I Wish I Was A Unicorn

Always be yourself, unless you can be a unicorn, then ALWAYS be a unicorn!

When the Christmas Lights Were Switched Off

on December 26, 2014


On Monday at 10:30am I finished up work for Christmas and headed home to meet my husband so we could then travel into Glasgow City Centre to do a large part of our Christmas shopping. I had worked four days in a row rising at 3am to start work at 4am,  so I was pretty tired, but excited to get into the Christmas spirit.
We got into town and after a quick bite to eat we headed to the first shop on our list in Buchanan Street. We phoned my husband’s  sister for advice on what to buy our niece  and nephew and she suggested we try a shop nearby in Queen Street. We headed there straight away and when we reached Queen Street my hubby said “let’s cross over to the other side, I think the shop is one the other side.” I had no idea that one small decision was potentially the difference between life and death for us both that day.
As we walked down that pavement we passed the Christmas fairground on George Square. A few different festive songs were competing from a few different rides, the beautiful lights shone above us and as we walked arm in arm we looked upwards and watched the big wheel slowly turn. He jokingly suggested we go on the big wheel, knowing I’d say “Absolutely not!” due to my fear of heights and we carried on walking down the street. We had to walk under scaffolding and I remember thinking to myself that the pathway was empty compared to the path across the road which was heaving with last minute Christmas shoppers just like us. As I looked over at the crowds just a few feet from us I saw the Duke of Wellington statue with his ultimate accessory,  a traffic cone, balanced upon his head.


For those who don’t know, this cone has been removed by the police and the local council many times, but somehow always finds it’s way back onto the Duke. It’s come to represent Glasgow’s  dry sense of humour. We take our history and we put our own spin on it. As we walked past I was about to ask my husband if he had seen the news story a few days before where a slightly inebriated Santa had climbed up and joined the Duke upon his horse and was eventually escorted off by the police. There were couples, families, pensioners, just every sort of person you could think of all walking past and probably remembering the same thing and smiling to themselves just like me.
We reached the junction at Ingram street and I turned my head to press the stop traffic button, subconsciously taking in the traffic around us… Lots of buses, lots of taxis, some families in cars, a garbage lorry… And we stood for a few seconds waiting for the traffic to stop. As we waited I heard a load smack and turned my head in the direction of it thinking it was a sandwich board had fallen. The sound was immediately followed by screams all around me. It took a second for my brain to comprehend what my eyes were seeing…was the rubbish truck ACTUALLY on the pavement? 

Everything suddenly went into slow motion, every sight and sound acute. The high pitched engine noise from the truck in a low gear,  but accelerating, the shouts, screams, the other sounds… I can’t describe the fine details, I’ll have to leave it to your imagination.

