I will never forget the first time I saw Manchester. A neighbour had given me a lift down from the North East to visit Manchester University. I would have been 17. I remember looking at the CIS Tower as if it were the skyline of Manhattan. I enrolled at the University and moved to the city a few weeks after my 18th birthday.
I don't know if people from other cities feel quite as attached to their city centre as Mancunians do, but Manchester is a very special place. It may be because it is the de facto second city of the UK (apologies Birmingham), or the undeniable capital of the North (apologies Liverpool), or it may just be because it is such a marvellous place to spend some time. But every day I enter the city centre, be it when I worked there everyday as a legal trainee or now when I return home from Parliament each Thursday night, I can honestly say I still feel a little bit of the wonder I first felt when I was 17.
That's why this week has been so hard. Manchester Arena is a place familiar to pretty much everyone who lives here. In the days after this unbearable atrocity, we have seen incredible grief but also incredible togetherness. Alongside the pain we have seen magnificent gestures of solidarity and generosity. A good example of that is the Manchester Tattoo Appeal.
A tattoo-artist based in Stalybridge, Sam Barber, came up with the idea of offering tattoos of the symbol of Manchester - the worker bee - to people who make a donation of £50 to the fund supporting the victims and families of the bombing. The worker bee has been the symbol of Manchester since the Industrial Revolution when the textile mills were compared to 'hives'. You can find bees all over the architecture and civic décor of the city centre.
The response from both tattoo artists and the public has been incredible. When I read about Sam's idea, I thought it was perfect - a positive, unifying and brilliantly Mancunian response. Not hundreds but thousands of people from all parts of Greater Manchester have signed up - old, gay, straight, people of all faiths and none. In future we will bump into each other down the pub and in the supermarket sporting our worker bees as a memory of this togetherness.
The tattoos are going to raise considerable funds for the appeal but even more importantly they show that when our city is knocked down, we get back up, we stand together, we do things our way and we will not be divided.
I'll admit as a first-timer I was fairly nervous about getting it done - but it didn't hurt as much as I'd feared, and Sam was brilliant at reassuring me. I'd like to thank her for her time and her wonderful idea. Stalybridge is very proud of her and Manchester is very proud of her.
The only thing was, I didn't get permission from my Mum first... She's not a fan of tattoos but she has since gone on my Facebook page to say she thinks this is a great idea. As ever she's right.Suggest a correction