July 7th, 2005

grandma

London: Deja vu all over again

Something that those who deal in terror and oppression will never understand about the British...they look at the worst of the worst and deal, and the spirit of the British Empire is still alive. In WWI, the Germans bombed London from zeppellins, and British soldiers held the trenches against not just enemy fire but poison gas, in some of the most horrific conditions immaginable. In WWII, they stood up to Hitler, every last man, woman, and child, vowing never to surrender, despite blockades and the Blitz. (I was fortunate enough to know an old RAF guy who flipped buzz bombs over the channel, an action that required amazing nerve, having to pace it with your plane and come up with your wing under the buzz bomb's wing and gain altitude to flip it over. Dangerous? Hell, yes! But every one he flipped was one less bomb landing on British soil.) If you want an example that kind of capsulizes that spirit, go watch Zulu. Overwhelming odds? Hey, that just brings out the best in them.

I was in London in 1975 during what was dubbed "the Second Blitz" when the IRA was blowing things up all over. While I was there, a huge bomb was detonated in the lobby of the Hilton Hotel, killed people, and devastated the first floor of building. I talked to someone who said that, despite this, the hotel was still running---he had to go there on business, and said the Brits just stoically started clearing wreckage and setting up temporary areas to deal with day-to-day functioning. I was evacuated from public buildings, due to bomb threats, twice, searched in every subway and train station, and dealt with heightened security everywhere. Despite this, London and its residents operated not just stoically but cheerfully, though every incident of terror and inconvenience. They'll be serving the last of the tea in the ruins of civilization, I am convinced. Damn our leaders for dragging them into another fine mess. But if history is any indication, it's not going to be the terrorists who will come out on top.
  • Current Music
    Rule Britannia
spirit

Juxtapositions...

It's 1975, and I'm in London. A day or two before, the Hilton Hotel was bombed. The Tube has gone from amicable to strained, with people being searched as they get on the trains. I get singled out for special attention, since I am about the right height and weight and hair color to match the "Bomb Girl" being sought by the police. People relax when they hear an American accent.

We're at the Tower of London, which is still operating as normal. I'm telling my boyfriend all about the artillery pieces in the basement of the White Tower when he looks down and sees a bronze plaque. On this spot, a little over a year before, a bomb detonated and killed one person and injured a few dozen more. He freaks out. I point at a bronze artillery piece with a blown breach near us and say something to the effect of "And this probably took out several members of its cannon crew, when it blew. There is war all around us, here."

We take the Tube across the Thames to see the HMS Belfast. (The Tower Bridge is closed to all traffic because of the threat of terrorism.) And we are standing on the deck of this ironically-named WWII battle cruiser that supported the Normandy invasion when we see them: tall ships, coming down the Thames. Maybe a dozen of them. One by one, they pass us by, this largest gathering of tall ships in recent memory, passing under the Tower Bridge and down the Thames, heading for America. Heading for the Bicentennial.
  • Current Music
    God Save the Queen/My Country Tis of Thee