Joe is on for gold in the 2012 Olympics. When the UK is taken over by a military coup, it's not his problem. Then people start to disappear...Gritty near-future thriller.
Sometimes in life you get stand-out, unforgettable moments...and this was definitely one of them.
It was July 2010, a couple of years back. The UK team had been at the European Athletic Championships all week, and we were at the airport in Barcelona waiting for an early flight home. The team as a whole had done well and a handful of us had done even better than that. In the 3000 metres steeplechase, I’d won with a PB of 7.54.02, just half a second outside the WR. PB means Personal Best. WR stands for World Record. The steeplechase is a really challenging race - twenty eight hurdles and seven water jumps - and no one in Europe had ever run that distance as fast as me. With the London Games barely two years away, an Olympic medal was a definite possibility.
At the airport, they’d put us athletes in the VIP suite. The flight was due to leave at 06.10. I’d phoned Anna straight after yesterday’s race and told her what had happened but she’d seen it already on TV. Anna hates getting up early but no way would she not be at Heathrow to give me a hug when we got back. That, at least, was the plan.
Six’o’clock came and went. There was no sign of the flight being called. Then a Spanish official came in and had a brief conversation with our team manager. As soon as he’d gone, the manager shut the door and told us to gather round.
"Guys..." He said, "It seems there’s been some kind of takeover back home. I can’t give you details but UK airspace has been closed. No flights in. No flights out. Until things are clearer, I’m afraid we’re stuck here. Enjoy..."
We stayed at the airport, awaiting developments. There were a couple of big TV screens in the VIP suite and both of them were showing news reports. The top story was what was happening in the UK. At first there was a total blackout - no news at all - but just after ten’o clock a shot of Downing Street appeared. A couple of armed soldiers were standing outside the door of Number Ten and the reporter announced that we’d be going live to join someone inside.
That someone was a Field Marshal. He was sitting at a desk with a portrait of the Queen behind him. He talked for about five minutes. He said that the country was facing an unprecedented crisis and that something called the Interim Military Council had taken over. He used the word temporary. He said that there was no reason for anyone to panic and that things would just carry on as normal. As soon as possible, the new government would be back in office but for the time being the UK would be under the control of the military authorities.
A couple of minutes later, the Spanish told us that our flight was ready for boarding. UK airspace was open again and we’d be back at Heathrow by lunchtime. That was obviously good news but most of us were still staring at the TV screens. How come a bunch of generals could suddenly sieze power like that? In the UK, of all places? And what on earth would happen next?
All this, of course, is now history...one of those moments that anyone English will never forget.