A PPARC Council meeting yesterday took me to London just as the multiple terrorist explosions were unfolding. I arrived by train at King’s Cross station shortly after the explosion in an Underground train in a tunnel nearby. We were told the station and all the Underground system were closed down, so passengers flowed out on the street wondering how to get to work or, in my case, how to get to my meeting over by the Houses of Parliament. No free taxis, of course, and the buses were crammed tight. Anyway, my instinct was to keep away from places with many people, so I started walking.
After a couple of hundred metres, I heard the boom of a new explosion. It turned out later that this one was on a bus a couple of blocks away. I wonder how many people had got on that bus because the Underground was no longer operating?
Central London was full of pedestrians, few buses as they were also being withdrawn from service, and not much other traffic apart from bicycles and the full taxis. Shortly after we had started the PPARC meeting at the Royal Academy of Engineering, the building custodians came in and told us to open the windows, so as to provide a path for the blast wave from any explosion without breaking the windows (the nearby Houses of Parliament being a potential target), and to pull down the blinds.
With gallows humour, the meeting continued. Ironically, at our places around the table were provided images of the Deep Impact probe’s recent collision with the comet Tempel 1. I found myself wondering whether this was legitimate scientific research or cosmic vandalism. (See the cartoon: I apologize for not acknowledging the copyright properly!) I guess the principle is not so different from particle physics colliders: you bang particles together and use detectors to examine what comes out. But we should perhaps treat comets with more respect: one of them may have Earth’s number on it. At least particles cannot destroy the planet.
Following the meeting, my concern was whether I would be able to get back to Cambridge, where I was staying and my son was spending the day looking around Colleges. After taking a hotel room in London, where I was able to watch the news on TV and freshen up with a shower, the BBC announced that local trains out of King’s Cross station had restarted, so I walked over there in the pouring rain and eventually made my way back to Cambridge for late-night dinner with my son in a Turkish restaurant.