Friday, March 31, 2006

The rallying cry!

Last night the BBC added its voice to the call for a public inquiry into the July bombings. They lead with the story on the news at 10. Frank Gardener clearly spelt out the message.

Surely the government cannot keep hiding from this, burying their heads in the sand. This is bigger than politics, it’s not about blame, it’s about learning from mistakes and saving innocent lives.

As long as it is political then the focus will be on apportioning blame. I will not feel any safer on the tube if heads roll at MI5. If I believe that the government are digging deep to uncover the truth and are endeavoring to understand how we came to this, only then will the fear subside.

This is about how and why, not who and what. It’s about truth not politics.

We have already been lied to. Mohammed Sidique Khan and his friends were NOT ‘clean skins’. This blatant mistruth seems to have been forgotten by both politicians and the media. Even with my far from functioning powers of recollection, it is still very much in the forefront of my mind.

They KNEW about them, they were BUGGING Khan. He was not known for ‘petty fraud’. Since when do fraudsters hone their skills in training camps in Pakistan? This arse covering needs to stop. We need to hear the truth.

How is it possible to learn and move forward if the facts are hidden. Lives were lost others were destroyed, we were innocent victims in a game of power. The war in Iraq has fed a breeding ground of hatred and anger, we are fuelling the fire.

Innocent lives are not political pawns with which to gamble. It is the public’s lives which are at risk, hence we have a right to know how and why. There is only route which leads to this destination. An INDEPENDENT public inquiry.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Last night something amazing happened

I am beginning to feel that life is finally moving beyond the bomb. There is a certain sense of calm after the storm in the air. Everything built itself up into a crescendo last week, a bubbling storm of emotions. Today I am almost beginning to find some unoccupied space in my mind. There are small rumblings of ‘what was my life before all this’. I hope it means that some archiving has taken place, the frantic processing of my brain over the last months is beginning to succeed, some files have been put away and stored in my memory.

It may just be that the office is quiet today & I have had some space to breathe. Whatever it is I have not felt it for a long long time.

In order for you to comprehend the profundity of the words I heard last night I will need to paint you some context. I have a very dear friend who suffers from paranoid schitzophrenia. He has been sectioned in a secure psychiatric hospital for the last three and a half years. Prior to that he was in and out of hospital for a painful two years.

Well, it has all been painful, for everyone involved. It is a tragic waste of a wonderful life and I always well up when I really let myself thing about what he has been through. He has handled it all with such dignified patience, whilst never giving up and refusing to become institutionalized. I have done my best for him, although it is wearing at times. I call him every morning on my way to work to make sure he gets up, otherwise he would just sleep all day, anything to avoid the boredom and monotony of that place. I speak to him most evenings and tell him about my day, hear about his and try and make him feel that he still has a connection with the outside world. I used to go and visit him every Sunday, we had to sit in a small room together with hard uncomfortable seats. He would bring his little battery run radio in to try and make it feel more homely. Often I would be tired and hungover. I would turn up with Coke and junk food and try and eat my way through my alcohol poisoning.

Then they started letting him out on leave. At first he would have to be accompanied by a ‘nurse’. The two of them would come round to my flat for Sunday lunch. The nurse would sometimes join in but usually try and make himself inconspicuous, which is nigh impossible in a one bedroom flat. Now he is allowed out on his own. He alternates between mine and his mum’s on a Sunday. Sometimes I invite friends to help him find his feet in the social world, other days it is just the two of us. I always cook up a feast and he laughingly gives me marks out of ten for my efforts.

He seems well, he looks well, you would never know. But there has still been a deep barrier which he has refused to overcome. It is not on display for anyone to see but occasionally I catch a painful glimpse. When he is ill he suffers from paranoid delusions. He has always been in denial of his illness, always battled against it. He thinks the world is out to get him, that it is all a plot to get him put away, when he is at his worst he thinks he is a Judge, he tells me how he has spoken at the United Nations in New York, in medical terms they call it ‘an inflated sense of ego’ I never quite know how to react to these extraordinary claims.

The fascinating, but painful, part is that once he becomes well some of the delusions remain as a reality in his mind. Only the other day he was reminiscing about a shirt he used to own. ‘I loved that shirt’ he said, ‘but Dr Jones broke into my flat and stole it’. He has always been convinced that his doctor was hounding him, coming into his home at night, stealing his things, reporting him to the authorities and getting him sectioned. His doctor was useless, I can see why he disliked the man, but he truly wasn’t interested in his clothes! He somehow seems to know when he has gone too far and quietly adds ‘You don’t believe me do you?’. I have never worked out the right response to this. If I say ‘No’ we end up arguing, if I say ‘Yes’, surely I am encouraging him.

Last night he told me his doctor was really pleased with his progress. During his ward round he had told him that he had come on enormously over the last few months. Tentatively I asked him what the doctor thought had changed. He has a tendency to clam up on me when I start probing into his illness and his recovery, but sometimes I manage to coax him into opening up for a second. He said that the doctor was pleased with the work he has been doing with his psychologist. ‘Sometimes’, he said, ‘I have to realise that the things I remember from when I was ill may be slightly distorted, I may not remember them properly’.

I nearly fell off my sofa and tried to answer calmly. TWO hurdles in one hit! He has not only understood how his memory may have been affected, but he has spoken it out loud, to me, he has accepted it.

