THE BLOG

Upon Westminster Bridge

27/03/2017 11:46 BST | Updated 27/03/2017 11:46 BST
oversnap via Getty Images

I was surprised to read that the political editor of The Observer felt that Wednesday's attack on Parliament will somehow change his everyday life. This is of course, what terrorists aim to do, and it seems rather unfortunate that this one appears to have succeeded with even just one individual who witnessed events during that day.

Human beings are a highly complex primate species, capable of heinous violence, but also of great heroism and compassion. We saw all of these traits demonstrated in Westminster last Wednesday, and indeed, they are continually played out in every human generation, across an ever-changing political and technological backdrop.

I grew up in central London. My first experience of terrorism was as a young teenager, when a member of my immediate family arrived home distressed from observing the aftermath of one of the first IRA attacks on the British mainland, a car bomb outside the Old Bailey. My mother, who had grown up in the same area, while sympathetic, remained quite calm, remarking 'it sounds just like the Blitz'. The following year, I heard an explosion for the first time, walking home from school: this was the Tower of London bombing.

Before 'the troubles' were over, I heard three more explosions, one being close enough to rattle the window next to where I was sitting; this was the attack on Horse Guards Parade. Another was the bomb planted underneath the Houses of Parliament which killed Airey Neave. I also remember hearing a news bulletin reporting on a nail bomb that had been primed to explode at the precise time I walked through Oxford Street underground station on a particular day during the previous week, but fortunately, failed to detonate.

The attitude of Londoners during those days, modelled by our parents' generation who had lived through the Blitz, was to get on with our everyday lives, be vigilant, and remain hopeful that you would avoid being in the wrong place at the wrong time- which, of course, the vast majority of us did.

Contemporary Britons are lucky that physical danger is such a rare experience for us; it was far more commonplace for my mother growing up five miles from Westminster in a time when the sound of air raid sirens was an everyday event, and this is of course still sadly the case for children in many contemporary war-torn nations around the world.

London's 2000 year history has been peppered with unrest, violence and tragedy; presumably those who witnessed the taking of the Tower of London by Wat Tyler's rebels and the ensuing executions of courtiers unfortunate enough to be on the premises at the time were thoroughly traumatised; the same is probably true of the Londoners who witnessed the execution of King Charles I outside the Banqueting House at Whitehall. Samuel Pepys described the Great Fire of London as forming 'a bow up the hill for an arch of above a mile long: it made me weep to see it.'

Sadiq Khan, a fellow Londoner, recently commented that 'the threat of terror attacks are "part and parcel of living in a big city" and encouraged Londoners to be vigilant to combat dangers'. This is just simple common sense to anyone who grew up in London in the 1970s, 80s and 90s, or indeed during World War II; a fact that appears to have been utterly missed by Donald Trump Junior.

No doubt a mixture of events, some of which inevitably involve violence, will continue to unfold in the ongoing chronicle of London; this is the nature of human existence. But Wordsworth's city of 'ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples' will endure as it enters its third millennium, looking back across centuries of abiding resilience.