The last few days have been a very strange time in this city of mine.
(Don’t worry. This isn’t another poem).
Sitting here in my study, I’ve got a fan on full-blast to deal with the crazy heat. Manchester normally laps up days like these. We all go bonkers with the infinite ways we can be out in it.
The sun is a rare and welcome treat. We strip off and sit out in pavement bars and parks, but we’re not really basking in it today. Most of us are feeling a heavy dose survivors guilt. It didn’t happen to us, only near us, but in a place we all know so well, we can picture ourselves in that foyer.
Girls Aloud, when we had to leave the main arena because the thumping bass was making my little girl and her friend feel sick. We sat in that foyer for a while, then bought loads of GA shizzle before deciding we’d seen enough and would head home. Cheryl would understand; she wouldn’t want her young fans to vom on their sparkly shoes.
Justin Bieber, when I feared for my hearing and my heart-rate in the high-pitched, hysterical crowd as the girl warbled and wept through the whole thing.
Drake, when my sister and I waited for our kids in a hotel bar round the corner, allowing them the independence to find their own way to us at the end of the gig.
Yes. It really does feel like it could have been us.
But that isn’t all of our fear.
No matter how much you hear us proclaim ‘Manchester Stands Together’ or ‘Choose Love’, the reality is that alongside the whir of my electric fan, I can also hear the near-constant drone of police helicopters circling above my house. The emerging facts are that this murderous plan was born and bred, nurtured and supported behind the ordinary front doors of ordinary houses that line OUR ordinary streets.
Today on the news, they’re inside the same mosque we visited earlier this year, where I blogged about the lovely carpets and lovely Muslims. Today, in the room where youngest raced up and down with other kids, a young man is being interviewed by the BBC because it seems the killer sometimes prayed there, the killer’s Dad prayed there and this young Muslim must today tell us all he knows about radicalisation and also make sure he condemns strongly enough, all acts of terror. He did all of that. But it won’t be enough.
Eldest is baffled. She’s grown up alongside Muslims and for her, there just is no link, no convincing path from her Muslim friends to the arena bomber.
Still the choppers hover. They’ve just evacuated a nearby college campus. They raid and arrest, raid and arrest. We are now in a ‘critical’ state, like so many of the survivors. There may be more bombs. The family of the killer may have known of his plans. Religious leaders and neighbours may have reported his behaviour years ago.
I keep reading articles and Facebook rants where people seem so sure of what went wrong and how it happened and how to ‘prevent’ it happening again.
They say they know whose fault it is: the insular Muslim community’s; the government’s soft approach; the liberal elite’s tolerance; the west’s foreign policy; nobody’s – because he was a lone wolf, just some random lunatic.
They also know what to do: fight hate with love; stand together; don’t let terrorism win; arrest all Muslims; deport; divide; eradicate.
And they know how we should behave: our thoughts should be with the victims and their families; our hatred should be directed at killers and not whole communities; we should not ‘give oxygen’ to the hateful rhetoric of ISIS; we should not use the words ‘Islamic Terrorist or Muslim Extremist; we should not be angry; we should be more angry; we should not shed tears; we should shed more tears…
I don’t know anything. I don’t work for the Counter-Terrorism Unit. I’m not a politician or copper.
I don’t know why it happened. And I don’t know what to do. But I long for the helicopters to land, for our kid’s questions and worries to be calmed, for someone to help us truly understand and move on. Soon. Please. Soon…
(Fab illustration of Manchester skyline by Margit van der Zwan; a talented Manchester gal who makes us see things differently).