Bypassing Liverpool since ’94

How do! / 你好 (nĭ hăo) / Namaste / Welcome!

This week Liverpool F.C. won the Premier League. Well done to them. There has been some boasting [19?] and gloating [mainly aimed at Man Utd and City]. James Milner, now a Champion at Liverpool F.C. had left Manchester City for pastures new and ended up in Anfield. He could have taken a train, car or even a ship to his new club.

Manchester by the Sea may sound like a crap funfair placed by a pond in Heaton Park, but it is actually a title of a movie by Kenneth Lonergan released in 2016. It won awards for acting and stuff like that. It has a soundtrack that doesn’t feature Oasis, The Charlatans or the Happy Mondays. Is it worth seeing? Not a clue. I’ll get round to it, but this movie set in the seaside town, first settled in 1629, of Manchester, Essex County, Massachusetts hasn’t got me yet. No hard feelings Casey Affleck.

Mark Vincent Collins, of The Charlatans, was born in Barton-on-Irwell, which is almost Manchester, but we call it the City of Salford. The Barton Swing Aqueduct allows a canal to pass over a canal. This Roman invention of the Aqueduct was modernised to become a moveable navigable aqueduct. It was a first at the time and many believe it is still the only of its kind. It opened in 1894, year of Manchester City’s naming, and remains working now Built to last by a Derbyshire firm from a plan by Sir Edward Leader Williams. A proper leader he was. So much so, few, if any have followed.

Birmingham may be the city of canals with more miles (56km/35 miles) of canals than Venice (42km/26 miles) but Manchester started the modern canal trend. The Bridgewater Canal runs from Runcorn to Leigh via Manchester. There was no river or stream. It was all dug in deep and long. Since 1761, steamboats, barges and small boats have utilised this modern canal. Used to ferry cotton goods and materials from the sea by Runcorn to Manchester and beyond, and vice versa, the canal was a great innovation. But, after over a hundred years if use it got mucky and couldn’t handle the traffic. Small ships could no longer navigate the near-impassable rivers Mersey and Irwell. The Irish Sea was an awfully long way away.

So, Manchester, faced with the problem of low rainfall, an expensive and limited railway cargo network and rivers ‘hopelessly choked with silt and filth’ (Owen, David, The Manchester Ship Canal, Manchester University Press) removed the barriers. Liverpool’s excessive goods fees had made it cheaper to head east to Hull for goods. That wasn’t good. On October the 7th, 1882 Punch magazine illustrated that Manchester’s idea to bring the sea inland was laughable, “MANCHESTER-SUR-MER. A SEA-DUCTIVE PROSPECT.” Proposals, legal matters and paperwork were underway, and within five years the ground for a new canal was broken.

ship canal

Opened a few days after completion, on the 1st of January 1894, by Queen Victoria, the Manchester Ship Canal was 58km/36 miles long. It is now the 10th longest ship canal in the world. At the time of opening it was second only to the Suez Canal (193km/120 miles) in terms of length for ship canals. Setbacks such as the lead contractor dying, harsh weather, floods (in a dry canal!), and serious money shortages, it was a miracle the canal had been completed. The Pioneer, a steamer, owned by the Cooperative Wholesale Society unloaded sugar that first day. Rouen, Normandy (France) and Manchester were connected and the Stereo MC’s weren’t around to record it.

There’s a great bleak and brown looking landscape by Benjamin Williams Leader (brother of lead engineer Edward Leader Williams) entitled ‘The Excavation of the Manchester Ship Canal: Eastham Cutting with Mount Manisty in the Distance’. Short names for paintings were evidently being rationed around the Long Depression era. The scarred Mount Manisty, Cheshire (a 30m/100’ tall hillock from earth extracted to form the ship canal) sits over the canal in present day and with its coating of trees, it looks to have been there forever. Manchester Liners used to pass this point and their ship the Manchester City, launched on the 27th October 1898.

The oldest proper canal is the Grand Canal of China (大運河 A.K.A. 京杭大運河; Jīng-Háng Dà Yùnhé or the Beijing–Hangzhou Grand Canal). It was started in the 5th century before what is known as the common era. Since then, this now UNESCO World Heritage Site, has ran over 1,794 km (1,115 miles). This Chinese mammoth of a canal is mostly improved rivers, watercourses and some extant diversions of rivers. Merchant Marco Polo, scholar Ibn Battuta, Italian priest Matteo Ricci and Scottish tea-hunter Robert Fortune went to the Grand Canal. The Grand Canal was intended for barges and not shipping.

By comparison, the Panama Canal, opened in 1914. It is 82km long and now is the 8th longest ship canal in the world. The Port of Manchester was once the U.K.’s third-busiest port. Just as the Panama Canals fortunes flagged then raised again, so did Manchester’s Ship Canal. Following slumps from the 1950s to 1960s, the Manchester Ship Canal almost faded away. Nowadays the city’s ship canal ends in Salford and is home to Media City (IV, BBC, Coronation Street, Blue Peter and CBBC), the Imperial War Museum and other leisure facilities, such as The Lowry Centre. You can still take a cruise to the sea – by way of leisure on regular excursion boats (take the Snowdrop from Irlam Locks). The Port of Manchester closed in 1982 and it wasn’t until regeneration kicked in around Salford Quays in the 1990s and then a greater rejuvenation in the decades that follows that the Manchester Ship Canal experienced a new wave of glory.

