David Walsh: A love letter to Manchester

The humanity shown in adversity by his fellow Mancunians shows the way forward for a world confronted with terror, writes David Walsh
People gathered for a vigil in Manchester's Albert Square on Tuesday evening. Picture: PAPeople gathered for a vigil in Manchester's Albert Square on Tuesday evening. Picture: PA
People gathered for a vigil in Manchester's Albert Square on Tuesday evening. Picture: PA

The rain falls on Manchester’s streets far less frequently than its reputation would have you believe. Still, it’s a slander that seems to have stuck fast over the years.

Its omnipresence was enough to inspire a poem by local author Lemn Sissay. Emblazoned on a gable end, I passed it on my walk to university and I often call to mind when I think of home and Manchester rainclouds.

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Never has the final couplet of Rain been more poignant than this week. “When the triumphant rain falls, we think of rainbows. It is the Mancunian way.”

On Tuesday morning, as the city and the world awoke to the devastating news of a terror attack on UK soil, there was a deluge in Manchester. Not rain this time but profound, gut-wrenching anguish.

In the aftermath of the storm though came the rainbows, rays of light that outshone the heinous, irrational act of a suicide bomber targeting children. The response was a stirring in all of Mancunians, who perhaps forgot it was there - a pride in our city and empathy for all those in it.

As a journalist, there’s very little these days that truly shocks. I have been working when the news of many of the most recent terror attacks have broken. I worked as scenes of the Bataclan massacre in Paris, the beach attack in Tunisia, the lorry attacks in Berlin and Stockholm, the Westminster Bridge terror attack in London and the attack on police on Paris’ Champs-Elysees flashed on TV screens around The Scotsman newsroom.

But Tuesday was perhaps the hardest shift I have ever worked as the 24-hour news cycle relived the carnage 200 miles away in my home city; footage of screaming young fans scrambling over chairs at the Manchester Arena, the walking wounded receiving medical attention in familiar streets and the dashcam footage of the detonation played on a loop.

Sadly, it’s not the first time the thunderclap of terrorism has resounded in Manchester’s streets. When I was five years old, two young boys aged 3 and 12 were killed when IRA-planted bombs exploded in litter bins in Warrington, nine miles from my childhood home.

Just three years later, the city was again bowed by terrorist bombs in 1996. This time a white transit van packed with IRA explosives detonated in the city centre of Manchester. By some miracle, no one died on that occasion. From the ashes of the decimated city centre rose a more confident cosmopolitan city of glass and steel.

For readers here in Scotland who may never had the good fortune to visit, Manchester is a bastion of multiculturalism and tolerance. Lest we forget, it has also bestowed on the world a great many things. Under the hiss of steam and the crunch of gears and cogs, the epicentre of the Industrial Revolution rose out of our Northern Powerhouse. Mancunians gave the world it’s first railway, leading global innovation through the centuries to today when the revolutionary materials of the future, like graphene, are being created.

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It is where the distinct brand of ‘Manc’ radical thought spurred on the likes of famous daughter Emmeline Pankhurst and the fight for women’s suffrage, and nurtured the genius of Alan Turing, who created the world’s first computer here.

Manchester’s football teams have attracted the world’s greatest talent and put the city on the map. The joys and adversities its people have endured have given voice to music icons such as Oasis, The Smiths, the Stone Roses, Joy Division and the Buzzcocks.

On Monday evening and Tuesday morning, Manchester gave the world something far more profound and lasting. Hope. Love. Humanity.

The world glimpsed the city of Chris Parker - a homeless man who is perhaps accustomed to daily indifference and antipathy - who ran towards the sound of the blast and attended wounded children and cradled the dying.

The city where thousands had the presence of mind to take to social media and offer their spare beds, their couches, cups of tea, homemade soup, phone chargers and anything else of need to strangers fleeing the chaos.

The city where blood banks had to turn people away because they struggled to cope with the queues of volunteers who arrived at their doors to donate.

The city where off-duty medical staff who came in their droves in hospitals around Greater Manchester to volunteer their time and expertise.

The city where taxi drivers - Muslims, Sikhs and others of all other faiths and creeds - ferried the wounded or their desperate loved ones to hospital or gave those stranded rides home to safety free of charge.

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The city where rabbis handed out coffees and pastries to beleaguered emergency services who had worked through the night to save lives and protect the rest of us as we slept.

The city where the local newspaper, the Manchester Evening News, spearheaded a crowdfunding campaign which raised over £750,000 to help the families of those affected in the first 24 hours following the attack.

The city which responded to the brutal slaying of 22 innocent young people leaving a music concert by singing Oasis’ Don’t Look Back In Anger in full throat in the streets.

Perhaps most hopeful of all, it is the city where, in the hours of its greatest pain, its citizens loudly drowned out the hateful reproaches and sermonising of Far Right protesters seeking to stoke anti-Muslim prejudices and outrage.

Yes, this hurts. The scars are deep. But the close-knit community of Manchester has shown the country and the world that the answer in response to these senseless killings isn’t hate.

We pull together. We offer a hand. We grieve as one. We are stronger together than the sum of our parts.

The enduring words of Tony Wilson, the celebrated impresario behind the iconic Hacienda and Factory Records, have reverberated around social media over the last few days and become a renewed creed for all Mancunians.

“This is Manchester. We do things differently here.”