Monday, August 29, 2005

Good luck New Orleans

When I was 12 I wrote a list of things I wanted to do before I die.One of them was to visit New Orleans and eat crayfish and listen to live Cajun music whilst sipping bourbon in the French Quarter. San Fransisco and New Orleans are the two places in America that I have always wanted to visit.

As the terrible hurricane Katrina looks about to hit, I am full of sadness as I watch the news. Good luck New Orleans.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Welcome normality

Hello normality. I have just noticed that I have been reading the Sunday papers and for the first time in ages, have started at the front and read my way through the whole thing without scanning every page for news on 'London bombs', 'Kings Cross', 'Victims' etc. Grief and shock and fear makes you sit at the bottom of a well , wearing blinkers; the world narrows to reflect your own troubled self's concerns. It feels offensive to see people worrying about things that are nothing to do with your own worries, banal to see people arguing about the Ashes; everything feels brittle and trite. Work is meaningless, music too painful, socialising leaves you numb or worse, irritated. Everything conspires to lock you into the isolation of anxiety. Other's concerns seem self-indulgent, but so too does your own preoccupation with something that no-one else can see, no-one else can feel.

It has been easier this time around though; in 2002 I had a near-death experience and was severely traumatised, but in that case it was a personal tragedy and the media and the wider world knew nothing of it. I wrote and talked and read and fought my way out of that one, and it was those tools I turned to again when the darkness of fear and the visceral mist of anger and the post-traumatic shock symptoms descended once more. This time I knew the territory and had the tools to hand, bitter though the learning had been before.

But seven weeks have passed and the glass walls of the prison have melted away already. I am sitting in the garden and reading, Miff the cat is rolling and purring in the dust under the geraniums and lavender bushes, bees are hovering in the last of the summer flowers. Cricket on the TV, croissant crumbs on my lips, the sun beating down as I top up my Turkish tan. And I am not afraid ( perhaps I should belatedly stick my picture on that website and the shock of the bombs are fading. It is a long weekend, London prepares for the last big party of the summer, England looks like it might win the Ashes, my colleague and I have secured a high-profile deal at work - my first deal, and I was given champagne for the CEO for it! More people are finding Kings Cross United and looking forward to drinks on the 8th, I don't feel so responsible for everyone, just pleased that we are finding and helping each other. The bank have returned my money. Life is good. I am getting my sense of humour back. I am laughing a lot more.

I am very glad to be alive, but in a lazy, contented way, rather than a shuddering, can't-believe-it way. Miff stretches and waves her paws, enjoying the heat of the sun on her flanks. I know how she feels.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Bronchitis.Bloody typical.

Still, at least I got paid today. And the bank - who I went mental at when I discovered they had not even managed to process the fraud claim - it hadn't even left my local bank's desk! - have suddenly said they are going to refund the £2900 that vanished due to card cloning just before I went on holiday. So at least I'm not overdrawn anymore. Shouting and threatening to expose them in the newspaper clearly works.( 'My friend is writing a feature on bank response to card cloning you know, and compared to Barclays and Lloyds, you are beyond rubbish...')

It continues to rain and rain and rain, and generally be as crap as possible. A week ago I was paragliding through brilliant skies looking at sun sparkling off the sea and the curve of the earth. With an instructor sharing the parachute, I ran off the top of a 6500 ft mountain and floated down; it took 45 minutes. And was absolutely amazing.

I was going to write about it but what to say? It was wild, terrifying, peaceful, beautiful, serene, adrenalising all at once. When I work out how to make my new digital camera upload movies and pictures onto my website I will put some images up. A project for the long weekend, I think. Especially as I am now officially ill and not alllowed to drink because of the antibiotics.

Really, though, I hope my luck changes soon. Though I still think of myself as lucky. But being blown up, robbed of thousands and now going down with some Victorian workhouse disease - thus missing a the rocktastic Kerrang Awards after-party and the Bank Holiday Notting Hill Carnival celebrations - sucks arse.

