Thursday, 31 March 2016

WE ARE THE DEAD: THE 1983 HARRODS BOMB




The most terrifying line in Orwell’s 1984 is the response to Julia’s plaintive lament;

“We are the dead”.

From behind the painting on the wall, a voice replies;

“You are the dead.”

Arrest and the awful, famous denouement of the book follow and, for Winston Smith, it is a kind of living death.

For an as-yet-unknown number of European people, death will come soon, and it will be just as unexpected and terrifying as the echo that ends the lovers’ tryst for the last time in the famous novel Orwell originally wanted to call The Last Man in Europe. The future killers of these unfortunate victims, these poor people who will simply arrive at a certain location, quite by chance, co-simultaneously with the detonation of a bomb, the rattle of ballistic weaponry, the quick thrust of a knife, or whatever other method for the dispatch of kufr our new European insurgents have devised to send their victims to hell, as they believe will happen, are like vampires. You have to invite them in but, once they are inside, they will not leave.

I don’t know whether you have ever been involved in a terrorist bombing, but it produces a kind of awe which will never leave you. At one point, I thought the Irish Republican Army might be after me personally. They blew up a pub opposite the local barracks in the town in which I grew up. I was about half a mile from the Grand Hotel in Brighton when they decimated that in an attempt to kill Margaret Thatcher and her Cabinet colleagues. But it was at London’s most famous department store where the IRA came closest to adding me to the list of the fallen in what was rather limp-wristedly referred to by the political and media class of the day as ‘The Troubles.’

Just before the dawning of 1984, the year Orwell transformed into the most famous date in fiction, December 17, 1983 was a cold, bright London day. I was working in Harrods in one of the ladies’ suit departments. It was a Saturday job to earn money while I went through university.

It was a reasonable part-time job, with some amusing colleagues and the usual doltish management I seem to have been plagued with all my working life. I served Diana Spencer there once, a charming young girl, now dead, and also Sebastian Coe, a nasty, impolite, runtish little man now known as Lord Coe because he could run faster than some other men. That day, I had been due to walk over to Hyde Park during my break and have lunch with the daughter of a politician who served under Thatcher. I knew her from university. I called her and cancelled, as I had a dreadful cough, didn’t want to give it to her, and didn’t much feel like it anyway. The cough also dissuaded me from my usual lunchtime trip across to a newspaper kiosk to buy a pack of Gauloise Mild cigarettes, which came in a light green pack and could hardly be bought elsewhere. As a result of a recent trip to France and the type of pseudo-existentialist pretentiousness one might expect of a 22-year-old man, I had found myself addicted to these aromatic cancer sticks.

At a few minutes before my designated break, a coded Tannoy message came over the speakers, something about all section team leaders reporting to someone or other. What it meant, to the staff at least, was that a credible bomb warning had been received, and that we were to look for suspicious objects. That’s right. Security services were not called. Young people like myself were asked – no, told – to make a sweep of our department. My task was to look in the pockets of the hanging suits. The IRA had been known to use so-called ‘cassette bombs’, small incendiary devices not intended to cause mayhem as such, but to ignite fires that would. Having completed my task with my fingers intact, I went off to lunch just a few minutes later than usual.

As mentioned, I had decided against a cross-infectious lunch with a friend, and ditto a pack of cigs that could only have made the problem worse. Instead, I rode the escalators to the top floor, where the old Way In department and the excellent staff canteen were near neighbours.

Only I never made it.

At a little before 13.30, a bomb exploded in the side street which runs down and away from Harrods, dividing the store into separate buildings. The escalators stopped dead. I saw a huge ball of white fire ascend past me through the windows ahead on the floor I was on. I felt its heat through the glass. Plaster rained from the ceiling like snow in a Scandinavian forest. There was a second or two of utter stillness. And then the screaming started. The six dead and 75 wounded were all in the street. We were actually safe, although everyone wanted to get out as we believed that there was a second bomb inside the store. The security guards ushered people down to the exit doors, where we were kept inside. Waiting. I peeked outside, just once.

As the BBC reported;

 

Staff at the Harrods store reported seeing windows blown out into the shop and seeing colleagues and shoppers badly injured.

 

Yes, yes we did. If it’s all the same to you, I’ll skip what I saw. I don’t exactly dream about it, all these decades later. But I won’t ever forget it.

And you should know what it is that these terrorist bombs do to human flesh, to lives, to the people in the immediate vicinity. Look it up. See the effects of flying shrapnel on human flesh. One of the survivors of the recent Brussels bombs described seeing people with no legs. He won’t be forgetting it in a hurry, I’m sure.

But our political leaders, the social engineers currently grovelling to plant their lips firmly on the buttocks of the medievalists who carry out this sort of thing, can easily forget it. When they say that their thoughts and prayers are with the families of the dead, they are lying, and ought really, in a sane world, to have their well-fed faces slapped and slapped hard for their arrogance.

If these people are not replaced – and it will have to be by force because the ballot box will not and cannot do the job – then some of us – if we choose to or are forced to remain in Europe – really are the dead.

Leaving Harrods 32 years ago, I leant my jacket to a shivering work colleague as we walked to the station like refugees. I wonder where she is now, because I could see that she was not going to get over that day’s events any time soon. I wonder whether she has read 1984, and truly believes we are the dead, or whether she has become one of those people who believes in untrammelled immigration, and believes any other viewpoint to be racist.

 

CODA

 

I could not hear properly for two days after the explosion. When I was back at work the following Saturday, I conducted a small experiment. I walked from my department to the exact spot I had reached when the bomb went off, and I timed the journey. I then went back to the department and set out again, this time heading out to the tobacco kiosk. When I had walked for exactly the same time I stopped. I was standing approximately in the section of the street you see in the photograph above. You must give up smoking. It really can kill you.

 

 

 

 

 

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