I’ve always had a complex relationship with Manchester. I grew up there, and it did a lot to shape who I am and the things that drive me, from writing, to music, to my love for motorsports – it all started in Manchester.
I was born and lived the first 25 years of my life in a village on the banks of the River Mersey that was just a scant six miles from Manchester city center. Yet when I arrived in the world it lay outside the city boundaries, and for many years I would carefully explain that I wasn’t from Manchester, but was from the county of Cheshire. When the area was absorbed into the growing metropolis of Greater Manchester, I somehow felt aggrieved at this imposition.
Yet it was to Manchester I invariably turned for education and entertainment. I was lucky enough to attend one of the top schools in Manchester. I was there for the punk explosion and the beginnings of the Manchester sound. I played pool with musicians in small clubs and saw headline acts at the Apollo Theater. I frequented the bookstores, comic shops, libraries, art galleries, and museums, went to public lectures at the universities, and spent many Saturday nights cheering on the local motorcycle speedway team (a tradition that had started with my parents in the 1950s). In fact I came to love Manchester so much that at the age of 16 when I had a chance to join the UK Customs Service I turned it down because they said they might post me anywhere in the country, and I wanted to stay in Manchester. But just a few years later I couldn’t wait to get away from the city, and was soon off to college in other cities, and jobs that took me further away. After I finally moved from Manchester I never really looked back and rarely visited. A few years ago when I took my wife to see the area I grew up in, I realized it had been 17 years since I had last been in the city.
On that visit, I reconnected with Manchester. I saw what it had become. Manchester was a city born of industry, arguably the cauldron of the modern industrial age. The Manchester of the seventies and eighties had always felt bleak and in some ways oppressive to me despite its many attractions. Now it was a vibrant multi-cultural metropolis, that alongside a rapidly modernized infrastructure respected and celebrated both its history and its people. To quote one of my many friends who still live in the city, “Manchester is one of the busiest, brightest, multicultural cities in the world. We are all races, religions, genders, and sexulaities.” – Thanks to social media I’ve plugged myself back in to being a Manc at heart – keeping up with events in the city, and once again supporting my favorite speedway team – – even if from thousands of miles away across an ocean.
Manchester has seen its share of violence and trauma over its history, from the Peterloo Massacre, to being the target of heavy bombing in World War 2, to riots in the streets. When I was growing up IRA bomb threats were a regular part of life in the city, and in 1996 they made good on the threat when a massive bomb exploded in the city center injuring over two-hundred people.
The latest terrorist attack at the Manchester Arena was sickening, cowardly, and an act of sheer evil perpetrated on the most vulnerable, the young. It drove into the heart of two of the things that make Manchester so vibrant, its youth and its music.
The residents of the city responded with grace, kindness, and that indomitable community spirit that marks Manchester as the friendliest city in the UK. Manchester will grieve, and it will survive. Manchester will continue to flourish and grow stronger; and even if I now carry an American passport and call Texas home, I for one am proud to call myself a Mancunian again.