Gill left the radio on last night. At 6.15am, I half-woke up to a stream of news from the Today program. “All of today’s newspapers carry extensive eye-witness reports from British tourists…”. That’s one reason not to read the newspaper today, I thought. I knew I would be fascinated, compelled, by each individual story, but I also felt too weak to cope with the humanity of the whole thing, the harrowing stories of children swept from their parents’ hands. Steer clear, I thought.
The presenter then recapped a few of those stories. “In Sri Lanka, a man from Surrey and his seven-year-old son survived by clinging to a fridge. Duncan Ridgeley…”
I didn’t hear the rest of the report, though I thought I hallucinated something about crocodiles. I was in shock.
I realised that I had put Duncan to the back of my mind. Although yesterday I recounted, anecdotally, to many people how "a friend of mine recently bought a beach-front villa in Sri Lanka" I didn’t allow myself to think that he might actually be there. I’d heard (admittedly about three months ago) that Duncan was in Eastern Europe. So I convinced myself that he must still be in Eastern Europe, probably even bored of Sri Lanka now. But this report, if indeed I hadn’t hallucinated it, made everything frighteningly clear. From being more than half-asleep, I suddenly could not be more awake. My body was shaking, thoughts racing. The report didn’t mention Duncan’s wife, or his other kid, is that a bad sign or (how could it be?) a good sign? What’s happened to them all? What was that about crocodiles?
On the afternoon of September 11th, 2001, I sat in the Admiral Codrington with Mark and Duncan, drinking off a long lunch. Duncan’s mobile rang, it was his wife. We heard his side of the conversation only: “A 747? TWO 747s? Nah, you’re having me on! The World Trade Centre. What, one in each tower? The Pentagon AS WELL??” Duncan rang up the Sun newspaper, where he used to work as a photographer, and got his friends on the newsdesk to confirm that his wife hadn’t been playing a sick joke on him. I wouldn’t describe Duncan as a particularly close friend, more a mate of Mark’s really, but that afternoon of shared disbelief in the face of incomprehensible human disaster created some kind of bond, a comradeship.
So to hear this morning that he has been participating first-hand in an even greater disaster… I can’t describe the feeling. Fear, confusion, pity, compassion… shaking, just shaking. It has brought home to me (like, if I may be permitted the simile, a tidal wave) the fragility of human life, the fact that we only have this one moment of now to live in, everything beyond that is still subject to confirmation from the gods of chaos. (As if I hadn’t already been thinking of this yesterday – today’s news only multiplied that feeling a dozenfold). I wanted to get up and give both of my kids the biggest hugs they’ve ever had. Instead I kissed them gently on the forehead and came down here to try and write at least a little of this feeling out of my system.
I also, of course, Googled Duncan. Nothing on the main Google page, but plenty of news results. It seems that, incredibly, Duncan’s wife and kids are all OK, at least if the crocodiles haven’t got them yet; I would have thought there is plenty else for the crocodiles to feast on, I’m sure I’ve heard that they prefer dead (preferably slightly rotted) meat to anything still living.
The fact that the whole familiy survived has at least given me a little relief, but still…. nngngn …. no words for it. I feel indescribably strange.