Saturday, December 21, 2013


I've never written about Lockerbie but I guess my kids probably want to know how I experienced that just as they asked me once to write down my experience of 9/11.

It was Christmas of 1988 and I was spending it alone in Besançon with my then boyfriend, André. He had decided he didn't fancy a family Christmas so had claimed to his mother that he had too much work to come home for the festive season. I was studying for some uni exams so was home alone in the flat while he was in the office. André and his mother, Annie, had always been afraid of flying, terrified planes weren't safe so every time anything happened to one they dissected the accident in every detail. I was pottering about when the phone rang. I lifted the receiver and said 'allô?' Annie sounded terribly distressed and said just one word 'Dumfries' in a her strong German accent. I didn't catch what she meant. I was, of course, assuming she was speaking either French or German to me (as she had no English at all) but she repeated the word 'Dumfries' over and over, half panicking, half crying. She hung up, I turned on the news and was surprised to hear TF1 discussing Lockerbie. These days Lockerbie would probably have meant very little to me as I fly everywhere but 1988 was pre-RYANAIR so as a student I couldn't afford to fly. I used to go by Eurolines coach to France all the time and the last night stop before Glasgow was Lockerbie, so I'd passed through often.

Over the next few days accidents were ruled out and terrorism in but it was more a news story than anything else... a news story about my country, but not really something tangible. Of course I calculated quickly how few more minutes the plane would have needed to fly to hit greater Glasgow and that was quite terrifying. I watched and felt the world had changed a little, for the worse.

A week later I was coming home. I had a seat by the window on the coach and was staring out at the world as it changed from France, to England, from London to countryside and finally across the border. Thirty-five hours into my trip the bare, treeless hills loomed up covered in sheep - finally I was nearly home. I had crossed the border into Scotland. No one had prepared me for what I was about to see and I cannot begin to imagine what it had looked like a week earlier. Very suddenly, without warning a deep lozenge-shaped pit, we've all seen the photo, was just there beside the road, the houses looked as if I was in a war zone, smoke was still rising from the plane-shaped pit. (The third photo shows the road our bus drove along). The bus passengers gasped but didn't speak. It was so close to me I could almost touch it. The bus was made to slow down and file past the hole by police, who seemed to be everywhere. News suddenly became reality. That day the horror of what had happened finally hit me and still today I can see it, smell it as if it was twenty-five years ago. I lost a bit of my youth and innocence that day.

To this day I cannot imagine why it came as such a surprise to me. I knew my bus went through Lockerbie and I had seen the photos on TV in France. Why was I so unprepared? It just didn't seem real till then. I still can't look at that specific photo without feeling that sharp intake of breath that had hit me back in December of 1988.

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