the bombings, particularly in the light of the news today about what was known about the 7/7 bombers as early as 2004.

There isn't time to type up much or to read your emails and comments, so apologies for that and will read them tonight after I have done the media stuff I have promised to do. I have just been carried over the threshold of our house by my gorgeous husband, put down my bags of wonderful wedding presents, jumped into a suit and am off to do interviews in ten minutes. You can see me and some of the other survivors and families on BBC News 24, ITN, ITN Special investigation tonight, C4 News, Newsnight, BBC London early evening news programme, Panorama, CNN, BBC Breakfast, various radio stuff, and you'll see us all again tomorrow, when the stakes will be raised.

I have been asking for an inquiry independent of Government and the Security Services since December 2005. It has been frustrating not being able to say exactly why I was so determined to make the point that the 7/7 bombers were not the ''clean skins'' who came ''out of the blue'' as we were told. In fact two of them were part of a criminal network of men bent on destruction that was known about, they were tracked and followed and then let go. We all make mistakes. I do not blame people in the security services for their mistakes and failure to use intelligence. It is failing to admit mistakes and then trying to cover up mistakes which is unforgivable and inexcusable.

It is the public who daily run the risks on the tubes and trains and uses, in the shops and clubs and streets. It is the public that the Government and Security services are sworn to serve and protect. It is the public who deserve truthful answers about what was known before 7 July and what happened on and after that day. It is the public who have been failed, and who continue to be failed by the overt politicisation of intelligence, by the posturings of politicians who pass legislation but who do not tell the whole truth. It is particularly distressing for those who were most affected by 7/7 - the families, the injured and the survivors, to find out that perhaps the ringleaders of the London bombings could have been picked up and might have been facing sentencing today along with their acqaintences - or friends - in the Crevice plot that was stopped. And I promised many of these people that I would do what I could in my small way as a blogger and writer, to get an inquiry into 7/7 over a year ago.

It's not just survivors and families who are calling for an inquiry. It is many members of the public, including many British Muslims who are adding their voices to the calls. The Lib Dems and the Tories are also calling for one. There is much to learn about July 7, and what could be learned and shared would help us understand, help us prepare, help us deal with the aftermath of terrorism, as a country of many faiths and races who seek to live peaceably and productively together, and undoubtedly spare suffering and save lives in the future.

To demonise a million Muslims in the media on the grounds that any young British male could without warning rise up and strike at his fellow citizens in the name of religion, is appalling. In fact, there are about 40-50 wannabe murder cells, there are about 2000 criminal plotters who would like to ape the murderers of July 2005 - so far. This is bad, but dealable with. This is a fluid and determined network of fantatic murderous criminals. To call them ''terrorists'' makes them sound glamorous: to call this a ''war on terror'' that means '' the rules of the game have changed'' is playing into their own propoganda. They are criminals, pure and simple, planning murder and mayhem. They are beneath contempt, and a disgrace to their country and their religion.

Why should an entire faith, an entire group of that faith's practioners be demonised because of the actions and plots of a few death-cult politicised nihilistic fools? The men sentenced at the Old Bailey today have as much relevanance to the rest of British Muslims as animal rights extremists have to 'the British vegetarian community ' ( and now perhaps with this analogy you can see why talk of 'the Muslim community' is misleadingly simplistic and facile).

ID cards, detaining people without charge, the horrors of Guantanamo, rendition and torture outsourced to less apparently-high-minded regimes, clamp downs on peaceful protest, shredding of civil liberties and political soundbites and tough talk do not help and they do not work. Tracking and stopping such death-cultists is a matter of applying intelligence, often intelligence that comes from ordinary British men and women, (including of course British Muslims) and staying calm and clear-eyed, not hysterically over-stating the danger we face and glamorising such plotters by calling them players in a ''war on terror''

There is no excuse for obfuscation and denial any more. It is time that our voices were heard, and that an inquiry, a proper one, independent of Government and the security services and the stakeholders in our security was held.

Back soon. Deep breath.

Meanwhile...Please can you sign this?

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Monday, April 09, 2007

The Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew

Finally managed to get to Kew Gardens yesterday, (home of the largest living plant collection in the world), and I had the joy of watching the man I love walk slow and smiling amongst acres of flowers. My Ferdinand the Bull. He kept wandering off the wide paths and pulling me towards magnolias, pear and apple and plum blossom trees; with their slim branches smothered in pale flowers they reminded me of graceful brides. The tree we fell in love with is a plum blossom tree; we could not stop taking pictures of it. Now the screensaver on my phone is white-flowered branches, bright against a blue sky.

