A New Year’s Day walk to Wimbledon Common. Taking a minor diversion along Copse Hill you come to this bus stop (and there will be a similar one on the other side of the road). This bus stop is an oddity – although I imagine there are other examples elsewhere. – because this stop is going in two directions at once. It’s not an indicator to get on a bus in the opposite direction across the road, no, you can board here but you must get on the correct 200 because, for this little leg, buses going in both directions pass this stop. The Copse Hill and Atkinson Close stops are part of a loop that buses in both direction take. I don’t know why but I imagine it is to do with serving the expensive new apartments on Wimbledon Park Hill. Still, if you get on here, make sure you get on the one going to Raynes Park or Mitcham because in about 5 minutes from this point you could be going in the wrong directions.
The ladies who bus did this route back in 2009 and when they passed The Collier’s Wood Tower (once deemed the ugliest building in London) which they said looked like it was “about to be demolished” but turned out to be mid-regeneration becoming Britannia Point by about 2017. Also, the Waitrose at Raynes Park had just opened when they rode the 200 – the place that became a lifeline to so many this past year and I am very glad was opened.
The brutalist concrete of London’s Southbank Centre, some of it originally set for the Festival of Britain in 1951, seems a place at odds – if not an odd place – to hold an exhibition that asks us to think about our relationship with trees and forests. But, that’s what the Hayward Gallery’s ‘Among The Trees’ is asking us to do. It reopened yesterday after being closed at the start of the COVID crisis and is now extended until October, so ignore the out-of-date dates on promotional banners. Visitor numbers are limited and there’s a one-way system introduced so that social distancing norms can be observed.
I’m no art critic, but I think I am with the ES Magazine’s “there’s much here to absorb, unsettle and even, occasionally, provoke wonder” over Time Out’s “the rest just sort of blurs into one, and by the end, you can’t see the art for the trees”. Most reviewers seem to agree that Eija-Liisa Ahtila’s six-screen, horizontal video of a giant Finnish spruce is the most powerful piece and it is visually very impressive. Eva Jospin’s forest from cardboard, which is one of the first exhibits you come to, reminds us of both the beauty of the forest and the damage caused by humans. Later, Steve McQueen’s Lynching Tree, depicting a tree that once served as a gallows for slaves, provides another reminder of our cruel and destructive nature.
In many ways, that grey concrete architecture – a material which itself replaced the need for wood in some construction projects and is the core of the Hayward Gallery – is the perfect backdrop to the trees that form the exhibition. Perhaps my only criticism is that there’s not enough of the contrast, the hard and the soft, exploited within.
The restrictions caused by timed-entry and fewer people in the gallery space, may not be great for the gallery’s finances, but make the experience itself very nice indeed. No real queues, except to get into the shop afterwards, and no crowds around the big art pieces. And, given how much of the world is closed off to us right now, the reopening is a real treat. Although, perhaps we should be spending these beautiful summer days in nature for real.
It experience was as incredible as I’d expected it to be.
BT Tower (previously, the Post Office Tower) was once the tallest building in the UK. Officially opened in October 1965, it was built to provide London with microwave communication links to the rest of the country.
Interestingly, this icon of the London Skyline was, apparently, an Official Secret for its early life. In theory, you couldn’t admit it existed. It originally opened with a rotating restaurant operated by the Butlins holiday company. I wonder how you made a booking if you couldn’t say where it was? For security reasons public access, including the restaurant, closed in the early 1980s.
BT Tower: Broadcast Hub
In the mid 1990s, when I worked for the audio distribution company, SMS, we had audio circuits connecting our satellite network to ‘Tower’ to allow us to send – and receive audio from – BT’s broadcast network. We were based only a 9-minute walk away from the tower with a perfect line of sight (if we leaned out the front door). We didn’t use the circuits very often but there was always a little excitement when we called BT to arrange a connection.
Years later, I was back in the Euston Tower for work which provided a birds-eye view of the rotating screens. By then, many of the dish-shaped aerials had been removed for safety reasons but the Tower was still at the heart the UK’s broadcast network even if the signals had migrated to underground fibre cables. And even now, at least until we move offices at the start of December, I walk along Tottenham Court Road every morning past Maple Street, the Tower’s official address, with a daily view of whatever message is set to appear on the big screen 167m (548 ft) up in the London sky.
I’ve been to the top of many buildings with a birds-eye view of London but, until last week, I’d never been to the top of the Tower. The charity RedR arranged an evening of visits as a fund-raising activity so I got to look backwards to my former, and current, work places.
