Manchester: A city of Grit, Guts and Generosity

Bee

“I believe that children are our future.  

Teach them well and let them lead the way.

Show them all the beauty they possess inside.”  

          Whitney Houston

 

Look into the eyes of a child, and you will see a flicker of mischief, an insatiable curiosity, an unquenchable thirst for discovery and unblemished innocence, all combined in wide-eyed excitement and energy to see their friends, see a film, ‘stan’ their favourite artists and see them in concert. I am not a parent, but I am a proud auntie to three nieces and I watch my friends with their children and know it is one of, if not THE strongest bonds of unconditional love between parent and child – parents are nurturer’s, guiding and steering their innocent children as they take their tentative steps in life’s journey. Loving parents raise their children under a protective gaze and watchful eye, simultaneously encouraging them to have their own experiences full of fun. Parents instill their children with the traits and values which will carry them into their futures and watch them grow into adults with pride. Which makes it all the more unbearable to digest the fact that the kids’ whose lives were stolen by a twisted, callous, barbaric lunatic on 22nd May 2017 will never get the chance to blossom into adults to lead the way in the future. Their futures have been thwarted by evil that should not be a part of the human race.

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Monday 22nd May 2017 was just your average summer evening in Manchester, very warm and humid after the sun had set on a sunny day (contrary to belief it doesn’t always p!ss it down on a permanent basis here.) As I got back home the older kids in my avenue were bantering and saying their “na nights” to each other as they had school the next day, they glanced my way and said “na night Cam” – common practice here when you live in the same street/road, no one walks past each other as we’re a network of cultures, creeds, religions and races up North; we are one big multicultural melting pot,  quicker to differentiate and judge according to your postcode and the area you grew up in, over your religious beliefs or skin colour. The door is always open amongst neighbours to pop in for a brew or to ask “To lend your lawn mower ‘cos mines knackered now and me garden looks like Jumanji with cousin it runnin’ through it.” To say the warmth of the people in the city of Manchester hits you like a 90 oC sauna upon arrival is an understatement. Systematically the UK as a whole has some hidden institutionalised discriminatory issues, which unfortunately lurk within our establishments, but culturally, at least in Manchester anyway, our mixed communities live in near racial and religious harmony and when people state they are colour blind, here in Manny it’s not a myth or an exaggeration – In Manchester, a smile between strangers from opposing backgrounds has the potential to break down any barriers which might act as a permanent divide between people in other cities within the U.K, but not in Manchester.

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On Monday I tweeted I had “The Best Monday ever” after spending time with friends and getting good news, as the vibes were high, the city was buzzing with its infectious energy and it seemed to be the end to one of those picture perfect days. As I was about to log off “Suspected explosion at Manchester evening News arena (M.E.N)” flashed up; my first thought was – ‘Oh another city has an M.E.N like us! I bet its Manchester in America.’ As I scrolled down the hashtag I realised it was ‘My Manchester’. There was talk of a balloon popping or a delayed stage effect going off. When I realised it was an Ariana Grande concert I rationalised it with the fact she has a song called ‘Bang’ and probably went all out with her stage production for that song, makes sense. I wasn’t the only one thinking along these lines, as I read on I noted the general opinion was people were over reacting to a technical glitch; to imagine anything worse than that was unthinkable because ‘things like that don’t happen so close to home’ or ‘it’s always on the telly, not here’, the TV screen acting as a type of force field protecting us from the harsh realities and the horrors occurring throughout the world on a daily basis. We can sympathise but there’s always a lingering sense of relief because it’s somewhere else, it’s not here – that kind of detachment can lull us all into a false sense of security of ‘That would never happen here.’ Even the constant wail of ambulance and police sirens screaming past my house (which is 20 – 30 mins from the arena by car) just after 10:30pm couldn’t convince me anything was really wrong, and then one word filled the city with dread, sending parents into instant panic “Fatalities.” Still we clung to the fact some kind of technical fault was responsible for the fatalities, because there was no way a human being would deliberately inflict such pain and trauma on innocent children – How wrong we were.

