A decade in the blink of an eye…

[This post has been amended, to correct embarassing failures in my memory. Changes are marked with [square brackets] and strikethrough]

Recent days have been grimly awful from the events in Manchester to those closer to home. I feel lucky that my own family has not been directly touched by such sadness, and acutely alive to the fact that it is no more than luck that keeps me on the right side of that glass. Looking in, not looking out.


It was almost [over] a decade ago, I realized the other day, since I rumbled along the tunnel from Russell Square, dragging my trolley behind me, clambered up onto the platform and emerged blinking and blackened into the ticket hall at Kings Cross – unhurt, shaken and ridiculously thinking that the most important thing to do was to tell the clerks I was going to be late for court. "Court’s been cancelled", they said. Somehow the message was out that something really big had happened, though I don’t think anybody yet knew what. I’d been on the bloody train and I didn’t have a clue what had happened! I thought it was an engine fire (there had been nothing but a lot of black choking smoke at our end of the train). It was shortly after that when the mobile phone networks went down.


Before the signals all jammed, I called my husband with my last 5% of phone battery (it is always on days of immense importance that you forget to bring or charge your phone). And he ran. Across Bloomsbury. Past Gordon Square and Torrington Square and along Euston Road. Moments before the bus went up.


I wandered out, past ambulances and people. People going in all directions. Chaos. Nobody batted an eye at a woman in a suit with a black face. I found my husband. It was just then that the cry went up from the police to run. This was the moment that the penny dropped. Mile End, Kings Cross, the bus. The bus that hadn’t killed my husband.


The rest of the day was surreal. We sheltered in a café, borrowed a napkin to clean the soot off my face and a phone to call my mum and tell her it was ok, whatever she was watching on the telly we were ok. We went back to chambers. Someone lent me a towel. Someone bought me some clean clothes from round the corner. And the rest of the day was spent in a hotel bar watching news 24 in a daze, waiting for someone to tell us how we could get home. Later, we walked to Islington to stay with a friend. I borrowed a needle to take the hem up on the too-long trousers that someone had bought me so I could change out of my sooty suit. And in the morning we went home on the overland train. I thought to myself “perhaps I should be having a panic attack”. But I didn’t. Because I was the lucky fucker on the right end of the train.


It’s not just Manchester that has taken me back to that day in my mind. It’s the approaching decade anniversaries of so many things from around that time in my life – a son who is 9, a near decade since our move from London back to Bristol, a decade of Pink Tape…


I had a meeting in London last week. And it was as I strolled - again with my trolley - from the now transformed Kings Cross to the never changing Bloomsbury, that I realized how much time had passed and how much I had forgotten or begun to take for granted since the London part of my life. And as I walked past old haunts and sentimental corners I realized that my narrative of the stages of my life is muddled.


In the days following Manchester I remembered how the bombings had been what had galvanized me into starting a family. As I tracked around Bloomsbury I realized this was a fiction. The bombing happened in July 2007 [2005]. Within weeks I must have fallen pregnant with my eldest (he was born in April 2008). Before then I had miscarried twice and had spent much of the months preceding the bombings on autopilot, travelling into central London on the tube and back out again, a daily journey of the same six tracks on an endless loop and silent tears all the way out and back. So no, the London bombings didn’t galvanise me into starting a family.


But, I realized [thought] last week – they did happen mere months before I left London. I wonder now how much impact they had on our decision to leave? The account I have always given is of a move for practical and financial reasons – childcare and housing costs, the advantages of having grandparents nearby for support. In my mind there has never been a coincidence of timing or rationale between the events of July 07 [05] and our leaving London. But I do know that being close to family seemed the most important thing at this time. When I left I worried about the impact on my career of a move to “the provinces” (I hoped and was fortunately proved wrong about this) – but I felt I needed to be near my parents, and my brother and his kids. I suppose that this is typical of many young couples who are starting a family. But looking back it seems self evident that the bombings must have influenced our thinking. I know that my mother was desperately worried about my travelling on the tube, particularly when pregnant.


It’s a reminder, isn’t it, that our memory is so very fallible and malleable and subjective. We construct and reconstruct it to fit our purposes – and we don’t even realise we are doing so. I suspect that for me, the discovery soon after the bombings that I was pregnant, the initial worry that I would miscarry again and the later realization that this was actually going to happen were sufficient to distract me from those events and disconnect them in my mental chronology from this new phase of life. I guess I chose to look forward, as the preceding year or so had been pretty tough. [And the edits I am now making, the day after publishing emphasise that fallibility in an embarrassing way. I had seven seven going round in my head after Manchester, and thus convinced myself the bombings were in 07, not 05. This has led to a significant part of my confusion, but it demonstrates how fragile our grasp on sequences of events really is - and how important it is to record and write it down to supplement bare memory.]


