Friday, July 08, 2005
The London bombings
In the summer of 1981 at the end of my judicial clerkship, one of my departing co-clerks and I bummed around the UK for a few weeks. We rented a car, acclimated ourselves with some difficulty to driving on the left sides of the roads, and made a long, lazy loop from London to Cardiff to Inverness and back. Our car broke down in a village just north of the Scottish-English border where we spent a very pleasant weekend waiting for required repair parts. We strolled everywhere and nowhere in particular. We hung out; we chilled. We drank and made friends with the locals at the pub over which our modest bed-and-breakfast lodgings were located. I remember that we were hugely amused by the large variety of American country western songs on the pub's jukebox; but beer is indeed the universal solvent, and as Texans we both knew enough of those songs so that we could sing along quite a bit with the locals, which they found hugely amusing. Our car was duly fixed on the following Monday, and our trip resumed. But then years later, in 1988, I was horrified, made sick to my stomach, to hear that little town's name — Lockerbie — on the news when Pan Am Flight 103 was blown up over and crashed down into it.
I returned to Britain with my new bride on our honeymoon in 1985. Another rent car, another drive up through England and Scotland. We arrived in Edinburgh as a rainstorm was ending, and to my dying day I'll remember the perfect, perfectly rare, intense double-rainbow we saw hanging over High Street — as if not just Scotland and its people were welcoming us, but their magic was too.
I was back in London in 1990 to present for videotape depositions the top executives of a British client I was defending in a Texas lawsuit. A partner and I had arranged to combine some pleasure with business by bringing our wifes and scheduling an intervening weekend between the depo prep sessions and the depositions themselves. Thus it was that on Saturday, March 31, 1990, my wife and I decided to attend an afternoon matinee performance of Miss Saigon in the West End. Even in our crummy seats in the theater's very back row, we were suitably affected by the play's wonderful, loud, scary special effects — explosions, gunshots, smoke, crowds, marchers, the helicopter landing on the roof of the embassy — and swept up in the play's fabulous music and strong emotions. When the matinee ended around dusk, we exited the theater to find ourselves instantly engulfed, to our extreme bewilderment and considerable fear, in the largest and most violent riot to take place in modern times in Britain. (We later learned that they were called the Poll Tax Riots, and they became a major part in ending Maggie Thatcher's long tenure as Prime Minister.) Immediately outside the theater's doors, we were almost trampled by a crowd of shouting, running protesters; and when we looked back to see what they were running from, we saw a phalanx of riot-geared Bobbies advancing toward us shield-to-shield at a fast trot. So we ran too — past overturned, burning luxury cars and smashed shop windows, past bloody-nosed sign-holders sprawled in the street, through non-SFX smoke and debris. It just seemed so surreal, so very wrong — this chaos and violence in the stately, wonderful London we loved! In fact, it seemed far more unreal than the play we'd just seen, and we couldn't willingly suspend our disbelief for London. We moved at right angles to the crowds and eventually, after we got out of the riot area, we finally were able to hail and sink into the welcoming, reassuringly dull comfort of a London taxicab, and thence we safely returned to our very nice hotel in Mayfair. Over a room service supper, we watched the last throes of the riot simultaneously on the telly and through our room's windows overlooking Hyde Park.
I'm an clear-eyed but unabashed Anglophile. My respect and affection for the Brits is boundless. My gratitude and appreciation for the special relationship between our countries has grown throughout my life. Every trip I've made there, whether I've been in busy London or sleepy Lockerbie, it's felt like "home" in a way that no other country but my own has done. And so watching the televised coverage of the terrorist-created carnage there during the last two days, I've once again felt heartsick, and absolutely inadequate in trying to formulate my condolences, or to express my sorrow for the dead and injured, my admiration for the rescuers, my solidarity with the citizenry. But I had to at least try, and hence this post. Maybe it's unbecoming for a private citizen, a grown man in far-away Texas, to say to a whole 'nuther country and its people, "I love you, and I'm awfully sorry for what's just happened." But that's what I feel like saying, and there you have it.
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(1) LazyMF made the following comment | Jul 8, 2005 7:54:51 PM | Permalink
Frank Dobie couldn't have said it better.
This book should be on-deck on your nightstand.
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