I can remember exactly where I was as the 9/11 atrocity unfolded.
I was in Edinburgh then Brussels.
The Brussels trip was for a pan-European advertising pitch on 10/11.
As Gerry (creative director), Giles (bag carrier) and I dashed out of the agency, an account manager came dashing in saying, “A plane has crashed into the World Trade Centre.”
At the time we lacked the imagination to assume that it was anything other than a tragic accident involving a Cessna. Pilot and passenger dead and hopefully no-one hurt on the streets below.
At the time we also lacked the mobile wherewithal to investigate further en route to the airport.
Check-in and security at Edinburgh passed without incident.
However, once we were flight-side, things started to get more odd and slightly more disturbing.
British Airways was broadcasting announcements asking passengers travelling to Heathrow for connecting flights to the States to contact a member of staff.
Then my wife phoned and pretty much begged me not to fly.
I don’t remember her being aware of the full extent of what was happening in New York. She just knew that something terrible had happened involving aeroplanes. And she believed that I would be in grave danger if I boarded the plane to Brussels.
At this point we still had no idea what was going on. There was nothing on the public TV screens. Indeed there may not even have been public TV screens back then.
And it was a pan-European pitch for God’s sake. Those things don’t grow on trees.
No way were we not flying to Brussels.
As it happens I think we were pretty much the last flight to leave Edinburgh that day.
No announcements regarding the situation were made during the flight.
So we were unprepared for the utter chaos that greeted us in Brussels Airport.
(Brussels Airport is more or less next door to NATO European HQ we discovered later).
It took hours to collect our bags and get through security.
And we were both white.
It was conspicuous that anyone with the slightest amount of non-Caucasian skin pigmentation was being shepherded into a separate queue, having their bags more or less ripped apart, and being subject to heated interrogation. We moved quickly by comparison.
It was only, finally, as we checked into our hotel in the early evening that we saw a commercial airliner fly into a skyscraper.
There was a throng of delayed latecomers in the reception area. And we collectively convinced ourselves that we had indeed seen what we had just seen.
When we left Edinburgh we lacked the imagination to envisage this. And, along with our fellow guests, we struggled to comprehend then recalibrate our notions of the possible.
We made contact with the potential client who confirmed that the pitch would be going ahead as planned the following morning.
Under normal circumstances we would have eaten a quick meal then rehearsed, rehearsed and rehearsed again before getting an early night.
Instead we huddled around the TV and drank into the early hours in a crowded bar full of dishevelled euro-businessmen, top shirt buttons undone and ties loosened.
The next day we half-heartedly pitched regardless.
Pan-European pitches don’t grow on trees.
But we should have walked away from this one.
We should have walked away when the potential client proudly told us that he had spent the evening recreating the attack on his flight simulator PC game.
My parents’ generation can all remember precisely where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news of Kennedy’s assassination, and when man first landed on the moon.
For me the death of Diana (taking coffee back to bed on a Sunday morning and remarking to my wife that it was odd for Radio 1 to be playing solemn classical music) and 9/11 assume the same significance.
I don’t think there’s any other day from the last decade that I could document in the same eidetic detail.