The Martin’s Bakery bacon with mushroom barmcake’s ingredient label was clear: 36% bacon. Just over a third. Tasty and clear. A dab of H.P. (Houses of Parliament) brown sauce helped enhance the crispy bacon contents.
As the Conservative government strips and cuts away at public services, the N.H.S. (National Health Service), transport, everything remaining in the public domain. We now enter an age where 34% content in order to have a tasty bacon butty is closer to 1%. May contain bacon. May have been influenced by bacon. Produced in an environment that may have been contaminated by bacon. The bacon is community and social. The last ebbs and flows of bacon are sliding away.
With Shaun and Christina in tow, and tickets courtesy of Mum and Paul, we headed over to the Sale Waterside on a chilly Tuesday night. The heated theatre setting with a cup of hot Vimto was cosy. Mark Thomas, political comedian and activist stepped on stage and ushered out the odd expletive and an abundance of knowledge. His agenda, as grim as the U.K.’s economy reached off the stage and headbutted the audience. A jolly song by an F.C. Utd. of Manchester fan livened up the mood and allowed the audience some warmth amongst the tales of politics and Mark Thomas’s witty motherly adventures. A touch of Hamlet accompanied Mark in the form of some stepladders.
Of course we could all blame David Cameron for fiddling with a pig, or Boris Johnson for glibly allowing the U.K. to unfold from Europe, or the one after for being replaced by Rishi Sunak, who now has the hot seat until someone dislodged his wallet of power and shield of riches. Twelve years since the Tories took No. 10 and the Prime Minister job, they’re still blaming 13 years of Labour, which ended in 2010. Covid-19 aside, Brexit and greed has really his hit the U.K. hard. Although, if you believe the Tories, it’s all about migration. You can’t do that! You’re bacon all the rules!
Firstly, the focus of the World’s premier international team tournament should be focused on the football, the FIFA World Cup.
The second key point is that Wales, AKA Cymru, are in town. Their first such visit to the World Cup finals since 1958. Their Swedish encounters ended in the quarterfinals to eventual Champions Brazil. Youngster Pelé scored the winning goal and Wales never returned to the big stage until 2022. I’m no fan of international football and feel conflicted. My first and only games watching international games have been Wales at Wrexham’s historic Racecourse and the Millennium Stadium. I’m claiming Welsh ancestry through my maternal grandfather.
As great Aberystwyth Town and Wales fans I’ve met a long life’s journey enjoy their deserved visit to Qatar, I can’t help but feel the magic of these finals hasn’t arrived and feels a world away. It could even bee argued that Wales is a far more suited host nation than Qatar. It has established football teams, leagues and a population higher than Qatar. Wales didn’t need to naturalise so many players to make a national team.
The list of issues include human rights abuse (modern slavery) accusations, need reporters being robbed on air, bribes and corruption, questionable suitability, accessibility and handling of the LGBT community didn’t help their bid and winning of the right to host. Nobody mentioned the Thai workers getting a pound an hour to make England shirts. Each shirt sells for £115 or so. Where’s the hypocrisy? That’s Nike’s way.
Put that aside and moving from summer to winter, banning beer for fans a few days before the tournament, dodgy underdeveloped fan accommodation, bad food, hack for hire schemes, forced labour including held passports and other problems. Avoiding a clash with the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics and Ramadan means pre-Christmas news features football controversies on a near hourly basis. 12 corrupt officials, 11 pounds a pint, 10 FIFA statements, 9 imprisoned hackers, 8 bags of cash, 7 passports missing, 6 lies-a-leaping, 5 air conditioners (nationwide), 4 building sites, 3 carbon footprints, 2 pundits flapping, 1 regime in denial, and 0 homsexuals.
When visiting a new country, exercising modesty and following local customs seems second nature to me. Honouring the Qatari way of life is fine. If someone steals, they accept the local punishment. Sharia laws are strong and it’s their gaff, their rules. Will the accused get a fair trial? That’s open to debate. Flagellation for adultery, anyone? Is it barbaric or a just punishment? Who am I to judge?
The sustainability of the World Cup is laughable. Brazil’s last tournament has derelict stadia, as does Russia, and South Africa. The original final venue in Uruguay, at Montevideo may get reused in 2030, and has tenants now in Montevideo City Torque F.C. How many stadiums crinkle and crumble? How many get moved? Plenty of air-conditioning has ensured Qatar will release plenty of emissions. But, at least Stadium 974, made of recycled shipping containers will move to Maldonado, Uruguay by 2030, if their World Cup bid is successful. On a non-judgemental side note the son of Nazi war criminal Albert Speer and his design firm were involved in all the stadium designs for World Cup 2022. The one that quoted his Uncle as being nice. Hitler was his uncle.
The Iranian team refused their national anthem versus England. Their fans held banners stating, ‘Woman. Life. Freedom.’ or simply a flag with ‘WOMEN‘ on it. Nobody noted that Qatar’s progressive regime has many female graduates and high-ranking female jobs. Qatar has non-discriminatory minimum wage systems, which removed the Kafala system in 2021. Change was inevitable. As was fan corruption to counter the protests. Denmark and sponsor Hummels will tone down their red, white and memorial (to dead workers) black shirts when they feature in the finals. Germany have been outspoken. Many European clubs unveiled banners in protest. Paris won’t be showing any football.
Qatar underwent a huge diplomatic relation crisis in 2017. Its neighbours effectively cut it off. It was a hard time but they have engaged regionally since. Sadly not, enough for Jewish visitors who were promised Koshar foods, prayer areas and safety. All were revoked and fans from Israel were told to be a tad silent. If I was Jewish, I wouldn’t want to step into grounds designed at a place that possibly profited from a WWII war criminal.
Make of it what you want, the World Cup has the love in motion, Arrivederci, it’s one on one. Something like that. Human rights, democracy and equality are going to rumble on as a debate until long after the trophy has been lifted. The Wales game versus USA wasn’t bad. I did feel dirty watching it though. More so because George Weah played for City and really annoyed me. His son scored for USA. Good on him. Haaland senior played for City around that time. His son returned to City recently. He’s not at the World Cup, sadly.
I called by to see your memorial stone and the last place we spoke. It wasn’t easy. I was shaking entering the Christmas Fayre at Dr Kershaw’s Hospice (Turf Lane, Royton, Oldham). That little respite and warm place of rest and care work wonders. They give a gateway beyond and a place to properly say farewell.
Since you passed, I didn’t call by. I wanted to every summer I returned but i couldn’t find the opportunity or heart to swing by. Grieving you and feeling those raw emotions from late 2013 and early 2014 hasn’t been easy. We all deal with loss differently. I have done my best to keep in touch with how the family have honoured you. The grey Oldham skies seemed a world away when looking out over the bright garden patio. A place to reflect.
Mum, Aunty Susan and Aunty Caroline have done and said many great things. They’ve done you proud. Seeing your stone on the wall represented a love for you that your grandkids no doubt feel too. The hospice have you in their book of remembrance. They looked after you. They really care up there. The Christmas Fayre today was one example of their hardwork to raise funds to ensure others can prepare and say goodbye with dignity.
I’ll swing by again soon for an overbottom filled with ham and tomato. Maybe Panda the dog can come along if he behaves. Hopefully I’ll be able to bring someone else along in 2023 and talk to you about family and the future.
Communism and capitalism don’t work. That’s my view. Neither have solid scientific bases and each are triggered by emotional responses. Capitalism breeds the need for more: bigger, stronger, faster and more, more, more. Communism over-regulates and remains too rigid: hard and fast. Like capitalism, it grows and expands too much. It chokes community and welds itself to the fate of humanity’s downfall.
Through primitive vocabulary and the shredding of those seen as intellectualor a threat, views get defecated on. Try to decipher which from communism and capitalism sensationalises news and exaggerates to the free press. Which is leant on by external influence? Which is paid for? Which sold its soul? The jargon overwhelms its reader. Opposition is near unheard, or at least found in differing tabloids or broadsheets (where permitted). Communication of Communism or sold on Capitalism?
The free press with their agenda, use primitive tones and boring jargon to control and shape opinions. They use dismissal of opposition views seeking to isolate unaccepted tones. Intellectuals are swept aside and logic disarmed. Insults banded about. Bourgeois attitudes? Well how did Britain get here. Brexit and xenophobic beliefs? Impassioned beliefs of a better world? Covid-19 or 1984? How can we fix the mess the country is? Radicalism is surely due a comeback.
