Standing in the dark confused at what had happened my mind protected itself with a thought “A lightbulb must have popped.” Of course it was wrong.
There was a little light coming from somewhere, but my mind had stalled. Tony shook the torpor first and grabbing Kath’s hand told me to follow them. He’d worked there some years earlier and knew his way round. There was no exit at the back and he was worried that if a fire had started we would be trapped.
Mindlessly I followed, but not mindlessly enough, as I became aware of what had happened and what was underfoot. To this day I still have nightmare thoughts about those moments leaving the Admiral Duncan after the bomb had gone off.
What should have been a usual Bank holiday Friday night became a nightmare. We had arrived at the Admiral Duncan a little earlier. Tony had moved down to the back straight away as Kath and I waited at the bar to be served. A young man next to me slammed down his pint, grunted something, and left. Unbeknown to us he’d left his lethal bag, with a nail-bomb inside, on the floor at my feet beside the bar.
Having been served we grabbed our pints and moved back to the pillar deep inside the bar. We’d had no more than a few gulps of our drinks when it happened. Had we been just a little slower in getting served we could so easily have been the parts we’d scrabbled over on the floor.
We fell through the door, looking like refugees, covered in dust and splinters. We checked ourselves and each other over and were relieved to find no serious damage. A few scratches were our shared total. The police were warning everyone to move away while they made sure the area was safe. After a moment on the far kerb we walked around the corner to the subway shop. They gave us water to clear the dust from our throats.
Although my memories of just how we moved from place to place are a bit shadowy I remember the sequence. Next we went into ‘Halfway to Heaven’. They had just heard the news and when we staggered in. They gave us brandies and helped us to clean up a little. All we wanted to do was get home so they hailed us a cab. The three of us piled in and headed for Brockley. There was no way we were letting Kath find her own way home. She could call her hubby and have him pick her up at ours. She did and he arrived soon after we got back to take Kath safely home.
For the next couple of hours the phone rang constantly. Our usual Friday night routine was well-known and our friends were worried. We answered some of the calls but couldn’t face the ongoing attentions.
Sleep that night was elusive. We held each other and considered the other possible outcomes of our Friday night.
Saturday we spent at home in the garden. Neither of us wanted to leave the house. We simply sat in the spring sunshine holding hands as memories of the night before went round and round like a loop in our heads. Occasionally one of us would mutter a few words. We cried and held each other.
Sunday was little different. We had hardly slept since Friday night and were fit for nothing. At some point during the morning we had a call from a friend who had not heard about our adventure. She had found out in the Sunday paper where our escape was pictured front and centre. We hadn’t got any newspapers, but now jumped in the car and headed to the newsagents. Home again we read and reread the story, surprised that we had been captured fleeing the bar.
At the time Tony wasn’t ‘out’ at work. When he went back on the Tuesday morning he took the paper with him. He showed his boss to explain why he might be a bit jumpy. His boss asked if Kath was his partner. Tony told him that no, the guy behind was. His boss expressed a little surprise, but no more. Happily it was the same with all his colleagues.
Over the following months we went to support meetings and watched the news of the bombers capture and incarceration. We also met regularly with a Police liaison Officer and shared our story over and over. When the case came to court the three of us went along to The Old Bailey for the opening session. We sat amongst the other ‘victims’ holding hands. When the bomber, David Copeland, was brought in there were a few gasps, someone started sobbing and a couple of insults were thrown his way.
The case ended in June 2000 with Copeland being found guilty and getting six concurrent life sentences to be spent at a mental facility. Psychiatrists had diagnosed him as having paranoid schizophrenia. Three people had been killed and hundreds injured. He had also been responsible for two other nail-bombings in London over the previous weeks. The first had been in Brixton, just around the corner from where I was a volunteer counsellor, and one in Brick Lane, just up the road from where I was working at the time. I had had two near misses before that awful night