Van Gogh caught blossom best of all, and the picture you see above is almond blossom branches, painted in 1890 for his new born nephew, named after him. We have a reproduction on our wall at home, like millions of other people. We go and look at the real thing in Amsterdam every year
Today I found out that plum blossoms stand for courage and hope in China, bursting on bare branches at the end of winter.

The daisies were out underfoot, the bluebells just starting in the woods. Golden pheasants scuttled in rhododendron bushes, coal tits and robins made a merry racket, children cartwheeled on the grass. Inside the glasshouses were rainforests and palms, huge ferns and tropical trees, the smell of things growing fast in the humid air. I loved the glass cases of orchids, and the little frogs coloured like Tiffany glass ornaments, and the verdigris-coloured lizards - little dragons, watchful and dignified, balancing on branches, gazing at us.

There were tropical fish and cold-water rays, later we walked past pools where fat bewhiskered carp swam and lily pads spread. I heard people speaking a dozen different languages, all of them happy to find themselves reminded of the beauties of the gardens, and the forests of Earth.
(I'm having a short break from writing about politics and terrorism; I'm enjoying the Spring holiday. I hope you are too)

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Happy Easter...

...we've had a luxurious lie in, interupted by Miff leaping onto my head demanding breakfast, and knocking over a pint of water onto me and the pillow, scoffed bacon criossants ( day off the low-carb wedding diet) and now we're finally off to Kew Gardens. (J had to work on Good Friday, then forgot he had Arsenal tickets yesterday, so that was why we were delayed yet again). It's far too nice to stay inside blogging. I hope all your eggs don't melt in the sunshine. Sandal weather for the first time this year!

I'm feeling somewhat pagan. Spring festival time: make a beeline for flowers and look for signs of the goddess...

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Easter Night in Jerusalem

Yesterday I promised to tell you about Easter Saturday night in Jerusalem and how I danced on the roof of the Holy Sepulchre with an African Pope.

It was twenty years ago, I was sixteen, and I was accompanying my parents on a pilgrimage my father was leading to the Holy Land. My father led pilgrimages for many years, once co-presenting a series with the BBC's Anne Gregg, and they were very popular and great fun as well as educational and spiritually-enlightening.

It was Easter Week, and Jerusalem was heaving with pilgrims from all over the world. The Souk ( market) was rammed and the usual scents of spices, dyed wools, piles of over-ripe fruit and smokey grills selling felafel were mixed with the cigarette smoke and sharp sweat of bargain hunters, picking up supplies for Passover feasts, as bored Israeli soldiers toting guns looked on.

Inside the Holy Sepulchre, a sprawling huge gilded lump of stone and gilt, that had sprung up over the centuries like a holy multistorey car park over the rock tombs where Jesus was once buried, the smell of incense was choking. The Sepulchre is ''owned'' by four Christian churches - Coptics, Latin (Catholic), Greek Orthodox, and Armenian - who bicker over politics and ownership and care for the building according to their wealth and infludence as best they can.

Crowds of tiny sharp-elbowed black-clad grannies fought to kiss the stone of the Tomb, brandishing white material that would be used to wrap them in when they died. ( The same determined grannies had been spotted earlier in the week at the River Jordan, paddling and dunking in their cotton robes, renewing their baptismal vows). Everywhere there were people wetly kissing masonry, and carrying nightlights and flowers. I wandered about inside the enormous church, dazzled by the indescribable amounts of glitzy junk everywhere, and was invited by a wizened-faced Coptic Orthodox priest in a threadbare black cassock to come and kiss the Tomb.

'I thought the Tomb was over there? ' I said, pointing the the queues.
He smiled, revealing black stumps of teeth. 'REAL tomb here, ' he said, gesturing behind him. So I went in, ducking under a heavy embroidered curtain, and squeezing into a dark space where some blackened stone and candles could be seen, amidst clouds of incense smoke. I touched the smooth greasy stone and crossed myself, I didn't fancy kissing it. The priest looked pleased and gave me an olive-wood rosary. I gave him a donation for the upkeep of his small area of the church, where he seemed to live day and night surrounded by dust, icons, candles, oil lamps hangings and fake flowers, and he waved his small clawed hand in a blessing as I squeezed out under the curtain again

Later on I found Mum and she said that we had been invited to celebrate Easter with the Ethiopian Pope. On the roof of the Holy Sepulchre. Where there was apparently an African Village.

