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The British retain their national characteristics in adversity

Despite the byline, this is being posted from London

The train and tube that I caught in to work this morning were significantly less crowded today than is usual – carrying maybe two thirds to three quarters the normal number of passengers. The atmosphere on the trains was pretty serious. People were sitting pretty still on the train with pretty serious faces and eyes even more than normally fixed on newspapers. The British air of “We are going about our business, damn it” stoicism came through pretty strongly. There were more police in London Bridge station than is usual. Advertising placards for the Evening Standard were rather incongrously still proclaiming “London’s Victory: How We Did It” or some such. These had been advertising the Wednesday edition of the paper (or perhaps the earliest Thursday edition) and rather unsurprisingly nobody had been selling the Thursday edition inside the station. They have probably been replaced by now with placards advertising the first Friday edition of the paper.

While standing on the Jubilee Line platform, the announcements were fairly normal, except that the standard, very mechanical sounding “Please make sure that you keep all packages and other personal possessions with you at all times” was replaced by a slightly more human announcement of “Obviously I don’t need to tell you that you should keep all packages and other personal possessions with you at all times”.

The large international bank I work for instituted very tight and very visible security for getting into the building after September 11. It was only two or three months ago that this was relaxed, but I found that the tight and visible security regime had returned this morning. I was required to show my company ID card several times before being able to reach my desk. Upon getting there, I found that about half of the people in the team I work for had come to work – several of the rest have logged into their work computers from home and are working remotely.

However, I hadn’t been at my desk long when an important piece of information flashed around – there was free food in the cafeteria. Management were making a friendly gesture to the employees who had made it in today, or something. I went down to the cafeteria and discovered that the number of people queueing for food and eating in the cafeteria was at least twice as long as it would be on a normal day, despite the number of people at work being much smaller than normal. Many of the people in the queue were no doubt millionaire investment bankers, but the opportunity to have free bacon and eggs was clearly not one to be sneezed at. The queue was long, but people remained in it patiently and good-humouredly. And I didn’t sneeze at it, having a helping of free bacon and eggs myself.

So, the British people have survived this terrorist attack in good shape. They are still stoic, very angry about the people who attacked their city (although it would be bad manners to show it directly), determined to go on with their lives, are still the great queueing culture they always were, and are still also profoundly cheap. I’m not British, but it makes me proud to be a Londoner.

39 comments to The British retain their national characteristics in adversity

  • I headed into work at about 7.15 this morning, and the crowds on the trains seemed about normal for that time. The Central Line from Bond Street to TCR was positively stuffed with people. If I didn’t know better, I would think nothing had happened yesterday.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Jackie is right, there seemed quite a normal feel this morning. I walked in to my office near Holborn since I did not feel in the mood to take the Tube.

    I will be interested to see what the forensic teams turn up in the next few days. In the meantime, I don’t really need to remind anyone who has to use public transport to be vigilant. If you see anyone lurking around stations taking digital pics, be wary of them and if necessary tell the police.

  • In Sweden, we are quite impressed by the way you manage to keep an stiff upper lip. Several comments on that in the Swedish blogosphere and media today.

  • pommygranate

    Thanks for that.
    Brits say G’Day or Hi not Buenos Dias

  • L.S

    British ^people shall overcome !The Terrorists are cowardly, Peace is brave !!!

  • The only odd thing I saw yesterday was a large amount of tourists (mostly American) mulling around Pimlico completely lost and dazed. Far more people were mulling about at 9pm than normally do.

  • The Guardian’s blog said that London had been “plunged into chaos” by the bombings. I am glad to read that you have survived the rioting, looting, general lawlessness and breakdown of community services such a “plunge” into chaos must have entailed.

  • Ben

    Cycled into work this morning. Drivers were being spookily polite.

    Good angry letter….. here.

  • The Wobbly Guy

    The train announcement was impressive! Dry British wit is always a classic.

    Glad to see the Londoners are taking things in stride.


  • I came into work today, in common with about 60% of the editorial team. Only about 5% of the ad sales team made it in, though…

    Not quite sure of the hidden meaning there, but I’m sure there is one.

  • Hurst

    Everyone in office this am, despite travel problems/trains etc all made it in BEFORE the usual starting time, everything back to normal Queue in the canteen & free food sounds like Citigroup to me…

  • steve

    “it makes me proud to be a Londoner.”

    It’s a great feeling knowing we survive and thrive whatever the mad ones do, that we have a lot of good things they’ll never have. But wherever you go from here, being a Londoner even for a short while is a great badge to take with you.

