This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

Faculty members witness Londoners’ "stiff upper lip" in wake of attacks

Published: July 14, 2005

Reporter Contributor

When bombs exploded on London trains and buses last Thursday morning, most Americans were fast asleep. But one UB professor was awake at a London bed and breakfast and heard an urgent knock on the door.

"The landlady burst into our room and said to turn on the television set, there are bombs all over London," recalled Michael Farrell, professor and chair of the Department of Sociology, College of Arts and Sciences. Farrell had traveled to London to research the beginning of the Arts and Crafts Movement and present a paper at a conference.

In the hours that followed the bombings, he said, what struck him was not the panic in the streets, but the lack thereof.

"The scene that was the most moving was the steadiness of the people as they responded to what was happening," Farrell said. "There was no sense of panic. "The Brits say, 'look, we've been through worse than this.' There were nights during the bombing of London (during World War II) when they'd wake up and find 1,500 people dead. And with the IRA terrorist attacks that went on for 20 years or more—it's part of the backdrop of life there," he added.

Debra Street, assistant professor of sociology, had a similar experience with what she said London residents call their collective "stiff upper lip." She flew into London on the day after the bombings for a series of meetings and a conference. She learned about the bombings just before she left home.

Street said she didn't really consider not going because Londoners long ago resolved not to let violence deter them.

"In response to these particular terrorist bombings, Londoners' attitudes seemed to be a kind of 'We will not let them change our lives,' or 'We will not let them frighten us' mentality," Street said in an email interview with the Reporter.

One of her meetings was cancelled because no one could get there without the subway, which Londoners call the "tube," she said, and traveling on the limited number of subway lines available proved challenging—meaning longer travel times and roundabout routes. Other than that, her visit has progressed as normal.

"I did notice a bit less vehicular traffic than usual for a Saturday in the city, but otherwise, it seemed to be London as usual, except for a much greater and highly visible police/security presence," she said. "I went to a West End play on Saturday night—the play was nearly sold out. When we left the theatre and walked to the Underground at Piccadilly Circus, the streets were as thronged with people as you would expect on a Saturday night."

Farrell said that the British response to the attacks helped him go about his daily life as normally as possible, too.

"Every third person you see in London has a backpack or a suitcase behind them," he said. "So you just have to live with the fact that it could happen at any time."