'Are we? How on earth did that happen?'
'I don't know. Ask Dad'.

Late that evening we went back with an Ethiopian guide who had befriended Dad, to the Holy Sepulchre, and were taken into a small room, which was covered in frescoes of the Queen of Sheba meeting King David. The Queen of Sheba, famed for her beauty and wealth was thought to be Ethiopian. The room was full of women who had rolled themselves up tightly in white shrouds so only their large, beautiful dark eyes could be seen. The women were lying in heaps on the floor, keeping very still.

'What's going on?'
'They are waiting. They are being dead with the Lord Jesus, ' our guide said
'Ah ha. I see'.

Mum and I waited here, quietly, for about twenty minutes. The women stayed silent, many of them had their eyes rolled back but occasionally one or two would peep sideways at us. Occasionally one would let out a soft groan.

Suddenly, we heard noises on the roof, and we were beckoned to come up and join in. The women sat up straight and began to tear off their shrouds. It was clearly going to take them some time to disentangle themselves, so Mum and I went up the stairs to see what was going on.

There was a bonfire on the roof, just as we had been told. And there was indeed an African village, small tatty huts, which housed Ethiopian priests and monks who staked out their Coptic Church's claim to have a presence in the Sepulchre by living on the roof in great poverty. Everywhere men were running about ringing bells and shouting. They were doing a sort of exaggerated hop-jog, waving their arms and hulloo-ing, crouching down and then leaping up into the air.

'What are they doing?'
'They are looking for the body of the Lord Jesus. They cannot find it, so they are very happy, they are dancing because he is risen'

At this point a great crying out of joy went up, and the beaming Ethiopian Pope appeared from a tinsel-covered hut, wearing golden robes and surrounded by priests who were holding up three cane-handled umbrellas, that had been reupholstered with tassels and gold material and sequins. The Pope announced that Christ was risen, Exultet! Chistos Enesti and everyone began to dance, as drummers began to beat out a rhythm. We joined in the dancing, round and round the fire, as the women spilled out of their chapel and joined in, clapping and jogging from foot to foot, smiling broadly. It became crowded and chaotic, a whirl of bright fabrics and shining limbs and faces in the fire light, Easter had come and these people were partying under the Jerusalem stars, under the Passover Moon; for them, tonight was the most important night of the year.

We felt very privileged to have been invited to watch them start their celebrations. We had to rise early the next day, and it was very late, so we said goodbye and left them to their festivals and feasting on peanut soup. They were poor, they lived in tiny rough huts and slept on the hard roof, but they had made us strangers graciously welcome. We were amazed, and delighted to have been invited to their special party.

I am thinking of them now, whether the women are wrapped in white, fasting and waiting, lying still as the dead at this moment, and whether tonight the Ethiopian Pope will emerge in his glittering golden robes, and call out a benevolent blessing in a strong voice, and whether tonight there will be dancing again, under the stars of Jerusalem.

Blogs Turn 10

The Guardian Newsblog has a piece on ten years of blogging, in which I get an honourable mention, which is very kind of them.

Hello to anyone visiting from the Guardian! I was asked to explain blogging to a District Judge in Stratford Magistrates' Court this week when I was giving evidence in a trial. She asked what was the difference between 'a blog' and 'a website'. I explained to her that a blog was a kind of website where you could self-publish your thoughts, and that there were now 71 million of them worldwide.

'Why do people blog?' she asked, unwittingly asking a question that has generated millions of posts from millions of people.

I explained that it was a form of free self-expression, for some, it was writing practice, or a way of keeping in touch with family and friends and making new friends, sharing ideas, finding out information and hearing other voices and opinions. 'People have blogs on all sorts of subjects,' I explained '- cooking, gardening, politics, families, technology, or personal diaries...and most of them allow comments so you can engage in dialogue with your readers.' I forgot to mention the excellent Magistrate's Blog that I read regularly, so she could see that even pillars of the community were blogging these days, but I tried to give her an idea by saying ' If Anne Franks or Samuel Pepys was around in 2007, they'd probably be keeping a blog'. (Not that I am comparing myself to either.)

' And why did you start a blog?' she asked.

