Wednesday, June 07, 2006

If you can keep your orderly line, when all about are losing theirs

From Magnus Linklater’s article 7/7: the heroism and the humour, in The Times today:

NONE OF US knows how we will respond to extreme danger until it happens. Will we freeze in panic? Scream uncontrollably? Or set about methodically helping others?

All three reactions are described in the testimony of those who survived the London bombings. But what emerges powerfully, movingly, and at times inspirationally, are story after story of calmness and courage, modesty and self-deprecating humour.

They seem at times to belong to another era. People form orderly queues in conditions of stark horror as smoke swirls around them and Tube tunnels threaten to collapse; a man holds the hand of a dying passenger and looks into his eyes as he tells him that everything will be all right; a commuter stops his companion lapsing into unconsciousness by talking to him about England’s rugby team, then apologises for choosing such a depressing subject; a badly injured woman refuses an ambulance and tells a nurse that there are others who need it more than she does.

Where do they come from, these atavistic responses, this gritty, phlegmatic, diffident heroism? Sixty years ago, in a city used to bombing raids, V2 rockets and collapsing buildings, they were the order of the day; military notions of discipline and self-restraint were part of the national psyche, and wartime solidarity instilled the idea of teamwork and camaraderie.

None of that would have come naturally to the victims of July 7 [...]

There is another contrast to the New York bombings, where survivors gave vent to their emotions in very public expressions of grief. The London victims hold back from tears, but are aware, even as they do so, that they are betraying signs of typically British behaviour. They mock themselves for their stiff upper lips; but they are proud of them too. “Some guy was looking for his glasses,” says Michael. “Typical British mentality — he put them on, and one was blown out. He said, ‘At least I can see out of one eye. Thank you.” Jane describes helping passengers along the track, in the dark and smoke, at King’s Cross: “We then slowly, and in a very British way, queued as we walked down the tunnel — ‘After you’….

Probably the biggest culture shock when visiting the continent (especially Italy) is the lack of queuing. It's not peculiarly British to queue: it's peculiarly foreign not to.

Our boys abroad may get disgracefully legless, but they bloody well wait their turn at the bar to do so.


Hey Skipper said...

One day back in The Day, I was with my then girlfriend (SWIPIAW) at an art gallery appreciating some art thing or another.

I had lived in Blighty long enough to be accustomed to, and welcome, the very civil British affinity for queueing.

So I was completely unprepared when an Asian couple came from behind and elbowed us aside as if we a couple of shopping carts.

Brit said...

I hope you did the correct thing and give them both barrels: a good frown and a hard stare.

Brit said...

Or even the ultimate sanction: a tut.

Hey Skipper said...


Sorry, I stopped at the penultimate sanction.

But I did think, very loudly in my head, "Bloody typical."