Now There Comes A Darker Day
By Lee Walker
From Issue 54, Winter 2001
I guess in the years that (hopefully) lie ahead, everyone will be able to recall precisely where they were when they first heard the news of the terrible tragedy that befell the United States. For me, the horror began while I was round at my brother’s house, having taken the afternoon off to get into town early for the Liverpool – Boavista Champions League match at Anfield. It was our first game proper in the European Cup since the dreadful events at Heysel in 1985, and we were hoping to meet up with some Portuguese fans around Matthew Street to swap scarves, have a few drinks and indulge in a bit of banter. God, how incredibly trite that all sounds now.
Just before we left our Grant’s house, he dug out a video of The Foo Fighters at this year’s Reading Festival, and accidentally pressed BBC 1 on the remote. And I trembled at the impossibility of the image that suddenly filled the screen. The twin towers of the World Trade Centre, instantly recognisable from countless movies and TV programmes, were ablaze, smoke billowing like a cloud of blowflies totally obscuring the sun. The newscaster was babbling so excitedly, it was difficult to make sense of what he was trying to say. But if the live commentary was difficult to understand, the text running across the bottom of the screen made it all too clear what had happened: “Two planes have crashed into the World Trade Centre. The FBI have confirmed that this is the result of a terrorist attack. It is feared that there will be many casualties”.
The words began to blur as I felt the hot, slithery sting of tears under my eyelids, and I hoarsely begged my brother to turn off the TV. It seems strange, looking back now, but I was suddenly anxious to get out of the house, to step into the fresh air, to set off for a match as we’d arranged. It was almost as if by refusing to acknowledge something awful beyond words had occurred, I could deprive it of its reality. The tactic proved so effective that by the time we’d got to James Street I’d all but managed to convince myself that maybe things weren’t quite as bad as they’d first seemed. A few seconds after stepping into the ‘White Star’ I found I was one hundred percent correct. Things weren’t as bad – they were a thousand times worse.
I guess I should have realised as much the moment Grant and I stepped into the bar and were hit by a wall of caught-breath silence. The pub was fairly packed with men and women of all ages, and ordinarily the air would have been thick with conversation. But not here. Not on this afternoon. Instead, the only sounds were the squeak of the hand pumps, the refilling of glasses and the sombre voice of the CNN anchorman as he confirmed that a third passenger plane had hit the Pentagon, causing extensive damage and serious loss of life. “Jesus Christ, is this really happenin’ or is it some kind of wind-up?” a middle-aged man murmured incredulously as I half-whispered a couple of drinks in.
I didn’t bother answering. We both knew, despite surreality of the pictures beamed live from across the Atlantic, this was no trailer from some big Hollywood blockbuster. This was not an attack led by 15-mile wide alien spaceships, or deadly shards of an ELE meteorite. It wasn’t the destructive rampage of a 50-foot ape or a 400-foot high, fire breathing lizard. It wasn’t even an ex-cop shouting “yippe-kay-ay, motherfucker” as he dodges the spectacular explosions and single-handedly defeats the terrorists.
And if we needed proof that this was no celluloid fantasy, it was proven in spades when first one, then the other tower came crashing to the ground in a thick, choking cloud of dust and I was struck by the impression of a sickly grey shadow falling across the surface of some bright shining dream. “You know what, Eddie, I’m not one for making predictions” an owld fella in cloth cap shouted across to his mate (I sighed wearily, knowing full well that this was the prelude to a prediction) “but I wouldn’t put it past that balloon in the White House to declare World War Three after this”. “Better get the ale in quick, then” replied Eddie, sparking a ripple of nervous laughter.
I laughed too, but it caught fast in my throat when I found myself staring at the row of paintings that hung on the far wall. Each one featured a huge ocean liner ploughing a path across turbulent seas, the ‘White Star’ banner (that gave this pub its name) fluttering proudly from every masthead. Foremost among them was the most famous liner of all, the Titanic, and the sight of that magnificent but ultimately doomed vessel sailing unawares towards its date with destiny caused a whole slew of nasty coincidences to go swirling through my mind at a sickening speed.
We could have been standing in any pub, but for some reason we’d chosen the White Star. There was the picture of the Titanic leaving Southampton water bound for, of all places, New York (and, incidentally, almost colliding with another liner, ‘New York’, as she did so). The date disaster struck the Titanic was April15th, eerily the exact same date as another TV-relayed tragedy in Sheffield (a nightmare experience from which my brother and I had emerged as very lucky survivors). The fact that now, as then, we’d set out on a gloriously sunny day with the intention of supporting Liverpool FC in an ‘important’ football match, but had wound up instead being confronted with scenes of unimaginable horror.
Perhaps, most poignantly of all, a line of dialogue that was cut from James Cameron’s 1998 movie. At the film’s conclusion, old Rose was supposed to have admonished the entrepreneurial Brock: “There’s another iceberg out there, Mr Lovett. I don’t know what it is, but I do know the force driving us towards it”. On September 11th, in the space of a single Godforsaken afternoon, I guess we finally got to see both the shape of the ‘iceberg’ and the fanatical driving ‘force’ behind it, too.