I explained that I had come home on 7 July after my train carriage was blown up and, because I couldn't sleep, I had sat down and written about what being bombed was like on urban 75, a London-based message board where people were sharing stories and news of what had happened that day. Someone from the BBC had read my account and asked me to write a diary for the BBC News site for a week, as a 'citizen journalist', and so I did, and lots of people read it, including other survivors, who got in touch and we formed a support group to help each other. After the week of the bombs, I decided to carry on with the diary, so I set up a blog using blogger software. It was easy to use, even though I am a techno-muppet, and I enjoyed writing on it. Writing was becoming a lifeline, helping me deal with what had happened, and it had become a means of staying in touch with other survivors and forming a support network, called Kings Cross United, so I decided to carry on with it.

'And what is your blog about?' asked the Judge. I told her that I no longer just wrote about life in the aftermath of 7/7, but had broadened out to include politics, civil liberties and campaigning for an independent inquiry into 7/7, as well as other subjects close to my heart like cooking and dancing classes. And as a result of the blog, I ended up being asked to write for various newspapers like the Sunday Times and the Mirror, and magazines like Grazia, and then I got asked to write a book and do things on TV. Eventually I left my advertising job to become a full time writer. So blogging was quite an important thing for me, and it had changed my life.

She looked very interested. Perhaps she is thinking of starting one herself.

I think my writing has changed since I first started blogging, and I can track my shell-shocked emotional state through what I wrote over the last 18 months, from numbness and fear, to passionate anger, to renewed political engagement and the eventual re-appearance of my sense of humour. It was interesting when I was writing the book, referring back to the blog and seeing what I was like then.

Blogging has enabled me to have a voice and to shout out when I care passionately about political issues, like the handling of the so-called War on Terror and to do something rather than just yell at the TV when Newsnight is on. It enabled me to voice my disagreement with the 90 Days legislation, (and it got me into a row with the last Home Secretary.)

One of the best things about blogging has been the camaraderie found amongst fellow-bloggers, the cross-party issues that have united people like civil liberties campaigning, and the support I have found in the compassionate words of strangers and friends. Other 7/7 survivors started blogging too, and you can find them linked on my side bar. I've made many real life friends from blogging, and things like the Simultaneous Lone Mass Demonstrations and the Illegal SOCPA-busting Carol Services ( organised by Tim Ireland of Bloggerheads)were examples of blogger-activism offline that ended with pints in the pub afterwards and coverage of our efforts in the mainstream media. Blogger TV is happening with 18 Doughty St's net-based political programming

There isn't space to list all the blogs I adore reading, though my blogroll in the side bar has a good selection - all these are blogs I try and read regularly, and there are many more that I read once a month or so.

Fergal Keane, a journalist and writer whom I respect enormously told me once that I was a writer and writers should write every day. He was very adamant about it, and he was quite right. If you are a writer, you need to write regularly. Blogging enables me to do that, to practise and get feedback and to do something I love, freely, for the simple pleasure of it. I wasn't a writer two years ago, but I am now. It even says it on my passport.

That's all because of blogging. So Happy Birthday Blogging.
Life would be very different without you.

What do you get out of blogging, and how many people in your life blog?


Friday, April 06, 2007

A Romanian Orthodox Good Friday

We didn't make it to Kew; J had to work til 2pm. I went and looked at my old haunts on the Southbank. We are going to Kew tomorrow to see the flowering magnolias, my favourite tree, and make a whole day of it.

Instead, we went and ate mezze in Tas, a Turkish restaurant , by the Southbank, in a flower-filled courtyard, near where I used to work. Helim, shrimp, feta, olives, whitebait and salad dressed with pomegranate juice, with a bottle of cold dry pink wine and a jug of water. It was a small holiday for us, in the warm sunshine. We talked about the wedding, and got excited. Not long now.

J had to go back into the office after lunch and quickly finish off the deal - the American lawyers on the other side are not having a bank holiday today, so it had to be done. Waiting for J, I wandered down Fleet St, sun on my bare arms, all the shops and offices closed, heat rising off the pavestones. It was almost too warm in my winter boots.

On an impulse, I went into a church on the corner of Fetter Lane and Fleet St, St Dunstan in the West. It is an English Victorian church, but it hosts Romanian Orthodox services as well as Anglican services. The cool air carried a faint drift of incense. The Good Friday Service had just finished and the Anglican congregation were leaving for tea and hot cross buns in the courtyard outside.

The church was dim after the bright sunlit streets. To the left of the altar were several large icons, still faces with wise eyes, and a bank of flickering tapers in a sand-filled trough. The candles were grouped and marked 'For the Living' and 'For the Dead'. A few young men in jeans or tracksuits sat quietly in pews, gazing up at the stained glass behind the altar where sunlight streamed in and coloured the stone. There was an immense sense of peace.

