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Sunday, 6 March 2011

The Ground Zero effect

New York - June 23rd 2010.
Filming a promotional video for an incentive.
We're on a helicopter flying around the Statue of Liberty, it's an exhilarating sensation, the rush of take-off, the jaunty ride, I'm amazed at this monument, an almighty symbol of Freedom & Security standing so proud and saying so much (all my life I've seen it trashed in films from Godzilla to Cloverfield, every monster, every alien, every stray meteorite, every disaster has hit Lady Liberty and here she finally is, feels like I've known her all my life!!).
The mood is bordering on delirious, I just know our Network will be thrilled with the New York incentive and to take in the enormity of the place this Helicopter ride will be the icing on the cake.
The camera is rolling, I'm fluffing my lines as per usual, the banter is fantastic and we're musing about how we've fallen in love with old New York.
OMG, how could we have forgotten about it ? How did we fail to mention it during the last 48 hours, since our arrival in NYC ?
A clump of insignificant cranes on an everyday, unnoticeable building site, almost invisible among the heady skyscrapers that surround it.....That is, until the pilot pointed and said 'that's Ground Zero'. Total Silence.
The building site with half finished buildings, blocks of concrete, deep dug foundations with iron girders sticking out of them, builders milling around as they would on any building site, became the most significant square in the world, let alone in Manhattan.
This was the area that made the whole world come to a complete standstill on September 11th 2001. Suddenly thoughts & images that we've seen and remembered a million times since that date came flooding back....Twin Towers, sketchy video footage of the planes striking, the plume of smoke coming from the point of impact, the collapse of both buildings and thousands of people that lost their lives, thousands others searching and grieving for ones they lost - endless images of despair and destruction.
We're all in total disbelief that this is where it all happened, there is a spooky presence about the place, it's almost scary and haunting, so much happened here in the space of a couple of hours that altered the world forever and yet there is a strange sense of optimism and hope, remembering the courage, affection and camaraderie of the aftermath.
The helicopter returns to the helipad and there is time to film a closing scene, my lines are worse than usual, my mood has changed, I can't stop thinking about the 9/11 building site I've just seen and how it's probably more important and iconic than any other monument in New York,
By now my goal to return to NYC has another condition attached to it - Next time, I really want to go to Ground Zero rather than just fly over it. I can't explain why, it's not morbid fascination, I didn't lose anyone personally, I think it's because in my life, like in the lives of millions of people around the world, it became a significant & emotional event, it really has been a case of 'do you remember where you were on September 11th 2001 ?' and almost everyone can recall their precise location, feelings and disbelief.

New York - 20th February 2011 
A goal achieved, I'm back in (what became after my first visit, last June), my number one destination on earth.
This time it's bitterly cold, but just as energetic, wild, amazing and exhilarating as my first visit, this time it's a personal* trip, there is no film crew following, no lines and no microphone.

Sunday afternoon, 20th February, Ground Zero on foot.
It's all boarded up, but you can see the cranes towering above, there are ambitious plans to re-open the site on the 10th anniversary this year (OMG has it already been 10 years??!!).
The outspoken man in the info booth, says it WILL be done, followed by the comment 'I was here when there were bits of planes & limbs scattered in the streets and I will be here when it re-opens, it's all about HOPE & LIFE'
Indeed, once you walk around to the vast viewing area (from inside another building), there is a sense of HOPE, you find yourself mesmerised and staring at the sprawling mess of girders, trucks, concrete, cranes and activity. Bizarrely, everyone else looking through the viewing window is equally fixated and focused on the sight. People of all ages, creeds and nationalities just staring but not saying much at all.
A school trip of girls arrives, the teacher assembles them, they too stare in silence, the teacher gives a brief outline and then finishes with the line 'Thousands of people innocently went to work on September 11th 2001 and never returned. Ground Zero represents moving on about rebuilding, about belief, about living your life no matter what adversities you encounter, don't ever forget today is a gift, that's why it's called the present, value your life' at which point I almost applauded her.
What an amazing sentence to tell her pupils, it clearly went over some of their heads, but for me, it was the most poignant statement I'd ever heard from any teacher. I had this feeling, she was relaying her own sentiments and need to fulfil, enjoy and live her life through her touching sentence. Nevertheless FANTASTIC!!!!
That was the 'Ground Zero Effect', summed up by this NYC teacher, talking to her pupils,
I'm certain there are many human travesties and tragedies with death and destruction, that happen on a daily basis (the tsunami in Asia springs to mind - a terrifying natural disaster, that killed thousands of people), that one can think about and then relate such sentiments to, however most of us saw this happening live, it affected us, it bothered us and it's still a regular reminder and you can physically watch it all being rebuilt.

