Wild and windy week in the north Atlantic
7 July 2005 turned out to be a bad day to go to the Faroe Islands. My plan had been to go into work for the morning before heading to Stansted for my 3.30pm flight, but at ten to nine, as I was approaching Kings Cross on the Victoria Line, three bombs exploded on various parts of the tube, and London was thrown into chaos.
I was no more than a few hundred metres from the bomb which exploded on a Piccadilly Line train near Kings Cross, though I didn't know it. The first hint that something was wrong was the announcement that we wouldn't be stopping at Kings Cross, because of a power failure there, and we headed straight through the now-empty station. We stopped as normal at Euston, but at the next stop, Warren Street, we didn't move for a long time, and then it was announced that there were serious power failures in north London, and that the Victoria Line was being suspended. Carrying a substantial rucksack, I joined the exodus of stoic commuters and headed up to street level. I thought I would walk to Goodge Street and pick up the tube again there on a different line, but found that was closed as well. Tottenham Court Road, a few hundred metres further, was also closed, and it definitely seemed that the tube was having massive problems. But at this stage, the only information I had was that it was power failures.
I walked on south, and the streets and buses were filled with erstwhile tube travellers. Piccadilly Circus was closed, and I walked on to Trafalgar Square, by now suspecting that I'd be walking all the way to work. Still I had no idea that terrorist attacks had taken place, but the city had a slightly surreal atmosphere as millions of people had their morning routines disrupted and struggled to find another way to work. Under humid grey skies I hurried on, mainly concerned that I would be fearsomely late for work.
As I walked down Whitehall, a weird day got weirder when I bumped into someone I'd known at University. He was talking to another university friend, who was just telling him that there were reports of a bomb on a bus at Tavistock Square. We exchanged news of other friends and then I walked on. Eventually I reached Marsham Street where I worked, and it was only now that I found out the full story, that four separate bombs had gone off almost simultaneously across London. I was one of the latest people in to work, and my appearance caused some relief from my colleagues, who were keeping a track of whether anyone who should be there wasn't.
I only stayed in the office for an hour or so, as I was anticipating difficulty getting to Stansted Airport. I bought some travel insurance on line and then left, against the advice of the security guard who was of the opinion that staying indoors would be prudent. He was certain I wouldn't make my flight, but at the time I was reasonably confident. He wished me luck and I walked along to Victoria Station. Before I'd left Marsham Street the word had been that buses from Victoria were running as normal, but the station was rammed with people and nothing appeared to be moving. I got talking to a Spanish girl who was also trying to get to Stansted, and later another Spaniard and two Italians. The Italians didn't speak any English but needed to get to Stansted for their flight home. After a long wait for information it was announced that no buses would be coming into or out of London.
The five of us decided we would try to get a taxi. By now I was resigning myself to missing my flight, and thinking about how I could rearrange my plans. I imagined taxis would be extremely thin on the ground at a time like this, but to my amazement an empty cab appeared just as we stepped outside Victoria Bus Station. The driver had apparently just turned down a fare to Dover, but was happy to try and get us to Stansted. We headed south of the river at first, to avoid road closures, and at first the going was slow. Heavy clouds had been brewing all morning, and now the heavens opened. The rain battered down on our windows, and it seemed totally appropriate. As we headed across London Bridge and into the City I caught sight of some bewildered-looking tourists, and felt sorry for them. I imagined that anyone who didn't speak English would be thrown into much more confusion than the rest of us.
Little by little we progressed through London, and apart from in the very centre the traffic was not as bad as I'd feared. Eventually we got onto the motorway, and as we did so the rain stopped and sunshine broke tentatively through. It suddenly looked like I would get to the airport after all, albeit facing an almighty cab fare at the end of it. The meter broke its century long before Stansted, and the final tally was £126.40. I wondered how often the average cabby got a fare like that.
We split the bill five ways, and wished each other luck. I found the check-in for Atlantic Airways and said "Is it still possible to check in for the Faroes?". I had about thirty seconds left before check-in closed, but the attendant was unflustered. "Sure", he said. "Anything's possible". I was on my way to Torshavn.
As it turned out, I didn't even get to the Faroes that evening. We flew to Aberdeen, where we had a scheduled stop to pick up passengers, but the stop turned out to be longer than planned. Apparently the weather in the Faroes was too bad to land, and we were waiting to see if it would improve. After about three hours, the crew decided it was worth a shot, and we flew north. The Faroes are only an hour's flight from Aberdeen, and we were soon circling over them, but all I could see below was an ocean of cloud. We circled for an hour, waiting for a window in the weather so we could land, but eventually it became clear it was not to be, and we headed back south. So in the end, after a day of drama and chaos, unbelievably, I found myself spending the night in Aberdeen. I got to the Faroes in the end the following morning.