We left the White Star a little after 3.30, just as news began to filter through that another hijacked plane was rumoured to be heading for Camp David. The US Air Force had been given orders to shoot down any suspect aircraft and, in the tinderbox of the Middle East, Israel had put its forces on the highest possible state of alert. We’d been sure we could find some sort of ‘refuge’ in “Flanagan’s”, but we were to be sorely mistaken. Once again the pub was packed, but not with the usual noisy, colourful array of both local and out-of-town Liverpool fans mixed with a healthy smattering of foreign supporters. There were some people who were obviously going to the match, sure, but they stood mutely amidst the crowds of shoppers, office workers and the general public staring at the huge screen that illuminated the dingy, wooden-floorboarded bar room. The systematic destruction of the twin towers was replayed over and over again, one hopes for the benefit of those who’d come late and hadn’t yet witnessed the shocking sequence of events rather than to seek to exploit the horror as a means of ensuring good viewing figures (surely not? – ed).
The surround sound speakers, which normally blast out Irish folk music, instead amplified the words of the newscasters, the discordant screaming of emergency vehicles and the wracked sobs of those searching desperately for their loved ones. The only time that the speakers were drowned out was during the awed chorus of “aaaah”s (a sound reminiscent of children watching a fireworks display) every time Sky News showed the second plane crashing into the side of the South Tower.
I’d like to think that the anti-American murmurs and comments I overheard in ‘Flanagan’s’ from certain individuals were the result of a few too many pints of Guinness and the less-than-comforting performance of George Dubya when giving his initial response to the attack (“We’re gonna track down the folks who did this”, indeed). There’s no doubt that the US President, the leader of the most powerful nation on earth, faced with its gravest crisis since Pearl Harbour, displayed all the charisma of a rusty can on a rain-swept beach. I’m not sure even that can excuse the spiteful words of two boneheads in their early 30’s who stood within earshot of me and our kid: “I reckon the Yanks deserve it, look what they did to Belgrade and
Grenada” “Yeah, and what they’re still doing to Iraq” “Maybe they won’t be quite so handy supporting the IRA” “Is right, lad”. So saying, they lifted their glasses as though they were toasting the unveiling of some great immutable truth, and whilst I can never claim to be any great supporter of American foreign policy (it “sucks big time” as they would so charmingly put it) to voice such sentiments when thousands of men, women and children had met their deaths displayed a lack of compassion that does not bode well for the future of humanity.
Sickened, we downed our pints and made our way over to probably the only pub in town without a TV. The Grapes is one of those classic Liverpool alehouses that probably hasn’t changed one jot in a hundred years or more. Aside from a barmaid’s insistence that “yer can only come in if yer avent gorrany bombs on yer” there were no further references to what was happening in America. It was a kind of bliss to be able to sit beneath the gaudy portrait of Spring Heeled Jack (cackling wildly as he leapt across the rooftops of the terraced houses on William Henry Street, where my Granddad used to live) and listening to The Beatles playing over and over again on the news-free speakers.
I think it’s fair to say that I would have quite happily sat there till closing time, getting rotten drunk, stumbling home and phoning in sick for work tomorrow morning. It was only the thought of letting my mate Graham and my other brother, Dale, down that prevented me from doing just that. They’d forked out for the match tickets, and we’d arranged to meet them in the Albert. We couldn’t just not turn up. Nevertheless, it took a supreme effort of will to force myself out into the street to hail a cab to take us to Anfield. The conversation in the taxi was virtually non-existent. The radio was playing sad songs only, the mood was as sombre as if we were heading for a funeral.
I remember as we drove along the top of Everton Brow, I looked at the Liverpool waterfront. It was just coming down dusk and the sunset was that achingly beautiful balance of stillness in which the sun seems to hover like a red balloon. And as it finally disappeared from sight behind a block of flats, I was reminded of the impermanence of things. Nothing lasts. Even that which we value most and pray for would not last forever.
You may not be surprised to hear that the match itself bore all the relevance of a half-arsed cabaret show at the end of a seemingly endless day. The minute silence was perfectly observed, but both the atmosphere and the Liverpool performance were understandably flat. For the record, the match ended in a 1-1 draw but to be honest the ITV commentator that evening summed up the mood perfectly. He said, after the minute silence, “On a frightening day for the world, there follows a football match”. I had tried to tell myself that attending the game might prove to be somewhat cathartic but in the event I left the ground feeling as though all the bright lights of the world had been dimmed. And it was going to take a lot more than a mere game of footy to re-ignite them.
This is part of a much longer article that Lee wrote for his own magazine DEAD OF NIGHT, “Merseyside’s Premier Publication Dealing with ALL Paranormal Phenomena!!!”. The article went on to describe the tabloids’ coverage of the tragedy, and in particular that ghoulish (fake?) picture the ‘Mirror’ used of the ‘face’ in the World Trade Centre smoke, but you should buy it yourself and read in full an excellent piece of work. It’s from the ‘Halloween’ issue.
Dead of Night is thoroughly comprehensive, as Lee picks out all the weird stuff from a wide selection of newspapers and magazines, added to his own writing and that of several contributors. £2 for 80-odd pages, it’s a cracking mag and always thought provoking even for those of a sceptical frame of mind. Lee’s Red allegiance comes through, especially when referring to the ‘Daily Slur’ or the ‘Daily Manc’! Being a trivial sort, my favourite sections are “The Cosmic Joker Strikes Again” and “Another Batch of Hopeless Crime” which always give me a good laugh. If it’s strange and it’s been in the news, DON will have it and will save you wading through all the trivial crap in the papers! For £2, that’s more than a bargain, it’s a public service. Send £2.50 (that’ll include postage) to
DEAD OF NIGHT,156, BOLTON ROAD EAST,NEW FERRY,MERSEYSIDE, L62 4RY
(actually it’s probably all “Wirral” now but that’s what Lee’s put in the mag)
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