I guess, my question is, why does it sometimes take something as vast as Ground Zero or in fact any of the other tragedies, happenings etc to help us question & value the importance of LIFE & existence.

Is it because we get caught up in just living and the rigmarole that ensues, with the routine of each day just passing time by ?

Is it because some of us are so busy planning for the future that we forget to live TODAY ?

I don't really know, I just know what happened when I was in NYC - it made me question life and the things I do, not to mention the pertinent question of 'where has the last decade since September 2001 gone?'

Maybe we need to do more to appreciate TODAY, maybe sometimes we're too quick to snatch a moment of pleasure we should/could have, forgetting that TODAY is the most important moment we have, that TODAY is a tragic time-bomb ticking away, one which could explode at any given moment, one which we have absolutely NO control over, one which is dangerous and volatile.
One of my best friends, worries on a daily basis as to what he will do when his Interest only mortgage expires, substantiated you may think, considering when it's term is complete he will have to find a huge chunk of money to pay the mortgage back, or risk losing his home, however there is another 20 years before it expires, so why is he killing himself today? I often say to him, 'why bother living, you're already dead' (and I'm his friend - who needs enemies with a friend like me!!!)
I'm sure there were people who went to work on September 11th 2001, or people who were in Sri Lanka when the Tsunami struck in 2005, that had similar burdens and worries - in a matter of moments, their worlds came to an end.

I love a Vanilla Latte with an extra shot of espresso (camp but tasty!!!), and I have about five a week.
However, I recently read a brilliant self-development book (I won't mention which one), which outlined how the compound effect of not having such a small daily pleasure (and a daily coffee was the exact example), could save a vast amount of money (in my case a yearly saving of 5 x £4.00 x 52 weeks, which equals a grand total of £1040) - Great!! However, my  5 times a week tiny unadulterated, personal pleasure, vastly outweighs the yearly saving of £1040 (to be precise that's almost 260 moments of pleasure!!!) A Vanilla Latte with an extra shot of espresso, may be a ridiculous, puerile example of living your life (and that example from that book may be slightly out of context), but nevertheless outlines the thinking of how important TODAY is, even if it is a tiny pleasure.
The self-development book in question is fantastic and has guided and improved much of my personal thinking, however don't ever forget 'LIFE IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU'RE PLANNING YOUR FUTURE'
There is no doubt we have to plan the future and think about what we need to do, I just don't want to forget about TODAY and how ALIVE I am in the present (after all it's a GIFT!!).

Closing line from one of my favourite poems (Camp but appropriate)

'Each minute be with pleasure passed:
Were it not madness to deny
To live because we're sure to die?'

Enough said - LIVE your LIFE!!

I'm off for an irresponsible VANILLA LATTE, while I plan my FUTURE!!!!



  1. After reading the same book and finding myself with the identical dilemma (Skimmed and minus the vanilla) I have come to the very same conclusion. Something that gives you that little bit of pleasure can surely be money well spent (invested?), as feeling good will have a positive compound effect on your life. G'Ster xx

  2. Well Put Mr K. I once worked for BT handling the 999 calls. When you can hear real life unfold in front of you and you are helpless all you can do is listen and hope. LIFE DOES CARRY ON!!
    Tradedy is happening NOW every day, every minute, appreciate what you really do have in your life every day, every minute.