你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do,
In the week, I visited Dan and his tribe, I made my third consecutive visit to The Pantry, Parton as it is Dan’s most local of shops. I tell my mate I am going to see him and his family. It is all lies. I am there secretly for the delicious flapjacks and scones at The Pantry. That, or the slabs of chocolate delight. I will return one day soon. I guess I should call in at my mates again too…
For one night only, whilst watching comedian Ross Noble, with my brother Paul I headed to a village near to the cathedral city of York. Glamping is not something that has ever appealed, however, the wooden huts were surprisingly aesthetic, cosy and warm. The window allows great ventilation and the front door was perfect for the peaceful countryside nearby. The location was 10-15 minutes walk from Pocklington Station/Railway Station (now a converted leisure venue)/Aldi/Sainsburys – and a short skip from the glider airfield. The village is delightful and can be reached with ease from the X46/X36/747 buses from York and elsewhere. A barbecue area, great kitchen facilities and a simple yet effective shower block added to a strangely glamourous camping experience – without the hassle of camping. If I hadn’t have stayed with my spotty younger brother, I may have swayed to calling the location romantic. The owners at Wolds Glamping are not just friendly but clearly thoughtful in their bedding services, location of the six pods and ample groundspace nearby. Maybe, one day, I could take more than a night there…
Converesely, Dan and I did some actual camping, following on from our Morecambe Bay camp with the late Pete, and our North Wales camp with Adam, Pete, Steven and others. Whilst 2016, missed the now traditional pitch-in-the-wild due to Pete’s sad passing away, we will continue the fixture, which was accidentally skipped in 2014 as I was in China. So, with a supply of rum and whiskey we parked somewhere near Buttermere and hiked far and wide (in this case I am wide). In fact, we tried two sites but decided the watercourses and lay of the land to be unsuitable. Our chosen pitch was by a lake, overlooking beautiful forestry with the towering peak of ? behind us. The shadowy crag, coupled with blustering gales and driving drizzle added to the eerie ambience. After burning a tonne of forest debris on our camp fire, we buried the fire and drifted off to sleep, around about the time that the sun arose. I guess starting drinking and snacking, with stories of old, talking ideas and general natter around mid-afternoon wasn’t that bad. It is always great to catch up with your best friend. It is, as if, no time has been spent apart.
I intended to visit Gaint’s Causeway and ideally take my sister Astrid there for a short break. It wasn’t to be. However, summer did see me visit York, Pocklington village, Quarry Bank Mill, Cam and Dursley, Chepstow, Tintern, the International Birds of Prey Centre in Newant, Morecambe, Parton, Whitehaven, Kendal, South Lakes Safari Park, Ribblehead, Hyde, Lancaster, Bentham, Rotherham, Newport (South Wales), Brighton, Hove, Rotherdean, Shoreham-on-Sea, Arnside, Cardiff, Caerphilly, Caer, and various other parts of Cheshire, Lancashire and Manchester. My only complaint is that I didn’t get to see all my friends and family once again. Life has this nasty habit of being distracting and taking best laid plans apart. It happens.
OUR KID’S GAFF
Being home allowed me the chance to catch up with friends and family. A visit to Ace and Steph’s is always something to cherish. Not just to fuss their bounding bouncy cat Jake. A week spent down south with rhubarb crumble at least twice, trips to Chepstow Castle, Tintern Abbey, Dyrham Park and a few museums was most relaxing. Catching up with Ace’s father-in-law Pete was pleasing. Senior citizens and the older generation, not that Pete seems so old, is something I miss greatly. I feel I learn more from my elders in a moment than I do self-teaching in a month. Plus, for a Blackpool fan, Pete has a great sense of humour. Even, if he, Ace and Steph’s tribe enjoy the game of cricket.
I like catching up with our kid greatly, as he understands the family as much as I do. We might not always agree or disagree, but we certainly seem to make each other think, in between the games where Ace is cheating me out of pennies.
