It’s funny, I had been thinking about how life would be so much better if I was living in a place like London rather than Dubai. As I said to Oliver and Anita, it is much easier to see a city you aren’t living in through rose tinted glasses, and ignore the disappointing or complicated aspects of a place. The tube at rush hour, the traffic, the rain, the homeless people. However, there is nothing like a terror attack to remind you that things aren’t always as perfect as they seem.
My original plan for the day was to go to the Imperial War Museum, and then walk across the river – across Westminster Bridge – to the Churchill War Rooms. By some fortunate stroke of luck, I got anxious about buying the items we needed for our apartment, and decided to get my shopping out of the way in the morning at Westfield White City. This meant I made it to the IMW later than expected. After spending a few hours winding through the museum, I was just about ready to leave when someone asked if they could use my phone to access the Guardian, as their internet wasn’t working and they had heard something had happened in Westminster. I hadn’t heard a thing about the attack – I had been in the Holocaust exhibit, and as photography wasn’t allowed I didn’t have my phone out. While I knew I wouldn’t have enough time to visit to the Churchill War Rooms that afternoon, I had still wanted to go and take some photos of the Houses of Parliament, before hopping on the tube up to Hyde Park Corner or Green Park. I didn’t really think too much of it at the time, but I realised later that I would have just followed the path Google Maps told me – straight across Westminster Bridge.
I walked outside the museum and there were six helicopters buzzing overhead, and the constant wail of police sirens – I was right near Lambeth Police Station, and as we were only about a mile from the scene, I guess they were heading to assist. Given I wasn’t in the immediate vicinity, people were calm and life continued on, in the way that things do in a big city. I obviously couldn’t walk to Westminster as planned, so headed back to Lambeth North tube station. The only person I heard speaking about the events was a mother to her young daughter who were walking behind me, with the girl having been let out of school early. When the mother explained what had happened and why the girl was allowed to go home, the little girl burst into tears and asked why the terrorists were in London, and whether they would ‘get her’. That was pretty sad.
I arrived at Hyde Park Corner to a constant wail of sirens, and after walking through the park for awhile, stood on a mound near the memorial to the 2005 London attacks. I counted something like 35 ambulances go past. Anita and I met up for a walk towards Covent Garden, where we were later going to show. I remember saying to Anita that I couldn’t quite understand how the news was saying there were only 12 people injured, with the amount of emergency service vehicles I saw. I realise now that number was very much underestimating the number of injured. Anita and I walked up Constitution Hill towards Buckingham Palace, and the Mall towards Trafalgar Square, and quite a few spots around town were (relatively) deserted for London. A number of streets were blocked off, and police officers everywhere. Funnily enough, I’d caught an uber back from White City to Hammersmith that morning, and talked to my driver about how many police officers I’d seen that morning. I must have seen a few hundred by the end of the day.
We had a delicious meal at a Japanese restaurant at Kingly Court, and wandered towards the Cambridge Theatre where we watched Matilda, which was quite good – although admittedly, I couldn’t understand some of the British kids accents while singing! It didn’t feel surreal or strange to be going out after a major incident, it just felt like life should continue on as normal. While the event was incredibly sad, there are crazy people anywhere in the world, and I refuse to get too worried about these things. It did make me appreciate how generally safe both Dubai and New Zealand are, however – and reminded me just how ridiculous Trump’s latest airline related ban is (I don’t think there was a laptop involved in this one, buddy!).
I was hoping to go to the War Rooms today, but it will depend on whether the lockdown on Westminster is raised. I have a bit of a crappy cold, and after another 15 kms of walking yesterday, am a little tired. I will see how I get on later!