The answer is: a lot.
A lot has changed. In London. The world. Even yesterday changed a lot about everything.
The Chilcot Report basically put the blood of so very many people, the fallout of the war in Iraq, the subsequent rise of IS, their numerous and brutal murders across the globe, even 7/7, all at Tony Blair’s feet.
Today marks 11 years since 4 bombs went off in the city that I call my home, my birthplace. It was a hard day. I was a month shy of my fifteenth birthday and I had just begun my 2 weeks work experience placement. The first two days of the week I had been on Tavistock Square shortly before 9.30am. For those three days there had been a bit of a mix up. On the Monday I had been advised to come back the next day. The next day the same thing. And again on Wednesday, could I come in for 10am instead? That would be better for them. It was frustrating but I had been so excited about my placement that I said ok and went back to school each time.
On the morning of July 7th, I said goodbye to my family. I didn’t start until 10am, so I was last out of the house. I had my shoes on, my bag ready and I was nervous about finally starting my placement. I opened my front door at 9.30am and the phone rang. I didn’t want to be late but I didn’t have my own phone at the time so I went back inside and answered the phone. It was a man called Matt. He worked at my school. He said there had been something wrong with the paperwork for my placement, a total mix up and he was very sorry but I needed to come into school now so they could sort out a new placement for me within the school grounds. I was frustrated and disappointed beyond words but I didn’t want to be late so I put my feelings aside and I went to school.
The school was putting on its first ever school play and had hired a costume designer for it. I would get to work with her instead. It wasn’t what I wanted but, given the school had to come up with something on the fly, I was grateful. It could have been worse so I decided to make the best of it.
It was a normal day until the head of the department came in and told us that the school would be on lock down and no one was to leave until we were given the all clear. I was confused and went into the office and saw everyone huddled around the computer. On the screen was a picture of a double decker red bus. Its entire top had been blown off from what I could see. I recognised the street but I couldn’t place it, my eyes just kept returning to the bus. I asked one of my friends where it was. She said Tavistock Square. And there have been others everywhere in London. Buses? No, tubes. In London? Yes, London. How many? We don’t know.
I didn’t cry. I think I was in shock. I felt completely numb.
And then I remembered. My mother had no idea where I was. Did she know what had happened? Surely she did. I hoped to God that she hadn’t yet heard. Because she would have thought that I would have been at Tavistock Square, outside the BMA, shortly before 10am that morning. She had no reason to believe that I wouldn’t have been. I had not called to let her know that there was now no placement at all.
The phones at the school weren’t working. Nothing was working. For hours I couldn’t get in touch with her. For hours she sat at work, thinking that something could have happened to her first born child. She didn’t know what. I don’t think she let herself think about it. No news was good news.
I was, of course, fine. I wouldn’t have been had I been there that morning. Of that I am sure. I was lucky. The parents, the friends, the spouses and partners of the 52 people who lost their lives were not. Those who survived still live with the scars of what happened that day. Emergency services went into overdrive, desperately trying to save anyone they could find. They still live with the horrors of that day.
So I am lucky. Lucky to have had an angel called Matt, who had not worked at my school for very long, who called me at my home that morning to summon me back to school. I think he was an angel. He left his post a matter of weeks after the bombings. I don’t even know where he is in the world. I take comfort in believing that he was meant to take the role at the school to prevent me from going to Tavistock Square on July 7th 2005. It might not be true. It might have all just been coincidence. But when I feel guilty about what happened, that I wasn’t there when I should have been, I tell myself that Matt was sent to me for a reason. To stop my mother from losing yet another person in her life.
I never walk past Tavistock Square. I always stop. My church is on the same street. No matter what date it is, I stop and I think about the people who died, even if it’s for a minute. I think about how lucky I was. I think about how different London has become.
11 years later and there is still fear. Hate is more prominent in the capital than I thought it would ever be in my lifetime. But there is also something much more – a quiet strength, a determination to see this all through and to not let anyone take London from us.
I love my city. And today, it remembers all of the people affected by the bombings, the dead, the survivors, those who lost someone and to the heroes who saved countless other lives.
It remembers them all.