Through a glass darkly

Kerry McCarthy’s put me on this chain blog thing instigated by Iain Dale, where I have to recall where I was, what I was doing and how I felt at certain key moments in history:

Princess Diana’s death – 31 August 1997

I was living in St Andrews at the time without a telly. A friend however, who had a room in what used to be the old Buddhist Centre at the bottom of Cromwell Road, had cable TV. And more importantly Sky News …

I can’t remember exactly what we’d been doing that evening – although in all probability we’d been drinking in Montpelier pubs – but we were back at Cromwell Road and up late, as I still used to smoke quite a lot of dope back then, when we got the news flash about the accident in Paris.

Perceptive as ever, I came out with something along the lines of “Wow! That’s big news” and we waited around for further updates. I don’t recall whether I heard the official announcement of her death or stumbled off home but it was pretty obvious she was dead anyway.

The next day we were drinking at the Cadbury House at lunchtime and hooked up with the Saturday night/Sunday morning party crowd. I remember an afternoon of good humour and bad jokes where nobody seemed particularly bothered about Di, let alone distraught as sections of the media wanted us to believe.

Margaret Thatcher’s resignation – 22 November 1990

I was living in Toronto at the time, without a telly, so I guess I would have read about it in the Globe and Mail, Canada’s only national broadsheet.

Obviously the news wasn’t on the scale it was here although I recall a lot of people asking me about it as I was English. Thatcher was a lot more respected and popular among ordinary people there than she ever was here and many people were surprised by the vehemence of my dislike of her.

Even on the left Thatcher had a bit of a following. These were the days of the rise in Canada and especially Ontario of the New Democrat Party – a sort of proto-New Labour Party – which had grabbed power in the state that autumn under Bob Rae. They subsequently spectacularly imploded I believe.

Better than the Thatcher resignation itself, I can recall a long conversation with a New Democrat, who had briefly worked as the foreign editor of the Toronto Star, about who was likely to succeed Thatcher. In my naivety I claimed Hurd would, only to be told that it would almost certainly be Major as he could win an election for them and the English Tories were all about winning elections.

The same person told me the following spring that there was likely to be a war in Yugoslavia. Like many at the time I was focussed on the first Gulf War and never really registered the significance of this.

Attack on the twin towers – 11 September 2001

I was working in Easton at the time and a colleague came in and said that a plane had been flown into the World Trade Center by terrorists. Probably for the first time – for a really big news event at least – I tried to find out more from the web.

I can’t remember whether I was still using dial-up or we had just got broadband but it took about ten minutes to get on to the BBC site. And once I had seen the still pictures I went in search of a TV.

There wasn’t one in the building but a colleague was listening to the radio – Five Live I think – where the soundtrack of noises, screams and cries of anguished Americans sounded like something out of a Hollywood movie.

At some point Cliff from The Plough arrived and announced he’d opened the pub early. A few of us went over, had a pint and watched the towers collapse.

England’s World Cup Semi Final v Germany – 4 July 1990

My first thought on hearing this was that I didn’t see it because I was at Glastonbury. I can definitely remember listening to 1986’s ‘Hand of God’ there as we were sat outside the tent with it on the radio and were getting so much interest from passers-by we eventually started pinning updates on the tent.

But having checked the dates, it seems the match was a week after Glastonbury. This is a shame as this was the year rave hit Glastonbury with a vengeance – The Happy Mondays played and a large, raucous travellers site could be found just the other side of the fence – which would have made for some entertaining stories.

The upshot of this is that I have no idea where or if I saw the match. I actually spent most of the summer living in the suburbs at my parents on the rebound from a spectacularly ill-judged and doomed relationship that had inevitably collapsed with some assistance from a small mountain of cheap gak and the kind of strong liquor I don’t usually drink, much.

The plan was to get some money together and clear off abroad. To this end I was working in a scummy little factory building air conditioning units where an ex’s schoolfriend was also working. He too was at his parents trying to fund his way through a degree in contemporary literature at Bournemouth University by working in the butchery department of Sainsburys at weekends and building air conditioning units during holidays.

Very little money was actually ever saved though as we both used to leave work every night and go straight to the pub for six hours. We favoured this 1970s brick built dump, whose name escapes me, used entirely by middle aged alcoholics and losers where we could sit quietly in the corner and talk morosely about Milan Kundera novels.

President Kennedy’s Assassination – 22 November 1963

Before my time.

I also have to nominate five others to do this. As we’ve had a local Labour Party member do this, we might as well have a Green – Vowlsie – a Tory – James Barlow – a Lib Dem – Neil Harrison plus a couple of random locals – someone from Connecting Bristol and Matt at PRBristol.

