Does the cloud over Manchester have a silver lining?
Yes, it most definitely does.
No one can have failed to be impressed by the seemingly endless stories of ordinary Mancunians rushing to help in any way they could. The taxi drivers who all turned off their meters and worked through the night to reunite children with their parents. The passers by who stopped, and stayed, to comfort the injured and dying. The local residents who opened up their homes to give shelter to hundreds of people, children and adults, who were stranded as a result of the closure of public transport. The hotels which opened their doors to anyone in need of a bed for the night, without any thought of recompense. The locals who brought food and drink to the emergency services. Every story was wonderfully heart-warming.
I was particularly taken with the account of “Steve’s” behaviour on that awful night. Steve, a homeless and unemployed man, was preparing to bed down for the night in a street near the Arena. The bomb went off. He rushed to help. He comforted many of the injured, removing pieces of shrapnel from their bodies. He continued his labour of love for hours. And then he disappeared. Job done. Back to his own miserable existence.
But that wasn’t the end of the story. Someone called David Sullivan, described as the co-owner of West Ham Football Club, was as moved as I was by the accounts he read of Steve’s charity to his fellow men, women and children. But Mr Sullivan was in a position to exercise some charity himself. And he did so. Using social media (it is not always dire), he tracked Steve down. The homeless hero of Manchester is no longer homeless. Mr Sullivan is providing him with a rented house for six months and has given him “a little money” to tide him over.
Of course, as Steve himself pointed out, there is nothing inconsistent in being homeless and helping others in need. He could never have lived with himself, he said, if he had just walked away. I pray that, had I been there, I would have been guided by the same instincts of charity as Steve was. But, even though his homelessness and poverty could be said to have been, in logic, irrelevant, you would have to be horribly hard-hearted not to give particular praise to a man whose personal circumstances were such that he could have been forgiven for being so consumed by self pity that walking away might well have seemed an option.
And Mr Sullivan, too, is to be praised. He knew nothing of Steve other than that he was homeless and had spent hours helping others in distress. But his offer of help carried with it no conditions. He didn’t seek to be assured of Steve’s moral rectitude. He didn’t demand to know what had gone wrong with Steve’s life. He just knew that someone had to do something to help a fellow human being who had shown he was a true good Samaritan as soon as the need arose. And he did it.
Now for some controversy. Actually, I don’t think it controversial at all, I just know that others will think me awful. Deep breath, here I go.
The line being taken by all the media is that Manchester is unique, that no one living in any other English city would have behaved as wonderfully as the Mancunians did. Of course it is true that Manchester can proudly boast that its people rose to the awful occasion in a simply magnificent way. But, and this, at last, is my point, I am quite convinced that residents of other cities would, confronted with what happened in Manchester, have shown just as much charity as the Mancunians did.
And there is evidence to support my preposterous theory. If you trawl back and read news stories of other terrorist atrocities in other cities you will find exactly the same accounts of ordinary people rushing to help. We are a nation of good Samaritans. It is simply not true that we shipped them all off to Manchester and populated the rest of the country with priests and Levites.
As I have had occasion to mention before, all my usual readers are very intelligent. They will easily grasp that this is not an attack on Manchester. Indeed, my admiration for Mancunians (and their city is one I have always loved) is immense. But there is an obvious risk that this piece will fall into the hands of someone, maybe a BBC journalist, who will willfully misunderstand it and accuse me of being beastly to Manchester. If that happens, I hope my regular readers will come to my aid. If a few of them visit me in prison that would be very kind.