Friday, September 30, 2005

Writing for the Sunday Times

The day before yesterday, I was contacted by a lady called Deirdre who worked for the Sunday Times.

She said that she had been reading my blog ( 'all 58 pages of it!') and she said that I could write. She asked me to write something for them. Blimey. Wow.

First she suggested I wrote something about compensation. The papers have been discussing the issue of compensation for victims: there has been an outcry over the fact that many very seriously injured people have yet to receive any money. And this is of course a tremendous worry, and too damn hard for people who are already struggling to deal with terrible injuries.

I said that I was sorry but I was not comfortable writing about compensation. I have not applied for it. I am ambiguous about it; maybe I should apply, maybe not.

There are people who have dreadful injuries, people who need medical attention, proper long-term help and care. I want them to have as much money as they can possibly get. They shouldn't have to be worrying about the mortgage when their legs have been blown off.

All I have is a small ugly scar on my wrist from where the glass embedded itself. I don't mind it. It is a battle scar. When it itches, I feel glad that I am alive. Which is an ok trade-off.

I said to Deirdre, who was a lovely woman, that I would be interested in writing about life after the bombs. And about Kings Cross United, the small but growing group of survivors from my train, if everyone was cool with that. I thought it would be interesting for readers to know about how we are managing, three months on. (I still wanted to be anonymous though). She agreed.

I emailed Kings Cross United and asked what they thought about me writing our story. Because my story is our story in lots of ways: my story is the story of hundreds of people. It could have been anyone. It just happened to be us.

Everyone who responded was very positive about it: it was generally agreed that we would like people to know something about 'the turbulence and determination we've all been through in varying degrees' as one of the group members put it.

So I wrote the feature, staying late after work. It was very hard to write. I don't mean chewing-the-pencil-can't-think-what-to-say difficult, I mean that it made me cry. It hurt to write. Tears ran off the end of my nose and even got into the keyboard and my throat felt very choked, as if I had swallowed a pebble. But the words flowed almost effortlessly, in that sense it was not hard to write at all. Afterwards I looked like a boiled owl. I typed as fast as I could and I did 2000 words very quickly. The story told itself.

The first part of the story, I have told many many times now. The bang, the terrible smoke, the screaming. And then the part that makes me weep remembering it. How the frightened people in the train tried so hard to keep each other calm. How we held hands and talked to each other. Led each other to safety, carried each other, comforted each other. How we united in the darkness and tried to save each other and in doing so, saved ourselves from what would have happened if the horror of the bomb had become the second catastrophe of a panicked stampede.

The second part was how we emerged into the light and how we found each other, weeks on, and shared our stories. How life is, now. How we are now Kings Cross United.The small triumphs, the courage people show. The recovery, the taking back what the terrorists tried to take away. What a bloody hard relentless slog it all is, sometimes.

When I had finished, I was glad that I had written it.

Four more people have joined Kings Cross United this week.Each of them has said what I said, what everyone said, thank God, I wanted to find you, someone else who was there, who understands.

I would so like more people from the train to find us, if it would help them. There are many people who were on that train and I don't know if they would like to meet others who were there on that day, but if they would, we would like to meet them. They are very welcome down the pub.That's partly why I wrote the article. I would like people who need us to find us.
And I would like people to understand more of what it is like for the bomb survivors three months on.

People have a great deal of compassion, many people want to help, but they don't know what to say. They think it is best not to mention it. Or they think you 'must be okay by now'. They think by talking about it, you will become sad and they don't want you to be sad. Or they think they will feel embarrassed. They don't really think that they know what to say.

The thing is, you don't have to say anything. The greatest service you can perform for someone who is shocked, saddened, frightened, hurt, is to just listen. To be there, and to keep being there. To accept them, and to let them be hurt, or sad, or angry and to not run away, or flinch, or try to change the subject, or to jolly them out of it. Just to be with them, in sympathy and solidarity, and if necessary, silence. Your simple human compassion is enough. And your cups of tea.

