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Yesterday at Russell Square

8 July 2005

Yesterday the place where I spent four years of my life – a place which I have always associated with friends, the SOAS bar, naps in the library and even exams, but above all good times - turned into a place of uncertainty, fear and grief.

My local Tesco’s, directly opposite Russell Square tube station, was packed as usual. Tourists stocking up for the day, office workers taking all the fresh croissants, residents of the Brunswick centre doing early morning shopping (now that the Safeways has shut down) and other unidentifiable people, maybe people like me who live nearby, waiting in the line. Sometimes I recognise people, first years in my last year at SOAS, library staff, security guards. 

Yesterday morning was no different, except for the ongoing sounds of sirens, police cars, fire engines. I imagine them roaring off somewhere else, but they don’t. It comes right outside, suddenly a huge commotion at the station. Staff get out from behind their tills, shoppers hesitate but we leave the queue and our shopping. Soon after we are caught up amongst crowds of people, blue Tesco uniforms, men in orange suits, the police, fire engines, and we stood there, jostled, worried, panicked, watching people emerge from underground, and then stretchers. The police  cordon off the area. 

We all stand around waiting, not knowing what to do, or where to go. The tube staff are still saying it is a power surge. Tourists start asking directions. Some Irish students need to get to the Generator hostel off Judd street. For a second I contemplate giving directions but in the end take  them there myself. 

More fire engines go past me. I hear fragments of conversation. An explosion at Kings Cross, Euston evacuated. I get my mobile to call my best friend who lives just off Euston road, and I realise it doesn’t work. I quicken my pace, but I don’t know where I’m going.  I meet another cordon and am caught up in another crowd. This time we’re stuck. Somewhere between Marchmont street and Tavistock Place. Then just after quarter to nine, we all hear the explosion. Standing where I was, on a street I had been down so many times, I didn’t know where I was.

Suddenly something snaps. People around me  are terrified. People with wheelie suitcases and maps, not knowing where to go. Of course I knew where I was, but these people didn’t. A weird maternal instinct, a surge of protection of London and everyone around me kicks  in. The B & Bs on the street open their doors – people  are let in, given access to pay phones, and – something which made me smile and feel proud – provided with cups of tea.

A policeman who bizarrely enough I recognise tells me to get out of here and home, and not to leave my house. 

I finally get out and on to Guilford street, with throngs of other people. Instead of going straight down towards my flat, I take a right onto Lambs Conduit, then down Great Ormond Street to the hospital. People come with me and we wait in line to give blood.

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