“Keep calm and carry on.” Those iconic words, first spoken by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to the people of London during the darkest days of World War II, have since become a tag line describing the attitude of an entire nation and its people.
The slogan, scrawled across T-shirts, tote bags, coffee mugs and note pads, has given rise to countless commercial variations: “Keep calm and carry on ... drinking,” “Keep calm and sing me soft kitty;” and my personal royal-themed favorite, “Keep calm and marry Harry.”
On June 3, it was necessary to once more heed Churchill’s words, as three Islamic terrorists sought to instill fear in the hearts of Londoners. They might as well have tried to rope the moon.
As terrible as the attack was, Londoners have seen worse. Everyone from the Romans to the Vikings to the Normans to the Nazis has had a go at them, and they’ve been bloodied but they haven’t been bowed.
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My father, who was stationed in the south of England during World War II, frequently spoke of the bravery of the Londoners, who spent every night sleeping in the underground tubes during Hitler’s blitzkrieg and then got up in the morning (if they were still alive) to continue with their daily activities.
I love this brave city and the indomitable spirit of its people, people of all races and religions who love London too. Their courage is contagious and inspiring.
Amy Laughinghouse, Atlanta writer who now lives in London
To those who know me well, it’s no secret that I love this city above all others. Yes, I love its beauty, culture, history and charm. But I also love its quirky, hilarious, generous, proud and brave people — people such as those who had gone out for a little Saturday night revelry in the crowded Borough Market area on the city’s South Bank and suddenly found themselves battling a trio of knife-wielding maniacs with anything they could get their hands on: tables and chairs, broken bottles, even food.
Far from fleeing, many of them were said to have run after the attackers, while others acted as decoys to try to get the attackers’ attention away from the victims.
It’s ironic that the site of the latest attack was Borough Market, a symbol of London’s openness for the past 1,000 years. I have spent many hours wandering through what I consider the best market in the world, stopping to taste the samples provided by more than 100 shops, restaurants and stalls.
I have talked to people walking their dogs and pushing their babies in prams. I have watched as people randomly began a chess game on the human-scale chessboard. I have joked with some of the few remaining merchants who still sell their fruits, vegetables and meats at personalized stalls (I have to confess a special affinity for the crusty old gent who has a gaudy chandelier hanging above his stall).
I’ve stood in the second-floor glass-walled bar at Roast restaurant in the former Floral Hall and watched the scene below me — vibrant, colorful, ever-changing — a veritable mélange of cultures and ethnicities. The restaurant was just a couple yards away from where two of the three attackers were shot and killed by police.
The restaurant’s owner, Iqbal Wahhab, and 10 of his employees are Muslims, and Wahhab, the former chair of the government’s ethnic minority employment group, was quoted in the Guardian newspaper as saying, “the way people came together during the attack was in the general spirit of how Borough Market works.”
It’s also in the general spirit of how London works. Two nights after the attacks, my friend Amy Laughinghouse, a writer from Atlanta who moved to London a decade ago with her husband, Scott, found herself in the area of Borough Market with friends. Amy said streets were cordoned off, and floral tributes lay where victims had fallen.
TV crews were out in force, she said, but so were Londoners walking home from work, grabbing a bite to eat or popping in to a pub for a pint — in general, keeping calm and carrying on.
“I love this brave city and the indomitable spirit of its people,” she says, “people of all races and religions who love London too. Their courage is contagious and inspiring.”
Apparently, this is a concept that our own president can’t quite grasp. Instead of offering support and encouragement to our strongest ally, Trump instead fired off a series of unhelpful and boorish tweets directed toward London’s Muslim mayor, Sadiq Khan. Criticizing the mayor’s appeal for calm, Trump seemed to suggest that he should instead attempt to rouse the rabble.
Fortunately, the rest of the world is a bit more empathetic and has again had cause to marvel at the resilience of the city’s residents. Perhaps the best proof that it will take more than three terrorists brandishing 10-inch knives to conquer this homegrown courage and civility is the report by Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin about one of the survivors of the attack.
Rubin wrote that the man, who had been in a bar when the assailants broke in, later returned to the bar to pay his tab and leave a tip.
“Keep calm and carry on isn’t just a slogan on a T-shirt,” my friend Amy said. “In London, it’s an ingrained mindset and a way of life.”
Patti Nickell is a Lexington-based travel and food writer. Reach her at email@example.com.