I was talking to an American friend of mine a while ago about a strange phenomenon connected to the attacks on the Twin Towers. Despite our best efforts, the effect of globalisation have caused us in the uk to refer to those incidents as the attacks of September 11th rather than the 11th September as would be more appropriate in the English language. I was also mentioning that there was a rather nice symmetry in that the numbers 9/11 were the telephone number of the emergency services in America and that perhaps Britain would be protected simply by the fact that we don’t have a possibility of the date ever being 99/9. Obviously I can only say now – how wrong I was. She did make a point which I shall, for the time being, railroad neatly across. She made the point that it certainly wasn’t the first time that this kind of rampant globalisation had caused such an effect but that the last time, at least the last time she could think of, the effect had been the other way around.
In the week of the first attack on London the Olympics had been announced as having gone London’s way and that, it seemed was that. The London 2012 team had originally received a lot of resistance from Londoners to the Olympics. In fact in the original Olympic Commission report the apathy of Londoners was considered to be one of the main reasons to stay away. But our bluff exteriors had been worn away and a nice feeling of gentle acceptance had become the norm across London. The feeling of having won the Olympics here was a genuine one of joy – not something that often happens to a city of this size. Katherine and I walked up to the Freemasons on Wednesday evening and people were chatting away about where they had been when they’d found out that it had gone our way. People seemed to be genuinely excited, and on the back of the success of Live 8 and what with what seemed likely to be announced from G8, I found myself saying to Katherine as we settled down into a deep sofa with a couple of cold beers that we were clearly headed for a wonderful feel-good summer the likes of which the capital hadn’t seen for many a year.
If this sounds like dramatic licence then I can only assure you that it is not. London genuinely felt good about itself when it went to sleep on Wednesday night. Obviously this made it all the stranger when the next morning the events of the 7th July occurred.
Luckily for me, Katherine and I were at home on the sofa when we found out. We were watching a movie and my father called to find out if we were on the tube. He had been at work for a while already so was fine and was just calling now to check on what was happening. At that point it was being billed only as a power surge but soon enough we found out everything of what had happened.
There is a big difference between knowing what is exactly going on with the people that you love and when you don’t. Within about ten minutes of finding out what had happened I had discovered that all of the people that I expected to be in London were okay and safe. And from then on in I was watching the event as an outsider. Despite the strangeness of this being the place where I have lived for most of my life. And most of the trouble being in places right near where I have worked for years it just didn’t seem as real to me as what happened in Manhattan. The main difference, I feel, is that I knew people actually directly affected by the Twin Towers attacks. Whereas, so far, I don’t know anyone who was any more affected by what happened on Thursday then to have an unusual commute home from work in the evening.
Part of this feeling towards what happened was to do with the small number of people killed or injured in comparison with what happened in New York and Madrid, especially when coupled with the almost relief that the inevitable had actually occurred and that we had coped well. Part of this was due to the feel good factor that was already running in the city. And part of this was due to one other factor which perhaps it was only me feeling it but I’m not so sure about it.
It seemed, and this is going to seem trite I’m sure, like the British TV adaptation of September 11th. We couldn’t quite afford the special effects, the extras, the big action scenes and so on. And yet inside this insensitive belittling of people’s lives (not to mention the British television networks production values) there is some kernel of truth I think. We didn’t actually see any of the action, only the reaction. And as every good writer knows you don’t tell you show. I watched both events on TV unfold live, and one affected me more than the other. And the one in my home town should have affected me more I think (although the larger number of deaths and the fact I had lived in and knew people who continued to live in New York made a difference) the main reason is that we watched the disaster happen. Whereas with what happened in London we were being told of all of the things that had already happened.
Anyway I’ll leave that topic there for a moment.
The last thing I will say is about the previous globalisation event that was the precursor of us adopting the wrong way around date. It was of course the 4th July. American’s still say it our way around because it is the only holiday that survives since British rule and they didn’t change the date around until afterwards. But it still survives as a reminder of just how much our two nations do have to do with each other.