I lit two slim candles, and said a prayer for peace and the relief of suffering. Then I placed a third candle in front of the icon of Mary, holding a small Jesus in her arms. The baby had the sad face of an old man. I said the Latin prayer, Ave Maria, kneeling by the red roses placed at the Lady's feet, because it felt like the right thing to do. I have not said that prayer for about ten years, but I remembered it all like the words of a song. Afterwards, I felt very calm.

I walked out, because I needed to make a call, and then came back in again. Some men were carefully moving the icons so they stood in front of the altar. A bearded priest came out of the sacristy, leaving the door open, inside I saw there was a golden blaze of icons, covering the entire wall from floor to ceiling.

Afterwards, I sat and watched, as men and women began to stream in, waiting to light their tapers and cross themselves, twice, then walk to the altar and kiss the icons. The priest stood by the altar and lifted his - I'm not sure of the word - a sort of embroidered tabard, like a bib, worn over his black cassock - and a man knelt and began to speak quickly, in Romanian, as the priest laid the tabard over the man's head, covering him from view. The men and women near him leaned forward, listening. I do not know if he prayed, or confessed.

As I left, more and more men and women and children were waiting to come in, many of the older women all in black with headscarves, and the younger women in jeans, with henna-ed hair and eyes ringed with kohl. Most of them carried flowers, which they laid before the icons. Small children were lifted up so they could kiss the icons too. Nobody spoke.

It was unexpectedly moving, watching someone else's Easter preparations and taking part in rituals different to those I grew up with, but still old and familiar. And it was good to have a moment of quiet reflection. I don't stand still often enough, and as I get older, I notice that the spirit needs silence sometimes as the body needs cool water.

Sometimes, when you don't expect it, you find grace and peace when you wander away from your usual path. I am looking forward to our day out to see the flowers tomorrow.

A Good Friday

J has had to rush into the office and do a couple of hours work, but then we're off to the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew. I have only been once, years ago, and I am very excited about the idea of spending the whole day wandering in the sunshine looking at beauty. Flowers feed the soul.

Good Friday always seems to be a gorgeous sunny spring day. When I was a child, Good Friday was the day my brother and sister and I would make the Easter Garden in the church porch. We would take rocks and cover them with moss, and place pots of spring bulbs and branches to make Gethsemane and Calvary, with three crosses made of twigs lashed together on a hill, one with 'INRI' on in carefully-inked lettering on a little notice. Then we would make a rock tomb, and cover the entrance with a large stone. Tea would be hot cross buns. I still feel odd if I eat them any day apart from Good Friday, though they started selling them in February in the shops. No meat all day, only fish.

On the Saturday night, there would be a service with an Easter bonfire, and we would leave the church and stand outside as darkness fell, watching the flames roar upwards, before carrying a lighted candle back into the church. It felt timeless, almost pagan.

On Easter day, the church would be filled with flowers, and we would roll the stone away from the tomb, leaving a little pile of cotton graveclothes neatly folded inside the tomb and a notice. ''Why seek you the living, among the dead?''. Back home for roast lamb, and an Easter egg hunt in the garden.

Tomorrow I will tell you about Easter Saturday night in Jerusalem, and how I danced with an African pope, and the bonfire on the roof of the Holy Sepulchre.

Have a Good Friday, and enjoy the sunshine. I am not going to church, but I will send out a prayer for peace and light a candle tonight for those crucified by war, suffering, disease, torture and poverty. And go here.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Three charged re.7/7

Three men from Leeds have been charged with conspiracy to cause explosions on 7/7.
Press conference at 1.15pm(ish) on BBC News 24.
More on it when I know... but I have a lunch meeting , so this will be later this afternoon.

