September 11th, 1999, I was with my three brothers, sitting in a bar in Carlisle as we watched Liverpool v Manchester United on Sky Sports. Man Utd won 3-2.
It was the wrong result.
My second oldest brother was on leave from the Army. He had a wife and two children at that point (as he does now), and a home in the Midlands of England, so it was all the more rare an occasion that he’d travel up north to Carlisle during his time off, and that we’d all have an opportunity to group up again.
After the majority disappointment of the football match (since Army-brother is an arch-rival Everton fan and was laughing at the rest of us), we went for a few games of ten-pin bowling.
I had never seen anyone throw a bowling ball backwards until my oldest brother, who’s had a couple of hip replacements due to complications from two kidney transplants, shuffled up after a few pints and managed to send it in completely the opposite direction – and if the pins had have been back there instead, he would have had the force for a strike.
It was a great night. Oldest bro lived in Carlisle and went home, then the rest of us (I being the youngest) headed back to my mother’s place.
About half an hour after, we remembered that it was oldest brother’s birthday… and none of us had said a thing. Not a hug, a handshake or a celebratory pint to mark the occasion. And he’d gone home. As you can imagine, we felt awful, particularly as we couldn’t raise him on the phone.
We never forget his birthday, now.
* * * * *
Two years later, at around 2:10pm (9:10am in New York) my mother shook me awake. It was during my ‘dark times’ and that was almost in a literal sense, as I barely saw daylight. I lived a shadow-life.
“Two planes have crashed into the World Trade Centre,” she said. “There’s been a newsflash. They think it’s a terrorist attack.” Concern hushed her voice and she said the words gently, sounding like she didn’t know how to sound when delivering such news.
I was just out of dreams, with a muddled – probably hung-over – head, not picking up on the gravity of the situation which, I realise now, her voice inferred. I was thinking that it could only have been light, propeller planes. I remember the truck bomb on one of the towers and there being just a handful of deaths, but no real damage to the building itself. They wanted to bring it down, but failed.
She went back downstairs and I got dressed.
When I got to the TV… I was struck with a numbing sense of horror. A chill ran right through me as I watched those incomprehensible scenes being played over, and that belched, bloating fireball rising up from the impact wound of the first plane strike. Footage of the second attack hadn’t yet started rolling.
The live feed was the stuff of living hell. A lot of people have said, since, that they first thought it was a scene from some Hollywood action movie, but I knew already that it wasn’t, and that the loss of life was real and must have been huge. People incinerated at their desks and they just went out that morning to do their fucking jobs, not get blown to bits, torn to unrecognisable lumps and thrown down across the streets of the city they’d made home.
I saw people waving clothing from windows above the level of impact and I wondered how the heck they were going to get out with that raging fire beneath them. Why weren’t the news helicopters on the roof already, evacuating all the people they could instead of just watching? Then I realised that the insane thermals rising up from the inferno would have just spun them out of the sky, and – like me – there was nothing they could do but watch. Anything else would have been suicide.
And then there were the jumpers.
There was a ‘video nasty’ around in the 1980s called ‘Faces of Death’ which was a compilation of footage, including animal murders and fatal human incidents and accidents. Video was still a new thing around then – just taking off, really – and this was some macabre icon of that age. I never watched it, and have never watched it. It sickened me just to be told about it, and that people found a perverse enjoyment… I just couldn’t understand that.
When I was 12 or 13, the road safety/traffic officers from the local Police came in to school and gave us a talk… except it wasn’t a talk… it included a slide-show of scenes-of-accident photographs that showed the damage that could be done by irresponsible driving. There was a motorcyclist who had come off his bike and hit a truck, and by some freak dynamic, his hand was found holding the truck's tax disc between thumb and forefinger, hundreds of feet down the road from his body. They showed us a face that seemed to be smiling, eyes open, before telling us that it was a top-down photo and this young guy was on a morgue slab. The most disturbing image they… forced on us… was of an accident where another motorcyclist, a teenager, had gone too fast over the crest of a hill, swapping lanes and landing the bike right through the window of an oncoming car, between the driver and passenger seat, and the fuel tank exploded. All that was left there were two grinning, charred skeletons, encased in scorched steel, and the rider was way down the road, dead but still recognisable to his parents.
