Hold Tight, Manchester

It’s rather predictable, I know, but I’m feeling quite compelled to write something about what happened last night in Manchester. I initially thought that I might try and write something moderately amusing to try and break the tension but I’m not really in the mood.

I was out in Salford last night with my friend Matt. We’d been to see Stewart Lee who was as brilliantly acerbic as you would expect. At the end of the show we caught the tram and at Cornbrook I said goodbye to Matt, hopped on another tram and went on my merry way. A couple of minutes later he texted me to say that there had been an explosion at the Manchester Arena a few minutes earlier. Some people on my tram had been there and were talking about it. The general consensus amongst those people was; definitely a bomb. General consensus in my head was; probably not a bomb. I wasn’t doubting their account of what had happened to them but a bomb just seemed so unlikely. An exploding piece of equipment or a bust speaker or anything but not a bomb, not in Manchester, don’t be ridiculous. Mostly, I just really, really didn’t want it to be a deliberate act.

Paris, Westminster, Stockholm, Brussels – Manchester is no different. It was always a possibility that something like this could happen here but how can you ever really expect it? If you really believed that today is the day, you would never leave your house. We tell ourselves that we’re safe, that these things don’t happen in our world, in our city, in our lives. And we do that because it’s mostly true. Sometimes, I’m content in my blessed ignorance.

When I got home and the news unravelled I waited for a statement from a reliable source, not the fearmongering and speculation that was rife on social media. My heart sunk when fatalities were confirmed and fractured when the initial number of 19 was announced. I still clung on to the idea that maybe there was no deliberation behind it, perhaps it was all a terrible accident. I woke up this morning to find that was not the case. Incomprehensible.

The only thing I had to compare it to were the riots in Manchester a few years ago. At the time I remember feeling angry that a bunch of unruly bellends were terrorising my city. How dare they! I feel similar now only much, much worse. I know I possibly sound a bit grief-touristy but last night’s events have upset me more than I would have expected. It’s close to home and it feels personal. I need to have a proper chat with my six year old about it which isn’t fair. This will leave a mark on the people of this city and everyone will be affected in some way even if it’s only the nagging doubt at the back of your mind that maybe… We won’t be cowed though, oh no. Tonight we’re going to go into the city to celebrate our wedding anniversary with cocktails and jazz, which I guess is as fitting an activity as any other.

Where’s the bright spot, then, where’s my happy angle? Well, I could write about all of the amazing people who offered up rooms and food and lifts to the displaced concert goers. All of the taxi drivers who ferried people about for free, the hotels who opened their doors to unaccompanied children, the people who stepped in to help in any way they could, who voluntarily took themselves into a potentially dangerous and completely unknown situation to help others. The bus drivers who went to their depot and demanded the keys to the buses so they could start taking people home. The many, many people from the emergency services who frankly, don’t get paid enough for this kind of shit. Then there’s the NHS staff who were in Manchester at a conference and offered their services when they heard what had happened. Someone posted this online earlier –

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers–so many caring people in this world” – Fred Rogers

Which pretty well sums up the spirit shown last night. I’m proud of you Manchester, you did what you could. It won’t make it alright though. Not for the families of the 22 confirmed dead. And that’s the worst bit of all. It will never be undone.

I walked to work today. It takes just over an hour but I had time to spare and it’s a gorgeous sunny day with a nice breeze. My route takes me past the Manchester Royal Infirmary which is where the most seriously injured people were taken last night. The car park today is a zoo at feeding time. Broadcast vans are parked nose to tail along the road while a hundred pristine news reporters hover around in front of their cameras waiting for the next confirmed death. I don’t want them there, they’re too shiny, too cynical. Inside the hospital people are at the bedsides of their loved ones, waiting, praying, grieving. I suspect they don’t want them there either.

Last night on my way into town, I helped a mother and daughter to navigate the ticket machine at the tram stop. They were going to Victoria and I asked if they were going to see Take That. No, said the youngster, Ariana Grande. Well there goes my credibility. On the way home I looked for them on the tram but didn’t see them. I hope they are ok.

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