Over the last couple of weeks, things have changed profoundly for everyone around me. In reality, this week hasn’t changed society here in Western Europe, in the British Isles, one little bit. Sadly the UK has been relatively resilient to terrorism throughout my 36 years on this planet, if not before.
But for me, and for many of those around me who woke up the other Tuesday morning to the news of what happened at the Manchester Arena the previous evening, the threat had crept up close. There is something chilling to hear of something happening on streets you’ve walked, in places you’ve stood, at an event that you could contemplate could have been on your radar. Pete had been at the said same arena two nights before. I’d seen the announcement online about Ariana Grande touring, but joked that there was no way you’d catch me travelling to Manchester for a concert on a Monday night at age 36, unless of course it was for Kylie.
Manchester is a near neighbour of Sheffield. For me and many LGBT people, it was a training ground, an inclusive city that embraced diversity long before it was a buzz word, that prided itself on progressive initiatives and challenging stereotypes of citizenship and community in a way few cities can compete with up until this day. But it is also a place where many of us have to head to regularly, for meetings, court hearings, to visit the “good shops” that Sheffield lacks. It is not a Mecca, a magazine fluff piece, a photo shoot. It is full of homes, people going about life. For us in Sheffield at times it feels like something off the telly, as it has lots of nice shops unlike our city centre where its John Lewis or bust, but in reality it is still a working town full of people living their lives, even if the gays have far more watering holes to drink in when the day is done.
And Manchester is not London. It isn’t Berlin. After the Berlin attack at Christmas, my friend and her family would not visit London as planned, choosing to stay in the North feeling it safer. I remember thinking it a bit paranoid at the time, but when I saw the news coming in about what happened that Monday night close to home I realised I had shared a certain naivety about geography and risk. The reality is we were never safer up here at all. The threat is portable. But I think so many of us assumed it was less likely to come our way. But it has.
And I woke today to hear about an attack upon Londoners once again. For food obsessives, of which myself and my best friends who I meet when we visit London, the streets around Southwark Cathedral are a draw. Colourful market stalls, restaurants like Brindisa and Padella, pubs and bars in excess. Its like a playground. We were there over Easter. Again, when these events retrace your steps, it strikes a cord. It could have been me. The revellers in those pubs? They HAVE been me of a Saturday evening.
Most people are inherently good. Even the most awful people I know, the ones I loathe being in the company of, I know are good people, even if their personalities are absolutely fucking horrendous and I want to throw things at them from the second I’m forced to share any space with them. Empathy is an emotion we all possess. But even if I watch the situations overseas unfold on the news, cameras bravely rolling as shelling and devastation engulf a residential area in some nation which doesn’t resemble our own, the detachment is there. I feel sad, but not fear, I feel dreadfully sorry, but I somehow don’t feel enraged. Selfish, absolutely, I know this much, but its the truth for most people. Lives are busy, our minds and emotions have a lot to cope with in daily life. But now these situations are coming for us all. Random, indiscriminate. They aren’t necessarily complex, large scale plots masterminded by some king pin a la Die Hard or the Dark Knight. These can be calculated plots, like in Manchester, or can be crude like last nights attack, which comprised a hire van and men with knives. Both are effective, both leave a wake of fear. The outcome is the same, and people will pause as a result.
I don’t know of anyone changing their plans, but I have heard of people not making them. People who were going to get tickets for open air concerts, festivals, concerts not doing so. People changing holiday destinations so they can fly out of little airports like Doncaster rather than having to go to Gatwick or Manchester. Some poor kiddies somewhere in Barnsley aren’t going to Disneyland Paris this Christmas as a result of the increased panic their mother is feeling.
Some people will immediately say “we shouldn’t be cowed, they win if we change our lives”. I don’t. I take no umbrage with the thinking above at all. I never know where the generations separate, but for those like me, born in the 70s and 80’s, we grew up with most of the massive events happening overseas. Gulf War, War in the former Yugoslavia, 9/11- all overseas. There remained some acts of violence and terrorism in Northern Ireland, but here in Great Britain, the majority of the devastating events which shaped our own news were acts of individuals, the domain of the “mad man”, not of martyrdom in the name of radical ideology linked to a mainstream religion. The 7/7 bombings of 12 years ago shook, but we’ve been quiet since. But now they are firmly on our doorstop. Why on earth wouldn’t we be scared? Why wouldn’t we react by changing the way we act, they way we operate, our every day lives in response? It’s hardly cowardice or defeatism. No, I would term it the human response. If any other criminal act begins to impact on your local area, you react. Burglaries? Get an alarm, improve your security, be vigilant. Car Crime? Buy a crook lock, clear out the garage. You would call that smart. It may be highly unlikely on a day to day basis that you and I are going to face a terrorist incident, but given the incidents of the last few weeks, can we say it is “defeatist” to try to keep life low key?
France took a battering, now seems to be our turn. What I do know, over 36 years of life on this planet, is that we we will roll with these punches. We cope with it all. We quickly forget the fears and replace them with the next worry. Brexit looms, and I for one don’t relish the trip to the currency exchange to change my holiday money. Politics will continue to predict doom, disappointment, failings and fears. Businesses will thrive, businesses will fail. Poverty will continue, fringes of society will continue to be forgotten. There will continue to be reports of the failures of statutory agencies, provoking further outrage and calls for intervention. Whilst you can’t set your watch to it, these things do continue to happen. Because some people do wicked things, some people do stupid things, some people want to do more but don’t have time or resources and some people turn a blind eye to many things. All people are fallible.
But one thing we do have is each other. We have friends, partners, loved ones. We have family, which can be a blessing and a curse. And we have dogs. Dogs are brilliant.
You can be scared, you can be worried, but who has the luxury of hiding away? It doesn’t pay the mortgage, it doesn’t walk the dogs, it doesn’t get the groceries in and plans the tea. Those jobs are ours, and we need to get on. The rhetoric people keep adopting of “I refuse to live in fear” isn’t an order, you can be worried. It’s temporary. You will move on and life will resume. You won’t want to miss out on your friends and family, you will want to go see a show, your kids will want to see a concert, someone will have a birthday weekend in London or Manchester and you won’t want to let them down. It will happen. And you will move on. Life goes on, much maligned but true enough.
A philosophical post, I’m sorry, but it has been on my mind. I couldn’t move past the sadness of it all, and despite the calls to stand tall, it appeared tough to do as I was being told. There is no right way to respond, and you don’t deserve societies shame or personal guilt about your response heaped on top of your fear, grief and sorrow. Just ride it through and move along. And steady as you go. The world is different, can be frightening, but at every turning there is love and beauty and happiness. You will see it again. Like these goslings I saw this morning. Enjoy.