When I write, strangers read, people who I have never met, and it soothes me to know that they are listening. On this journey too it feels like I have fellow passengers.

I know how important fellow passengers are. I will never, ever forget what I have learned since July 7th.

And so I have dedicated my first proper published piece as a writer to my fellow passengers. You know who you are.

I am proud to be on this journey with you.

Fat Miff diet update

For all those who have seen the pictures of Miff, the fat tabby, ( scroll down the blog) and have enquired about how she is managing on her diet, here is the update.

Week 1: She absolutely hates it. She hates me, she hates J, if she had a suitcase she would pack it and leave. Brown-rice-based nutri-balanced healthy vet-endorsed Burns food for cats is not Go-Kat and this is pointed out several times an hour.She cries. She stares at us, hard. She rolls on the floor, mewing, waving her paws. She head-butts. And finally, she peed in the house in a rage. Twice.( She still ate the food through. With bad grace, and when she thought we weren't looking)

Week 2: She is noticeably more active and runs about the house in a mad bonkers way, skidding. She jumps on and off the garden wall chattering at the sparrows who spend the day shouting in the buddleia growing through the collapsing roof of the garage. She climbs on the keyboard when I am typing. She is even more affectionate than usual. Then she runs to her bowl, expectantly. When I eat she comes over and watches every mouthful, like a greedy labrador. She wakes me at 6.30am by jumping onto my head. Taking a flying leap from the floor. She uses the pillow as a trampoline.And runs back and forth across my face, heavily, with wet and smelly paws, until I get up and she chases me to her bowl and... there's still bloody food left in it.

Week 3: She has definitely lost some weight. She has however turned into a crazed killer and two days in a row we have come home to find a sad pile of feathers in the study. She was too fat to get on the garage roof and chase the noisy sparrows in the ivy before. Now two of them have fallen victim to the faster, sleeker, more deadly Miff. She is immensely pleased with herself, and is sitting at my feet purring noisily, like an engine.

I will keep you posted.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Checking in

'Just checking in before I go to work. The warm hazy gentle September days continue. The last of the tomatoes are to be picked tonight. The source of the mysterious leak in the bathroom has been discovered. The cat is on a diet, hates it, but is losing some weight. I've got another cold, not really helped by going out a lot after work - there have been bonding nights with new colleagues and friend's birthdays and my lifestyle feels a bit too heavy on the wine and light on the fruit and vegetables. And on the sleep. Mood: reflective or frantically busy. I've only had 2 days out of the last 8 when I felt miserable or angry or haunted, and that wasn't for the whole day.

Will write more later.'

I wrote that before I set off for work, feeling guilty that I hadn't checked in for a few days. It's kind of true. The tendency to self-censor is still there.
I've been going out frantically because I don't want to think about what's going on and what I am feeling - or not feeling - and that's why I've been jumping on any social occasion that involves meeting people and having a drink socially. Ha ha ha, tra la la. Smiley smiley, cheers, *clink*. I've been shrugging off all enquiries as to my general heath becuase I don't want to admit that there's anything wrong. When I am in, I have found myself slumped and staring into space. Or sleeping for hours. On Saturday I spent the whole day asleep. Got up at 5pm. Went to bed again at 10pm. I did that last weekend too. On Sunday I slept all morning and then did nothing all afternoon apart from sit on the sofa and stare int space. I didn't even shower (after Friday morning) until Sunday night.

I can blame it on yet another cold. But I think I'm getting borderline depressed. Everything is such a massive effort. I'm either running away from it and distracting myself, which is exhausting, or I'm flumped on the sofa Fingers in ears lalalala. Which is also exhausting.

