On the 4th Friday of every month I paint myself up as a goth and go out to ARA. I've long stopped my regular clubbing outings in Manchester as my awareness of or the amount of violence on weekend evenings has risen. I'd rather have a nice night in watching Big Brother than face the hordes of drunken ruffians out for a night of brawling. But ARA and what it offers me is different in a way that makes going out worthwhile and up until recently, safe.
The night is run by a pair of couples who are extremely friendly and extraordinarily kind. When we get to the door, there isn't the scowl and demand for tickets or bag searches. We receive friendly chat about what's happening in everyone's lives, who we've brought with us or just comments that on a particular night I look a bit Rockabilly. I look forward to going in and I look forward to going out. It's such a remarkable experience to find that kind of openness in a place referred to as a club and one I find brightens the whole month.
On a normal outing, we go in and find a pew to set our stuff on and sit for a bit looking around or watching a movie. See, there aren't the sticky tables and broken chairs of your regular club. The night is held at Sacred Trinity Church in Salford, with the blessing of the Reverend. People that come are aware of the grounds, the beauty of the building and respect it as such. You won't find many being slammed into the wall, or lazily spilling their drinks. That respect stretches to the behavior of the club goers as well. We have yet to see people on the floor with telltale plastic baggies, just bottles of wine they've bought at the local market and perhaps a pack of cigarettes for outside conversation.
Just near the doors, on gravestones, is where the conversation happens. We stand around with our glasses and laugh, sometimes fleeing back indoors when we hear a particular bump of a song we like. During the summer it's hard to move through the corridors for the traffic running back and forth. Subsequently we've made some friends and remain open to all who come running.
I'm constantly encouraging people to go. I keep thrusting them in the direction of ARA, expounding on the evening's possibilities. My husband and I have been attending almost since they started and always find ourselves pleased. Friends that have gone keep returning for more, even if they don't particularly like the genre or the subculture. It's just one big friendly party that's held in an amazingly lovely church and we've always been grateful for it.
And it is that open vibe that makes the events of last night so distressing for me.
Around the corner from the church is a real pub that seems to attract some elements unlike ours and more typical of what you'd expect. I saw them last night, grouped around the place with pints of something. I remember thinking that I wouldn't like to walk past them because of their shaved heads and an aura of violence. Two months ago, in what we suspect is connected to that pub, one of the other regulars was mugged. We thought that it was a one off, what are the odds of something like that happening again so far outside of the city centre at a local church? But yesterday was different and so much worse.
I didn't witness any of the worst parts, thankfully. The first I knew of something happening was when my husband grabbed me mid dance to What do I get? to let me know something had happened and to get my phone. Later stories told of how four kids had been kicked out of the bar around the corner and decided to randomly take their aggression out on the people outside, before trying to venture in to get some more action. They swung at my husband, who made a lucky dodge and grazed one of the guys in our group. They managed to get someone else on the ground, though he was fighting them the best he could. They punched one of the women who runs it and then proceeded to stomp one person we didn't realize had been left outside after the doors had been barricaded.
It took 7 minutes and 21 seconds for me to get police and an ambulance despatched. I probably made the whole process more difficult, since my head was still stuck in the moment I watched one of my friends being used as a rope in a tug of war. A police officer did eventually arrive after about 10-15 minutes, too late to catch the thugs and too inneffectual to get everyone's statements. By then we'd discovered that when the doors were shut, one of the other organizers had been left outside and was badly hurt. An ambulance did eventually turn up after another 10 minutes or so and treated the one on the ground, who left a small circle of blood behind. The others were told nothing, or to go to Accident and Emergency.
I'm still horrified about it all. The randomness and brutality of the attack has left one in the hospital. Perhaps strangely, what's most angering is the lack of respect these people showed to the church grounds. ARA is sanctuary, that's what the organizers want and that's what we get. Troublemakers and those who disrespect the rules are typically not tolerated. Do what the sign says, or leave. It's supposed to be, like the church, a haven from all the idiocy, violence and aggression of everywhere else there is to go out. Yet somehow something so basic as to respect that universal symbol of peace hasn't been taught to these perpetrators. I can't even begin to comprehend what that means.
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