Cowardice is an insult that's thrown around fairly liberally in the media, perhaps blunting its aptness in reference to the three men who destroyed so many lives in London on Saturday night. Theirs is the staggeringly contemptible and selfishly degenerate kind, rather than the weak, wimpy variety that makes staying at home with the doors locked seem preferable to commuting into central London in the wake of their actions. The latter is something I'm ashamed to say I'm guilty of.
I'm heavily pregnant and happily waddled across London Bridge on my way to work on Friday morning. I was there again on Saturday night, minutes after the attackers struck, with my husband. We were making our way home from a birthday gathering in Clapham, holding hands, discussing pram colours and happy. I remember noting the perfect row of artificial bay tree pyramids outside the splendid Shangri-la hotel, pleased to be almost home, when suddenly, a random group of people came running towards us amid a backdrop of blue flashing lights.
Being ungainly and sober, I was mindful of careless Saturday night revellers, but knew immediately this wasn't lairiness. There was a strange, determined quiet about them, with some shouting, all breathless - they were running for their lives. We picked up on the panic and quickened our pace, my husband perfectly calm and checking the departures board, me determined to drag us into the speeding throng heading through the gates, up the escalators and onto the train leaving one minute later. We passed a trio of police officers running in the opposite direction, towards the danger and the innocent people who had been murdered or injured a few hundred metres away.
Messages that followed from family and friends shared my instincts: “Get home and stay there”, “Don't ever go out again please?”, “Can't you work from home?” and this from a fellow northerner living here: “It makes me scared to go to busy places”. People on Facebook pondered cancelling upcoming trips to the capital and others reminisced about passing through London Bridge two years ago on a work trip.
For those of us who have made London our adopted home, it's tempting to pull away from the buzz and bustle that drew us here following an act of such inexplicable violence. Weighing up a salary cut and scanning Rightmove for future homes in the sleepy towns or villages we were brought up in seems sensible, doesn't it? We could stay indoors, working from home, until we can escape the spectre of unknown crowds and fun in zone 1 and the last person to leave London can turn off the lights.
Then, a few years down the line will come the fear of stepping into the nearest big town or city. Then the local shops will be a hurdle. They'll belong to yobs and thieves and it'll be too risky to set foot there and we'll all do our shopping online and watch news reports, glad we're not outside.
With youth comes a bravery that slowly and quietly diminishes with age. We barely notice becoming afraid of funfair rides, picking up spiders, smiling at strangers. Trusting in the good in people. That spirit was there though, in abundance, at Sunday night's One Love Manchester concert. Thousands of teenagers with braces, spots and homemade signs piled on each other's shoulders and sung their hearts out in their Manchester to their pop songs - the music that brings them together in friendship, love and laughter.
That irresistible, enthusiastic youthful spirit was targeted by Salman Abedi on May 22 when he killed 22 people and injured 116 at Ariana Grande's gig. But he can't win – and the kids at Sunday night's concert proved he didn't. Those young people know that life means nothing if we can't live it how we see fit. Richard Angell, the Borough Market witness who vowed not to give up gin and handsome men knows it too. So do the tube workers who pen defiant messages to help us on our way to work.
There’s something particularly sinister about these attacks as they seem to have struck at the heart of what makes us human; sources of joy from spending time with friends, young people out joking and laughing, embracing music, companionship, romance, love. But as the One Love concert showed, now more than ever we need to continue to do this - to go out and have that gin and tonic, meet random new people, dance in the street, kiss our loved ones. For what else are we living for if not those moments, and what are we left with if we allow them to be taken away from us?
The family of one of Saturday night's victims, Canadian Christine Archibald, who died in her fiance's arms, has called on people to honour her memory in the way Archibald lived her life, “by making your community a better place. Volunteer your time and labour or donate to a homeless shelter. Tell them Chrissy sent you." The easier option is to give in to fear and excessive caution, but that won't get things done.
People murdered in terror attacks were going about their business when their lives were stolen. But they did have lives to steal.
Concrete barriers can go up, police can be given more firearms and yes we can be “vigilant” but if we give up on doing exactly as we bloody well please – whether that’s birthday parties, dinners out, sightseeing or simply walking around our city – we give in, we lose. And they get exactly what they want.
Images: Rex Features