While at the top of The Tower, they turned the rotation on for a full sweep of the London skyline which, at night, is very impressive. As we are in the season of Christmas lights, there were some spectacular views of the lights along Tottenham Court Road, at Regent’s Place and of the Hyde Park Winder Wonderland. It experience was as incredible as I’d expected it to be.
According to the London Landmarks site, the Tower is the “only building in the country which is allowed to be evacuated by lift (an oddity which required Parliamentary legislation to be passed)”. Fortunately, an evacuation was not required this evening.
#SOLS is the project to have something written on this site on the last Sunday of every month. I covered topics such as a visit to Japan, the state of the trains and why we change the clocks. I have one more expected in 2017 at the end of the year. I wonder what that will cover? Follow the sequence with handy sols tag.
I love the fact that years ago people were thinking 50 years ahead, but is it enough?
There’s almost a week to go until the end of September but today really is #SOLS day. Today’s view from my pulpit is, once again, about transport. Is it too much of a theme.
I’ve written a couple of times in recent weeks about transport in South West London. I’ve never lived in any other part of the city so I can’t comment on issues elsewhere. Although, as I previously noted, I commute into Britain’s business station, so I feel a certain amount of attention is needed in this part of the world.
South London is woefully underserved by London Underground with 250 stations north of the Thames and just 29 south1. So, for those of us South West, the major transport options are main line services into London Waterloo; trams if you’re heading around Croydon or the “misery” Northern Line2 through to the City or West End.
Back in 1974 I don’t think I could point to London on a map (being about 4 years old at the time) but somebody, somewhere, decided that about 50 years later a Chelsea-Hackney underground line might be a good idea and so started a process that leads to this day3.
The Draft Mayor’s Transport Strategy 2017 includes a plan for Crossrail 2: a line that is described as
a new proposed railway linking the national rail networks in Surrey and Hertfordshire via an underground tunnel through London 4
The line is predicted to allow 270,000 more people to travel into the central London the morning rush hour. This is equivalent to about 10% of the current capacity into London. It’s really quite a lot.
The scheme will also “unlock 200,000 new homes”5. That also seems like a big number equating to a lot of new houses. But it also seems like room for a lot of new people because we need houses for the growing London population. If a good proportion of these new houses are near the Crossrail 2 route then it should be assume that some of the people will utilise the route for their commute, after all, why not take the shiny new trains into the office?
So, if each of those houses has at least one occupier and half of those people use the new train for a commute then we have 100,000 additional south west journeys. Much of the new capacity is used-up instantly. And, assuming a single occupier properties seems on the conservative side don’t you think?
I love the fact that years ago people were thinking 50 years ahead and started to make plans. I love the fact the Mayor is promoting the project as a strategic plan. But, is it enough?
Why isn’t country music bigger in the UK? Chris Country is automated in a way that gives the station a personality that shines through.
I just wrote a thing on Facebook (and copied here) about the launch of Atlantic 252 on 1 September 1989. People of a certain age remember it fondly because, at the time, there was nothing quite like it. Each year, somebody posts a memory somewhere online. I first did in it in 2004.
Nobody, however, seems to commemorate the launch of Country 1035 on 1 September 1994. I tweeted a link to my copy of the launch audio earlier. You’ll notice it doesn’t really launch with a big bang.
I may have a copy of the opening words but I don’t remember a great deal about the radio station. I do recall John Scragg was the breakfast show presenter at one time and Capital Gold’s Randall Lee Rose was on air in the early days.
I never quite understood why there wasn’t a big country music station in the UK. The format has a large following, most of the early local stations carried a country music programme at some point. I recall Steve Penk was the presenter of Country Cousins on Piccadilly in the early 1980s. Until recently, nobody has been able to make a big country music franchise work.
Chris Country, “the UK’s country station”, might be the format that changes that. I find myself increasingly listening to it which, given my general dislike of automated stations, is quite interesting. I think mainstream country music today has a clear rock/pop crossover which might be part of the appeal but the stories of heartbreak and hard drinking don’t seem to be any different from the music of years ago. Perhaps I just love a good story told through song.
Chris Stevens, who runs Chris Country, produces audio imaging as a day job. Perhaps that’s why the branding and sound of Chris Country is so good. There are no live presenters, a couple of recorded shows at weekends and everything else is automated. But it is automated in a way that gives the station a personality that shines through. I can’t really explain it but I wish they teach it to other predominately automated radio stations: Hearst 80s are you listening? If you don’t think you like country music, give Christ Country an try (on DAB in some areas and across you mobile everywhere).