Recently I was sent some links, and some I have already seen. I am not liable for the reliability and content of the links, nor any copyrights. Have a gander as you see best fit. Or not. I’m sharing because a few need checking later.
Arriving back in Manchester took far too long. Catching up with family was long overdue. Seeing City live took a tad longer. The City v Tottenham Hotspur game was cancelled, as was nearly a whole week of events, as part of enforced national mourning of HRH Queen Elizabeth II. Choice to mourn was taken from the hands of most people. Those who may or may not have needed busy minds or distractions had to follow endless TV and cultural cancellations.
With Stephen from Shenzhen Blues we wandered down to Cardiff Bay to see the Patron Saint Liam Gallagher, the day before the newly arrived King Charles was due in Cardiff too. Charlatans were the support and the gig was very good, despite the elongated national mourning period. I wouldn’t wish any harm to the Royal Family but they don’t represent me and we have little in common. I am closer to The Royle Family.
A trip to Prescott, neat Knowsley Safari Park and St. Helens presented a chance to see two Shakespeare productions. With Mum, Paul and Astrid we viewed A Midsummer’s Night Dream, at the Shakespeare North. The modern take and retelling featured the voice of David Morrissey and the Not Too Tame team. The Guardian newspaper called it “gleefully anarchic”. It was a tasty and feisty piece of stage wonder. The following day we sat outside in the Ken Dodd amphitheatre, watching Romeo and Juliet by a trio of Handlebards. This threesome cycled with their props and gear for the outdoor production. They’re part of a larger collective who entertain far and wide. Not a bad commitment to ride over 1500 miles in summer 2020! Sustainable theatre at its finest. I’d seen them in Levenshulme before, on the Fallowfield Loop Line cycle path and knew how good their performances were. Even in a blustery Ken Dodd outdoor performance area, I giggled and nodded applause at a fantastic show.
October involved Manchester City’s 6-3 win over Manchester United. 4-0 up at halftime was made to feel less fun, by quadruple substitutions and less urgency. The game was over, to be fair. City marched through that month at home with relentless aggression, unlike November’s rolling over for a belly tickle and defeat to Brentford. The World Cup in Qatar since enforced a break from Premier League action. City needed it, as the league approaches its halfway point.
TV shows under perusal have included the disappointment of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Andor. Star Wars needs better ideas. The award winning Welcome to Wrexham gave an insight into a decent fanbase and Welsh football club dealing with celebrity ownership. Wrexham AFC have really picked up their hope. Good to see. Plus, owners Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney seem to really be engaged and enjoying their ambitious adventure. Delving into Welsh culture isn’t a bad start. The pick of the viewing has to be SAS: Rogue Heroes, even though it artistically bends truths and flips the usual format of historical drama making. Some clichéd scenes add cheese to the beefy content.
As per the t-shirt motive on entering the O2 Apollo in Manchester, the phrase ‘loud and slow‘ stood out. After grabbing a £6.80 pint or some trendy looking Indian Pale Ale, I took my seat: MM16. An aisle seat 4 rows back from the stalls. The view was unobstructed and two seats to my left marked that Mum and Paul could sadly not make it. A few rows to the right many empty seats indicated the gig hadn’t sold out, which was a shame. Sigur Ros began their show by 9pm.
The seductive smooth dramatic and dreamy tunes smoothly slid from stage to ears, transporting the crowd of listeners to planets, spaces and dimensions. Through one number tragedy could be visited. Through another track, a guttural feeling of remembering someone lost. Yet more tracks provided exhilarating adventures. The band mixed some recent and catalogue tracks to a grateful audience.
Fast forward a few days and to the city of Leeds. My brother Shaun and I went to see the dramatic semifinal between New Zealand and Australia. The Kangaroos edged an enthralling encounter 16-14 over a super Kiwi squad. England lost to Samoa by one point the next day to set up a final at Old Trafford Swamp. The Rugby League World Cup 2021, played in 2022 has been fantastic for sport, but deserves a bigger crowd, even with 28,113 at Elland Road in Leeds.
The train journey and tram back to Newton Heath via Leeds and Rochdale was slow, to bring the exhilaration of a great noisy rugby experience back to earth. The train journey called via Mytholmroyd where The Iron Man has been illustrated bybstudents and placed along the platform. Good to see Ted Hughes being celebrated.
Lately the glasshouse whiteflies fly all around like shattered and scattered autumnal snowflakes. That’s during daylight. Not at 4.35am on a Monday morning. After just 4 hours of sleep, I departed for and then arrived at Manchester Airport, by bus and then train. I felt sleepy.
Walking through Terminal 3’s Customs they checked my toothpaste and deodorant in some kind of smear test. The need to stay fresh had to rule out that I’d joined Al Qaeda. Post-September 11th, 2001 has really made air travel irritating. My flight from Manchester to Katowice was smooth enough. Landing in Poland, I had to await the check-in desk to open. A walk outside revealed this Polish airport was closer to the Arctic Circle than the city of Katowice.
With two hours to go until take-off, I paid my bargain forty-eight quid boarding pass fee in Zlotys. Later Trip.com refunded this having not shared my data to the airline for the connecting flight. The wait was pleasant enough, at a modern and clean airport devoid of the failings of Manchester International Airport. The flight rumbled down a runway, complete with a toppled-over turboprop aircraft just in view. That positioning of a busted plane surely needs a review on TripAdvisor.
Landing in Dortmund, I walked through a crowd of Manchester City fans with shirts and things to sign. The odd Dortmund fan littered amongst them. I shuffled myself aside and watched as the reigning Premier League Champions dribbled through. Dressed in black sportswear, most of them looked like they were straight out of JD Sports. Waiting for that made me miss the bus to the city centre.
About an hour later I paid for my bus to town, and a fellow Blue who didn’t have cash to hand. European standards about card payments are so inconsistent and often inconvenient. Not that Great Britain is much better. I miss the convenience of the Wechat application in China and its ability to do anything, even issue toilet paper.
German efficiency is a phrase often banded about, with seriousness and wit. I found my apartment in the district of Funkenberg after a quick U-bahn-tram journey. A local dinner at a taverna of mushrooms and schnitzel quickly found its way to my belly before I went back for a good night of shut eye.
Having slept well, I checked out, darted to the Dortmund Haubtbahnhof at Königswall 15. I grabbed a coffee from a generic bakery chain and locked my bag away for 4 euros a day. I returned back to my locker after realising I’d locked my coffee in the locker, before crossing the road to the Deutsches Fußballmuseum. I like football. I like museums. I like Germany. The arrangement could have worked out well.
Sure enough the varied exhibits, mostly bilingual, were diverse, organised and engaging. A 3D holographic show, some nostalgia, loads of World Cup materials and a display on Women’s football feature throughout the museum but the 19 Euro charge in to see Paul the octopus encased and a sweaty Mario Götze World Cup winning boot seems excessive. England’s National Football Museum is suggested donation entry, but Germany has won four trophies to England’s one, so perhaps they’ve earned the right to price their security accordingly.
After the football museum, I had a ponder around the city of Dortmund, Germany’s eighth most populated city and noticed how many concrete and modern buildings there. In 1945, allied troops from the west flattened approximately 98% of homes, factories and other buildings of inner city Dortmund. Dortmund was Germany’s most bombed city in one night and one month. A month later the ground assault rolled through and Dortmund’s Nazi days were over.
Ballspielverein Borussia 09 e. V. Dortmund are one of Germany’s most successful and colourful football clubs. They also have handball, athletics, ice hockey and countless other sports because they’re a sports club with 145,000 active members and not just a footy club. Die Schwarzgelben play in black and yellow, resembling bees and have a fantastic fan base, even if they do sing You’ll Never Walk Alone.
Prior to the game friendly beer drinking, schnitzel and sausage tasting could be found outside the ground in picturesque settings, as well as every pub in town. The concourse in the ground was similar before, during and after City’s frustrated draw. The home team and fans celebrated their progression to the knockout stage. City took it in their stride.
The swift return to collect my bag at the railway station postmatch, followed a brusque walk to the central station. I grabbed it from the locker and went to get a sandwich for the late train at 23:30ish. The train went a whole stop, with everyone aboard experiencing a crush like stampede experience and sweating crazily. At Bochum it stopped and allowed an ambulance crew to attend to an emergency. Then another train arrived, also destined for Dusseldorf, as musical chairs started. Everyone wanted to be on the first train out.
