In Support of Strikes

The U.K.’s recession seems to have created an upturn in the spray paint industry. Such is the shortage of spray paint, I’ve seen “TORY SCUM” dabbed on external walls in gloss and emulsion. 13 years of Conservative rule has brought about economically devastating cuts and lack of support for the people. For many, it is too much.

“I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge, you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the centre.” – Kurt Vonnegut, American surrealist writer

The opposition is to blame. The predecessors are at fault. The immigrants are culpable. If you listen to enough Tory party rhetoric or watch handily patronising videos, the blame game clearly points outwardly. Not a single Tory bastard has shame at their door. Scandal after insipid allegation after delusional smearing of muck appears in an endless cascade of contemptible dishonour.

The calendar months of autumn past have already seen nurses, railway folk, ambulance staff, and countless others on strike. For at least four days across February and March, teachers join the fold. Civil servants won’t serve. Transport won’t be in action. Letters will remain undelivered. This round of spring strikes is as important as ever.

Contending a lack of pay increases is one condition. Others include safeguarding jobs, improving work conditions, and the protection of rights. This even has implications on the European border in Northern Ireland since Britain left the European Union. Some battles are individually fought while many are backed by unions. Bosses hate unions. Unions influence change. Historically, unions have highlighted that, for many, pay hasn’t improved in almost two decades. Unions are fighting to change that. The E.U. even protected the right to strike under European law.

As Brexit negotiations follow through like defecation during a fart, Tory politicians should be used to talking. Negotiations are supposed to exist between the employer and the employees or via their unions. Some bosses acknowledge change is needed and do the necessary. Collective bargaining can break down. That’s where employees can withdraw their labour, in order to get their paymasters back to the bargaining table.

The U.K. laws allow a secret ballot that stands up to scrutiny and relates to the employer, from their staff… and cover half of the employment workforce. Not voting helps nobody’s cause. Certain notices must be adhered to. Otherwise, a strike may be invalidated. On top of that, since 2016, an act, Trade Union Act, requires 40% of all workers in important services to vote for strike action. More laws and regulations have been quickly huddled together in recent years to add mud to murky waters.

Rights, shareholder profits, attacks on trade unions, increased poverty, household debt, pay scale drops, and other terms have become the social norm. Food banks are springing up as fast as shops are closing. The rise of zero hour contracts, casual work, and detrimental working conditions underline a growing stumbling block. The government’s appointed pay reviews and its handling or blocking of deals have not helped. Draconian laws to prevent strikes are on the Bill.

If we, as people and servants to our bosses, don’t make ourselves accountable and answerable to more than their profits, then the slow down of pay to inflation and support between 2008 and 2022 will account to much more. The profiteers of a pandemic and the exiting of European common laws are already enjoying rich reward at the expense of a public far removed from proper reward. The North of England has been compared with Greece due to its lack of investment. All other European nations and many regions of the U.K. receive better government support.

For many, it is too much. For now, it is all we have. 2025 is the next General Election. Will things change?

11th January MMXXIII

The 11th day of the Gregorian calendar. 354 days of 2023 remain. In Tunisia, it is Children’s Day. In England, Southampton F.C. host Manchester City in the E.F.L. League Cup. In. Nepal, Prithvi Jayanti is being celebrated.

January is a time of sales, newness, and winter blues in the northern hemisphere. My younger sister Astrid was born on the 20th day of this month and remains to this day, my younger sibling. Also, she’d be a star if Astrid found more hobbies. A new year means resolutions and opportunities to start something fresh. Go on, Astrid, give it a try! Spring is coming soon…

Newness means looking at new ideas. Talking about baby names with my future Prime Minister friend, some oddities were suggested. Brahma Timothy Dalton Kiki Glauber Berti Acton was not considered, although it was recalled by my mate Brahma as a great baby name suggestion. No chance. Maltese rebel Vincenzo Borg, born on this date in 1777, stood a better chance. Also born on this day was SAS founder Paddy Mayne. The name Mayne has a good ring to it. It sounds like Maine. Maine Road? Very direct. A main road. Never cross the main road, as were told as a kid. Never cross the Maine Road, as Manchester United fans used to say.

Suggested names often link to history, time, and dates. In the month of the wolf moon, Wrestler Mick “The Dulwich Destroyer” McManus was born on this day. Combining the letters of man with the letter u isn’t appropriate. He was born on the same date a few years before Arthur Scargill. They are in good company with Bud Acton, my all-time favourite basketball player. I’m fibbing. I don’t really like basketball. The Manchester Giants are okay. Manchester City are better. İlkay Gündoğan plays for the boys in blue. İlkay means first moon.