Oh, and while I am on the subject of country music find out “why country music makes you cry, and rock and roll doesn’t” in this brilliant episode of Revisionist History. Even if you don’t like country music, and if you don’t want to try listening to the tunes, you should give this podcast a listen
In just a few days, from 5th August 2017, I expect a modern day battle of Waterloo as passengers at Britain’s busiest railway station fight for carriage during a period of “significantly fewer trains” when platforms 1-9 will be closed so work can start to extend those platforms for longer trains.
202 years ago, somewhere around where Belgium is on the map today, the Emperor of the French, a man who is immediately known by the use of the word Napoleon, was defeated by the Duke of Wellington at the Battle Waterloo. Those not around in 1815 may refer to the 1974 Abba song, although I think ‘surrender’ has a somewhat different meaning on the battle field than it does in the song “Waterloo – knowing my fate is to be with you”.
There’s a bridge over the Thames named after Waterloo (the battle, not the song) and, in turn, when the London and South Western Railway opened a station in the area in July 1848 it was named after the bridge, in fact Wikipedia says it was originally called as ‘Waterloo Bridge Station‘.
In just a few days, from 5th August 2017, I expect a modern day battle of Waterloo as passengers at Britain’s busiest railway station, now referenced in your station guide as London Waterloo, fight for carriage during a period of “significantly fewer trains” when platforms 1-9 will be closed so work can start to extend those platforms for longer trains. Appropriate emoji’s at the point are a happy face for the prospect of longer trains and the scream for the next 23 days commuting experience.
That’s basically half the platforms closed at a station where 100 million journeys start or end every year. Even though work has been planned in the summer when — hopefully — there are marginally fewer commuters that’s still a big hole to fill. If you’re already standing with your nose in somebody’s armpit on a morning peak service, the promise of “Services and stations will be busier than usual, especially in the morning and evening peaks on weekdays” is probably pretty depressing.
For some months, Adecco (“the largest staffing firm in the world”) have been advertising for Crowd Control officers to support the “blockade project which will positively transform the journeys of millions of people”. A nice spin on, what I imagine, will be a fairly thankless task to keep commuters calm: trains and stations have been plastered with signs warning of reduced (or even, no) service for most of the year but I can already see the Twitter outrage from those who did not get a personal visit for a member of engineering team. If you use expensive noise-cancelling headphones on your morning commute you may be forgiven for having missed the non-stop announcements warning of the works. The rest of us don’t have an excuse.
There will be the usual frustrations of people failing to get somewhere important — or standing around somewhere else for a long period of time, waiting — but I don’t see how any of this is avoidable. Maybe I should make the month off.
Of course, after all this work is complete we are promised capacity for 30% more passengers during the busiest parts of the day when 100,000 people pass through the station. The trouble is, in the 24 years I have been in London passenger numbers on these lines have more than doubled, making Waterloo the busiest transport hub in Europe. That’s a more-than 100% increase over that time. If that growth carries on at a similar rate then the extra space, which we’ll probably already fill, will be also be bursting in 6 or 7 years. These works are making a better use of existing infrastructure but what options do we have beyond that? Where will new trains go in 24 years from now?
Each morning as I walk across the Thames, I look to my left and see the sights of St Paul’s Cathedral, the gherkin and Canary Wharf. It’s an amazing – almost iconic – skyline. Although radically changed with the modern skyscrapers, can you imagine what it must have been like just over 70 years ago when a hundred or more doodlebugs, or the V-1 flying bombs as they were more officially known, could be filling the sky and you didn’t know what their target was.1
Early in the second world war, London had been bombed by the German Luftwaffe – a period known as The Blitz. In spite of early attempts by the government to lock them, Londoners took shelter in many of the city’s Underground stations. In addition, parts of the Underground were used to store national treasures. Today it’s on an unused branch line, but in the 1940s Aldwych tube station, that I visited once before, protected artefacts from the British Museum from the damage aerial bombing could inflict.
At the height of the bombing, there were demands from the public for the government to provide more shelters. The government turned to the London transport authorities – who had the technical experience building below ground – to build new shelters. And, even though the bombing raids over London had subsided, a total of 8 deep-level shelters we’re built (although 10 had been commissioned). All the new deep shelters were built near existing tube stations: the unrealised dream being to bring them into service as railways post-war.
The shelters were eventually used for their intended purpose in the latter years of the war when, in June 1944, the flying bombs were sent to attack the city.
