Deborah Orr: London's pride

Grittiness? Courage? Or self-dramatising vanity? Whichever, the current surge of collective positive feeling will help the capital to heal itself
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The Independent Online

Someone took a photograph of the No 30 bus, 30 seconds after it was blown up. People are, amazingly, standing up on the top deck, looking relatively unscathed, and only mildly bemused. "Outright terror," it says on the side of the vehicle. "Bold and brilliant."

Was this some addled psychopath bigot's idea of irony? Or was it just a nasty little coincidence that the bus was advertising a film that aimed to stimulate the viewer into an enjoyable state of consequence-free crypto-fear? Such advertisements are around all the time, of course, for London is a capital that demands at all times to be entertained, and in the finest of style.

Some commentators have hazarded that the red double-decker was chosen by the terrorists because it is a symbol of London's individual and unique urban look, recognised around the world. In the unlikely event that this was the case, then perhaps the insouciant quotation is oddly apposite - a piece of blitz-surviving London bravado, that says to the cowardly, shadowy, cringing, enemy: "Bring it on."

Already, as I write, a little more than 24 hours after the bombings, London is getting back to normal. The trains are running and the buses are running, almost as if nothing had happened on Thursday. Even the Underground, inhabited by its resilient staff of troglodyte workers, who two days ago were leading the wounded out of smoke-filled tunnels lit by mobile phones, is operating a not-so-limited service.

Good. I love the Underground (it's a mass transit system that really works for a large, dense, roving population) and didn't think for a minute yesterday of refraining from using it. In that respect, I'm a stereotypical example of the stereotypical Londoner who in the face of attack, gets on with it, living testament to the spirit that says, in the words of that London lad among lads, Tony Parsons: "London can take it!"

But it wasn't, actually, business as usual, even for business. The attacks on Thursday sent share prices diving. No doubt, after the terror of losing a few quid wore off a bit, the market managed to rally. But not before the City had let the side down.

It wasn't business as usual for Barnaby at Brixton Cycles, either. He arrived at this institution of a south London co-operative bike shop yesterday morning, to find people queuing round the block to get their machines mended, firm in the resolve that they would never set foot on the Tube again.

Have they let the side down too? No. Thank God that some people feel that way. Because, admirable as London's show of resilience may be, sometimes it can seem simply like callousness or arrogance. Yesterday, for example, my brother and I (provincials still after more than 30 years between us in the capital) were lectured by a born Londoner - something like a cradle Catholic, but more messianic - about our "over-reaction" to the attacks.

The argument went that he himself had been schooled as a child in living with terrorism, through all the years of mainland bombing by the IRA, while we simple folks from the highlands of Lanarkshire had not become suitably hardened to atrocity. In real terms, he argued, the death toll on Thursday was not so very great, since in a city the size of London 73 people die every day in accidents involving baths.

Shocking as the uncompromising statement of this pragmatic view might be, and heedless of the pain of the injured or traumatised as it most certainly is, there is also a sort of truth to it. London is so very big that it can absorb a huge amount of trauma. In New York or even in Madrid, the number of dead was such that many people would know someone personally touch-ed by disaster. Even with so many dead in London, that critical mass is far from being reached.

Anyway, the fact is that compared to the dreaded terror attacks most Londoners have entertained in the dark recesses of their imaginations - shimmering clouds of poison gas drifting across the capital, leaving hundreds of thousands gasping in their wake - this one was not so bad.

This sort of tough, metropolitan logic, whereby the suffering of Thursday becomes almost a blessing rather than a curse, is the flip side to all that plucky Londoner stuff. It's the point at which our sophistication becomes triumphalism, and Londoners start sounding like cult members, or inhabitants of a Greek city state who are a law unto themselves.

London is so full of sensation and stimulation, that the city is addictive. It's almost a condition of living here that you crave stimulation, excitement, narrative, experience. Much has been written about how this has been an extraordinary week for London, with Live8, the war memorials, winning the Olympic bid, then the atrocities of Thursday. But, there were still more extraordinary things to do here - from sitting on Hampstead Heath and picnicking under a ludicrous giant table, to attending Gay Pride.

There's always something weird or intense going on, and the attacks are part of that - in a grotesque and ugly way. There will be some people who will move out of London now, frightened for their families in a city that can sometimes seem out of control.

There will be others though, who view this latest incursion into city life as some kind of fiery baptism or test of urbanity. The latter may not be respectful or admirable. But it is part of the hyped-up kick of living in London.

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