Today is former Halifax Town striker Jamie Vardy’s birthday. To save money on a party, he and former Manchester City player Leroy Sané can organise a joint party reading Thomas Hardy books in the memory of the great wordsmith. A photo of great mountaineering humanitarian Sir Edmund Hilary could be placed on a wall behind a breathalyser to ensure party guests don’t drive home under the influence of alcohol. That great invention by Welsh inventor Tom Parry Jones has probably saved more lives by being a deterrent than not. So, that all can appreciate the Chinese calendar year…

The Chinese year is somewhere between 4719 or 4659, 壬寅年 (water tiger) to 4720 or 4660 癸卯年 (water rabbit). Give or take. China has recently reopened and gives me a chance to try and book a flight back soon whilst applying for the visa. Perhaps I can call via Croatia, which has now fully adopted the Euro coinage, and will abandon the kuna as a currency in 4 days. These days, I’d simply favour a stable job and some pounds or RMB to help the future move along smoothly.

Indigo is a cool sounding word and same. It has passed from the Greek word, ‘indikon’, meaning ‘from India’ to Latin into common usage English. It reflects the meaning of a purplish blue colour produced by a plant with a similar name, Indigofera tinctoria. In naming formats for kids, it is gender-neutral and apparently appeared as far back as the year 1436. Marco Polo (1254-8 January 1324) is believed to have first brought back the plant and dye instructions to Europe. These days, the plants are often known to improve soil and bring new life to earth. This plant obviously provides a natural compound that allows blue to be added to clothes, canvas, and a multitude of materials. Naturally, I’m a blue as a Manchester City fan. Blue is natural. Look at the skies* and the sea. [*unless in Manchester, on this sodden wet morning]. There’s something about the moon and blue that feels right.

12:46pm China time, in Huizhou. 04:46am, Greenwich Mean Time…

The moon is rising.

The fine line.

Key worker and essential cog one day, discarded the next week.

“Valued employee” and “fine example” until you’re not relevant.

“Outstanding” and “innovating” before being outdated and obsolete.

“Indispensable” or “central to the team” as a budget slash deems your release date now.

Punctual, loyal, and attentive to fine details, followed by succeeded and outdated.

Moving on up, rising to the top, but all of a sudden, tumbling and spiralling downwards.

There’s a margin. A wafer thin gap. A sliver of light between dark and lost. A piece of hope dangling on the thread of chaos and change. Which way it blows is not always your choice. Which way you respond, use your own voice. A pathway here or a tunnel there. Give in, or go on?

Go on.

Back to Daisy Nook.

Wandering the sloppy banks of Crime Lake, a buzzard flew overhead, and my dog Panda flashed his muddy black and white coat as he bounded ahead. I hadn’t visited Daisy Nook Country Park in ages. On a damp December afternoon, I left Newton Heath with Panda after a brief lunch.

The walk there involved passing through Clayton Vale, crossing Clayton Bridge, heading under the railway viaduct by Millstream Animal Sanctuary along a grim industrial road called Green Lane. Green, in other parts, but not by Lord’s Brook and the stinky sewage works. Trudging through the soggy pathway at Medlock Valley Fisheries, the rough path saddled alongside the River Medlock and nearby railway. At a footbridge by Hadfield Wood Recyclers, a left turn headed us onto the Manchester and Ashton-under-Lyne Canal Hollinwood Branch. This is a pretty area within Greater Manchester. It is worth visiting every season.

The pathway sweeps along ruins and flooded canal troughs until the M60 motorway disects the route, offering a bleak metal bridge. Afterwards, the canal returns, flooded by plants and trees overlooking hither and dither. By Lumb Lane and below tiding stables. A cafe and car park adds accessibility to the various pathways and bridleways.

The unique Daisy Nook Country Park features water Sammy’s Basin, Crime Lake, and Bardsley Canal. Water creatures are varied, from coots, moorhens, swans, and so on to otters and river rodents. Dozens of old canal relics remain, including double locks, bold staircase locks, and odd right angle turns. The Waterhouses Aqueduct passes over the River Medlock. The views above and below are worth the steep walks on either side.

