20 September 2001
I know that I only notice the planes that thunder overhead every few minutes because I've been living here for just a day or so. My friend Tom used to live right by the railway track and when you went to see him locomotives would roar past every fifteen minutes; the walls would vibrate, pictures rattle in their frames, porcelain cats edge alarming distances closer to making that fatal leap but if you commented on it to Tom he'd look up and say: "Was there a train?" I'll get used to it before long.
They seem to fly directly over the flat (as it must seem for every flat in a square mile or so) and so low that you can see every detail, but small, like toys you could reach up and pluck out of the air. Even at night I can lie on my back (not on my front as I usually sleep) and stare up out of the window into the cloud-spotted purple sky and watch for the dark shadows passing over, listen to the roars as they trail off into distant whines, like exocets losing their way.
I was protesting outside an arms fair when I heard the first murmurings, staring out at the warships in the Thames with the persistent whirring of a helicopter overhead (police? media? merchandise?) We'd been penned in by the cops but rumours began to filter through via text messages, the earliest heralds first disbelieved and later pumped for information. No-one knew quite how to react (the World Trade Centre is quite a symbol to see crumble for anti-capitalists,) it was only when we got out that we learnt of the full horror of human carnage. They must have found out sooner in the arms fair: maybe we'd been protesting outside an empty building, maybe their business doubled.
I'm numbed to it now, as saturated with stern moralising about American imperialism from my cosily self-affirming social circles as the mainstream media is with bottomless analysis and the tabloids with vicarious patriotism, but there's nothing else I can write about. Not to highlight the hypocrisy of global mourning for a few thousand white westerners when our bombs, our sanctions, our economic policies kill a thousand times that number without a flicker of interest being raised, not to warn against indiscriminate vengeance or muse on Disaster TV, I don't have the stomach for that, not whilst I can still hear the planes.
Today there is a blanket of thick cloud: they must fly above it because I keep on peering out but haven't been able to see any, just hear them pass over (passengers over New York, bombers over Baghdad) and I wonder if you get used to gunfire the way you do to trains ("Was there shooting?") if it feels any less of a tragedy when it happens every week. I'll stop noticing them and that's okay but for the moment (in my new flat: washer/dryer, oriental throws, polished wood floor) I feel the need to count them safely over, to be reminded that we live in a dangerous world.