Bollocks to this. I think I might have to admit defeat and go and get some counselling after all.
I emailed some 7/7 trauma organisation today to see if they can help; with plumbing disasters, redecoration, shelves and Christmas and a massive mortgage - and daily work taxis to pay for - because it's getting worse again on the tube - I can't afford the shrink-rap as well.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Some good news

Another survivor from the carriage one of the Piccadilly train, another Kings Cross United person has done a very brave and marvellous thing. He was thrown from the train when it exploded and was badly hurt. He has had to have several operations. He has said, quite understandably, that he was never going on a train again. But yesterday he managed first an overland train, and then, amazingly the Piccadilly tube to Russell Square, where he had been taken after he was pulled from the tracks and where he had waited in pain until he could be taken to hospital and treated for his very bad injuries. He took back the journey that was interrupted on 7th July.

He texted the Kings Cross United people before he got on the train, and then he emailed us all to say he had done it,

‘I didn't forsee the day that I would be able to get back anywhere near a tube, so I feel pretty good about it - I also feel that however small, it's another kick in the teeth for those who almost killed us all on the 7/7 - today we won, and they lost.’


Well bloody done. Hooray!

Thank you

It felt oddly good to write that last, sad post. I needed to say it. Having said it, I feel better. I suppose it is important to remember that this is going to take some time. Ten weeks have passed. Which isn’t that long for any of us.

I really, really appreciate people dropping in to read the blog, and your comments. People have asked what they can do to help and support. The fact that you are reading, commenting, listening, caring – that’s a brilliant source of support for me. I finally worked out how to install sitemeter and that went in yesterday lunchtime, so now I know if people have visited, even if they don’t comment.

I was scared when I wrote here about how things were getting dark, that people would be driven away.That I always had to write upbeat stuff. There was a tension developing between what I wanted it to be like, what people expect and hope it to be like in the weeks after the explosions for the people involved – and the actual experience. The truth is, there are good days and bad days. And now I have written about both, and I feel better for having done so.

To put your feelings into words and to set them loose feels like a risk, but something in me needs to do it. It feels like a hopeful, trusting thing to do. It seems to help me and it seems to help others. I know why I do it.

People – people like you who are reading - are the reason why. On the train, in the darkness, strangers’ voices spoke to me and I spoke to them and we heard each other, we kept each other from despairing and panicking. Coming out of the tunnel, hands reached down and pulled us out. Strangers ran to get us water. People I don’t know. People I will never meet again. Most terribly, strangers on my carriage took the full force of the bomb. I have cried and cried thinking of all these people. They do not feel like strangers to me, though I know little or nothing about them.

I never felt as intra-connected with other humans as I did in that tunnel, in that darkness. And in the week after, I fell passionately in love with London; my heart felt like it was opening up instead of closing down. It was very painful. But I felt alive: raw, bloody but alive. I wrote down what it was like so I could capture the extraordinary feelings in the strangest of times.

I still write, because it touches the same place. Even if feelings are painful, I’d rather acknowledge them. And I’m grateful to you for reading this; dear friend, or stranger, by writing for you I am helping myself.

Thank you.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Darker than grey.

I'm sorry. It's been a while. But I thought about this and I have to write this. You know, for all this blog is meant to be the god-honest truth, sometimes it's not. I'm aware that even if I feel down, I feel myself telling myself to end my diary on a major, not minor chord. For myself, for everyone who still reads this, it's important that things don't spiral down, that light still shines. I write to cheer myself up and to understand myself.

Sometimes though things aren't exactly - well, not sunny - no-one expects sunny all the time - but they're darker than grey.

I've been checking in via email with Kings Cross United, and the relief is, I'm not alone. The people who were fine, no really, no really really just fine, are this week not sleeping. Snapping at people. Suddenly, can't breathe in the middle of the night. This week, there was a wobble in the hopeful equilibrium.

And yet the outside world has moved on, and our immediate work of day-to- day dealing with stuff connected with 7th July has moved on too. But, dammit, now the dark gritty grey descends. And the bigger picture is sometimes, suddenly harder to see. I wish I'd seen this coming.

It's not life and death anymore. It's no longer the exhultation of survival. It's not the trembling shock of the blast. It's no longer the practical business of stitches, burst eardrums, what I am going to do about taking the tube to work. It's the slow hard slog of the small things. The taste of things being different. The constant, unwelcome comparison between Before and After. That is held within the self; the private grief for the small lost things.

