I don’t know how many times I have walked out of the Manchester Evening News Arena into the cool night air, down the steps or through the station, a part of the crowd all buzzing with excitement about what we’ve just seen.
Music concerts that leave you with buzzing ears, comedy gigs that have you repeating the best bits all the way back to the several hotels we have tried in the city over the years.
People break off the crowd with every hotel you pass. Couples walking hand in hand. Friends. People who are coming to the city for the first time.
That’s not us. We’re usually hand in hand but we know this place like the back of our hands. Despite coming from 40 miles down the road – this is our place.
The city centre and back streets of Manchester are where we go to have OUR time. It’s more part of our relationship than any other place outside of our home – more than the church we got married in or places we’ve been on holiday.
We’ve sat and eaten ice cream, I’ve brought emergency breast pumps from my first night away from my baby, and this year that baby finally got to experience everything I love about the place. I practically skipped into town with him, more excited than I had been about the MEN Arena show we had just seen, mentally timetabling all the things I wanted him to see.
We’ve travelled by train, car, anything to find our favourite haunts and try new ones, pointing out pizza shops that have closed and new car parks that have opened. Usually we end up queuing on the steps with our tickets in our hand, ready to spend more time enjoying life with thousands of other people in this huge shared space.
We know what it’s like to go down for breakfast the next morning and eat with people you may never talk to but who are part of your community – wearing t-shirts from the night before, still discussing the things they’ve enjoyed in the arena a stones throw away.
These things make me as happy as the events and for some people they should have been experiencing that life long love affair for the first time on Monday.
We’ve done it all countless times so yesterday I could felt every inch of what Manchester had taught me. Watching images of the building, I knew what it was like to walk around there, to negotiate those steps to leave. To walk into the arena for the first time and look around at seats filling up, the air turning from cold and empty and warm and humming.
However I could only imagine the level of fear – as a concert goer and as a parent.
For the first time ever I felt every inch and it rocked me. I’m not close enough to help but pieces of my heart are in Manchester.
I couldn’t get words out. There were too many. I felt confused that it made me feel like that. Violated that it had hit somewhere I love. Guilty that this was affecting me more than any other heinous and despicable terror attack I have seen over the course of my life (of which there have been too many). Even the trained journalist front could not be summoned.
Jim got confused at my tears. I usually explain as much of the truth as I think a 5-year-old can handle but I couldn’t. I don’t want him to associate Manchester with any of this. To ever think that it is anything but a city filled with adventure and colour and wonderful things.
Part of me desperately wants to be there. To pretend like nothing has happened and muddle in with the great people that I know love that city also. And I’m selfishly cross that things won’t be the same. We’ll never be able to not look over our shoulders now.
That is not going to stop us.
I’m still at a lose as to what the feel, how to help and why it has hit so hard.
But sometimes, that’s okay. It’s okay to live in the muddle and embrace whatever emotions come until they’re ready to detangle themselves and leave.
And then we’ll get back to it. Our hearts will still be there.
Mr Walsh always says ‘no-one should ever go to a football match and not come home’. That is the place he loves and, after Hillsborough, we’re all aware that things can happen.
The same is now true of all forms of entertainment. Nobody should have to think ‘would I be willing to not come home to enjoy this evening?’.
When this brings out ugliness in other people (racism, ignorance, the list sadly goes on) find your people. Find the informed, the compassionate, the doers not just the talkers. The people you can understand this with together and we’ll change the world against this awful shit one tiny step at a time.
We’re with you Manchester.