Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Coming Up For Air

I found this diary entry by accident a few years ago. It was in my book where I had all of my notes for my dissertation that I'd written a couple of years earlier.


Four weeks ago, I was in a car going from Oxford to Henley-on-Thames for my first real Orwell "pilgrimage". I was in the middle of rereading Coming Up For Air, and [my partner] had just finished reading it for the first time. On the way to Henley, I got a phone call from my mother: "Don't drive through Central London, there have been some bombs." Bombs? When we watched the news that morning, they just said there had been a power surge. So we turned on the radio and yes. Three bombs on the Underground, the top of a bus blown right off, twenty-something people dead, witness after witness, chaos upon chaos. Bloody hell, I thought. This is a bit too Coming Up For Air.

I turned the radio off, [my partner] pulled into the car park, and we sat in silence for a minute. "I don't think we expected it to be quite so Coming Up For Air," he said. No. It was scary and weird.

I'd hoped the trip would evoke all of the nostalgia that Orwell, through the character of George Bowling, felt about his childhood in Henley ("Lower Binfield"), which he remembered "always in sunny weather". The day we visited the town it was on-off rain. Windy rain that makes it hard to hold an umbrella up, and put me in a snappy, irritable mood. This wasn't the Golden Country I'd expected.

The year after the attacks, I went to Queen Mary's Gardens in Regent's Park before I went to work. I wouldn't have felt right going to any of the memorial events that were happening that day, but this one thing - the public being invited to place purple carnations in a mosaic template - felt different. It felt like a small way of paying my respects and showing my empathy without being intrusive. I got there at 8am and they were just setting up. A woman with brown hair and a kind smile gave me a carnation and I placed it in the mosaic. I watched for a while, and then I went to work.

Throughout the day, people placed these carnations and the mosaic took shape, becoming a giant flower with seven petals. In the evening, there was a service where relatives of those killed in the attacks placed yellow gerberas in the centre of the giant flower.

Yvonne Nash, whose fiance Jamie Gordon died in the attacks, read the e. e. cummings poem, i carry you in my heart, at the memorial service in Regent's Park in 2006. Her friend, Lucy Smail, had designed the floral tribute. 

Yellow gerberas will also be laid today in Hyde Park as people think about the people who died, those who lived through that morning, and the loved ones who have been bereaved. 

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