The train arrived on Dusseldorf, close to 3am. I had a hotel booked for the next night, check in from noon. I was lucky and found a scenic spot by the Rhine until then. During my time in Dusseldorf I walked the banks of the Rhine, admired the architecture and increased my step count. Good food, great culture and a pleasant trip ended on a Thursday flight to Manchester.
By Friday, I had added one to thirty-nine and reached forty (XL in Roman numerals). A pleasant Vimto ice cream with Brahma after coffee in The Rascals Cafe (Manchester Royal Exchange Theatre) with my sister Christina took up the afternoon. In the evening I met my Mum, Paul and Kat from Shenzhen Blues for dinner and to see comedian Nick Helm at The Stoller Hall. After getting back, I walked Panda and the pleasant day ended with slumber time. A happy birthday.
The train neared Manchester. My anticipation and excitement grew. The journey for Panda and I had been long and near exhausting. My eyes tingled and I knew tears were struggling to stay inside their ducts. The view through the window blurred and I wiped away the waterfall.
Panda detected my mood and nestled up into my legs. That or he needed a pee. The train announcement for Manchester Victoria Station came and the train rattled across junctions before halting in a platform berth. The doors hissed and slid open. In my head, I imagined fanfares and horns, drums and fireworks, as streamers fell from the domed rooftop. In reality I could smell pigeon shit and shuffled onto the platform awkwardly. It’s good to be back.
Me Mam, to use local dialect, had suggested a brew nearby and would meet me at the station. Sadly my delayed and cancelled trains alternative arrived earlier than expected, thus making Mum late for my early arrival. Not to worry, Panda and I strolled passed Victoria’s Station Approach, and the salon opposite. That salon used to be a British Railway Social Club, I recall and I remembered eating a beef and onion over bottom sandwich there as a kid. Funny how memories fire off into your mind.
Even on the concourse of Manchester Victoria Station, I could vividly recollect book barrows selling books and Mum buying a selection of nature titles. Or eating broken biscuits, sat on a bench, waiting for Dad to finish work at a painting job on the station. Today, though was all about seeing Mum and giving a hug after far too bloody long. Panda and I wandered around Manchester Cathedral Gardens by the National Football Museum. Eventually, after a phone call, I spotted Mum.
Panda, being Panda, decided he’d get the first hug in. He’d claimed and adopted Mum before my first hug to Mum after nearly 3 years. It felt good. I always felt my family don’t hug enough so that was most welcome and missed. Panda introduced himself through additional links, jumps and excitement. Panda was home too.
Mum, and I sat in the green gardens, sat and talked. Panda made himself a nuisance in his charming doggy ways. We discussed everything and anything. A rush of years of no face to face talking all pouring out. Mum looked older, but thankfully healthy. The passage of time definitely was noticeable after 3 years apart. Not that I hadn’t aged. These years of Covid-19 have seemingly aged us all. Eventually we moved to Manchester’s Java Bar Espresso coffee shop, in Victoria Station (4 Cigar Alley).
Sat outside the coffee shop that opened in 1996, Mum and I had tea and cappuccino whilst nattering away. Panda listened and looked around at his new settings. We caught up and arranged to have dinner/tea at Mum’s after a few days. I didn’t feel jetlagged but I did feel overwhelmed by the cultural changes. I’d gone from dynamic zero Covid-19 controls in China to near normality in Manchester.
That evening, I would meet Rachel (Bridget Jones) from university and go see Arcade Fire with about 21,000 people in the AO Arena (or Nynex Arena in local dialect). I suddenly felt weird without a mask on. I also felt that I wouldn’t be wearing a face mask too often. I had confidence that Covid-19 and I could coexist without the virus killing me. Mum explained when and where masks are essential for her, and I completely agreed. Enclosed poorly ventilated areas would definitely see me wearing a face mask.
So, having caught up with Mum, we hugged goodbye and I jumped into a taxi. Next stop, Dad’s house and my temporary digs until employment. It was good to be back. The cool Mancunian air welcomes you.
The taxi dropped Panda and I at the Rotterdam Europoort ferry terminal. A pleasant taxi ride with a talkative and kind driver had ended the worry of how to cart my 30kg and 10kg backpack, whilst ensuring Panda was safe on a leash. We arrived with ample time to allow Panda to water every bush and stone on the way to the terminal building. I was certain Panda appreciated this task.
Panda and I sat on a stone bench looking at the colossal MS Pride of Hull. Ferrying to or from Hull and Rotterdam daily, this Bahamas-registered tax-dodging haven of P&O ferries, has capacity to take 1360 people and about 250 vehicles. Christened by Cherie Blair, wife of Tony, this Italian-built ship has been active about 22 years. The WiFi didn’t work. Panda and I boarded and I checked him into the below-deck kennels. He wasn’t too pleased with me. Panda even snubbed a biscuit at the boarding reception.
So, once again, Panda was intentionally abandoned. He was left in his extra large kennel, neighboured by a zoo of dogs, each with its distinct yap and growl. Panda had had one heck of a journey. I felt immense pride in him and reminded myself to ensure he gets a jolly good walk in England, as soon as we were back and settled. Up the decks I climbed and went to my room for a sit down, after getting a new key card…
The Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company Ferries, or P&O Ferries had shamefully recently sacked all 800 staff across many ships. Whilst their new agency staff from the Philippines were friendly and warm, the company itself would not have been my choice, but for a lack of options. This was the only route. As was the on board cinema movie choice, Top Gun 2: Maverick. A flight movie on a ship isn’t a bad experience. A pint of Cornish Doom Bar, and a cider was also needed. An early night rounded off a simple sailing evening.
Waking in the box cabin, I didn’t know the sun had arisen, nor that land had been sighted. I quickly made myself ready and went to the deck’s Sun Lounger area. That name wouldn’t pass the trade descriptions act. Going outside I witnessed the grey openings of the river Humber and a British coastline that surely the Vikings must have thought ad being a bit off-putting. “Hey Knut, can’t be much worth seeing this way. How about we swing south for the Mediterranean?” Rhubarb wouldn’t have been introduced at that period of history. The onboard breakfast options were equally void of colour.
Eventually the ship docked and like everything British in the 21st century, something didn’t work. The offloading was to be by one route and not the usual walkway off. For foot passengers, had to wait for all vehicles to disembark. Panda, now retrieved and happy-go-lucky, boarded a bus alongside many foot passengers and I. The bus from the car deck went up a ramp, turned right, barely travelled a hundred yards and then emptied its belly of people and goods… with a patient cats and dogs. Her Majesty’s border forces checked Panda’s papers and off we went, onto British soil, or tarmacadam to be exact.
A tenner of a taxi ride later into the town station, and Hull witnessed bombings comparative to the 1940s Luftwaffe passing overhead. Panda deployed several loads right on the doorstep of the railway station main entrance. When you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go. Panda went. His bowel movements had been limited since Rotterdam on the previous afternoon, so he did very well to save it for later. Besides, the train we were booked on, was cancelled. So, why not relax, and let it go.
Having negotiated the chilly North Sea by ship, two trains would guide Panda and I through Yorkshire and over the Pennines to Manchester. All aboard.
Striding off the jet, up the steep long gangway into the terminal building, I plodded hard and fast. I walked with conviction. At the Terminal building luggage belt and special items, I had to meet Panda.
Panda, the border collie with attitude, had been boxed for 17 hours plus pre-boarding time, and was fast approaching the 24 hour mark. I passed passport control and wandered off to collect my luggage. Neither Panda nor my backpack had arrived. The conveyor spun around and eventually the 30kg juggernaut of a backpack arrived. I lugged it over to the area for oversized or special baggage and waited.
Amongst the discarded polythene wraps and seemingly forgotten golf buggies and cycling cases, I slipped back and slumped against a wall. Here I reflected that I was already feeling calmer having left China and its measures to achieve dynamic zero CoViD-19. I also was enjoying some diversity of culture, having mostly been surrounded by Han Chinese and Guangdong for three years.
“That mountain you’ve been carrying, you were supposed to climb.” / “你身上背负的大山，是你本该攀登的.”
