Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Northern grit

London, Paris, New York. So far, we could be talking fashion (not that I would, of course). But add Boston, Brussels, Sydney, Nice, Istanbul, Stockholm and now Manchester, and you know I'm not just listing places I've been. A lot of my travels have put me in touch with war - Two, One, Vietnam, Boer, Civil, Maori, the list goes on - the best bit of which was that they were all part of history. But, oh so sadly, war isn't something uncivilised we've put behind us, like child slavery and the black plague [*cough* Actually...] - it keeps on keeping on, both in its traditional incarnation, and in this new, insidious and apparently uncontrollable variety.

More and more, I wonder how different the history of the world might be if women, not men, had been in charge, I really do. We're making tiny steps in that direction, but will the world still be salvaegable by the time women get their turn? 

Anyway. In his poem, stirringly read by Tony Walsh at the vigil for the victims of the Arena bomb, he mentions, amongst all the other good things that Manchester has given the world - computers, cotton, Coronation Street amongst them - the splitting of the atom. Not always put to the best of uses, of course, but it was great science, and the man behind it was Lord Ernest Rutherford, of New Zealand, who did a lot of his early research, before his time in Manchester, in his basement lab underneath the Great Hall in what was the University of Canterbury and is now the Christchurch Arts Centre. I spent many hours in that hall on a hard chair, scribbling away, trying anxiously to keep up with the Eng I lecturers in my first year at varsity. (Having just looked Rutherford up, I find that he went to Nelson College for Boys, one of the schools where I did a teaching practice section. How did I not notice that when I was there?)
There was a sign beside the door of the Great Hall pointing down to Rutherford's den, so I unwittingly absorbed the information about his work with atomic physics - for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize, no less. Imagine my surprise, then, to see a storyboard in the Willis Tower in Chicago claiming work done there as "the initial step in building the atomic bomb". Pft.

I don't know Manchester very well. I toured the Coronation Street set way back when it was still possible to do that, to go into the Rovers, and walk along the famous cobbles. And a few years ago I spent an afternoon poking through the city's Museum of Science and Industry, which was dauntingly detailed. I never expected to understand the (temporary) Hadron Collider exhibit, but even the looms were impossibly complicated. How you'd even start inventing something like that, I have no idea. So, I learned little, but was deeply impressed by the nerdy passion on display.

Manchester is a gritty city, and a strong one. It's weathered worse, and will undoubtedly come through this. The pity is, that it has to.

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