And I’d seen the pompous military footage display of ‘precision’ air strikes on bunkers and vehicles during the Gulf War (circa 1990), knowing that people will have died…
… but there I was, watching people jumping from those towers, from a place too high, knowing that in the very same moment I was watching them, they were facing their very last moments and hadn’t even hit the ground, yet.
For the first time in my life, I was witnessing death… watching people die.
You wonder what the conditions must have been like up there to spur a person into jumping, knowing that they wouldn’t survive the fall. Or did they think in those last moments that there must be a way that they could still survive, because nobody really expects to die when they’ve just gone out to work, do they? They want to go home and hug the people they love.
In 1994, on the first occasion of living in London – far away from the farmlands and tranquillity of rural Cumbria, where I grew up – I was caught in a bomb scare, while on the 11th floor of Archway Tower, in Islington, which was a government building, and that floor houses the Social Security offices.
I was just there to claim benefit. I was basically in poverty, living at a YMCA, and needed to eat. I had no qualm with the world.
The IRA (Irish Republican Army) were still very active at the time, and there had been a bombing campaign in the area in the October of the previous year, so it wasn’t like some random warning.
A klaxon began sounding and I’d never heard anything like it. Then a voice, and although I can’t remember word for word, it said something like: “This is a bomb alert. There may be a bomb in the building. Please stay away from the windows. Do not attempt to use the lifts or staircases until you are given the all clear.”
And everyone looks around, and they don’t know what to say, and you know that they’re feeling that same bone-chilling fear that you are, because you’re 190ft up in the air, and if some car bomb blew off the support column that’s right outside the entrance of the building, you could picture the whole place coming tumbling down.
There were women holding on to their children, trying to reassure through their own fear.
Everyone was suddenly a friend. In every pair of worried eyes, there was that reflection that we were in this together.
I’ll never forget that.
The audio warning and the klaxon repeated over and over again.
It was the highest I’d ever been in my life. I remember coming out of the lift on that floor and feeling like dropping to the ground and crawling because there were floor to ceiling windows just in front, and I could see right down to miniature red, double-decker buses turning at the junction of the road, below.
Half an hour later, we were told to evacuate.
There was no bomb.
Watching that footage, live on the television on September 11th, 2001, I could empathise, and so deeply… but I couldn’t really imagine what those people trapped were going through. Like my experience with the cancer scare, I lived the good news.
On April 15th, 1986 – a week after my 12th birthday - the US Air Force bombed Tripoli, in Libya, in revenge for the bombing of a nightclub in West Germany – specifically West Berlin - which killed three and injured hundreds.
This was still the Cold War… Germany divided by the Berlin Wall… the Iron Curtain… the USSR and USA were opposing superpowers and the fear of nuclear conflict was real.
I was just a little boy… some innocent little kid… I’d kissed Janine Sterling, a few years earlier, and no other girl since… I probably hadn’t developed ‘special hair’ by then, and I should have had other things not to worry about, but I was terrified that this reaction from the US – against, at the time, USSR-backed Libya – would propel the human race into World War III.
I remember coming home from school one day and my next oldest brother was there (only 15 at the time, himself) and I started crying when I saw the TV, with angry diplomats shouting at each other in some debating chamber. I was terrified for all of us. Maybe it’s the churning, developing mind of a developing brain at that age, but I was convinced it would all lead to nuclear war… all out apocalypse… that we were on the brink of absolute destruction, and that our end was on a hair-trigger of decision.
A few months ago, after posting the blog about the death of my little guy, Itchy, someone made a comment that they felt I may have embellished events, but I really don’t. I’ve only ever written what I’ve experienced and remembered, and though I may throw in a few extra adjectives than others, it’s the truth as I remember it. I have a very high IQ (or did – I’m happier to have grown stupider with age) and my first, very clear and very vivid memory was from when I was a couple of weeks old.