Last Sunday, as part of London Transport Museum’s Hidden London series,2 I visited the deep-level shelter at Clapham South. The above-ground pillar box can still be seen just around the corner from the existing tube entrance. The shelter is connected to the station but the walls have long-since been sealed forcing visitors to descend (and return later) via a 180-step spiral staircase. The lift, it appears, either not in working order or no longer fit for public use. It’s not easy on the knees but, somehow, not quite as many steps as it sounds.
Below ground is a fascinating place. Wartime pictures of the shelter show the kind of Blitz-spirited Londoners that only seem to appear on old newsreel films.3 In reality, the space built for almost 8,000 people, must have been cramped, crowded, smelly and – probably – very loud. Even with the welcome addition of the canteen-served jam tarts that were not subject to the ration book, I can’t imagine it was the nicest of places. Admittedly, the feeling of 120 feet of earth above you probably went a long way to making it a sanctuary from the horrors above the ground.
The tunnels through which you are escorted on the tour are astonishingly clean & tidy – having been most recently used as a secure archive storage facility – but it’s clear from the remaining bunk beds that life would have been cramped. Row, upon row, of the stacked bunk beds could have given almost 8,000 people safety in the Clapham South shelter; your particular bunk marked on the ticket required to access the shelter. Most people would have to bring their belongings down in to the shelter each time they went; exceptions were made for people whose houses had been destroyed by the war. That’s 180 steps with mattresses and other personal items that you wanted to keep with you.
Post-war, the shelters have been used as a hostel for visitors to the great exhibitions of the Festival of Britain in 1951, places for incoming migrants to stay until they found permanent accommodation or as army barracks. In later years, the Clapham South shelters were the aforementioned storage facility while a nearby tunnel, that you don’t visit, is today used to grow salads under LED lighting.4
Walking across the Thames bridges in the August sunshine is a world away from the realities of wartime in the city: the Hidden London deep-level shelter tour a small, but important, reminder of what people went through and a fascinating insight into the ingenuity of the city to protect citizens in more difficult times.
BEWA (Blog Every Wednesday in August) is a project aimed to get me writing in a blog style again. I wrote an introduction to kick the series off while the first proper entry championed an Olympic legacy. The third discussed my fascination with location data while what should have been the fourth entry was more of an Oops. There is a page with the #bewa collection (including those from last year). Fingers crossed I am back next week. I’m sure @curns will mention it.
In December each year I post a set of photographs that sum-up the year for me. It started many years ago, before cameras on phones were commonplace, because it struck me how differently pictures taken on a phone represented the year in comparison to those on a traditional camera (which only ever gets taken when you think you’ll need one). If you look back at the pictures from the end of 2012 you’ll see a collection that features the Games of the XXX Olympiad, or London 2012 as I knew it.
On Friday night, I imagine quite late London time, the opening ceremony of the Games of the XXXI Olympiad (Rio 2016) will take place at the Maracanã Stadium and Rio de Janeiro will have the honour of hosting the most recent games. As memories of London fade, perhaps only appearing in words like mine – when I summed up the feeling of being there for the opening ceremony rehearsals – the beaches of Copacabana or Ipanema will be the newest images of the Olympics, replacing in the mind, perhaps, images of the Olympic rings on Tower Bridge. Time, then, to wonder what we are left with in London.
Back in the bid phase for the London games, Tessa Jowell, then Secretary of State for Culture, and Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London at the time, argued for the games because they believed in the legacy. As Tony Blair notes,
They argued strongly that the Games would have a twofold legacy: the regeneration of the East End of London and helping build sport into the lives of a generation of children.1
I’d argue that the games were worth it for the atmosphere, enthusiasm, national pride and the spectacle at the time, but did we get a legacy? The Guradian recently suggested that we did not, particularly of the sporting kind,
For all the golden memories of July and August 2012, already tinged in sepia, and the continuing debate about the success or otherwise of the other legacy aims it is hard not to conclude that a prize Jowell once called “the greatest in a generation – faster progress towards a healthier nation” is not already close to being squandered.2
But, recognise anybody in the photograph? Perhaps you can’t because the picture is too small and they were moving too fast for me. They are the elite men cyclists in the Prudential RideLondon-Surrey Classic passing through Parliament Square on their way to the finish line. It’s part of an annual two-day cycling festival that sees almost 100,000 people cycle around the city on roads cleared of traffic for the day and hundreds more leave the Olympic Park for the Surrey Hills on a route not dissimilar to the one taken during the 2012 games. An event started as a direct result of the popularity of the cycling events in 2012.
