Literally minutes after I posted the blog entry on Wednesday evening, I received a text message, whilst I was drinking a nice IPA. It was from one of my colleagues, he had just received a phone call. The call was from a girls father. A girl that he had sat with all night. I won’t go into the details, but it shook my colleague up a little, as did it me. There are still lots of people that are recovering, it is going to take time for a lot of them, not just the physical hurdles but the mental ones as well. And there’s me wondering about going to the arena foyer on Friday morning. All that being said, I still woke up in a funny mood on Thursday morning. Didn’t help much when management asked about booking my car in to the garage on Friday and I mentioned the arena trip in the morning meaning that I couldn’t drop the car off…seems to have pissed her off somewhat… for whatever reason… oh well… I went up to a place that I like l, the view is good, I sat there for just over an hour, thinking about cock all. It was good… then it started raining… so I decided to set off back home. Did a few little chores and sat quiet again… then to cheer me up that little bit more, the boiler broke… so we have no hot water… I need to have a bath, shave my head… fantastic.
So Friday came… I was a little apprehensive, I had agreed to go to the arena with a colleague. Even though I need to shave my head drastically, I would do the school run, drive to the train station and go from there.
I dropped mini me off at school and drove straight to the station, I was going to take a gamble and drive to a further station and get an earlier train.. but decided against it, instead, I was about 40 minutes early… then the train was 5 minutes late… which wasn’t good for the already tight schedule… I should have known, this train is always late. This was a big test in itself, getting the train into Victoria, walking over the bridge, in the opposite direction I ran over a few weeks ago, down through the station and then, at some point, into the arena. I think I need to do it as a whole, get it over and done with, out of the way and behind me.
As I was on the train, I could feel my heart beating.. as we pulled into the station, I knew what platform we were coming in on… not because I’m a train spotter or anything, I’ve just done the journey a lot 😂. Anyway, it would mean that I wouldn’t have to go over the bridge, yet!
As I walked through the station, I came to the ticket barriers, with my staff pass in my hand and the guy on the gate, recognised me, asked how I was and what not, gave me a pat on the back…’big respect’ he said…from a guy that I don’t know, just someone I’ve seen a few times. I could see one of my colleagues and the councillor along with my area manager sat over the way at Starbucks. We sat there for about 25 minutes, waiting for a few people to arrive. In all honesty, I expected more people to come… but when I sat and thought about it after, there may have only been 5 of us, with 5 more as support and representatives from the companies etc, some people may not be ready for it or… as they don’t directly work there.. want nothing to do with the place as they will never step foot in there again, which is totally understandable.
Anyway, we walked round to the back of the arena, past the hunts bank entrance, which I now know the significance and location of, it’s where I had to run for the defibrillator from. Anyway, we were headed towards the great Ducie street entrance, where the big gates are for where the tour buses pull into and what not. As we got into the loading area, I spied a huge pile of beer kegs… mmmmm beer! There was a security control room where we had booked in and we stood waiting for our chaperone to come and meet us. As we walked through the bowels of the arena, I was admiring the pipework, harking back to my days of being a Heating and Ventilation engineer, when life was so much easier… We climbed a staircase and through loads of doors and ended up just coming out on the main concourse of the arena. We walked down towards the foyer, past hunts bank, the little desks that the defib was sat behind were still there. There were workmen dotted about, not many but a few. We stood outside the foyer doors as the security manager unlocked them, we were ‘briefed’ and made sure that we were all ready to go in. May as well get it over and done with….
So, in we went, the room still had a smell about it, not necessarily the same, but similar… hard to place, even when I’ve been on many building sites, it wasn’t the same kind of building smell, not even the smell from the trains… just… well, hard to place. The first thing I noticed was the massive puddles of water in the middle of the floor, right in front of the box office doors… which was right next to the final flight of stairs we ran up before we were confronted with what was in the foyer. It sort of hit me then… I had a bit of a wobble, as I panned over to the stairs, my first port of call on the night. Many things came flooding back, not necessarily things that I wanted to come back… but I am glad they did… in a strange way. After a good 15 minutes or so, I began taking in the building, the damage. There was a visible mark where Abedi must have been stood, with the damage to the floor it was clear, it is where I remember seeing the scorch marks. I still wondered about the ‘hate’ for him… if he felt what he did… if it hurt him with as much as the pain as it has caused those the injured and killed… As I looked round, I could see marks all over, the walls, the ceiling. The main glass roof was boarded over, apparently, it was shattered and glass was loose, falling from it occasionally, we weren’t allowed to go near it. I thought back and I remember seeing glass in a few places, not a lot, just bits. I noticed that signage had been taken down exposing the lighting inside, the doors looked new. Then I noticed the bright silver… holes… marks in the wall. I knew exactly what they were straight away. I’m no Crime Scene Investigator, but, if you looked at the mark on the floor and to the left and right where these markings on the walls were, you could probably guess which way Abedi was facing and why people in certain places got the injuries they did, and why I saw his body where I did. Another group of people came in, probably for a similar…. ‘experience’ as to what we had, I’ve no idea who they were and I didn’t recognise any of them, we had all pretty much done what we needed to do so we left, via the maze in which we entered.