Thank God for the new series of 24 on DVD. I find it oddly relaxing.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Under the weather

Sheesh, my luck already.I have a lousy, stinking, rotten cold. My tongue is swollen and cracked, my eyes running, my glands are swollen, my head sore sore and I can't breathe through my nose. I am gulping water and hot tea. I am coughing and coughing and coughing.

I am afraid of why I am coughing. I breathed in that oily, poisonous bloodfilled smoke for half an hour. I had nothing to hold over my mouth and nose.
I wonder what I am coughing up, what I breathed in. My face, noise, clothes hair, teeth, tongue, spit were black for days from that smoke.

I emailed Kings Cross United people to see if any others were having respiratory symptoms. I don't want to think too long and too hard about why it is suddenly difficult to breathe.

It rained and rained all day Monday and will do so again tomorrow. Work is frantic; I have to write a huge presentation tomorrow which will mean staying late.

As well as doing work today I fielded calls and emails from more people from the trian. And I had a dignified, heart-breaking conversation from a man who had lost a friend he loved on the train. Because he was not family, the police and family would not give him any details of what had happened to the friend he loved. Yet he so needed to know.

So I told him. How packed the train had been, how the atmosphere had been almost jolly, because of the Olympics, how people, including his friend surged on at Kings Cross platform where the crowd was six-deep as the trains were all delayed and overcrowded. How the numbers packed into the train, despite the narrowness of the tunnel meant that only 25 died in a carriage of over one hundred. In many ways, incredible.

How the doors closed at Kings Cross, people jostled into cramped positions, the train rumbled off with a hiss and picked up speed as it plunged underground still further and 30 seconds or so after the doors closed there was A bang. Darkness. Everything stopped.

And that was the last thing his friend would have known. Dark. Stop. Instantaneous.

'I saw his hand, his life line', the man who lost his friend told me. 'It was so short. I knew his life would be short. I told him. And now I know it was quick. And there was nothing anyone could have done, and nothing he could have done, and nothing he would have known.'

'Nothing.' I agreed. 'He would have known nothing'.

Nothing. Which is after all a kind of peace.
Rest in peace. And let us who are left find peace too. Peace be upon all of us. In the name, if you like, of the Merciful, the Compassionate. Mercy, compassion, peace: these are not bad aims to have and to call holy. But if they can't be reflected and lived out in human lives, then I would rather have the peace of Nothing, the quietness of darkness.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Citizen journalism? Citizen paparazi? Discuss

Here a discussion on citizen journalism, that has been widely syndicated ( taken in this case from Online Journalism Review)

And I was very proud indeed to have been picked up by Pete Clifton, Editor of BBC News website in his column. ( Found here) .

Thanks Peter, I can say that working with the BBC News team for that week changed my life and was one of the better things to come out of July 2005.

Scotland on Sunday article

Here is an article from Scotland on Sunday, on blogging. Which I found interesting ( *wink*).

London recovers website

This website enables survivors from all of the four 7th July blasts to get in touch with each other.

If there is anyone reading this blog who was affected, injured, bereaved, by any of the bombs then you may find this site, set up by a bomb survivor of 7/7/2005 to be helpful.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Boat trip

We've become friends with Master Ahmet, Said, Dimitri, Okan and Hakkan who are the men who run the water pipe cafe on the sea front. We've been going there every day to enjoy the ritual of smoking a water pipe ( Turkish: nargile) or two as the sun sets over the mountains and the paragliders. So far, so good customers.

Anyway. After a long evening last week we were enthusing about their location, amazing range of intersting fruit-based nicotine-free smoking materials, friendliness, charm, etc, and saying what a shame there was nothing like this in Camden, because they'd make a killing. We then all got 'excited' and brainstormed business opportunies over a lot of whisky. The evening culminated in me writing and designing them a new sign and logo. John advised on music policy and end result is that the cafe is now called ' Ottoman's presents... *Cafe del Mar ' ( *Turkey is not the place to be pernickety about intellectual property law and a chalked sign is not going to cop it when the shops are stuffed with fake Gucci. Prada, Burberry, Versace...)