But, I digress back to 1986… and I’m not too sure how long after the Tripoli bombings, but remembering that I was still terrified of the possibility of nuclear war…
… I was sitting in Maths class at William Howard School, in Brampton, just going through the motions of the lesson. I recall that it was spring – though I’m not sure if it was ’86 or ’87 – and there was a clear blue sky and it was quite chilly.
Then… the most awful, twisted, grotesque, ripping sound that I never really thought I’d ever hear…
The air-raid siren at the local police station, a few hundred meters away, began to sound.
That noise meant, in 1986/1987... nuclear attack. It was the most fearsome and disgusting whine, pitching up to a scream and then back down, then repeating. And it was so loud.
I had this sensation like my teeth were made of metal and acid was dripping off them, making my whole mouth bitter and sour. I was frozen in fear.
I looked about my classroom and for the other kids, the noise was just an amusement. The teacher didn’t seem to pay any attention, but I absolutely knew that we were all going to be dead in a few minutes. I had my jaw on the table, my blood running cold, knowing that the last moments of my life were playing out – that my worst fears were actually happening.
I and everyone I loved were going to die.
I found out the week after that the police station were just carrying out an annual test of the siren.
I’m wondering if I can still sue them for that?
Back to the future, in 2001…
… watching these people die, facing what they thought would never happen to them, knowing the emotion of being caught up in incidents, but never the horror that I and hundreds of millions around the world were watching… it was heart-breaking.
Then the Pentagon.
Nobody knew how far it would spread, what was still in the air, whether there were flying bombs on their way to other cities in other nations, or who was behind it all.
There must have been a break or an away-to-the-studio talk from an expert moment in the footage I was watching, but I remember when focus was back on New York, it looked like a small nuclear bomb had gone off, and there was this colossal cloud of dust rising over the city.
One of the American reporters, in a helicopter or on the ground (I can’t remember which), said that one face of one of the towers had collapsed – and that seemed just impossible.
I knew about the plane hitting the Empire State Building in 1945 and that no building of this size had ever collapsed (there was a Russian tower with a fire a few years previous to the WTC attacks that never fell), so you trusted that that part of the building had collapsed… not the whole thing, not with all those survivors waiting to be rescued.
And when you could see behind that dust, there was no tower there at all. It had gone.
It moved from a disaster to a cataclysm.
I watched the second tower collapse in real-time.
At that same moment, heartbreak spread across the planet, because all hope was lost.
And yes, some people celebrated in the streets, in faraway lands, to see that happen, but they voiced their anger and rejoiced their revenge in just the same way that saw the streets of New York lit up in revelry and triumph when Osama Bin Laden was killed, earlier this year.
We are all alike, and we are all One.
We were all New Yorkers...
... we remembered the link, for a moment.
We were all New Yorkers...
... we remembered the link, for a moment.
Hundreds of thousands of people – likely more than a million – have been slaughtered in the ten years since September 11th, 2001.
I’ve seen my own brother and my nephew go to war, and my nephew was a child in 2001.
When are we going to stop this obsession with killing each other?
When will we decide to live in peace, and teach those who believe they are our masters that we are in charge?
We should do that now...
We should do that now...
UK Nationals killed on 9/11
1. Sarah Ali, 35, from Balham, south west London, was at a conference on the 106th floor of the north tower of the World Trade Centre.
2. Andrew Joseph Bailey, 29, married with an eight-year-old daughter, was originally from Birmingham. He worked as a security supervisor for insurance brokers Marsh and McLellan on the 93rd floor of the north tower and lived and worked in New York.
3. Michele Beale, 37, a director with London-based Risk Waters, was attending a conference at the World Trade Centre in New York on September 11.
4. Jane Beatty.
5. Oliver Bennett, 32, was a journalist with Risk Waters publishers.
6. Graham Berkeley, 37, an IT consultant, whose parents live in Shrewsbury, was on board the United Airlines flight which plunged into the World Trade Centre's south tower.
