quaker fencer

kathz isn't quite my name. I may be a Quaker. If I'm a fencer I'm a bad one and I don't do sabre. If I'm a Quaker I'm a bad one - but you've worked that out already. Read on. Comment if you like. Don't expect a reply.

Location: United Kingdom

Friday, July 07, 2006


A year ago I stood on the platform of my small local station, some way from London, and wondered why there weren't any trains.

The commuters indulged in usual grumbles about the privatised railway system. "Lost drivers", "lost trains", "wrong type of sun", we suggested as we shared anecdotes and excuses for cancelled trains. The man in the booking office knew nothing.

A new arrival talked of a gas-blast in London, of tubes and buses exploding. I rang home. My daughter checked the news. I rang work. "I might be very late indeed," I said.

Big inter-city routes were closed but cross-country trains were running. I was only four hours late. I may live in the Midlands now but by birth I'm a Londoner. Londoners don't stop for bombs. Mum lived through the Blitz. I remember the 1970s, when I.R.A. bombs and bomb-scares were a way of life. Sometimes I'd feel a quick chill in my stomach but I kept on as normal, so far as I could. When buildings were emptied by the bomb-squad, I shivered and joked outside. Londoners shared a gallows humour.

The King's Cross underground fire in 1987 came closest to unnerving me, perhaps because I'd left London. I dreamt of the man no-one knew. Sometimes I picture his modelled face as I use the rebuilt escalator.

When last summer's bombs came, I knew how to act. At work I confirmed I'd travel to London the following week. I paused at the posters asking for news of the dead - and then walked on. I got on with my work. At the one-week anniversary I stood on the pavement of the Euston Road as traffic stopped. A multitude of languages and accents hushed. The lights changed. We shook ourselves, acknowledged our neighbours and returned to life. One story of London is a tale of disasters survived.

I'm not in London today. I didn't observe the two-minute silence. I'll leave commemoration to the bereaved and survivors. I wasn't close to death. I stood on a platform, heard the news and was anxious. In global terms, the bombs in London weren't a major catastrophe, though that doesn't cut the suffering of those involved.

Commemoration by silence has become a regular event. What is the silence for? In Quaker Meetings I use the silence to listen. It helps me face the future with courage. But why this public silence now?

Last month Britain had its first annual veterans' day. The 25th anniversary of the Falklands War will be marked by state-run national rejoicing. There's a competition for the longest-lived survivor of World War I with the prize of a state funeral in Westminster Abbey. Government bulletins don't urge fortitude but tell us we're not scared enough.

I'm a Londoner. I don't scare easily. In time of trouble I don't dwell on grief or demand protection. The bombers and the government want me to be afraid. One day, I may be. But for now I'll just carry on.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Kathy,
What you say here is so true to me. The whole society we live in seems to be full of fear and the media persists in trying to make us more fearful. If its not terrorism, its bird flu, or the way we live our lives, our weight, our hobbies, even now our happiness. I can't think of much scarier than having my happiness levels monitored and 'improved' by government or media.

12:13 pm  
Blogger Elizabeth McClung said...

I think the bombs were compelling because so many people throughout Britian go so often to london - we had been in that station a week before the bombs.

But I think, like many in Britian, the news that there would be metal detectors or pat downs was a nice joke - anyone who has been on the underground knows that the stuffing of masses of people in and out of all the tunnels and escalators doesn't accomadate delay. A little risk of death versus a constant delay - no question how londoners would vote.

12:13 am  
Blogger quakerdave said...

I understand the "moment of silence" thing, but here, it has almost ttally lost all meaning. It's one reason why first-time attenders at Meeting for Worship get all antsy after a while: been there, done that.

My perspective is that, when it comes to violence - all violence - we have been silent for too long.

4:14 am  
Blogger kathz said...

I've been back to London in the past week - there was no anxiety at all about the threat of terrorism - just people getting on with everything as usual. I'm in Scotland now and shan't manage to post until I'm back on Tuesday. I even missed fencing last Wednesday so I'm feeling a desperate need to stab someone.

3:10 pm  

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