Oh my goodness, where do I start to unravel all of this mess that came to our city – our Manchester last night?
I apologise if this is a bit of a verbal vomit, but I’m just writing as I’m thinking about things.
As with all good appraisals, let’s start with the good things. Well it’s got people talking and debating and thinking about the issues, instead of the usual verbal lift music equivalent. And it’s also bought people together to defend, restore and look after their communities. Let’s hope that this can be used as a catalyst for change for the good.
I was following Twitter yesterday and was genuinely hopeful that Manchester would have more sense. Manchester has a huge sense of pride in itself and in its own common sense. ‘We’ll show the country that we aren’t f*ckwits’ up here, I thought.
I’m not a Mancunian by birth, lots of us who live here aren’t, but the city offers so much in so many ways, that we’ve just stayed. Whether you were born here or not, we are all Mancunians and today we are all horrified and bloody angry.
I’ve lived in Manchester since 1996. I moved here exactly a month before the IRA bomb which tore the heart out of the city (June 15th 1996). It may have torn out the heart in terms of buildings, but certainly not from the people. Ask anyone and they will tell you that the bomb was when things started to change – everyone working together for the good of the city. The Commonwealth Games in 2002 was the beacon on the horizon that everyone pulled together towards and to be there at that time, was awesome. I have no doubt that the London Olympics will be the same. We’ve got a lot to prove now and national pride is at stake.
Twelve years to the day that I arrived in Manchester, I was in the city centre when 250,000 Rangers fans descended (15th May 2008). I have never seen anything like it – my over riding memory is of the streets swimming in urine. There was so much of it that it flooded the disabled lift shaft at The Royal Exchange Theatre! But Manchester recovered.
I grew up in the era of the Moss Side, Toxteth, St Pauls and Brixton riots. I thought those days were behind us – but then what do I know. I don’t live on a sink estate with no opportunities and a gang culture. I don’t get randomly stopped by the police because I fit a likely stereo type.
Is it as easy as that?
There are many, many layers that I’m sure over time politicians and community leaders will spend many hours peeling away, from the big picture to the individual. At this early stage, all I can do is to try and use my own experiences to try and understand.
One thing I do know is that I wouldn’t have liked to have been a member of the Emergency Services over the last few days. Back in 2000, I was lucky enough to spend an evening with a Fire Service in Salford and with the Police in East Manchester. The evening with firemen was great! I got to sit in a fire engine and to be in charge of the ‘Nee – Naa’ on the rapid response vehicle. Although most of the calls were hoaxes, on the couple of occasions that we did attend real incidents (a road traffic accident, students stuck in a lift and someone’s garage which was on fire). People were genuinely pleased to see us.
Not so with the Police service. That evening spent in East Manchester was one of the most upsetting experiences I’ve ever had. I remember getting back into my car at the end of the shift, sitting there and howling. We went into the home of one family where one of their kids had been smacked in the face. Their response was to call the police. While we were there, they didn’t even turn off the TV or get off the sofa.
However, my over riding memory of that evening is of the police walking towards the trouble. Whereas the rest of us would get the hell out of there, they walk towards it and challenge it head on and for that reason I take my hat off to them. They have a very difficult job and walk a fine line between keeping us safe and being fair to everyone.
So while I try to be as understanding and non-judgmental as I possibly can be – there are reasons for everything if you delve deep enough. I am bloody angry with what’s gone on this week. You can try and understand, but you can’t excuse. It’s not like the looters are starving. Look at them - they’ve already got the good trainers and all the gear. It’s an opportunity and they’ve taken it. We live in a culture where you push as far as you can, because in terms of the consequences? It’s a case of ‘Come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough’.
The fact that something has gone badly wrong is undeniable, but is it worse than in the past or am I just getting old and complaining about ‘the youth of today’? While it’s true that there will always be an element in society that is looking for a scrap.
When I was young in the 1970’s and ‘80’s, the violence attached itself to football. You saw them joining in the sectarian violence in Northern Ireland or running along the picket lines. Where I lived, every autumn they would descend in large gangs on the conker trees in the church yard next to our house, pull up the pavement and throw large bits of cement, chair legs and rocks up at the trees to get the conkers. Our windows would get broken, they would intimidate my mum, my dad would out with a big stick and eventually the police would come and see them off. For us it was terrifying – all for a few conkers. To them it was a bit of a laugh and something to do.
Thirty years on, those kids are now parents. The currency may have changed from conkers to trainers, they’ve got more organised and more extreme, but I guess what I’m saying is that it’s always been there in our society.
So why has it got worse? It’s my generation that are the parents, so it leads me to think about the changes I’ve experienced and seen over the years. I keep coming back to the Thatcher years. I’m never going to be a fan of the woman. I saw her rip the heart, hopes and aspirations out of the South Yorkshire mining town I grew up in. But more than that, she introduced an era of ‘everyone for themselves’.
While I am a big believer in not making excuses and being in charge of your own destiny, making your own luck etc. There is a selfishness, a ‘me’ culture, a greed for ‘stuff’ that has grown up over the subsequent years and I just feel that for some, children are seen as an accessory and an inconvenience. For many parents, their children are the most important things in their lives. But many others replace time for their children with ‘things’ for their children. Or not even that – while the parents are off binge drinking or watching Jeremy Kyle, their children are passed around from pillar to post with no structure. All their children learn from them is, that it’s all about ‘me’. They don’t learn right from wrong and they don’t have any boundaries.
When you get that replicated with family after family, like the fires over the last few days, they grow and catch hold until they are finally out of control, and it then becomes a huge problem.
As someone who can’t have her own children, and who in the next 12 months or so, will have to jump through hoops and do somersaults to prove that they would be a good parent, I find those that take their children for granted, don't bring them up correctly and don’t give them the time and love that they need, very difficult.
Schools undoubtedly have a role in all of this. While I would not want to go back to the violence from teachers I witnessed when I was at school – children being thrown head first at the blackboard, a child being hit so hard with a meter ruler that it broke and a teacher who repeatedly slapped your arm so ferociously that it went red and swollen, there must be a middle ground.
Today children are treated as adults. But they’re not. They have all the rights and freedom but without any fear of consequences. When I was that age a) I was too busy doing my homework, b) there was too much at stake – my future – to risk cocking it up by getting into trouble and c) I knew it was wrong and I knew that mum and dad would marmalise me. Many children today seem to be missing all three.
Speak to my dad and he’ll mention the benefits of National Service – a whole argument in its own right. And I can feel him gearing himself up to blame it all on the evils of social networking. All I can say on that score, is that like many things (like hoods), used correctly they can be really useful. When I was ill, Facebook was amazing for getting information out to people and receiving messages of support. If we were in Libya everyone would be singing its praises for how it helped the oppressed masses to organise their uprising. Police it by all means, but blaming social media isn’t the answer. I wonder whether Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook foresaw how his baby would be used? And I’d just like to say that if you can afford a smart phone and a computer then you’re not deprived.
When we live in a society where the ends seems to justify the means, whatever they may be - from offices up and down the land to the streets of our cities. Where many people think about themselves first and push for what they can get away with rather than for what is right. We’ve seen it with MP’s expenses, phone hacking and greedy bankers. I really hope that this is the wake-up call that this country needs to re-visit its priorities, focus on what is right and start to turn things around.
To conclude, because this is becoming a great long ramble and I’m not going to solve the country’s problems on a lap top in my spare bedroom. It’s a big f*cked up mess. But to fix it, we need to try and understand it.