City returns to routine by habit, choice

Urban Life

Bombings In London

July 09, 2005|By Robert Little | Robert Little,SUN STAFF

LONDON - If Thursday's attackers intended to send a message, Londoners chose to ignore it.

Some recalled the German air raids of World War II or the street-corner bombings of the Irish Republican Army as a source of resolve. But mostly Londoners offered a casual defiance born as much from the city's everyday demands as its occasionally violent history.

Mothers carried babies onto red double-decker buses identical to the one that was blasted into shards a day earlier. Commuters queued silently at train stations, many having traced the same workday travels as their more than four dozen dead compatriots.

Thousands of people like June Cadogan rode the escalators into London's Underground and said that returning to life was an easy choice, and maybe the only choice.

"If you remember the Blitz, or the IRA campaign, you understand how stoical the people of this city are," said Cadogan, a 76-year-old grandmother who lives in London's West End.

Then she swung her arm around and shook a finger northward, saying: "I remember a bomb disposal technician who died right there at Notting Hill Gate, blown up by the IRA. And that didn't scare people away. We've put up with much worse than this."

Landscape of memories

Memories of the random violence that Londoners have endured is woven into the city's historic fabric. The Blitz is memorialized in a life-size diorama at the Imperial War Museum, while the scarcity of public trash receptacles is a reminder of the long season of IRA bombings.

Thursday's bombings added to that landscape of memory. Hand-drawn signs announced the closure of many subway stations in central London, and the shattered bus' frame remained sheathed like a corpse in the center of a busy street. Police cordoned off several blocks around each bombing site with crime-scene tape and metal fences, attracting a steady assault of passers-by.

A trace of worry

The city was not devoid of worry, particularly in the morning. On the subway's Victoria Line, where the crowds grew uncharacteristically large because of the closed routes nearby, commuters swayed through the tunnels in absolute silence, and some admitted to sizing up their fellow passengers with newly cautious eyes.

Yet many other Londoners were undeterred.

On Piccadilly Street, red buses belched past every two or three minutes, often packed to standing-room-only on both levels. On Kensington High Street further west, uniformed pupils fled from St. Mary Abbotts Primary School across the street and disappeared, laughing, into the Underground.

Ricardo Bueno, 40, of Bayswater was forced to transfer from the his usual "Tube" route to a bus because of the closed subway lines yesterday, but said his birthplace in Brazil taught him not to be afraid.

"Here it's a bomb; there it was a bullet to the head," he said. "Life is a threat everywhere."

London Mayor Ken Livingstone struck the same chord, saying that he, too, will frequent the Underground without fear.

"Terrorism is a common feature of life in many countries," he said, adding that he expects its threat to continue in Britain's capital "for some decades to come."

A way to `fight back'

At the Earl's Court stop on the subway, parking garage owner Jonathan Sharp said the attacks not only hadn't scared London's citizens, but might have energized them.

"A lot of people were talking about it on the trip up, about how we ought to fight back," Sharp said. "What else can you do except what you've always done? It's the only way we win this, by not letting it change who we are or how we go about our lives."

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