Anyway, the 'rebrand' worked. There has been an immediate, massive upsurge in business and it is now packed out every single night. As a token of their appreciation the cafe staff asked me and John if we would like to go on a boat trip around the coast arranged via Oskan, a cafe patron and friend of theirs . We did the tourist boat trip last year and enjoyed it so we gratefully accepted. And thus we made the leap from 'good customers' to 'best mates/family'.

Spent today lazing on rolling/pitching boat with about 60 other tourists, 20 of us on the top deck/sun roof and the rest below where there were tables. Chugging over choppy azure waves, stopping regularly so we could all throw ourselves off the roof, snorkel round rocks, scream as we were surprised by icy underwater springs, scramble about on rocks like goats and generally have a great lark of a time.

All day we were followed, pilot-fish-like, by small boats full of enthusiastic boys of limited English but huge charm and force of personality; each selling some product or service. The youths would leap on board our boat whenever we slowed down or anchored and offer us the opportunity to avail ourselves of various delights, including...

Canteloupe melons halved and filled with icecream ( from an electric kitchen fridge balanced in a rowing boat)
Ice cream cornets
Pistachios and hazel nuts
Cheese, chocolate or apple pastries in a basket
Chocolate, honey or banana pancakes ( these made to order by a heavily-shawled elderly lady, possibly a grandmother of one enterprising youth, with a large hot plate plugged into a generator in a tiny dinghy)
Hand massages
A trip on a jetski ( a teenage girl on our boat availed herself of this one and slipped quietly over the side to be plucked out of the sea and swept off at speed by a handsome grinning youth whilst her mother shrieked 'Come back Alison!')

It was all most exciting. Drama occured when the boat broke its ladders when coming into land at Butterfly Valley, the ladders being the means by which we were supposed to enter the water, but that only encouraged the passsengers to try wilder and higher leaps and dives off the side and off the roof. Returned at 5.30pm very tanned and with only minor scratches from climbing rocks in bare feet. Also having secured the unswerving life-long friendship of one of the crew, who needed help composing a series of romantic text messages to his girlfriend, aged 18, from Ireland, whom he assured us he was planning to marry as soon as possible. (They had met on the boat 6 weeks before. ) We ended the evening fishing with the captain on his private boat. Didn't catch a thing.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Hello from Turkey

I've just popped ınto an ınternet cafe here ın Olu Denız ın Fethıye ın Turkey.
Beıng on holıday ıs absolutely bloody marvellous. No news. No tube. No work. No constant exhaustıng tıresome stupıd feelıng of fear. ( The last tıme I felt the sıck-makıng fear was nearly a week ago when I nearly lost ıt as I got onto the Gatwıck Express... a traın that I couldn.t dısembark from brought me out ın a cold heart-hammerıng sweat.)

It ıs boılıng hot - about 36 degrees... and I am a sun-drenched sloth devourıng books by the pool. Hours past languıdly. The sky ıs a brıght ıntense blue. I swım at dawn every day untıl my shoulders ache. My dreams are furıous technıcoloured nonsense. Sometımes they are horrıfyıng but they are never about the underground bomb.

I have spent the hottest hours of the day ın the hammam steamıng wıth John, then someone rubs me wıth oıl and kneads my sore muscles. I read a paperback a day. In the evenıngs I smoke an apple water pıpe wıth my sweetheart as the sun sets over the mountaıns and the crescent moon shınes over the sea wıth a the fırst star appearıng next to ıt, just lıke the Turkısh flag. We eat shrımp and chıcken and feta and olıves and drınk Turkısh beer ın ıced glasses and apple tea. I fall asleep physıcally tıred but mentally at peace here. Especıally as the sun rıses behınd the mountaıns and the tame lıttle bırds come up to me and hop on my towel wıth theır heads cocked to one sıde.

