On the morning of the bombings I had been sleeping when the telephone rang out three times and stopped. This short unanswered punch into my sleep dragged me from the safety of my slumber and delivered me into the arms of the chaos that was unfolding on my television. The scenes of injured, bloody people lying debilitated on the pavement in London. The terrorists had drawn their new front line right through the gardens, homes, schools, streets and straight through the hearts of every man, woman and child of this city.
For the many years of my childhood and recent life I grew up with London having the image that it was a magically big, creaking and harmless old giant, a city with vibrancy, each smell dynamic, every language new, all faces different and unique but not this terrifying monster that I was seeing now.
People in London had subconsciously been anticipating terrorist attacks since 9/11 and with the ever increasing activities in Iraq, tension about security had heightened but that didn’t stop London going about its business, staying positive about every day life, this incessant spirit is what connects people to this giant city. The day after the bombings it was of no surprise to me that London picked itself up and carried on defiantly.
London didn’t have the shocking impact that the pictures from 9/11 had, or the political upheavals that the Madrid bombings triggered, but as the identities of the bombers came to light, the unbelievable fact that not only were the attackers suicide bombers (a first in Western Europe) but that they were young disenchanted men who were a product of British society.
As a kid I had lived in the cosmopolitan borough of Hackney, which was one of the poorest places to live in Western Europe. London was like a fantasy place for me, everything amazing. At school, the children who attended had stories that were as if conjured from the tongues of great storytellers. One friend, a Vietnamese refugee, had fled his country during the later stages of the infamous war, on a boat with his family. During transit they were spotted and shot at by the Khmer Rouge, apart from my friend and his two brothers, the whole family died, leaving the brothers to drift along in the boat for three days, feigning death, lying amongst the bodies of his dead relatives until they found safety. Later on it was London that gave them a home, security and a future. Stories of this magnitude and staggering humanity are commonplace in this city, which plays host to 300 different languages and ethnicities.
Now finding myself thousands of miles away in Iceland with incidents still escalating in London, I stop and look at my new hosts directly in the eyes. I have found that Icelanders tend to generally have a knack of staring at you so intensely you can feel the holes burning through the back of your head as they are working out which country you are from, but normally as soon as I open my mouth and the slur of my English accent sprouts forth, I am always greeted with the greatest of warm smiles and a huge handshake. More recently since the tragic events, people have been much warmer towards me, giving their condolences and support. A friend of mine pointed out to me that London is in some ways closer to the heart of Icelanders now than to any other foreign place, even above Copenhagen, with many big Icelandic businesses, students and travellers regularly being based in London, it is a special place to a lot of my new friends.
Looking through the local papers the biggest thing hitting the headlines at the moment are subjects akin to “…Guðmundur catches 13lb salmon”, this in contrast to “…suspected suicide bomber taken out on tube by police”, in London, seems rather dull but reassuringly so.