But how are you? Aren’t you concerned?
Bless her, she had her most concerned voice on — ready for me to say how terrible and upsetting it is.
No, I can’t say it bothers me in the slightest. I mean, it’s so random — you’re probably more likely to die by falling in a hole on the beach.”
At this point I read them a story from the US where authorities are warning people about the dangers of falling into holes at the beach. It causes more deaths than shark attack — by a factor of 12 to 16.
But it was right outside your office door!
Actually, it was directly underneath our first-floor meeting room.
Yeah, it’s funny you mention that. Nikki, my editor, was saying this morning, that that’s exactly where the last one was.
Julie looked at me in horror.
The last one?
Jo looked on.
Yeah — when you live in London, you get used to this sort of thing. It’s so random that it’s unlikely to kill you — it’s generally just an inconvenience.
I was having lunch with my Julie and Jo today — they’re in town (from Australia) on their annual European tour. Julie is coming for dinner on Sunday, but I called to see if they wanted to catch up for lunch today as well because… well, I should go back a little to give you some context…
I had my hand on the door handle this morning, about the leave for work, when my mobile phone rang. Surprisingly, it was my boss. He has 18 direct reports, so he rarely speaks to any of us unless there is a problem to be sorted out. The only other time he called me outside work hours was when he was recruiting me.
He said that there had been a bomb scare, and that the office was cordoned of. We agreed that it would probably only be for a couple of hours — these things are usually cleaned up quickly. I called my editor, she called her staff, and I sat down on Grandfather’s chair, in front of BBC News 24, with the computer on my lap, my mobile phone and the house phone on each side of me. It is press week. We have work to do. A lot of work to do!
The BBC London site allows you to see all the traffic cameras — it’s a great way of getting a quick perspective on what’s happening in the capital. The camera looking down Haymarket was,
Temporarily offline for operational reasons
The news report said that police had defused a bomb — that didn’t bode well for a visit to the office today. A bomb scare is one thing. An actual bomb — that’s quite another.
Then BBC News 24 cut live to the scene, and I saw a blue tent erected outside a door that I actually used on on Monday night — following my magazine’s victory in the office pub quiz. The blue tent was removed to reveal a silver Mercedes-Benz as the truck arrived to take it away.
Nikki and I hatched a plan to head into the office after lunch, thinking that we would probably be able to get in there by then. And I rang Julie and Jo because I had been looking forward to a convivial Friday lunch, and if I couldn’t do it with my colleagues, I was going to do it with my friends.
I walked Julie and Jo down to Piccadilly Circus, so they could tell people at home that they had actually seen where the bomb scare was. The police said that we were unlikely to be allowed back into the office today. Julie and Jo were headed for the design museum, so, after calling Nikki, I joined them.
Thank you terrorists, for my lovely lunch and an impromptu trip to the design museum. Without you we wouldn’t have the funky new light fittings that I bought in the museum shop and have just installed in the front hall and the landing this evening. (I haven’t told Mrs Albion about the lights yet. I’m just going to leave them there and see how long it takes her to notice.)
Update, 10 June 2020
I was quite flippant in this post because it is genuinely how I feel about the terrorist bombs. It wasn’t until three months later, in September, that I realised many of my colleagues were less blasé. As a relative newcomer to Incisive Media, I had not been aware that my immediate colleagues in the Risk Waters part of the business had been running the conference on the top floor of the World Trade Centre when the planes hit on the morning of September 11.
The events team would have been in there early — probably from 6.30am or 7am. The journalists and editors would have arrived from about 8.30am — all ready to mingle and talk with sources, advertisers, clients and colleagues during the day. They would have been feeling a little buzzy — like they were about to go on stage. In the back of their minds would have been a lingering doubt about whether anyone would turn-up. It was a drop-in conference, without a guest list, and no matter how successful your brand, you always worry.
The team in London watched in horror as the news reported, live, what was happening. They immediately tried to call their colleagues in New York. I think some of them got through.
There was confusion.
Mistaken word got back to London that everyone was safe.
The relief was short lived. Phones started ringing —first the New York office asking for any information the editorial or events teams had about who was at the conference. Then the individuals — desperate, sad voices asking if their loved one had been on the guest list — women with children in the background, concerned parents, partners sitting at home, alone, wondering. HR departments called to follow-up the whereabouts of their colleagues, before they called their In Case of Emergency contacts. And the loved-ones of the Risk Waters staff members, many of whom were well known to their colleagues in the office.
It became very clear that nobody had made it out.
The old-hands from the Risk Waters group said it never really recovered. The business was strong but the people felt broken. The spark of excitement they had felt when they walked through the door each day was gone. In 2002, Peter Field, the founder and owner of the Risk Waters group sold it to Incisive Media and retired.
Five years later, when I worked with them, September 11 remained a sombre day for my colleagues. There were collections for the charities established in memory of those who died and many took time for silent contemplation. Some people appeared to be at work that day only to be close to others that had shared their experience.
It’s easy to be flippant when you are a bystander.
Copyright © Damian Clarke, 2020. First posted to the Our Albion blog, June 29th, 2007.