In that split second the cognitive part of my brain asked a dozen questions.. Is it going to stop, is this a dream, is it a terrorist attack, is there any way to stop it.  is there any way to warn people. Meanwhile my feet were stuck to the spot,  my eyes fixed on the scene unfolding, my arms stretching out in front of me and my mouth screaming with absolute horror and helplessness! It seemed to go on for minutes, but in reality only seconds. I wished I could move, I wished I could run faster than the truck and push the people out of the way. I wished I could do SOMETHING to stop it, but it kept going on and on. People scattered, the engine noise receded as the truck continued further up the pavement, veering back onto the road and eventually crashing to a halt a few hundred feet away at the only thing which could have stopped it, a building.
Amazingly, as a credit to the character of glaswegians, people had already began running from nearby streets, towards the injured, alerted by the cacophony of noise. I have always considered myself calm in a crisis and believed that I would run to help, administer first aid, be useful in some way, but I now know in this level of crisis I would stand rooted to the spot in utter shock, urging my brain to get it together, screaming in shock.. What will I do? What can I do? Will the amount of first aid knowledge I know be of any use? The answer in my mind said said no, the injuries would be beyond my knowledge. I looked at my husband and felt my breath catch in my throat and began to sob. He looked terrified, he began to sob too. I tried to find my phone and couldn’t remember the pass code to unlock it. Focus, for goodness sake, focus, unlocked, 999, what service do you require “A bin lorry has gone into…” “WHAT SERVICE DO YOU REQUIRE ”
“putting you through to ambulance now”
As it rang and rang I looked around me and kept crying out “That man’s doing cpr himself, there’s a buggy! Oh my God! Please hurry! There’s over 15 people been hit, please do something!”
“stay on the line, I’m trying a different line for you”
“Just send somebody, hurry!”
When I got off the phone my hubby and I stood and hugged and cried. Both our minds thinking the same thing, and hugging even tighter. The shock of seeing the whole accident unfold was bad enough, to all of us who witnessed it, it seemed like a scene from a movie. (Ironically, the crash scenes for World War Z were filmed right here). But the aftermath was just as awful. At the time I felt so helpless and useless,  since then I’ve read in awe the accounts of people giving first aid,  comfort and practical help. There’s seems to be a theme where those of us who witnessed it were so shocked at what we witnessed, whilst those who were nearby and heard the accident were more able to run into the middle of it all and help. This feels like an insensitive thing to say,  but true,  that those of us who saw exactly what happened would know the chances of survivng a man vs garbage truck were slim to zero, and if there were survivors,  it would be difficult to know how to help.
Despite this I looked around us to see if there was anyone needing help that we could help with. Across from us was a mother lying next to a baby buggy, we both wept when we saw this, but could see that many people were tending to both the mother and the child in the buggy. We saw a gentleman administering Cpr to someone a little bit further away, further up was someone in the road who was being tended to buy others,  and further up we could see more victims, shopping bags strewn, people crying, and still the Christmas music was playing, still the beautiful lights lit up the street…
It looked like everyone unjured was being tended to by passers by, a few of us had alerted emergency services so we turned to the street corner we had been waiting at and began redirecting shoppers back into Ingram street. Many had children with them,  so we had to whisper what happened so they knew not to take their children round. We watched their faces drop with shock and how they turned to usher their children back the way they came. My hubby had to onto the road to explain what had happened to taxi drivers and other drivers trying to manoeuvre around the street.
We kept stopping and hugging, sobbing and shaking our heads. What was this all about, how could this happen in one of the busiest streets on one of the busiest days of the year. I bent over the railings next to us, my stomach was threatening to bring up the lunch we had grabbed earlier. The nausea stayed with me untillater  that night. We looked up the street and saw clothing and sheets being laid over the faces of those who didn’t make it. I started a silent prayer in my head and ended up just saying “God help them, God help them!”
After what seemed like an eternity, we began to hear sirens  approaching. Community patrol people began stopping the traffic to let them through. The queue of buses emptied, the buses were locked and abandoned where they were. The street filed with paramedic cars,  ambulances and police. A policeman began to take control and started ushering people away. “We are closing this area, move along!”. So we walked a short distance down the street and sat on a step and cried again. We phoned our daughter and told her we are okay, just in case you see news reports about an accident in Glasgow. I phoned my mum and said the same thing through sobs, my mum stayed crying too and said “just come home.” My husband phoned his sister and she told us to find somewhere warm and drink something hot and sweet. She felt awful that she had directed us to that very street a few minutes before.
We really didn’t know what to do. We had just witnessed people being killed. Our hearts were breaking for them.
We went to a shopping centre and my hubby got a coffee,  I got water. When I went to pay for our stuff a woman became irate with me for not moving out of her way quickly enough. The woman who served me was annoyed that I wanted to pay by debit card and told me to buy crisps to make it up to £4, I put my debit card in the wrong way,  I couldn’t remember the pin number, I forgot to take it back out. I sat at our table and stared into space. The centre was full of shoppers, blissfully unaware. I envied them, but felt reassured  being somewhere where nobody was crying,  screaming,  running…
My daughter phoned to say she was on her way into town. I think she felt like she needed to be near to us. We visited a few shops, for some reason I felt I needed to do something normal. Something to convince us that Glasgow was safe, normal and happy. Somewhere that people didn’t have a traumatic look in their  eyes.
We eventually went home and tried to forget, we watched meaningless TV programmes,  but neither of us could tell you what happened in the programmes as we both just stated in the direction of the TV whilst our minds were replaying the scene we watched earlier. We both randomly cried, hugging each other tightly, saying we loved the other over and over.
The next morning I read a report about it and one small sentence made me cry again. It said the woman had fainted, the mother beside the buggy had fainted. She was okay, her baby was okay and the relief was the first tears of happiness I’d cried since the accident. The few days following it were very emotional. Just reading a poem about it, or a list of the names, or photographs would set us off. Today I read that the gentleman giving CPR was actually a surgeon who had passed nearby when it happened. It’s like pieces of a jigsaw fitting together making up the bigger picture of what happened. I’m sure there are a hundred other experiences just like ours and our trauma is very insignificant compared to that of those injured or bereaved. I can’t imagine their pain, I’ve prayed for them, what a horrible thing to happen ANY time, never mind 3 days before Christmas. 
Christmas day was different this year. People on social networking sites urged others to switch off their tree lights on Christmas eve, but ironically our tree lights fused all by themselves,  so we have had them off all Christmas anyway.
We spent a modest day at my parents house. We had a beautiful dinner, we joked, sang and chatted, all the whole being thankful we were there to celebrate it and recognising that there were spaces at other family’s tables.
Our own day was all the more poignant because my dad had been admitted to hospital on the same day of the accident after a fall and had gotten home on Christmas eve, albeit a bit bruised and sore.


So I’m planning to meet my husband in Glasgow tonight (boxing day) after his work so we can lay some flowers where it all happened and try to process it all and hope that something good somewhere will come from all the pain. 6 people died, 10 were injured. I feels like such a meaningless accident which has taken six very meaningful lives.
Meanwhile, I’m holding my loved  ones extra close now.
If my husband hadn’t made us cross the road when he did…


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