The London Bridge terrorist attack remembered

Poet Richard Osmond remembers his personal experience of the London Bridge terrorist attack, and shares his poem ‘Rock, Paper, Scissors'.

Richard Osmond and his friends were in London Bridge on June 3rd 2017 and were witness to the horrific terrorist attack that took place. Richard's new collection, Rock, Paper, Scissors, is a deeply personal and powerful response to his experience of these tragic events. Here, Richard introduces the collection and reads the title poem, in which he describes how a decision made by a simple game changed their lives forever.

On June 3rd 2017 I was out drinking with friends in the Borough Market area of London when a van was deliberately driven into pedestrians on London Bridge. Its three occupants got out, ran to Borough Market and began stabbing people in and around the restaurants and pubs in that area. They were then shot by police. My second collection, Rock, Paper, Scissors, is a response to being caught up in the incident. As well as documenting my experiences, it documents my attempts to make sense of these experiences or, more often than not, to explore the ways in which they don't make sense.

The book returns often to this issue of meaning-making. How do we make sense of our experiences? And how do we make any sense at all of anything, in words and signs, when traditional modes of communication and thought are being constantly redefined as cultures and languages and technologies collide and evolve. There is no easy answer, and my book certainly doesn't seek to offer one. But I think this, the title poem, is the poem which at least frames the problem most clearly. It poses a difficult question which I spend much of the rest of the book trying to answer . . .

‘Rock, Paper, Scissors'

Eight hours into Rob's stag, which had

started strong with a pub crawl up

the Bermondsey beer mile

and was now beginning to sag

at a Wetherspoon's near Tower Bridge,

a match of rock, paper, scissors

was breaking out to pick between the following two options

for what would happen next:

1: We go to Katzenjammers

authentic German bierkeller

under London Bridge, where we would

listen to an oompah band, eat sauerkraut,

drink litre steins of Paulaner Dunkel

and be held in the basement

by police for our own protection

as terrorists attacked the door outside,

see bloody victims hurry down

the stairs to shelter in the bar,

watch paramedics treat

slash wounds to the throat and

stab wounds to the stomach, and

slash and stab wounds

to the throat and stomach and

hear a woman sob and hyperventilate

because of what she couldn't

bring herself to tell us she had seen

up on street level

and take cover under

the traditional wooden benches

when armed officers burst in

with automatic weapons

yelling, ‘Down, Get down! GET. DOWN.'

Or 2: We go to a strip club.

The game began, Emmett and Matt

competing. So it's ‘One, two, three, Go'

and play on Go. One, two, three, Go.

Both guys threw down scissors first.

One, two, three, Go.

Both changed tack dramatically

and went for paper –

all bets were off.

One, two, three, Go.

They cast their final shapes.

Emmett, for the bier bar,

stuck fatefully with paper,

while Matt, solidly in favour

of the strip club,

chose rock and lost.

The decision had been made

and I dwell on it for bathos, mainly,

and because the world is made of games

of rock, paper, scissors like this one.

Not only in the sense that every flip

or arbitrary choice has disproportionately

huge and permanent results

but in the sense that every gesture,

either of victory or defeat,

aggression or surrender,

depends for its meaning on another.

Put it this way: a photograph

of Matt's third and losing move,

viewed in isolation, appears

to show a man raising his fist in anger,

about to throw a punch. Only those who know

which game of signs he's playing at

will read the hand as rock.

And even rock means nothing

without further context:

in rock, paper, scissors, rock

is capable of meaning strength

or weakness or indifference

depending on the sign

selected to contest it.

We called an Uber to take us to London Bridge.

Rock, Paper, Scissors

by Richard Osmond

Book cover for Rock, Paper, Scissors

This powerful and challenging poetry collection is Richard Osmond’s extraordinary response to his direct experience of the London Bridge terrorist attack. His poems are interspersed with excerpts from the Qur’an and the Anglo-Saxon epic poem Beowulf, in an examination of the problems inherent in the interpretations of texts.