Of course, the more common question is: where were you when Kennedy died? It is meant to be one of those defining moments such that everyone can always recall precisely where they were at the moment of hearing that J. F. K. had been assassinated.
Well, I for one, had not been born when J.F.K. was killed, so I can’t join in this conversation. However, I can recall where I was and what I was doing when I heard about the deaths of certain other notable people, although during the contemplation of my own personal list, I am struck by its apparent randomness.
For example, I can recall hearing about Lord Louis Mountbatten’s death while I was playing tennis at school one Saturday afternoon. And I heard news of Salvador Dali’s death while I was walking around Camden Market. And I found out about Michael Jackson’s death in my local newsagent’s while I was buying two packets of Grace’s Irish Shortbread biscuits.
Why did the news of those particular deaths register and not others? I don’t know.
Which leads me to Margaret Thatcher.
I was in Italy. Narrowing it down, I was in Stresa. In the Grand Hotel des Iles Borromées. To put a really precise location on it: I was swimming in their indoor pool. At the far end.
It was not the biggest swimming pool in the world, but I had it to myself, and I was enjoying the luxury of a quiet, afternoon swim when, suddenly, two men entered. They were youngish, boisterous-looking, decked out in garish swimming togs, and it was instantly evident that my peaceful solitude was about to be rudely interrupted.
“Margaret Thatcher’s just died.”
Somehow, I could have guessed that they were English before they even opened their mouths. Even so, it was a slightly bizarre opening gambit to a conversation, particularly to a total stranger, across the shimmering blue expanse of a hotel swimming pool.
How do you reply to such a statement?
Condolences? Celebrations? An entire country was left similarly conflicted.
Perhaps it was just a clever strategy by the two newcomers to get the pool exclusively for themselves. I know that I left soon afterwards.
And so I add Margaret Thatcher to my list of remembered deaths. Joining Lord Louis Mountbatten, Salvador Dali and Michael Jackson. And the Grand Hotel des Iles Borromées joins a list of locations, which includes my school tennis court, Camden Market, and my local newsagent’s shop.
Random, tenuous threads, which link our entire universe.
© E. C. Glendenny
E. C. Glendenny is having another Coelho moment.