Panda didn’t arrive quickly. Nor did the five other dogs being awaited by other travelers around me. After querying customer services, the glass door at the end of the annex to luggage slid open. Out on pallets slid a whole kennel of dog crates. Here a whining and happy Panda looked simultaneously pissed-off yet relieved. His owner, equally happy to see his puppy-like eyes.
“每个人都是独立的个体，但我们联系在一起” / “Everyone is an individual, but we’re connected.”
To Customs and the anything to declare section we went, showing our papers, well Panda’s jabs and rabies inoculation sheet, etc. The chilled out inspector handed back our papers and allowed us to depart, having not even looked inside the dog crate. Arrivals was above Amsterdam Schipnol and by a car park. Time to unleash the beast.
I frantically used a small metal key card to remove the straps fastened around Panda’s dog crate. Then we wheeled outside and pondered what to do with the dog crate. From here on, Panda deserved to be back on his leash and free. Immediately on opening the door, near to a tree, an excited Panda leapt out and washed my fast, and just as quick, squatted and deposited a bottom compost pile. I scooped it into a dog pooh bag and discarded it. But, the dog crate, unspoiled and un-soiled was a tougher matter.
“Don’t cry because it is over, smile because it happened.” / “不要因为结束而哭泣，微笑吧，因为你曾经拥有”
I looked around one outer flank of the airport railways station. Nowhere to be found. No places to donate a dog crate in close proximity. Not even an area for recycling or refuse. With time rattling away, I decided a bicycle park seemed a safe bet. I disassembled the dog crate and pushed it into a wide bicycle locker. It wasn’t a good idea to leave an unattended object of that size by a major international airport.
I had a pre-booked train ticket go Rotterdam for a hotel booked in advance. Now, Panda needed a ticket for the journey so I queued ahead of his first dedicated rail ticket. We both scuttled down to the platform for our train to Rotterdam Zuid Station. On the train Panda met a whole range of friendly people and I chatted to an Indian metallurgist working in the Netherlands. The country had made a very special imprint in a short space of time. Great transport, friendly people, diversity, many cycles and cleanliness. We’d only been there an hour and it felt so relaxed.
A brief stroll from the station to B&B Unitas at J.B. Bakemakade on the Binnenhaven Dock didn’t take long. Here the host allowed us on board and shown Panda and I to our room. A brief introduction and then we set out for Panda’s first well-deserved and much needed walk in Europe.
Starting in Rotterdam’s Feijenoord area, we headed towards the centre and admired the architecture. Well, I enjoyed the building shapes and designs, whereas Panda enjoyed the walls, corners, footers of lampposts and other fittings etc. After a good few kilometres, a lot of leg-cocking and no dinner, we arrived back at the quaint boat hotel.
Being about 193cm tall on a boat, I had to duck into the shower cubicle, which was considerably shorter. It wasn’t that I didn’t like it, or felt uncomfortable, but it’s certainly something to be aware of. Actually looking back on the stay aboard Unitas there’s nothing I didn’t like. The gangplank is a metal grill, which I didn’t like carrying Panda over it, because it is shoulder-width at best, however expecting a wider pathway is silly. The boat hotel is quaint, friendly and located close to Rotterdam Zuid train station. Red-eyed Panda and I slept like logs.
The breakfast, ate on deck, was deliciously fresh and hearty, from a basket and full of variety. The surrounding area was great for a wander with Feyernord’s football ground down the road, and plenty of shops around the corner. It’s an idyllic hotel, in a city but seemingly away from the hustle and bustle. I wouldn’t swap the experience for any other hotel.
Our long day walk took us across many parks but notably into Zuiderpark to see a windmill (by Kromme Zandweg), and eat a delicious and filling lunch at the calm setting of De Bonte Keukentafel. A perfect setting for an afternoon wander, complete with historic windmill and farm to its side. Again Panda received a fair share of attention. Welcome to Europe, Panda.
Panda and I stayed at the dog friendly boat hotel, for one night only, en route to Rotterdam Europoort. The hotel helped arrange a taxi towards our ferry, and off we went…
The journey from Dongguan to Manchester was by no means a short one. A drive, by neighbour and friend Charif, with Panda and I, was the first start. After handing back the Songshan Lake apartment, the over-the-top backpack (29.8kg), dog carrier (11kg + Panda 19kg) and 10kg hand luggage slotted into Charif’s spacious sports utility vehicle. Two toilet stops on the way to the airport for Panda, and then we arrived into a multi-storey car park. An elevator to the roof gave Panda ample time to drop off unwanted gut packages and then we shook hands with Charif, or in Panda’s case, a lick and a jump, and off past security we went.
Check-in went smoothly, save some panic about vaccination certificates needed in Amsterdam, for me! Panda’s paperwork went swimmingly. With a late flight, arrival was well in advance. Off Panda went, checked-in, down a a conveyor belt, for a lengthy journey ahead. I passed security, the health check corridor and baggage check before entering the departure lobby. A near empty airport had water refill points, poor wi-fi and little else of use. Dynamic zero and its COVID-19 policy has destroyed any fun to be had in airports. No food was available. I munched on a bag of beetroot crisps and drank my water (warm, not cold). Still, I was able to stream Manchester City’s 6-0 win over recently promoted Nottingham Forest. A hat trick for the fantastically good Erling Haaland, with a brace by Julián Álvarez and a strike by João Cancelo ensured three points for City, and a smile as I boarded the aircraft bound for Istanbul.
The two flight legs involved the watching of two movies, To Olivia, and The Professor and The Madman. The former is a biographic account of a tragedy that unfolds in the lives of the family of author Roald Dahl and actress Patricia Neal. It stars Hugh Richard Bonneville Williams as Dahl and Claire Julia “Keeley” Hawes as Neal. The director John Hay takes an affectionate and gentle touch to a tough task, delivering a dreamy movie with a warmly-hugged factor. He is a director known to myself for that great movie, There’s Only One Jimmy Grimble. Acting titans Mel Gibson and Sean Penn head a cast that tackles the formation of The New English Dictionary on Historical Principles (better known as Oxford English Dictionary). It sounds like a dull story, but in truth it is far from the dictionary definition of dullness.
Between flights, a brief stop at Istanbul gave me chance to sample great sandwich, coffees and some snacks before boarding for Amsterdam and a central European gateway to Britain… At this stage I was highly excited, nervous and bubbling with a mixture of emotions and anticipation. As the door to life in China swung to shut, an open door to the next chapter of life lurked ajar, but needed a few steps to get there.
Mummy and Daddy will love forever. That’s how big saw it when I was young. Then after the teenage years, I heard friends and how they lost fathers and mothers. I filled with fear, worry and wondered how I’d cope. As grandparents drifted away, that worry grew and grew and grew. Nobody lives forever. That’s the saddest part.
Grief at the loss of grandparents came again and again and again. It’s horrid. They never truly leave you. Nor do you want them to. Even today, I visited a spot to talk to Gran. She wasn’t there but she was there. I sat on a canal side moorings and looked at the skies. The same skies Gran and I would gaze out on from Earl’s Lodge. I talked. Some private things. Plenty of questions. I like to think that Gran listened. She always did. How will I feel when a parent goes? I don’t know. I dread it. The Queen passed today. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, a mother to brothers and sisters. A grandparent. A great grandparent. Family is important.
They may be royalty, the Monarchy and the aristocracy. They may be the elite. They live different ways and enjoy privilege. They are living reality television for their subjects. If they can sustain a loss of family, so can we. We’ll be alright. Hopefully, no time soon.
I’m no Royalist or Republican. I’m no patriot. I was born a European and now by passport I’m British. The ages of Empire passed. Commonwealth to me means sports every four years. The budget Olympics. The positive legacy of history and Empire. Things change. Now we have a King. Long live King Charles III. Let’s hope the legacy of a Royal family builds a longstanding legacy of benefit to the Kingdom. The Prince’s Trust, The Duke of Edinburgh scheme, Queen Elizabeth II at the Manchester Commonwealth Games in 2002 – it all counts.
The Queen and her family helped turn a brutal and sometimes terrible Empire and its legacy into a modern British symbolic cultural mainstay that is enviable globally and sought after. On this historic day, September 8th, we witness the passing of the crown and now the King must succeed her. The injustices and challenges of climate change face his reign. Long live the King.
But first, God save the Queen. Goodbye Your Majesty and I’ll let you off for making me late for a train at Stockport railway station.
