So far twenty-two people killed and tens of people injured, who knows what the total number will be. But killed and injured at a pop concert, an Ariana Grande concert, attended by legions of fans some of whom, many of whom are children, children targeted by the most insidious and damaging of suicide bombs, a bomb seemingly full of shrapnel. An improvised explosive device, the coward, the murderous coward, responsible died at the scene. It is reported that the floor of the entrance was covered in nails, blood and in some cases the bodies of young 'primary school age' children whose lives, brief sparkling lives, were cut short at the end of a night listening, singing and dancing along to the songs of one of their pop idols.
Many dead and many still unaccounted for. Terrified parents, distraught searching for their young children. A night, celebrated, full of pop songs, balloons, outfits carefully planned, picked and ironed ready. Hours spent getting ready, groups of friends excitedly travelling to the venue, flowers in their hair, singing lyrics, full of joy, innocence and friendship.
I taught in primary schools for many years, I know how wonderful children are at that age especially when they are full of excitement and joy about an upcoming event. That age is spent exploring new lands, adventures and experiences. That is the age of innocence and hope without borders.
Children as young as eight and nine being taken by their parents as a surprise, as a birthday gift, as an after 'SATs' treat or just because this was their first concert. The first new experience at a pop concert.
At thirteen my mum took me to see Bob Marley and the Wailers at the Hammersmith Palais. Many of my classmates were horrified, it was seen as too grown up, my mum demonised by other parents for taking me to concert on a school night. I was just old enough to pick my own outfit, it was a different time back in the 1970s, we had far less decisions to make and our clothing options far fewer. But I picked my outfit at least a couple of weeks before and laid it out over a chair in my shared bedroom. I forbade my siblings from touching the outfit and tried to create an invisible cordon around it. I wore a dark green sweatshirt with an American motif on the front, something from an American University, high fashion then and a pair of straight legged jeans with wide turn-ups. Jeans had up until that point been flared, really flared. I also placed at the foot of the chair my favourite hessian and suede Kickers, orange and green to match my sweatshirt. I borrowed a very grown up silver chain from my mum, which if I remember had a St Christopher on it. All of my outfit had been starched perfectly. It mattered.
I felt utterly grown up and so excited that I could barely sit down on the tube on the way there and I remember the queues out front. I idolised Bob Marley and watching him that night at thirteen became one of the defining moments of my young life.
I was thirteen and since then I have; grown up, explored education, sat exams, passed exams and failed some, gone to Art College and then University, travelled and laughed across America, I have bought houses I have loved, sold them when finances meant I had to, I have transitioned, been happy, sad, married, divorced, danced, stopped dancing, missed dancing, planted trees, planted flowers, picked flowers, listened to the sea, swam in the sea and seen lines develop on and across my face that beautifully illustrate the events and ups and downs of my life.
Since that concert at thirteen I have experienced and lived life. A life which seems, even at fifty to be long, incredibly long.
Any children killed in Manchester last night will have been denied all of the above and much, much more. We all want more for our children and in my case, I don't have my own children, I want much more for all children. That isn't a crappy, soppy line from a song I mean it. I want them to be safer and happier than me. I loved watching children leave at the end of Year Six full of joy, excitement and sometimes fear about the hugeness of their lives ahead.
Any children killed in Manchester last night who haven't finished primary school will never get to leave Key Stage Two in their lives and move on to the next. They will never get to grow up.
And why, what is the sense or point in this senseless, pointless act of murder, large scale murder, mass murder, let's not call it terrorism any more its murder, mass murder. So why did this mass murderer target children, children singing and dancing along to pop songs, what point are they trying to make, that their acts are cowardly, that their lives are so eaten up with anger, bitterness and twisted feelings about the goodness of life and the insidiousness of fundamental beliefs?
There may be adult debates about foreign policies but these were children at a pop concert, these are exactly the same children that we see being displaced and blown asunder across Syria. Children suffering all over, washed on up shores, missing school in the muddiness of the Calais camps and children sold on into an increasingly dark world of slavery that permeates every square inch of the globe. Children denied lives.
In order for children to grow up to fast and terrify their parents with their impending maturity they have to ironically be allowed the whole and complete access to the freedom of childhood. They own that, not us and certainly not any suicidally, explosively defunct person who seeks to show the world their anger by blowing apart innocent children's lives, dreams and hopes. The bomber in Manchester, the driver of the car in Westminster, Assad, the killers and torturers in Chechnya rounding up young gay men. We the adults are destroying childhood, all of us, not the children experimenting with make-up and lyrics, not the children screaming with joy at last night's concert, we all have a responsibility here from the tough responses of Trump to the twisted souls of Isis. Anytime we look away we became complicit. Anytime we chose 'harsh response' over talking we create only a harsher space.
Since seeing Bob Marley and the Wailers at thirteen I have lived a whole life. Now well into my fifties as I look back what saddens me more than anything is our complete disregard for the space that is childhood. I'm aware that people will seek to distance themselves from 'bombers' and they are right to do so, but we all turn away from images everyday of children and young people whose lives are blown apart by the actions of adults, some of whom we cheer and some of whom we jeer.
After seeing the young boys body wash up on the shores of Turkey I imagined that we might change but the rhetoric, the harsh rhetoric has only stiffened and any truly moral position lost as borders are walled up and promises of help are redacted. Children left alone to be trafficked out of refugee camps rather than taken to school.
The person or persons that detonated and planned that bomb have taken away the lives of all young children, they are working to destroy the innocent, playful space that isn't theirs to even be in. They had no right to be in that space. They are spreading shade across the world in some warped childlike analysis of religiosity and devotion. They have snatched away the potential of the children whose lives were lost merely because they, the bullies, the bombers, want to terrify us all and stamp their bullying intent on the most fragile of victims. We shouldn't call them terrorist or Islamic, they are merely murderous bullies.
Ariana Grande tweeted that she was 'broken', we all are, we all are broken by this and we need to try, somehow, to rebuild a kinder, safer space.