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10 Responses to Through a glass darkly

  1. Kerry says:

    I saw the Mondays at that Glastonbury – the sound was far too quiet; they turned it down just before they came on.

  2. K9 says:

    Kevin at prBristol here: Matt is on holiday so I thought I had better respond in his stead, to keep things moving along:

    Princess Diana’s death: heard it on the news at 7am at my home in St Andrews. Fascinating for its effect on the public psyche.

    Margaret Thatcher’s resignation: funnily enough, I can’t remember except much about what I was doing except that I laughed to see her cry. She preached that no-one could expect a job for life – but didn’t actually believe that this should also apply to her. More memorable was Howe’s speech which I watched live with my late mother-in-law. Woke her from her afternoon nap because, as I told her: “This is history”.

    Attack on the Twin Towers: TVs on in the office. Work stopped. We thought tens of thousands were dying in front of our eyes.

    England’s World Cup semi-final v Germany: watched it over a few beers at a friend’s house in Ashley Down. I actually remember the 1966 final more vividly – my friend’s very mild-mannered father suddenly reverting to wartime mindset and shouting ‘Bloody Germans’ at the black and white TV. I was shocked at the language!

    Kennedy’s assassination: I was an eight-year-old in Torquay. Early evening, my mother called up the stairs to say President Kennedy had been killed and to say a prayer for him. Bigger shock to everyone than Diana because Cuban Missile Crisis was so fresh in the memory.

  3. w00dnymph says:

    Found out about diana when my 3 year old came upstairs about 8.30 with the bewildering news “it’s Newsround on every channel”.

    Thatcher’s resignation – was writing my dissertation in the pc lab at St Matthias campus (Bristol Poly) and an almost hysterical academic ran in proclaiming the joyous news and was met with rapturous applause by the student and staff in the lab.

  4. Chris Hutt says:

    Beautifully written piece BB.

  5. Hey BB, thanks for the invite! Nice to feel wanted and all that…

    – Diana’s death. I remember this one very well. I was in the midst of the disintegration of my then engagement and I’m pretty sure that night I slept on sofas in the lobby of the postgrad hall at the University of Kent (I was working for the students’ union at the time). I was falling for another girl, but trying hard to do the right thing.

    Anyhow… I heard about it in said girl’s kitchen the next morning and was shocked as I guess that imprinted in my brain was the idea that royals and aristocracy were somehow untouchable. We had a cooked breakfast and watched the news coverage.

    In terms of her death, I was obviously sad in the same way that I would be with anyone’s death, but nothing more than that. I found the eulogising utterly distasteful and still do. She was a person of privilege who had a unique personal life (as we all do) and who sometimes used her life of easy leisure to do good things. I guess I will probably remember her most for her engagement with people with AIDS when this was simply not done. In some ways no big shakes, but she did use her celebrity better than most in her position.

    Fundamentally the biggest lesson from her death is don’t get into a car with someone who’s been drinking and always wear a seatbelt. Trite, but true.

    – Thatcher’s resignation. No idea where I was precisely, but I would have been at school. I don’t remember feeling a great deal at the time as my political consciousness was only just beginning to form – I would have just turned 17. Being a horrid liberal, I do remember at the time feeling somewhat sorry for someone who was clearly heartbroken.

    It’s an event which has taken on more significance for me as I have gotten older. I’m not going to bore people with a long rant about Thatcher’s legacy because we all know the story. She tore communities apart, set person against person, idolised greed over service, debased our public sector and broke the old political molds. We must also remember that some of the worst errors of the last Tory government were seen under Major, not Thatcher – and that is *not* an apologia!

    One of my first conscious political acts was choosing not to pay Thatcher’s evil Poll Tax… but please don’t tell Canterbury City Council just in case they come and find me! 😎

    – Twin Towers. I was at work at UWE, where I used to manage the advice service for students. One of my colleagues came to my office and made me look at what was happening on the web. Initially there was speculation about missiles and bombs, with a real fear that something even more momentous was about to happen.

    I went home early, maybe at lunchtime, and sat alone in my house in Bishopston and watched the television news coverage. To be frank, I sat and cried my eyes out because I knew that I was watching footage of thousands of people dying. Bloody liberals, eh!

    Again it is an event which takes on more significance with the passage of time. The day itself was marked by confusion and speculation. I was worried on a personal level as I had friends living and working in New York at the time.

    My view now is that it proves that you reap what you sow. Clearly the people who died did not individually deserve to die. But the US foreign policy of the time (and to some extent the policies of commercial organisations exploting the Middle East) made it that much likely that such an attack would occur, just as Blair’s involvement in the illegal and unjustified Iraq War was the backdrop for the July 7th bombings in London. We *still* must radically rethink our approach to the wider world as we *still* keep making the same dreadful mistakes.