Author Ben Brierley published A Day Out, which was set around Waterhouses and featured an area called Daisy Nook. That moniker stuck with locals. The name Crime Lake comes from Crime Valley, which isn’t a Scandinavian drama. Crime used to mean land intersected by a stream. Now, it’s more associated with crime. Fishing without a permit is a crime.

Daisy Nook is a special part of Failsworth, an area of Oldham Town, and a place my Gran used to live. Crime Lane Aqueduct is as picturesque a place as you can possibly see. This is a unique spot to sit and enjoy the sunset and explore Benjamin Outram’s ironworks lay under the outwardly brick appearance of Crime Lake Aqueduct. This hybrid bridge was a place I visited with Gran and Ernie when I was young. Daisy Nook still has magic and a draw. Many dogwalkers and friendly people said hello, as did a curious kingfisher and a big grey heron.

On the pathway back, instead of taking the right turn alongside the railway after the Hollinwood Canal, I crossed the wooden floored bridge and turned right immediately. A cycle path marked by solar lights guided us back towards Clayton Vale. Sadly, at Taunton Brook, we had to go off-road to avoid the deeply flooded pathway and then scramble around other parts. At the Greenside Lane (Droylsden) to Edge Lane path, it was necessary to double back and head up Clock House Avenue to find a route to Clayton Vale. That negotiated it was plain sailing, and we made it home for a deserved dinner.

Nothing to Everything.

It took everything from my system. All energy is sapped. It hit me like a tonne of bricks. A freight train to the soul.

I lost comfort.

Hope vanished.

Life’s path took a dark spiralling turn south.

Goals and ambition kicked into the gutter.

Shattered connections.

Unhelpful, unhealthy solitude.

All I could see was emptiness and fear.

A vacuum of a chasm.

Empty demands and is spoken of in snide words.

Lost belief in myself.

Hurt. Gutted. Irrelevant.
Life being a cunt. Tortured. Shamed.

You gave me everything, every smile and every belief. You fueled me. You lit the lighthouse once again. A defibrillator to hope.

You gave comfort.

Life took a huge mountainous climb towards the sun.

The constant goal and need embedded.

You asked for nothing and embraced my confusion.

Impressive reality and challenges ahead.

It’s a wonderful miracle.

Without judgement, without demands.

Gained a soul this last year.

Excited. Overwhelmed. Relevant.
Life is a joy. Pleasured. Pride..

Guarded Reading

How do / Nihao / ‘ello!

Miss Aleks and I were sent to Shenzhen last week. In a rather odd way, it happened just as Guangzhou had one or two cases of modern day Black Death, COVID-19. The coronavirus just won’t go away. So, to be safe, face masks, hand-wash and direct transport was arranged. In-out, and quiet areas for dinner: Nepali food and Vietnamese pho made up for average lunch options.

Day one started little after nine in the morning. It finished around six o’clock (due to homework). Day two was similar. There was no real time to add to my end of semester student comments at T.W.I.S. Notes were scribbled and presentations listened to in quick succession. First up was the energetic Nicole Ren, from Scholastic in Beijing. Considering her flight arrived late the evening before, she did not lack vim. Before entering the Grand Mercure hotel conference room, I was assigned the number 1. That meant I was on the first table. Aleks chose a random number too. She was despatched somewhere near the rear of the room. There were at least a dozen tables. The bum-numbing seats did not make a difference in positioning. The screen was visible and speakers had been installed.

Setting up a balanced literacy programme

Day 1: Balanced Literacy in Action Word / Intro & implementation: Setting up Your Balanced Literacy Program. Understand appropriate materials for each components of Balanced Literacy. Understand components of Balanced Literacy Approach. Key stages of Literacy Development and appropriate texts for Early (D-1) and Transitional (J-N) readers. LEXILE Reading Framework: Assess Reading Levels and Find the Right Book for students. Shared Reading: Comprehension & Shared Writing. Demo: Explain the before-, during-, and after sections of a Shared Reading lesson. ldentify how comprehension skills, word study, and writing fit into a Shared Reading lesson. Workshop: Set instructional foci and deliver a shared reading session. ·Guided Reading (I): Teaching Comprehension With Response Formats.

Video observation: Explain the before-, during-, and after- sections of a Transitional. Guided Readina lesson. ldentify instructional foci and phases of a GR session.