SHAUN OF THE DEAD
One thing for sure, is Christina, the second youngest of my siblings is working hard, doing something for herself to grow up and be a success. Having completed studies in Child Care, she is now embarking on studies towards a career in the uniformed services. I admire her ambition. However, my youngest sibling Shaun is wandering a gloomy path. He is very much growing into the Annakin Skywalker of Clan Acton. With his boyish good looks and his twinkling eyes, he should be utilising them to his credit. Instead, he has left home at Dad’s to live with his alcoholic mother. Whether she is still drinking, is a different matter, but stability she offers not. Also, is the alcoholic uncle still living there? Why was the first time I spotted Shaun and his mate in town so odd? Why did he look up to no good? Why can’t he think for himself? Why does he not go to college? What is his ambition? What will help him? Why didn’t he want to go the Manchester City versus Everton game? I offered to take him, wasted a bloody ticket for it too, and even just us two, and not Dad (as he could sit alone at the other end). But, he let his angry and aggressive mother talk, and couldn’t even look me in the eye. I hope he wakes up. Soon, he’ll be jobless, and with no solid roof over his head. Manchester has enough homeless. So, all summer, I’ve tried to see a brother who hasn’t tried once. It hurts. Shaun has a good heart. I can’t say the same for his common sense. But, I wish him well. Hope won’t help. He must do it for himself.
FOR EVERYTHING ELSE THERE IS MASTERCARD VISA?
Sandwiched from the dawn of the holiday to almost the end of the holiday, was a small task. It should have been a simple one. It wasn’t. “Submit your documents to the Chinese Embassy,” the school said. After weeks of pushing for my Non-Criminal Record certificate, I eventually received a Disclosure Scotland-issued certificate to say I had no criminal record. Step one complete.
So, with this and my University degree certificate, I attended Manchester China Town’s Visa and Document Handling Centre, twice. First mistake. It turns out they don’t deal with document validation. So, with the Manchester’s Chinese Consular’s address to hand, I trundled out past Manchester University into the area of Victoria Park. On arriving, I was told I must submit the documents to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office first, so that they can mark them as authentic. Online I went, filled in their forms as they said it should be. But first, I had to get my Disclosure Scotland form stamped as being witnessed by a solicitor, but without their company name on it. £10 (for two documents) lighter and later, I had this. I then submitted each piece to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (£30/each, so £60 for both, if I have my maths right). A week later they were returned. One was accepted and sporting a lovely legalisation slip. The Disclosure Scotland, however, did not. Previously, the solicitor had advised that hand-writing on it and stamping it with invalidate it. However, now the Foreign and Commonwealth Office had said it must be stamped and signed. So, a reluctant solicitor signed and stamped it, earning £5 for doing less than a minute’s work. With that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office earned themselves £30. To their credit, they had refunded the rejected document, less the price of postage before. After a further week, I waited and muc annoyance it arrived with me once more. I toodled off to the Chinese Consular, set in a great British detached house, amongst a tidy unassuming garden off Denison Road, Victoria Park. The red flag drooped in the Mancunian rain. The stars yellow and soggy. Far from home, yet still proudly overhead. On entering the cubicle-sized office, I joined a queue (not too dissimilar to ones witnessed across Dongguan) and waited my turn. Two photocopies of my passport (totalling a Great British Pound) and then I fast-tracked my submission at £30 a pop (my bank account now showing as £60 Felix Leiter) and away they went. They were returned within three days. I am now the owner of a legalised University certificate and Non-Criminal Disclosure form. Between which I managed trips to Morecambe, the Lake District, Gloucestershire and South Wales.
Actually, I won’t write many things here. Sometimes, you can’t. Not because the words won’t spill out. They’ll plummet out like my bowels after a bad curry. It isn’t through shame or pain, just sometimes, somethings are for you to manage on your own and figure out. They may or may not concern others. The task of the brain is to sense, process and respond, with or without action or inaction. Experience like other perceptions are stored. My jetlagged mind is still dizzy and lagging time, like a webpage buffering slowly, and right now I have my emotions in check. Some things are filed under ‘Work in Progress’, others as ‘Out of My Control’ and some tucked away in a draw that refuses to close, called ‘What do I do?’ This is life. If it was easy, it’d be boring. If it was too simple, it wouldn’t be a challenge. Challenges make us stronger. For every great moment eating Curly-Wurlies with my Aunty Christine and talking to Uncle Ed about politics, there may be a thousand demands and stresses. If the simple life doesn’t want to call by, you don’t have to expect it. Just crack on, and do your best.
