If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Sunday, 11 September 2011

"Where were you, when the world stopped turning ... "

"... on that September day?" asks JuliaM.

I was working as Duty Manager in a call centre run by ONdigital, later to be ITV Digital, purveyors of digital-TV-through-yer-aerial in the days when ten extra channels and the odd footie match were deemed to be enough to sell your soul for. One of the things we were promoting was the sale of Integrated Digital Televisions, or IDTVs. As a consequence, we needed to have an example of each model available close by so we could guide customers through the various screen options by going through the stages ourselves with the customer on the line. I was on the early shift, having started at 8.00 am, and the room was busy taking calls from some of our one million or so customers. I was looking after six team managers, each with a team of about 12 agents, so the noise in the room was considerable.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw something quite remarkable: a plane flying into the side of a skyscraper. I assumed it was one of the company's action movies and ignored it, but then the same footage was played over and over again. The technology behind the digital TV system was flaky to say the least, and I wondered if there had been a transmission fault and part of the film was playing in a loop. And then I saw the BBC news banner across the bottom of the screen, as the programme returned to the studio and its ashen-faced presenters. It was then that I realised what had happened - and was still happening. I actually saw the second plane as it approached the second tower and, with an awful inevitability, pierced the building and exploded.

I have often had a dream where I am watching a large passenger plane slowly approaching the ground, knowing that it was not landing but crashing, and that everyone aboard would shortly be killed. The dream is always accompanied by a feeling of utter dread and horror, and I always wake up in a sweat. This was that dream made all too real, and watching it my mouth was dry and my heart was rising in my chest.

As the story developed, more and more of the people in the room stopped what they were doing and gathered around the screens. At the same time, the volume of calls dropped dramatically (the whole country seemed to have been watching) and, as if by some agreement, each team left one person online to answer calls while the rest watched the unfolding horror. I later learned that many of the conversations with customers were about the developing events in New York and not about Sky Sports Two. A 'live floor' in a call centre can be a very noisy place, but Green Wing became eerily quiet for a long time as we all watched and digested the meaning of what we were seeing. I left for work that night and got on the bike, knowing that the world had just changed utterly, and not for the better.

My heartfelt sympathies today go out to all of those who lost loved ones in the atrocity (there is no other word for it). The sight of the poor souls who were forced to choose between being burned alive and jumping to their deaths will never leave me.

I am not at all convinced that we know, or will ever know, the truth behind what really caused these events, and I am sure that some very bad and even wicked decisions were made in the aftermath which have scarred the world for ever, but this is not the time to talk of these. All I can express tonight is my sympathy with those affected by the events, my admiration of the bravery of those who rallied to help, and in many cases lost their lives doing so, and my utter disbelief that any human being could think that a righteous cause could be advanced by such an act of monumental wickedness.



  1. Probably the second unforgettable (not personal) moment in a lifetime.

    [The 1st was receiving news of JFK's assassination.]

    The afternoon of ten years ago I was at a customer's office and he had a BBC News feed on his computer. The 1st Tower had been crashed into.

    As soon as real-time reports of the 2nd Tower being targeted came through, everyone in the office realised it was a conspiracy. The discussions then revolved around speculation as to whether there were any more 'flying bombs'; and, what the target would be.

    Most considered the White House, not realising that prospective targets had to be physically quite large. Many thought that just flying into a city centre would suffice.

    Then, the Pentagon got hit.

    The news that a passenger revolt prevented catastrophic damage from the 4th plane didn't become available until later that day.

    Sympathies to the thousands of victims of indiscriminate mass destruction; the world changed that day.

  2. Thanks for reminding me, Joe. When the first plane hit, we all assumed it was a terrible accident. It was the second plane that brought the terrible knowledge that it was a deliberate attack. It seemed that the impossible had just happened.

  3. "When the first plane hit, we all assumed it was a terrible accident."

    Oh, indeed. The newsanchors were initially reporting it as 'a small plane' (my mum remembers thinking it must have been a Cessna or Learjet)...


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