All those cyclists in London in the year that Bradley Wiggins, who was an Olympic gold medalist on 2012, won this year’s Tour de France.
I think there’s a legacy right there. Perhaps cycling is the sport to take events at Box Hill & the velodrome forward to inspire a future generation of athletes.
But what about this single example? Thousands of young people who have a new gymnastics club as part of the legacy? Without it, “possibly 5,000 kids wouldn’t have a venue,” said a recent report on ITV News.3 And I could call out the reported 50,000 season tickets West Ham have sold for their new ground in the former Olympic Stadium (apparently the second highest season ticket sale in the Premier League).4
You can see regeneration in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park as both a public & event space. This summer there are sporting activities for kids with ‘Fit For Sport’ as well as the ArcelorMittal Orbit slide and the whole aquatics centre for swimming and diving. And if Olympicopolis comes to fruition, London will have a new cultural hub in in the heart of an area regenerated by the London games.5
And don’t forget Adam Hills, Alex Brooker and Josh Widdicombe are on our televisions every week thanks to the legacy of the Paralympic television coverage.
We may not all have taken up more sport as a result of The Games but I think there’s plenty of things we can be proud of that are part of the legacy of London 2012.
Last Sunday, watching both the ammeter and professional riders pass buildings representing our great institutions – Parliament, Westminster Abbey & the Supreme Court – there was also something else happening. A little of the spirit of the games came back with the cheering crowds and even those with limited interest in the sport of cycling searching for somebody who knew who was in the lead. That positive, optimistic and friendly feeling that 2012 brought us returned, even for just a moment in our post-Brexit malaise.
Perhaps, it’s not just the infrastructure or the number of people taking part in sport we should be looking to as the legacy of the games. The games brought out a spirit in almost everybody. We should hold on to that. I believe that would be the greatest legacy of all.
About BEWA 2016
This is the first entry for 2016’s BEWA (Blog Every Wednesday in August). The introductory post was written in July but you might want to read it anyway. All the BEWA posts will be tagged and you can follow @curns on Twitter to see the hashtag every Wednesday.
I don’t know what it is about the railways that fascinates so many people but it does. As I type, there’s a mysterious world of trainspotters taking pictures of Diesel Multiple Units from the far end of station platforms somewhere in the UK. Certainly, it’s an important/large enough passtime for the BBC to have devoted three hours of evening TV hours to Transporting Live a few weeks ago week.
I’ve often wondered if this is only a British phenomenon? I am not sure I understand that although I will admit that, as a child, I crossed out bus registration plates in a book that listed all the vehicles operated by the Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Executive. Bus Spotting: it was Pokémon Go for a 70s childhood.
Perhaps it’s not that hard to explain after all.
However, I do have my own fascination with the networks of the railways. There’s something about the running of an infrastructure that moves thousands of people daily that really interests me. Previously, I’ve highlighted the complexities of the Oyster smart-card system and written about the Hidden London visitor series which can take you to disused parts of the Underground network.
People have warned for years that London’s transport system will start to collapse due to the sheer number of people using it. That is unlikely and gentle degradation is a more likely outcome. What consistently seems to get overlooked, however, is the possibility that two or three problems, relatively small and insignificant in themselves, can come together to produce a situation that is hard to unravel and even more difficult to solve.1
How many of us travelling on the railways understand things such as Dwell time or Sunday Rest Day working?
Basically on large parts of the railway, still, Sunday is not a rostered working day for train crew, and management is reliant on people working rest days to provide a service.2
It’s worth a read if you have the time while staring at the platform display hoping a train will appear.
I guess I could have tried to make this the first in the 2016 Blog Every Wednesday in August series. However, last Wednesday I said that the quote and link format, although a blog staple, is not the BEWA way. I felt this post would be cheating. I may regret that next week when I have to find something to write about.
I took another tour of a hidden London Underground station last weekend. This time it was of Aldwych (formerly, Strand) station which has a fascinating history. Originally planned as the terminus of the Great Northern and Strand Railway, even by the time it opened in 1907 it was a little used spur of – what is today – the Piccadilly Line. Closed in 1994, Aldwych can still be seen in films and TV programmes and, very occasionally, as part of a Hidden London tour.