THERE’S ONLY ONE WAY OF LIFE – AND THAT’S YOUR OWN…
Getting Mum and Paul to accompany me to watch The Levellers was a good experience. It seemed they both enjoyed watching Billy Bragg, Dreadzone and The Waterboys support the main act. I acknowledge that they weren’t quite crowd-surfing or enjoying plush cushions at the Royal Exchange Theatre, but I hope it provided a little escape and leisure from every day life. Before being cross-examined about my favourite soup by a late-night reveller, my ears were treated to some of my favourite tunes from the album Levelling the Land. What a great it was, full of spirit and all things wonderful about my hometown Manchester – and the joys that music can bring. It was the only gig I had the pleasure of attending in eight weeks back. A few visits to the Manchester International Festival tent provided some glimpses into live music, but nothing too serious and time-filling. I joined the Manchester International Festival guided tour about the city’s revolutionary history and, also a town hall tour, a few days later, whilst visiting the unveiling of Phil Collin’s Engels statue in Tony Wilson Place. This last event, itself, having a Super Furry Animal ballad and some joyous artistry throughout the sequence, entitled Procession. Taking in Elizabeth Gaskell’s Plymouth Grove-based residence and exploring Quarry Bank Mill added to my connection with the history of my hometown. It is important not just to be passionate about where you come from, but where it can take it. Knowledge is great to share.
Oddly in pre-season, I only watched Hyde Utd F.C. host Connah’s Quay Nomads F.C. (where big Andy Morrison is manager). City’s game at Brighton was fun, followed by a stubborn Everton side battling out a draw at the Etihad Stadium. Between these ties I watched City U-21s at Rotherham Utd. F.C.’s swanky ASSEAL New York Stadium. Usually, I’d go out of my way to watch more games. Sadly, I did not. I also intended to watch some rugby league and ice-hockey. Again, this did not happen. There is always next time!
So, having woken Mum and Paul at Stupid O’clock, we hugged farewell and I checked in at the Etihad desk. Their kind and friendly staff instantly adding brightness to an hour where the sun was just about springing over the horizon. I boarded my flight with ease and flew to my interchange at Abu Dhabi International Airport. On arrival, it was noted that I had a minor seven-hour delay. A meal was offered for my troubles. I sought solice in a good book and put my feet up. Sleep was not an option.
On arriving in Hong Kong International Airport, I collected my 30kg of baggage and walked to the train station. From here, I changed twice before arriving at Hostel Casa, a stone’s throw from a subway exit in Tsim Tsa Tsui. I ate a light dinner, catching up with Ched (who was in H.K. for a Photoshop course) before eating gooseberry yogurts, from Marks & Spencers. Then I went to sleep in the cupboard-sized but cosy room. The whole time since arriving I had seen very few people. Earlier in the day the eye of Typhoon Hato had rolled over Hong Kong, before ploughing into Guangdong ruthlessly. Nature claimed several lives that day. The storm’s trail leaving totalled trees and clattered cladding across Hong Kong. Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China had issued Typhoon Warning Level 10, for the first time in over a decade. The warnings had immobilised people from going outside and probably saved countless lives. Similar warnings had been issued across Guangdong too.
With a visa arranged, two nights later, I sped, slowly, on a train from Hong Kong to Changping arriving on Friday the 25th of August 2017. My pick-up by Simon at the school was smooth and I immediately dropped things into my temporary dormitory…
ROOMS FIT FOR A KING
The dormitory has so far had a replacement fridge-freezer, fan and bedding. The shower and toilet are both in urgent need of repair. The western toilet and shower both have extremely high water-pressure. Two blasts have destroyed a shower head and a U-bend sealant! The room is quite warm and A.C. My-heartsaver has been working hard alongside a fan on the highest of near-typhoon strengths. Anyway, the plan is that the room is temporary and provided by school until I find somewhere-less-located-on-school-grounds.
Standing at the gate around 7.30am for 50 minutes in blistered 32°C heat with humidity so high, wasn’t all bad. Excited new students rolled by for drop-off in high-end luxury cars, yellow school buses and the odd, lesser spotted two-wheel effort. Some skipped, merry and wide awake. Others appeared dozy and out-of-routine, with school beginning just today for most.
My new school, St. Lorraine’s Anglo-Chinese School, is attached to numerous English language programme, notably Cambridge University’s language courses. Mr Lam, the Principal, has been most-welcoming. His support and that of his right-hand man Simon has been clear and concise from day one. With Mandy overseeing the teachers, and Cici assisting me in class, the year ahead is ready to take-off. Up, up and away!
再见/ Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Ta’ra / Goodbye