As details emerged that the attacker had purposely targeted the Ariana Grande concert at the Manchester evening news arena, knowing it would be full of kids excited to see their fav’ and sing along to her songs without a care in the world; using those innocent kids as pawns to enforce his own twisted radicalized ‘religious’ beliefs for his warped agenda and ideologies, filled me with such shock and disbelief, I felt physically sick. WHY would anyone go to an arena packed out with kids who know nothing or very little about politics, kids who would have been more concerned with make-up, Justin Bieber’s new song, the footie and PS4’s, and do what he did? HOW could he?? What have young kids and teenagers got to do with the wars and politics fracturing and ravaging this world – NOTHING. How can excitable kids go to a pop concert in a secure arena where they are supposed to be free and safe to have a laugh, children shouldn’t be forced to face the monstrosities of this world prematurely! Children should not be forced to fear for their lives when they go to a concert, and parents should not be faced with the uncertainty of whether their children will leave with their lives every time their child goes to a concert or any crowded event, which of course is exactly what the monster wanted to evoke – fear and divisions, which is why we have to fight back in our own way by remaining fearless and united as a city and as a nation. It’s all we can do until our politicians (god willing) come up with a concrete contingency plan which seeks to protect innocent children without discriminating against those who do not share the same beliefs as the twisted p.o.s murderer.

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A visibly emotional Andy Burnham, mayor of Manchester.

When the realisation hit home of the senseless carnage caused, parents frantically searched for their missing kids, pictures appeared of the missing on social media and the news. I called friends to check their kids were not at the arena and the ones whose kids were, I nervously asked if they were safe – luckily they were, but as we now know 22 innocent souls were not. With each hour that passed since (approx.) 10:35 on Monday 22nd May 2017 the shock intensified for the victim’s parents, for parents with kids who were thinking “That could have been my son / daughter at that concert’, for people who live in Manchester, the UK as a whole and for the people around the globe watching events unfold via 24 hour news coverage, we all felt complete shock and disbelief. There was something else visible on Manchester’s darkest day like tiny rays of light poking through billowing black clouds – Compassion.

In juxtaposition to the nightmare unfolding at the M.E.N arena, were complete acts of kindness and selflessness, which didn’t surprise me after living in Manchester for 21 years, but it did surprise people who live outside the city and in other countries as we saw countless offers of ‘I live half a mile away from the arena if anyone is stuck in the city centre you’re welcome to sleep on my sofa ‘cos I’ve only got one bedroom’ and ‘I’ve only got a blow up bed but if anyone needs it my door is open, oh and you can have endless brews and charge your phone.’ The Northern nature to nurture those in need on a day-to-day basis, and in times of crisis like the one faced on Monday, shone bright around the world and I have never felt more proud to be an (honorary) Manc.

There was the homeless guy sleeping near the arena who ran to help the injured seconds after the explosion when some would have run away, there was the mum and dad who went to the arena to pick up their daughters when a little girl collapsed in front of them, the mother stayed with the little girl and comforted her so that she wouldn’t be alone, for close to an hour not knowing where her own daughters were or if they were safe while their dad went in search of them. There was the man who left the arena before the explosion and was safe outside, who then ran back inside without hesitation and cradled one of the victims as she cried for her mum. In a time of complete chaos, the empathy and selflessness displayed was a testament to the strength of our city built on a core of kindness.

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The sea of flowers, balloons and teddies left by mourners in St. Ann’s Square, Manchester

Twenty-four hours after the attack, humanity permeated tragedy, as café owners declared ‘Free brews all day for emergency services’ on their notice boards, tweets by people stating they were in the city centre and if anyone needed a lift home (as people had come from neighbouring towns and cities to see Ariana Grande and were stranded) to let them know and they’d inbox their number to give them lifts home. Even the owners of my local pizza place, which is only 20 minutes from Manchester arena told me the next day – he had driven through the city centre after he closed his takeaway shop at the usual time of 10:30 – minutes before the terror attack; he told me of the confusion and panic he witnessed as he made his regular drive through town to get home and of “The never-ending amount of police and ambulance speeding past” him. Choking back tears and visibly shaken as he told me what he’d seen, he expressed “I knew I had to open the shop today regardless of the risks, people are scared and if I can bring a tiny bit of comfort by making and delivering pizzas then it’s something isn’t it.”

