Last night David and I went to the Cornerhouse to watch ‘Break My Fall’. The film started at 6:20pm, and it would have been about halfway through the film when the lights were suddenly switched on and a member of Cornerhouse staff informed us that we were going to have to leave: There was rioting in Piccadilly and it had spread to Deansgate. Given Oxford Road’s proximity to Deansgate Greater Manchester Police and Manchester City Council were strongly advising the Cornerhouse to close for the night.
There had been storm warnings all day, with rumours circulating by word of mouth and on twitter and facebook. Trouble kicked off first in Salford Precinct in the afternoon. There was a scuffle, but it was contained and dispersed. In hindesight it seems very probable that a lot of the people who were dispersed either moved on to Piccadilly, or else onto the the estate in Pendleton. Another thing we realised later on, and especially today, was how unreliable the info on the GMP twitter feed had been.
The atmosphere on Oxford Road as we left the Cornerhouse was odd rather than frightening. We had been advised by the Cornerhouse staff to head for the Aquatics Centre if we were trying to get to South Manchester, so we started to walk in that direction. It would have been about 7:45pm by this time. As we walked we saw lots of buses, many parked at stops on both sides of the road, and a small but visible number of TFGM (Transport For Greater Manchester, the new name for GMPTE) staff near the stops, directing people. Whilst I know it was the standard large incident procedure, it did bring back memories of being in London on July 7th 2005, so I think my adreniline levels kicked themselves up a gear then.
As we walked, I observed a small but noticeable number of people heading down Oxford Road towards Piccadilly. Contrary to press reports, these people were not children and teenagers: They were adults. There were probably more people, like us, heading away from the area, but it was interesting to watch those going the other way. Those of us heading away from Piccadilly appeared either outwardly calm or slightly apprehensive, whereas those heading towards Piccadilly were visibly excited: Some of them looked as though Christmas had arrived early, wrapped up in New Years Eve.
Eventually we both got buses, and parted on the agreement that we would text each other once we were home. David got home first, and I got his text whilst I was on Plymouth Grove. The bus took a very long time to get down Oxford Road, mainly I suspect because they had been told to do long stops to pick up people who were basically being evacuated from Oxford Road.
We picked up the speed a bit on Plymouth Grove, where we passed two slightly self conscious seeming police people, and as we moved along Plymouth Grove talk moved from the riots, and from the scatter bullet phrase ‘Set on fire’, which I had been hearing repeated again and again up until that point, to more mundane matters.
I was on the 197 as this had been my plan all along: As soon as the rumours of a riot started to circulate at work and online, I knew that I would need a new way home: If I’m going out, I have to walk to Piccadilly and get the 192 home as the 191 stops running at 23 minutes past six. All the rumours pointed to riots happening in Piccadilly, so as the day wore on the 192 became an increasingly unviable option. This meant that I could get the 197 or the 42 from Oxford Road, and walk part of the way home, or I could walk all the way home. We’d paid for our cinema tickets in advance, and there was only one showing of ‘Break My Fall’, so cancelling would have been a wrench.
The 197 follows the 191 route until you get to Levenshulme, then it turns off down Albert Road and goes through Burnage and Heaton Moor to Stockport. This meant I had the option of hopping off in Longsight and walking it, or hopping off in Heaton Moor and walking it. Because Longsight has a history of rioting and Heaton Moor doesn’t, and because it’s less of a walk from Heaton Moor, I hopped off at the top of Heaton Moor Road.
It was a bit of a trek home, but all was calm in the twilight. There were plenty of Ladies Who Lunch, or their northern variant: Ladies Wot Lunch, plus their male equivalents outside the usual cafés and wine bars, roaring at each other, eating and drinking… not a care in the world. Fiddling while Rome burned…
Today, things seem to be back to normal. The clean up operation, which was organised on twitter, started this morning. There was still a latent tension in the air and a sense of wariness on peoples faces though.
At work, we all had our ‘How did you get home last night?’ conversations, and judging from the problems other people had I feel I got off very lightly indeed. One colleague had a very near miss with the mob on Market Street whilst trying to get to the Manchester/Salford border, another colleague had a long walk across the other side of town, dodging would be rioters en route to Piccadily, to a bus stop where she merely hoped there would be a bus.
The rumours were, of course, flying today as to who was responsible for the rioting, and why it had happened. I heard my first rumour on the bus on the way into work this morning when I overheard a pissed off business man loudly telling someone on his phone that he’d been in Piccadilly the night before, and that it had been the EDL (English Defence League) orchestrating things. This came to sound increasingly unlikely as the day progressed however, and the following rumours began instead:
- The riots were orchestrated by gangsters (Graham Stringer M.P)
- The riot in Salford was orchestrated by gangsters as payback for previous police actions (local media, and possibly local gangsters)
It has rained heavily and consistently today, and this undoubtably helped tonight in that there appeared to be no trouble and no buses appear to have been re-routed. Yesterday we relied on the GMP twitter feed for updates, and we were badly let down by it, so today we switched to the Stagecoach website, BBC Manchester, and the Manchester Evening News. The MEN had the most thorough coverage, both online and in the paper, though I’ve been told Manchester Confidential is also good.
I basically gave up on national papers and radio stations yesterday for coverage as they were all focusing on London, so it was almost impossible to build up any kind of idea of what was going on in Manchester from them, and that’s remained the case today really.
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