See, the world , London, other people have now gone back to how they were before. Or they look like they have. And more than anything, that is what we want too, we people from the train.

But this last week it hasn't quite worked. The concentration is still shot, the sleep is still disturbed, it is as if now that the shocked self has finished reverberating, the insidious damage to the sense of humour, the sense of fun is embarrassingly obvious. The damn cracks are starting to show.

Unfortunately, so are too are the fissures in peoples' patience - and in my own ability to move as far on as I want from this bloody, bloody thing.

I've hunkered down, and used what little concentration I have on getting through work. I haven't even done that great a job of that either.
I'm sorry. I want everything to be like it was before, but right now I'm an itchy, jumpy, mopey anti-social shadow of my former self and my resources are low. I feel paper thin sometimes. I feel angry with myself for flaking.

I'm scared of how, if I gave in to this gnarliness, this greyness, my present popularity and support system would likely fail. I'm fed up with myself. I wouldn't take me to the pub right now.

Best to lay low, and trust in what I know from the last time: keep breathing in and out, keep putting one foot in front of the other, feel the ground beneath your feet, count the heartbeat. It's always monochrome before the sunrise. This is the greyness that you don't remember when the colours are beautiful. These are the the darker times, but it's still only darker than grey. The familar shapes are still there. And they will be there in the morning.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Two months on. Drinks, a party and the odd jitter

I started to get the jitters the day before the 7th of September. I got on the tube at Finsbury Park, late again, and it was crowded again. More and more people crushed on. Like they did before. And I looked about me in carriage one as we neared Kings Cross and I realised that I was in the 'wrong' part of the carriage. Not near the front of carriage one, where I'd survived, and where I'd travelled ever since, but in the middle. Where the bomb had been. And then young men got on. With rucksacks. And my heartbeat sped up and I swayed, and I began to run with sweat. I could smell my own fear. And as more and more people pushed on at Kings Cross, I looked at my watch. 8.49am. I forced my way off the carriage and stumbled up to the mainline station. Lit a cigarette with shaky hands, got in the queue for a cab, mouth dry.

The next day, and the next, I took taxis. On the 7th I was tearful, but work was so busy there was simply no time to worry about it. And on the 8th, Kings Cross United met up for a drink, and the shared camaraderie of fellow train-passengers - and too much wine again - meant that the fear receded to manageable proportions and by the Friday, I was back on track.More or less.

By the end of the week, I was tired out but okay. Saturday I had a massage, got my nails done, went shopping for birthday presents for my friends. Saturday night we went ot a bar and danced and anced, then went back to Jane's house to continue celebrating her 40th. The party went on until ten in the morning. Friends I have known for almost a decade were there. My sister was there. We were wild. Sometimes you need to celebrate life very loudly, with music and dancing and wine.

Even if you have to spend Sunday in bed recovering all day.

Another friend Liz emailed me unexpectedly, we had lost touch some years ago after she had her child. She had read my BBC diary, had moved out of London weeks before to a new job in Scotland, had thought that she knew the voice of the writer but told herself that it couldn't be me. But it was, and it was lovely to hear from her again.

Today I was back on the tube. And I'm going to keep at it. For the sake of all the people who think of me, for the sake of all the people who I only know through emails or who I have never spoken to but who read this and wish me well. For the sake of myself and all my fellow passengers. Life goes on. Even if you are afraid, it's better to travel to work and to catch up with friends and to carry on as normal. And it's better to drink and to dance than to hide at home, frightened and angry.

It's always better to dance, and to laugh, and to hug friends. Take that, Al Quaida.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Summer ends. And it's been...memorable

Well, most people are back from their holidays. The days are still warm but the mornings are crisper. The flowers in the garden look faded and blowsy. Massive spiders appear in the bath. Summer is almost over and it's September now. Mist settles over the city at night. Winter boots are in the shops and tweed suits but people are still wearing sandals. People are starting to look fed up though, of their tired summer clothes.

I can hardly remember the start of the summer.

