Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Writing while Manchester burns...

....well, while there's a small fire in the doorway of Miss Selfridge anyway. And that's almost certainly out by now, thank goodness. 
So actually I'm writing when, hopefully, the risk of Manchester burning has been surpassed. Even if only temporarily. The news reports show an empty Deansgate, a vacant Albert Square and a largely uninhabited Oldham Street; and the unflappable #gmpolice twitter feed does its very own Nick Ross by telling us not to have nightmares because the city centre is now quiet.
And it is, you know. Quiet. Okay there's the odd siren, but that's standard for any Northern Quarter-based lughole hanging out the window. I get twitchy when i don't hear a siren for a couple of hours; makes me think the outside world might have vanished.
Not that you could possibly think that tonight (well, last night, depending on when you're reading this)... the sheer amount of activity on Twitter and Facebook concerning the 'Manchester Riots' was endless, and so rich in content that it made the Sky News feed - which lovingly featured a shot of my home - seem slow, stale and censored. 
It was also great at dispelling rumours that "they" (dunno who "they" are) had spread all across town: that Afflecks Palace had been blown into orbit, and that the Arndale centre had had all its walls removed leaving only a roof teetering on a stack of empty JD sports trainer boxes.
I simply refreshed the feed and the facts were there to see - from the writers and reporters out on the streets - and then for me to relay (admittedly somewhat smugly at times) to my family and friends. The buildings were intact.
Mainly though, I've been able to observe it from my balcony, and by occasionally popping out onto Oldham Street and Ancoats Street, and I must admit that on more than one occasion I almost soiled myself.
For me, as early as 6pm you could feel how twitchy people were, particularly when walking across Piccadilly Gardens. Gangs of tracksuits shouting battle cries and staring angrily at policeman. Shopkeepers shutting up shop. Pubs pulling the doors to. But even so, I still thought naively the whole of Manchester would rise above and let the riots pass us by.
Turns out that wasn't the case.
By 6.40pm (now safely at home) I was tweeting about the sirens, the swarm of people up Oldham Street to escape the rioters in town and the  hoodies loitering under my balcony looking for something to light a fire with. Probably. And for every update I gave, hundreds more went up from other people in Manchester.
Teenagers were arriving by the car load, looking to loot whatever they could; even the Oxfam at the end of the road got ransacked FFS. They were trying to get into service doors at the back of clothes shops, a fenced-off Travelodge car park and the one time I opened the main doors to our building to look outside, a couple of them lunged towards me like they wanted to come in and see what they could steal from my apartment.
Obviously I didn't venture out again. I simply sat, online, sharing stories of peril and woe with everyone else who was online trying to get the latest goss. And to see if we'd have a city in the morning.
Not the most heroic thing to do, I agree; I'll leave that to the Greater Manchester Police (and that weird kid on YouTube who dresses in a superhero outfit bought by his mum and seeks justice on the streets of Rochdale.).
I have however signed up for the Manchester Clean-Up in the morning; and will be spending an hour helping to locate and replace the Arndale centre's walls before going into work.
I hope it's the only Clean-up I ever do though; partly because i'm lazy, but also because it pains me to see Manchester suffer. Or set on fire.

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