As we approach the 10th anniversary of the destruction of the Twin Towers, many people will be asking that question - where were you when the planes hit?
I'll tell you where I was. Just about to get into a taxi, heading for the airport. To get on a plane.
No, I wasn't in New York. I was in Edinburgh. At the time I was working on a project for RBS, designing and implementing a computer system to enable them to produce consolidated financial and regulatory reporting on something rather more robust and auditable than an Excel spreadsheet. I was dividing my time between London and Edinburgh, and on Tuesday September 11th 2001, I had been in Edinburgh for two days and was about to fly home. Just as I was leaving the office, someone said to me "have you heard the news?" I looked round, and on the Reuters screens were the images of the smoking twin towers.
I still got on that plane. It was the weirdest flight I have ever been on in my life. Everyone knew, of course - but no-one was saying anything. The only indication of anything being abnormal was cabin crew handing out double gin & tonics. That, and the atmosphere. You could cut it with a knife. I don't think I have ever been so scared, and I am certain I was not the only one who felt like that.
Our landing at Gatwick was uneventful, and there was no extra security as we went through to Arrivals. But in my taxi on the M25, we heard the news that Gatwick had been closed. Apparently mine was the last domestic flight to land before everything was grounded.
Why did I get on that plane? Well, I did toy with the idea of diverting to Waverley station and trying to get a train. But that would have caused a big problem. You see, I had to pick up the kids from the childminder at 6 pm.....
The events of 9/11 forced me to look hard at the life I was living. For the first time I realised how very tenuous my childcare arrangements were - that while my children were in school and nursery, I was four hundred miles away. And that happened nearly every week. They couldn't be ill, or unhappy, or short of some essential, because Mummy couldn't drop everything and run to the school or nursery at a moment's notice. And on 9/11, Mummy nearly didn't get home at all.
I felt that my children deserved a mother who had time for them, who could be there for them. Yes, I earned a good income. But the hours I worked, the travel, and the mental aggravation of senior-level banking meant that I was either physically not present or personally unavailable. That wasn't the sort of mum I wanted to be.
So when I completed the RBS project I looked for work that was more compatible with family life and the needs of my children - and my own need to be a decent mum. I set up my own business as a freelance singer and teacher, funded it from savings, and was afloat within three years from scratch. It is hardly the most lucrative profession in the world, and I am much poorer financially than I was before. But I have gained so much from having time with my children - and even more from discovering that I have a real talent for teaching and can help so many young and not-so-young people learn to enjoy singing, many for the first time.
I have no regrets at all that I left banking, and I do not plan to return. But that won't stop me talking about it, writing about it and trying to influence policy makers as they struggle to reform banking for the 21st Century. I worked in banking for a long time and I know it well. I have much to say.