And now that secure denial from where all his problems stem has begun to wilt…..‘when I was ill’….’when I was ill’…I have to keep saying it over, I can’t believe he said it. How did she open that lock, what has happened to ‘there’s nothing wrong with me’?…’when I was ill’, I am crying with joy as I type, he said it, he knows, he is winning, we all are.

Where does the buck stop??

I have taken up my gripe with the 7th July Assistance Centre as I’m afraid their letter really wound me up.

This was my response…….

'Dear (it was addressed to the person who had written to me),

I too spoke at the London Assembly. It was a tough day but extremely
worthwhile. It felt, for me, like the first time anyone was really
listening to us.

There were obviously many issues which were raised on Thursday which
covered a variety of government services. We have heard that the Police
are planning to implement some points immediately having heard our
testimony. We have also received a letter from Tessa Jowell (as you
know) inviting us to a meeting with her department and the Metropolitan
Police. We have been told that Transport for London found Thursday
extremely useful and are going to report back with any changes which
they may implement.

All of these reactions have been positive and proactive and have made
all who spoke feel that it was a worthwhile experience.

I am afraid that the only response to the day which I found rather
underwhelming was the one from yourself. It seemed to be somewhat
defensive in its tone, the message which came across was that you
already knew about the shortcomings and the lack of police list was not
your fault. This may well be the case, however it is avoiding the very
purpose of the review committee which was to identify learnings which
could be taken on board having heard the testimonies on the day.

I would be very happy to come and meet with you, however,I feel that what I said on the day was pretty self explanatory.
I do feel that a more proactive way forward would be for the 7 July
Support Centre to propose changes which they are going to implement as
a result of the testimonies, you could then issue these in draft form to everyone with whom you are in touch and ask for feedback. Once you have collated the feedback we could then meet and discuss these ideas rather than going over old ground which is all we would be doing if we met now.

I would also like to add that it seems only 3 of us from Kings Cross
who spoke on the day have received the letter from yourself, and many
people (who have been regularly in touch with the centre) have not
received the letter from Tessa Jowell.

I am afraid that none of this fills me with much confidence that
learnings are being taken on board.

I look forward to hearing from you.'

She replied thus……

‘Thank you for your email. (another name here) is the project manager on the 7 July Assistance Centre and he would be very happy if you wanted to get in touch with direct - I have copied him in.

Best wishes,’

Well, she hadn’t copied him in. Oh the efficiency……It seemed to me to be yet more buck passing. Where does it stop? Eventually she managed it & today I received this……….

'Dear Holly

I am writing in response to your e-mail to (original person’s name here) regarding your Witness Report at the London Assembly Meetings last Thursday, which I found both profound and upsetting.

Firstly, please let me explain that we are a registered charity, which was requested to provide long term support for the survivors and bereaved following the tragic incidents of 7 July 2005, due to our experience of supporting people through loss and disaster, by Westminster City Council and DCMS.

We took over the management of the 7 July Assistance Centre on 1st November from Westminster City Council, who until then, were running the Centre with the support of volunteers and a manager, who all worked very hard to meet the needs of people who were traumatised and in need of immediate support.

My team and I have notified people who are able to implement change that includes the issues mentioned by you and others at the London Assembly Meeting, such as the name of the initial Centre, support group meetings on the 17th floor and training of counsellors at the Centre.

There is also the more complicated issue of the transfer of details of survivors and others, which were taken by the previous management at the Family Assistance Centre, but were unable to be transferred to the 7 July Assistance Centre due to data protection. This issue is being addressed with DCMS, but is yet to be resolved. We still do not have details of those who have not been in contact with us, or those who have decided not to give us their details for whatever reason.

Although some of our funding is from Government, we remain independent and somewhat powerless to influence all the changes you mentioned, but I can assure you that we are monitoring and evaluating our service provision with Westminster City Council, DCMS and other agencies, to enable the changes that you and others feel must be made for the future.

I was saddened by the fact that many people volunteered to help at the Family Assistance Centre, but were partially or not acknowledged, during last Thursday's meeting, for their excellent work . Some of them continue to offer their services at 7 July Assistance Centre, but are feeling disillusioned following the meetings. However, I know that we have and will continue to help many people affected by the incidents.

I would be happy to meet with you if you would like to discuss this further, meanwhile I can assure you that we are constantly learning from the many people to whom we offer professional support.


Now I feel guilty. I know that many many people have received fantastic help and advice from the support centre, but personally I haven’t. The testimonies on Thursday were personal so I told my story. It is unfortunate that the people who chose to spoke all had negative things to say about the support centre as I am sure that others who have given private testimonies will be full of praise. I feel terrible at the thought of volunteers feeling disheartened and hurt. My complaints have never been personal; my gripe is with the people in charge.

I think this is where it all begins to crumble. They are an independent charity who receive SOME funding from the government. So who is responsible? Why did the government feel that it was enough to ask a charity to look after us and bung them a bit of cash. It is just not good enough.

Although this letter makes me feel bad, it has also pinpointed the problem for me. The reason there is so much buck passing going on is because it IS no-one’s fault. There is no chain of command, no-body is ultimately responsible. The DCMS, Westminster Council and the Assistance Centre are muddling along together. Everybody seems to be ‘powerless’!

