Saturday, 10 September 2011

9/11 - 10 years on: My Memories

On September 12th 2001, my history teacher, Mr Berridge, walked into the classroom and wrote "11th September 2001" on the board at the start of the lesson. He then began by saying that, yes it was yesterday's date, but it would have significance for years, even decades to come, and explained why we would always remember it.

On 11th September 2001 I was in the second week of year 10 at secondary school and was just getting used to the GCSE routine. That afternoon, after lunch, we had afternoon registration from 13:40-13:50 (little did I know then what would happen at 13:46 on that fateful day), followed by double maths, ending at 15:30, almost exactly the same time as tower 1 collapsed. It was a warm sunny day for a school kid in a fresh term, and I remember eagerly scrambling out of the classroom, doing what I had to do, and then getting on the bus home, run by Eastville Coaches, and their tacky shells of buses. By that point I had established a routine of sitting next to Dan Bowden everyday, and because the bus was always over crowded, we struck up a seat saving agreement with each other.

When I got home at a little after 16:00 each day, I was in the habit of listening to Chris Moyles' radio show, (back then it was on from 3pm or 4pm in the afternoon on a weekday), while I did my homework in the dining room. The moment I switched on the radio, I knew something was not right. The show was different and the songs were different. Whats more, every 10-15mins Chris would read out a news bulletin about the situation. I remember clearly these fateful words as I became unable to focus on homework: "We can now confirm that both of the Twin Towers have completely collapsed." It was then explained that 'Two planes flew into the World Trade Centre buildings in New York earlier.' My first thoughts was that this had been a tragic accident, knowing that JFK was nearby, having had a 45min layover there 3 years earlier. After listening to this over and over, just to make sense of it all, I went and told my mother. Her reaction when I said the twin towers, was of those at Wembley (for those of us old enough to remember the old Wembley Stadium). I then explained and we then put the TV on to see for ourselves what had happened.

Amazingly, I was the first one in my immediate family to find out. This was long before the days of Facebook, Twitter etc. I think Bebo might have existed, but I wasn't on it. The internet in our house was through dial-up and the phone had to be taken off the hook with a wire dragged to the socket. While there was 24hr news, we only had four channels on our TV. However, during the afternoon and evening of that day, and of the days to come, especially on the first anniversary of the tragedies, I was glued to the TV, watching every show I could on the events. My instant reaction to political ramifications of the events was that Bush would declare some sort of war, and we would probably get involved some how, and I was right.

The events changed my life forever even though I had no link to anyone involved in the attacks that were 3,000 miles away from home. The organisation Al Qaeda and the name Osama Bin Laden, would become household names for all the wrong reasons. I also remember understanding that these actions were a reaction to American Imperialism, not in the traditional sense of the word, but in the economic and political sense, as opposed to the more traditional military sense. The events were also a catalyst to my enthusiasm for political awareness and education. I was keen to understand what could happen and how the powers could be could act, both in the UK and the USA.

Little did I know then, but I was also affected by the events socially. In 2000 the process began for the applications and interest in the 2002 American Exchange with the 26th Northcote Bristol Scout Troop that I was a member of. During the 2000 Exchange I was ranked No1 in the Peewit Patrol, with only the APL (Assistant Patrol Leader) and PL (Patrol Leader) above me. After the shuffle round we had after Summer Camp, I was asked to lead the Falcon Patrol, which I did. In early 2001 the 12 applicants for 6 places, went through an interview stage. I believed I was in a stronger position than some of the others. I was wrong. I didn't get selected. On Wednesday 12th September 2001, I attended Scouts as usual. The leaders spoke about how they had tried, with little luck due to the phone lines being jammed, to get in touch with Troop 39 in North Carolina, and how we should be thinking of them, my reaction was sympathetic, but knew at the time, I would not be affected personally.

Later on in 2001, a vacancy for the exchange opened up. My mother's advice after I had got rejected was that I was to attend every Scout event ever mentioned, and show the leaders they had made a mistake. My efforts did not go unrewarded, as I was offered the place. When I flew this time to the US, the differences in security were clear compared to 4 years previous. Baggage checks were more rigorous, especially after landing in North Carolina. I can remember, we picked up our hold luggage instantly, before then having to go through security with both bits of luggage again, gambling about whether your belt would set the beeper off,  forcing you to be frisked, before declaring your hold luggage again. Then going through passport control, which took forever, before finally picking your luggage up at the end. I remember throughout the entire process, making jokes about having our Class A on us, much to the frustrations of our accompanying leaders, fearful that we would be reprimanded by an official. (We had recently gone through a change in uniform, and Class A was the more formal type). In New York in 1998 I was able to go up to the cock pit and be given a high 5 by the co-pilot, in 2002 the closest I got to the cockpit was a glimpse from inside the airport. We went to DC, I saw the damaged Pentagon from the road, and security checks were stepped up across the capital, but not to alarming degrees.

Bush's response to the events, sadly earned him another 4 more years in office. America doesn't have a record of dethroning a war president, and 2004 saw that rule sustained. The Spanish were hit with train bombs a few years later, as was London's Underground in 2005. Now the US is rebuilding on the same site of the Twin Towers in a very humble fashion. Moving forward, but marking the memory of a date that will be as important in US history as 07/12/41, and as important in World history as 28/06/14.

Tomorrow's date is one that shall be forever ingrained on the memories of those of us who can remember what happened, and forever embedded in the memory of human existence. While we must seek justice for the victims of the attacks, we must also seek peace in acting with greater understanding of different cultures to secure a more prosperous and harmonious world for future generations to enjoy.

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