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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

One Unknown

Gill, and her husband Joe are people whom I am very happy to know. Gill sends me the funniest text messages of anyone in my mobile address book , ( I will never forget the trampolining one, and the birthday one - 'it's Gill's birthday, come and get legless'. Her bravery, her calmness and her laughter are exceptional.
I would not have known Gill if we had not shared the same journey to work one day. July 7 2005. Gill should not have been on that train; her normal journey to work was on the Northern Line. But the Northern Line had problems that day so she took the Piccadilly line to make up time.
I got on at Finsbury Park, and I stood by the holding pole by the first set of doors at the front end of carriage one. A few stops later, Gill got on at King's Cross, stepping on the packed train and standing in the centre of carriage one, through the second set of doors. A few feet away was Germaine Lindsey, a nineteen year old man, with a bomb in the rucksack on his back, who had boarded within minutes of Gill.
We pulled out of King's Cross, the packed-out carriage full of ordinary people thinking about the day they had ahead of them and then...
''It was as quick as a click of your fingers and that was it. The lives of all of us in that carriage changed forever. But I didn't know it then. I didn't know what had happened. It was as dramatic as being on a sunny, sandy beach, drinking and talking with friends one minute, to suddenly, like the click of a finger, finding yourself in the bowels of hell. In a breath, everything had changed. The whole world changed.''
Gill was the last person to be brought alive from the wreckage of the carriage. She lost both legs below the knee, and 75-80% of the blood in her body. Her book tells the story of her survival and recovery, and words like 'inspiring' do not really do justice to it, unless you use the word 'inspiring' in its old sense: Filled with the very essence of the divine life-force , emanating from the healing breath of God, being filled with Spirit, and fire, that is the opposite of death, and chaos, and despair.
Five months after the shattered journey, Gill walked down the aisle in her wedding dress. Two inches taller on her new prosthetic legs.
Like many 7/7 people, Gill went on to completely change her working life, and she chose to work with a charity, Peace Direct, who inspired people all over the world [EDIT see comments] with a film she made about grassroots' peace. Please, visit their site and see what they do - you can sign up for their monthly email newsmagazines here, and they are always thought-provoking - and uplifting and practical. I love getting them.
I can't wait to read Gill's beautiful book tonight, and if you would like to buy it, it's in shops now and on amazon - click here to buy it .
Thank you Gill, for everything you do.
UPDATE: The book is bloody brilliant. Have read 160 pages. Please read. And thank you, Peace Direct, for the comments and the marvellous work you do, too.

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I am realising that I am a very low-maintenance woman who has suddenly got to become a very high-maintenance woman on account of TBWW ( The Big White Wedding). I have tried to avoid becoming what is colloquially known as a ''Bride-Zilla'' ( see pic) and going bonkers spending money hand-over-fist on all the wedding-related tomfoolery that zillions of websites, shops and magazines are keen to sell the sweating bride-to-be. You say 'wedding' and the price usually doubles. When I went with my friend Jeanette to get a cake for her wedding, we went into the shop and asked for 'a cake'. Then 'a cake for a wedding'. The price was 40% higher. The next day we went back and there was a different person behind the till.
I said we wanted a wedding cake and as she reached for the Special Supersonic Wedding Prices brochure and as Jeanette rolled her eyes, and hissed at me, I jumped in quickly.
''A wedding cake for a conference'' I said.
''A conference?'' she asked, looking puzzled.
''It's um, a conference of wedding organisers, to, um, discuss weddings.'' I said, improvising hastily, ''and we will be discussing how much the mark-up is on things that are sold as being wedding-related, and sharing our in-depth knowledge of how much things like wedding cakes should really cost, because of course, we all know the truth. Of course, we're happy to recommend suppliers who don't charge mad prices, because it really puts brides off if they know they're being ripped off...''
''Well, of course we'd be happy to charge you a price for a normal cake'', she said.
''Marvellous. Thanks for that''
It does make me wild.
I have not bought a single bridal magazine, visited a single bridal shop and only registered on a bridal website so I could use their handy budget planner as my excel spreadsheet skills are ropey (I always used to get my assistant to do excel sheets for me at work, it was our guilty secret. He could do formulas and colours and everything, I used to flap admiringly and bring him coffee).
However, as TBWW is only weeks away, the pressure is suddenly on, and now I have finally been able to jettison tiresome things that were taking up too much head space and slowing me down, I am faced with a bewildering array of instructions relating to Essential Grooming Tips that I must faithfully follow in order to Make The Most of My Big Special Daaaaaaaaaay, Or Else.
I cannot believe that people write such things, in apparent seriousness as '' Beauty: Your 12 Month Plan'' that suggest meeting your hairdresser, colourist, stylist, dentist, beautician, masseuse, pedicurist, manicurist, acupuncturist, spiritual healer, herbalist, doctor, waxer, colour consultant, chakra-rebalancer, eye-brow-shaper and probably gynecologist ( 'for assured honeymoon freshness!') a whole flipping YEAR before you walk down the aisle!
Not to mention florist, photographer, organist, caterer, wedding invite designer ( actually, all those are quite sensible and I have done them).
Then there's wedding shops that sell frocks and stuff. They are all By Appointment Only. Which is an excuse to be pinned down and scolded and sold to. I haven't dared go in. It will be only too obvious to the scary matrons within that I have failed, my nails have failed, my hair has failed and I am Just. Not. Taking. Grooming. Seriously. Enough.
I have instead gone to Anna Maria D'Amato, a genius corsetiere and dress deigner in Enfield who is rustling me up the dress of my dreams to my own design in ivory silk with a corset that is not only comfortable but cinches my waist in to Jayne Mansfield proportions. After the wedding I will dye it black or midnight blue and vamp about in it at every opportunity.
As to veiled threats: I am scared of veils and will only trip over it or get the damn thing caught in my lipgloss or something, so I will just content myself with some silk roses in my hair.
However, the TBWW approaches and so I am going to have to book a flurry of appointments and hand myself over to be scraped and plucked and dyed and filed and painted and primped and snipped and poked over until I pass muster.
At the very least, I had better go and get a hair cut, fast.
Some people do this grooming stuff all the time. I have a new respect for them. I like to be clean and to smell nice and wear pretty jewellery and clothes that fit me, skirts that swirl and swish when I dance, but being a Perfectly Groomed Woman strikes me as being a bit like a farmer: a back-breaking round of cultivating and harvesting and cropping and feeding and chemicals and unguents, and it seems to involve getting up early, and thus I fear it is not for me, Bridezilla or not.