Day 2: Study & Writing Workshop / Guided Reading for Early and Transitional Readers

Focus: Conduct small-group Guided Reading lnstruction including use of Literacy
09:00 – 10:30 .Understand appropriate materials for each components of Balanced Literacy. Centre activities and classroom management approaches. Plan, implement and
manage differentiated small-group GR instruction within a Balanced Literacy approach
to Early and Transitional learning in English for all students. Explore differentiation in
·small-group instruction, use of groups, and managing literacy centres.
Students
Session 2 Guided Reading Lesson Planning (!): A Deeper Dive With Word Study
(90 mins)
· . Introduction & Discussion:
10:40-12:10
·Understand the Place of Phonics and Spelling in Word Study·Teach Word Study During A Guided Reading Lesson

·Quick and Easy Activities for Word Study
Apply the word solving strategies to figure out words: Cover the ending / Use known
parts / Chunk big words / Break down contractions / Use analogies
Session 3 Writina About Reading: Exploring Types of Writing With SRP
(80 mins) · . Specific structures, devices and features of each type of writing.
14:00-15:20 . First step toward essay writing – understanding textual structure.

.Demo: The before-, during-. and after- sections of a Guided Reading lesson with . Demo: From reading to writing – How Modelled, Shared, Guided Writing
support respondina to text.
quided reading session.
.Workshop: Set instructional foci and select teach points. ·Discussion: How writing workshops support students’ writing development.
Session 4 Launching the Writing Workshop: Planning a Trait-Based Writing Lesson
Guided Reading (U): Teaching Reading Strategies With Graphic Organizers
(80 mins) .Demo: before-, during:, and after- sections of a Guided Reading lesson with . Demo: Observe the trainer carrying out a lesson to give you a model of what
15:30 – 17:10
nonfictional text. identify how graphic organizers support academic reading in a quided instruction looks like in action and the inspiration to develop your own
reading session. trait-based lesson plans.
·Discussion: Explain how comprehension skills fit in a GR lesson: Connect / Predict/ Question / Determine importance / Infer / Visualise / Evaluate / State and support . Discussion: ldentify the Writing Process; Blend writing traits and processes within a
opinions trait-based writing lesson.
Assignment Round-up of Day 1 Round-up of Day 2
(15 mins)
Homework activity: Reflection:
GR fiction lesson plan How am l going to implement GR in my classes?

Each session started with goals and an overview.

Xiexie / Thank you kindly / Ta’ra for now.

(Unpublished notes from 2021)

Storm in a Teacup

Don’t conceal it. Don’t hide it. Don’t fear it. Don’t fight it. Just put your head down and right it.

Don’t give in. Never surrender the win. Block out that enormous din. Just get yourself up and head for the win.

Don’t shatter your dreams. Avoid tearing at the seams. Watch out for low beams. Just look for the place with good teams.

Don’t slide about. Don’t scream and shout. Don’t ever make yourself doubt. Just let it all out.

If not, what have you got? Your thing, your place, your lot. You’re more, are you or not? You’re here on this pale blue dot.

Now go get it yourself! Trust in your health. There’s more to life than wealth. Put doubt firmly on the shelf.

2022: Closing. 2023: Let’s go.

Happy New Year to all. Fresh from City’s one all draw with Everton, I’m sofa-bound enjoying Match of The Day and a cup of tea. That’s how I roll. My first Christmas, since 2013, at home was wonderful.

The first King Charles Third’s Christmas speech apparently stated we should enjoy every minute with those who you love because we can never return to that time following loss. This is something I can attest to following the loss of grandparents and friends. Recently, some family members and friends close to me have experienced tragic loss, too. This Christmas has been pleasant in that I’ve spent time with family. For me, that’s what Christmas is about.

Has Christmas become overly commercialised? Undoubtedly. Does it need to affect everything and everyone in this everything now society? Not at all. Should it add pressures and weights to families and individuals? No. Is it that simple? Sadly not. Emotions and feelings, greed and desires all come round and round as advertisers push the latest must have, soon to be binned gadgets, devices or accessories.

I spent Christmas morning with Dad and Shaun before walking to Levenshulme via Clayton Vale, Ashton Canal, Stockport Branch Canal, Fallowfield Loopline and Highfield Country Park. No snow along the way, sadly. No white Christmas. Lunch and the evening relaxing with Mum, Paul, and Paul Jr. was a good way to enjoy venison and various luxury items on the plate. Gifts were exchanged, and a lovely Craghoppers jacket with an oystercatcher-orange zip has been well-received. A family gift sees us all seeing the Chicago Blues Brothers in spring.