So where does the buck stop?.....Tessa?

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Britblog roundup

Oooh...thanks Tim!

I'm honoured.....

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Not only did they listen but they seem to have heard

I am very encouraged by the media’s response to the 7th July Review at the London Assembly on Thursday (at which I spoke) .

The Evening Standard, typically, focused on the blood and gore and pretty much ignored the point of the session, which was to examine ‘communications’ both on the day and afterwards. They were found to be severely lacking on all accounts. The Mail on Sunday is apparently planning a piece this weekend which will no doubt follow their sensationalist lead.

The BBC, Times, Guardian and even the Sun have taken on board the criticisms which were voiced and produced sensible and accurate reports.

It seems to have been worth it and the affects are already rolling in.

Yesterday I received an email from the London Assembly:

‘Did you hear the piece on the PM programme last night (Radio 4)? I
thought it was really good - it's on their website, and it starts just
after 5.33pm if you want to have a listen. There's been loads of press
coverage this morning as well, which we're generally very pleased with -
they seem to have picked up a lot of the messages and points that you
all wanted to get across, and reflected the tone and purpose of the
meeting pretty well I think.

Everyone here is saying how affected they were by hearing what everyone
had to say. Myself, I was amazed by what you all did. It can't have
been at all easy, but it was really very powerful stuff, and people are
already sitting up and listening to what you said. Did Rachel tell you
about the call I got from the Metropolitan Police, saying they had
already identified five things they were going to put into place
straight away on the basis of the points made at the meeting? (When
they tell me what these mysterious things are, I'll let you know!).
Transport for London have called us this morning as well, saying they
thought it was a really useful meeting, and they are looking forward to
getting the transcript and going through all the points that were
raised. ‘


Today I received 3 letters. The first from the 7th July Support Centre:

‘We wanted to write to you about yesterday’s public hearing at the London Assembly. We realise this was an important opportunity for you to share your experiences, and understand that it took a lot of courage to take part. There were a large number of issues raised, of which we were already aware, which will provide valuable feedback for the London Assembly’s report. Some of the issues were around the support available to those involved in the incidents.

The bombings on the 7th of July were a unique set of events that had a huge impact on London, the nation and across the globe. It has been a steep learning curve for all agencies involved, including the 7th July Assistance Centre, and we have taken on board all of the issues raised. As I am sure you are aware, a number of these issues (such as passing on personal details from the Police to the Centre) were out of our control.

We would of course be very happy to discuss any problems around support, past or present, as it is very important that we can work together to learn from these experiences for future support’

The above letter was dated Thursday 24th March and arrived today (25th March). Slightly, irritatingly arse covering, ‘it’s not our fault’ being the general message. However it is still appreciated.

The second and third were identical (why 2?!) and were from Tessa Jowell. There is a somewhat coincidental mystery to these ones. They were dated Wednesday 22nd March, yet also arrived today. Apparently written before the meeting on Thursday, and without any reference to it, but in my opinion clearly as a consequence of it.

It is 8 months late in it’s coming, but it is here all the same. The Herculean effort of everyone who spoke on Thursday is beginning to pay off.

Here are some excerpts:

‘I am writing to you as the Minister with responsibility for the aftercare of those involved in disasters – whether that is through loss of a loved one, physical injury or trauma. As you might know, with Westminster Council, my Department jointly provides funding for the 7 July Assistance Centre……….I would like to express my heartfelt sympathy for you and for all those who were caught up in the attacks on 7 July. The events on that day lead to the loss of 52 innocent lives, and resulted in physical injury for hundreds of people. A greater number again witnessed or were directly involved in the incidents, and bear less visible scars from that day. ‘

She goes on to say that she is setting up meetings with survivors. She says that ‘the meetings will include officials from my Department as well as representatives from the Metropolitan Police. Members of staff from the 7 July Assistance Centre have also kindly agreed to be present.’

‘Kindly’?! Isn’t that their job? I haven’t missed, either, the lack of assurance that she herself will be present, only ‘officials’ from her Department. More arse covering. She’d better be.

That aside, I am pleased. It has been sent to everyone with whom the 7th July Centre is in touch. This will mean that many who were there will not have been invited, but it is still a bloody good result. I feel proud of us all and glad that they have finally heard us.

I am off to follow doctors’ orders and ‘chill out’.

Wiped out

I am wiped out. The last couple of weeks have really taken it out of me. What with all the trouble at work, followed by giving my testimony at the London Assembly on Thursday, I am beat

Yesterday I went to see my shrink. I have been seeing him for about 5 months now and have made the journey countless times. I left work early, as usual, took the bus, then the tube, got off at Tower Hill and confidently strode over the Tower Bridge. I was looking at City Hall and not quite believing that only the day before I had been speaking in there. As I neared the southern side of the river I stopped, looked around and the penny suddenly dropped. Wrong bridge!

My shrink is in London Bridge, I had got off at the wrong tube stop and walked over the wrong bridge. I was late and I told him why. He said it was 'slightly worrying'. I would tend to agree.

