Wrong time, wrong place   4 comments

With all the security in place around London 2012 Olympics, and with the arrest of suspected terrorists in southern Spain, one’s mind turns to one’s own security and personal risk.

As someone currently living in London, I am aware that every day I travel into central London I will pass within 100 metres of a fundamentalist person who would probably quite happily slit my throat in different circumstances. I have also had personal experience of terrorism on a couple of occasions during the mid 1980’s.

Borobudur Temple Indonesia – Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

My first brush with terrorism was on a business trip to Jakarta the capital city of Indonesia. This is a nice picture of Indonesia, as I didn’t find any of Jakarta and didn’t have my own camera to take pictutes with at the time.

As our flight from Singapore began its final descent into Jakarta airport, I kind of knew this was going to be an interesting trip. It was the captain’s announcement that those sitting on the right hand side of the plane could look out and see a spectacular firework display, which was actually a government ammunition dump that had been set on fire to by rebel terrorists. The “fireworks” were missiles and rockets exploding, but not close enough to the airport to provide a real danger to landing flights. It was noisy enough though.

Fortunately we landed safely, and I made my way to the hotel without incident. At the time, as a small company, we were using holiday packages for our travel, they enabled me to visit maybe 5 capital cities in less than three weeks, were very good value for money, and provided four star hotel accommodation. My room was nice, lots of dark wood offset by a nice big picture window which let in plenty of light.

Off to work first thing in the morning, I got a taxi to the first clients offices, a major American pharmaceutical company. The taxi driver was trying to tell me something, but his English wasn’t very good, so he gave up after a few minutes and took me to the address I’d requested. We arrived after about 30 mins to find the burnt out shell of the offices of the company, which had been fire bombed over the previous night. The guy I was meant to see was there, helping to clear out the rubble, along with a senior colleague of his from the US office who I also knew.

After a brief conversation with both guys, I got back into my cab who was waiting for me and we went off to the second client of the day, a major British pharmaceutical company. Gosh the rebel terrorists had been busy, they were shut for business and slightly singed around the edges. My third meeting of the day was with the local CEO of a Japanese company, and as we’d planned to have lunch at my hotel, I was a little bit worried.

After a productive lunch, I walked a few blocks to another client’s offices, and that was my meetings for the day complete. It was the hot humid season, so when I got back to the hotel I decided to have a cool bath then lie on the bed and enjoy the air conditioning and a cold soft drink from the mini bar.

B O O M !!!!

Now I was lying on the bed encased in that nice big picture window I referred to earlier. I was covered in shards of glass, they were everywhere, the whole picture window had been blown inwards and mainly over me. The window was a single glazed panel of non-safety glass, and some of those shards were like daggers. Before I’d really processed what had happened there was a knock on the door, followed by the sound of a key, the door opened and there was one of the assistant managers who I recognised plus another guy.

They cleared the glass from around me, helped me to walk to the bathroom, where I was able to get dressed after they’d dabbed at the minor cuts I’d sustained from the flying glass. The manager then escorted me downstairs to the lobby bar where they’d organised some food and brandy for the injured. Unbeknown to me at the time, the other guy was packing all my belongings up for me, and moving them to another room on the other side of the hotel.

The hotel wasn’t busy, it was off peak so no tourists, but there were a few other Brits I got talking to, so we decided to go outside to find out what had happened. When we got outside we discovered that the hotel was next door to some government building which had been the target for the bomb. Terrorists it seems are not stupid. Around the government building were a number of what looked like 1930s American fire engines, spraying their hoses as high as they could, about 5 floors. The bomb had been placed on the seventh floor, so it was burning away happily unconcerned at the attempt to put it out. My room was facing the government building and on the 8th floor, so had got the brunt of the blast from the explosion.

After some discussions with the travel people I left Jakarta the next day and arrived early in Hong Kong, so had a couple of days of “me” time before continuing my business trip. Now fast forward a couple of years and I find myself in Paris.