Today’s memorial before kick off at the Etihad Stadium marked the passing of many lives related to Manchester and football. It is a fitting moment on a day of celebration at the coming of a new year ahead. 2023 will no doubt see loss, New life, suffering, and celebrations. All the best in the year ahead. Peace and love.

Happy New Year. 新年快乐

In a pickle.

Financially, mentally, substantially.

In a pickle.

Unquestionably undoubtedly, profoundly.

In a pickle.

Historically, periodically, profoundly.

In a pickle.

Oddly, secretly, openly.

In a pickle.

To the letter, by the books, across the board.

In a pickle.

No trust fund, no benefactor, no obligation.

In a pickle.

Without reserve, without doubt, without care.

In a pickle.

Dark thoughts.

Take it all for yourself. Pool up the wealth. Cripple those in ill health. Myself. Each self. Yourself.

Why should anyone share? It isn’t supposed to be fair. Have power, will scare. Less care. What care? No care.

Copy it, market it, sell it on. Small trader’s hopes gone. Give in to each don. A con. This con. The con.

Hardened by grimy soot. Tough under each jutted foot. The struggling empty gut. Howling mutt. Growling mutt. Mournful mutt.

Crumbs shouldn’t drop to the floor. Beggars asking for more. Wounded families, sore. Greedy poor. Filthy poor. The poor.

Darkness crawls through the light. Crushing all that is right. Turning summer to winter’s night. Strangling delight. Sapping delight. End of delight.

Merry Christmas 2022.

The first Christmas I’ve had in Britain since 2013 is finally here. What a year to choose! As gas prices soar, sprouts finally have their day. As a shortage of cauliflower hit our local Lidl, we moved to brocoli (which is better all round) and trimmed it all off nicely. That’s Christmas Dinner on Christmas Eve done. Having ate with Dad and Shaun, I’ll spend tomorrow at my Mam’s with Mum and Paul and Paul, and Beardie and Panda.

In fact, I think that I spent Christmas 2013 in Cornwall, so 2012 was the last Christmas I had in Manchester. Today, I met my good friend P.M. Brahma and went for lunch at the fantastic Northern Soul Grilled Cheese in Manchester, then a coffee in Afflecks and some dessert afterwards. Later, Panda, Blue, Shaun and I walked Clayton Vale. The Eve of Christmas has been quite relaxed. My thoughts have been elsewhere, but I am trying my best to enjoy it here.

On reflection, seeing the resting place of a deceased homeless person, hearing of a 19 year old lad hanging himself and the unfortunate death of a pedestrian at the hands of a Police car, could and should put many things in perspective. I’m not a huge fan of Christmas and its pressures on people. Please do stay safe. Please talk. Give help, where you can. Don’t be a knobhead. The world needs more light and love.

Dad has been good, treating us all at Christmas. Yesterday, on Christmas Eve’s Eve, I visited Aunty Chris and Uncle Ed. It’s always a pleasure to see family. A few brews and a wander ended up with getting back to walk Panda down Clayton Vale. Why not?! A good way to relax in the freezing winter mist. Panda was happy. That’s the main thing. I’m excited for Christmas at Mam’s house and switching off a bit. If my mind allows me to switch off. Much to say and do.

All the best for Christmas and New Year. Hope it’s a good one, no matter how hard it seems. Peace and love. 🐝

She.

She didn’t throw herself from gorse under a horse.

She could not endorse her message without remorse.

She didn’t plot a way to close down a course.

She didn’t use an overly aggressive force.

She didn’t yell, “What do we want?”, down a megaphone.

She didn’t cry long hard and alone.

She didn’t stick herself in front of rush hour.

She didn’t throw eggs, milk, or flour.

She didn’t write a play and sign up a star.

She didn’t brandish a message along the side of her.

She didn’t lecture or pity the fools.

She didn’t etch out a story, hands filled with tools.

Nor did she shout out at all cost.

She didn’t argue until hope was lost.

She didn’t glue her hands to classic artwork.

She didn’t fight, resist, bite, spit or go berserk.

She didn’t cry behind a podium in front of an audience of the great and good.

She did talk sense and described all she could.

She even wrote it on her pencil tin.

She whispered her words amongst the great din.

And nothing happened.

Nothing ever could.

Status quo.

No changes.

No new beginning.

The same old.

Nothing.

Safeguarding: my notes.

