So last Tuesday morning, I woke up, put the alarm on snooze mode a total of 3 times, sneaked a look at my wife putting on her bra, got out of bed, had my regular piss and shit (went to the bathroom to do that, obvs), came downstairs, turned on the news, and saw that a deranged, revolting, shit-sucking arsehole had just killed 22 people and injured dozens more at a pop concert attended by thousands of teenagers.
It was in Manchester, which is just up the motorway from us. Not in some country far away. Not in continental Europe, across a sea, affecting people we can’t speak the language of. This was done to teenagers, kids at their first concert, to parents of those children. People who were never involved in an almost imaginary conflict that they had little understanding of. And yet they were deemed to be a target.
It was a shocking, unnecessary, awful, and ultimately pointless act of barbarity; and that’s all the attention I can bear to give to the absolute cunt who carried out the attack.
I grew up in Britain during the 1980s and ’90s. Terrorism was a common fixture on the news, thanks to the IRA and the Loyalist Paramilitaries in Northern Ireland. Living on mainland Britain, I didn’t really get affected by these actions directly, but it cast a shadow over public life. Occasionally, the bombs would go off somewhere on the mainland, in London or Birmingham, or some other supposedly ‘strategic’ target – the only strategy I could ever see was that it just caused ordinary people unnecessary misery and fear, which, duurrrr, was the point of such action. It was something that I remember from my watching of the news back then, along with miner’s strikes, the tensions and fear of the Cold War, and the two horribly iconic figures of Thatcher and Reagan.
So terrorism is nothing new to me. But it’s new to my daughter. Alice has not really encountered terrorism on British soil in her lifetime. She’s only 8.
An 8-year-old girl was among the first reported victims of last week. What an unspeakable act: To destroy the life of a girl, who could very well be my daughter. What pain for her parents. I could be that father, kissing his little girl goodbye for the last time, and now embarking on a road of pain that lasts from this act until his death. The mother… oh dear God…
I’ve tried imagining what the impact of losing a child in this way would be like, and I cannot bear it. I just do not have the courage, or the capacity of emotion to think of it. The pain. The rage. The loss.
The knowledge that children of her age were killed has hit Alice very hard. After just two minutes of watching the news in silence, she begged for the channel to be changed, for the news to be switched off.
I refused. I made her watch it. This kind of news is horrible. It is a living nightmare. And it is overwhelming. But to switch it off is a form of denial. I don’t believe in denying the pain of the world, or hiding it away. It is almost wilful ignorance to turn from such horror. It would be easier, less painful, if we didn’t see these things… but the downside is we allow ourselves to pretend these things don’t happen, and in my opinion, that is living a lie.
Just the day before, I had a conversation with one of the other mums. We discussed the upcoming election, and she said that she was voting for the very first time. I tried not to be shocked at this, and I hope I wasn’t too patronising (probably was, though), but when I asked why she hadn’t voted before, she said it was because politics is too complicated, and she didn’t fully understand it.
But it’s easy to understand, I said. All you have to do is watch the news.
“I don’t watch the news, it’s too depressing,” she said. “All the horrible things that go on…”. Well, less than 24 hours later, she had a point.
I can’t ignore the news. I mean, I do sympathise, but I’ve always wanted to be aware of the day’s news. I am a news junkie. I find coming back from a holiday, for example, to find a world-shattering event has taken place to be most disorientating.
I’ve always watched the news. As a child, we watched the news as a family over the dinner table, and often discussed it. I believe that knowing the news events, helps to explain the world and how it works. It’s true that the news sometimes feels like the world’s biggest soap opera, with no beginning or end, and with storylines that suddenly erupt with no context, and sometimes have no resolution. And yet, watching the news unfold can help to explain so many things: Politics, popular culture, science, history, technology, geography, and society, in a way that schooling and study cannot.
And I’m increasingly of the opinion that the reason why people don’t want to understand politics, or think there are too many immigrants, or think that voting for certain people and policies would be a good idea (*cough* mumblemumblemumbldonaldtrumpmumblemumblenigelfaragemumblemumble mumbleBrexitmumblemumblebloodyToriesmumblemumble), or who have a fear of new technology, or want to deny climate change, or have no empathy for people in foreign countries, or who are alarmed by homosexuals getting married, or fail to understand basic scientific concepts, or think the fucking government controls us through air exhaust fumes, is because there are increasing numbers of people who absolutely refuse to watch the news.
I don’t want my daughter to grow up ignorant, even if that means exposing her to the horrors of the modern world. I want her to know that this world has problems. I also want her to know that solutions are possible, but that those solutions are not pie-in-sky, soundbites that will solve everything in an instant. That’s just wish-fulfilment. That leads to people like Donald Trump getting elected, or being mired in the fairy-tale politics of an unobtainable utopia. That’s how politics on the far right or far left prey on the politically ignorant. She needs to know that workable solutions are difficult and long-term.