  • pommygranate

    Has anyone noticed the similarity between the BBC article
    (BBC) from World Affairs Correspondent, Paul Reynolds,

    Britain therefore remains in the front line, and the option of withdrawing from Iraq and minimising the risk of further attacks is not presently open to British voters. They have taken their decision and must accept the consequences.

    and the statement from the Socialist Workers’ Party

    (SWP), in particular

    The British government cannot avoid its responsibility for these terrible attacks, which are a consequence of its support for war and occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan. The best way to ensure that there are no more such terrible attacks is for British troops to be withdrawn from there immediately.

  • GCooper

    pommygranate writes:

    “Has anyone noticed the similarity between the BBC article
    (BBC) from World Affairs Correspondent, Paul Reynolds,…”

    Indeed and the BBC’s lunchtime news had already swung into full ‘Understand a Moslem’ mode.

    It’s good to see that some things in life don’t change.

  • The BBC are busy shaping people’s reaction to the bombings. As expected it’s along the lines of ‘if only we would withdraw from iraq, everyone would live us, those evil Americans had hoodwinked us’

    I’m spending a fun day firing off multiplt complaints at this editorial line to every BBC program I can find. Am I the only one?

  • Obviously one of fun things I’m not doing today is using a spellchecker 🙁

  • GCooper

    WillS writes:

    ” Am I the only one?”

    I’ve more or less given up complaining to the BBC. The only useful thing one can do is campaign for the removal of the licence fee. It is simply too under the control of Hampstead thinkers for there to be any possibility of change.

  • John Kovalic’s cartoon speculates about the reason for British resolve in the face of adversity.

  • John J. Coupal

    Regarding that letter…

    “Don’t mess with the Brits” will become as popular as “Don’t mess with Texas” is in the states.

  • Jimmy Espy

    One of the cable news stations here went with BBC coverage of the bombing, including a panel discussion featuring Tony Benn. His comments were hideous. What a disgusting man!

  • Verity

    Well, we can all breathe a giant sigh of relief! Fungus-face has called a “summit” of the 25 members of the EU in Brussels on Wednesday to discuss the British bombings. Dear god! Is he really that obtuse – taking swift action to call a talking shop – or is this all part of the EU integration programme? (Link) This beggars belief. What the hell are the other 24 members going to contibute? Oh, and it was suggested by some suck-up little Spaniard. But anything’s better than addressing the real issue.

  • guy herbert

    Well, the Victoria line down to Vauxhall Cross and back (travelling in the rush hour for once) was practically empty except for more police than usual. Perhaps Whitehall was not going about business as usual.

    Some evidence of that at the other end. Two very bored armed police officers stationed on the doorstep of the SIS building with the usual rather puffed-up security guards peeking from behind the fortified gates instead of loitering on the kerb in dark glasses.

  • Verity

    And just think, if we adopt some of Spain’s methods, we could have hundreds dead rather than “just” (you know what I mean, God rest their souls) 47. Dear god!

  • GCooper

    Jimmy Edpy writes:

    “…including a panel discussion featuring Tony Benn. His comments were hideous. What a disgusting man!”

    He really is. Far from being the ‘benign elder statesman’ his fans try to portray him as, he is, in fact, a raving egomaniac.

    Fortunately, his arrogance and stupidity were matched during his brief spell in office only by his laughable incompetence.

  • Verity

    Gosh, sounds a lot like Tony Blair.

  • guy herbert

    What are you getting at, Verity? I’m a notorious opponent of ID cards, but even I don’t think that it was Spain’s ID card system that made the Madrid bombings worse than the London ones.

    It was that the terrorists had more bombs, not the Spanish system of governance or Dago fecklessness that made the Madrid bombings worse. And the Spanish, too, coped with the occasion competently and with dignity.

  • GCooper

    guy herbert writes:

    ” And the Spanish, too, coped with the occasion competently and with dignity.”

    I’m not sure I understand that remark. Surely you don’t include the election result? In all other resepcts, of course, I agree.

  • Verity

    “And the Spanish, too, coped with the occasion competently and with dignity.”

    Certainly, if asking the Muslim bombers how high you should jump counts as dignity. They voted their Coalition of The Willing prime minister out and voted pacifist Mr Shoemaker in, if I got that right.

    As we have far more experience of bombing and terror than any other country in Europe – or indeed the world with the exception of Israel, of course – what on earth are the Spanish, the Greeks, those aggressive Swedes, the Dutch, the Italians blah blah blah going to bring to this money-wasting discussion??? What is the bloody point?

