Yesterday evening I was struck first by the news of the London Attack and then, almost literally, by lightning.
I was born in London and lived there till I was 30. I have walked and driven over London Bridge hundreds of times and spent many a happy night in the pubs and restaurants around Borough market. So once again, as with Manchester, this anonymous attack carried out hundreds of miles away across the Atlantic feels personal.
Of course I am now in Texas but the London attack occurred round the corner from where my grown up niece lives. She normally sits on her balcony looking at a fabulous view of the river Thames but last night she was watching the attack unfold on London Bridge and towards Borough Market.
Thankfully neither she nor my sister (who also lives in London) were hurt. Though 7 people have died and 36 people were hurt (21 are said to be in a critical condition). After this third attack in a number of weeks armed police (which I can hardly ever remember seeing when I lived in London) are becoming a familiar sight.
Meanwhile here in Austin we had another dramatic lightening storm. I had had a bath and gone to bed. Rationalizing that there was nothing I could do here about the attack and no-one I could talk to in London in the middle of the night. But worries about my friends and family were making it hard for me to get to sleep. Then the storm started and the strobing disco flashes of the lightening compounded the problem.
I am no longer scared by the storms here. In fact I quite like the drama and opened the blinds to watch. Then one after another came three flashes of lightening and cracking thunderclap that shook the house. Then the electricity went off.
It’s not my first power cut. For a while in Wales we had a spate of them till I spent over 20 pounds on an extremely powerful emergency torch. I joked with the salesman ‘This probably means there won’t be any more power cuts’. Sure enough there weren’t!
In Texas the new challenge is that as well as the lights the air conditioning and fans go off, really noticeable on an already sticky and tropical night. Lack of light was not a problem as lightening continued to fill the sky. But we lost TV and worst of all the internet! No more browsing the BBC and Guardian websites about the attack trying to find out who had died and where: on the bridge hit by the van or in the Market stabbed by a knife?
I immediately thought of my kids who use the internet (and the online world) like life support. Sure enough my son appeared, iPhone lighting his way, asking for a candle. We gave him a battery powered candle and sent him back to his room while I wondered how he would sleep without You Tube!
Every time there is a power cut I am struck by how I just assume that I will be able to create light and heat and coolness and entertainment at the touch of a button. When the buttons don’t work (despite the number of unnecessary times I flick them on and off!) I start to wonder what kind of future we are facing? Will there be a time when people do not have power? After some apocalypse?
Every terror attack reminds me how fragile and precious our civilized world is and how things we take for granted; like safely walking the streets or going out to eat a meal ; are not guaranteed. That we can no longer assume that vehicles will not drive at us or that knives in restaurants will be only used for cooking or eating and not by angry men stabbing strangers.
I know that many people, over many centuries worked hard and fought to give us the life we enjoy so casually in the First World now. A life some people assume will just remain the same. But last night, the London Attack, and the lightening reminded me not to take any of it for granted.