I also want her to have an opinion that is informed. I know some of this means she will be informed by mine or Sarah’s opinion, but I’m a parent. I can’t protect her from this forever. She needs to know. I have to make her understand somehow.
So I made Alice watch, despite her pleas not to, but not for long. As soon as the news started to repeat itself, we switched over. She was upset, and openly discussed her feelings about it, which was good. She also noticed the news reported that people rushed to the victims’ aid, and she loudly proclaimed that, if she was caught up in a disaster, she would be the sort of person who would do that. This seemed to cheer her up, and it slowly dawned on me that I had never really seriously considered the psychological importance for a child to know that people responded to such events with compassion before. I’ve only ever taken to heart the event, and the chaos that surrounds it.
Over the last few days I’ve found myself explaining terrorism, the politics of fear, and the way the media works to my sweet, innocent, and naїve 8-year-old daughter. It has not been an easy task for either of us, but I hope she understands.
How do you explain these things to a child? Even after a few days of doing so, I’m still none the wiser. And in a horrible way, I feel as though I have brought terrorism into my daughter’s life. I am The Parent of Terrorism now, and I am responsible for making her aware of the ills of human nature.
What’s more, I’ve successfully confused the hell out of her. I’ve over-explained some things, and skimped on others. I have to get it right. She has Muslim friends, for God’s sake. I don’t want her to fear them, or think all Muslims hate westerners.
So when I find myself embroiled in yet another pointless Facebook argument with a 22-year-old prick who thinks the only solution to terrorism is to eliminate all Muslims (and then he has the nerve to deny that he is racist for thinking this), I find myself theorising that this fuckwit and their fuckwit opinion is the net result of a news-free upbringing.
I dunno, I’m probably wrong. Maybe they’re just stupid. Maybe they watch the same amount of news, and just draw their own conclusions that happen to differ with mine. Or maybe I really am a patronising, middle-class twat, who is out of touch with the real world, and is a fucking libtard snowflake scum of the Earth. It’s what they say I am. There is every possibility that they have a point. To be fair, they are not 100% wrong.
But I can’t raise my daughter to be like that. That’s why I make my daughter watch the news, even though it disturbs her. I cannot have her being that sort of ignorant, intolerant fucking moron in years to come. That, to me, is as bad and irresponsible as letting her smoke when she’s 12.
Being a parent has changed my outlook on the news, I won’t lie. The shock of the Manchester bombing was profound, but I felt it most keenly when I realised the victims were young girls. Hey, I know a young girl. She’s my everything. How could this happen to her? How could this happen to anyone like her?
15 years ago, I would have been just as shocked, but the tragedy of the event would not have struck such a raw nerve in me. Becoming a parent changed that. I learned this when, just a few months after Alice was born, I read a newspaper article about the appalling Baby Peter case. The news of the final verdicts of his mother and stepfather came out, and the article went into great detail about the depraved cruelty that poor child suffered. I read the news on a lunch break, and then went back to work. Over 30 minutes then passed before I realised my hands were tightly clenched into fists. I was so angered, in a way I could never be prior to Alice being born. As a child and teenager, I was always privately embarrassed by the outpouring of grief and sympathy for child murder victims that grown-ups would indulge in. Now, as a parent, I recognise why such empathetic grief exists.
One of the positives – if there ever could be such a thing – that has emerged out of the chaos of the Manchester bombing has been the thought and care that the reporting has taken. There has been a notable sea-change. This is the first major news story where, following a devastating catastrophe, a sense of empathy has been in the news reporting, particularly towards children. Because this is a tragedy that has affected young children, there has been a real emphasis on engagement and understanding, and also, awareness that such stories can have a triggering effect.
The BBC’s Newsround, who have for 40 years pioneered the reporting of the news to children, have been exemplary. I’d go so far as to say they have been heroic in their reporting, both in approach, detail, and sensitivity. Fuck Game of Thrones, or the new series of Twin Peaks, or whatever boxset you’re urged to bingewatch; this is possibly the best and most important television-related thing of this year, and I firmly and genuinely believe it needs to be taught in all schools:
And this past week, I have learned to change my attitude to explaining the positives in the news, thanks to one small idea that has been repeated over and over again that, like an idiot, I have never considered before:
Don’t think about the bastard who did it. They don’t deserve our attention. People like that try to make the World worse. They will fail. Instead, think about the helpers. They are what makes this world great.
That is what I’ll tell Alice from now on. And this is what I’ll carry with me from this horrific, senseless attack. It’s a shame I didn’t learn this 30+ years ago.
And then the incredible, courageous, dignified and inspiring response and resilience of the people of Manchester made her realise that recovery is swift, normality will resume, and that the inherent goodness of the decent, civilised, majority of people will always prevail over the unconscionably evil. Alice turned to me at the weekend, after watching the news, “what’s the point of terrorism if people just bounce right back? Terrorists are so stupid”. Exactly, kid.