Everything that is happening at work has really taken the wind out of my sails. It has set me back, I am having, what we have started to call, 'a wobble'. My shrink tried to put my mind at rest. He said that I would naturally be more affected by things that I would have normally taken in my stride.'Wobbles' are normal apparently. Recovery from PTSD is not a smooth upward curve. All sorts of things, whether they are related or not, will knock you back down. He said that if I had been able to predict what was going to happen at work, and told him, he would have expected exactly this reaction. He wasn't surprised. He did, however, ask me to see him in two weeks time, as opposed to the usual four. I hope they make the connection at work.

I told him about Thursday and he was glad that I had done it. He talked about our frustrations from a professional's point of view. I am not trying to devalue my points ( I stick by them all). It is, however, always interesting to be given a different slant on things. He said that after events like this people are always angry. On top of that natural reaction, anger is one of the primary symptoms of PTSD. It is possible that we are finding it easier to direct this anger towards our government than we are towards the perpetrators. I have thought about this before and it is an interesting angle. However, the day at the London Assembly was arranged impeccably. It ran smoothly and without a single hiccough. We were looked after with exactly the right balance of care and respect. So it is not true to say that we are so angry that whatever the authorities had done we would have found fault. I cannot fault Thursday and I wrote to tell them so.

He also told me that he has known similar situations where people have been forced to seek help. This, he said, can be equally as harmful as abandoning people. A balance needs to be struck whereby people are made aware of the availability of help but are left to seek it when they are ready.

As the session ended he advised me to 'chill out ' this week end. I am intending to do just that.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Today someone finally listened

Today was a good day, scary, tarumatic & exhausting, but worth it. I gave my testimony at the London Asembly for the 7th July Review Committee. We made the news, lots of it & hopefully people will start to listen & understand. I am glad that I did it. I am so proud of everyone who spoke today.

Here is the speech that I wrote. I didn't read it at all, I kind of ad libbed the whole way through...but this is the gist:

Thank you for inviting us here today and giving us the chance to speak. It does means a lot that someone is actually prepared to listen to us at last.

I am just going to take you through my own, personal story as I think it’s enough, it speaks for itself

I was on the 6th carriage of the Piccadilly line tube which was blown up as it left Kings Cross on 7th July

As you will be aware the train was packed, the lights went out and the train filled with thick black smoke. After the longest 30 minutes of my life we were rescued by 2 London Transport Police officers.

When I eventually made it out onto the pavement at Kings Cross there were police all around, but even though I was clearly in shock and covered in soot no-one approached me. Eventually I went up to an officer and volunteered my details as it seemed like the right thing to do.

I then wandered off alone unable to communicate with anyone because the phone lines were down. Eventually through getting the odd text through I met my boss who had driven up to get me in Russell Square.

I first became aware that there had been a bomb and people had died by listening to the radio in her car.

I never heard anything from anyone again. I tried to carry on as normal for a couple of months but gradually began to realise I wasn’t coping.

I started looking around for support, thinking there must be something out there. In desperation I emailed this office. I didn’t receive a reply for 3 weeks. I was told that there had been a family Assistance Centre set up ‘but it closes today’. I was however given the details of the 7/7 support centre which was replacing it.

Meanwhile, after a long trail of leaving messages in chatrooms on the internet I managed to get in touch with Rachel. This lead to my first meeting with Kings Cross United, there were about 10 of us at that stage. This was September last year.

A few days later I had my first panic attack in the middle of the night. I woke up screaming and shaking & unable to breathe. Somehow I remembered that the 7/7 support centre had a 24 hr helpline. I logged onto the internet, found the number which was clearly advertised as 24 hour and called them. I got through to a recorded message. They were no longer 24 hour.
The following morning I went to my GP who prescribed me tranquilisers, signed me off work for a month and told me to keep in touch.

This was the beginning of 8 weeks off work. A couple of weeks later I had another panic attack in the night. I went back to my GP and was given an appointment with a locum. I walked into the room crying and shaking, she got her pen out, didn’t look at me & started writing a prescription for more pills. I completely lost it with her & eventually managed to see my GP who referred me to a psychiatrist. However she warned me that it could be a long wait. I do have private health insurance but it doesn’t cover mental illness, so I waited.

Out of desperation I went to visit the 7/7 support centre. I was incredibly nervous as it was the first time I’d gone to talk to someone about it other than my GP. I went into a room and sat on a sofa opposite the lady who was there to talk to me. I started talking and very quickly the conversation dissolved into awkward silences. I was already stressed and this really wasn’t helping me. Eventually she put her cup of tea down and said ‘I’m really sorry, it’s my first day, I don’t really know what to say’.

I was off work for 8 weeks in all. I was desperate to see someone professional, so eventually, through a friend’s recommendation, I managed to get an appointment with a private psychiatrist. I have been seeing him ever since and he has helped me enormously. Meanwhile I had been referred to the NHS Trauma clinic through the 7/7 support centre. However by the time I got an appointment I had already built up a relationship with my private doctor so decided to keep seeing him. I felt as if it would be detrimental to my recovery if I started again with someone new.

Whilst I was off work I went to a couple of meetings held by 7/7 support centre.
Many of us have problems with enclosed spaces, particularly lifts. The first meeting held for survivors was on the 17th floor of Westminster town hall. One poor lady walked up the stairs. The first announcement that was made was ‘If a fire alarm goes off it is real and you won’t be able to use the lifts’.

