Wednesday, 21 September 2011

On this day, 600 years ago, Richard Plantagenet, the Duke of York was born...

After a period of absence, we return to our “on this day” mini-series. And what is more, you lucky people, we can actually return to the topic of the Wars of the Roses! On this day, in 1411, Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York, was born to the Earl of Cambridge and Anne Mortimer. Although the names of his parents do not sound glamorous, nor famous, they were of huge significance (as readers of The Silver Knight will know), for he was descended from both Lionel of Antwerp, and Edmund of Langley, 1st Duke of York, making him the leading contender for the crown.

His presence and passion would bring him to the brink of the crown and his actions would start the period we now know as the Wars of the Roses.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Ten Years On…

It was a very normal Tuesday in September ten years ago that it happened. I had been working for Unilever as part of my student placement in Kingston, London, for around two months at that stage and my working life was a very bland, uneventful set of menial “office junior” tasks accomplished in front of my pc. At some point around lunchtime (it could have been early afternoon – my memory blurs a little), my boss had a call from her husband who worked in the city to say that a plane had struck the World Trade Centre in New York.

Driven by nothing stronger than mild curiosity as a result of this quite odd revelation, the members of our section of the office immediately fired up the BBC and CNN websites to see what was happening. It was as the rolling news bulletins and flash player slips finally buffeted that we saw the now infamous clip of the enormous fireball as a second plane slammed into the south tower and with it removed any lingering notion that it could have been an accident.

At that point, mild curiosity morphed into bedlam. Phone calls, rumour, counter rumour, live television coverage and radio debates all converged to turn a relatively quiet marketing department for FMCG brands into something more akin to Wall Street. We heard of a third plane that had apparently crashed into the Pentagon, of other possible targets, of missing planes in Europe and of potential suspects. The President had been taken on board Aircraft One, whilst all other flights had been grounded. Munich and London were cited as potential European targets and my then girlfriend, who happened to be working in the London Bridge area, was sent home amongst hoards of other city evacuees. Desperate messages had gone out from London to potentially-affected Stateside employees. The world, in the space of a few unbelievable minutes, had changed.

The remainder of the day was probably in line with that of most others. I left the office in the afternoon and returned home to watch the remainder of the news break at her flat – wide-eyed and deep with incredulity as the death toll tottered up, the buildings collapsed and the faces of survivors, families and onlookers bore a hellish contrast with those of Osama Bin Laden and other suspected terrorists as the initial bout of media speculation began to unfurl.

It is difficult to recapture the mood of the moment a decade on, but I do vividly recall making a statement that evening that I was surprised that no other targets had been struck – that “that was it.” I was met with scorn as their reactions were to state the obvious – how could I possible suggest that the attacks already surpassed conceivable imagination. My point though, however crude, was simply that the events were so extraordinary that it was almost a surprise that the terrorists had not gone further with monstrous acts. And that, to me, has always been the point. If men are prepared to board a plane full of innocent passengers, kill the crew and fly it into a building of innocent workers, massacring thousands in the process, then surely such an act defies all reason and logic and simply overrides any nominal notion of basic humanity that we assumed to exist in even the most abhorrent in society. Perhaps, hideous as it is to think this way, such men are capable of anything.

I lived in London for another year and eventually escaped the city, thankful that I had not become yet another statistic. Having been forced, through a pitifully low salary to rent a room in Tooting Bec, I frequently had to walk past houses with pro-terrorist posters on the windows on the way to work. The area bore a high proportion of immigrants and especially Muslims and the overriding feeling in the streets and markets in the immediate vicinity was one of menace and threat. A sizable portion of the local community had not integrated into the wider South London populace and were inclined to align their sympathies with minority issues rather than those of the masses (as could recently be seen with the August rioting). I am sure that the vast majority of UK Muslims were equally or perhaps even more horrified by the events of 9/11 than I was (and still am), however in that area of London in the weeks that followed, it was not a good thing to be young, white and British where I happened to live.

Fortunately for me, my departure from the city preceded the terrorist attacks of July 2005, but for many, the threat has been ever-present since that time and even now, with the capture of many senior Al-Qaeda co-ordinators and the recent killing of Osama Bin Laden, the world is far from being a safe and peaceful place. My story is a distant one from those who were caught up in the events and is almost exclusively in the guise of an observer. I know of those who were more closely affected. For thousands of victims and their families and friends, their lives were destroyed by the events of September 11th 2001 and it is to those people that I will be casting my thoughts towards today.