Attending a safeguarding course with Dr Neil Macey and Mike McGivern, and numerous teachers and teaching assistant, I started my role at Simply Education.

Temporary cover and supply teachers can be a conduit to help students. They can be a face that isn’t feared or one that carries a stigma. They can act as a post-it note, relaying a suddenly released message from an unsuspecting student that may be suffering abuse to a newly trusted face. Or not. Either way, it is everyone’s responsibility.

A whistle-blowing policy sounds medieval and part of espionage but is essential to all involved in education. The ability to be a quiet snitch and allow vital information to protect a minor is an important tool to end suffering and a serious crime. On a personal level, I wouldn’t hesitate to shop an adult abusing a minor. It is a pathetic and callous crime. Those who do it deserve the book (and some) thrown at them.

Any employee, teacher, parent, stakeholders, and those in education have a duty of care to their students and minors. It is law and policy that every school has to prevent abuse and ensure all students can live and study in a safe and caring environment. But, once the kid leaves the teacher of employee of the school’s sight, then that duty of care terminates. The safe-guarder is a reporter and not an investigator. Wherever possible, those extra eyes could matter. A multi-agency hub and the police make up the investigation wing. The initial reporter could be a simple supply cover teacher.

Abusers are hidden from plain sight, and most evade authority and some brainwash their kids or the affected children. Since the end of World War II, one or two children have been killed every week. About 44% are killed by parents. Someone within the community around them will likely be involved. Rarely is it random, and all of these should have been prevented. Stranger danger accounts for a fifth of all recorded cases. How many cases go missed? Statistics can only tell you so much, which is exactly why safeguarding is so important.

Some people will not see signs of domestic abuse but may spot an effect on a student. Abusive signs may be visible and appear unlike a scraped knee or a fall. These alarm bells need to be sounded.

The tragic death of Victoria Climbié led to new laws and networking to allow the sharing of information. Data protection laws aren’t a wall, but the proper channels are needed. We must be open and honest to record our concerns whilst ensuring no details are leaked. Other improvements have been made. Safe working practices involve no one to one situations. They are not allowed. More open areas and open-plan schools help protect students and adults from accusations.

The modern teacher or assistant has to move with the times. No unsupervised closed environment with access to technology devices. Screens must be visible. Some whizkids are fast and know how to bypass controls. They may see controlled virtual spaces as a challenge. It is imperative to ensure these loophole realms aren’t possible for kids.

A teacher must evolve their privacy too. Don’t disclose or drop easy to track personal information. Update and improve your online presence. Reduce the ability for students to find you, or even your employer. Certainly, don’t criticise schools. The internet has a memory.

THINGS TO CONSIDER:

Personal awareness and safety.

How people react.

Where we are solid, then we don’t need to worry about our own behaviours.

For further information, see the Sexual Offences Act 2003 or visit: http://www.thinkuknow.co.uk

I had to wait for my own enhanced noncriminal disclosure and supply a certificate from working overseas before being considered for a job in education. These necessary steps ensure a safe working and learning environment. However, regular reflection and review ensure we’re all up to speed with the latest developments and demands. Reducing crime towards minors is essential.

Rebellion #3: Confused

They fought for us. They thought for you. They won for freedom. They are one and true.

Now, we fight for ideals. We fight invaders. We fight refuge-seekers. Weren’t we once bastard crusaders?

The fickle and trickle of history. Surrounded by sinister hostility. Split lines and scorched earth. Rebounded in ability.

The boundaries expanded. The world was divided. The scars were sewn shut. The remainder decided.

There stood statues. Status removed in reflection. Pulled out shattered pews. Heading to a new direction.

We question the questioners. We squeeze the doubters. We exclude the opposition. We silence the shouters.

The man says we can. The woman says we cannot. The party toes the line. The leader cares, not one jot.

Vote for this. Decline that. Scream and shout about it all. Ignore that silly old twat!

You’re upset about raiders coming over seas. Afloat on makeshift dinghies. You ignore nameless children floating for fees. One less worry buried in the seas.

Clear mistakes without fault. Confused and dumbfounded has arrived. Homes gone, no roads left. Unsheltered and barely survived.

What if tomorrow we had to retreat? Would you put your feet in the same hot seat? Would your drum carry the same old beat? Where would you go for the last meal to eat?

Who would care if you were not there? What if your loved ones were forced underground? Where will this path go? Would you open your mouth with that ugly sad sound?

Humanity? I see. Believe me. Free?

