Manchester – an acquaintance I’d be proud to call a friend

Manchester, our hearts are breaking fMCRor you and our thoughts are with you as you try to make sense of the senseless and come to terms with what has happened in your city.

When I moved to Leeds a decade ago from the cozy but monocultural confines of rural Devon, I wasn’t sure if I’d ever be able to feel at home in a large Northern city. I was terrified for my life everytime I tried to cross the road and couldn’t sleep properly at night for the sounds of the city, living, thriving, partying and striving on my doorstep. Little by little though I fell in love with excitement that is city life and developed a deep affection for the friendliness of northerners. I found spaces where I felt more welcome and connected than I ever did in village back home, and in a place that once seemed too large to be close-knit, I discovered the meaning of community in a way that I had never envisaged possible before. I lived and breathed in vibrant, diverse spaces, ate a ‘proper’ curry for the first time and learnt that one does not have to pay through the nose for safron if you know where to shop! I revelled in interesting conversations with strangers at bus stops, talked politics and family with taxi drivers and slowly began to feel comforted by the ever present pulse of my city.

Though not a morning person by nature, I loved walking to work at 7am to the sound of the city waking up and learned how to tune in to the daily rhythms of humming urban living. I made for myself a home hundreds of miles from home, and though living now in York, nothing gives me a greater sense of peace and place than pulling into Leeds on the train or seeing the Darlic appear on the horizon.

Of course cities have their problems, fear and scapegoating cause cultures to clash and poverty pools creating areas of deprivation that are rendered invisible by too much romanticising. And Leeds of course is not Manchester.  Even as I came to think of myself as an honorary northerner and a metropolitan city gal, Manchester seemed so much bigger, so much louder. Over the years though I have started to chip away at your shell though Manchester; a gig here, a conference there, an ill fated trip to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Lowry (a breathtaking performance, performed unbeknownst to us beforehand in no fewer than 7 different languages!). I couldn’t in all honesty call you a friend yet, but surely an acquaintance I am always happy to spend more time getting to know better, and certainly a sister to my beloved Leeds. So when this unspeakable thing happened at your heart on Monday I was shocked, saddened, outraged and appalled. I was fearful for you too.

A sad fact of modern life in the west now is that a reported explosion of any kind immediately gets fingers pointing, tempers raised and our Muslim siblings holding their breaths in anticipation. As details began to emerge, we saw the predictable faces of British Islamophobia rear their ugly heads. Vile people who I refuse to give the credit of naming here took to Twitter putting the nation’s worst foot forward and shaming us all. But not you Manchester. In your darkest hour with all the world watching you rose above it. You came together in peace, love and community. Defiant in your togetherness and determined not to be defined by this heinous act or by finger pointing in response but by your proud history of inclusion and diversity. Your solidarity and compassion has ensured that your city’s legacy remains one of tolerance and welcome and you have done yourself proud in these most difficult of times.

In the days and weeks to come there will be conversations about police funding, army deployment, government conspiracies and border control, in truth such conversations have already began but I think we owe it you to take a leaf from your book Manchester, and strive to have dignified and respectful exchanges which neither make political hay out of your tragedy or shy away from difficult truths about who knew what but didn’t have the resources to act on it. Despite what has happened to you, you have refused to close yourself off and I hope that as we begin dissecting this tragedy (and trying in ernest to prevent another) that we do so in a way which brings justice to your bereaved without compromising on the values of inclusion, multiculturalism and integrity which you have so graciously demonstrated this week.

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