I love my city.
I’ve written it on this blog. I say it to people all the time, even when I’m complaining about public transport or tourists who walk too slowly along Oxford Street or stand on the left on escalators. I am proud to be a typical grumbling, mixed race, born and bred Londoner. It has been my home since I was born in the old (now demolished) Elizabeth Garrett Anderson wing of University College Hospital in the 90s. I have never lived anywhere else. London is everything I want it to be and more. I love the lights at night and the fog in the early morning. I love London in the winter when it gets dark at 3 in the afternoon. You know Christmas is coming when the lights start to go up all over this city. In the summer anyone will find any sliver of sunshine to sunbathe in their underwear. It doesn’t even have to be a park really, so long as there is a patch of grass to lay on. There are rainbows in Soho (god, I love Soho), cool monochromatic buildings just a stones throw away from the historic builds in the city – old and new together. There is a Pret on every single corner of every single street. There is traffic everywhere. The central line is mind-bogglingly hot. There are strikes on the tubes and trains so frequently it’s like white noise to Londoners. I’ve been taking trips to our new office over the last couple of months. To get to it you have to cross Millennium Bridge. Each and every time I have stopped in the middle of it. Just to look out at London for a little bit. It is grey most of the time, muggy and damp. But to me it is beautiful. The lights. The lights are my favourite. It’s like family. I complain about it but I love it like no other city in no other country anywhere else in the world. It’s my heart. And it is fundamentally a part of who I am.
You might have seen a previous post I wrote about the 7/7 London attacks. I was a teenager back then. It seems a lifetime ago really. The fear and shock of it all. The horror and deep sadness followed by all-consuming anger that anyone could do such a thing. Still, we picked ourselves up and dusted ourselves off. We turned the lights back on and we carried on.
That all came screaming back to me yesterday when a colleague shared a link to a newspaper breaking the news that shots had been fired outside the House of Parliament. I was confused. I had only just finished watching Prime Minister’s Questions. There was nothing to worry about, I thought. Probably just a mistake.
But as the minutes ticked away it became very clear there had been no mistake. I couldn’t concentrate on my work, checking Twitter and live news feeds to find out what was happening. The horror of it all was unfolding before my eyes but mostly there was just a lot of confusion and shock. Had I not told my mother less than a week ago that I had been feeling something in the back of my mind for weeks? Had I not told her that I felt like something terrible would happen again in London? I told her I didn’t think it would be anytime soon. This country is strong. The city is strong. The intelligence services are the best in Europe. We would be safe until one of them slipped through the cracks. But that would not be happening soon because I feel safe and it’s going to be ok. I was wrong. Maybe it was denial. I don’t know.
I do know that in amongst the fear was immense pride. Reading story after story of how quickly emergency services descended onto Parliament Square and Westminster Bridge is a testament to how, no matter what might divide us right now, when London is under attack we all take it personally. We all band together. We all do what we can. Whether that is to call an ambulance, to provide emergency care, to not share pictures, videos or false allegations on social media. Or whether it is to simply remain calm and walk to safety, passed a group of people trying to save a gravely injured person because the only way you can help is to not crowd and gawk. We all do our bit. Civilians (including MP Tobias Ellwood) ran towards the chaos to help the injured and wounded until paramedics arrived. The city lost PC Keith Palmer, a husband and father, who died protecting the country’s democracy.
Coming into work this morning was something I would like to think he and his family would have been proud of. There were people lining the streets, filling tube stations, riding their bikes, driving their cars and hopping on and off buses everywhere. Afraid but not hiding. In shock but getting on with things. Defiance and strength together. The city mourns but does not stop. It is a thank you to PC Palmer’s sacrifice. And a big fuck you to those who want to see the city, the country, quake in fear and back down. It won’t. I lit a candle at Church this morning. The lights were still on last night. And they will stay on.
I love my city.
I love you. My City.