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.