7. Paul Gary Bristow, 27, a publisher for Risk Waters group, was at a seminar in the Windows on the World restaurant on the 106th floor.
8. Geoffrey Thomas Campbell, 31, a Reuters employee from Great Billing, Northamptonshire, who had been due to take part in a conference hosted by English publishing company Risk Waters Group, in the World Trade Centre.
9. Jeremy Mark Carrington, 34, worked for Cantor Fitzgerald on the 105th floor of the WTC's north tower. Brought up in Essex, he moved to New York 12 years ago, where he met his wife, Pattie. Jeremy had survived the 1993 WTC bombing. His mother, Catherine Ross, lives in Gillingham, Dorset.
10. Suria Clarke, 30, was working in the towers. Her brother Tom is from London.
11. Neil James Cudmore, 38, worked in the advertising department of a financial journal. He was believed to have been planning to marry colleague and fellow victim Dinah Webster.
12. Michael Joseph Cunningham, 39, originally from Ilford, Essex, was a broker for Eurobrokers in the South Tower. He lived in Princeton, New Jersey, with his wife Teresa, 35. His son Liam was 13 days old when the jets hit the World Trade Centre.
13. Gavin Anthony Cushny, 48, of the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. He was working as computer consultant for Cantor Fitzgerald on 104th floor of the north tower.
14. Caleb Arron Dack.
15. Anthony Richard Dawson, of Southampton, had been attending a convention in one of the towers when the second plane struck.
16. Calvin Dawson.
17. Kevin Dennis, 43, a stockbroker, who lived in St John's Wood, north London, before he moved to New York to work for Cantor Fitzgerald. He had been on the 101st floor of the north tower of World Trade Centre.
18. Melanie Louise Devere. The 30-year-old publishing assistant with Risk Waters grew up in Hayling Island, Hants, before moving to London.
19. Richard Anthony Dunstan.
20. Michael Egan, 51, the Hull-born vice president of multinational insurance company AON, is believed to have died as he helped colleagues escape from the south tower.
21. Christine Egan, 55, a nurse working in Canada, was visiting her brother's office while on a week-long holiday in New York.
22. Robert Eaton, 37, a Cantor Fitzgerald broker, believed to have been working on the 105th floor of the north tower.
23. Godwin Forde, 38, a security guard for Morgan Stanley, was at work on the 42nd floor of the south tower.
24. Christopher Forsythe.
25. Boyd Gatton.
26. Andrew Clive Gilbert, in his thirties, originally from Ipswich, worked at the World Trade Centre.
27. Timothy Paul Gilbert, like his brother Andrew, was also in his thirties and working at the World Trade Centre. The brothers had been living and working in New York for some time.
28. Paul Gilbey, from Southend-on-Sea, a money trader with Euro Bank, worked on the 84th floor of the south tower. He and his wife had moved to the US eight years before the terrorist strike.
29. Ronald Lawrence Gilligan, 43, from Merseyside, is thought to have been behind his 103rd-floor desk at Cantor Fitzgerald when disaster struck.
30. Robert Halligan, originally from Kent.
31. Nicholas John, a 33-year-old banker from Swansea, had been due to attend a meeting at the World Trade Centre.
32. Christopher Jones.
33. Robin Blair Larkey, 48, from Surrey, worked for Cantor Fitzgerald. He left a wife and three young sons.
34. Steven Lawn, 29, from Broadstairs, Kent, moved to New York three years ago to work as a money dealer. He was on the 91st floor of the south tower. Parents John and Angela had just retired after running the family newsagents for 35 years.
35. Leon Lebor.
36. Michael William Lomax, 37, from Heaton Moor, Stockport, was working on the 93rd floor of the south tower when it was hit by one of the planes.
37. Mark Ludvigsen, was an employee of Cantor Fitzgerald.
38. Gavin MacMahon, 35, from County Durham, was working as an insurance executive on the 99th floor of one of the World Trade Centre towers.
