Twenty years ago....a long time ago...once upon a time...back in the day, terrorists had much better manners. On the morning of June 15th (a most beautiful, sunny day in Manchester) the IRA rang up the police and gave them notice that there would be a bomb in the city centre. Remember that: the police had notice of the bomb. They sent in robots to find it, and they had time to evacuate the 80, 000 people working in shops and office in the area.
I took the 42 bus and as this was long, long ago in the days when most people still didn't have mobile phones, I gazed out of the window at Manchester looking rather lovely. As I say, the sun was shining. There was a some exciting sporting event going on...was it the Olympics? European Cup? In any case, there was something happening that was lifting this normally vibrant city to even more vibrant heights.
"No, sorry," said the policeman. "The whole area's cordoned off. We've just had a bomb threat."
In that instant, the bomb went off. A huge, loud, fiery explosion which shook the ground and hurt the ears and which I could see, rising above the buildings. I saw it. I was standing about three minute's walk from where it detonated. Smoke, and alarms going off and everyone in the square still not saying a thing, and not moving. I will never forget it. The policeman didn't bat an eyelid. Cool doesn't begin to cover it.
"You'd better go and stand over there with the others," he said. And so I did.
A short while later, we went into town to see the damage for ourselves. I remember a pub with a big chalkboard in front of it and on it in big letters was the legend: F*** YOU, IRA! We're open!" That was the attitude of the whole city. The centre was rebuilt to be even better than it was before, and there were jokers who persisted in saying that the IRA had done us a favour. Nevertheless, I can still remember how I felt that night as we walked around in streets full of broken windows and twisted traffic lights: bereft. Sadder than I thought it was possible to be about the physical fabric of the city. To see the buildings destroyed hurt me in a way I'd never have thought possible. "No one was killed," I kept telling myself. "This can be rebuilt." As indeed it was, and in record time, but the wounds to bricks and mortar were very sore that night and I can recall how it felt whenever I see pictures of war zones, so much, much worse than anything Manchester suffered.
There are many clips on Youtube which show film of what I've been describing. Just put in Manchester IRA Bomb on the site and that'll get you there. But what these clips of film can't describe is the people, who were amazing and brave and in every way admirable. And that's one thing that hasn't changed in the twenty intervening years. For the most part, people behave admirably when things get tough.