CCTV (Chinese state TV) didn’t commission me. I’m just reviewing musical experiences in China. By that, I don’t mean Mr Oliver making his students wild at an end of year school show. Melodic music seems completely endemic here. Rhythm and blues do not. The exploration of music in China has been limited. Pop concerts are plentiful. Traditional music is out there. KTV is everywhere, seemingly only beaten in numbers by the dreaded mosquitoes.
Throughout travels, I’ve overheard piped speakers repeating at shrieking levels “wǒ ài Mǎnzhōulǐ” in deepest darkest coldest Inner Mongolia (内蒙古) to two people, in a field of ice. Actually, almost every province I’ve visited has had Mandarin language to its music. Rarely have I overheard local dialects, other than Cantonese in Guangdong. I’m convinced when my Granddad George Acton visited Qīngdǎo (青岛) and ShànghǎI (上海) in the 1940s, he visited at a time when local dialects were rife and strong. Whilst Mandarin has brought uniformity and literacy, it did also deliver annoying song xiǎo píngguǒ (小苹果).
Released in May 2014, the catchy Xiao Pingguo song refuses to go away. I think of it as China’s answer to the Crazy Frog. Wang Taili (王太利) and Xiao Yang (肖央) are the successful Chopstick Brothers (筷子兄弟). They’re not on my Christmas card list. Ever. They were even parodied by the Chinese Ministry of Defence, for recruitment purposes, in July 2014. I remember it being irritating then but if that’s how they plan to tackle the Taiwan problem, so be it. Siege by surreal music. Like Christmas songs in July, Xiao Pingguo never exits your head or seemingly airplay.
In education, I’ve witnessed a wealth of traditional instruments from China. Students plucking the Guzheng’s (古箏)’s 16–26 strings, or pear-shaped Pipa (琵琶), or similar Liuqin (柳琴) have formed mini-orchestras and solo acts throughout many school shows. A whole wealth of other stringed instruments hasn’t been seen in Xinjiang or Tibet, because I’ve yet to visit either region. I have heard and seen the two-stringed fiddle (Erhu 二胡) in action. I’ve had a go in Yunnan too. Maybe one day I’ll try it again. It can have an upbeat melodic ring to it, or deep blues. Mandopop and Cantopop covers haven’t been far behind.
There are countless string and pipe instruments throughout the land of China, with names too unknown to write and sounds heard rarely to explain. Clay, bells, silk too, and other instruments are fantastic to see in villages and countryside areas. The húlúsī (葫芦丝) is a gourd wind instrument that looks like a bulbous pipe swallowed a recorder. It can be played in a haunting manner, as witnessed in the foothills of Yunnan. Unlike Eason Chan, G.E.M., Jackie Chan, Jay Chou, the TF Boys, BTS, and other Chinese pop stars, I will miss traditional instruments like the húlúsī.
Dagu (大鼓) means large drum and would have been found in countless drum towers across imperial China. These days they can be found at school shows alongside the Zhangu (战鼓) or war drum. Likewise museums may encase them, just up the aisle from flutes made of bones. Yǎyuè (雅樂) translates to something like elegant music. The aristocracy and Confucius believed music could only follow one path for self-cultivation and governmental ruling. “March of the Volunteers”(义勇军进行曲 Yiyǒngjūn Jìnxíngqǔ) probably fits the yǎyuè mindset.
Originally known as The March of the Anti-Manchukuo Counter-Japan Volunteers, the national anthem of China can be found weekly at school flag raising ceremonies, all national holidays, supermarkets, and even playing from children’s toys. The national anthem was penned by Tián Hàn (田汉), a novelist and playwright). It was set to music by Yunnan’s Niè Ěr (聂耳) AkA George Njal, as was his wish. Sadly Nie Er drowned at a young age and never expanded on a blossoming and flourishing musical career. Many moons later I passed through his native Kunming and listened to the sound of heavy traffic. This after days of bird song, didgeridoo, and drums in Dali.
Hong Kong, the Magic Island Festivals at Zhuhai, Guangzhou, Dongguan (mostly Irene’s Bar) and Shenzhen remain the places I’ve seen the most live music during my years in China. A few live bands and DJs in Shanghai and Dali probably complete a short list for a large land. It hasn’t been that I haven’t been looking for it of asking for live music. Even before bloody CoViD-19 struck, it was hard enough to see live music and a million times harder to get tickets. Strip away the VIP, VVVIP, of Golden Platinum VIP options and music tickets are hard to find. Expect nothing for anything labelled VIP. The gimmicks are status only.
In Dongguan, whilst writing for Hubhao magazine, I was lucky enough to enjoy Netherlands band Atlantic Attraction. Their website is now about knees so I guess they broke up or faded out. I went looking for answers. None. Perhaps when I fly home to the UK via the Netherlands, Kevin de Haas will swap vocals and guitar for baggage handling, and Arend Lacked may have moved to Airbnb, or Joris van der Pole may have shed bass in favour of bus driving. The drums are out so perhaps Sibren Huijsmans will sell me a coffee. A good band. Missed.
Epic festivals at Hong Kong such as Clockenflap, seeing Paul Draper at Guangzhou’s Mao Livehouse, swinging by So What Livehouse and the various Brown Sugar Jar venues have been good experiences. Watching Mr Irish Bastard at an intimate night in Shenzhen or spending Christmas Day with an acoustic guitar concert will remain fond memories. And of course, Dongguan foreign band, Revolution, now dissolved… and out if their ashes, come Reload. That’s Sunday’s entertainment sorted. Big Band Theory at Murray’s were electric, as has been almost every music night at Irene’s Bar in Houjie town.
The journey through music in Asia and from China won’t end on leaving this country. I’m already booked into seeing The Hu, a Mongolian rock band later this year, complete with instruments, the morin khuur and the tsuur. How China can water down Mongolian dialect in favour of Mandarin in Inner Mongolia (P.R of China) is beyond me? Languages need preservation, and music has long imbibed that theme. I can’t wait to experience my next installments of Mongolian music after Taiga band in Bar Ink, Dongguan.
And of course, I can always say my former St. Lorraine students featured on a music video of the Sun Yat Sens. Wechat微信… Wechat微信…
Raymond Briggs (18/1/1934 – 9/8/2022) was a multi-award winning author and cartoonist. The Snowman and Father Christmas have long been his well-known creations. When the Wind Blows and Fungus the Bogeyman are two lesser celebrated pieces of brilliance. The artwork by Briggs has often appeared grainy and drained of brightness, yet his style has been both eye-catching and bold.
“Books are not missiles, you don’t aim them at anybody.” – Raymond Briggs
Raymond Briggs created an arsenal of characters, both loveable and relatable. His touch of magic in their stories shines as an inspiration to readers and writers alike. Powerful messages and gentle love whistled from the pages. The 1982 adaptation of The Snowman has been an iconic piece of animation that has blessed many children over the years. The introduction by David Bowie and the soundtrack are equally iconic.
“The UK is struck by a devastating nuclear attack. Cities and communication systems are destroyed, roads melted, the earth and air poisoned and ravaged. All seen through the eyes of Mr and Mrs Bloggs living alone in the countryside, who are a bit peeved the milkman hasn’t came yet.” – When The Wind Blows, Raymond Briggs
Passing away at 88 years of age, the widower Raymond Briggs CBE leaves behind no children. He does however leave behind dreams and magic that few authors have matched. Those dreamy pencil colours that delivered sadness and hope will hopefully be visited and revisited by generation after generation at storytime.
““I don’t think about what children want. You get an idea and you just do it.” – Raymond Briggs, BBC interview 2017.
“We think too small, like the frog at the bottom of the well. He thinks the sky is only as big as the top of the well. If he surfaced, he would have an entirely different view.” – Mao Zedong (毛泽东), the first Chairman of P.R. of China, based on the idiom 井底之蛙 jǐng dǐ zhī wā – Narrow-minded and ignorant
Dr Li (李医生, orthopedics department) gave me an x-ray today and my foot is unwrapped. Stinks like some long forgotten French cheese that’s been left outside on a hot day, however, not as bad as Durian fruit. Now, two weeks on crutches and lots of self-physio to rebuild the wasted muscle and time. A huge visual difference in my ankle, calf and right foot (which has shrunk in length and breadth). Small steps to recovery.
And Dr Peng (respiratory department) tomorrow is release day from the hospital after the pulmonary embolism. Rehabilitation time.
