Monday, July 25, 2005

Lookin' good, Tone!

What with police shooting to kill and then killing the wrong person, Muslims afraid to ride the tube for fear of being arrested or worse, and bombs exploding around the world, sometimes you need a little light relief. Or indeed, a little concealer stick, if you're Tony Blair.

Heralding the start of the silly season, the PM's bill for cosmetics and make-up artists from 1999 to 2005 was revealed in parliament on Thursday, just as MPs and peers went into recess for the summer, in answer to a question tabled by Lord Hanningfield of the Tory party. The total? A whopping £1,800. On make-up! That's more than I'd spend on clothes AND shoes in twice that time! Well okay, maybe not.

However... if you think Tony's bad, it turns out that Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern is even more of a prima donna. According to the BBC: "The Independent reported in June that Mr Ahern had spent 28,000 euros (£19,000) on make-up in the past year, and said his office had confirmed that since 1997 Mr Ahern's appearance had cost taxpayers 167,000 euros (£115,895)."

Thursday, July 21, 2005

London Tube Incidents

Three "incidents" on the Underground have called police to Sheperd's Bush, Warren Street and Oval tube stations, all of which have been evacuated. Smoke is reportedly coming from two of the stations. Northern, Hammersmith & City and Victoria Lines have all been closed. A number 26 bus on Columbia Road in Hackney was also stopped after the driver heard a bang from the upstairs deck.

Preliminary BBC reports here.



• 13.58: The incidents have been reported as "dummy explosions", meaning that only detonators went off, not actual charges. BBC now reporting them as "minor blasts."

• 14.04: Guardian Newsblog quotes SkyNews eyewitness who was on the train with the explosion at Warren Street: 'Someone dumped a large, black holdall or rucksack on the train and then ran off. Other passengers tried to stop him running away, but he escaped. Something in the bag went off, making a sound "like a Champagne cork popping". ' Also Warren Street explosion was reportedly a suicide bomb that didn't explode properly, therefore minimal damage reported so far.

• 14.12: British Transport Police spokesman says that "One person has received an injury at Warren Street. "We cannot confirm what the injury is, how it was received or who serious it is. We are still waiting for more information."

• 14.22: Tony Blair has cancelled a planned visit to a school in East London as well as a photo call later in the afternoon with Australian Prime Minister John Howard. No official statement as yet, but aides have been echoing that the general view at Number 10 is to sit tight and monitor the situation until it becomes clearer becomes clearer.

• 14.31: Radio Five Live is reporting that the immediate area around Sheperd's Bush tube has been evacuated after reports of an unexploded device. Police have also closed off University College Hospital near Warren Street after unconfirmed reports of a person running away after dropping a bag outside the tube station.

• 14.34: Richard Howse of Bracknell writes on the BBC website's Have Your Say: "Friends of mine are paramedics - they report that one of the stations has been ruled out, and the bus was just a coincidence. There was a fight and it just so happened to be reported at the same time as the evacuations. They are still taking the other two stations very seriously."

• 14.44: Metropolitan Police Chief Sir Ian Blair has called the tube blasts a "very serious incident" and has told Londoners to stay put. Most of the Underground system has been shut down now.

• 15.01: Radio Five Live is saying that a police search at Oval station has turned up no trace of chemical agents.

• 15.09: Police are investigating "a possible suspect package" on the Number 37 bus, says Radio Five Live.

• 15.11: The COBRA (Cabinet Office Briefing Room A) committee met at 14.30, with Tony Blair, Jack Straw and Sir Ian in attendance. "Its membership includes the head of MI5, the police, and the civil contigencies secretariat, as well as other senior ministers" (Wikipedia). Tony Blair is due to make a statement at 15.15, but this appears to have been delayed.

• 15.12: Three armed police have entered University College Hospital after reports of a suicide bomber running free with an unexploded pack on his back, says BBC News 24. UPDATE: There's some speculation that this could be the man who was injured at Warren Street; i.e. the injured man could be the bomber himself.

• 15.31: A man has been arrested at gunpoint in Whitehall, directly opposite the gates of Downing Street. It is still unclear whether this is related to the incidents on the Underground other than through police panic.

• 15.40: Wood Lane in Sheperd's Bush, near the BBC studios, has been taped off. Euston Road has been cordoned off. All of Sheperd's Bush Green has been evacuated and sealed off.

• 15.42: Tony Blair is now addressing the public, John Howard also in attendance. Both PMs stress the need for calm and determination in the face of terrorism.

• 16.14: BBC reports that police search for a man "with wires protruding from his shirt" at University College Hospital is now over.

• 16.30: Developments seem to have stopped for the moment, and there don't seem to be any further casualties. Latest police report says that two people have been arrested in connection with the incidents today, presumably the suspect at Unviersity College Hospital and the man in Whitehall outside Downing Street.

• 16.47: Some tube drivers are refusing to work after the security alerts on the Underground, according to a BBC website report. The Piccadilly and Bakerloo lines have been affected by the "staff action". There is a statement on the RMT union website criticising "a number of instances where members are being instructed to carry out safety checks over and above what they would normally be required to do or which may not be appropriate in light of current security concerns." It is not clear, however, whether this was posted in light of today's security alerts or the attacks on 7 July.