The generosity and care continued well into the next day, the day after that, today and always because that’s what we do and that’s how we are in Manchester. Us Mancs’ grit our teeth in defiance and say ‘Eff you if you think we’re gonna hide in fear and stay indoors, that way you’d win and we won’t let you” and when times get tough especially for the parents who are grieving for their children who were cruelly snatched from them far too soon and also for the kids who are now orphaned and grieving for their parents; the 22 angels heaven gained on the night of 22/05/17 will be there to strengthen and comfort their loved ones left behind and I’m sure they’ll pay a visit over our city blue skies to look down from above hoping to see a Manchester, united, as one because unity has the power to conquer hate and we have to at least try for the sake of the victims so that their untimely deaths were not in vain, and for humanity as a whole.

Written for and in memory of:

Philip Tron 32 and his step daughter Courtney Boyle 19

Outgoing Cheshire Police officer Elaine McIver, 32

Kind hearted Mother Wendy Fawell, 50

Bag pipe player and music lover Eilidh MacLeod, 14

Loving Wife and mother of 3 Michelle Kiss, 45

School girl and big sister Sorrell Leczkowski, 14

Youngest victim, quiet, creative and kind Saffie-Rose Roussos, 8

Outgoing PR manager and a huge Corrie fan Martyn Hett, 29

Popular schoolgirl attending her first ever concert as a birthday treat, Nell Jones, 14

Best friends and mothers Alison Howe 45 and Lisa Lees 47

Funny and generous school receptionist and mother of 3 Jane TweddleTaylor, 51

Husband and wife who went to collect their 2 daughters from the arena, Angelika, 40 and Marcin Klis, 42

Hero who shielded and saved her 11-year-old niece from the explosion Kelly Brewster, 32

True gentleman and dancer John Atkinson, 26

Ariana Grande super fan, known as Gina to her friends, Georgina Callander, 18

Gentle and unassuming animal lover, Megan Hurley, 15

Local singer and daughter of Charlotte Campbell who made heart-breaking pleas on major news outlets for her daughter’s whereabouts, Olivia Campbell, 15

Teenage sweethearts who were inseparable and wanted to be together forever, Chloe Rutherford, 17 and Liam Curry, 19

If you would like to support the families of the victims with a donation here are the links to the official websites:

Just Giving

https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/westandtogethermanchester

Go Fund me

https://www.gofundme.com/raise-funds/manchester

Chris Parker – The homeless man who was inside the foyer of the M.E.N and comforted the injured after the terror attack.

https://www.gofundme.com/3dgkuj-help-chris-parker

Stephen Jones – The homeless man who selflessly ran into the foyer of the arena from outside where he was sleeping to help ease the pain of the injured.

https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/Stevethehero

And to the down to earth, witty, outspoken, generous, charismatic and courageous people of Manchester, stay strong, stand united and remain defiant in the face of evil to show terrorism that it can jog on and do one because…

“This is a place that has been through some hard times: oppressions, recessions, depressions, and dark times. But we keep fighting back with Greater Manchester spirit. Northern grit, Northern wit, and Greater Manchester’s lyrics. And these hard times again, in these streets of our city, but we won’t take defeat and we don’t want your pity. Because this is a place where we stand strong together, with a smile on our face, greater Manchester forever.”

         -Poem ‘This is the place’ by Tony Walsh read on 23/05/17 in remembrance of the victims at the vigil held in St. Ann’s Square. Manchester.

 

Bee

 

Cammy Thomas

References: Manchester evening news, The Metro, The telegraph, The mirror, BBC online.
Images: Manchester evening News, Able Manchester, The London Economic, ABC Newsan
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