Funny – in a way that’s not at all – that it should be when I leave my home in London, for a research fellowship in Manchester, that I come closest to a major terrorist attack.
9/11 was a continent away; likewise the Paris attacks while I was in the States. During 7/7 I was working a temp job on an industrial estate in Chessington, pretty far out of London. While I had to coordinate workers travelling in and out of the city and had friends caught up in the transport chaos, I wasn’t physically that close to it. The most recent ‘attack’ in London was hardly major. And though I remember the last time Manchester was bombed – the IRA bombing of 1996 – I was only a teenager then, living in North Wales, and only had vague memories of shopping near what was now the bomb site with my family.
This morning my sleep was interrupted by sirens and surprisingly late activity (for a Monday) in my hotel. I didn’t hear an explosion and the sirens barely disturbed me – in London I live opposite a fire station, so falling asleep to the sound of emergency vehicles was so familiar I didn’t really register that anything out of the ordinary might be going on.
This morning I learned the news from facebook, and tuned into the BBC for confirmation. I rode down in the lift with three young girls – one of them wearing an Ariana Grande t-shirt. I don’t know if they were due to stay in the hotel, or if they were taken in and given a room and food as many of the local hotels have done, for concert goers who couldn’t then get home. Outside, helicopters hovered over the city. The road by my hotel was cordoned off, so I took another route to work, along with a large number of Mancunians, all disrupted, but getting on with their lives.
When I’ve spoken to anyone this morning we haven’t repeated the ‘score’ of the terrorists – any dead or wounded. We’ve spoken about people pulling together – the taxi drivers, the nearby hotel workers, the local residents bringing food and coffee – and getting on with it. This is how we win. Even if terrorism is the new normal (again), and no matter which city you’re in it’s possible you’ll come close to it, we get on with our lives.
And Manchester is a city that, I think, is strong enough to take what’s thrown at it. I’ve only been here a week, so I may be speaking out of turn, but I’ve been impressed. It feels like a confident city. There’s culture evident in its theatres and art centres, and a buzzing northern quarter of cool restaurants and bars. The museum of Science and Industry is an inspiring testament to how Manchester is and has always been at the forefront of scientific discovery and technological industry. And everyone I’ve met has been friendly and hard-working. If anyone was thinking of visiting, you really should – it makes for a great city break.
I’m really sorry this happened in Manchester, but I’m pretty convinced it’s not going to stop the city going from strength to strength. And now I’m going to get on with my day.