Since then I have finally returned to work full time in January and am making progress. I applied to CICA for compensation last year. 4 weeks ago I was told that tey had been in touch with the police who had no records of me (despite me having given all my details to an officer on the day). I was told that I would have to give a statement. So 7 months later I took the morning off work and finally gave my statement. I have still heard nothing from CICA.

Since them I have been having a really hard time at work. I have been forced to take a demotion as they don’t feel that I’m performing at the level I was before July. It has all been very difficulty and not really what I needed and I have found it incredibly hard to get any sort of help or advice. When I called the 7th July centre they offered me a massage!

So, as I said, I think this story speaks for itself, and I fear tells a very familiar tale. From this some of the recommendations I would make are:

- No one should have been able to leave without giving their details
- Everyone should have been contacted within a month, I don’t think that it’s difficult to do
- The existence of support centre should have been publicised more widely, posters on the tubes, GP surgeries, media? And named less confusingly
- The fact that many passengers do not live in London should have been taken into account, how can the support centre help them?
- Psychological help should have been much more readily available
- Legal advice should be readily available as many many people have lost their jobs or had trouble at work
- Advice should be available about common symptoms and people’s minds should be put at rest. These are worrying enough times. A lot of people are currently worried about chest problems and whether they are as a result of the smoke inhalation
- There should be constant monitoring of everyone, there are still a lot of people who probably have not been contacted. Far too many are still out of the loop
- There should have been more information about compensation, who could apply, where to apply, where the money was coming from. A lot of people were unsure about claiming as they felt as they hadn’t been injured they didn’t deserve it & they would be taking it from others who needed it more
- There should have been much much more use of the internet
- 7th july web site should have been at the top of all google searches
- It should have been an interactive site where people could leave messages and communicate with the centre & each other on line, people are scared to phone
- All the message board type sites have been set up by people involved who have done it voluntarily
- KCU have reached over 100 people who are still daily in contact, 20-30 meet once a month. No government support had been as successful. We are not professionals, we were not trained for this and we have no money behind us. If we can achieve this then the people who are paid to do it should be doing a much better job than us.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The journey into the crevice begins

I shall be watching with fascination.....

it starts here

Monday, March 20, 2006

Losing Faith

I am losing faith in this world of ours.

When you are a child you think that your parents are the source of infinite wisdom. As the years pass by you learn that even they are fallible. The pedestals upon which the leaders of this world are elevated remain intact for a good while longer. Even they begin to crumble. Eventually you find yourself in a place where you realise that no one in a position of any sort of power is in possession of the slightest ounce of intelligence, integrity or common sense.

This is where I am now.

Three years in Iraq and no end is in sight. What do I, a 30 something single girl living alone in a 1 bedroom flat in north London, know about the affairs of the world? Surely Bush and Blair, with their access to a wealth of knowledge and information of which I could only dream, have a stronger foundation than I upon which to make their decisions.

I was not alone with my instincts. Not only did I believe that Iraq was wrong but I knew that ‘we’ were embarking upon a battle of which we had not the slightest comprehension. ‘It will be another Vietnam’ I repeated over and over those three short years ago. Even when confronted by the tumbling statue of Sadaam and the jubilation of the Iraqi crowds I knew that we were fighting against something which we had not taken the time to understand. The Viet Cong managed to run rings around their financially and technologically superior enemy because they thought their might was enough. The Americans were blasé, egotistical and ignorant. They didn’t think that ‘getting to know your enemy’ was something they need lower themselves to. Not much has changed. There has been no learning from mistakes.

I, personally, consider myself a ‘victim’ of this war (in the scheme of things a very minor one, but a victim all the same). I am one of millions whose lives have been shattered by those ill informed, not to mention illegal, decisions. And yet even I, little old me, knew better than they did. If only they’d listened, they must be kicking themselves now.

I have dredged the streets for information and support since the 7th of July. It has been totally unforthcoming. I do not know, but I fear that the soldiers returning from Iraq, in their highly traumatised state, feel equally isolated and abandoned. Why should we pay for our leader’s mistakes? The price is too high and, at the very least, there should be help on hand.

I have found strength, love, empathy and support from my fellow passengers. I have received nothing as valuable from the government. The 7th of July is a ‘normal’ day in Iraq. I feel guilt at my self indulgence when I watch and read about the suffering of thousands of other innocent people. I have a roof over my head, central heating, food and water, and infinite unnecessary luxuries. None of my loved ones have been lost in this fight, the only thing I have lost is my mind. But that is enough for me to feel betrayed. They are washing their hands of us, they will not even give us, and the dead, the honour of an inquiry.

We will have a half hearted moment of a platform at the London Assembly on Thursday. It is not enough, but it is something and I intend to make the most of it.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Tonight I feel crushed

I have really been feeling as if I were getting somewhere over the last few weeks. Only on Friday my ‘rock’said that he had noticed a huge improvement in me over the last 2 months. My shrink seems extremely positive about my progress and most of all so did I. Tonight I feel crushed.

