The recent happily failed bombs in the UK got to me thinking about the last time something like that happened.
Sometimes I work in a double act. I like the act, it's a few nice little tricks glued together by 40 minutes of tightly scripted bickering. Fun for all. We were performing at the Lent festival in Maribor, Slovenia - a lovely festival set mainly by a long riverside cluttered with stalls selling freshly burnt comfort food, bars where you can watch jazz musicians while drinking Sovenian beer, and stages featuring goofy old schtickmeisters like me.
That day we had an early show - noon in the worryingly-quiet main town square and against all the odds we had a nice bouncy little show. We were packing our props away when an English family on holiday asked us a question. "Have you heard what happened in London?"
They took us aside and told us what they knew, which wasn't a whole lot at that stage but enough to make my heart sink like a stone. There had been bombs, some on the underground and one, a little later, on a bus. Some people were dead. I felt sick. My head filled with malformed and childish thoughts. Impotent that I wasn't there. I should be there. How dare they do this while my back is turned? That's my town they're fucking with and I'm a part of it, except this week I wasn't.
I called my wife. She was fine, but very very shaken. She walks to work, and had left before news of what was happening had started to surface. She knew, however, that something was wrong. As she walked to work she heard more and more sirens, until that's all she could hear. Then she heard the bus explode. She talked about turning onto the South Bank and not knowing if she would see a part of the London skyline in flames, not knowing what these noises had done to the city.
We didn't have another show until much later and I needed a drink. We walked down by the river where all the bars are, but they were all closed. I was starting to get angry at everything now. Then we found a place with open doors and a girl behind a bar. Promising. As we walked in she apologised and said they weren't open yet, I told her I understood, but "I'm from London, where some crazy things just happened and I would be your friend for ever if you'd let me just sit here with a drink and turn on your TV". "Sure", she said, instantly.
I asked for a Jack Daniels and she turned on BBC news 24 and slid me a very generous double. I thanked her very much. And there we sat for the next couple of hours, watching the news of what they had done to my town with my back turned. Then Ken Livingstone made his speech, which kicked all kinds of ass, and was just what everyone needed to hear. He said, and I'm paraphrasing fairly heavily here, "Is that all you got, Bitch? We're fucking Londoners". He was right, it was great and I toasted him with my second Jack Daniels.
The rest of the week went by quickly, nice shows, lovely audiences. Until the last night.
We were on last - the very last show on the very last day of the festival - a brilliant position to be in. A huge crowd gathered half an hour before the show time, and then we were delayed even further to let the fireworks finish. We struck a deal with one of the nearby beer stalls and traded in all of our staff drinks tokens so we could buy beer for the whole audience to reward them for waiting. This went down very well.
As we were starting the show a middle aged man pushed through the crowd, probably drunk, and walked towards me doing a clownish impression of a person very injured - limping, moaning, covering his eye, trying to hide an arm as if he didn't have one. "I", she shouted happily, "Am from London!"
I stood a couple of feet from him, my eyes boring holes in his. My fist clenched. I just wanted to hurt him. "Not fucking funny", I said. Then I felt my partners hand on my shoulder, "It's ok, come on, lets work", he said. And it was, and we did.
A couple of girls in the front row had a big bottle of "Cockta", the slovenian coca-cola. Oh yes. It tastes predictably foul, so I went off on a riff about how shitty it tastes, and took the bottle and tasted some. She giggled guiltily. I looked at her, looked at the audience, and without a word spoken everyone got it. It wasn't Cockta in the bottle, it was a very strong Scotch and Coke. I took another big taste and thanked her. Then had another taste, the gave some to Dave, then offered some to the audience. Then let her have it back.
24 hours later and I was back in London. First thing I did was get out into the city. I fired up my mp3 player on random shuffle and walked towards my local tube station, as I descended the player threw up the opening riffs of "Welcome to the Jungle" by Guns & Roses and I grinned as I got onto the train, still pretty much full of people the way they always are.