Tag Archives: Manchester

From terror to chaos? 3-9 June 2017 in London and Manchester

It’s been an emotional roller coaster of a week.

Home in London last Saturday, I was still dealing with the emotional impact of Manchester, making room for sadness and grief along with my defiance (it doesn’t make us weak or victims to mourn the dead), when the London Bridge attack happened.

It happened fifteen minutes walk from my house, where we had decided last minute not to go out for dinner, but to get pizza instead. I couldn’t quite believe that I was personally so close to another act of terrorism, so soon after Manchester. I didn’t want to believe what was happening. We spent a few hours not quite knowing the details. How many attacks? How many dead? Why was it taking so long to resolve? Were there hostages? My mind spun but emotionally I was pretty numb.

We need a new word to describe that sinking feeling when that terrible thing you knew could happen has happened, and that abstract fear of terrorism that we normally push to the back of our minds as part of a more general fear of death, comes a little closer. For me the thing that causes temporary tremors of fear is the knowledge that the scenes through which we pass everyday could so easily turn into scenes of terror. A market or a square could become a war zone. The same physically, but in reality, unrecognisable.

I tried to feel anger and defiance again, but it’s hard to be angry with something as big as terrorism. The feeling tends to shade off into a wider despair at world events, making me and my feelings seem pretty small.

So I was pretty grateful to Donald Trump the next morning. Seriously – thank you, Donald Trump, for giving me the chance to get absolutely, blazingly, personally, mad as hell. It was a great feeling and really pulled me out of that numbness. My fury against Trump called up my deep love of my city and my mayor, both of which I wanted to protect as fiercely as a mama bear against everything that threatened them.

Who knew you could love a place so fiercely? But London, and London Bridge in particular, has been my home since my early twenties. This is where I ran around with friends, throwing drunken parties that went on all night, spilling out onto the walkway outside on nice evenings; where we started our nights out singing and drinking on the bus to wherever else we were going; and where we walked by the river to clear the hangovers, all the way down to Borough market to chase away the headaches with burgers and falafel. It might have been at the market I first tried falafel, and baklava, bright green olives and ‘drunken’ cheese. Now that I’m older it’s where I buy squid or scallops or venison for special nights in. Where we drink mulled cider in the autumn and ice-cold smoothies when the sun comes out.

This general election has increased my love of my neighbourhood and neighbours. When I was out on the doorstep, listening to voters, I was able to say honestly how I just wanted everyone to be happy in our little part of London. I want us to share this space considerately and all be patient and friendly with each other. By and large we are. Despite disparity of age and income I think people are pretty tolerant, for example of young people having fun in the Borough area, people staggering home at all hours, and community parties going on till dawn!

So it was really hard to leave London on the Sunday evening and go to Manchester for another week. And it was a really hard week, being here, while wanting above anything to be back there with my community, at the vigil, and then at the election – knocking on doors and getting out the vote.

And now I wake up to a hung parliament!

There are probably many reasons to feel concerned right now: a weak government with Brexit negotiations looming, a country split north against south, young against old, cities against towns and rural areas, Tories taking votes from UKIP by going hardline racist… but right now I can’t stop smiling, and I’m going home to London.

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A research trip to Manchester

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.