This week saw the fifth anniversary of one of the worst terrorist attacks in London’s history, the 7/7 bombings on 7th July 2005. The bombings left thousands in confusion and terror as London’s underground system was targeted, but one man found it all the more frightening due to the fact that he was blind. Dr Michael Townsend was caught up in the only explosion that day to happen above ground, when a bomb went off (seemingly by accident) on a London bus in Tavistock square.
Mr Townsend was caught up in the aftermath of that explosion, and wouldn’t have known where to turn had it not been for his trusty guide dog, Tom. Mr Townsend’s own Tom Tom guided him to safety, amid all of the confusion of that terrible day, with people running in all directions and emergency services attending the scene.
As reported in the Sun this week, Dr Michael Townsend explains the events in his own words:
“I had always thought that my newest guide dog Tom was a bit on the scatty side. He was very loyal, and obviously very clever, but he just struck me as a little soft.
But I honestly couldn’t have been more wrong about this pup.
When I awoke at The Tavistock Hotel on the morning of July 7th, I could hear commotion, sirens and fire engines but I assumed it was just the city getting more like New York.
Little did I know, there were three bombs on the tubes that day, and when I left my hotel for a meeting that morning I was about to be caught up in a fourth one – on the double decker bus.
Tom took me down to the cross roads, right by the Tavistock hotel. I had to wait a long while, which was unusual. Blind people feel a little knarl thing underneath the lights that moves so we can cross, but it didn’t rotate. I usually had the concierge with me to show me across the road, but not today.
The road was quiet, so we just walked across. Suddenly there was a roar. It wasn’t a bang, it was a roar. Like an animal being hurt. People started rushing towards it, in the commotion, nobody told me what was going on. It was frightening.
Tom started to pull me violently in the wrong direction. He paused and instead of going straight on, he turned right. This isn’t so good, I thought, this isn’t the way Tom! I tried to persuade him to go straight on.
Up and down roads I didn’t recognise we went, I felt buildings I had never experienced before.
Then suddenly, it smelt like the office we were going to – unbelievably we had found it, a new route. My guide dog Tom had become my Tom-Tom!
There were gasps when I walked into the room. The rest of my meeting thought we had got tangled up in the bus bomb. When they told me all about the commotion, I was flabbergasted.
Another member of our meeting even came in with a burnt jacket, he had got caught up in the Edgeware road bombings earlier.
Like true Brits, we did what we do best and just got on with it. We carried out the audit meeting and finished it like true professionals.
The true extent of the miracle that had happened to me, thanks to my dog Tom, came to me a few days later. I found out that an American woman, who had been escorted to the crossing by the concierge, had been blown up by the bomb on the bus and killed just minutes after I had stood there waiting for the lights.
But even how shockingly close this encounter was for me has not stopped me doing what I want. I will not give the terrorists what they want and become a recluser. I was back in Tavistock Square a week later and it’s never put me off public transport.
I’ve had a lot of knocks in my life as a blind person and I have learned to handle them readily and deal with them
Tom is now the most special dog in the world to me, I know I can rely on his capabilities. Witout him, I certainly might not be here to tell my story.”
Dr Michael Townsend’s tale shows how important a guide dog is to its handler, and how a good guide dog can inject calm into a situation when all around seem to be panicking.