I feel people's good wıshes and kındness buoyıng me, holdıng me up. The aır ıs clean here, the sea ıs gentle. My body ıs tıred but ıt ıs relaxıng more and more each day. My skın ıs changıng colour to a deep bronze. My haır ıs lıghtenıng. And so ıs my heart.

It ıs good sometımes to be far away from home.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Taking back my journey

Exactly one month after the bombings , the Piccadilly line reopened. And I decided to take the journey I should have taken on 7/7. Once again I put on a new suit, because once again I had a big client meeting. This time I wore flat shoes, so I could run.

John came with me. I walked the same way to the tube, another bright sunny morning, but cold for the time of year. I bought a ticket and the Guardian. The station was not at all busy. Last time it was crowded. There were police, with a dog.

I walked up to a police officer and said that I wanted to say thank you, for protecting us. For being there.I said I was making the journey on the Piccadilly line for the first time since my train exploded. 'Don't worry,' she said. 'There's lots of us here'.

There are two ways to get onto the Piccadilly line, turn left or turn right, depending on whether you want the front or the back of the train. John started to go to the left to the back of the train. 'No', I said, 'I want to go this way'.
Iwanted to walk down to the train the same way that I did on 7/7. I wanted to take back the exact journey that I should have had four Thursdays ago. It felt very important.

So I got on at the first set of double doors. The carriage was almost empty. I sat down and stared at all the passengers - there were about 11 - and then I stared at the second set of double doors, about ten feet away. Where the Jamaican man with the rucksack had pushed on before to blow us all up.

We approached Kings Cross. John had to get off here. I kissed him goodbye.

As we left Kings Cross I remembered all of it. The bang, the smoke. I looked at the empty seats by the doors and thought of the people who should be filling them. I looked out of the window and saw sombre faced police. People got on and I looked at all of them. Nobody had a rucksack.

We made it to Russell Square. I did not have to walk down the tunnel covered in soot and blood and broken glass. I did not have to get off and make my way to the station entrance, leaving the dying, the screaming behind.

We got to Holburn and I was in tears. But I was still on the train and I was still making my journey.

We reached Covent Garden and I got off. I felt triumph and sadness. I looked over my shoulder at the people still on the train. My eyes were still full of tears, but they didn't fall

The triumphant feeling rose in me as the lift rose to the street level and I walked out into a sunny morning. I walked down Neal Street and stopped to buy a Big Issue.

'How are you?' asked the vendor. I looked him in the eyes and smiled.

'I'm all right, ' I said. 'I'm fine'.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

And now for something completely different...identity theft

In between trying to pull off a massive scary deal in my new job, ( thus justifying them employing me in May) , deal with the backlog of stuff that had accrued during my unfortunate altercation with Al Quaida, wash, iron, pack, organise a house sitter, pay bills, worm the cat, clean the aquarium, resuscitate the tomato plants, yada yada, I paused to make a quick online donation to the famine victims of Niger. Only to dicover my bank wouldn't allow it. It was only £15 and I was paid on the 28th. What the... ? Called robot voice of bank info line, discovered funds in bank were nil. Called non-robot bank manager ( though he might be a cyborg, it's hard to tell) and discover thousands of pounds has been spirited out of bank account.

Goddamnit. Of course, housework, checking bank statements, flossing, all this has gone to hell over the last few anyway, 20-faxed-pages of stomach-churning bank statement later, I discover that someone has been paying bills, buying stuff including £1800 worth of Apple computer equipment, flitting round Tescos since the end of June ...and raiding my current/savings account to do so. Bastard(s). Spent over 90 minutes trying to get through to Islington police, who then dispiritedly told me they can't give me the crime reference number I need to give the bank to get the cash back. 'The crime department isn't about, dear.'

*headdeskheaddeskheaddesk...* Big Client calls, *deep breath,* make upbeat conversation as they... reveal the pitch I've been working for all year is going to hit my desk next week, when I am not here to lead the pitch team. Which is kind of the reason my company hired me ten weeks ago. Choke back a scream.