    We take in all these bloody terrorists because the Europeans don’t want them on their soil, and now we are going to ask if anyone has some good ideas for defeating them? How about sending them all across the Channel and letting the Europeans deal with it themselves, without Fungusface having to waste the time of 21 other delegates, 21 simultaneous interpreters, 21 translator/typists to type up the notes in the speaker’s original language plus 21 other languages, several chefs, 10 or 12 waiters and an army of people to vacuum the carpets after they’ve all gone. And think of the carbon points they’ll save!

    If Fungusface wants a meeting, let him meet with the Israelis. Ha ha ha ha ha! He wouldn’t dare! They are too determined! They see too clearly! No Kumbayah and no trying to “understand root causes” at the Israeli Ministry of Defence, that’s for sure!

  • London has done us all proud. This is a perfect illustration of the sheer bloody-mindedness with which you are going about your business.

    Horrified to read the Time leader today though. They seem to have sold out completely – have some thoughts on it here:


  • zmollusc

    I hope the police’s newly found enthusiasm for ‘carrying on in the face of adversity’ will extend to their treatment of traffic incidents and they will cease to close both carriageways for hours upon the slightest pretext.

  • Verity

    The Telegraph’s ex-editor Charles Moore is always good value, but his piece today is just excellent.(Link)
    He tackles head on the question of why so many Islamic spokesmen in Britain fear to condemn violence against the West in absolute terms – and comes to some interesting conclusions … A very good read.

  • guy herbert

    Certainly, if asking the Muslim bombers how high you should jump counts as dignity. They voted their Coalition of The Willing prime minister out and voted pacifist Mr Shoemaker in, if I got that right.

    It’s not very clear that was the mechanism. Aznar wasn’t hugely popular before. Then he tried to fit the bombings into his own political agenda.

    As we have far more experience of bombing and terror than any other country in Europe…

    Not sure that’s true. Not far more. Spain has had quite a lot; the British mainland relatively little compared with Northern Ireland, which should probably be counted separately because it is culturally and physically separate, even if politically connected.

    Likewise, I wouldn’t adduce the terror war of the mafia against the Italian state as being part of the Italian national experience. But they have some too: the Bologna station bomb eclipses most of the IRA’s efforts on the mainland.

  • Julian Morrison

    An interesting question: compare and contrast the British and USA reactions – treating the bombing as crime versus treating it as war. Will this way be more effective?

  • GCooper

    guy herbert writes:

    “It’s not very clear that was the mechanism. Aznar wasn’t hugely popular before….”

    Though no one would suggest you aren’t entitled to your own opinion, I think it’s fair to say that this is not one which is very widely shared.

    Most commentators seem of the opinion that, while it is true the Spanish government made a terrible mistake in the aftermath of the Madrid bombings, the Spanish vote was a reflexive panic.

    This is not necessarily unique to the Spanish. Sadly, that sort of moral weakness is quite common in the UK, too and, I don’t doubt, other countries.

  • Verity

    Guy Herbert – I recall that Aznar was ahead by several points and was widely predicted to be, if not a shoo-in, at least a fairly easy success.

    After the Madrid bombings, the Spanish panicked and capitulated completely and cravenly. This was sickening not just because they allowed themselves to be bullied by Stone Age fascists, but because they also fled from their duty to support their commitment to the Coalition of The Willing.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Verity, I agree with the broad thrust of your remarks today but just to point out that Italy had its fair share of Mafia-related killings and Red Brigade outrages; Germany had the Baader Meinhoff issue, Spain has had decades of ETA violence, and there have been incidents in France, some of which were connected to events in Algeria. Of course it is true that Britain had the 30-year and more experience of dealing with the IRA.

    Another thing we ought to bear in mind is activities of Greenie terrorists such as the animal “rights” crowd. I trust and hope the authorities are less indulgent of these creeps in future.

  • pkg

    I hate to alter this love fest in any way, but the Brits can afford to act “stoic” and unconcerned because they have the Americans to do their fighting for them. Spare us any more of your self-serving prattle and send a few more regiments to Iraq. Not to peaceful Basra, but to the Syrian border where there’s a little danger. And please don’t whine incessantly like you did when we asked you to stay on the sidelines during last November’s Fallujah offensive.

  • Sir Jimbob

    Tell you what pkg,

    Why don’t we just fuck off out of Iraq and leave you lot to fight your war on your own? I’d hate to convenience it with our contribution getting in the way…