7 July 2005

This first appeared in the Northern Echo on 14 July 2005:

Our daughter often rings us for a chat on her mobile on her way to work.

If the phone rings about eight in the morning, I know who it is. Usually I’m up by then, but if not I don’t mind being woken by her cheerful voice, inquiring after us, telling us what she’s been up to.

As she talks, you can hear the snarl of London traffic in the background, the wail of a siren, passing voices, the clatter of feet on pavements. She’ll usually break off when her bus comes.

Last Thursday it was quarter past nine when the phone rang, so I didn’t expect to hear her voice at the other end. ‘In case you’ve heard the news, Mum, don’t worry,’ she said. ‘I’m fine.’

I’d been listening to the radio about eight, but there’d been nothing then to cause concern.

‘There’s been an explosion on the tube at Aldgate,’ my daughter explained. ‘Just a power surge they think. But it’s a bit weird. Euston station’s closed off, and I saw someone in tears.’

She broke off to check that her brother had got safely to work, then rang back to reassure me again – and to ask a favour. The mobile network was busy in central London and she couldn’t get through to her husband. Would I email him and ask him to contact her at work, to let her know he’d got to his office safely? She’d be at her desk in a matter of minutes.

She rang off then and went on her way. I know the route she takes to work very well. I could walk with her in my head – across Euston Road, into Upper Woburn Place; through Tavistock Square and Russell Square, and she’s practically there.

The news was on the radio by now, and the television. They were no longer calling it a power surge. This was the real thing, the terrorist bombing we’d all been dreading. There were little maps of the undergound to show where the three explosions had happened.

It all seems so much more real when you know the places they’re talking about: King’s Cross station, where we always arrive when we go to London to visit the family; Russell Square tube station, the nearest to our daughter’s office; the Circle line we take to visit our son, running through busy Edgware Road, with its many connecting tube lines.

Even the hospitals to which they took the injured were names we know: the one where our daughter was treated for a serious illness, the one where our eldest grandson was born.

My husband, out for the morning, had heard the news in passing and rushed to a phone. ‘They’re fine – they’re fine!’ I said as soon as I heard his voice.

Then my daughter phoned again, late in the morning, to say she’d never got to work. She’d been stopped by a police cordon at Tavistock Square and sent back home.

It was only much later I realised that when she’d rung off after her second call, the bus bomb still lay ahead, just as she was walking towards it. I’m glad I didn’t know that at the time. I’m deeply thankful she’s safe. I’m grateful that all those I love came safely home that night.

So today, when we’re called to pause in silence to remember what happened, I shall be thinking of all those people for whom that final reassuring call never came; those mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters and friends who never heard their loved one’s voice telling them, ‘I’m fine.’

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