As for Pink Tape, which the archives tell me I first posted on less than two weeks [about two years] after the bombings, I’ve no idea what I was thinking. I’ve often said that I started the blog when I was on maternity leave to keep myself up to date. But this was more likely around the time when I found out I was pregnant. I started it before going on maternity leave. Perhaps I was thinking ahead at this early stage that I would need to find a way to keep my brain active and my knowledge up to date, but again I realise now that my recollection about the nature of my earlier output is not entirely accurate. In my memory it was largely funny legal stories from across the pond, but I find when I look back that I was blogging furiously about life at the bar, the family justice system and transparency from the off - interspersed with some stuff about wacky american court cases along the way. And the utterly insignificant post about Tescos in Slough that made an important someone in my former chambers inexplicably cross at me – I had been blogging for less than a month and yet I told the HoC I had an article 10 right to blog piffle about Tescos if I liked! What a glorious idiot I was…I wasn’t very popular after that. I’m not sure if that was before or after I objected to female members of Management Board being referred to as “girls”, but I was gone by March 2008. I don’t suppose they’ve missed me.).


Who knows how all these factors fed into our decision to move - I suspect they all coincided around the time I saw an ad for St John's. But whatever the "truth", life now is so very very different : A 9 year old who is almost as tall as me and does a sulk better than I did as a 14 year old girl. A 7 year old who is a fizzing pink ball of enthusiasm and sparkles. Everyone else is older, too. Me, him, my parents…Life is racing, always racing so fast you don’t even feel it moving. Have I paid enough attention? Have I paused for breath?


And so to this week, when a friend lost a child unexpectedly. She is hundreds of miles away, and there is nothing I can do other than pathetically say “I’m on the end of the phone”. And honour her loss, and the losses of the Manchester families by appreciating my own good fortune. And by taking mental note of each day and each event and how it felt and why, not discarding each day in the rush for the next.


Please donate to Annie's fund.


2 thoughts on “A decade in the blink of an eye…

  1. Great post, Lucy. Very emotional reading and timely, just 6 months after I finally made the move out of London too. Devastating news yesterday about Annie’s boy. Life is so precious x

  2. This post brought back so many memories, long buried. It was April 1992, Margaret Thatcher had just been re-elected. It was a Friday, In those days, I worked in the City and we didn’t need much of an excuse to go out to a wine bar at lunchtime and, after all, this WAS a Tory win…

    Except, this lunchtime it was different.

    I remember talking to my colleagues as the Frascati was flowing, suddenly becoming aware of talking gibberish I had no control over. I knew that, when I started hugging everyone and telling them how much I loved them, it was time to go to the loo. The next few hours are and remain a blank.

    What I pieced together afterwards is that my male colleagues thought it would be funny to spike my wine with vodka. I staggered to the loo, promptly passed out, banging my head on the sink. A woman looked in my handbag, found my address and some money and put me in a taxi home. I vaguely remember being dragged (?), some stairs and cold air but not much else and those gaps remain to this day.

    On Saturday, I woke up with a stonking headache and the worst nausea ever and was unable to piece together how I got home so I made my way to the chemist to get some ‘Resolve’ and that’s when the panic set in.

    The front page of every single newspaper outside the newsagent showed the then Commercial Union building, all its windows blown out. It was April 11th 1992.

    My first reaction was ‘Shit, I’m supposed to be there’.

    Before passing out, I had agreed to meet friends at a wine bar underneath that very building. My first thought: they were dead. I dragged myself back home and up the stairs to read the paper, when the doorbell rang with additional banging on the front door. Looking out of the window, there was a police van, back doors wide open and full of armed police. I had no idea what was going on but was very very scared.

    When I opened the door, an officer in a bullet proof vest asked me if I had been in the City last night. At that point I hadn’t read the paper, but had seen all the photographs of windows blown out and had very little memory. I burst into tears telling the policeman that it wasn’t me. I wasn’t the one who blew up the Commercial Union building, they had the wrong person. ” Please don’t arrest me I haven’t done anything. ”

    By this point several armed officers had entered the house (which must have been quite a sight for the neighbours) and it took them a while to calm me down. I had been reported missing and because no one could get hold of me, was feared dead. They also assured me that they knew I was not the bomber.
    This was Saturday and I would not find out until Monday that my drink had been spiked with the culprit brokers reprimanded.

    I’m writing all this down because these recent bombings take me back to the days of the IRA and the fear that existed at the time, the security in place in the City, the ‘Ring of Steel’, the armed guards at sentry points, the shrapnel damage to the Richard Rogers Lloyd’s of London building. The frequent security alerts on the tube. I actually caused one by accidentally leaving a briefcase on a station platform. I had spied the actor who played ‘Herr Flick’ and had forgotten the briefcase. I had to pay a fine to get it back, £20 I think. The reprimand I received for that mistake was epic. Hardly surprising, considering.

    That bomb at the Baltic Exchange weighed a ton.

    ‘The bomb caused £800 million worth of damage, £200 million more than the total damage caused by the 10,000 explosions that had occurred during the Troubles in Northern Ireland up to that point.’ [source: Wikipedia]

    Many seem to have forgotten what it was like.
    The current hate and fear mongering, the fake news, the scapegoating around Islam and Muslims really bothers me. Terrorists are the problem, be they ISIS, ETA, Baader-Meinhof or whatever and we need to come together to get them to stop and not fight each other or cause division through ignorance and prejudice.

    I hope you’re ok Lucy. I’m off to get a ‘self-care’ bar of chocolate now…

    My thoughts are with Annie and her family.

    I really hope this climate of hate and fear dies down. We’re better than this, even if some of us have forgotten. x

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