It all started to go downhill last night. I had had a healthy, alcohol free night (highly unusual these days!) and been for a run. I can’t have put my trainers away properly and in the middle of the night they fell out of my cupboard. Hardly a huge crisis you might think, but it was. For the first time this year I awoke screaming blue bloody murder. I thought the noise was someone in my room coming to attack me. I hollered at the top of my voice, I’m surprised none of the neighbours called the police. I lay trembling in my bed for hours and finally managed to drift off into fitful sleep. It’s hardly surprising, then, that I started the day feeling groggy and a little sorry for myself.

On my journey to work I remembered that I had one of my monthly ‘how’s Holly getting on after the bomb’ meetings this morning. I work for a small company of 6 people owned by the (excuse this non-‘pc’ness of me but I use the term with the greatest affection) ‘the dykes’. I have been there for 4 years and have done well, it’s a job that I love (or should I say ‘loved’?) and they seemed to love me back. Last May they promoted me to Director. I had only been in my new role for a matter of weeks before 7th July. Since then I have had 2 months off with PTSD, worked 2 months part time, then in January this year I decided it was time to bite the bullet and start the year as I meant to go on, I went back full time.

It has been hard, whilst also being enormously helpful. I felt relieved to be back in the real world again, back on my feet doing what I used to. The only trouble was I wasn’t. My memory, concentration and motivation are nominal. This is all normal says my shrink. The vast majority of my brain is still tied up processing what happened to me 8 months ago. Extraordinary but true. We have discussed it at work, hence these monthly meetings. At the last one they sad that they had seen ‘a flash of the old Holly’ one Friday afternoon. Was that it? One afternoon! I recounted this to my shrink, he turned it on its head and told me it was fantastic progress and I should be really encouraged. So I was. This last month I have felt as if I was getting back into the swing of things. I even came home one Friday night after a particularly good week thinking ‘gosh I love my job’. I haven’t felt that since before July. So it was progress. I knew I wasn’t ‘there’ yet (wherever ‘there’ is) but I was certainly getting there and that filled me with hope and inspiration.

This morning that glimmer of hope was well and truly crushed.

They told me that I hadn’t been doing my new role as Director since July, that they were paying me more than anyone else in the company and quite frankly they weren’t getting their ‘money’s worth’. I can see their point, I know I’m not at my best, but I am fighting really hard and I felt I was making it up that mountain, now I am tumbling down again out of control. They are a business, not a charity, I can understand that. I am sure they feel angry that their business has suffered from this, but then so has my life. With my business woman’s hat on I can see their point, who knows if I, in their position, would have felt the same. It just wasn’t what I needed to hear right now, not when I had just started to find that old spring in my step.

They told me they didn’t know what to do. They wanted to do the best for the business and for me, they consider me a ‘friend’ as well as a colleague they said. They suggested that maybe it might help me if I was ‘demoted’ (they didn’t use that word but it was implied loud and clear) and my salary reduced. They know I have a competitive streak, they told me, and apparently I’m ‘a winner’. They thought it might motivate me to be given the challenge of working my way back up the ladder again. That’s how they justified it, I’m not sure if I believe them. It’s up to me of course to ‘get back to them’. What do they expect? Me to bounce back into the office tomorrow and say ‘hey, great idea, cut my salary, take everything away that I’ve worked so hard for, strip me of my pride, I’m sure I’ll be better in no time’?

Then they started saying that they knew I was good enough at my job to be able to ‘cruise by’. I was ‘good’ but I wasn’t ‘brilliant’ any more. ‘You were really good at your job’ slipped out at one stage, quickly corrected to ‘you are’. But it was too late. I WAS really good at my job, now they think I’m average and want to demote me.

Suddenly I was drawn back to the title of this blog. ‘Am I still me?”. Apparently not. I think that’s what nearly reduced me to tears. I feel as if I have been taken away from me, robbed of the life I had. I have never in all my professional life (which hasn’t been an easy ride I can promise you) cried in front of one of my colleagues. Even my mum has always said ‘Holly doesn’t cry much for a girl’! I fought it off today, but only just, only by not speaking. I wasn’t sure what would have come out if I’d opened my mouth, so I kept quiet. They could see that so they told me to get back to them in a couple of days. Then, another first, I was sent out for a fag break.

Now I feel hollow and lost (although better for writing it down).

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Forgiveness and understanding

Rachel’s recent posts and upcoming article have set off my mind along the path of delving into this colossal subject.

From the very moment I discovered that the cause of those 40 terror filled minutes, deep underground in a dark, smoke filled, tunnel, was a young man detonating his own body I have felt no anger towards him. Even once the death toll started to filter through, there was nothing. Perhaps if a loved one had been killed, if I had lost a limb, been physically disfigured, maybe then it would have been different. If the bombers were still alive they may have become a perfect target for the over activity of my, post traumatic stress fuelled, mind. I don’t know.

Initially I was numb, in retrospect I know it was shock, although at the time I truly believed I was coping. The first, but not isolated, incident of yelling at the electronic messenger disguised as a TV was when Tony Blair stood up and told us all to ‘carry on as normal’ and ‘get back on the tube’. ‘Get back on the tube?!” I retaliated, ‘were you there? Do you know what it was like? I’d like to see you going back down underground after that’. “How DARE he’ I thought, how dare he, fresh from his cosy summit in Gleneagles, hop back down to this city in turmoil & smugly tell us just to carry on. Was that it? Just carry on and everything will be fine. Well it wasn’t and it won’t. The anger within me awoke.

