If I were a loner, disgruntled, disaffected, malcontent, camouflaged in my army surplus fatigues, interested in guns and the internet, and with a massive chip on my shoulder, I would choose to carry out my mass shooting on a university campus. These places are so vulnerable – not like an airport, where policemen stand on corners with index fingers curled round the triggers of semi-automatic weapons, where the bored customs officers x-ray you with their icy stares; or a bank, or a mall, or a hospital emergency department. Even a garage forecourt has CCTV.
But look at this. I strolled past a Checkpoint-Charlie-style security barrier for vehicles where the attendant didn’t give me a second glance. Now I have the run of the place. I could start at the top of the dell in the student halls of residence, grim flat-roofed pueblos stacked like a shanty town in a natural amphitheatre of craggy woodland. Then I would cross a bridge over an artificial lake and ascend the windswept landscaped lawns to the first of the classrooms and lecture theatres and labs, walking quickly now, a figure stepping briefly out of the December mist and then disappearing into it again. Miss out the sports centre where too many people might be inclined to have a go. The arts centre and the contiguous students’ union next – where I would be likely to cause the most damage. And, if I got that far, if I were still on my feet, the administrative offices – the communications hub – but if I were quick enough I bet they would still not know. Shock and awe. How far would I get before anyone had a glimmering that something calamitous was happening? Look at these young women wandering about as if hypnotised, biting their nails, texting. They have no idea what’s round the corner.
But I am not a loner. Nor am I disgruntled. Hence my interest is purely theoretical. Yet I choose to start this account here, with this observation, because I am sure it occurred to me on the first occasion I set foot on the grounds of James Clerk Maxwell University College, the time I missed my station and detrained one stop further up the line and had to walk back through the campus to find Princess Margaret’s. And that is odd, because that occasion certainly predates my meeting Alan Bletchley, and why should my thoughts turn in that direction then? Maybe my memory is just playing tricks on me.
I reached my destination dead on time. I stepped into an overheated overcrowded waiting room.
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