Rebellion #2: Homelessness

I was ripped from my womb, sent from warmth, from my creator, made to work to the bone for the inflator.

No longer again to see Mother nor Father, in workplaces far away, sent out long hours day after day.

Through taxes and energy bills, through blooded sweaty torn up hands, ploughing out profits for someone else’s lands.


I carried my owners, along with my leaders, and prayed to the sky that God may receive us.

No answer from upon high, to my pitiful cry, as I crept out to deny my sigh. Time was to fly.

The strength of those who fed us with kind, as we wallowed through despair, without comfort of mind. An axe must grind.

Here, I ask of you to reflect for a while,
Along with my colleagues, in times of denial. This life has been a trial.


For we are the future thrust into fear,
And cold nights gave up some lives year on year. Year on year on year.

Remember us, the homeless dead, as we lay down, ice tethered to head. Dead.

Dead.

Rebellion #1.

I’m the rise against the odds. I’m the growl facing the sods.

I’m the vote that casts a change. I’m the matter that needs derange.

I’m the fighter in the field they want to mine. I’m the nurse fixing plasters rain or shine.

I’m the voice that they want to silence. I’m the battler against all manner of violence.

I’m with many who shout and demand new ways. I’m one of the glued-up rebellious art damaging strays.

I’m the silent protestor who annoyed the police sergeant some. I’m the leader of the change that has to come.

Stand alone, fall down. Stand tall and together, stand up for your town. Stand for the greedy and against the needy, stand opposite me, you’ll see. We’re the changes that are needs be. See.

The time is now.

May Contain Bacon.

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!

Qatar: My tuppence worth.

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.

The World Cup goes on…

A moment for Gran.

Dear Granny Ivy,

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.

Peace and love.

John, XXX

The Next Prime Minister

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.

The future holds too many questions.

Useful links: Reading materials

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.

http://en.bookfi.net

http://www.gutenberg.org

https://archive.org

https://librivox.org

http://www.pdfbooksworld.com

https://www.pdfdrive.com

https://b-ok.cc

http://en.bookfi.net/g/

http://www.feedbooks.com/publicdomain

http://en.childrenslibrary.org

http://libgen.com

https://libgen.me

https://libgen.org

http://www.readprint.com

http://www.online-literature.com

http://freecomputerbooks.com

https://www.questia.com/library/free-books

https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Main_Page

https://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Main_Page

https://openlibrary.org

https://www.free-ebooks.net

http://digital.library.upenn.edu/books/

https://www.europeana.eu/portal/en

https://dp.la

https://www.dailylit.com

http://www.loyalbooks.com

http://www.online-literature.com

http://www.authorama.com

https://legamus.eu/blog/

http://www.openculture.com

http://www.planetpublish.com

http://zhongwen.com/gudian.htm

1. http://www.pdfdrive.net
2. http://www.b-ok.org
3. http://www.4shared.com
4. http://www.bookboon.com
5. http://www.worldreader.org
6. http://www.bookfi.net
7. islamhouse.com
8. wordofallaah.com
9. kalamullaah.com
10.  http://www.christianbook.com/page/ebooks/free-ebook
11. http://www.ebookee.org
12.  http://www.sharebookfree.com
13.  m.freebooks.com
14.  http://www.obooko.com
15. http://www.manybooks.net
16. http://www.epubbud.com
17. http://www.bookyards.com
18. http://www.getfreeebooks.com
19. http://www.freecomputerbooks.com
20.  http://www.essays.se
21.  http://www.sparknotes.com
22. http://www.pink.monkey.com

23. https://www.chinaielts.org/apply
24. https://toefl.neea.cn/examination_reg_cn.html
25. https://b-ok.cc/
26. http://en.bookfi.net/s/?q=&t=0
27. https://libgen.me/
28. https://calibre-ebook.com
29. https://mhschool.com/reading/treasure_workbooks/national.html
30. Free Kids Books – To read ONLINE ONLY http://en.childrenslibrary.org
31. Free Kids Books – To DOWNLOAD http://www.freekidsbooks.org

https://wolnelektury.pl

Hinged Upon

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.

Good to see G.I.M.P.S. with a mention on YouTube at Jedi$Invest VLOG. Cheers to Chris Bradshaw. I’ll name drop his name drop.

Loud & Slow.

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.

XL

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.

Step back: VI – Stepped back.

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.

Step back: III.

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.

Step back: II.

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…