Friday, 19 November 2010

Forgettable and unforgettable

My friend Ian has pointed out to me a shocking omission in my last post on memorable events: I failed to mention the recently announced engagement of ‘Wills to Kate’. I have, therefore, taken a look into the matter and it turns out that ‘Wills’ is a junior officer in the British Armed Forces whose only claim to fame is that he is in line to succeed to the British throne some day, a prospect he made possible by successfully pulling off the draining achievement of being born. Kate, it appears, is some even more obscure lady who has had an on-off relationship with Wills and they’ve now decided to get married. It’s hard to imagine anything more banal.

In any case, I refuse to get even interested in all this, because I seem to remember going through something similar with respect to his mother, and look where that led. In fact, thinking of her does remind me of an event for which I really can say that I know where I was when I learned about it. My wife and I were in Alsace, in Eastern France, and our friends Mary and Patrick had come down to visit us. They were staying in a hotel not far away and turned up as we were having breakfast.

‘Did you know that Princess Di had been killed?’ asked Patrick.

It came as a surprising shock. Surprising because I didn’t expect to be moved by any news about her. It was only a few days earlier that I had been inspired to great heights of cynicism by the sight of photos of Di sunbathing on the roof of a holiday house she had taken in the South of France. When I say ‘roof’, please don’t think of something flat and comfortable – she was lying on the ridge of a normal, gabled roof, with slates and gutters and everything. The only possible purpose for choosing somewhere so unpromising had to be that it was the only place that gave a really good view to all the photographers on boats in the bay, whose pictures she complained about endlessly when they came out the next day.

How could I possible feel any grief over somebody so completely self-obsessed? And yet when I heard the news I felt it as a terrible blow and somehow shared in the sense of mourning of so many of my countrymen (though, I’m glad to say, not enough to go and put flowers anywhere or stand among the massed crowds to watch her coffin go by). Strange. I’ve never understood why I found the event moving.

There is another event for which I can truly say that I knew where I was when I heard about it, which was the attack on the Twin Towers. I was being driven by a colleague and friend – funnily enough, the same Patrick who announced Princess Diana’s death to me – round the M25, London’s orbital motorway or, as so often happens, London’s orbital car park. A call came in from another colleague, Erika – actually, our only other colleague (it was a very small company).

‘Did you hear about the plane flying into the Twin Towers?’

Now, doesn’t that sound like the start of a joke?

‘No,’ I said with a chuckle, ‘what happened next?’

‘No, no,’ said Erika, ‘I mean it. A plane really has flown into the Towers.’

Over the next half hour or so we followed the unfolding tragedy on the car radio – the confirmation that we weren’t talking about some small plane but an airliner, full of passengers as well as the fuel that made it into a bomb; then the second plane; then the collapse of one tower, followed by the collapse of the other.

As the sheer extent of the horror sank in I was assailed by a sense of guilt. I’d received news of this tragedy as though it were a joke. It wasn’t strictly my fault but I still felt terrible about it. How inappropriately can one respond to something? It left me really quite uneasy.

So two events to which my reaction surprised me. At least the effect is that I really do remember what I was doing when I heard about them. Curious that it’s less because of the shock of the event itself as the effect of the strangeness of my reactions to them.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

For someone not interested in Wills and Kate, an interesting blog!