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I just realized it's 7/7. Five years ago, we were being dropped off by a family friend at Milton Keynes train station, getting ready to go into London and transfer to the EuroTunnel to visit an old friend of the family in Antwerpen. We had picked the 9:00 train instead of the 7:30. Good thing, too, because the earlier train would have had us arriving in Kensington Station when the first bombs hit.

Instead, several serious looking policemen with submachine guns started taking up strategic positions around us. I stepped onto our train and a WPC came in and asked me to step off. I asked her why and she said with closed eyes (as if reading a script behind her eyelids) that there had been "an electrical fluctuation on the track, and we are waiting for further notice as to the cause." Monitors in the station started showing news-scenes of smoke coming from Underground station doors.

[Meanwhile, our friend turned his TV to the weather channel, turned up the sound, and went out to take a look at his "luverly bees" (he had several hives). We called several times for him to come pick us back up again, but, of course, he didn't hear the phone. He was deeply, deeply, in trouble when the wife returned and discovered he had dropped us off in the, well, thick of things.]

Then the telephone network went down, so we couldn't call a cab or find a bus to return to Towcester. Nobody knew what was going on or what we should do. So we grabbed the next bus to Luton station, booked the next flight to Schiphol, and tried to make our way to Belgium by air. I actually had a pocket-knife on me, so I bought an envelope, put the knife in it, and put the address of friends we were staying with* on the front, at least all of it I knew. It was six one-word lines:

[name of house]
[name of village]

And assumed I'd never see it again. [It was there, on the other side of the island, the next morning. British mail is amazing.]

On arriving at Schiphol, we stepped out onto the terminal and saw what I'd never seen before: a complete police cordon, closing in on our gate. Everyone had to show ID and their boarding pass to get through. Cara Sposa, as is her wont, had accidentally torn hers up and thrown it away. Some discussion followed, but we were able to get out just in time to catch our train to Antwerpen Berchem station. Still no time to catch the news, still no idea what was going on.

Finally made it to Antwerpen... where Cara Sposa left her bag on the train just as it was being retired for the night... visions of having it isolated, clamped, and securely destroyed by a bomb squad... But no, the octogenarian station master allowed her back on the train to fetch it. He said, in excellent flemish-tinged english "But of course, everyone is so panicked by these things. And embarassed. But really, it happens to us all, all the time." I don't think he had any clue what had happened either.

It was only when we got to the old apartment/deli where our friend had lived and worked since the early fifties, that we found out what had really happened. She had been watching the news (in German and English to improve her skill in those languages, a hobby she'd picked up in her early eighties), and had phoned Cara Sposa's mother.

Who said "Oh, I wouldn't worry. They're used to this sort of thing."

Thanks, mum...

Very lucky we were that day. It's good to remember those who weren't so lucky.

*ironically, we had met them whilst working on a web site that was to be launched at a gala reception in NYC on 9/12/01. They were in the air from Manchester to JFK when their plane was redirected to Moncton. No launch, of course, but they had a leisurely stay with a farmer's family who volunteered to take them in for the week.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 7th, 2010 06:54 pm (UTC)
So that makes two narrow misses of horrific terrorist attacks.

You lead a charmed life, B.
Jul. 7th, 2010 09:28 pm (UTC)
Not really. As you know, we were camping during 9/11. Aside from when the American Embassy was burned down in Islamabad in '79 (more riot and less terrorism) and our school attacked (Cara Sposa and her mum were also there during that event), I've been more or less safe from terrorist attacks. Well, my dad was nearly killed in Athens by communist guerillas who accidentally detonated their explosives before they were in place. The bathroom wall fell away while he was... ahem... engaged at the urinal.

But Cara Sposa has the real track record. She remembers the door being slammed behind her as they exited the terminal lounge in Athens on August 5, 1973. Some faction of the PLO started shooting everyone inside. CS and her dad didn't even know they were in danger until a few minutes later.
Jul. 7th, 2010 11:34 pm (UTC)
Actually, I thought y'all had already moved to Canada by the time of 9/11. I was thinking of Pakistan as the first one. Maybe it was a riot, but it was a damn scary situation.

Jul. 8th, 2010 07:59 am (UTC)
Ah, I see what you mean, then. Interesting times, they were. Still are. These things have a way of going on, despite elections and the short-little-attention-span, don't they?
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )