Where were you when… meme

This one is a bit less American in orientation than many of these tend to be (as you can tell from the way the dates are written), and also a lot of them are concentrated in what was a dramatic period of my own life.

1. When John F. Kennedy was shot (22/11/1963)
Not born.

2. When Mt. St. Helens blew (18/5/1980)
Living in the Netherlands for a year. One of my parents’ colleagues was from Washington State so it became a bit more personal.

3. When the space shuttle Challenger exploded (28/1/1986)
I’d just come back from a day’s “work” at the Armagh Observatory to the house I was lodging at. The daughter of the house turned from the television to me as I came into the front room and said, “Have you seen this???!!!”

4. The Hillsborough disaster. (15/4/1989)
Easter vac of my third year in Cambridge; I was in Dublin at the time.

5. When the Berlin Wall fell (7/11/1989)
The day I split up with my last girlfriend (that is, before the one I married). We were too intensely concerned with splitting up to listen to the news; I kipped on her floor in Greenwich, and didn’t manage to look at a paper until I was on a train back to Cambridge.

6. When Nelson Mandela was released from gaol. (11/2/1990)
Having dinner with the student representatives of Hughes Hall, a small postgraduate Cambridge college, in my capacity as deputy president of the overall Cambridge students union. The guy who was supposed to host the dinner was a political activist from Grenada in the Caribbean (doing a one-year masters of some kind; now a political consultant in Trinidad) and made only a brief appearance, being glued to his TV.

7. When Thatcher resigned (22/11/1990)
The day of the first in a series of annual lectures in memory of my father, who had died six months previously. The lecture that afternoon was given by Garret Fitzgerald, who told a couple of stories about funny conversations with her mostly at European summits. I actually heard the news over coffee that morning with an elderly cousin, whose daughter phoned up from London to tell her.

8. When the Gulf War began (16/1/1991)
Still in Cambridge, doing my M Phil, in unwedded bliss with Anne, but we deliberately didn’t buy the newspapers for those two weeks because it was just too depressing.

9. When Princess Di was killed (31/8/1997)
In Bosnia. (hey, we’ve completely leapt over the time I spent back in Belfast in between.) I was sleeping badly as usual and as usual tried listening to the BBC World Service to lull me back to sleep. That morning it didn’t work. We had a staff party with our Bosnian staff later in the day, fun but slightly surreal. Anne, staying in her parents’ house on her own apart from the baby, didn’t hear until the Guardian arrived the next morning.

10. When Omagh was bombed (15/8/1998)
In Croatia; again, we didn’t hear until the next morning via BBC World Service. Pretty awful. In my Alliance Party days we used to go to Omagh at least once a year for party council meetings, so it’s a town I know my way around.

11. When Bush was first announced President (7/11/2000)
We were now living in Belgium. I had been determined to stay up until the result came through, but in fact it was curiously anticlimactic. Then weeks of watching Gore’s attempts to get the fair result gradually fade under pressure. It was then that I started reading Slate regularly.

12. When terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center (11/9/2001)
In a somewhat surreal meeting with the deputy head of mission of Yugoslavia to the EU. When the meeting started the second plane had just hit; by the time it ended both towers were down, and cars were already choking the streets out of Brussels. In those days I went home by train, fortunately. We’d moved house to where we now live three weeks before, and hadn’t yet plugged in the television; this motivated me to do so.

13. When the Queen Mother died (30/3/2002)
Easter Saturday, here in Belgium with the family, just about to change jobs. The event didn’t hit me particularly hard though there were a couple of memorable aftershocks. One of them I mentioned in my post about Queen Juliana a few days ago; I happened to be at a meeting the following week in the Foreign Office when the Queen Mother’s cortege went past down Whitehall, and one of the younger diplomats present sighed and said, “There’ll only be one more like this.” The other was at a reception in Brussels a few months later, thrown for some reason by the Stationery Office (formerly Her Majesty’s Stationery Office) where the Chief Executive proudly boasted to me that they had managed to get the official death notice printed and on sale in the (specially opened) official Stationery Office shops in London, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast by 10 o’clock the following morning, even though it was Easter Sunday!

14. When Columbia disintegrated during re-entry over Texas. (1/2/2003)
Had just struggled home, through heavy snowfall, from a Soros/Ahtisaari conference on the EU policies in the Balkans. Anne’s brother was staying too. U was not quite six weeks old. As he often does, Ken MacLeod got it right:

Husband, McCool, Anderson, Brown, Chawla, Clark, Ramon.
Komarov, Grissom, White, Chaffee, Dobrovolsky, Volkov, Patsayev, Resnick, Scobee, Smith, McNair, McAuliffe, Jarvis, Onizuka.
These names will be written under other skies.

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