Pieces of my world

Sunday, August 13, 2006


Breaking News

Is hectic an adequate description? Exciting? Nerve racking? Certainly, this has been a day of firsts. This afternoon, as part of Sky Festival taking place in Manchester, I went to AMC cinema to watch a free movie- I chose Un long dimanche de fiançailles, for the reasons that watching a french film is beneficial to my studies and I liked Amélie (the two being directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet). It was very good and, having studied WWI literature for A level English Literature, it had significance for me. Anyway, I digress.

Basically, I was scurrying down Deansgate to catch the bus back home, when I noticed some rather bizarre looking clouds peeping over the tops of the buildings which lined the road. "Hmm", I thought. "That's a bit strange, seeing as the rest of the sky is light grey and these particular clouds are pitch black. Oh well, it must be going to rain. Thank God I've got my umbrella." No more attention was paid to the curious phenomenon of these soot black clouds. Until, sat on the bus, which sped down the road towards my destination, there was a sudden commotion among the passengers.

Now, I don't find the bus ride particularly engrossing, having travelled it pretty much every day for seven years going to school/college/JRNCM/HYC and so, as usual, I had my head stuck in a book. Therefore, I was not looking out of the window. When, however, I DID look up, I saw a monstrous plume of black smoke billowing into the air, over behind Peel Park...towards where our house is. What's happened? Where is it? Is it a torched car? Is it the university? Is it houses that have gone up? Has an arsonist targetted the local high school? We knew nothing. By this time, the bus was stuck in a jam, as policemen had decided to close certain roads. Bidding my neighbouring traveller, with whom I'd debated these questions, farewell, I jumped off the bus, deciding it would be quicker to walk home. My gaze avidly fixed on the source of this smoke which rose to fill practically the entire horizon, it seemed that it was coming from the foam factory, not from directly where my home is. Additionally, the direction of the wind was causing the smoke to blow in the opposite direction to the street where I live. Well, that was something. I was not the only one who was transfixed. People were out in their hundreds, mouths gawping, fingers busy at their mobile phones, taking pictures.

"Mum, Mum!" I called eagerly as she yanked open the door. "There's something going on at the factory!"
"I know- get inside! The electricity's gone off!" It was true. No lights. No television. Computer. Fridge. Microwave. This was serious. Outside, people chattered eagerly, seemingly unconcerned about breathing the acrid smoke fumes in. Piercing house alarms shrieked angrily at the cut in power, while children shouted whilst playing, taking full advantage of adults' distraction.
"Will we have no electricity for the rest of the evening?"
"I don't know. We'd better get some candles...I'd better put the meat from the fridge in the oven to cook- it'll be going off: it's half an hour since the electricity went off."
As it turned out, we didn't need the candles. The electricity supply reappeared.
"It's okay now", I remarked. "And look- the smoke isn't black any more...it's dying down."

It wasn't okay.

Three sharp (and authoratitive) raps sounded at the door.
"Ma'am, we must ask you to evacuate- as a precaution for an explosion", the burly policeman informed us.
"Evacuate??! Well, for how long? Where do we go? What do we need to take- will we be out all night?"
We were instructed to take warm clothing, something waterproof in case it rained and that we were all to be held at the end of the road. We obeyed. Outside, ambulances whizzed past. Reassuring. If we die in an explosion, at least they're there to cart us away (!) Several fire engines were crammed together down the neighboruing road, outside Vita Industrial Polymers Limited- the foam factory where the incident had occurred. Various roads were cordonned off with police tape, while officers strutted about in their black shiny boots and fluorescent jackets, self importantly. We waited 45 minutes. What was going on?
"We don't know anything at the minute, ma'am", they shrugged. We shivered in the cold, the biting wind penetrating our thin garments and nipping the skin beneath into goosepimples. People were getting impatient, some edging under the barrier and making their way back to their homes.

We watched as the police men bawled at women and children the wrong side of the plastic barrier, whilst allowing men on their bikes to ride down the road with no complaints. We watched as an elderly disabled woman was forced to leave her home. We watched as a local, who had tired of the hullaballoo and retired back to his home, was pulled out and frogmarched down the road. We watched as the flashing police cars, ambulances and fire engines dissipated and traffic was once more allowed down the road. We watched as the huddles of people evacuated from neighbouring streets thought 'enough was enough' and returned to their homes. We watched, unknowing whether it was safe to return, as the policemen all disappeared. When the rain began to pour, we decided we'd had enough too. We were held for over an hour, uninformed. Nobody told us what the danger levels were, where to go, what to do. Nobody made provision for the elderly people being chilled by the sharp wind, their faces grey with worry, fatigue and cold. It's nice to know that if a TRUE crisis happened, we have that reliable force who would protect us, keep us informed and make provision for us- keep our wellbeing in mind. It's bizarre though: how people kind of 'pull together' when something happens. Normally, you'd never dream of talking to complete strangers on the bus or unknown neighbours (well I wouldn't, anyway), but I did both today.

Today has been a thoroughly weird day. I'll blame it on it being the thirteenth.


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