My teeny corner of the globe has been put on the media map over the weekend; this Mancunian suburb with the rudey name: Chorlton-cum-Hardy.
We Chorltonians rarely use that full orgasmic title; we are just Chorlton.
Almost all of life is here, nearly every demographic from every culture. We are home to the poorest and the richest, the most educated and the least, the deeply religious and the proudly heathen.
Our most popular shop is Quality Save where shampoo can be bought for under a quid and also delightful garden accessories which is why it serves as our true community centre; the only place we are all sure to frequent.
I often think of Chorlton as being less like a city suburb and more like a village; a street-wise, urbany, cool village where you can join the local knitting group or the board-gaming crew, get a tattoo or a rinse-and-set, buy a pair of shoes for £200 or £2, eat an organic vegan muesli bar or a pasty from Greggs, worship a God or a craft beer, make lots of friends or stay contentedly anonymous.
I loves it here, I do.
Yesterday David Wyeth did us proud. By the final few metres of the London marathon he was ready to flop, his legs bending in all the wrong places, his eyes reeling with exhaustion. Matthew Rees had also had a tough run with no personal best in sight when he spotted David. He understood his determination to hit that finish line, to not be carried off to the side at the last moment, so he propped David on his shoulders and they lolloped to the end together.
David is a Chorlton Runner, a member of our local running group whose distinctive t-shirts can be seen whizzing up and down our pavements. I am not a Chorlton Runner, nor any kind of runner, but when I saw that shirt on the telly yesterday I felt a whoosh of pride for one of us, showing the world what we’re made of. We are the kind of community who have a thriving running club. Of course we are.
I bet David and the gang have pounded the pavement on Cranbourne Road at least once during their training. It’s a handy cut-through between two main roads, lined with expensive houses and cars which maybe David would sometimes curse for being badly parked half on the pavement.
It is also the road where yesterday, Michael Samwell lost his life outside his own house, horrifically killed by thieves who were stealing his car.
The same community who were thrilled by David’s super-human performance in his distinctive Chorlton shirt, trembled with an altogether darker recognition; Michael could more easily have been one of us.
I’ve had my car stolen twice and broken into so many times I’ve lost count, most recently just last week. Our house has been burgled repeatedly, several times when we were at home. Twice we’ve confronted young men in our back garden, who deftly scale the high fences that criss-cross the backs of our houses.
Curiously, for one as anxious as me, I have never felt afraid. You become as brazen as the offenders. I once confronted a gang as they set about stealing a neighbour’s car, enquiring from my doorstep in an overly-posh voice, “what on earth do you think you’re doing?” To which they replied, “fuck off, bitch” and carried on, unfazed by my middle-class shrieking.
When one of those fellas landed in my back garden one night recently while I was outside having a fag, my instinct wasn’t to scream, or run into the house. I got my posh voice out again:
Me: Can I help you?
Him: Er, sorry. I’m running from a load of black guys who are after me.
Me: I see. Shall we call the police then?
Him: [climbing back over the fence] Er no, I gotta run.
Me: Well I’ve had a good look at your face, so I’ll phone the police now.
Last week, a day after my car was broken into, a gang of young men turned up to throw rocks at our houses. When I ran out to see what was going on, they turned on me, telling me to “fuck off, woman”. I later found out they’d already chased a neighbour into his home and physically attacked another.
Now, Michael is dead. And us Chorltonians are all sharing our stories of what now seem like near-misses.
Last night, with Gwyneth away, I got us three upstairs to bed early, all doors double-locked and the alarm on, youngest in bed with me. Gwyneth has instructed me to stop confronting ‘yobs’ and I will because I’m scared now, but not so much of waking in the night to my front door being kicked-in; the real terror is the certain truth that if I phone the police, they probably won’t even turn up.
No police officer attended the rock-throwing incident. No police officer attended most of our multiple break-ins, and when they did it was days later and only to fill in forms. No police officer attended the night I confronted that fella in the garden. I didn’t even bother to report the three most recent car break-ins.
We are the kind of community who are reflective enough to ask deep questions about what led that gang to kill Michael, what rancid social conditions brought them to commit such an irreversible, devastating crime. We understand the police are over-stretched and that issues around social deprivation, drug and alcohol abuse are hard to police.
But in amongst all the discussion and reflection, nationally and locally, all the proclamations of pride in our community and our way of life, we desperately now need to ask: where have all the police gone?
Because it’s all petty crime until someone loses their life…