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A date to remember

In his weekly Ward's World column, John marks the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

It started out as any other working day: I parked the car, wandered into the office just before that Tuesday lunchtime to see just what the situation was or more to the point what I was expecting to find there – would it be a smoothly running office or a complete shambles.

I was the shift manager for a facilities management company plus a subsidiary security company – as if the former was not enough to keep us either on our toes or amused – for many ‘blue chip’ companies, household names as the saying goes but regardless, every working day, 24/7, was both eventful and never boring as boring didn’t get a look in.

Columnist John Ward (51107475)
Columnist John Ward (51107475)

Oddly everything seemed to be running smoothly or as near as we could ever get to being running smoothly in real terms: pinned on the wall board were assorted ‘chases’ or jobs to be pursued.

Names of those who had been contacted who were either ‘not available, ‘in a meeting’ – this was the odds on favourite mostly, but somebody had printed in bold felt tip marker the number of a golf club where that person usually hid – to ‘they are getting back to us a.s.a.p’ but that one was on a par with winning the lottery millions.

Of the five staff there, allowing for those still at lunch, it was not very busy as just about everything was being sorted or was in the process of being so: we received assignments via the telephone, email or then our usual favourite the good old fax machine.

Faxes were preferred as opposed to phone calls as we had a printed form of communication to file unlike phone calls where if things went wrong, the caller could suffer from convenient amnesia as had been noted on some occasions or when dealing with problems that could – and did – run in to thousands of pounds to sort, so a record was essential.

Innocent things like somebody calling us or as one said: ‘I gocka a told n leaky bose today and shuder knock bee ear’ (translation: I have a cold with a runny nose and really shouldn’t be here today at work) so you can imagine what they were ringing about or as Dave, who took the call, had not a clue as he put it on speakerphone as we all tried to decode it.

So that particular Tuesday was a quiet day compared to the day before as Monday was always a madhouse as faults and problems that needed solving from the weekend piled in like something from a ‘Carry On’ comedy film.

Amid the many screens and general office communication equipment we had, was a small 14 inch screen television in the corner of the office on a shelf on the wall that was tuned into a channel for the news, but the sound was muted so as not to be a distraction as only the picture could be seen, not heard.

If something of importance was featured then the sound was brought up via the remote control such as major accidents or countries being overthrown or sports results etc but only so long as it did not interfere with what our duties were.

That day was quite average in many respects.

It was quiet after ‘manic Monday’ we just had but I was making a start of sorting stuff for my reports to be written later as by now everybody else was chatting about this and that, all seated in a semi circle on the office floor.

As I was looking over my screen compiling assignments, I noted that the ‘usual cheap and cheerful’ television afternoon movie had started early as due to doing my job I had taken no particular notice of it.

So with one eye on my screen, clicking away with the mouse, it crossed my mind that today’s film was of the ‘disaster movie’ gene as opposed to the then el cheapo type lost family/crime/mystery stuff they usually had in that slot, but surely it was early starting?

Then I noticed something that this usual time slot did not normally have.

My eyes were by now firmly focused on that small fourteen inch screen, with no sound, but as I or we all know now I was actually watching history unfold.

I turned to the others who were still innocently chatting away as I said those words that I still recall to this day and will never forget: ‘Folks – please turn to the telly screen as there is something there that has a small red box in one corner with the word ‘Live’ as I believe a part of America is under attack’ as I turned the sound up.

I think one or two thought I was joking but as they all turned to view, what is now infamously now referred to as the second plane flying into the second building of the Twin Towers World Trade Centre in New York, the instant silence was deafening in that office as you could have heard a pin drop.

Jaws dropped then gasps with us all looking at one another in total shock and amazement as surely this sort of thing does not happen in the real world – does it?

I looked at the large digital clock on the wall: the date was September 11, 2001.

I think we all felt a numbness at both seeing it unfold before us plus the fact we were powerless to do anything as it felt as if we were prying on somebody’s grief, a strange and overpowering feeling that even today I find quite moving.

Two of our team had been in the forces ‘at the thick end of things’ but even they were moved at the carnage, but as the minutes ticked by we had people call to ask if what they were seeing, or had just heard about, was indeed ‘for real’ as it was so bizarre.

A few years previously I was in New York and while out doing some sightseeing I stood near those amazing structures, staring up at them, straining my neck as they were so tall but it never crossed my mind they would be soon reduced to rubble as they were so immense in size as surely they were there for generations to come.

This coming September 11 will be 20 years since this evil occurred and there will be events to commemorate or honour this event but in the interim have ‘lessons been learnt’? That in itself is doubtful judging by the ever rolling news that comes day by day of the world in turmoil in one form or another.

As my granddad said: ‘There are no winners in wars’ but the sad thing was those who lost their lives were working in those Towers that day, didn’t wear a uniform nor were armed, they were just doing their usual job much like we were who unconsciously tuned in to witness their dire situation and their not going home later that day after work like we did.

It will always be with me where I was on September 11, 2001.

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