Magazine article The Spectator

Death in the Morning

Magazine article The Spectator

Death in the Morning

Article excerpt

We arrived at Atocha station in Madrid at 7.25 a.m., groggy and hungover from a night on the town. Some of us hadn't gone to bed until 3 a.m.

I was accompanying a party of British chefs from restaurants such as Nobu, Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons, Spoon at Sanderson and One-0-One during their brief culinary visit to Spain. Including our hosts and PR representatives there were 17 in our group, one of whom was running late. We made our way downstairs to the level above the platforms, and it was here that we hung around comparing hangovers and grumbling about the early start. Eventually the latecomer joined us and our host issued us with our tickets.

We were due to catch the 8 a.m. express to Seville and by now we had a little over 20 minutes in which to grab a coffee, buy fags and newspapers and lug our suitcases downstairs. But for our latecomer, we would already have been on the platform awaiting the train. As it was, we were milling around the concourse, only a few feet from the plate-glass windows which overlooked the tracks.

At 7.39 a.m. there was an enormous 'car-rump' followed by a slight aftershock, which we felt as much as heard and which caused the vast windows to bow in and out alarmingly, but not to shatter. One of our party muttered half to himself, 'That sounded like a bomb,' but nobody seemed too concerned; indeed, some people scarcely noticed it. Not thinking, two of us strolled closer to the windows to have a better look. Two more slightly quieter 'carrumps' and we still didn't fully take in what was happening. I went off to get a newspaper.

Suddenly a couple of policeman dashed past us at full tilt, and the news vendor grabbed the paper from my hands with a cry and slammed down his shutter. Moments later a young lad was brought quickly up the stairs by an officer who was gripping one of his arms. He was holding his head with his free hand and I thought that he had been arrested, but as he turned I saw that his left ear and neck were gushing with blood. Gradually it dawned on me that things didn't look too good, and as I glanced around I realised that only a few of us were left on the concourse.

No alarms or sirens went off in the station, but a policewoman started to shout at us to evacuate. This everyone did at quite a leisurely pace and it wasn't until we reached ground level outside that we began to grasp the enormity of what had happened. Ambulances, police cars and fire engines were already thronging the road as officers began to put up security tapes. Frustrated travellers quickly packed away their mobiles and walked smartly in the direction indicated. At this stage there seemed to be no panic at all, but rather a sense of resignation.

Then there was a shout, I don't know who from, and instantly the crowd acted as one and ran, sprinted even, away from the station. An elderly lady with no shoes and her trousers in rags, blood pouring from a gash over her eyebrow, was being helped by a young man; she looked remarkably unconcerned. Behind me a woman was in tears, shrieking into her mobile, while beside her a young blood-spattered couple were running with their arms around each other. I was carrying two bags and was walking rather than running at the back of the throng, partly because as a journalist - albeit a cowardly one - I thought I ought to hang around, and partly because I recalled an army friend of mine once telling me that secondary bombs were often planted in the path of a fleeing crowd. …

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