London Terror: Twenty Minutes to Eternity

7/9/2005 – The Thursday atrocities in London left the world stunned, with terrorists hitting the nerve centres of the city's transport system. After the initial horror had subsided, and the phones were working again, we started contacting our friends. None had been harmed, but one escaped disaster by just twenty minutes. It is hard to believe who that was...

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Thursday night and Friday morning we were able to contact most of our friends in London, and found them all shocked but safe. Malcolm Pein, whose London Chess Centre lies right between the sites of three of the explosions, told us how he had experienced the events. His description is given below.

But the real stunner came on Friday morning, when we received a call from – Garry Kasparov. He was at Heathrow Airport, on his way to Florida. Somewhat reluctantly he gave us the harrowing details of his stay in London.


Google map

On Thursday morning Garry had decided to make a trip to the countryside in the north of the city. To get there he and his wife decided to take the London Underground. They got on the train at King's Cross and travelled to their destination without incident. Once they arrived they learnt what had happened. A quick time check revealed that they had been at the place of the King's Cross explosion twenty to maximum thirty minutes before it had happened.

Getting back to the hotel was another adventure. The two were lucky enough to find a cab on the outskirts, and the Pakistani driver somehow navigated his way through the gridlock to deliver them safely at their hotel. Himself a Muslim, the driver was deeply upset by what had taken place.

We must say that Garry Kasparov leads a dangerous life. Just a week earlier he had been to Dagestan, where shortly after his departure a bomb packed with metal rods shredded three military trucks and killed 11 Russian soldiers. Thank heavens the next stop, Florida, where he is working on his new book, is probably fairly safe. Except perhaps for Hurricane Dennis...

The London Chess Centre

When we reached Malcolm Pein at the London Chess Centre on Friday morning he was still a bit dazed. He told us how people had taken refuge in his shop the day before, to try to find their bearings or to contact loved ones. Malcolm told us how the day passed for him.

On Thursday I took a different route and used the London Underground rather than the overground I usually travel on. By chance I avoided Kings Cross. The underground trains were infrequent and consequentially packed. I staggered out at Euston and changed to the Victoria Line but it was so full I decided to give up and walk the rest of the way.


In the middle of it all: the London Chess Center in Euston Road

Half way up the escalator all the lights went out, the escalator stopped, and many of us fell forward. I bashed my head, got up and carried on, walked up three escalators and staggered through the rain to the London Chess Centre. I spent the first half an hour feeling sorry for myself, until I learned that the power surge that caused the blackout had a much more sinister cause.

The first signs that something awful had happened were the appearance of people on the street. There were so many people walking, and huge queues at bus stops, as people were forced out of the underground (subway) system. Then the mobile phone networks went down, as millions of people tried to find their loved ones, and many millions of domestic arrangements had to be reorganised.

The bus was bombed in Russell Square, a few minutes walk from the Chess Centre. After that all the buses were taken off the road, and ambulances from health authorities many miles away started screaming past. It's incredible how the media deal with these things. They seemed to be in denial, or perhaps they have instructions to avoid causing panic. You could see a bus with its top blown away, a scene quite familiar from Israel, and yet, can you believe it they were still suggesting the tube incidents might be power surges.

There were long queues forming at places like Pret a Manger and Starbucks, with hundreds of people unable to get to where they wanted to go just wanting to get off the street.


The day after: Euston Road, looking towards Euston and King's Cross. Normally there is heavy traffic, but on Friday morning it was virtually deserted.

At first people started walking in to the Chess Centre to use it as a haven. All over town people were being forced to end their journeys in unfamiliar places. They emerged from the underground confused and out of touch with work and home. Several chess players arrived, unable to get to work, as did two parents from my kid's school, who arrived having just stumbled on the place as they tried to work out where to go next.


Looking towards Regent's Park and Edgware Road from the Chess Centre. When was the last time anyone saw this road so empty?

In the afternoon when the truth had collectively sunk in, the area became virtually deserted, until the rush hour saw more people forced to take to the streets to walk at least part of the way home.

As far as we know no one from the chess community was hurt, and life feels partly back to normal today. Statistically of course your chances of being killed in a terrorist attack are still miniscule, and most people are determined to carry on as normal.

Addendum: On Saturday I saw a picture of Miriam Hyman on television. She is in her 20s and the daughter of one of our oldest subscribers, John Hyman. At 9:30 a.m. on Thursday John had spoken to her on the phone. She was milling around outside King’s Cross, so she was not on the train, but the fear is that she might have boarded the fatal bus. Miriam has not been heard of since, and one must fear the worst. Friends have posted pictures of Ms Hyman at King’s Cross, next to flowers to commemorate the dead.


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