We're not all doomed

'London has survived worse than an assault by Osama bin Laden or Ken Livingstone. The Great Plague. The Great Fire. The Blitz...'
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The Independent Online

This column is being written in a bomb-proof shelter, deep underground somewhere in West Wiltshire, so you can tell how well prepared I am for any military or terrorist action against London. When I tell you that I made this move more than 10 years ago, you can see that I am not the kind of person who hangs around waiting for the Government to hand out advice. And as the Government still seems in no mood to tell anyone what is going on, I feel I ought to step into the breach myself today and answer all your questions on what to do if the balloon goes up.

This column is being written in a bomb-proof shelter, deep underground somewhere in West Wiltshire, so you can tell how well prepared I am for any military or terrorist action against London. When I tell you that I made this move more than 10 years ago, you can see that I am not the kind of person who hangs around waiting for the Government to hand out advice. And as the Government still seems in no mood to tell anyone what is going on, I feel I ought to step into the breach myself today and answer all your questions on what to do if the balloon goes up.

For a start, will the Government continue to function if London comes to a standstill?

Lord bless you, London came to a standstill years ago. And the Government ceased to function at about the same time.

Is that true?

Very nearly. What in fact happened was that the Government was forced to adopt emergency survival plans years ago when it was clear that London could be taken over by a ruthless, self-seeking tyrant.

Saddam Hussein?

No. Ken Livingstone.

And what did the Government do about it?

They decided to move out of London into a highly secret, well defended retreat and run things from there.

Where is that?

It's highly secret.

Yes, but where is it?

Does the name Chequers mean anything to you?

Ah, it's at Chequers, is it?

No. I am purposely misleading you.

Oh. But if London is hit by an assault even worse than Ken Livingstone's, how can life ever continue as normal?

People seem to think that London has never faced crises before, but the city has survived even worse things in the past. The Great Plague. The Great Fire. The Blitz. The 1745 uprising...

Hold on a moment – Bonnie Prince Charlie never got as far as London!

I know, but the inhabitants of the capital thought he would, and the whole of London cleared out just in case – the Government and everyone. They were terrified. Bonnie Prince Charlie was the Osama bin Laden of his day, and the Highlanders were the al-Qa'ida. If only Charlie had dashed on from Derby with his army, he would have found London empty, and history would have been very different.

How different?

Well, for a start, English national dress would have been banned by the Scottish conqueror and native English music would have been wiped out.

But there IS no English national dress! And English music HAS been wiped out!

That's where the English are so clever. They have nothing of their own to be proud of, so they can never be deprived of it.

Mmmm... How did London survive the Great Fire? They must have lost a lot in the Great Fire, surely?

Yes, but it was all old and worn out already. The Great Fire was actually a fantastic chance to rebuild London with a modern city layout.

And did they take it?

Heavens, no. The British have always liked to muddle through. Big plans are not their kind of thing. A well laid out capital city with easily moving traffic would freak out the British. Think what happened to the French.

What happened to the French?

Well, 150 years ago they rebuilt Paris with big, wide avenues, so that it could be controlled by the army.

And did it work?

Yes. The German army had no trouble at all in 1940.

I see. So what was the big plan for London after the Great Fire?

Christopher Wren went to the authorities with a brilliant plan for an underground railway from Cheapside to Westminster. But it was turned down.

On what grounds?

Cruelty to horses. They asked him to build a useless show cathedral instead. That's why he put his own bitter memorial epitaph on St Paul's, in Latin: Si monumentum requiris, circumspice.

What does that mean?

"If you're looking for Monument Tube station, it's over there, mate."

Well, we didn't have enough space for really practical advice, I'm afraid, but tomorrow we tell you how you can keep your life running smoothly even in the worst scenario. Meanwhile, keep your wits about you and don't give up your seat on the Tube to a man with a beard. Or a woman with a beard. Or anyone.

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