When I was growing up, my Grandad used to run the Sowerby Bridge Industrial Society in the West Riding of Yorkshire, as it was then. It was part of the Co-op, and every month in those pre-internet days, he would personally deliver the Society's figures over to head office in Manchester. Every now and again, in the school holidays, he would take me and my brother over with him for a day out, the excitement of the journey by train to a big city being, from the point of view of a young lad, ample compensation for waiting for what seemed like ages in a huge, wood-panelled reception area whilst Grandad handed over the figures to the bosses in the offices beyond.
Whether those youthful journeys sub-consciously influenced my decision years later to choose Manchester as the place to go to study for my degree in geography, I don't know, but it is certainly the point where I felt an affinity to the city. I lived there for 5 years, staying after my degree and working there, but even though I left and moved back to Yorkshire, my connection to the city didn't end there. My youngest son spent several years growing up in the city, and for the past 11 years I have been working in Hyde, 8 miles to the east, but very much part of Greater Manchester, and so I have been in and around the city for years, and am lucky to have made many friends in the area.
So the news that I woke up to this morning that there had been a suicide bomber in action at the Manchester Arena was shocking. I must admit - in a real older-generation moment - that I had never heard of Ariana Grande before this morning. When I realised what the demographic of her audience is, and that there had been a lot of fatalities and serious injuries due to the bomber striking in the foyer after the concert where parents were waiting as their kids emerged from the 21,000-capacity Arena, it was a sickening feeling. A tragedy was unfolding.
As I drove to work the 'Today' programme focussed on this almost exclusively, so I arrived in Hyde in a very sombre mood. Some colleagues had family who had been there, some had friends who had gone there. Throughout the day, Twitter fed updates. The fatalities increased, the bomber was named, a local man. Victims named, one as young as 8. But behind all this unbelievable horror incredible acts of kindness emerged. Taxi drivers and the general public giving free lift homes to the stranded. Hotels looking after the lost and confused. Strangers supporting strangers, many young, shocked, and vulnerable. A vigil tonight in Albert Square. Manchester showing its true spirit, people coming together.
The deluded followers of the so-called Islamic State may think they have gained a victory in striking at the young and defenceless, but they remain deluded to the shocking atrocity one of their own caused. Because, as ever, Manchester, as a wonderful, multi-cultural city, the complete antithesis of the barbaric world IS and its acolytes want to see, has risen up, its true character shining through. Maybe that's what I sensed all those years ago sat waiting for my Grandad in that fusty wood-panelled reception area only a few hundred yards from where yesterday's tragedy took place.
My thoughts go out to all those affected by last night's tragedy. Manchester and beyond may be deeply hurt and shocked by what happened, and will be for a long time, but its strength of spirit, humanity, and character will always win through, and for that I am proud of my connections to the city....
|Piccadilly Gardens, Manchester|