Monday, April 02, 2007

Asbestos update

The News of the World ran a 7/7 asbestos story at the weekend. I was scared, but also suspicious, and checked it out with the Health Protection Agency website and the National Asbestos Helpline. Richard, the National Asbestos Helpline M.D called me today and his email can be seen on the original post, added as an update. I hope it puts survivors'/first aid responders' minds at risk.

I've had calls from several frightened people today, and I am feeling very fed up with the News of the World ( and whoever okayed the ''SECRET KILLER OF 7/7'' story ) for scaring us all sick. Please see original blog post, now updated.)

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Sunday, April 01, 2007

Scary asbestos story

This is very scary. A woman who was on my train is in the News Of The World today talking about her concerns about asbestos in her lungs and her fears of developing cancer after what she breathed in on the Piccadilly train on 7/7 (when the explosion damaged the tunnel walls and enveloped us all in choking clouds of smoke containing god-knows-what.)

When I read the article, I felt absolutely stomach-clenchingly sick; terrified for myself and all the other people on my train, many of whom are my friends and acquaintances.

But I didn't panic and I took a few deep breaths and kept calm. Then I did a bit of research, and called the National Asbestos helpline, left a message, read the KCU archive emails about people saying they'd had coughs and chest infections, and the HPA website.

Hmmm. Media head on. I smell an agenda with the NOTW being all 'concerned' about compensation and running a panicky story. Most 7/7 people I know refuse point -blank to talk to the News of the World. Max Clifford last summer, when I went to him in desperation for help, when he was kindly advising me and other survivors for free as we were being deluged by media requests and I was on the verge of losing it with stress, told us to steer clear of that paper. (Which was more than fine with me, I had refused to talk to the NOTW ever since they sent a brass-necked request to me to please provide a family with attractive kids, where a parent had died on 7/7, for a feel-good Victims Meet Father Christmas courtesy of the News of The World piece. The email was sent to the Kings Cross United survivor contact email address, which I and three other survivors took turns to manage inquiries.

I passed the request round the group and everyone was completely repelled. As if a survivor group was a catalogue where the NOTW could shop for schmaltzy and shlock-horror stories. Yuk. )

Being somewhat hard-bitten and cynical these days, after a year of dealing with media stories and requests, having somehow ended up as everyone's 7/7 contact because of being visible through my blog, I'll say this - that today's asbestos feature strikes me as a way of getting 7/7 survivor/responder stories. I think the NOTW are hoping that people will call the news room, in a panic after reading it. Ker-ist, I nearly did myself, until I got a grip and hit google. And as names and contact details of 7/7 victims are being demanded by editors right now, in voracious anticipation of a big 7/7-related terrorism story which will be running soon, I can quite see why the NOTW is punting this dramatic story, and why their choice of timing.

