Twenty Years On

 Each generation has their own "Where were you when....." moment in history which provide a context to help define their personal journey through time and space. For those older folks it may have been the declaration of war with Germany, the boomers might be drawn to the assassination of President Kennedy or the moon landings, and with my generation the only real contender is the awful, unforgettable day of September 11th 2001. I also remember the exact moment of hearing about the Princess of Wales' demise in a Paris car-crash in 1997 - on the late night TV news as I arrived home from my stag-night in South Shields, but nothing comes close to the horrors of 9/11.

I was working as an area manager for the now-defunct "Money Shop" - conducting some sort of training session in the utilitarian loft space of the newly opened North Shields office on Nile Street in the town centre. The manager of our York office rang me first, then I was sort of bombarded with phone calls from staff in the region who were watching it unfold, and listening to the news feed on radio. It seemed that some type of collective hysteria had taken immediate hold of people - and the events playing out thousands of miles across the Atlantic were striking fear into people working in our offices in town centres  throughout the North of England. I had requests to shut premises from worried managers who seemed convinced that Carlisle or South Shields were going to be the next targets for terrorists. My unsympathetic directors weren't the type to pull the shutters down for any reason, so I had to balance the emotional state of staff with the fact that this was an event happening in another world entirely. Of course we all got through the working day unscathed, and everyone headed home to sit in front of the TV - mouth agape, as the video feeds were repeated over and over again.

My own shock was heightened by the fact that I'd been at the top of the south tower quite a few times when visiting the city. The buildings were the focal point of the glorious metropolis of New York, and the sheer joy of taking in the vista from the rooftop observatory was an experience unmatched in any other place on earth. The scale of the construction was vast, and the thought of them being reduced to rubble so quickly is unbelievable. We'd gone there in the autumn of 2000.

Returning to the city on my 40th birthday was a sobering experience. The site of Ground Zero was being excavated, in order for the new WTC Freedom Tower which was being planned. The commemorative cross made of girders, and the coating of beige dust on everything within a few blocks offered a tragic reminder of what had happened four years prior. We stood next to the main thoroughfare of West Street looking towards the void in the skyline before my sister in law's retail instincts took over, and I was forced to endure traipsing for several hours around the (now-defunct) Century 21shopping emporium for shoes and cheap shite. Nothing like spending money to take your mind off the deaths of 3000 people, and the subsequent change in the world. It's the American way. 

Brian Young (that's me) shoots all aspects of the built environment for a range of clients throughout Northern England and the Borders.


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