(Picture by @DickVincentIllustration)
There are bees- the symbol of Manchester- swarming all over my social media feeds. Beneath the horror and the shock they are sending out an insistent buzz: how dare they do this to our city?
Alongside the sadness, there is defiance and pride, and a massive up yours to those who would seek to wound this place we love.
There isn’t a single word I could type that would make sense of the brutality of last night’s attacks or the loss of lives. There isn’t any point in me writing about how this terrible incident makes me feel. I am safe, and my family is safe. It isn’t about me.
But it is about my city. And there is a love letter to my city burning at my fingertips tonight. So let’s talk about our city for a moment.
Manchester is iconic. We had the first intercity railway. The Co-Operative movement started here. It was the birthplace of the motherfucking industrial revolution.
So it’s no wonder that Manchester has swagger- just like the indie boys in their pop-collared parkas that it is so good at producing. It is an upstart, it makes no apologies- the Beetham tower rising like a giant middle finger from Manchester’s mishmash of a skyline, where industrial warehouses and grand Victorian civic buildings and shiny office blocks jostle against one another.
Manchester’s reputation is way bigger than its size. You can go anywhere in the world, and when people ask where you are from, their faces light up in recognition. Manchester United, people nod. Oasis, they say. Coronation Street. I’ve always felt a shiver of pride at that recognition. This city pours out talent and creativity: sport, music, theatre, art, television, film. It is famous for so much more than this awful business, or the IRA attack in 1996, or the bombs of the Blitz in World War Two.
Manchester is as diverse as it’s possible for a city to be. People come from all over the world to study and work and live here. If you sit on a bus and close your eyes, you hear a patchwork of languages and accents woven in with the distinctive, flat Manc vowels. I went to school in the middle of the city, with kids of all colours and backgrounds, and it opened my eyes.
And Manchester knows how to go out. When Manchester goes out, it goes Out out. When you’re young, like many of the victims last night, going out in Manchester shapes you.
Like the kids who were there last night, I tasted freedom for the first time as a teenager at big music gigs. I screamed along to East 17 at G-Mex (as it was called then); I bounced to Blur, and Supergrass; I saw Jamiroquai and Justin Timberlake at the same arena that was targeted last night. I didn’t realise then how lucky I was to be able to jump on the bus to see the music I loved, when so many have to travel from far afield.
At Eid, the Muslim boys from my sixth form college would join the parade of cars cruising slowly down the Curry Mile in Rusholme, honking their horns and blasting out music as people celebrated in their best, most colourful clothes- and I watched through the window from a high stool in an ice cream parlour, with the most delicious milkshake in the world in my hand, and the pop of fireworks in the background.
The day my mum was diagnosed with cancer, I watched Manchester United win the treble in a packed city centre pub, and joined the crowds swinging around lamp-posts and singing tunelessly on the streets afterwards. I’m afraid I was a complete glory hunter (I don’t know a thing about football now and I didn’t, really, then), but the streets were filled with glory that night.
In the summer of 1999, I poured pints at a bar on Canal Street, and discovered a world where boys casually held hands with boys on cobbles polished by thousands of feet, and house beats echoed against the black water of the canal in the middle of the night.
I went clubbing at Sankey’s and Fifth Ave, and I snogged university freshers at the Flea & Firkin, and I felt like the world was at my feet.
Manchester is a big city with the feel of a village, and even though you might get mugged or your wallet pinched from your bag in a club, it felt like a great place, a safe place, to be young and to grow up. I hope that it still is.
I don’t get to go Out out much these days, now that I am old, and a mum. But I can take my kids to amazing museums where they can see a giant spider crab, and the steam engines that powered the industrial revolution. When we can get a babysitter, their dad and I can escape for an evening and walk for five minutes to streets lined with restaurants and bars. We can eat tapas, jerk chicken or teppanyaki, and feel like we’re having a mini break even if we have to be home by 10pm.
How lucky I am to live here, in this exciting and international city. Not just to live here- to have this city in my blood. A city where big stars play giant concerts that you can hear from your bed miles away in the suburbs, when your window is open on a summer night. A city which may get scrappy, but where dozens of communities live alongside each other- where, last night, they gave each other taxi rides and beds for the night, and this morning queued together to give blood until the blood banks had to turn them away, and this evening stood in solidarity. It is a city where you can get close to your heroes. A city where trains and planes and trams and cars mean that there is never silence, but where you can find green spaces and parks that let you forget the urban sprawl around you, even if you are, more often that not, being rained on throughout.