39. Simon Percy Maddison, 40, worked for Cantor Fitzgerald. Lived with wife Maureen and three children in New Jersey. Originally from Harlow, Essex.
40. Keithroy Maynard.
41. Colin McArthur, 52, from Scotland, was vice-president of insurance company Aon Inc.
42. Christina Sheila McNulty.
43. John Moran.
44. Stephen Philip Morris, 31, whose parents live in Nantglyn, near Denbigh in Clwyd. He worked for a finance company in the World Trade Centre.
45. Alex Napier.
46. Marcus Neblett.
47. Christopher Newton-Carter, 52, from London, was an associate director for banker Sandley O'Neill. He was six floors from the top when the second plane plunged into his building.
48. Avnish Raman Patel, worked on the 93rd floor of the north tower of the World Trade Centre as a financial analyst with Fred Alger Management. Mr Patel, a single 28-year-old whose parents live in Clapham, south London, had lived in the US since he was 13.
49. Hashmukh Parmar.
50. David Alan James Rathkey, 47, from Maidenhead, Berks, was working on the 83rd floor of the North Tower. The father-of-three was a systems consultant who was married to an American and had lived in the country for 20 years.
51. Sarah Anne Redheffer, 35, from Enfield, north London, was working for Risk Waters on the 106th floor of the north tower when the first jet struck.
52. Rick Rescorla, 62, born in Hayle, Cornwall, was vice president for security for Morgan Stanley Dean Witter. He was helping his colleagues flee the World Trade Centre's south tower.
53. Karlie Rogers, 25, a Sussex University graduate from London, worked for Risk Waters publishers.
54. Howard Selwyn, 47, from Leeds, was told to evacuate the south tower while on the phone to a colleague at his desk on the 84th floor.
55. Jane Simpkin.
56. Michael Stewart, 42, a banker, from Belfast.
57. Derek Sword, 29, from Dundee, was working for American finance firm Keefe, Bruyette & Woods when the second jet went into the south tower.
58. Rhondell Tankard.
59. Ian Clive Thompson, 43, was born in Hampshire.
60. Nigel Bruce Thompson, 30, from Sheffield, was working on the 105th floor of the twin towers for brokers Cantor Fitzgerald.
61. Simon James Turner, 39, was among seven other British employees working at the technology conference in the quarter mile-high building.
62. Benjamin James Walker, 41, was on the 91st floor of the north tower, working for Marsh McClennan insurance brokers. He had moved to New York five years ago from Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire. He left an American wife, Laura, and three children.
63. Dinah Webster, 50, was attending a conference on the 109th floor of the south tower. She and fellow victim Neil Cudmore worked in the advertising department of a financial journal.
64. Vincent Wells, 22, from Ilford, Essex, worked for Cantor Fitzgerald.
65. Kathryn Wolf.
66. Martin Wortley, 29, from Woolpit, Suffolk, was working as a dealer with Cantor Fitzgerald.
67. Neil Robin Wright, 30, an options broker from Tilbury, Essex, was also in the offices of Cantor Fitzgerald when the building was struck.
Foreign nationals with close UK ties
1. Carol Blake.
2. Bettina Brown.
3. Sal-uddin Choudhury.
4. Richard Cudina, 46, originally from Swanage, in Devon. He was a bond broker with Cantor Fitzgerald.
5. Kieran Gorman, 35, was a labourer.
6. Waleed Iskandar.
7. Yvonne Kennedy.
8. Bojan Kostic.
9. John Lozowsky.
10. Israel Pabon.
11. Edward Saiya, 49, whose brother Art is from Camberley, Surrey.
12. Joyce Smith, 55, worked for Cantor Fitzgerald. Her brother Roy Hudson is from Syston, Leics.
13. Vladimir Tomasevic.
14. Jonathan Uman, 33, worked for Cantor Fitzgerald.
15. James Walsh, 37, originally from Nottingham, worked for Cantor Fitzgerald.
16. Maudlyn White.