“Nothing in life… even a few broken bones, is without its reward.” – John le Carre, author
Below is a list of things I have genuinely thought about, whilst lay on the hospital bed. The key points have been translated to Chinese, because, why not? I’m in China. Maybe one day someone will want them as a tattoo.
Free your heart from hate; 心中无恨. Pretty obvious. Be nice. Hate Man U****d. That’s all.
Free your mind from worry; 脑中无忧. Insurance ran out? Uncovered? Want private healthcare in a land where your language exchanges are limited? Want peace and quiet to speed up recovery? Then pay for not. Don’t worry. Money can always be earned again. It’s a tool. Buy something with no regrets. If you can’t afford a luxury yacht, buy a luxury toothbrush.
Live simply; 生活简单. Salad and fruit are delicious. Don’t let anyone tell you not to eat bell peppers raw. When energy demands lower, eat less and ponder whether Buddhist dietary needs are actually good for you. Or, eat chocolate.
Give more; 多些付出. When we pay taxes to states and social insurance, we’re contributing to society. Infamous tax dodgers Starbucks, Amazon, eBay, Apple etc. probably feel empty and cold. They didn’t play their part in society. Nobody can feel the benefit, without paying their way. Keeping the economy afloat is one thing, but always give when you can, especially when you have less to give. It feels good.
Expect less; 少些期待. Ambition is a pathway to disappointment. Or, expectations should be lowered to avoid feelings of inadequacy. Not everything is under your control and circumstances are likely to remind you that life is a challenge and fairness or equality a fictional aim. Idealism is not achievable under every circumstance. Be less worried.
Everyone is an individual, but we’re connected. 每个人都是独立的个体，但我们联系在一起. The philosophy of an international planet full of respectful connections with differences being put aside won’t be easy. Flags, borders, disputes and dick-waggling must stop. Isn’t climate change enough of a motivator, or will we all stay so individual? Record temperatures and extreme weather. We’ll all be connected, especially when it’s too late.
“So throw those curtains wide. One day like this a year’ll see be right.” – One Day Like This, a song by Elbow
After listening to the stunning Glastonbury set recordings of Elbow, I funked away to the impressive Billie Eilish, and sang along to Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds. Grounds for Divorce is such a powerful tune by Elbow. One Day Like This is their dreamy song, and one I associate with watching Manchester City at F.A. Cup games in Wembley. The band ftom Ramsbottom, Bury keep getting stronger as they age. Perfect. Like a vintage wine. Or cheese, but not from my feet!
The late and great Sean Lock kept me company for a few hours. Through BBC Radio/Sounds and their episodes of 15 Storeys High and 15 Minutes of Misery, I nestled up cosily to distraction as the antibiotics helped battle the infection beneath my right lung. The pain receded faster than my hairline with only a few minor twinges by Sunday morning.
The prognosis is that my personal risk of pulmonary embolism is high, whether through clotting as a result of physical damage or that of inactivity. So, anticoagulant medication seems to be a life sentence. Nobody likes needles, and as of Monday the 18th of July, I’ve experienced 26 since last Wednesday. It’s hard to hate something sent to help you, so I’ve grown to be one with the needle. Just an occasional whimper. The anticoagulant to the stomach and antibiotics to the wrist have been welcomed. The alternative is infection and death.
Once bitten, twice shy is a phrase indicating choice in the matter. That ancient Aesop fable saying could have been relevant. It wasn’t. I had no choice. Pain hunted me down. Simple. There was no avoiding a second experience of pulmonary embolism. Now, the focus is on recovery and avoiding a third strike and you’re out scenario. I’m not ready to be composted. Dr Peng and respiratory department medical staff at Tungwah Songshan Lake Hospital have reassured me.
Anticoagulant medication will be part of my daily diet for a while. I will get a second and probably third opinion, sooner or later, but for now it seems this is the safest option, otherwise my life expectancy is more of a roulette. And take out insurance until I’m back in the U.K.
There is no timeline to healing. It’s okay to think you were over something but then for it to hit you again. Healing is messy and a relapse is a fierce reminder of mortality. If you don’t want to know score, look away now: Pulmonary Embolism 2-0 John.
Unlike the first time out, the second coming didn’t put me on my arse, staring at the outstretched hand of the Grim Reaper. The new incarnation started out as severe pain on Tuesday night, with Dr Google suggesting kidney or gallbladder stone attacks. Consulting an actual Doctor on Wednesday, I was given some antibiotics for an infection exterior to my right lung but above my other organs. That day I needed CT scans and ultrasound in several places. By the end of the evening, the doctor said I needed to see a specialist during the next day.
After a terrible night’s sleep and increasing right of the chest pain, I found myself back in hospital. After consultation I was checked in. Another CT scan, specialising to search for clots appropriated to the body and lung. Immediately, I was lowered from machine and told to move slowly. The doctor said, in English, “There’s a complication. A problem.” The scheduled heart check was immediately cancelled. I was slowly rushed and pushed on wheels back to the respiratory ward room bed. The bed changed from room 29 (bed A) to bed 6. Critical.
A rainbow of blood samples, urine being taken, stools inspected and all other manner of tests have been performed. MENSA are expected later for my IQ test. I’ve read that the warm sensation of Isovue (main agent, Iodine) in the CT scan is the equivalent to 400 chest X-rays. The weird sensation experienced involves a warm sensation that appears to flow around the body. Similar to urination of oneself around oneself, as oneself believed had happened for all too long a moment. Computed Tomography found the pulmonary embolism.
The pulmonary embolism is likely new. Recurrence is rare, so the doctor said. The cause, a thrombosis in the body, a clots or plug of blood is the true recurrence. Periods of relative inactivity are likely to contribute to the formation of a clots, or periods of stress and overworking your body. So, the final week of school life at Tungwah Wenzel International School (TWIS) ticks that latter box. Following that, I left the apartment for dinner once… lunch once… and the Taiga concert at Bar Ink, and a fantastic Eid party. Being on crutches in a slippery superheated subtropical place is not ideal.
The rhythms of Mongolian-Xinjiang group Taiga and funky beats, wrapped in the didgeridoo of Luka made for a relaxing tribal evening of music. So, that was Saturday night. Sunday, I met Kevin and his daughter Natalie for lunch at the Hyatt Songshan hotel’s Chinese restaurant. Monday seemed normal until bed time, and then pain arrived. A burning stabbing sensation, below the ribs, radiating to the back and right shoulder. Monday night was painful but bearable. Tuesday night was agony.
So, here I am, lay on a bed, inactive and on intravenous, injections and oral medication. Hey body, thanks for letting me know in advance. How to recover is the topic at hand. So, what now?
BBC and Amazon Co-produced Small Axe, a series by hard-hitting director Steve McQueen, fresh from a hiatus from his ensemble movie Widows. Having tackled slavery in 12 Years a Slave and sexual addiction in Shame, McQueen doesn’t shy away from tough topics and periods of time. He’d already taken on the Provisional IRA (Irish Republican Army) in Hunger and his debut directorial role.
Looking at the series of miniature movies, it feels shameful that racial divide and people from the West Indian immigrant community suffered. It’s even worse to know and hear that the struggle of racial inequality and discrimination goes on in Britain. I refuse to call it Great Britain for that reason.
“If colonialism is good for anything, it brought us together on this table” – dialogue from the episode ‘Mangrove’.
Shaun Parkes commands the screen with theatrical appearance alongside Malachi Kirby in episode one, ‘Mangrove’. LetitiaWright, who plays Shuri in Black Panther and other Marvel movies, stars as Altheia Jones-LeCointe, a leader of the British Black Panthers in an intense episode. Sam Spruell who seems typecast as someone crooked and wrong features. Trinidadian Frank Crichlow is portrayed as a strong and warm-hearted character deeply committed to activism. A great story of hope and discipline to change a tainted culture unfolds.
“If you are the big tree, we are the small axe” – Small Axe, Bob Marley
After the Mangrove Nine featured in one episode, the next feature film focuses on romance. ‘Lover’s Rock’ stars Michael Ward and Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn in a moment of time slotted into primetime viewing and delivered with warmth and a carefully constructed dialogue. Then we reach ‘Red, White & Blue’ featuring John Boyega, of Star Wars fame as Leroy Logan. It’s a tough one to watch with grim moments but also plenty of fine acting.
