Home > Personal > Manchester Riot: Madness at the Malmaison

Manchester Riot: Madness at the Malmaison

this is a rather stream-of-consciousness report based on my experience of the last 7 hours. apologies for the lack of critical thinking or reflection (or proper punctuation). more of that tomorrow, perhaps.

It’s like looking through reflective glass onto a different world – only it isn’t… it is clear glass and the policeman on the other side of the glass is looking at me with a face that says “for god’s sake, man, what are you doing – get away from the glass and let us get on with the job”. so I do.

There’s a woman in a decollete little black dress and high heals. The fake tan is too much but she’s giving it everything and her date is in awe of the glamour, but it takes just a moment of standing out on the pavement looking for a taxi to realise that they’re not going anywhere this evening… that they’ll be better to head back inside and get a drink.
The Malmaison staff were excellent. keeping a lid on things. behaving as normal. still serving the steak tartare, still taking the orders and taking the soup off the list because it wasn’t to sir’s liking. but there was an underlying tension. the assistant manager had a cool, calm, jovial face. right up to the point where she said “gentlemen, are you staying in the hotel tonight? well then I suggest that you go to your rooms. They’ve just smashed up the Mint Hotel round the corner and they’re coming this way”. We took her advice.

Little Black Dress and her date are oblivious… they’re virtually sitting in the middle of the foyer, locked together by mouth.

Fourth floor viewpoint

But we stopped off on the 4th floor by the lifts to look out over the front of the hotel. Every now and then a group of young men would saunter by. swaggering. confident. cocky. and clearly cold because their hoods are all up. This, I reflected, was the best moment of their young lives – or at least it looked like it was – they owned the streets. maybe this is the only time they’ve owned the city – felt like it was their’s – dominated.

A young, female, mancunian colleague tweets: “@richardayers There are gangs running round here with axes and hockeysticks”. I suddenly feel like sitting and watching it from a fourth floor window is like watching a roman games. I’m a bit embarrassed. I worry about those of us who have spectated – on tv, in person – and how much that builds the desire for these idiots to act. I worry about my colleague. To be clear, I’ve got nothing to worry about – it’s the people who live here, the people whose community is getting smashed up for no good reason who’ve got the trouble.
The two security guards from the Mal stand outside on the street – looking at the groups that walk by. Doing nothing but looking. nervously.

We started at the stadium

At the start of the evening we’d been in the office. It was 6.30 and I was settling in for another evening’s work at City@Home. But the call came from the police and quickly the word spread … “Police advise that we leave the building. They say that there’s been trouble in the centre of town and they’ve blocked it off so the gangs will be heading this way. The Mercedes showroom have removed all the cars from their forecourt and we should just leave now”.

Now, I’ve spent the last 3 days living in a quiet part of Islington – just a mile or two from the centre of the riots in London… and i’ve left my wife, baby and friends down there… and I remember the IRA bombing campaign in the 80s… and I remember the 7/7 bombings and the t-shirt that had a london underground sign with the station name as ‘Still not scared’. So I’m more annoyed than scared. I had a lot of work to do. But it’s sensible to leave and there’s a lift on offer, so I give myself over to the general mood and head out.

Mr Portugal, Mr New York and myself are all dropped off near the Malmaison which is our home for the evening. On our way walking there we come across groups of teens. Sweet looking, non-hoodie wearing, kids. You can tell there’s an excitement. As we pass, I hear one girl say to another ‘you’ve got to be here – just to see it – haven’t you. you’ve just got to, to see what’s going to happen’.

As we came round to the front of the hotel, it was an odd sight. A main street quietened. Police in a line at either end. Some strewn rubbish up the road. A smashed bus stop. The ‘gang’ – or do we call them criminals? ‘horde’? – had just been through. Police were directing us down other roads – but “not through here, sir”.  I can only think to say to the young PC “thanks for all you’re doing. I don’t mean to be patronising, but carry on the good work.” “thank you sir,” he says “enjoy your evening”.

As we stood looking at the officers and the debris, 4 kids cycled into the area on street-versions of mountain-bikes. All 4 between 17 and 20 years old, dark clothing, two of (I’m guessing of course) Somali descent, two with blackberries in hand as they were riding. Nothing unusual so far. What *was* unusual is that they cycled up to where the police stood, circled around, then over to where the debris was, circled around again, then back to where they entered the street and circled once more – checking, looking, assessing, chatting between them… and then there was a decision to move on and they accelerated off back down the side-street where they’d come from.  Now I’m all for encouraging pedal power – and normally I’d say it’s good for the environment – but there was something oddly threatening as these kids were scoping what was going on. It’s all too tempting to get drawn into dramatic analogies, but the movement on the bikes had a sweeping, stealthy and threatening grace to it… it felt like a 4 hawks swooping to check out a field. “Why don’t the police just arrest them?” my colleague asks – and we hear from the hotel assistant manager that the police *have* been taking suspicious people off the streets earlier in the evening, but nonetheless I answer, “What are they going to arrest them for? Cycling with intent?”.

The American I’m with just can’t get over what’s going on. He’s been in the country for 5 days – literally – and it’s blowing his mind. Several times he says “but this just wouldn’t happen in the states. we’d have the navy seals on the street”. I don’t think you would – but i get the point. “we’d have the army. this would have been stamped out right away. what’s stopping the police sorting it out?” His disbelief is palpable, and perhaps even endearing. I try to explain that we have a tradition of not calling the army onto the streets – and caveat that Northern Ireland isn’t a good example. I try to explain that our police often take a more steady approach – intervene if there’s something life-threatening, but otherwise, let it settle of its own accord… and then use the unparalleled cctv coverage in our country to make sure that the right people are prosecuted.

“What caused this?” he asks again and again. … and I don’t have a better answer than, ‘it’s complicated’. Socio-economic reasons – kids frustrations- underclass – disenchantment – criminality – yobbery… even just plain ‘doing it for the hell of it’ – like the tweet that said “It’s like grand theft auto” ..these are all too complex answers and the combination of them and others make it even less fathomable.

I came up to Manchester this morning and tweeted “feels odd to leave my city in the wake of the riots and to be heading to calm Manchester”. Not calm any more. But Little Black Dress and White T-shirt Man don’t care. They’ve taken the blitz-spirit to heart and head to bed. Love, or something, conquers all.
For most of our meal we didn’t really notice the riots outside our hotel. We were talking business, putting the company to rights, ordering the burger and thinking about where my Portuguese and American colleague should live. Sadly, this madness interjects. What a welcome to our country.

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  1. Mr. Portugal
    17 August, 2011 at 12:55 pm

    Great Text!!! Thank you Richcard for such an amazing and acurate descripion of the facts in Manchester! You just forgot to promote the Port Wine but im looking forward for your next post!!!! 🙂
    Mr. Portugal

  2. 13 November, 2011 at 3:59 pm

    $authorsunless tanning must use melanin to work

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