Category Archives: Thoughts

Peace vigil in Piccadilly Gardens after the riots

On Tuesday night I sat in my living room watching news footage and talking to friends online while the police helicopter circled overhead. People were rioting on the streets of Manchester and looting from shops around the corner from my home. I was mainly hoping it would rain. I felt safe enough. My flat is is an a little pocket of residential flats but alarmingly near to where twitter told me riot police had moved crowds from a main street, scattering them in alleyways behind. In the early hours of the morning, friends were tweeting a link to the webcam around the corner and declaring it pretty dull viewing. That’s the way I like it. I liked it enough to feel safe enough to sleep.

It was an odd way to experience my own neighbourhood. I stayed in the flat for my own safety, watching video footage from twitter of the streets around, taken by neighbours I will probably never meet. It raises questions for me about where my community is, how I connect with people, where I get information I trust. Largely the online conversation was comforting, making me feel connected.

Today a friend sent me an invitation to a Vigil and Prayer for Peace in Piccadilly Gardens and I thought I’d pop by on my way home from work. I hadn’t read the invite properly and was delighted to find that it was an interfaith vigil organised by the Faith Network 4 Manchester.

Many different faiths were represented and people from different faiths led prayers, songs and chants. I took this picture while some women from the fabulous Buddhist centre were leading the group in a mediative  chant. The atmosphere became very peaceful, on the other side of the square some lads were sharing their chips with the pigeons, resulting in a flock of them flying to them, the sunlight catching their wings in an unexpected moment of beauty. Some young women in a lot of make up and tiny shorts came over to look at us and giggle and then seemed oddly quietened by the chanting, stood around smiling shyly at the group.

Interfaith vigil after Manchester riots

The photo doesn’t capture the scale or the diversity of the gathering, at one point the group spontaneously decided to form a circle and join hands, the circle spanned one of the green areas on the Gardens. I saw Jews wearing Kippah, Sikhs with their headcoverings, many Christian clergy, I chatted to a scientologist and an interfaith minister. A Muslim man was offering round a box of dates, a gesture which is only properly appreciated when you consider that he has been fasting all day and would not eat till nearly 10 o clock tonight. My thanks was heartfelt.

Some of the very many police officers around got talking to us, we asked how they were, had any of their colleagues been hurt? They said no, no one they knew. They were on duty tonight, we wished them luck and hoped it was boring for them, they agreed. “You know what’s been amazing?” they said, “you don’t get a lot of thanks in this job but for the last two days loads of people have been coming up to us and saying thanks and asking us to pass it on to our colleagues.” they shook their heads in amazement. “I was watching it on the news in London” one said “and saying to my wife, this country is going to the dogs. But seeing the public with us next morning and the clean up volunteers… this country is a fine country.”


Happy Birthday! Friedrich Engels

It’s Friedrich Engels’ 190th birthday.

He said of the area where I now live:

“My description.. is far from black enough to convey a true impression of the filth, ruin, and uninhabitableness, the defiance of all considerations of cleanliness, ventilation, and health which characterise the construction of this single district, containing at least twenty to thirty thousand inhabitants. And such a district exists in the heart of the second city of England, the first manufacturing city of the world. If any one wishes to see in how little space a human being can move, how little air – and such air! – he can breathe, how little of civilisation he may share and yet live, it is only necessary to travel hither. True, this is the Old Town, and the people of Manchester emphasise the fact whenever any one mentions to them the frightful condition of this Hell upon Earth; but what does that prove? Everything which here arouses horror and indignation is of recent origin, belongs to the industrial epoch.”

Engels was sent to Manchester to stop him bothering his head with silly notions like sneaking into philosophy lectures. He was, I’m sure, a terrible disappointment to his parents.

I love this story, from the Radical Manchester blog because without Mary Burns The Condition of the Working-Class in England in 1844 would never have been written. No really, you think gentrified young German men could just wander about Manchester’s hovels taking notes and going ‘you lot live like pigs, oops sorry just stepped on your pig there’.  It was written because Mary took her lover off the beaten track and showed him what life was really like for her people.

Engels says:

“The town itself is peculiarly built, so that a person may live in it for years, and go in and out daily without coming into contact with a working people’s quarter or even with workers, that is, so long as he confines himself to his business and to pleasure walks”

it still is.  Happy Birthday Mr Engels. We still need you.

Or we need you. Step off the beaten track, open your eyes. Make friends with someone your parents and your society wouldn’t approve of. Mr Engels would approve.