Where Were You When You Heard About…

Thanks to Gracchi for roping me in on this one. I’m a little late; sorry.

The Death of the Princess of Wales (curses on this wretched public computer keyboard): I was in the then-new Clapham Sainsburys shopping for breakfast. I pulled the Sunday Telegraph out from the plastic dispenser, read the headline (“Diana and Dodi Dead”), pushed it back in again, then pulled it out a second time to see if the headline had changed to something more sensible. It hadn’t, of course.

I was one of those people – most of whom will now deny it – who became caught up in it all. I was up there on the grassy knoll at the edge of Green Park when her coffin arrived on the evening before her funeral, amongst the candles and photographs and letters and eerie silence. I doubt this is the time or place to become involved in any longer discussion about that or things monarchical in general, so I’ll move on to..

Margaret Thatcher’s resignation. I was in St Swithun’s Quad, Magdalen College, when the now Dr Mark Godfrey of Glasgow University came running out from the corner staircase with what I felt to be rather mixed tidings. What followed was a sedate but well-attended tea-and-teacakes party, with a fair number of those there suspecting that out-and-out celebration was (1) quite possibly premature and (2) in poor taste.

9/11: I was at the enquiry desk of North Kensington Library when my colleague Jeremy Travers came up behind me to say that planes had hit both towers of the World Trade Centre. He didn’t tell me straightaway what he also knew, that they’d actually come down. Remember, that was very hard to imagine before it had actually taken place. The rest of the afternoon was taken up by trying to get the BBC News site to load, surrounded by a crowd of appalled customers and staff. It wouldn’t: only Ananova hadn’t fallen over. This was followed by desperate attempts to contact everyone I might have known who’d be in there.

My wife was at work at the OUP, herself and another US citizen. People say that the US began with world sympathy. Not from academics. Her treatment that afternoon was shameful (her colleague resigned in disgust shortly afterwards). Mary Beard was far from alone unfortunately. I saw my first overtly anti-USA march in Oxford a day or so later.

England vs West Germany, World Cup semi-final 1990. I watched this in my mother’s cottage in Sharnbrook. I felt England were EXTREMELY fortunate to be there – they’d been dreadful all tournament, and the victory against Belgium in particular was daylight robbery. But they pulled it together for the semi-final, and probably deserved to win that tremendous match overall.

President Kennedy’s assassination: I was in my GM Corvette driving fast down Highway 1 in Big Sur. Very early in the morning, and I’d been partying all night. Top down, radio bellowing over the wind; I’m not sure I caught the news properly first time, but it soon became inescapable. Memorable to me as one of those occasions when something causes you to sober up, instantly, brings you back to land from way way out and all in an instant. I rang my editor from a roadside telephone – woke him up – he shouted “No!” and then ordered me to report straight to the office.

Tag yourselves if you feel inclined!

2 Replies to “Where Were You When You Heard About…”

  1. “The rest of the afternoon was taken up by trying to get the BBC News site to load”: I and some colleagues wondered where in the world would everyone have gone to bed before the drama began, and not have got up yet. So we tried a Chilean newssite: bingo!

  2. That’s grand- I loved your description of where you were when Kennedy died! Have to say having missed most of these because I was too young, its great to read about someone who was alive. I remember the hideous reaction to September 11th from some people in academia too- i was still an undergrad then and some of my leftwing friends did not acquit themselves well- I remember one or two doing mock American accents and wondering when Bush would bomb some Ehrabs.

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