It surfaced again, weeks later, when the video of Khan was released. Suddenly it was real. There sat this, seemingly eloquent, young man, with his familiar, almost comforting, Yorkshire accent, telling me why we all deserved to die. He justified his actions by accusing us of supporting our government in their invasion of Iraq, in their torture of his ‘brethren’, in their illegal war. Again I fought back against the sound waves radiating from my plastic box, ‘I didn’t support them!’. Hundreds and thousands of us marched against them, demonstrated, wrote, spoke and desperately tried to make them listen. They ignored us, and now we, the people, are being slaughtered for their actions.

The anger towards the bombers has subsided. Does this mean that I have forgiven them? The anger towards Tony Blair is escalating exponentially. Is it just that Blair is an easier target, is it that he is still alive? Have I diverted my anger towards someone I feel more comfortable in hating? I am not sure. I partied with the throngs on Upper Street the day we voted him into power, how could I have envisaged that this is where it would lead.

I have navigated my road to forgiveness through the search for understanding. Some may say this has become an almost unhealthy obsession. I think it a necessary journey. For me, the roots of forgiveness are found within the soil of comprehension. I am not religious; I do not have the strength for forgiveness, in the Christian sense of the word. My mind is driven by logic, I need to know why.

I have read, researched, watched and absorbed, everything I can lay my hands on to help me in this quest. Only this afternoon I ordered a book called ‘The Osama bin Laden I know’. I need to arm myself with the facts, the history, the beliefs in order to be able to process the fundamental cause of this worldwide conflict of which I have become ‘collateral damage’.

Forgiveness, in my mind, is self preservation. I will never forget, but I am able to forgive. Only by forgiving can one move on into the future, taking the positive aspects of your past with you and laying the destructive ones to rest.

My quest for understanding is ongoing, but I am at a stage where I have enough insight into their motivations to forgive. This doesn’t mean I sympathise or condone their actions. I have extracted, from my research, an inkling of the depth of turmoil and injustice which drove them to take their lives for the single purpose of taking others with them.

Although I have forgiven them, I feel nothing but contempt towards our leader. He was democratically elected to serve this country for the good of the people, not to fight for his balance of power upon the world stage. He is there to serve us, he has failed miserably in this capacity.

So, the anger is still very much alive and growing within me. Perhaps the extremity of the bombers’ actions means that I will, for ever, be unable to truly empathise with what they did. Neither can I imagine myself in the position of leading this, or any other, country. However I still have the integrity to know that what is happening now is wrong, very very wrong.

See also fellow passengers Yorkshire Lass' & Steve's views on this

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Black ruck sack convention

Am I missing something? I found out too late that yesterday was no smoking day, I heard it on the radio at 10am by which time I had already sucked the life out of three.

Is there some kind of 'if you're a shifty looking man then carry a black ruck sack and fiddle with it incessantly on the tube' thing going on today?

For the first time in a while I had to get off the tube this morning. I had the sweats, the shakes, the teeth chattering, the nausea, the fear. Everywhere I looked there were black ruck sacks. I'm not sure that any of their porters were even of Asian extraction, it didn't seem to matter. Many of them were attached to their owner's ears by white wires, they zipped and unzipped, searched and found. I could feel this frenetic activity all around me stirring up the anxiety and quickening my heart. I battled against it, rationalised the moment, but it overcame me and off I got.

A few deep inhalations and a serious talking to later, I boarded the next one, buried myself in a book and refused to be drawn back into the 'spot the scary sack' game.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Can I just say

I would be willing to pay a vast sum of money to ensure that James Blunt’s dulcet tones of misery never grace the airwaves of this land again.

Together with this ‘what is there to live for’ weather, I am struggling today.

Tonight I have to go and meet Claire. This will be the first time the two of us have met this year, alone. I don’t really want to go, have no idea what to say and and am tempted to cancel. However my mind is ringing with 'do unto others.......' so I am going.

Do I bring the whole thing up? What is the point? But then if I don’t it will feel false and shallow. I just want to go home and crawl under my duvet.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

God help me

I have been thinking for some time that Blair too has been going 'mad'. Power mad. His appearance on Parkinson last night confirmed my worst fears.

So this 'war on terror' is a holy war, he is sitting at the right hand of the Lord who is leading the way. At least now we know who is leading this country.

And so the silencing continues

World Weary Detective has been told to SHUT UP. They are closing in, where will it stop? Speak now or forever hold your peace.

He posted this in January, and he was right. Who's next?

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—
because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me—
and there was no one left to speak out.

Pastor Martin Niemöller

Saturday, March 04, 2006

A comment that struck deep

Yesterday I received a comment which moved me immensely. I couldn't understand why it affected me so deeply, why it was so different from any other. I think it's because it's about another painful story in my life which is not connected to 7th July or the bombs. It's about a place to which I have only ever travelled alone. I have shared it, but never with others who have been there. I can compose the words and tell the tale, but it is a veneer, a performance, it has never been truly understood.

The empathetic bond I have felt on meeting my fellow passengers from that day has taught me the power of talking to others who have been on the same journey and found themselves in the same dark alleyways. That is why I was so relieved to find this blog , and read it in another's words.

