Fri, Jul 29, 2005 - Page 9 News List

Fear creeps in

After the July 7 bombings, much was made of London's defiance. But now, the capital's mood seems less sure. Can things ever return to normal if nail bombs are planted in the local park?

By Tim Dowling  /  THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

The second attack changed all that. While the display of defiance probably peaked at the impromptu street party in Shepherds Bush Green, west London, which was brought to a halt after a bomb failed to go off on a nearby tube train, in retrospect this seemed like a slightly giddy reaction to what turned out to be an extremely close call. The half-certainties we had let ourselves adopt were shattered.

We had hoped that Britain contained a fairly limited supply of home-grown suicide bombers; it was even possible that the first four had been tricked into sacrificing their lives. We can discount that idea now.

Since July 21, carrying on as normal has become rather more difficult. No one was injured in the attacks, but I know people in Shepherds Bush who weren't allowed to go home for two days.

In Kilburn, in Tulse Hill and Stockwell -- parts of London previously enveloped in the safety of shaggy anonymity -- residents found the anti-terrorist operation had arrived on their doorsteps. If most of us have thus far escaped tragedy, few Londoners remain untouched by fear. Last Friday, the police shot an innocent Brazilian man in Stockwell station, and the potential for disaster expanded.

It's not enough to spot terrorists on the tube; you must take active steps to avoid looking like one. Watching events unfold on television (interspersed with long, defiant stretches of cricket), I had the sense of things getting unpleasantly close to home, and that was before someone left a nail bomb in the park where my children play. I know this hardly compares to the Blitz, in which 43,000 Londoners perished, but I still find the idea of exhibiting pluck in the circumstances oddly draining. I feel lucky, but I don't feel plucky.

When Inter Milan soccer club tried to cancel its UK tour last week, Livingstone's outraged response rang curiously hollow.

"The terrorists, I am sure, will be celebrating their decision," he said.

"We cannot allow the terrorists to change the way we live or they will be very close to their aim," he said.

Who in London hasn't changed the way they live, or had it changed for them? I don't know about you, but the other day I had to go through a police checkpoint to buy milk.

People have stopped taking rucksacks out with them. They've stopped riding on the top deck of the bus. When it was first reported that bicycle sales had doubled in the capital, the statistic was interpreted as a plucky response to a badly damaged transport network -- people were getting to and from work any way they could -- but it may well turn out that a certain percentage of commuters have forsaken the tube permanently.

Last Sunday, we were woken by the muffled crump of a controlled explosion. Although the bomb has been taken away, as I write this the police are still here and the park is still closed. I don't know whether I want them to stay or not. For the moment I live in unprecedented safety -- a veritable gated community -- but I must admit I'm now afraid; afraid that another attack is imminent, afraid of the idea of 3,000 armed police on the streets, afraid that London will never quite be the same again, afraid that my children will find out how afraid I am.

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