Fearing that the station would be little used, economy was sought during construction. Only one set of stairs & passages to the platforms were completed, and only about half the platform area (at the south end where the short trains would stop) were tiled. The remaining passages were left incomplete and never opened, all passengers using what would have been the exit passages to access platforms and lifts …
The Aldwych branch was never well patronised. Before the time of its closure only 450 people were using the branch each day. From June 1958 the line began operating only in rush hours as off peak traffic was almost non-existent. The line was considered for extension to Waterloo on many occasions throughout its history but due to financial limitations and lack of demand, this extension never came to anything.
I wonder what would happen if Jeremy Clarkson were to become Mayor of London.
Yesterday, I spoke about my liking of the BBC’s Top Gear programme. It’s odd because I would not have pegged myself as the kind of person who would watch it. Regardless, I find the three presenters funny, infuriating and very watchable. Now, I wonder what would happen if Jeremy Clarkson were to become Mayor of London. It is rumoured, you see, that his name has been suggested as a prospective Conservative candidate.
Give that the current Mayor blamed Jeremy for global warming and the possible destruction of life on earth, [The Times Online] I think it would make an interesting election indeed. Now I have a lot of time for Ken Livingstone but I can help thinking that I would like to see him as the ‘star in a reasonably priced car’. Especially as he, apparently, has no licence and can’t drive.
Reduced commercial airtime also makes those ads that are aired stand out more. Won’t advertisers end up paying a premium for this? Maybe not in the short term but I would have thought that in the long run it could work. But then again, what do I know?
On Monday I mentioned Capital Radio’s decline in the London market but completely missed the comment piece by Paul Robinson on The Guardian’s site. He notes that slashing commercial hours could ‘knock about Â£7m off Capital’s top-line revenue in 2006’. This I find interesting. Reducing commercial clutter (as it’s called) will hopefully drive bigger audiences. Reduced commercial airtime also makes those ads that are aired stand out more. Won’t advertisers end up paying a premium for this? Maybe not in the short term but I would have thought that in the long run it could work.
When I first came to London, everybody listened to Capital Radio. Everybody talked about whatever Chris Tarrant did in the morning. That was a very different radio world with much less competition in the London market. Right now, I don’t know anybody who listens
When I first came to London, everybody listened to Capital Radio. Everybody talked about whatever Chris Tarrant did in the morning. That was a very different radio world with much less competition in the London market. Right now, I don’t know anybody who listens. Last week, GCap Media – which own Capital FM (as it’s now known)- announced a slump in profits and has promised a radical overhaul of the station. The new management are blaming the old management for the slump. Well, I guess they would, wouldn’t they?
Saturday morning and, for some reason, I was up early so I decided to do a little bit of work. In the background I’ve had the radio on. Listening to Vanessa Feltz on BBC London and then Wendy Lloyd on LBC. I guess the topics must have been interesting (why do we seek to impress our parents and why don’t kids do enough around the home – to name but two) but, regardless, I thought both programmes were presented in an intelligent and thoughtful way. And that’s not what you always expect from talk radio. I read earlier in the week that David Prever had left LBC to be the new breakfast host on Smooth FM. That might make the London breakfast market interesting.
It was a united city saying ‘we will not back down in the face of your bombs. You will not break us’.
Yesterday I observed the two minutes of silence to remember those killed in last week’s bombings. After work I walked to Trafalgar Square to take part in the vigil. I arrived just after it had started but heard a lot of the speakers. There were moving speeches, prayers and poems from across the political and religious spectrum. There were leaders from the major churches and religions showing a united front. There were London celebrities with sincere words calling for a united city. Sebastian Coe spoke of the Olympic bid and how we’ll build a fitting tribute to the people who lost their lives last Thursday. There were union leaders and politicians who uttered words of support.
But the biggest applause went to members of the transport companies whose buses and trains were attacked and for the emergency services who attended the sites to rescue victims. For once were were not a celebrity-obsessed nation but were there to support the people who keep London moving and safe.
The vigil seemed to go on forever. Perhaps it was too long but when everybody’s words were sincere how could you stop it? It was a united city saying ‘we will not back down in the face of your bombs. You will not break us’.
Sadly, for the media, it was just another news story. There were camera crews from across the globe at one end of the square and various reporters were applying their make-up or dabbing the sweat from their brows as technicians plugged in things and waved cues. Behind all the the tributes coming from the front of the square were a selection of “Londoners are gathered …” and “back to you in the studio”. Reports were being filed in a number of languages via a fleet of satellite trucks being powered by noisy generators in the corner of Trafalgar Square. Maybe it’s because I was right beside the media as I couldn’t get further into the square but the chatter (and the smiles and laughing of some of the production staff) seemed inappropriate somehow. I hope they got their story.