In the Summer of 2005 I was back in America for a few weeks visiting family and friends. I remember my Dad coming to wake me up one morning. “London has been bombed.” I leapt out of bed, not really being sure what level of catastrophe would meet my eyes when I turned them to the TV. Watching the commuters stumble from the Underground and across the streets, dazed, was certainly a harrowing sight, but I can clearly remember that what struck the news anchors and the American populace most of all was that one by one, they watched the uninjured commuters get back on public transport that day. When questioned about this response one Brit replied, “We just have to get on with, don’t we?” It was admirable. It seemed fearless. It was Keep Calm and Carry On epitomized.
The story I am about to tell holds in tension the disquieting behaviour of the minority and the completely calm response that seems to be the understood M.O. of the British.
I’ve mentioned before that in the days before and after Halloween and Guy Fawkes Day there are all sorts of
criminal offences practical jokes that take place in England that have, in the past, left me a little bit on edge. That Keep Calm and Carry On attitude of the Brits, while admirable, certainly does carry with it a surprising immovability. So, here it is…
A British Person Did That (People, in this case):
A few weeks after the bombings I was back in the United Kingdom. I don’t particularly remembering worrying about public transport, although whether I was at risk may have entered my mind a time or two. Then, one day in October an American colleague popped by the house flustered and with a bemused look on his face he recounted…..
Colleague: I was just on a bus on the way home and these kids in the back set off firecrackers ON THE BUS, opened the emergency exit door and ran off.
Me: WHAT?! That’s crazy! Must’ve scared the poo out of people. Did anyone run after them?
Colleague: No! Everyone just sat there. Even the driver.
Me: What do you mean they just sat there?
Colleague: No one moved. The bus filled with smoke. The driver didn’t even get out to see if everyone was okay.
Me: What did you do?
Colleague: I sat there for a minute and then the smoke was really bothering me so I got up and went through the whole bus and opened every single window. (He then raises his hands to his ears and gesticulates, pushing both hands firmly out and away from him over and over again.)
The mental image of my somewhat incensed American friend leaning over these passengers to open their windows while they avoided any form of eye contact or acknowledgement of the incident still makes me crack a smile .
Maybe it’s that they really are that calm. Maybe the tea really is laced with sedatives. Or maybe it’s that they had all cacked themselves and didn’t want to move for fear of revealing their soiled bottoms to the whole of the Number 75. We may never know.
British People Did That.
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