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  • I was just a kid and visiting family friends with my mother in Old Street. Mum and her boyfriend were friends with the parents since way back. They knew each other from the London Irish places, the men had worked together in the building trade on occasion. The family had two daughters around my age that I would play with and sleep over with. They lived in Old Street not far from the Barbican, and a fair distance from Harrods in Knightsbridge but when we arrived that day they had heard a loud noise which we later found out could have originated from there.

    "Did you just hear that noise?!" Bridie asked of my mother as she opened the door to us. "We just heard a loud bang, about ten minutes ago, it sounded like a bomb went off."

    We had heard nothing on the car journey into town.

    Some discussion occurred about whether it could have been a car backfiring or something more normal. It was apparently a distant but loud bang sound and there was a slightly dramatic quality to Bridie's lilting Irish voice that I've never forgotten. Carol, the oldest daughter was hanging out over the upper part of the window of their flat to see if she could see anything down the main road. Her dangling on her hips up there was making me nervous.

    "I bet it was an IRA bomb! I bet anything!" Said Bridie, adamant that this was not a normal noise she heard. "Carol! Come down from that window, you'll fall."

    The TV was put on but as yet there was nothing reported. It was the days before multiple channels and 24hr news.

    Carol, seeing nothing jumped down to my great relief, and we girls went off out to play. We went as far as The Barbican and did whatever we usually did there. There always seemed to be something interesting to occupy us and the streets of London were becoming a playground to me that I regularly explored with these friends. I was beginning to take ownership of the capital, my escape to adventure, my home from home, as safe a place as any I inhabited. The noise became a non-event as we found other, more exiting things to occupy us.

    When we got back the news flash had been on that Harrods had been bombed and some people including some police, had been hurt. It was the first IRA bombing that I'd ever paid any attention to. I would avoid later London bombings much more narrowly when they happened, but like this one I was always unafraid to walk the streets because of them. Bombs I had learned were remarkable when they happened and were much discussed among our Irish families, but they were also a kind of inevitability in London that meant they weren't worth trying to avoid or living your life in fear of and it was impossible to try.

    When I passed the memorial recently Bridie's voice rang in my memory and as I stood in front of the shiny marble and saw my reflection in it I realised that the partially reflective memorial is in itself a metaphor that any person on the street could be killed like this in an instance of violent protest on some third parties agenda. But until that day comes, the streets of London are still mine and I walk them freely and unafraid in spite of any threat, perhaps exactly because of that day when I learned that freedom was a feeling more important to me than any pending news event.
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