It was late when we went to bed, really late… past 12 kind of late… most days I have consciously made an effort to stay up late so I don’t have to sleep and when I do sleep, it isn’t the best… From 0530, I was wide awake, replied to a few messages I’d received in them few hours I was waiting until the alarm that is set for 0630 went off but, I couldn’t wait, I ended up just going down stairs.
I’d had had a few offers of lifts to manchester, but I didn’t really want to put anyone out and I had to try to do it on my own. I’d still not 100% decided on how to get there, do I go double whammy and get the train in…? As I was getting ready, I could hear the trains in the bottom of the valley where they toot the horn for where the pedestrian crossing is, as it was so silent around, it seemed to be louder than usual, so, I decided to just do it…. I drove to Stalybridge station, really early. I had thought about getting one train but ended up being thee so early, I could catch 3 trains prior to the one I came for as I was so apprehensive. Of course, it was delayed, so sitting in the car, rather than standing on the cold windy platform for 25 minutes or so. I got on to the platform and the train was delayed even longer, sort of dragging out the anxiety for me, making it a bit worse, as daft as it sounds, I could feel my heart pounding as I boarded the train. It was full of football fans, ooooh, the football 😂, minding their own business, a little bit of singing, nothing over the top and then just chatting, a few beers and what not, just enjoying themselves, sort of put me at ease… sort of.
I got of the train and walked through the station, which in itself was a bit of a feat that I have accomplished… even if I was practically running through. As soon as I got through the front doors, I immediately slowed my pace.
As I approached the hotel, I could see my mate sat outside. We chatted a bit, small talk, and then got down to the meat and veg of it all. If was good! We eventually moved inside for a coffee, the rest of the ‘team’ arrived and we had a bit of a laugh. It seemed a bit wrong but it seemed right. We went into another room for a briefing, the mood changed instantly. Taxis picked us up and dropped us off at the back of the printworks, we ensured that everyone had arrived and move on as one group. As we walked down, I looked down a side street and saw the top of the bubble like structure of the station, I immediately snapped my eyes front, I didn’t want to see it just yet. We got to the first cordon and were allowed through it. Within moments, a different police officer called for us to stop, the person who was in charge of us approached him and was with him for a number of visits, the only thing that we heard was the officer say ‘no one is allowed in’, well, pretty much everyone heard that, and the group started to murmur, potentially not a good start. As we were stood there, there were a lot of police officers milling around, a few armed, a few GMP and a few BTP, all in a short space of time. It looked like they were moving cars out of the station carpark to be collected by their owners possibly? Anyway, a couple more minutes passed, a little radio chatter and a phone call and we were allowed to proceed. As we walked over the tram tracks, again, I looked right and could see right into the station, a couple of genie lifts, workmen, the light tinkering of tools, all was good…ish. We got round the corner and there was a police van half blocking the road, another line of police tape and an officer waiting for us to sign in, I showed the officer my driving licence, signed in and moved under the tape like the 2012 limbo world champion I am… not! As we were stood next to the little Marks and Spencer’s waiting for the the whole group to go through the same process, we noticed the bells from Manchester Cathedral were ringing, like they were practicing or something..? It added a little serenity to the moment.
Once we had all signed in, there was another chat, making sure that we were all ready to move on with the visit. As I walked down the front of the station, I couldn’t help but think about the last time I walked down this street, well, second to last, I was pulling a stretcher with 3 paramedics whilst they were working on the already dead person, whilst I was staring at their face. As we went through the entrance to the station, the one that became the triage area, overlooked by the big map mural on the wall, I looked right, in that corner was where I spent most of my time with 2 patients, relatives, but took a bit of a turn for the worse whilst there and I felt helpless, even though I knew that I’d done what I could… I still don’t know where they are or how they’re doing. There were cleaners, joiner building a hoarding, scaffolders putting a scaffold up, we stopped as we all got onto the concourse and again, we had a chat, to see how we were and to explain a few things about the building work and where we were free to roam to. At this point, I looked left and slightly upwards to the doors of the arena and…. a police officer that was trying to be respectful and creeping past behind us, tripped over a wooden plant pot… phew, that brought be back down to earth, made me chuckle a bit, he chuckled, a few of us did. I walked over through the ticket gates to the approximate location as to where I was stood on Monday night, I was transfixed really, just there… vacant, but, it is the 29th of May 2017, it is a little after 1000, and whilst 2231, 22/05/17 is going to be there forever, it may be the same place, but now is now, a different time, that time has passed. The two lads I was working with had gravitated to their positions as well, in their own little moments, I know that relived that exact moment again, just before Abedi was to Detonate that IED, laughing and joking…. then I could smell it, I heard it allover again…my heart rate was already elevated. Fighting back the tears. We walked around a little, placed hands on shoulders to provide a little comfort, split up to be on our own, grouped up… almost an hour had passed and our time slot was over, we were all pretty much ready to leave. Everything that I felt coming in to the station, I felt in reverse. We were asked in the morning if we felt scared going back, I can’t say that I felt scared being there, but then again, I don’t think I did on the night… auto pilot, head down and getting amongst it, doing what I could, there was no time for fear.
As we walked out under the inner cordon, waiting for everyone to sign out, we could still hear the bells for the cathedral, couldn’t really believe that it had been a little under an hour that we had been there, it seemed like 5 minutes.
We had the option to go back to the hotel, but pretty much everyone was happy to call it a day…. well, the majority of us went for a beer before making our way home. I walked through the centre of Manchester, up towards Piccadilly station, it was busy, lost of people about, again, I avoided this sort of thing on Friday, it still feel… anxious I’d guess you’d call it. This wasn’t really made any better that I was stood on the platform and the train was delayed and it was filling up, not dust for my train but for the one before and one after, that got me a little bit uncomfortable, so much so I moved away and went onto the adjacent platform to get away from the crowd. When I got in, there was a parcel notification card behind the door, when I looked at it, it was at the neighbours house that we don’t really get on with, they never take parcels for us, various delivery drivers have told us over the years that they’ve flat out refused, anyway, this time they did, which I guess was a little humbling in its self, they’ve probably got no idea of the situation or whatever, just a nice thing to do. I couldn’t be bothered going to get it, not because I couldn’t be bothered…just couldn’t be bothered… if you get what I mean, when management got home, she went and got it for me, it was a massive box, not something that I was expecting, I opened it up and there was a smaller box… could be something I was expecting, wait, it’s heavy, not what I was expecting, I opened it up and it was a bottle of Gin, definitely not what I was expecting, as I looked through the box there was a gift note, a nicely worded message that brought tears to my eyes, it is heartwarming to realise that I have so many family and friends that actually care about me. I pretty much went full retard when my little girl gave me a shortbread lolly pop with ‘best dad ever’ written on it and a bag of marshmallows to boot!