To mark the 10 year anniversary of the London 7/7 terrorist attacks, HuffPost UK is running Beyond The Bombings, a special series of interviews, blogs, in-depth features and exclusive research reflecting on how Britain has changed since.
On Tuesday, I will pack my 13-month-old son onto a train into central London with me for one of his first nursery sessions as I come to the end of my maternity leave. Aside from the struggle to get him to sit in a pushchair for 40 minutes or so, and the wrench of leaving him for a few hours, it should be unremarkable. It's a journey we've done many times before. Except that 10 years ago, if I'd made another unremarkable decision, I would not be here to do this.
On that day I woke late, rushed to get ready and hurried down to Arsenal Tube station. I was tired and made a snap decision to head for the carriages towards the end of the train instead of the front, where I normally stood squashed beneath a canopy of armpits. That way, I reasoned, I could maybe get a seat and rest my eyes for a bit. The fact that the trains were slightly delayed meant it was easier to get down to the end of the platform. I looked briefly at the passengers standing where I usually waited. I wondered at the time if I should have gone down there instead - from that end it was much easier to change at Holborn to the Central Line, which would take me to White City and the BBC, where I worked.
Ten minutes later, while I stood riding the packed train, my ordinary commute became the scene of one of the UK's worst terror attacks. There was a massive, jolting bang, a bright white flash of light, and the carriage felt like it dislocated from the tracks and hit the tunnel roof. Smoke was everywhere. I instantly thought it was a bomb. In the awful panic-filled aftermath fellow passengers tried to calm each other by saying "it's just the electrics". I wanted to believe it. There was some attempt at good humour: How London could host the Olympics when it couldn't even get its public transport network to run properly? At the same time I think many of us believed we would not make it out alive. Unknown to us at the time, just a few metres in front 26 people lay dead or dying and many more seriously injured.
When rescue finally came - workers wrenching the buckled doors of the train open, letting us walk up the eerie track to Kings Cross - my first thoughts went to my job as a journalist. With adrenalin and relief pumping through me, I asked random passengers to take pictures on their phones and email them to the BBC website. Above ground there were people covered in blood. and glass We sat in ticket offices and then buses waiting for medics and police to take our details. Was it really a bomb? I rang the news desk and gave them an account over the phone.
Little did I realise it was probably the very first eyewitness piece published. It was also the only way that my family in Australia knew I was alive. After I rang work, the phone networks were down for hours.
Ten years later the memory has warped and weathered, but there are some odd things that stick in my mind. The man who told a woman next to me, as we ambled home in a daze, that she "wouldn't pull" that day because of the mascara running down her face. It was soot, and she'd been crying. A fellow passenger handing me my headphones, which must have flown across the carriage, as we finally got off the tube. Walking into a pub to wash the dirt off my face and seeing the pictures of the carnage on the TV screen above the bar, and standing, gawping.
Despite the horror and the trauma - it was a long time until I could set foot on the Tube again - I never wanted to leave the city. Terror was not new to London. My own ancestors had sat in air strike shelters while bombs rained on their houses. I also felt, strangely, a new tie to the metropolis.
I can't pretend the experience has left me completely. I still get moments of panic on the Tube, I have learnt what claustrophobia feels like, and the smell of burning plastic sends alarm bells ringing in my head. But I also did not want my life to be defined by something negative, or to run away and change direction just because I felt scared.
Taking my baby into town 10 years after I was nearly blown up will probably bring with it a lot of anxiety, but also, I hope, defiance.Suggest a correction