    One of the greatest political sleights of hand of modern times was the way in which US and UK citizens were misled wholesale into tying 9/11 to Iraq. Anyone with any awareness of the geopolitics of the Middle East knew this was rubbish, but Bush and Blair pulled the wool so hard that the West went along with their big deception. 5,000 civilians died in the Twin Towers due to a dreadful act of terrorism. 100,000 civilians have died in Iraq since due to the acts of democratic governments.

    – England vs Germany. I was at home with my parents, watching the match. It was a great game of football – not sure what else to say. Being of joint English/German heritage (with a splash of French and Welsh), I always find these encounters rather amusing. Was otherwise rather annoyed with Gazza and the histrionics.

    – Kennedy assassination. Before my time, as you will have guessed. Ironically, I probably know far more about this event than any of the others, despite not living it. I was, in my younger days, a bit of a conspiracy buff and possess a large collection of books on the topic! For the record, I still don’t believe the Oswald story, nor that of Ray’s killing of Martin Luther King.

    Kennedy has always been a bit of a hero of mine. He had the ability to bring people together from different perspectives – an anti-Thatcher, maybe. Not that he was a saint, personally or politically. In fact, he’s probably the most misrepresented politician of all time, by both left and right. In some ways I am pleased that his reputation was preserved in aspic by his death as I think it is something which can still instruct. Barack Obama reminds me a lot of JFK – fingers very crossed for November!

  6. Thanks for the invite BB. I’ll have a think and post something on my blog about each event. I suppose the exercise gives a broad spectrum of opinion on events/history as well as saying something about the writers.

    Interesting choice of ‘key events’, presumeably Iain Dale picked them. Anyone have thoughts about what key moments in history are and to what extent each of those chosen fit the bill?

  7. Following on from Neil Harrison’s comments on the Twin Towers:

    Just under 3000 people died, mostly civilians, according to wikipedia, not 5000. Approx 3000 appears to be about right judging by figures given in a variety of other places.

    Neil does not discuss all that motivated the terrorists responsible and so his picture is only partial. There’s a lot more than US foreign policy involved, though this is one factor. What of the belief system(s) of those involved?? This is of crucial importance if we are to fully understand such events and perhaps become able to stop them and their like altogether over time. Its also worth remembering that Sept 11 2001 was not an isolated event, with Al Qaeda having roots back before 1990.

  8. Glenn is of course right. The number of dead wasn’t hyperbole – I just thought I remembered it, but I really should have checked. The 100,000 figure for Iraq is obviously also open to question.

    In respect of the wider issues, I would recommend the book Dining With Terrorists by Phil Rees. It gives a really fascinating insight into the psyche and politics of some of the world’s most famous terrorist groups. It also makes a big play of the important of US (and UK) foreign policy. I also recommend Murder In Samarkand by Craig Murray for an insight (from a former UK Ambassador) into how the War On Terror (TM) is really being waged and what is being achieved.

  9. Get out says:

    Hey BB, I’m surprised you havent blogged yet on the civil war in St George Tories over the by-election:

    “Bristol Tory leaders branded ‘lunatics’ by rejected candidate”

    http://www.thisisbristol.co.uk/news/Bristol-Tory-leaders-branded-lunatics-rejected-candidate/article-297201-detail/article.html
    http://bristol.indymedia.org/article/688778?&condense_comments=false#comment39604
    http://bristol.indymedia.org/article/688811

    With entertainment like this, who needs theatre?

  10. Bluebaldee says:

    Can I have a go?

    Diana: My old attic flat on Richmond Park Rd. Had just returned from Lakota absolutely trollied off my nut with a few friends and about 6 stone deaf ravers that we’d met. Room cloudy with spliff smoke. Techno pumping out of very large speakers, no conversation, just signing from the deaf contigent. TV on in the background – headlined announced her death. No point in turning the music off and the TV up as only a few of us would benefit, so watched the story unfold to the sound of pounding tunes. Very surreal.

    Thatcher: Travelling across the States and Canada. I was in Missisuaga at the time, on the outskirts of Toronto. Fancy that, eh BB.
    I afforded myself a smile.

    Twin Towers: In a portakabin temping for Bristol and West in Filton. Everything and everyone stopped. People clustered around TV in the break room and phones went unanswered. I’ve never watched anything so visceral, yet detatched at the same time. Don’t want to again, either. Because of our proximity to Abbey Wood were told that we might have to stay in the portakabin overnight. It felt a bit like controlled hysteria and the possible onset of WW3 for an hour or two.

    England v Germany: Travelling in the States. Found a bar in San Francisco showing it. Drunk far too much Coors therefore have an extremely poor memory of the game itself. Probably cried.

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