The phone call came out of the blue as we returned home after a routine shopping trip; our daughter had called to reassure us in case we had heard or seen a news bulletin – she was “OK” she said. Her shop had just been evacuated, “there’s talk of a shooting and people are throwing things off the roof next to the shop. As the situation developed I watched aerial footage of the scene as seen from a news helicopter – chilling to know that our daughter and her co-workers were somewhere below, but apparently safe. The hostage situation that followed seemed to have been triggered by a disgruntled client of an HGV training company who had failed to get an HGV licence and believed that he had nothing left to live for and was threatening to blow ‘everything’ up. It was suspected that he had an explosive device strapped to his body.

Thankfully successful negotiations led to the situation being resolved peacefully, but not before significant disruption to one of the busiest shopping streets in London. Our daughter and her team had to wait for over six hours before being able to return to the shop – if things hadn’t been resolved it would have been difficult to get home as coats, bags, house keys etc. had all been abandoned inside during the evacuation.

We were so glad that she had called as soon as she could and that we were able to monitor the situation via mobile phones and live news coverage.

We had previously had a worrying time when she had posted a FaceBook status stating that there was “a madman on the bus threatening to kill us all”! Instant communications enabled us to quickly establish exactly what was going on; imagining some kind of ‘Pelham 123’ hostage situation, I immediately asked how serious the situation was – my post being promptly followed by one from a police officer friend of hers asking if his friends in the Met had been contacted. As it turned out, there was indeed somebody on the bus arguing with the driver and shouting threats, but thankfully the threats seemed fairly empty and there was no attempt being made to follow through – just another inconsiderate rant. As our daughter added, “just another day on London transport”!

When we were preparing a group of school students ahead of a two week trip to Peru, we were insistent that they did not take mobile phones with them. Perhaps surprisingly, this request was accepted without real complaint. We were due to visit some very poor Peruvian children and didn’t wish to flaunt our affluence in front of them, and electricity for recharging when in the jungle was also likely to be in scarce supply. One other argument used to convince them of our strategy was a story, possibly an urban myth, that seemed quite effective.

‘A school group was on a bus about to leave a car park when it reversed into a bollard causing some very minor damage to the vehicle body work. At the same time a student on board was on the phone to her mother; “we’ve just left now – oh no, the bus has just crashed …………..”, and then the signal or battery died. Whilst the student’s statement was technically true, there was never any danger to the school party – mother however, was imagining something entirely different.

Modern instant communications are great when they are working, but can also lead to unnecessary worry. Undoubtedly, however, they are an inescapable part of our lives now so need to be careful how we use them.



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