Manchester

I don’t often comment on terrorist acts, but what happened in Manchester – targeting young children and their families – beggars belief.

Not many people know this, but on my 18th birthday I was working (and living) in the London Central YMCA and my work colleagues arranged a surprise party for me. We spent the evening in the bar celebrating, then my friends and I went back to our rooms via the lift (ostensibly the end of the evening) but the lift seemed to take ages to get to the correct floor. When the doors eventually opened, it was to an upper conference room floor that had been decorated for my party. Everyone was there to surprise me. There was drink, a beautiful cake and music. It was magical – I had had no idea that these glorious people would do such a wonderful thing for me.

In the early hours, the building shook and all the alarms went off. Tannoys blared for me and my guests to evacuate the building. We were all instantly sober – and I do mean sober – and filed down the stairs, holding hands and travelling single file (lifts decommissioned) to exit onto Tottenham Court Road where we were told to go to local bars and venues that had opened up for us. The YMCA had been bombed – a car bomb that went off in the underground carpark. It took the tops off cars and would have decapitated someone had they not been asleep in the back of a car. It cracked the swimming pool in the gym at the bottom of the hotel that was above the car park, and the force of it made the building SHAKE. It wasn’t the only bomb of that evening. Several went off all over London.

I’ll never forget the calmness of all the people in the YMCA. Nobody panicked; we all made sure that we all got out and that any injuries were dealt with (in our cases, from where we fell when the building shook). We all stuck together and looked after each other. We ended up in another hotel (bar) which supplied us with more alcohol once they knew it was my birthday. Free. We drank, but couldn’t get drunk – the situation was too close to home for comfort.

What terrorists need to know is that when this kind of thing happens, when their cowardly acts occur, people stick together. They help each other. They are kind. They are considerate of each other. They tend to the wounded, they open their homes and venues. They offer love in the face of hatred. It didn’t matter what colour, creed, race or religion any of us were on that night – in the same way that it didn’t matter yesterday. We, the people affected (I refuse to call us victims because that panders to the arseholes who inflict the damage) were simply PEOPLE put in an impossible situation. We pulled, and still pull, together.

Witness the homeless man who ran into the Arena last night to offer help without regard for his own safety and who ended up trying to save a life but instead was there when it ended. THAT is what I am talking about. Ordinary people who, when the chips are down, do extraordinary things to help others. These are the true people of this country. This is what makes our country great – not the idiots who want to instil fear into us all – the people who stand side by side when it counts, race and religion unmentioned and unnoticed in the desperation to help.

My heart goes out to those who lost their lives and to their families who have to live with the end result. And thank you from the bottom of my heart to those in the emergency services who acted instantaneously to help, and who saved lives in doing so.

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