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Aftermath, Part Two.

The great castle at Windsor.

I did not nurse my beer for the entire evening. A crowd had gathered at the hotel bar, and I fell to talking with the same friend who had lent me her phone card to call home. We resolved that we would neither be trapped in the hotel, nor gape in London with the throngs of media vultures. Britain is about at the same parallel as Newfoundland, and the daylight hours are immensely long. There was evening to kill. We would hire a cab and go to Windsor.

Windsor is the London suburb, or exurb if you prefer, that is home to the castle of the same name. It is pleasant, and small, and I figured that in addition to providing a welcome respite, it would also allow a glimpse into the state of small-town England on this day of horrors. My mind was well-ensconced in the 9/11 frame, and I had decided, evidence to the contrary at the strangely normal Heathrow aside, that this was Britain’s 9/11 day. We went to Windsor in the expectation that Britons would be reacting as Americans did then: wandering about in a state of obvious shock, speaking of little else, and gathering at televisions dragged to the sidewalk to hear the latest.

Britain’s message to the terrorists.

Instead, when the cab deposited us in the Windsor pedestrian center, this is what we saw:

Britons going to a play. Britons chatting in cafes and pubs. Britons lounging on park benches. Britons haranguing one another over rent prices. Britons strolling about, enjoying the lovely twilight.

There was, of course, the British Army regular posted with the bobbie at the castle entrance. Having failed to witness locals in the act of speaking about the London carnage, I decided to provoke a conversation on it.

“Are you a Territorial?” I asked.
“No, I’m regular army.”
“Just posted here after the bombings this morning?”
“That’s right.”
“Well, sorry to hear about it. I was in New York a while back –”
The policeman broke in: “So you can sympathize, eh?”

Police and Army, with not much to do.

We all fell silent, and I felt immensely embarrassed for reasons I still cannot quite identify. I nodded gravely and strode away. And that was the extent of small town England’s reaction to the Bloody Seventh. Life went on. People went on. The outbound roadways from London were clogged, but it was evening, and that’s what happened then. We stopped to get ice cream, walked to a bridge, and watched the lovely Thames flow beneath our feet.

Britain’s day of terror. No, really.

It was all so normal, and that was the abnormality of it all. Later, in my room, I flipped from the BBC to Sky News and back again. Sky News had a “Target London” logo up, and the BBC format was normal; on neither did we see a real parallel to the “America Attacked” logos and graphics that papered over CNN, Fox, et al., in late 2001. I reflected on this and wondered if there was something in the national character that the British had that we lacked, or vice versa. (Listening later to the BBC’s Today program, I heard a British interviewee respond to the point that perhaps the British are simply more emotionally together than the excitable Americans. He responded with something close to scorn: three thousand dead and skyscrapers wiped out versus mere scores and some bombs in the Tube — what parallel is there?) The next morning, I picked up an Independent and read over its letters page; as I saw the universal condemnation of the Prime Minister and the West and America for being the true villains of the seventh, I decided that some excitability on our part was the lesser evil.

Share  Posted by Josh Trevino at 7:58 PM | Permalink

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