11th September 2001 was a wonderful, bright and sunny day here in London, just as it was in New York. You didn’t need a jacket outdoors. I was on duty for a presentation to a prospective client that morning, at the client’s offices. I was done by lunch time and walked through the lobby blissfully unaware of what was happening over the Atlantic, though it must have been on television screens in the lobby by then. As I walked through the sun from Gresham Street to our office on Moorgate I was in a world of my own, relieved that the presentation was done.
It wasn’t until I reached the office with sandwiches in hand that I found out. “Somebody has flown a plane into he World Trade Centre,” a colleague said. I had in mind a light aircraft, or perhaps something a bit like the plane that flew into the Empire State Building in the war. It was only as I tapped into my computer that the scale of it started to become clear. The internet was overloaded, so the information only came through slowly. At first there were the burning buildings. And then the towers collapsed. We held an emergency management meeting, since the trading and custody activities that we administered would certainly have been affected. But there wasn’t much we could do.
Our management team had held a global conference in New York only that April. And we’d had dinner at the restaurant on top of the World Trade Centre tower. We’d used those lifts.
Nobody could do much work; we gathered in small groups. Apart from trying to understand the sheer horror, the main concern was what the Americans might do in response. Revenge attacks would only make things worse, we all thought – but were all too likely.
I went home a bit early, I think. A lot of City workers had been sent home in the afternoon. I joined my wife in front of the television – she had been home that day and had been watching the TV as the second plane struck, having turned it on more or less by accident just after the first one had.
I had a meeting scheduled for that evening. The local primary school where I was a governor had an OFSTED inspection going on – and the inspectors wanted to talk to governors that evening. Would it be cancelled? No notice to say it was, so I went.
And the meeting did go ahead. The head of the inspection team, a self-important little man, carried on as if nothing had happened; he didn’t even mention it. This was his day of power, and no terrorists were going to spoil it. I managed to sit through it, but said nothing. Back home to watch the TV.
And that’s what I remember. How have we been spending the 10th anniversary? We went to see Marlow’s Dr Faustus at the Globe. We started in a shower, but the weather was mostly nice. An interesting and enjoyable play, well produced and played to a packed house. Going there and back we had to go to Waterloo, since the Bank branch of the Northern line was closed. We worked our way through the crowds attracted to the Thames Festival – and had a delicious venison sandwich for lunch from one of the stalls. On the way back we visited the Tate Modern to have tea in the Members’ Room and to see the Miro exhibition in its last couple of hours. Mostly his work is beyond me; but some of the paintings were breathtaking – especially the huge triptychs. The resonances with other Spanish artists, Picasso and Dali, were interesting, as was the relationship to political background in Spain (and Catalonia); I can only imagine the man’s total despair in the early 1940s. As we hurried for the station in the rain we passed a carnival parade gathering for its moment of glory behind the National Theatre.
The South Bank was packed with people seemingly of all nations having a nice day out. Apart from the rain the only blot was Transport for London’s decision to keep the York Road entrance to Waterloo tube closed – in spite of the crowds. The folly of this was illustrated when they had to close one of the down escalators because of an accident. Such are our everyday frustrations ten years on.
And later I will be joining some of my local Lib Dem friends in the Nightingale pub for our regular monthly drinks. Life is well within its usual frame. But we don’t forget.