At the time, Le Defense was one of the major office developments in Paris, just over the Seine at, if I remember right, Neuilly bridge.
Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Le Defense was one of the major office developments on the outskirts of Paris, and was a popular office location with a couple of pharmaceutical companies. Paris was a city I visited a lot in those days, probably four or five times a year depending on the business opportunities.

There was nothing special about this trip, it was as I remember September time, and I was visiting our regular clients to negotiate their support for the forthcoming year. I had travelled to Europe the previous week, starting in Amsterdam and then going by train to Brussels with meetings along the way, and then from Brussels again by train to Paris, arriving on Friday evening so I could enjoy the weekend there, in preference to Brussels.

So, on Monday morning it was I arrived at the offices of my first client of the day. This proved not to be an onerous meeting, the working relationship was good and I was able to secure a small price increase from the previous year. After the meeting, I made my way back to the metro station to take me back to central Paris.

On my way across a paved square, I saw an inviting looking cafe and as I was in no hurry I considered stopping for a coffee. It was quiet, as it was mid morning, but it would be very busy between midday and 2pm. I went over to the cafe and looked at the menu in the window. Being tight, erm mean careful with money I thought the cafe looked too expensive to bother with, there were nicer and cheaper places in the area around my hotel. That carefulness saved my life.

I was some distance from the cafe walking away from it, probably 50 to 150 yards, when the whole cafe exploded. The force of the blast lifted me right up in the air and landed me some few yards further away scraping the skin of my hands and wrecking my suit trousers. I managed to pick myself up, find my briefcase, and despite the pain I was in make my way quite quickly to the Metro station. I didn’t want to find myself being interviewed by either the French police or journalists, not sure which I disliked the idea of more, and I certainly didn’t want to be on French TV.

Reading a newspaper the next day, it seems that the bomb was not supposed to go off when it did, and the cafe may not have been the intended target. It seems the bomb was not that well made, went off prematurely killing the bomber. I think I’ve had my share of close calls, so heres hoping there won’t be anymore.



Posted August 4, 2012 by bluonthemove in Publishing, Travel

4 responses to “Wrong time, wrong place

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  1. My first thought was that was an extremely good story. So much so that I insisted my partner read it (and he agreed). My second was how nerve-wrecking both experiences would have been.

    Moral of the first story, and in fact probably both of them, avoid staying near government buildings. Which terrrorists were they? Did you find out? I remember there were lots of Islamic ones in Indonesia at one point. Can’t remember about Paris.

    Used to like bomb scares at school. We were near a high security prison although I don’t remember why there was a phase of bomb scares except some of the naughty older girls wanted to halt lessons. Not that anyone minded. Oh, maybe they had IRA prisoners, that would be it. Anyway, don’t remember any bombs ever being found.

    • I’m not sure Indonesia was particularly stable during the 1980s. The local newspapers were heavily censored so you got very little local information, although the presence of an army truck on nearly every street corner gave the impression all was not well. Further, I was still in my twenties and was probably still in shock when I arrived in Hong Kong.

      The French thing was Algerian. Although it had gained its independence, seems the French were still busy interfering in how it was run, and some minority groups felt the need to send a strong message to the French government in Paris in very much the same way the IRA felt the need to set off bombs in London.

      • I think my only knowledge of Indonesia came from The year of living dangerously. Although I did read up a little after seeing that. It was on my list of places to visit on my world trip, but like a few others it got missed out and we decided to get out of Asia and hit Australia.

        The Algerian aspect is interesting. I just don’t remember that at all. Rather Nimbyish isn’t it? If it doesn’t affect me it just washes over. I’m not sure I’m any better informed now about current events, but at least I have time to choose and select what to read about. Television is a good way of being brainwashed absorbing info, but I really can’t face buying one, it is so intrusive.

        Still think your close encounters were of the horrific kind though. And fingers crossed for no more.

  2. Fascinating and absolutely frightening, just like Roughseas says. I know it left you with the story of a lifetime…but you could have just as easily lost that life too.

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