I walked back round the building with the councillor and my colleague and manager, having a nonsensical chat, definitely a lot calmer than what I was like on the train on the way in.
Now, at this point, my colleague was going to meet a young girl, the young girl he sat next to all night, holding her hand and trying his best to comfort her, I can’t tell you more than that, not just because it’s not my place to as it’s his story but a lot of the details wouldn’t be fair on anyone involved. He received a call from the girls father and was quite keen for him to come and meet her. I know that would be hard for him, but.. I also know that it will be hard… and good for the family and more importantly, the young girl. I wish them all luck and I hoped it was beneficial for everyone. I spoke to him in the early evening, after meeting them and he was pleased, it went well, he was shaking a bit, but none the less, happy he went. He sat and spoke to the parents for sometime before speaking to the girl, all of whom were happy to see him.
I will say it again, I cannot think of many people that I would have wanted by my side that night if I had to do it again… I’m glad it was the two that it was!
I, myself had a meeting to go to, again, all the details shall not be divulged but it was with an old colleague of mine who had been directly affected by the incident as well. I didn’t know what to expect, I’m sure that they didn’t know what to expect either. I was nervous, first date kind of nervous, I really just didn’t know what to expect, I know that they felt the same as well. We had a chat over a coffee, I think it was good for me, I did get a little upset at one point, but I think I hid it well, I knew that they had got a bit upset as well, but they fought it back. If they hadn’t have been able to hold it back, I don’t know what I would have done in all honesty, but part of me thinks that they probably should have just let it out as well… if that sounds stupid.. it probably is… I don’t know what I’m saying most of the time recently 😂. It was good, I’m glad it happened, even though I couldn’t help much, but it was good to talk.
We left the coffee shop and parted company, straight away, I got on the phone to another good friend to see if she could help me with something that I had just discussed… that phone call was pretty much the longest ‘normal’ conversation I have had in weeks, the previous winner was the one I’d just had in the coffee shop…! So I walked all the way up deansgate on the phone and in to Victoria station, over the bridge and down on to platform 4…. wait a minute, I went over the bridge and didn’t even notice….! I then got on my train, the train I needed to get home… only it wasn’t, it terminated the stop before mine… I got the wrong train! Great… the saving grace was that the stop I was at was Stalybridge, they have a great pub… the Buffet Bar, so… stuff it, I’ll have a pint. As it happened, I knew that they had a beer on from a brewery that has recently peaked my interest, Magic rock brewery in Huddersfield, I had a can of their ‘Human Cannonball’ double IPA at a whopping 9.2%… yes, nine point two percent. I wouldn’t have chosen that one if I’d’ve known, it was only 1300. I won’t lie, the 9.2% double IPA lifted my mood somewhat especially when I’m running on a bowl of cocopops! So I missed the connecting train home, had a chat with my old man on the phone and got myself a second beer, also from the Magic rock brewery, this one was called ‘ringmaster’ and was on tap. I had a cheeky millionaires shortbread with it as well 😂
My train pulled into the station and I could see the conductors head sticking out of he far window, I recognised him, I was wandering that way, so I got in at the door he was at, he recognised me and we had a good chat about shit, normal shit, it was good, really good, probably what I needed really, no mention of anything at all with regards to recent events. This was the conductor that posted a video on Facebook of a full brass band on the train whilst on the ale trail, after the Marsden festival a few weeks back, it went viral, if you didn’t see it.
When I eventually arrived home, it was almost time for dinner, quick turn around and out to a wedding reception. Deciding what to wear was quite hard for me as well, but, I got to round the evening of with a few beers and my wife… all is good.