We were sitting in the hospital waiting room at Leeds General Infirmary, understandably nervous for Meg (3), undergoing her first dose of laser treatment under general anaesthetic. The Bob the Builder video on the waiting room TV ended, and the picture reverted to real television, and a newly-emerging news story of a plane crashing into the World Trade Centre. With no visuals, we imagined something a bit like King Kong - a light aircraft gone off course, perhaps? As the afternoon progressed Meg came out of surgery, and we all sat transfixed as the story developed and she recuperated. Medics came off duty and huddled around the TV rather than go home.
Away from the two aircraft in New York, reports came in of another plane coming down in rural Pennsylvania, and my thoughts turned to my friends there - the only state where I knew anybody! We were discharged and headed over the our friend's house where we had left the infant Nooka. She'd been in the garden with the children all afternoon and had only just heard that there had "been a plane crash in New York." It seems incredible in these days of 24 hour news and social networking, to think that only a decade ago you could remain unaware of a story for that long.
The journey back across the M62 had the quality of a particularly weird dream. The PM team on the car radio were trying to make sense of what was going on, the UK weather, unlike the clear blue skies of New York, was that oppressive low cloud through which you sense the sun might burst if it only had the courage. I remember it being muggy and uncomfortable, with a strange quality of light as we hit the 'split' section and summit of the motorway. At one point, Meg decided to extricate herself from her seatbelt and was sitting in the footwell in the rear passenger seats. In rush hour, it was impossible (and dangerous) to stop and re-seat her, so I just had to keep going, with Paul coaxing her back to her seat.
The memories are still vivid. The images still powerful. On future trips to LGI I usually went alone with Meg, but on that day I was grateful I had my family with me - it was no time to be dealing with things on your own. For my generation, this was probably our JFK moment. I wonder if my girls will feel the same dislocation I do about that - old enough to have 'been there' but not old enough to remember it?
The reasons are still disputed, but in essence the attacks (and the response to them) stem from intolerance. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the matter, the British government's decision to get into bed with an oil-hungry, none-too-bright leader of the free world has been catastrophic. It de-railed the social progress which 1997 promised, diminished us internationally; it has made us no safer, while at the same time curtailing civil liberties and stifling dissent. And it's bolstered extremism in all its forms - the 'moralisers' of the Christian right are every bit as dangerous.
So my thoughts today are with all those who lost their lives that day, and those who have suffered as a result since. Just as the UK is being buffeted today by the far-off effects of an Atlantic weather system, so we are all still feeling the after-effects of 9/11.
What gives me hope is that the 3 year old that day is now a thriving teenager who is at ease with her appearance and has elected to discontinue her laser surgery. Now that's a victory.