Rush to bank arriving 5 minutes before it closes. Man in front of me in queue drones on about what sort of chequebook he needs.
Gnash teeth until I fear they will flake.

Persuade the bank to stay open, beg them to allow me to take out £300 holiday money - the max they will allow. I've banked with you for 11 years, I say plainitively .Go through third degree as to who I am, why, what etc. (Why weren' t they making these checks when some sod ran amok with my card and my identity, hmm? Hmm?) Rush to Charing Cross police station, fill in more forms. These must be dropped off at the bank tomorrow along with a full report, written by me of the fraudulent transactions.

So, after I have filled in yet more forms, and ploughed through months of statements, and written a report, and gone back to the bank to hand this in, and a crime reference number has been generated, then they will start to process the enquiry and I will -one day- get my cash back. Meanwhile my bank account - bereft, empty - is frozen. (Natwest didn't phone and tell me this though. I only found out when the internet declined my card. )

I can 'expect some news, and a new card, in 7-10 working days, madam.'
Great, that's when I will be in Turkey,on my holiday. Minus any spending money. And the return of the thousands stolen?
'Hopefully in a few weeks. Maybe a month. Or a bit longer'

Fab. Just...just...argh.

*Sigh* I'm going to bed.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Smoke lingers

It's funny this, being a 'bomb survivor'. I'm up and down with it. Sometimes I wish everyone would just shut up about it. I feel like it is defining me. That my BBC diary has become something so much bigger than me and that week, those events, and how I felt and acted, how I stumbled through them, has taken on this 'defining moment of my life' status. And I don't want it to.

At the same time, I feel haunted by it. Today, more so than I have for several days, I could not get away from the bomb. I kept remembering the exact taste and texture of the smoke, the smell and how gritty and heavy it felt as I breathed it in, how my chest and lungs felt like a vacuum cleaner bag of grit and dust and crap.

I'm smoking cigarettes. So are most of the other survivors I met. Even the ones who didn't smoke before are smoking. Breathing in the smoke, drawing it into our lungs; it feels like a blessed cleansing compared to the filth that we choked down when we were in the tunnel.

The explosion bang is coming back too; not as a flashback exactly, but as a strong memory of a feeling. How it felt to be punched in the ears by it. It is as if I have to re-run the whole episode many times to make sense of it, now that the initial shock and the euphoria have faded, which seem to have been cushioning me from experiencing it before. It is as if I have to feel it properly, fully, whilst my body reactions are set on 'ordinary' rather than 'shocked' . I need to somehow integrate it into all the other memories I have. Then I can put it to one side. But at the moment, it is very raw. It has taken me three weeks to even allow myself to consider it without mentally flinching and pushing it away.

Being on my own all day today and most of yesterday have made me think too much, I think, but then perhaps I need the time to consider it, when I'm not at work. On Friday I watched the news complulsively all day, as the bombers were captured on live TV. I posted updates on urban 75 as the news was breaking. It was wonderful that they were caught, and so quickly; I hope that it helps them work out who is masterminding, funding this, where the others are, how many more are ready to walk amongst us with hate in their hearts and a bomb on their backs. On Friday I was high with pleasure and relief that they were captured. I felt safer.

But today I fear that there are many more waiting, and the fear is back. One of the men arrested said he 'didn't know the 7/7 was going to happen', and 'was nothing to do with the Pakistanis', but took the attack as his cue for his attempt. I don't know, he may be lying.

But the fact that 4 young men bombed my train to work 3 weeks ago - and then 5 more attempted to bomb us again, including my route home - one week ago - and 2 of them were living and making bombs in New Southgate, three miles away - and it seems most of them were going to Finsbury Park Mosque, at the end of my road - does not inspire me with confidence.
At all. Where next? When? How soon?

Despite all this I got on a bus today. My first bus since 7/7. Stared at everyone on it, of course. Re-ran the sound of the bang of a bomb in my head all the way there.

Couldn't face it coming back. Walked home in the rain for 2 miles instead.