In May I left the company I had worked at for six years. They were good to me when it all went tits-up in 2002 and I nearly died. I stayed there, recovered, paid what I felt were my dues for their support of me. But it wasn't the same. I wasn't that happy. Was very successful externally, made them a lot of money. Lost a lot of my confidence inside, put on 25 pounds. When it was time to leave, when people made offers, I was paralysed with fear and self doubt. I thought about whether to move to New York or Australia, to a small creative company or to a big media firm where I had worked before.

I can hardly remember what that time felt like now.

I lost 2 stone by recording what I ate. I started to paint my toenails again. I didn't see as much of my friends as I wanted.

I ran and co-ran a successful series of dance courses - three times a week - and my students all discovered a wild and sexy side of themselves as we performed for each other, shrieking and clapping and hollering like banshees.

John and I planted over 40 pots and hanging baskets of flowers and crammed them into our little back yard. We worried about the mysterious leak under the bathroom floor.

I saw my hero Sylvie Guillem dance, astonishingly, something I have wanted to see for 16 years. I saw some good theatre but not as much as I could have done. I drank a lot of cold rose wine. I made some new friends. I read the newspapers and watched the news a lot. I read 47 new books and re-read 24 old ones. I was invited to 4 weddings but could only get to one.

I started my new job and I loved it. My confidence and my energy rose and rose. I bought a new suit and new clothes for work and to fit my new slimmer body, that was stronger and more supple from dance classes. I wore colour again. I wore rose-scented oil on my brown skin. I ate sushi, debated on the internet, got on with my new colleagues, was excited and emboldened by life. I cheered when we saw the celebrations in Trafalgar Square and I went to celebrate the successful London Olympics bid in a pub with my workmates and my boss.

I got on a train the next day and I thought I was dead for a few seconds as the world exploded and then I thought I was blind. Everything stopped. The world was reduced to darkness, smoke and an endless scream.

And then everything started again. But everything was different.

And I'm different now, but not totally different. I'm more relaxed about the small stuff, and more confident, tougher. I'm not scared of people any more. I notice things and I'm much more aware of people around me. I found my voice and my confidence and my leadership. I lost my sense of humour for at least three weeks. I stopped being interested in trivia, banter, games. I became even more interested in politics, a news-junkie, a passionate debater, a bolshy, strongly-opinionated woman. I couldn't bear to listen to music. My tolerance broadened but my anger sharpened. London felt less safe, but it suddenly became my city, I began to love it fiercely. I was hugely lifted by the support of my fellow Londoners, by the people on the train, by the kindness and the dignity of the people I met. By the compassion of strangers.

Everything shook, exploded and then knitted together differently after July 7th. What look like cracks and scars are where things have joined up again, stronger than they were before. I wear the unseen tattoo marks of experience with pride. Sometimes they ache, but they are part of me and what I am.

Summer ends, and the world turns, and the nights lengthen, and the sun cools, and the flowers die. It feels like years and years have passed in months. As the air changes to hazy blue gold in the morning and the leaves fall and in the soft light of September, the spiders webs hang shimmering over the geraniums, I'm glad that we're leaving summer behind.

Seasons change. I've changed. Welcome, autumn.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

The poor, abandoned

“One of the Worst Abandonments of Americans on American Soil Ever”

The president of Jefferson Parish in New Orleans, Aaron Broussard, just issued an emotional appeal on NBC’s Meet the Press. By the end, he was completely broken down, sobbing uncontrollably.

RUSSERT: You just heard the director of homeland security’s explanation of what has happened this last week. What is your reaction?


We have been abandoned by our own country. Hurricane Katrina will go down in history as one of the worst storms ever to hit an American coast. But the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina will go down as one of the worst abandonments of Americans on American soil ever in U.S. history. … Whoever is at the top of this totem pole, that totem pole needs to be chainsawed off and we’ve got to start with some new leadership.

It’s not just Katrina that caused all these deaths in New Orleans here. Bureaucracy has committed murder here in the greater New Orleans area and bureaucracy has to stand trial before Congress now.'

