I arrived back from London on Sunday night. Shaken up on choppy waters from Piraeus and needing some well-deserved sleep. I had been back to London for a week to work and then spend time catching up with family and friends. A week flew by from the moment we landed back; filled with work, drinking tea (oh, tea I love you!), drinking in the sun, eating curry…
London was on top chaotic form. Sunny, buoyant and alive. Through the city streets, the pavements hummed with bustling bodies and warm concrete. The city magically turns itself inside out to enjoy what could just be a fleeting glimpse of heat from the sun and showering everyone with the frisky feel of summer. Windows open, laughter and music travelled through the dusk air. It was like a brief affair that could drive you back to a lover – London was flirting now I’d left and I had to resist. I met friends, we jostled for seats in the sun and I enjoyed the frenetic pace. If only it was ever this nice to me when we were together.
I tried not to eat terribly, but failed on arrival (a pub burger and pint of English cider) and by Monday evening I got back to my hotel room with a Tesco sandwich meal deal. Sadly the first of 2 I ate that week and I’m not proud. I scoffed it down watching the TV news, something had happened in Manchester at a concert at the Arena, reporters were trying to piece it together but details were hazy. I switched off, my mind rendered blank from a busy day, opening events, answering questions and doing more talking in 12 hours than it felt I’d done in weeks. The next morning I had an early start for an event so my alarm pinged at 4am…switching on the news stopped me in my tracks of making coffee. I, like most of us on Tuesday morning woke to what was the reality of a tragic scene unfolding – dozens of teenagers and children injured, missing and dead. I don’t wish to repeat what has already been reported – a home-grown terrorist, one of us radicalised by whatever force entices a once reasonable young man to walk into a public space with the sole aim of killing the maximum people possible and himself. I cannot even imagine what that takes. But more so, we are forced to live through what his actions have taken away. Young lives on the cusp of adulthood, children at their first concert, parents waiting patiently for their return. All their unwritten futures erased in seconds. The news cycle went over all the details and most people I met that week were experiencing a mix of shock, anger and crucially, resilience. As I was at work this meant I was forced to adapt and get on, minimise risks, that’s what we do – be aware. Although the country was in the midst of a glorious heat wave, a cloud of doom and fear hung close.
The events in Manchester made me consider how fear can permeate our lives. We are the lucky ones, when tragedy strikes and it wasn’t your loved ones, we get to live on. Each day is a gift and each could be the last. Yet this provides no comfort if we allow fear to inhabit this space.
Those teenagers getting ready to go to the concert didn’t even consider the possibility of fearing a terrorist act – why should they? No person should ever have to think of such danger – we can’t live like that. It’s impossible to predict. I recall the absolute life changing excitement of my first concert. The details are burned into my memories like scorch marks. December 8th 1994, Blur Newcastle Metro Arena. I wore an orange shirt over a black shiney baby doll dress from Topshop and Chipie trainers that had stripes that glowed in the dark. I was 13 and my Dad drove me and my three best friends there. He waited outside in his van to pick us up. It was actually the literally most exciting night of my, up to then, life. We learned all the lyrics to every Blur song ever written in the weeks beforehand, talking of nothing else but what to wear, what to do, what to sing, who we loved best. Mine was always Graham Coxon, the weird outcast of the band. We chattered through classes at schools, “Blur, Blur, Blur” Gigs and music were the doorways to possibilities that existed outside the confines our little town, our childhoods, our desires. Once inside the Arena we bought everything pocket money could afford; souvenir programmes and scarves and t-shirts.
That night 23 years ago still speaks to me as a significant life event, it holds a precious feeling of freedom, singing along to every word in every song and seeing the world as a place of pure joy– believing in possibilities. Ideas are being formed, everything is new and breathless, scary and at high speed. Because that is what being a teenager should be; thrilling and fearless.
No-one can ever take that away.
I hope that every person affected by what happened last week doesn’t forget how precious a first concert is as a rites of passage. Music can be a great healer for us all.