Madrid and Photos

Last weekend I visited Spain for first time by taking a short trip to Madrid. It was really good to get away for a few days. Especially good was the food, weather and extrememly civilised drinking hours! (i.e. there aren’t any, as far I could tell)

I’ve put some photos here, using my newish ‘Photo only’ blog.

Live 8 and Pink Floyd

The last few weeks haven’t been all bad. In fact they’ve been a bit of a rollercoaster. Just 5 days before being on the bombed Aldgate train I settled in for the day at a mate’s house to watch complete coverage of the London Live 8 concert.

Live 8 was a big event for me. The original Live Aid concerts are one of my early memories that I can appreciate (I was 7 at the time.) For some strange reason the artists I remember most from that day are Howard Jones and Phil Collins, but thankfully my music taste improved soon after!

Another reason Live 8 was a big deal to me was that I agreed with the cause. I remember from a few years back that people were talking about cancelling debt in Africa, and the unlikelyhood of it happening, but here was an event pushing for much more than this on the road to gaining real social justice across the world. People have criticised Bob Geldof for being too ‘chummy’ with Tony Blair but what’s the point of trying to change the world unless you have real influence over our leaders? And much as I disagree with Blair’s policy towards Iraq, he has always said that he feels that the situation in Africa is something that should, and can, change.

But despite all my political pretentions, the biggest reason I was so excited about Live 8 was that Pink Floyd were playing, and not just the 3 original members I had seen at Earls Court in 1994, but the complete foursome of Gilmour, Waters, Wright and Mason, something I thought I would never see. Pink Floyd are the band of my life. The Wall got me through my teenage angst years, Wish You Were Here was the album of my summer 2 years ago when I was in Boston thousands of miles from home, and so many other memories besides.

I was somewhat nervous about what they would be like. When I saw them 11 years ago they already seemed pretty old (although it was still the best gig I have ever been too) – would they still be able to hack it? Would Roger Waters throw a tantrum and storm off half way? Would the crowd stay silent wondering who the old gits were on the stage?

My fears were unfounded. Yes, they are getting old, and yes they can’t sing like they used to (to be fair they never had the best voices anyway) but they played damned well. 2 Dark Side of the Moon tracks, the crowd favourite Wish You Were Here and my favourite song of all time Comfortably Numb, with Dave Gilmour ripping his axe like he was standing back on the top of the wall 24 years ago.

Quite a day really. I thought a lot of the younger bands gave it their all, even ones I don’t like that much such as Keane and Razorlight. Madonna wins top marks for effort (plus how a woman of her advancing years can still look that good is unfathomable), and Robbie Williams, despite being a twit and not the greatest musician who has ever lived was, in a word, fabulous.

But I will never forget the sight of Dave Gilmour, Nick Mason, Rick Wright and (I still don’t believe I’m writing this) Roger Waters hugging and smiling on stage after all they’ve been through and all that’s been said between them. Thanks guys for putting arguments, even ones that last for decades, into perspective.

My experience of the London Bombings

On July 7th, a week and a half ago, I was on a Circle Line Underground train, in the rear (6th) carriage. Just before arriving at Aldgate station there was a very loud bang, the train stopped very quickly, the lights went out and fair amount of dust filled the air. The shock of the bang and the speed of all these events meant a few people screamed or gasped, but very quickly everyone on my carriage realised we were all OK, and just confused about what had happened. I had seen a quick flash at the time of the noise, and my best guess was that we had de-railed, or there had been some kind of electrical problem, causing a big power surge of some kind.

After a few minutes we could hear one or two screams from further up the train. I presumed that some people had probably fallen over with the speed of the deceleration and maybe injured themselves. A couple more minutes after this and some people in the next carriage opened the doors between the carriages and walked into ours. I decided at this point to walk right to the rear of the train to allow space for the people walking into the carriage.

About 15 minutes into the event one of the Underground workers came and opened the rear driver’s door. Being at the rear of the train I was about the 5th person out. The person who had opened the door told me to walk down the tracks on the other side of the tunnel, past my train, and up to the Aldgate platform which was just over 100 metres away. Thinking about it afterwards I realised how shaken the guy was.

It was very soon after this that the horror of the event started to dawn on me.

Once I was walking past the 4th and 3rd carriages I could see broken windows and people with blood on their faces looking out at me. I could see fear in their eyes like I’d never seen before. About this time I saw in the dim light of the tunnel that one of the train doors was lying a few feet away from the train in a mangled state. I started to wonder what on earth had happened.

As I was carefully walking around the remains of the door I heard someone on the train shout out ‘whatever you do mate, don’t look left’. It was good advice. I didn’t take it. With the speed of reflex, I looked left at where the door had been. There have been photos of the Aldgate train in the news, and we are bombarded by images of such events, whether fictional from Hollywood or real from the world media, but I can honestly say that seeing this kind of thing for real was something completely and utterly different and something I hope to never experience again. What I saw was the human equivalent of a bomb blowing a door out of a train, which I realised with horrific clarity right then was exactly what had happened.

With the same speed that I had turned to look at the train I snapped my sight back forward with every intention of getting out of the situation as quickly as I possibly could. The tunnel was eerily quiet and there seemed to be no-one around. I climbed up onto the Aldgate platform, up the stairs and into the station entrance. Being so quickly off the train, there were very few emergency services on the scene. Those that were seemed to be tending to a few people who had got off less lightly than me, yet had been able to get off the train. Again, the sight of people so terribly scared with blood all over their faces made me see how fragile human beings really are. A little later on in the day as I was walking around London I couldn’t help but feel the juxtaposition of the strength and achievement of humanity surrounding me, with the potential for weakness of the human body and spirit I had seen that day.

I walked out of the station in complete shock, and spent the rest of the day talking to friends and family. The following day I came down from the adrenaline with a huge bump and felt the whole day like I was having some kind of out-of-body experience. For those first few days afterwards I was unable to grasp the actual entire situation, I only had enough mental and emotional strength to deal with what I had been through myself.

In fact, I had been incredibally lucky. Everyone I’ve seen in the news who walked away from one of the scenes of the, as we now know them to be, suicide bombs said they were incredibally lucky too, but actually we’re not. We all suffered a terrible experience that will take time to recover from, but the appreciation of how close we came to being killed, and the desire to look forwards to the future makes us strive for positive elements in an awful situation. For myself, I don’t just look at my luck, I’m also trying to see what I’ve learned and experienced and make something constructive out of this.

As I type this I’m shaking, but the whole thing is getting easier to cope with every day. I’m not having nightmares, I am sleeping properly, and I’m not having visions of what I saw for those awful few seconds every 5 minutes like I did in the 2 days after the bomb.

I am trying to form an opinion of the whole situation. We know something now about what happened – 4 British suicide bombers with fanatical beliefs – and I’m trying to reconcile this, and my own personal experience, with my belief that a progressive, inclusive, multi-cultural society is an effective and enjoyable way forward for our race. I passionately hope that everyone from every culture and background that lives in this wonderful country really can pull together to figure out how to make sure these events never happen again.