Wednesday, 8 July 2015

A Song For Jenny

This was a poignant, unbearably sad portrayal of one family trying to come to terms with the devastating consequences of the London bombings on July 7th 2005. Jenny Nicholson was murdered by Mohammad Sidique Khan as he exploded a device in his backpack on a Circle Line Tube train just outside Edgware Road station. Jenny would not normally have been on that train, but a problem on her usual line meant that she had had to find an alternative route to work.

Her mother Julie was a parish priest. She had to not only come to terms with the worst loss possible, that of her own child, but also somehow reconcile her feelings of anger and hatred towards the bomber, and understand the consequences for her belief in God, the God who allowed this evil to happen in a world that He had supposedly created.

You see the family in their happy innocence at the start of the film, then the half attention to the news, the dawning realisation that something awful has happened, the panicked search for the missing Jenny, the confusion in the hospitals, the initially clinical visits by family liaison officers needing DNA and photographs, and then the terrible moment of truth when Jenny's body is finally identified. Julie does not flinch from seeking the reality, from visiting the site of the bomb, from holding the hand of her daughter's decimated corpse, and looking at photographs of the carriage with Jenny's remains inside. Julie explodes with rage at stupid questions, repressed emotions, and the photographs of Khan on the television. She has to distance herself from some of her family, and fill herself with love and strength for her surviving children, and her daughter's partner. She has to grieve for the grandchildren Jenny will never now be able to give her. She also experiences astonishing moments of tenderness and kindness from the police officers working with them, and a cabbie who takes her all the way from London to Reading free of charge after she tells him her story. He says it is so that she knows that there are still good people in the world.

The film ends at Jenny's funeral, with a very long journey of grief still left to travel. Of course nobody could ever really properly get over such a tragedy. The film makes it clear that some things are just too horrendous for words.

52 Londoners lost their lives on that terrible day. My own split-second decision that morning meant I was not among them, as I left for my Piccadilly Line commute through Russell Square half an hour later than usual. All of us who avoided being caught up in the carnage by the narrowest of margins or a momentary intervention of fate realised just how lucky we were, and how it could so easily have gone the other way. As easily as four suicide bombers manage to board London's public transport system entirely undetected in the height of the morning rush hour.

I wrote something for Guardian Witness this week, which was published yesterday, on the tenth anniversary of the bombings. That day, and the ones that followed, are ones I will never forget. I was humbled by my city's grace and resilience and how we all, somehow, managed to carry on. In many ways, we had no choice. Yet we did. We had been granted that choice. We had been spared. This time.

Unable to get to work I returned home to the sanctuary of our lounge,
 where I switched on the television and realised what I had avoided by sleeping in that morning.

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