Tuesday 15 August 2023

A Close Shave (on 7 July 2005) by Christine Clark, espresso

 I was a bit late leaving the flat that Thursday morning. I wanted to be at UCL before 9.30 to see a fellow student about our research but what with one thing and another it was 8.30 before I got out. It didn’t help that my girlfriend Jess was going in later, not needed at Imperial - where she was doing her PhD - until after 10.

I gathered up my bag and wallet and ran out of the flat, calling goodbye to Jess. Running down the road I dashed into the Underground station and was lucky to get onto a train that had just pulled in. As the train hurtled south I gathered my thoughts together for the day, thinking through what I would discuss with my colleague, then how I’d attack the research I still needed to do for my new paper.

I usually got off the tube at Russell Square but that day, even though I was running a bit late, I got off at Kings Cross so that I could go via the Waitrose in Hunter Street to get a sandwich for my lunch.  After I’d bought my lunch I nipped though Handel Street and Kenton Street to Tavistock Place, where I made my way across the southern side of Tavistock Square towards UCL. Although thinking about my research, I was briefly distracted by the green oasis of the square and looked up for a moment at the blue sky through the green leaves of the plane trees. As I paused for a moment, appreciating the beauty of nature that was still possible in central London, I heard what sounded like a loud shot, following by a great roaring sound. At the same time there was a flash of light on the north side of the square, followed by billowing black smoke.

Other people were also surprised by the sound and sight, looking at each other in baffled query. I could see lots of people on the far side of the square running towards whatever had caused the noise and smoke. In a vain effort to help, I started to do the same then realised that by the time I got over there, there’d be so many people around, I’d just be in the way.

I continued on my way to the university, my mind in turmoil, wondering what I had witnessed. As I walked around Gordon Square and in to UCL, emergency vehicles flashed past towards the scene.

In the physics department, the explosion was the talk of the common room. Bad news travels fast and even so soon after the event, it seemed that people knew that a bomb had been detonated on a bus in Tavistock Square. Apparently this particular bus, the number 50, didn’t normally go through Tavistock Square but today it had been diverted, due to other incidents in the area. I was horrified to hear that there had also been bombs at Underground stations, including Russell Square - where I would normally have travelled to.

As I talked with my colleagues, each eager to relate how they had been close to or had a narrow escape from disaster, I realised that Jess had been leaving the flat after me and could have been caught up in it all. I rang her mobile and was relieved to hear that she was safe. She had got as far as the Underground station near to our home, but found it was closed due to the incidents, with no trains running in to central London, and so decided to go home and work there for the day. 

Hearing of this made me realise how near I’d been to being caught up in it all: how I normally passed through Russell Square station where today a bomb had been detonated and how I’d been in Tavistock Square – when a bus was bombed on the northern side – but safely on the southern side. This realisation of how close to danger I had been and how the news was starting to leak out prompted me to reach for my phone to let my mother know I was safe. I had just started to dial when the head of department entered the room to say quite emphatically that there was an embargo on any outgoing news until 11am.

At 11.01am my mother was at her desk, just starting to hear on the office grapevine that there had been several terrorist-related incidents in central London that morning. She’d hardly begun to realise that this was where I was when her phone rang. ‘Hi, Mum, it’s Jack. Just letting you know there have been some bombings in London this morning - but I am absolutely safe. Speak more tonight. Love you.’


About the author 

Christine is fairly new to creative writing. As a publishing editor she is far more used to messing about with other people’s work than writing her own. But she finds she loves writing and it is now her go-to creative outlet. Christine writes features, short stories and researches local history.


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