A Simple Holiday
The 8th of September 2001.
A little over ten years ago, I set off for the small Spanish island of Gran Canaria to enjoy a week’s holiday with my old man. I was really looking forward to it as it was only my third trip abroad. The first had been a pretty good school trip to Holland – but it was still a school trip and had all the usual baggage that comes with that. The second had come two years earlier when my entire family had gone to a pretty poor resort in Rodos aka Rhodes. It was during a heatwave in an already hot climate and our hotel was miles from the beach with no pool. We eventually got the hang of the place but it left a bad taste in the mouth about Greek islands – a feeling I’ve only just shaken with a much better holiday last week in Zakynthos aka Zante. So I was hoping for third time lucky.
Of course, there was a small disappointing element. Celtic had qualified for the group stages of the Champions League and their first home game was going to be on Wednesday night – the 12th. I was going to miss the Rosenborg game. But we had the pub picked out for the game – Scruffy Murphy’s in Peurto Rico if I remember rightly – so we’d still see it.
The place we stayed was nothing spectacular. A nice wee self catering apartment on ground level next to the pool. It was already better than Rhodes then! So we set out to enjoy the next few days with a pile of books to read and the September sun to enjoy. The Canary Islands are still cooking in September after all.
What I didn’t realise was I’d made a bit of a meal of getting sun cream. Not only had I got too low a factor – something like factor 8 – but it was a spray bottle. Far too easy to apply too little with a spray, I prefer the cream you can slap on. So for the next few days I was living dangerously. We didn’t do much the first day, and the next couple of days we went exploring in the car we had rented. So for the most part, I avoided any serious sun exposure.
Then came Tuesday. No more exploring, this would be a day for being by the pool and reading while getting a nice tan. Or in my case, burnt. All morning I was out there getting redder and redder. Even after lunch my only thought to cool off was to dive into the pool instead of getting inside. Apparently I was still a total moron at aged 20. Fortunately for me, around about 2pm an English guy came running by the pool shouting just three words finally got me inside.
“America’s under attack!”
Our apartment had Sky News, so inside we went to see what he was talking about. The scene we were presented with was like something from a movie as one of the twin towers of the World Trade Center was burning in New York.
I don’t really need to tell you the rest of the story. I stayed in the rest of the day, watching as the second plane hit live on the news. Watching as news of other attacks came through. Watching as the towers fell.
I didn’t go back out into the sun that day. By the time we did go out for dinner, the sun had gone down and my skin was as red as it had ever been. For the rest of that week I stayed inside reading my books. I even felt a bit chilly my sunburn was so bad. Had I not gone in from the sun when I did on that Tuesday, I’d probably have required medical assistance. Not something you want while in a foreign land.
For ten years now I’ve felt guilty about that. Ten years of thinking that I’d gladly have been fried if it meant nearly 3000 people didn’t die in those attacks. Ten years of thinking how lucky I am.
I did miss a Celtic game – even if it wasn’t the one I thought I initially. While UEFA pressed ahead with the games on the Tuesday night, despite calls to postpone them, the Wednesday night games were postponed eventually. The rearranged date was one I did make. But because I hadn’t taken the option of the three match package, we had to get the games individually. Rosenborg and Porto we made it to, but Juventus – the best of the six group games – was sold out.
I consider myself to be very fortunate throughout my life. Everything that has happened to me over 30 years has got me into a really good position. A great job, a wonderful wife, a terrific house, decent holidays… for the most part I’m delighted about my good fortune. But one day ten years ago I’d happily trade my fortune.
I’m also very lucky that my biggest concerns in life are things like a bit of bad sunburn that leaves me very uncomfortable for a while or that I miss the odd football match or that on the 15th of September 2001 it was a weird experience getting on a plane to go home just days after the attacks. My life is quite simple by comparison really. A few nights ago I watched a brilliant documentary filmed during September of 2001 about a new fireman recruited in New York. The footage and the story of those men is like nothing I’ve ever watched.
For all of the nearly 3000 people who died, 343 of them were firemen. That’s over 10% of those who died. While so many people were trying to get out, those men went rushing in the opposite direction to help. Every single one of them – those who died and those who survived – is a hero. Those who survived still live with those awful memories and many have both physical and mental scars from that day.
Whether or not the world is safer today than it was ten years ago is a huge debate, as is the actions taken by governments over the last ten years, but they are debates for another day. Today is about remembering the senselessness of the deaths in the attacks, and hoping that we never see another defining moment in history as bad as that one ten years ago.