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 wasÂ oneÂ of those people – most of whom will now deny it – who became caught up in it all. I was up thereÂ on the grassyÂ knoll at the edgeÂ of Green Park when her coffin arrivedÂ on the evening before her funeral, amongst the candles and photographs andÂ letters and eerie silence. I doubt this is the time or place to becomeÂ involvedÂ in any longer discussion about that or things monarchicalÂ in general,Â so I’ll moveÂ on to..
Margaret Thatcher’s resignation. I wasÂ in St Swithun’s Quad, Magdalen College, when the now Dr Mark Godfrey of Glasgow University came runningÂ 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,Â with a fair number of those there suspecting thatÂ out-and-out celebration was (1) quite possibly premature and (2)Â in poor taste.
9/11: I was at the enquiry deskÂ of North Kensington Library when my colleague Jeremy Travers came up behind me to say that planes had hit both towersÂ of the World Trade Centre. He didn’t tell me straightaway what he alsoÂ knew, that they’d actually come down. Remember, that was very hard to imagine beforeÂ itÂ had actually taken place. The rest of the afternoon was taken up by trying to getÂ the BBC News site to load, surrounded by a crowdÂ of appalled customers and staff. It wouldn’t: only Ananova hadn’t fallenÂ over. This was followed by desperate attempts to contact everyone I might haveÂ knownÂ who’d beÂ 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 treatmentÂ that afternoon wasÂ shameful (her colleague resignedÂ in disgust shortly afterwards). Mary Beard was far from alone unfortunately. I saw my first overtly anti-USAÂ marchÂ in Oxford a day or so later.
England vs West Germany, World Cup semi-final 1990. I watched thisÂ in my mother’s cottageÂ in Sharnbrook. I felt England were EXTREMELY fortunate to be there – they’d been dreadful all tournament, and the victory against BelgiumÂ in particular was daylight robbery. But they pulled it together for the semi-final, and probably deserved to win that tremendous matchÂ overall.
President Kennedy’s assassination: I was in my GM Corvette driving fast down Highway 1 in Big Sur. Very earlyÂ in the morning, and I’d been partying all night. Top down, radio bellowingÂ over the wind; I’m not sure I caught theÂ news properly first time, but it soon becameÂ inescapable. Memorable to me asÂ one of those occasions when something causes you to sober up,Â instantly, brings you back toÂ land from way wayÂ out and allÂ in anÂ instant. I rang my editor from a roadside telephone – woke him up – he shouted “No!” and thenÂ ordered me to report straight to the office.
Tag yourselvesÂ if you feel inclined!