Sheyi Cole ‘Alex Wheatle‘ walks the line of the title’s novelist in creation. Finding your niche in life is a challenge, and this empathic story charts a brief period of time. It’s a biopic that builds towards the 1981 Brixton riots. That’s Thatcher’s era. A disgrace that didn’t resolve fully after the Scarman report. Steve McQueen focuses on young Alex Wheatle MBE and his development to become known as the Brixton Bard and go on to have books translated to Japanese, Urdu and Welsh, amongst other languages. Actor Robbie Gee also stars, a while after his role in Guy Ritchie’s Snatch. This short film is an important story for modern times. Identity is complex.
“Unlearn what you’ve learned.” – the character Dread in the episode ‘Alex Wheatle‘
Bringing ‘Education’ to the fold, director Steve McQueen tells a story how London councils moved a largely disproportionate amount of black children from regular schools into more behaviour-specialised schools. It was set in the 1970s. It could easily be 2020 too. Institutions are for all. This story does not show this was the way.
Sir Steve McQueen delivers social realism in his catalogue of movies and at aged 52, it’s entirely possible there’s much more to come. He’s spliced injustice up and served it in cinematic and small screen form. Small Axe is a worthy collective of his award-winning means. In an era where the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter and a host of champions of racial equality need a voice of understanding, Steve McQueen delivers a parcel to unwrap for all.
I arrived with optimism and I leave the same. I hope along the way to have added a little more than I have taken. I believe that I have left this T.W.I.S. (Tungwah Wenzel International School) community, all the more mentally and academically stronger. I feel like I am a much better person than when I arrived.
I recall meeting Mr Arturo Ruelas and Miss Ann Gaillard as the school community opened up for a scholarship opportunity for potential news students. I recall doing some due diligence before accepting the role, and an online interview during COVID-19 quarantine and feeling quite excited. I believe it was Jorge, from the then Murray’s F.C. that recommended me to the school. Joining a school with an experienced Head of School (France, Thailand, Oman, China, the Philippines and Japan) seemed like a no-brainer.
I must confess that the International Baccalaureate (I.B.) seemed very much like a pyramid scheme at first. The holistic approach seemed more sales package than education curriculum. My attitude to this has flexed and bent since those preconceptions. As Miss Ann explained on the first day of meeting, the programme and curriculum would be delivered with structure. This was a positive start.
I wish to convey my thanks to the community and staff at TWIS. I would also like to thank you for entrusting the education of your children to our school, during my stay. I noticed that we had a highly professional international teaching staff facilitating the best possible learning experiences for your children. Long may that continue.
I was happy and proud to be part of a team that persevered to provide an environment where children feel safe and secure to take risks in their own learning, as well as raise their game. They could challenge themselves to innovate and try new things. We, our diverse team, lived to help our students to be jolly and strong-willed members of the TWIS herd and community.
Throughout the two years, I experienced much and grew in my learning. I tasted a year of leading grade 4’s primary school, ably supported by Miss Jenny and a wealth of experienced specialist teachers like Mr Richard, Mr Lee and Miss Robin. Miss Cindy welcomed me with open arms to taste the Chinese classes and collaboration with Mr Oliver and Mr Esteban made for pleasant times.
Not only did I teach but I learnt a high-quality, challenging international curriculum through leaders and peers. We held Curriculum in Action days (days for parents to attend), assemblies (Celebration of Learning Assemblies), and parent information sessions (to help all grow in their knowledge and understanding of the varied curriculum). And a few hours swimming in Managebac. That online lesson planning and management system will not be missed. Not one iota.
On the final day, a few personal goodbyes were made and loose strings were tied. There was no pomp and ceremony. No future talk and bridges were not burned, I hope.
Words about the last week are limited. Here’s a few images of the stay. All published via DGTWIS.com or approved as appropriate, without identities being recognisable. That’s all folks. So long and thanks for all the fish. Next. Time to move on. But first, most importantly:
May the future be bright and wonderful for the students and staff at TWIS. All the best!
In June 2020, I left St. Lorraine Anglo Chinese School for two years contracted to T.W.I.S. Just like I left Dao Ming Foreign Language School in June 2017. As of Thursday afternoon, that’s me. Done. The China education experience draws to an apparent conclusion. But, who knows? Perhaps, the door is still left open and bridges remain unbroken. I’ll be back? Definitely maybe. Never say never.
“SO HERE WE ARE; AT THE LAST BROADCAST; HERE WE ARE; OUR LAST BROADCAST” – THE LAST BROADCAST – DOVES
So, what now?
Yours in teaching; yours is passion for learning; peace and love; yours truly and faithfully,
BBC’s under-rated and these days hidden gem of comedy radio is the show Just a Minute. The original host Nicholas Parsons had plenty of minutes in his lifetime. He ran the longevity of the show from 1962 to 2019, well into his 90s. The witty Lincolnshire-born presenter came from a town called Grantham, known for its infamous daughter Baroness Margaret Thatcher and Sir Isaac Newton. One famous for apples falling off a tree, and the former, a Darth Vader-impressionist for stealing milk from developing children.
Nicholas Parsons reportedly only missed around four episodes of the radio show, Just a Minute, between 2018 and 2020. Parsons was clearly caught slacking at the young age of 94. His good friend Gyles Brandreth, a regular show panelist stepped in for those occasions. Even into his 95th year, Parsons was active at a charity event, with the Grand Order of Water Rats.
The aim of the gameshow Just a Minute, is to speak unbrokenly on a subject for sixty seconds. Regular panelist (for 33 years) and comedian Paul Merton has mastered this skill. Evidence can be found on the BBC website, although you can’t say BBC because that’s repetition. No repetition. I repeat, no repetition. The rules of Just a Minute involve:
When the leader or chair person says start talking, or ends their introduction the competitor must speak immediately.
Try not to speak too swiftly. You may trip over your own words.
Don’t hesitate. Don’t speak slowly because… No hesitation. Nor should you acknowledge others speaking and that you’re going to go down another avenue.
A wide vocabulary is useful.
Deviation: changing the topic is ill-advised. That’s a rule broken. No deviation. Keep it on topic.
Don’t ask questions to the chair person or fellow panelists. That’s deviation.
To say, “um”, “er”, “ee”, “oo”, “ah”, “walla walla”, “bing bang” or “ahhhh” is to break the rules. See hesitation.
The listening competitors can challenge any broken rules.
Repeat only the words on the subject card, although it being a radio show. No repetition of other words. Even acronyms such as BBC, CCTV etc count as repetition.
Short words don’t count as repetition. e.g. I, our, we, the…
Let the opposition listen and challenge you. The chair person’s say is final but the panel may debate challenges in a friendly way. Rules are rules.
The game show can be adapted to be a fun end of year game. It would certainly encourage fluency and accuracy in thought to speech. The show created by the late Ian Messiter was caught day-dreaming and faced the cane, but could avoid doing so by speaking for two minutes on the class subject (he should have been listening to). So, in a sense, repeating the game in the classroom, at the end of the school year, is returning it to its origins. Without a cane. Thanks Mr Messiter! Interestingly, the creator’s son, Malcom, even presented the show on a televised version in 2012. Now, actress and comedian Sue Perkins hosts the regular radio panel show. In my humble this is essential listening to improve your skills of English and spoken ability. There’s no harm in trying. Sharpening the tongue is a skill of its own.
23 days since the need to first go to hospital. That first wrap and support. Those X-rays and CT scans. The pain and self-annoyance. The fracture. The immobilization. The inconvenience. The anger. The rage at one’s self. The self-pity and self-loathing. The humiliating feeling. The worry. The stress. The tears that built up but haven’t yet released.
6 days since the doctor said another 28 days needed; maybe 21 to walk on the foot again. Hope is around the corner by to get there crutches are needed, and some hopping. Avoid the wet floor. No slipping. No placing your right foot down.
Keep it elevated. Keep up your spirits. Pain for a week. Codeine for a week. Bone setting traditional Chinese medicine. Maybe it works, maybe not. Support wrapped again. And again. One trip out. One barbecue. 23 days. 13 journeys to and from work. Avoid the wet floor again. Still no placing your right foot down.
