Thursday, June 08, 2006

Stories to tell our children

One of the functions of history, though by no means the only one, is to keep us keeping on, to get us through the night. In this country, maintaining an air of normality in adversity seems to do the trick. Good manners when there is blood on the ground. Politeness when there is panic in the air.

You could turn to great victories like Waterloo, Trafalgar, El Alamein. However, though they may stiffen the neck with pride, they do not work in what is, after all, a far more likely occurence in the rest of life: defeat or when dogged resistence is called for. At those times, the memory of others and the vague expectations embodied in a myth-like national character are far more effective.

Magnus Linklater of the Times does good works by disseminating stories from the 7th of July bombings.

John, trapped underground at Edgware Road, is confronted by a woman screaming: “We are all going to die!” He then utters a line that could have come straight out of a grainy Second World War movie: “That might be the case,” he says, “but you still have your legs. Other people have lost their legs down the carriage, and are in a far worse state than you. Please could you stop screaming and calm down?” Which is, of course, what she does.

“Some guy was looking for his glasses,” says Michael. “Typical British mentality — he put them on, and one was blown out. He said, ‘At least I can see out of one eye. Thank you.” Jane describes helping passengers along the track, in the dark and smoke, at King’s Cross: “We then slowly, and in a very British way, queued as we walked down the tunnel — ‘After you’ — and stumbling, and holding people up.”
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