July 14th, 2005


Noises off

They may want to stop all the clocks or at least muffle all the doors, but there's been not a peep over here about today's two-minute silence. Mind you, last November they didn't observe Remembrance Day either; these people want silence, but on their own terms. That's just shouting with the volume turned down.

Last Thursday I relayed the news as it unfolded to my colleagues, who looked slightly confused as to why I was telling them news about somewhere as remote as London. Apparently there are even people there who don't have webbed feet. The capital, is it? We don't hold with that sort of modern rubbish.

I'm not a Londoner. I was born in Uxbridge, at the stubbed-out fag-end of the Piccadilly line. My first identifiable memories are of leaving the place. And to say "I hurt" would make a mockery of the pain that friends of mine are feeling as they mourn the loss of a friend.

Today I'm a livejournaller, and today I'm as helpless as ever on the sidelines of other people's grief.

Nothing to be said

I was wrong. Somebody had noticed the date after all. At 11:57, one of the helpdesk people came over and said rather awkwardly "We're having a silence at noon, you know, for the bombing people. We thought we'd have it in our room, if you want to come along."

Motivated mostly by the lack of a wish to seem not to care in the eyes of anybody who might be offended (and how much more diluted could an impulse be before it dissipated entirely?), we filed along the corridors past unoccupied rooms, empty chairs at empty tables, and took our places in the large open-plan office, small clusters of people standing beside desks and water-coolers.

"It's about thirty seconds to twelve now," said the self-appointed organiser. There was a pregnant pause, during which people seemed to be unsure if they should be pre-emptively silent now, or make noise to throw their silence into sharper relief.


And we stood still, many people with their heads bowed as if in prayer, others looking furtively around the room, observing others' reactions. If I wanted to argue such things, I might argue that thinking about our reactions, and our relation to those around us, was a valid way of engaging with the event. That the imposition of silence allows a time for contemplation, insofar as such contemplation is useful, of what happened and what it may have meant to us and to others; not a tribute of any kind, because what kind of tribute is silence?

But we stood, and we were silent. For what it was worth. And what was it worth? A great big nothing: the 0 of a mouth that's open throughout an unfamiliar hymn, pretending to sing but not knowing the words.

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