• 17.30: Ken Livingstone and Sir Ian Blair are to hold a press conference in the next few hours.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

The Glamorous World of... Chris Tarrant

We spotted Chris at the Moe's Deli restaurant in the departure lounge of Trudeau International airport in Montreal, taking the last few swigs from a gigantic tankard of ale and chatting quietly with his son, who must be about 12.

By coincidence we ended up sitting at the table next to theirs, and my lovely boyfriend "accidentally" dropped his bag next to Tarrant as we got up and headed for the bar. Chris obligingly picked it up for him and thanked us when we said how much we enjoyed the show.

Unsurprisingly he was on our flight back to London as well, but rather more surprisingly, both he and Tarrant Jr. eschewed the comforts of business class and sat in coach with the rest of us. Upon arriving at Heathrow, we spotted him again, slightly pink-eyed after a sleepless night, pushing a trolley laden with fishing rods away from the baggage claim. Bless.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Still Standing

My usual rush of anticipation upon bursting through the clouds and seeing the rows of brick houses beneath me was replaced by a dull "what happens now" sort of feeling as I touched down at Heathrow early yesterday morning. I had just returned from two weeks' holiday abroad, and like many people around the world, had spent more than one evening in front of the television, watching the events and fallout from the bombs in London unfold. While the coverage of the 9/11 attacks in the US shocked the world in a way that no other terrorist attack has done before or since, 7/7 was made all the more real to me because it was where I live, the trains and buses I use, the people I pass on my way to work every morning.

Watching from my parents' living room in Montreal, I felt detached, safe and disturbingly ready to think about other things instead. So when it came time for me to return to London, I braced myself for a reality check. Thing is, I had no idea what reality would look like on the ground, beyond the heavy-rotation newsreel footage of a bombed out bus and emergency crews running down into the tube tunnels. How would London be different from when I had left it? Would it be all flags and national pride? Would it be quiet streets as people stayed indoors?

Not a bit of it. Taking the taxi from Paddington to EC1, people on the streets were going about their business as usual, shops were thronged, tubes running, you name it. Driving past King's Cross was a poignant moment, though, with the rows of heartwrenching missing-person posters taped to a wire fence and fluttering in the wind, and the dozens of flowers left outside the church nearby.

After a few hours' rest, I went down to Clerkenwell Road to see the Italian procession, and from there moved on to the Exmouth Market Festival. I am so glad that I did. I'd never seen it so packed, so full of life. Everyone was there, from babies to OAPs, dancing, eating, drinking, browsing, mingling... London may have been hurt, but it takes more than a few madmen with bombs to crush such a free spirit. For the first time ever - as a relative newcomer to the capital - I felt not just happy, but incredibly proud to live here.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Attacks on London

My heart goes out to everyone across London who has been affected by today's terrible events. I'm overseas at the moment, and the level of public sympathy here has been a great comfort. There isn't much more I can say at the moment, but this excerpt of Ken Livingstone's official statement is - I feel - a moving summary of Londoners' reaction to such a cowardly attack.

Finally, I wish to speak directly to those who came to
London today to take life.

I know that you personally do not fear giving up your
own life in order to take others - that is why you are so dangerous. But I know
you fear that you may fail in your long-term objective to destroy our free
society and I can show you why you will fail.

In the days that follow look at our airports, look
at our sea ports and look at our railway stations and, even after your cowardly
attack, you will see that people from the rest of Britain, people from around
the world will arrive in London to become Londoners and to fulfil their dreams
and achieve their potential.

They choose to come to London, as so many have come
before because they come to be free, they come to live the life they choose,
they come to be able to be themselves. They flee you because you tell them how
they should live. They don’t want that and nothing you do, however many of us
you kill, will stop that flight to our city where freedom is strong and where
people can live in harmony with one another. Whatever you do, however many you
kill, you will fail.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

On the Terrace

Bill Oddie was a no-show at the Commons reception hosted by the League Against Cruel Sports on Friday, after having cancelled at the last minute earlier that afternoon. But for a Terrace rookie such as myself, it was still a fascinating evening, dodging the trays of vegetarian canapés in search of those bearing wine, meeting the League's supporters - of whom one at least was a borderline sociopath - and even a bit of star quality, for those who care about such things, in the shape of Annette Crosbie of "One Foot in the Grave" fame, who it turns out is president of the organisation. The champagne was awful, but the sense of genuine achievement after years of hard struggle was palpable. This wasn't merely rubbing the hunting ban in the face of the Countryside Alliance, it was a collective pat on the back and sigh of relief that it wasn't all for nothing. Lewisham MP Jim Dowd, who was responsible for throwing the shindig, managed to give a rousing speech to rally the troops, despite being noticeably half-cut. However, our mole says that after the bar officially closed at 9, the League's top brass started getting tetchy about the sudden stoppage of booze, bellowing out tired old standards like "don't you know who I am?" at the exhausted waiters, who unsurprisngly complained bitterly thereafter. Oh dear oh dear.