For God’s sake! It isn’t bloody COVID-19! Grow up! Dig in. Dig in deeper. No pain, no gain. Call it a challenge. Growth experience. Aches without ibuprofenbfor a week. Bones grinding and aching. Mosquito bites under the bandage, maybe not so fun. Support from friends. Glorious friends. One trip out. One barbecue. 23 days. 13 journeys to and from work. Keep avoiding the wet floor. One chicken meal nearby. Coffee delivered. Friends. Support. Still no placing your right foot down.
22 more days? 15 more days? Keep going forward. Keep going. Forward. Keep buggering on. K.B.O. Without putting the foot down.
There used to be a time when I’d book things to look forwards to, places to go and events to see with family and friends. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen live music in an arena, music Hall or outdoor concert. If it wasn’t for tribute bands and variety acts around Dongguan, I’d have heard nil by ears.
Going home brings new opportunities. Many challenges and worries. But, as I dodge COVID-19 with the substandard Sinovac vaccination, I’ll grab some other up-to-date and tried and tested formula within a week of the ferry berthing in Kingston-upon-Hull.
Dock in Hull. First steps on English soil in a fraction beneath three years away from the U.K. Get to Manchester. Take Mum to Arcade Fire. Wander off to Gulliver’s a few days later to hear the sounds of Lael Neale (5/9). Get down to Cardiff, home of F.I.F.A. 2022 World Cup Qatar-bound Wales. Give our Liam Gallagher and The Charlatans a listen (15/9). Wait until November for Idlewild (20/11) followed by Florence and The Machine (22/11). Slot in the football at the Etihad, home of Manchester City, and seek out some comedy. And, ideally some track cycling.
“I think he’s coming home again.” – C’mon You Know lyrics, Liam Gallagher
A little further ahead it seem possible to witness the comedy talent of Henning Wehn in Stockport Plaza (18/2/23) and Stewart Lee at the Lowry, Salford (31/2/23) with Mum and Paul.
Independence and life will hit like a brick in the face. The next steps will be clearer. I still don’t actually know where I’ll be sleeping for the foreseeable future in Blighty. My fear of becoming homeless is closer than ever. That green and pleasant land of Brexit and Conservative destruction is crumbling like the White Cliffs of Dover. It’s going to be hard to get by, but a positive mental attitude is on its way. With Panda. At least I’ll be a little entertained. Providing I can get by with extortionate gas, electric, water and council taxes feeding the fat cats.
Of course, after two weeks on crutches (with two to four more expected, provided I heal), looking forward is more important than ever. This loose cast and elevated legs daily are trying and testing my patience. I’m teaching myself resilience. Still, it could be worse. Much worse. I’ve known two friends to lose their mother in the last two years and that’s a horrible experience to witness others suffer.
A slippery apartment, wet floor tiles outdoors, puddles, whizzing electric bikes, phone zombies who don’t look up whilst walking, dog owners who can’t shuffle their poodle left a little and vomit puddles in the elevator make going to work difficult. That and showering on one leg. One leg outside as I dance, shuffle and avoid slips, trips and falls. Things broken don’t just include my right foot. 120kg of mass moving at gravity – assisted speed onto chairs, bed frames and stools generates a fair crack of sound. The crutches don’t grip moisture. Dongguan is all about the humidity these days. And heavy rain.
My second visit to the Songshan Lake Tungwah Hospital (东华松山湖医院) radiology department via the emergency department and with the help of Dr Li (李医生, orthopedic department) went okay. No huge progression after a week. Carry on with this, that and the other. Time is a healer. Thanks to Maria and her boyfriend, and Peter for accompanying me the initial time and at the sequel. The very professional hospital have been most helpful this academic year at T.W.I.S.
C’mon You Know is Liam Gallagher’s umpteenth foray into music. The former Oasis member and brother of Noel has mixed some soulful pop with bite and some catchy lyrics. It’s decent enough if you’re into indie and rock, with the usual shade of 90s and The Beatles thrown in for good taste. It definitely sounds like it should be at home on festival stages and in front of stadium crowds.
Still, I enjoyed chicken with the quad of Alice, Keisel and Laura yesterday. Panda has been walked by all three and 7 others this last two weeks. We’re having a few bumpy times but he’s still a happy doggy. Thanks go Benny, Jaime, Mr D, Nem and Aleks, Alice, Keisel, Charif, Daisy, and Maria for walking Panda. He really appreciates it too. Especially, the 5.30am walks… and the runs! Thank you kindly.
Leaving China with a pet dog or cat? On one hand are the rules & regulations, on the other are my experiences (so far). In China it is highly likely every staff member you encounter will follow the rules to the letter. Bureaucracy is the right of officialdom.
At first, I was really confused. Almost everyone I asked mentioned this mystical Shenpu, so I hit Dr. Google up for information and found their website: a veterinary hospital in Shanghai. But… I’m 1508lm away in Dongguan, Guangdong province. So, then I found Joanne (Wechat: Joanne_Taylor) who added me to a Wechat group called UK Pet Travel Support. Through Joanne, I have shared and received information from a wider community. I’ve offered to collect cats and dogs for others (which was my original intention)… now completely focused on getting Panda back to his Anglo-Scottish origins. Following joining this group, confusion faded and has now fully been replaced by hope.
Register your pet (locally)
4 months before flying to the EU/UK; 1 month before flying to USA
Vaccinations given by local vets, Dalingshan, Dongguan.
Only for Europe.
USA does not require this.
Await results then add 3 months/90 days before date of flight.
Blood extraction & serum, for the Rabies titer antigen test. Send to the laboratory.
12/5/22 – 23/5/22
Attempt one failed. 4/4/22: Serum extracted, Dalang, Dongguan. 8/4/22: Report received by post/Wechat message as passed. Cost: 800RMB.
Serum extracted @ vets, Dalingshan, Dongguan: 12/5/22. Sent same day. Received at the lab/ 800RMB fee paid: 14/5/22. Tested: 21/5/22. 23/5/22: Report received by post/Wechat message as passed. E-mail: RabiesTest@163.com Wechat contact at Guangzhou: YuAn-mEi-Mel
The sooner the better.
Crate. Get it on Taobao etc. Check your pet’s sizing for mobility. Get your cat & dog used to this enclosure. Remove the wheels at the airport. Petsfit, Petsmate etc are decent. e.g. copy this to Taobao: 【淘宝】https://m.tb.cn/h.frXmlmQ?tk=fg4i2Q3O7B0「禾其挂碗猫粮盆挂式狗饮水器固定宠物水杯狗盆架猫碗吃饭喝水碗」 点击链接直接打开
Ordered May. Arrived June 2022. Delayed by COVID-19 delivery problems.
Ordered via Taobao.
Ordered a water bottle & a snack bowl that clips on the cage door.
Grabbed a packet of cable ties.
Book as soon as you get the titer rabies antigen test results.
Flight. To quote comedian Jeff Green, “Book it. Pack it. F*** off.” eventually. Places aren’t easy to find. Get onto KLM, Air France, Finn Air, Etihad Airways, Turkish Airlines, Qatar Airlines, Lufthansa, etc. Flexibility and patience may be required.
Pets cannot be flown directly into the UK, other than via highly expensive (30000RMB+) cargo plane routes. Using Turkish Airlines costs about 1053EUR for an 18kg dog with a large crate. Hold and cabin (cats/tiny dogs) prices differ.
Booked it in May 2022.
Ten phone calls, a few e-mails, a changed flight date, some worry and frustration spread over one week.
1 week before the flight @Shenpu (Shanghai) or your local Customs Export authority or quarantine bureau (e.g. 东莞海关. +86 769 2241 0751, asking for the “animal export department”).
Pick up 2 days before departure @ the Customs Office (Bund if Shanghai).
Export certificates. Apply. Pick up.
Yet to perform.
As each document becomes available.
Photocopydocuments (twice). One for the crate. One for you.
As each document becomes available.
Started. It’s fun. Yay.
The date of your flight.
Departure. Due to COVID-19 restrictions it may be necessary to ignore the arrive 3 hours before departure and choose 5 hours or another amount. Keep an eye on these and check with the airport.
August 31st/September 1st
Yet to perform.
The date of your landing somewhere other than the P.R.C.
Sign of relief on landing in destination (or transit country before hopping on a ferry). Keep all documents handy.
Yet to perform.
Everything was correct-ish as of 7/6/2022. Don’t believe the truth.
9 useful images
These are not my creations but a useful collection of reference. For reference only. Not for legal facts. Things change! Everything was correct-ish as of 7/6/2022