I know about madness, about madness that is frowned upon, whispered about, and I have always made a point of talking about him to everyone. I don't care how awkward it makes you feel, you knew him, you liked him, you respected him, he was just like us, but better. But he went mad and he stabbed people. How could you have imagined that you would be friends with one of these 'nutters', how could I have known that I would share my life with one for many years, that he would be the most amazing person I have ever known. A friend said only tonight 'He is the nicest bloke I have ever met, really ever' and she meant it. It's like the bombs this madness, it could happen to anyone, it could happen to you.

I have always known that, but he hasn't. He is beginning to see it now, because his 'rock' has gone mad.

His insanity is worse though, it is isolated and lonely.1 in 4 of us suffer from some form of mental illness at some stage in our lives, most through triggers that are isolated, silent incidents. How lucky was I? I have lost my mind through being involved in the biggest international incident that this country has ever known. I was there in the middle of the worst terrorist attack ever to strike this land. Only yesterday it was reported on the news that 1 in 4 (that statistic again) of people involved in those incidents, were now suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I am lucky, people are talking about it, they don't understand, but at least they know they are supposed to.

Many others have been through so much worse than I have, and they too have gone mad. They are alone. Imagine your family being stalked as a young boy. Coming home from school and finding a monster threatening your mother. Your queen, she has brought all of you up alone, and this guy who you are at school with is there in the kitchen threatening her. It goes on for months, the police don't listen. Don't care, until your brother gets stabbed in broad daylight on a Saturday afternoon. Still they don't listen, your mother and siblings scream and shout for help. There is none. You know you are going mad and no one will listen, you see the suffering of your family, you have lost touch with your rational mind, and you want it to stop but no one will listen, so you stab someone.....and then they hear you.

You are all alone, the world doesn't care.

Well they care about me, at least they're beginning to, and my fellow passengers. They seem to have forgotten the families of the dead, brushed them under the carpet, but they care even less than that about people whose lives have been destroyed by incidents that no one has heard about.

This truly was not my fault, neither was what happened to him his, but it's much easier for me to accept. I have a reason, no one blames me. He doesn't have that security. He has been a pioneer in his madness, and I love my friends for the fact that they still accept him.

My story is nothing compared to that of so many dark forgotten souls. I will keep talking about them, and in my own little way do my best to break this terrible stigma.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Big Welcome to Hamish

Yet another fellow passenger joins us in blogland, it's great to see. I know this is a big step for her, so please pop in and give your support.

I am now official

Well, I've done it. I am now an official statemented 'survivor'.

I didn't mean to be hung over for the police but I was lead astray last night (you know who you are!).

Despite behaving like a spoilt child and ranting about the incredible inefficiencies of the supposed system, I am glad that I have done it. A couple of weeks ago I was all caught up in my own little drama and geared up for messenger shooting. However the officer who came round this morning told me that I was number twenty thousand and something to give a statement. He, personally, has taken some 300 statements. They are talking to all emergency services, London Underground staff, as well as passengers and passers by who became involved. It had never occurred to me that there would be anything like this number of people to get in touch with. I slipped back into meek and mild mode, suddenly overwhelmed by the vast scale of the operation in comparison to my own little personal gripes.

The somewhat clinical manner of statement taking meant that most of the emotion was removed from the experience. It did, however, take me straight back into that dark, smoke filled carriage on 7th July, for the first time for many weeks. My shrink tells me this is good, and the more often I can take myself back there the better, so I didn’t fight it. It was hard to distinguish between what I could remember and what I now know. The enormity of my experience that day is still only slowly dawning upon me. Transporting myself back to those long drawn out minutes of terror, armed with the knowledge I now have, was a frightening, and somewhat overwhelming experience. ‘I was really there’ I thought to myself. ‘Me, Holly Finch, I was there’.

The reaction of several friends and colleagues when I told them I was finally having to give my statement was ‘Gosh, how can you remember?’. Well, it was a kind of memorable day! It will diminish in its clarity over time, but taking myself back there, just now, it felt like yesterday. I had always thought my recollection of the events of that day was pretty thorough. I wrote a long and detailed account of it a few months ago. However, this morning the police asked me some questions which I couldn’t answer. It surprised me, and probably forced me further back there as I tried to piece it all together. They seemed like harmless enough questions, but it really bothered me that I couldn’t remember.

He asked me if I was reading anything when the bomb went off. I’m not sure. I remember reading a paper, at some point, and trying to find myself amongst the celebrating crowds in the images of Trafalgar Square the previous day. But I don’t know if I was reading it at the time, I really can’t remember. Then he asked me if I knew at the time where we were, was I aware that the tube had just left Kings Cross. I have absolutely no Idea. I have even less understanding of why this troubles me so much. That journey was so routine for me, I had been doing it for 3 years, I probably did know, but I’m not aware of knowing, or even caring. As far as I can recall we were in a dark narrow tunnel and we were trapped in a carriage that was filling with smoke. Which particular part of the tunnel, I think, was irrelevant at the time. I think, but I am not sure.

I took the tube to work straight afterwards which was a strange and disturbing experience. I tried to remember, was I reading, did I know where we were. I don’t know why it matters, but I want to remember it all. I thought I had, quite clearly I haven’t.

I do feel better though. I feel official. It has finally been recognized by the state that I was there. Now all I need to do is accept it myself.