Jun 212009
 

From wh00ps again, by way of some other people, etc: ‘Where were you when…?’

OJ, June 17th, 1994

MSN: As such, the chase became a textbook ‘where-were-you?’ moment.

Bella: I was at home, more entertained by the sight of my father laughing himself sick than by the actual car chase. My memory of the OJ verdict, sometime that October, is rather more clear: I was in a biology lesson, and we pestered the incredibly strict teacher to let us watch the announcement on the classroom television. He agreed, but gave us all detention afterward for wasting his time.

Death of Diana, August 31st, 1997

MSN: It being a Sunday, virtually the entire nation was having a lie-in.

Bella: Except for me – in the US at the time. I was attending a toga party. Our host’s mother shouted the news down to the lawn from the upstairs window. We carried on partying. Callous, I know.

Challenger disaster, January 28th, 1986

MSN: It being a Tuesday, this meant that the first report of it on British television occurred at 5pm in an edition of the BBC weekday children’s programme Newsround.

Bella: We were all rather more concerned at my grandfather’s slow dying of cancer that winter, and anyway I was quite young. My father said a crazy friend of his in the Army had predicted the disaster by measuring ley lines which, he claimed, passed right through the hometown of Christa McAuliffe. Creepy. The same crazy friend also claimed the Holy Grail, having been brought to the New World by the Lost Colony, was buried somewhere in the tiny crossroads known as Terra Ceia, NC. On a whim I drove up there once; there were four houses, a church, and a churchyard, all built after 1880. I didn’t find the Grail, alas, although considering the furore, chases, and assassination attempts it seems to cause in Dan-Brown-esque pulp fiction, perhaps that’s all to the good…

Resignation of Thatcher, November 22nd, 1990

MSN: Even so, for those at work or school during the day, word of mouth had to make do until a television set could be found.

Bella: Amazingly, this went unnoticed by most of primary-school-age America. Including me.

England v West Germany, July 4th, 1990

MSN: It was said even Princess Diana, attending a social function in London, was being kept in touch of the score by telephone.

Bella: I remember the party distinctly, at the family vacation home, all of the cousins present; this was the day I taught myself to juggle using crab apples. Because it was Independence Day. Football? Meh.

Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation, June 2nd, 1953

MSN: The coronation was the first event in British history to be seen by a mass audience on the small screen.

Bella: My own mother wasn’t born yet in 1953.

Iranian Embassy siege, May 5th, 1980

MSN: Their dramatic rescue attempt took place in full view of the ITN cameras. Footage, however, was not broadcast live.

Bella: Was not born yet.

September 11th, 2001

MSN: It was a weekday afternoon, so most people didn’t see pictures of the attacks until they got home from school or work.

Bella: [in impatient singsong voice, having told the story often] I was in a lengthy meeting with my professor/boss about some route markings (‘Is that one stretch or two? Does that count as a chicane? What in the world is that toponym supposed to be?’) from half eight that morning. About an hour in, a grad student burst into the office and asked to use the telephone. ‘Of course, as long as you’re not ringing Turkey,’ my professor/boss said in his good-humoured John-Cleese way. ‘Just New York,’ she answered; ‘we’ve been bombed.’

I distinctly remember sharing a glance with my professor, mutual shrugging in mystification, and getting back to our discussion. When we finally emerged from the office at noon, it was to a university campus busy with uproar, panic, and confusion. We wandered into the student union for the traditional after-meeting bagel and were watched open-mouthed as we saw, on the numerous television screens, the footage of the tower falling, ad infinitum. Foregoing the bagels, he went off to the history office and I walked back to the dormitory; ‘The End of the World As We Know It’ was blaring out of one of the windows, which at the time I thought rather tasteless, but which turns out to have been a pretty fair approximation of things. My best friends, all rather committed Christians, were gathered around the common television, predicting Apocalypse.

Assassination of JFK, November 22nd, 1963

MSN: It wasn’t until 11pm that the BBC was sufficiently organised to broadcast a proper tribute programme.

Bella: Again, not born, but my mother said it was announced over the tannoy in her primary school, and my father, who was in his first year of university, told me that the entire student body was watching the events unfold in group shifts around the university’s single black-and-white television.

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