The News of the World is a highly sensational paper, to put it mildly. And so far all Beverli has are 'fears' - which I hope are unfounded. I wish Beverli well as she has had a dreadful time of it. But I pray that this story is sensationalised rubbish.

I am particularly concerned about this quote...

''An adviser told me nine other people have found tumours of varying sizes on their lungs too. He said they were a first aider, a train driver, two first respondents and some survivors'' [Beverli in NOTW].
This unnamed 'adviser' purports to come from the personal injury lawyers, I think. Tumours? Of varying sizes? Eighteen months after 7/7? That's medically incredibly unlikely.

This all sounds like prize fear-mongering bollocks to me. But I am still going to check. If it is not true, and is an attempt to use Beverli's fears to peddle a shocking story I am going to be furious. Because it is terrifying and irresponsible to panic people like this.

The NOTW commenter 'Mr Angry' is also covering 7/7 compensation ( The NOTW did a 'What About The Victims?' campaign shortly after 7/7 led by Garri Holness, who later fell out of favour with the tabloids when his past criminal conviction was discovered.) Meanwhile, I am taking some reassurance from this, from the Health Protection Agency.
From the Health Protection Agency site

The two major long term health consequences (apart from those resulting from serious blast injuries) reported by the 158 people who completed a detailed follow-up questionnaire are:
- the psychological effects of involvement in the bombings
- hearing problems, especially in those who were close to the explosions

80% of those who took part in the follow-up, including both injured and uninjured survivors, reported emotional upset. 80% of these have received some counselling. Where appropriate, the remainder have been referred to services that specialise in screening for post traumatic stress disorder. Of these injured, the Agency found that one third reported ongoing problems with their hearing. In contrast, none of the uninjured group reported ongoing hearing problems. Ongoing problems with breathing and headaches were reported by 2% of both the injured and uninjured. These results provide reassurance that there are no other long-term health effects.

The Agency has also assessed the possible risk to the public and emergency responders from exposure to airborne particles (dust and fibres), which may have been present in the air after the explosions . The only material released by the blasts to which people may have been exposed was identified as tunnel dust. An analysis of the possible toxicity of this material suggests that the risk it posed to the public and emergency responders was very low.''

Well, either way, I badly want to know what is going on, but as I have a ridiculously busy week ahead, am on deadline and am a few weeks away from my wedding, I wish I had not been passed this article now. Hopefully I will be able to contact someone who knows more in the next few days, as soon as I have a free minute.

UPDATE: The M.D of the National Asbestos Helpline kindly called me today, and I am pleased to say that my instinct were largely correct - and that PLEASE DO NOT WORRY EVERYONE WHO WAS DIRECTLY INVOLVED ON 7/7 AND IS FEELING AFRAID.

Here is Richard's email....


Nice to talk earlier, sorry it was very rushed.

Just dropping you a line to confirm that we've been in dicsussions today with the HPA, the BBC and ITN.

All were given the same information regarding legal rights and safeguards for victims' health:
- Read the HPA report into the enviromental effects for reassurance and further information
- Continue with individual regular check-ups and health screenings
- Keep a personal diary of health conditons, complaints and share this with others
- Keep in regular contact with support networks for shared insights
- Come back to us if a diagnosis is confirmed which the consultant feels is asbestos related

As we discussed, the symptoms for asbestos related conditions can take 10-16 years to show themselves, so there really isn't anymore we can do right now.

We have today given an interview to the BBC advising anyone who is worried to follow the process explained above and not to get overly concerned.

Hope this helps, we have tried very hard to calm things down today, despite the media's best intentions.
Richard Clarke

Managing Director

National Asbestos Helpline, Innospec Park Ellesmere Port, Cheshire CH65 4EY

Thank you so much Richard, I will re-post this at the top of the blog, and send it round KCU.

Deep breaths. Nice, isn't it?

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April Fool

A quick break from book final edits with a round up of the April Fools I spotted today.

The Observer: 'Prime Minister agrees to take role in The Crucible after an approach from his friend Kevin Spacey'

Blair's rapport with Spacey was evident when they appeared together on Michael Parkinson's television chat show last year, where the host told Blair: 'At your school... you were called the best actor of your generation.'
Additional reporting by Primera Delmes ( nice touch)

The Sunday Times CHARLES CLARKE is ready to challenge Gordon Brown for the Labour leadership if David Miliband fails to mount a bid.

Actually, that's not an April Fool. See this fantastically funny piece by Marina Hyde ( thanks to reader C.D for alerting me).

Anyone found any more April Fools?