A few thoughts on the events of ten years ago.
We all remember where we were. I was at school. Rumours flew, a memo went round instructing teachers to turn off televisions, senior management terrified of traumatising kids. By the end of the day, everyone knew something had happened and no-one knew what that thing was. It was a sensation we were unused to; peace had reigned in Northern Ireland for some time, we were a post-Cold War generation with no real idea of what a threat to our way of life would look like. This changed the moment my brother and I walked through the front door to find our father watching BBC News 24.
Television was how most of the world experienced the events of September 11th 2001, and the subsequent events of the decade since that day. I remember watching the live footage of Baghdad the night of “shock and awe”, the fall of the Saddam statue, Col Tim Collins’ speech (both the original and the subsequent dramatisation). I finally saw United 93 this year, which is as shocking because of the chaos and incoherency of the initial response as it is moving because of the bravery of the people on the plane. Both live and after-the-fact with the gloss of Hollywood applied, the pictures were thrust into our living rooms.
And then there were moments when the shockwaves invaded your real life. I watched the 7/7 London bombings unfold on the news, but two weeks later on the 21st was in London, a 17-year-old work experience kid, when a second set of backpack bombs failed to go off but nonetheless brought the city to a standstill. Panicked phone calls, confusion, loved ones not knowing where we were. I had a tiny taste of the chaos wrought on my capital.
There is a scar on the landscape of Manhattan. Your first view of the skyline is a shock, even years later. My joy at crossing the Queensboro Bridge in a yellow cab from Kennedy airport and seeing Manhattan strung out along the night time horizon was tempered by the knowledge that the far southern tip of that string of lights was not how it used to look, how it looked in pictures or on TV. Three days later I made the pilgrimage that every tourist makes now. By this time, October 2009, there was little to see. Construction proceeds apace.
I haven’t really shown these photos to anyone before, simply because they are not of much photographic or artistic merit. Still, they stand as memories, the moment I went and bore witness to the rebuilding.
I took this photograph in the spring of 2007 in Leeds.
At the time, the place seemed like a relic, a break in the space-time continuum just one shop-front wide. Junk mail was piling up inside the door. Combs sat in jars of Barbicide, doing whatever it is that things do when they can’t fester because they’re suspended in disinfectant. The sign was like something from another age, hand painted and full of promises about what treasures lay within.
I was back in Leeds a few weeks ago. The place is boarded up, destined to be gutted, renovated and turned into something else as yet unspecified.
That’s the least of it. A restaurant unit I ate in (with the same person both times, now I think of it) as both a Hard Rock Cafe and a Felicini pizza place is empty once again. There are 900 new bedrooms on campus, built on stray bits of lawn, garden and car park they found along the northern edge. New cafes spring up, old ones disappear. A whole chunk of the city centre retail district has been flattened, and for a while Holy Trinity is blessedly free of its usual three-sided cage of shopping centre. Not for long. It’ll be back, bigger than ever we’re assured. And, I expect, virtually unrecognisable from the cache of memories I cherish from my three years living there.
As Snoopy once remarked of the demise of the Daisy Hill Puppy Farm at the expense of a multi-storey car park, “You stupid people! You’re parking on my memories!”