When the attacks on Paris happened, I was in London. Not Central London, but rather out in the eastern sticks, stripping wallpaper and painting the house that my friends had just bought.
I followed the usual protocol with The Mom, when I am to be in not my usual surroundings, out here in the West Country. I provided her with my itinerary. Friday night in east London, zone four (I tell her zone four as though it means something to her, and I suppose it does in a way – she hasn’t been in London for decades, but I believe she appreciates the idea that zone four is Far), Saturday spent in east London, zone five, then Sunday in Central London, zones one and two. This gives her a comforting if vague notion of where I’ll be should Anything Happen.
Nothing really does ever happen, beyond me getting a bit too drunk, and feeling a bit rough around the edges.
Except that this time, Something Happened. Paris was attacked. I was sitting on the couch in my pjs, having just eaten a lovely curry dinner. I was surrounded by people I consider to be family. We were having drinks, well, two of us were, the other of us had already fallen asleep on the couch. I had just opened my laptop to check my email, and I saw on the news there was something happening. We put the tv on the BBC and watched it unfold. That is was horrible need not even be said any longer.
There was a volley of short emails from The Mom, forbidding me and The Artist from going to Paris, as we have been planning to for years now, in celebration of the fact that finally I’ve had a novel accepted for publication.
YOU TWO ARE NOT TO GO ANYWHERE NEAR BLOODY PARIS, The Mom wrote in all caps. IN FACT, THE LOT OF YOU AND YOUR LONODN FRIENDS ARE MOVING BACK HERE OR TO ICELAND IMMEDIATELY.
When The Mom writes exclusively in all caps, you know she’s not joking.
I mentioned this to my friends, even the drowsy one who had been roused from her slumber at this point. She echoed The Mom’s sentiments. No, she said, no Paris for you. Not now. Iceland, okay, but no Paris.
I pointed out to everyone that he and I were not planning to go to Paris until spring, as in December, Paris is to host the IPCC talks, and we figured the city would be a nightmare of closures, and black sedans streaking through town with police escorts.
In my later conversations with The Mom, we argued over how best to deal with the assholes who were bombing people and places. The Mom favoured the idea of bombing, as she felt it was the only way forward.
I disagreed. I believe that bombing risks making things worse. Admittadly, I have a scant understanding of history, but a brief assessment tells me that we’ve tried bombing, and it hasn’t worked. If anything, it would seem to have made things worse.
And I thought back to my high school days. The Mom had always told us, that if we risked getting into a fight, physically or otherwise, that the best thing to do would be to walk away, and not engage. I mentioned this, and she scoffed.
And then I thought of something else. I used to have a good friend who was a bit unusual, and didn’t fit into the accepted high school norms so much. None of my friends did to be fair, but this kid stood out. He was also frequently the target of menacing by other kids, the football team, the cool kids (whoever they were), and so on.
One day, when he was faced with a group of other, bigger boys, he needed to get away. What did he do? He unleashed his own version of shock and awe, which I think you’ll find to be a damned sight different that President Bush’s. He went right up to the biggest boy and kissed him on the cheek, before running off. The boy had no idea what to do. In fact, this event became so notorious, that the school called a meeting with guidance counsellors, teachers, principals, the lot. How on earth to deal with such behaviour? How indeed.
In one swift motion, my friend and completely befuddled everyone. The bully boys left him alone after that. Teachers kept a wide berth, somehow understanding that my friend had some secret superpower involving a bravery they didn’t quite understand.
I’m not proposing that we start kissing terrorists, because that wouldn’t work. What I am suggesting is that we must try something new.
This also brought up something new for The Mom. She finally underestood how her parents felt when she was living in Berkeley at the height of the Vietnam War protests. For her, the news was maybe not less scary, but when you live with that sort of thing daily, you get used to it. In the same way that I’m used to, in a way, extra security in London, and Europe. I’m used to seeing guards with machine guns in airports now. I’m used to police motorcades bleating through the streets. I don’t like it, but it’s how we live.
When I was in central London, drinking with the artist, he told me what he and his friend had done the night of the 7/7 bombings in London. They’d gone out, for drinks. On principle. To show that, I don’t know, to show the terrorists that they would not be cowed. A lot of my friends did the same thing. The Mom hates when I bring this sort of thing up. Because she’d rather I was at home, in our sleepy little small town where nothing much ever happens. But like her, I won’t be moving home just because the city I love has a level of underlying danger that other places don’t. London is a great big hot mess of a place, and that’s what makes it great.
So I’m not going to do as my high school friend did per se, but this year, before Christmas, I will spend a week in London. I will behave appropriately, sensibly. But I will go out. I will do all the London things I love.