Broussard then discussed the difficulties local authorities had with FEMA, including one case where they actually posted armed guards to keep FEMA from cutting their communications lines:

'Three quick examples. We had Wal-Mart deliver three trucks of water. FEMA turned them back. They said we didn’t need them. This was a week ago. FEMA, we had 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel on a Coast Guard vessel docked in my parish. When we got there with our trucks, FEMA says don’t give you the fuel. Yesterday — yesterday — FEMA comes in and cuts all of our emergency communication lines. They cut them without notice. Our sheriff, Harry Lee, goes back in, he reconnects the line. He posts armed guards and said no one is getting near these lines…

Finally, Broussard told the tragic personal story of a colleague, and broke down:

'I want to give you one last story and I’ll shut up and let you tell me whatever you want to tell me. The guy who runs this building I’m in, Emergency Management, he’s responsible for everything. His mother was trapped in St. Bernard nursing home and every day she called him and said, “Are you coming, son? Is somebody coming?” and he said, “Yeah, Mama, somebody’s coming to get you.” Somebody’s coming to get you on Tuesday. Somebody’s coming to get you on Wednesday. Somebody’s coming to get you on Thursday. Somebody’s coming to get you on Friday… and she drowned Friday night. She drowned Friday night! [Sobbing] Nobody’s coming to get us. Nobody’s coming to get us'

Listen to the inerview with the Mayor fo New Orleans here - click on the jukebox - top right - option 3 - ''electrifying Nola - Mayor radio interview.''

I wonder how fast they would have got over there with aid if it was Martha's Vineyard or the Hamptons that got totalled

Saturday, September 03, 2005

CNN on the New Orleans 'Big Disconnect'

This is disgusting

But everyone should read it.

Miff. Oh dear, what a porker.

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Did I mention the war?

When even Kenneth Clarke says Tony Blair is the only person in Britain who doesn't think there's a link between his policy of following George Bush into an illegal war and occupation without any thought as to the consequences post-invasion,

when families of soldiers who died in Iraq are appealing against the government's refusal to hold an independent inquiry into its legality

when the bomber of 7/7 states in a Yorkshire accent that it's about 'the bombing, gassing, inprisonment and torture' of 'his' people

when it's obvious that Bush's foreign policies are a disaster, that Blair cravenly followed him into his stupid wars, that people are getting blown up every day and shot at and killed and kidnapped and beaten and that people are frightened and angry and Iraq may spiral into civil war,

when it's clear that Afghanistan, Iraq are feeding the flames of hate, that extremists are seizing upon them as examples of a 'Crusader' agenda,

when the prisoners of Guantanamo Bay choose to starve themselves because they still are held without trial for three years

and the torture and humiliation of people in Abu Ghraib is seen all over the world and still there is no apology, no attempt to learn from what happens,

when all that is going on, can I mention Iraq now? Can I say to my democratically-elected holidaying Prime Minister YOUR STUPID FOREIGN POLICY AND SPECIFICALLY YOUR ASSOCIATION WITH THE FUNDEMENTALIST SPOILED SON OF AN OIL MILLIONNAIRE WITH AN AGENDA TO FEED OFF TERROR AND PROFIT FROM WAR IS DANGEROUS AND CRIMINALLY STUPID? And your actions nearly got me killed and you are morally responsible for the deaths and woundings of hundreds of thousands.

How can Blair refuse to admit what is so obvious? The policies he and Bush have pursued to allegedly 'protect' us from terrorism have inflamed the extremists and angered the moderate and sickened the electorate because it seems that even he, Blair barely believes what he is saying anymore.

How dare he continue to lie and claim that the deaths and injuries of July 7th had nothing to do with his foreign policy and his alliance with that idiot Bush?

Even Fox News is now disgusted with Bush. His appalling response to the dreadful disaster is finally showing what a hopeless leader he is. Why is my country involved with this man?

We deserve better than this.

All over the world, people deserve better leaders than this.