Saturday, 3 September 2011

Where were you?

There are moments in everyone's life when a single event leaves a lasting impression. I suppose the first such moment for me would be the assassination of President John F Kennedy. In this particular instance I was travelling home on a bus, when I saw the newspaper headlines on another passengers newspaper, At the time I remember the mood of the population was very sombre and for some reason we all felt threatened in the cold war climate and the much maligned Russian Bear.

In a way this was the beginning of a tragic saga for the rest of the Kennedy family. One of the pictures of great impact at the time was the salute at the state funeral by of one of the Kennedy children. This was the first of the major crisis media events to be relayed almost in real time around the world. Jackie Kennedy or Jackie "O" as she was later known, went on to make an impression as an icon of style and world celebrity. 
In a curious way when John F Kennedy's younger brother Robert was assassinated I felt no particular concerns. Certainly not feeling threatened in the cold war sense.. It was just one of those news items, today's newspaper tomorrows chip wrapper.

The second significant instance was the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King. To paraphrase the man himself, he was a Moses like, charismatic figure, leading his children to the promised land.  Who would ever forget his "I have a dream" speech. Uplifting and at the same time motivating. He was a man I admired and his assassination left a dark cloud over me for some time. It was only the realisation that the ground swell of public opinion for change would see his dreams begin to come true. Now we have an ethnic President of the United States, this I feel is another giant step forward in the realisation of the MLK dream. This time I was at home when the news came on the television. I remember feeling shock and anger that this had happened.

The third event was the death of Diana Princess of Wales. I have never been a royalist but like the queen mother I found Diana to be the acceptable face of the monarchy. Diana was someone who was not "perfect" in every way, her human flaws gave her much more credibility than any other members of the "firm" the royal (tarnished and dysfunctional) family. This time I was swimming in the local public baths on a Sunday morning. I usually like to listen to the news before going swimming, but this morning I was late getting up. One of the pool attendants announced the news on the public intercom.

I later by purchased one of the Police (Special Escort Group)  outrider BMW motorcycles as used in the cortege at Diana's funeral. It still sits to this day in my garage at home. It still has the distinctive "RSEG" Royal Special Escort Group registration plate.

I suppose the fourth event was the Tsunami in the Indian Ocean that devastated whole communities of people. Again the video footage brought in graphic detail such a shocking natural event. Man's fragility when up against the natural forces of the Earth come into stark perspective at such times. It was the Christmas's holiday period and it seemed strange to be celebrating with family and friends at a time of such a tragedy.

I remember I was listening out for an amateur radio station being operated from one of the rare islands belonging to India. From time to time over the next few weeks I would hear the radio station being used to relay critical messages to the Indian mainland. The following year we went to India on holiday and saw the remnant's of some of the effects of the tidal wave.

Most people can remember where they were when they heard of the death of a family member. I was on holiday in Tunisia when my mother passed away. I was working in my office when I heard my father had passed away. Watching TV at home when I heard by telephone that my brother had passed away.

But one curious incident was getting a feeling that my sister in law had passed away in hospital. This happened whilst traveling on a bus. I turned around and returned back home. On arrival home to find that my premonition had come true. I know that I sometimes get feelings best described as "deja vou" or maybe "gut feelings" about people and places. I have learned over the years to trust the feelings.

This month is the tenth anniversary of the mind numbing attack by terrorists on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre in New York. This is possibly the single event that had the most impact on me. On this particular day, I was sat in my office at work when a message went round on the internal email system. There had been a plane crash into a New York skyscraper. I remember tuning into CNN to watch as events unfolded.

This for me was a bizarre coincidence because a few days earlier I had had a dream about a plane crashing into the Empire State Building. I had put this dream down to the fact that about 3 years previously, I been to a conference at the University of Maine in Orano. The evening flight from Newark Airport had been given "a good flight plan" as announced to everyone by the pilot. The flight was delayed by about six hours due to the lasting effects of an ice storm in the far north. We were eventually flown out over the Statue of Liberty where we then turned and flew up the river. Passing all of the New York skyscrapers and the bridges over the Hudson river. It was a fantastic sight that I remember so well.

Whilst the flight was enjoyable by a curious twist of fate. On the same day a woman in an American prison (Karla Faye Tucker) was to face the death penalty. There were the last moment frenetic attempts to gain a stay of execution. I know as a long time opponent to the death penalty that I felt the American people to be quite barbaric. It was a poignant moment where I felt myself wishing that the execution might turn the American people towards rejecting capital punishment as a penalty. I know that the hanging of Ruth Ellis certainly had that effect in the UK.

Was this a premonition of events to come, I don't think so. Because in my dream it was a different building, there was only one light aircraft involved and there was no fire. Because it was so graphic, I remember thinking at the time should I alert someone. But I quickly dismissed the idea. I thought that I would only be thought of as being a nutter! Which is arguably true, well to a point!

There have been a number of film documentary made of the Police, Fire and Ambulance service about that 9/11 day. Hundreds of rescuers had entered the buildings and thousands of people were led out to safety. Many of the rescuers were killed when the buildings collapsed.

We had a new video facility in the University that was being developed to distribute all kinds of video around the campus. I watched in amazement as the events unfolded in front of my eyes. The television and other news media were in their element. Somehow the true scale of the events was captured in real time. Personal tradegy's were being played out in real time, in front of our eyes.

AS I watched television, I remember thinking at the time that the media must have gotten a hold of a large aircraft and were flying round the site. It was with complete amazement that as I watched, as the aircraft crashed into the second tower. It was at that moment that everyone in the world knew this was not a tragic accident but a deliberate act.

We all knew that skyscrapers have been built using special fire containment construction and materials. Towering Inferno the film had opened our eyes to the possibility of a skyscraper tragedy. We thought that the fires would be contained and eventually put out. The thought that the building could or would collapse never entered my head. I just thought that the damage would take some time to clear and repair.

Its a sad day of remembrance for the American people. When the WTC buildings collapsed the World changed forever. I know this because of the real time effects of a virtual reality provided by modern media. In a strange way, I felt that I was there!

I remember seeing George "Dubya" Bush sat in a junior school when the news of the terrorist attack was relayed to him. If ever there was a fish out of water - it was that man - at that moment. Now compare his actions with those that might have been made by JFK if he had been in charge at the time. Who would you have confidence in handling such a situation. 
In just over a week from now, I expect that the Murdock Media will want to rehash the story again. This time in graphic detail with endless re-runs of the final moments of so many individuals. Even old news is a comodity these days.


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