Jayne Dowle: My not so brave new world in the shadow of terror

TOMORROW marks a year since a suicide bomber at a Manchester Arena pop concert killed 22 people and maimed hundreds of children, teenagers, parents and friends. This is a day when we should all take a few moments to remember those who suffered, and to count our own blessings.

Queen Elizabeth II speaks to Evie Mills,  from Harrogate, her  mother, Karen and dad, Craig, during a visit to the Royal Manchester Children's Hospital to meet victims of the terror attack in the city.
Queen Elizabeth II speaks to Evie Mills, from Harrogate, her mother, Karen and dad, Craig, during a visit to the Royal Manchester Children's Hospital to meet victims of the terror attack in the city.

However, the looming anniversary has been at the back of my mind for weeks. We’ve been having a debate in our house about Taylor Swift tickets. My 12-year-old daughter is a big fan of the American singer-songwriter, and she’s been pestering to see her for ages.

When she discovered that Ms Swift was playing at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester in June, Lizzie went into full-scale persuasion mood. Could she go? Would I take her? She’d have the tickets as an early birthday present - her birthday is not until October. She’d do chores. She’d get a job.

I can’t say I’m a massive fan of Taylor Swift, but I’d do anything for my daughter. I turned it over and over in my head. It wasn’t just the exorbitant cost of the tickets - starting at more than £100 for a pair - making me hesitate. It was the fact that it’s a huge pop concert in a confined space and it’s in Manchester.

There, I’ve said it. I’m a coward. I don’t want to take my beautiful Lizzie, my last child, to a place where we might be walking into danger. I know we should stand together, not let those who set out to harm us win. And I know that staying at home doesn’t exactly send the right message of solidarity to all those who have lost loved ones in Manchester and other terrorist attacks, but I reserve the right to use my own judgement.

Imagination can be a terrible curse. I know statistically that the chances of anything similar happening again in the same city are very small. Also, without remotely wishing to tempt fate, so far, this year feels much calmer than last. 2017 truly was an annus horribilis; terror attacks in London and Manchester, the Grenfell tower, the awful dread of switching on the news.

Yet, still I hesitate. Crowded public places, especially when I’m accompanied by Lizzie and her older brother, Jack, make me nervous. Airports, railway stations, shopping malls and tourist attractions. I have to find ways of managing my anxiety, but some destinations - for now, for me - are best avoided.

I suppose that we have all learned things from the Manchester Arena tragedy. Not just in terms of personal reaction, but as a nation. All the hubris about a Northern Powerhouse was immediately thrown into sharp relief by the determination of the people of Manchester to overcome the terror in their midst. Here was the North at its finest, not maudlin or casting blame, but chin up and keep going.

A fine example of stoicism was also set by Her Majesty the Queen who paid an impromptu visit to the young survivors in hospital. In this we saw a different side to a monarch who has been criticised for keeping her distance, even in her own family.

Here, however, was a grandmother and great-grandmother who reached out and spoke warmly to a bunch of teenagers and their parents in their pyjamas. In that visit, she did more for her public reputation than any number of staged walkabouts and awkward handshakes with foreign leaders.

In contrast, the emergency services managers did not emerge covered with glory. And sadly, neither did some national and freelance journalists whose actions besmirched those local and regional reporters who could not have been more respectful of the victims and their families.

An independent report into the Arena attack, demanded by Greater Manchester’s mayor Andy Burnham, found that the disaster response was not co-ordinated and the emergency Vodafone telephone line turned out to be a “catastrophic failure”.

Fire crews were left behind barriers for up to three hours, stranded with specialist equipment such as stretchers designed to help rescue terror attack victims. Meanwhile, arena staff ripped down barriers and advertising hoardings to ferry victims to safety.

The report brought no sanctions with it. Burnham said no one individual should bear all the responsibility for failures and no one should be “scapegoated”.

Lizzie is going to London with her school this summer. She’ll be visiting a West End theatre to see a musical, taking an open-top bus tour and enjoying all the freedom the capital brings. I had to wrestle with my fears before I signed the permission slip, but I’m biting my lip and keeping my concerns to myself.

It makes me wonder though if this is what they call the “new normal”, parents struggling to find their courage and young people living under the shadow of terror. If this is the case, it is very sad. However, I suppose on balance, we do have something to be thankful for. We have our children, and can cherish them every day. So many parents do not.