Far from the times when the Manchester Blitz saw bombs rain down on Trafford, the Manchester Ship Canal and the Port of Manchester, the sights now are much more of green banks and pleasing on the eyes. There’s prosperity around the wharfs, Detroit Swing Bridge, and the National Waterways Museum sits by the Ellesmere Port branch of the Shropshire Union Canal. There’s still a heart beat to the old ship canal yet.

Peel Holdings owns both the Manchester Ship Canal and the Port of Liverpool. Port Salford and the Atlantic Gateway may arrive by the year 2030. The locks, sluices and weirs of the old Manchester Ship Canal are far from closed yet. Ships will continue to sail under the high-level Acton Grange Railway Viaduct, as Network Rail work overhead on the West Coast Main Line, and the dramatic Queen Ethelfleda Viaduct Britannia Bridge (Runcorn Railway Bridge). The linear port has been accessible for over 125 years now and the once nick-named dirty ‘big ditch’dug by navvies is synonymous with the name of Manchester.

In memory of those who died creating the Manchester Ship Canal.

The Mancunian Way, Dongguan

How do! / 你好 (nĭ hăo) / Namaste / Welcome!

“I feel so extraordinary; Something’s got a hold on me; I get this feeling I’m in motion; A sudden sense of liberty.” – New Order’s song True Faith.

I’m patriotic towards the U.K. in a way. I sing praise and fly the flag for great people, wonderful history and fantastic places. I know that the story of the U.K.’s history has often been brutal, cruel and deserves little love. Even within the 21st century the U.K., as it moves away from a colonial and European past, and becomes less connected, yet more dependent on overseas trading and manufacture is and always will be a wonderful country. It’s my home. I was born in Manchester, England. I don’t call myself English. I’m British, when I choose to be. I’m Mancunian always. I have Celtic blood in me from my Irish and Welsh great grandparents. My roots are clear and free. But this tree doesn’t cling to the past and history. This tree wants to expand and be watered by different skies. For me tradition and culture are important but understanding and freedom to choose your own pathway are far more intrinsic to living. This tree is currently sat on its arse in Changping, Dongguan. Today’s and yesterday’s rugby and football have been washed out by Dragon Boat rains. I have some free time.


Today, I want to show a gallery and write a little about the culture of Dongguan and China. I’ve been here for the vast majority of the 2308 days now (11th February 2014). I believe many great days have passed and many more will follow. That’s why I am right here, right now. I arrived and didn’t feel too much way of culture shock. Around me a reasonably established cultured expat community threaded amongst the fabric of the local workforces and people of Guangdong.

“Because we need each other; We believe in one another; And I know we’re going to uncover; What’s sleepin’ in our soul” – Acquiesce by Oasis.

Since, I arrived I have seen Dongguan grow and grow. It is now classed as a Megacity. It seemingly will never stop growing. There are skyscrapers and apartment blocks skimming the sky in every single district of Dongguan. Whereas in 2014, I’d notice dozens of these mammoth constructions and many more sprouting buildings, now I am seeing hundreds and hundreds of established communities and hubs here, there and everywhere. I used to consider Nancheng and Dongcheng as the central axis of Dongguan. Now the townships of Chang’an (home of Oppo), Changping and the ever-growing former fields of Songshan Lake (home of Huawei), and the sprawls of Liaobu town could easily be seen as central areas. The arrival of the Huizhou to now West Dongguan Railway Station (soon to be Guangzhou East) or 莞惠城际轨道交通  /莞惠线 Guanhui intercity railway has added to rapid growth. As it joins the short-named Pearl River Delta Metropolitan Region Intercity Railway System (珠江三角洲地区城际轨道交通). That’s more than 65 railway stations in close proximity to Dongguan. Like all of the Pearl River Delta, this city is growing fast – and going places.

 

When not hopping on 200 km/h (124 mph) railway systems, I have ample opportunity to meet great people. Dongguan‘s community is largely migrant with people coming from all over China and the world beyond. International jet-setters with lives here, include Serbians, Kiwis, and even Scousers. They can be found in some of the office places, factories, bars and restaurants throughout the city. Playing football with Brazilians or Russians, or cycling with Dongbei people is possible or a spot of chess at Murray’s Irish Pub with Ukranian opposition. Anything goes here. Drinking homebrew at Liberty Brewing Company (曼哈顿餐吧) in Dongcheng after playing tag rugby with Tongans, South Africans, Germans and Malaysians makes me realise how lucky I am. This is a city that is tidying up and beautifying itself at an alarming rate.

Throughout the 6.5 years of life in and around Dongguan, I’ve slipped up and down ginnels, seeking out the new and old. There have been trips to pizza joints in obscure areas, Dragon Boat races watched, Cosplay events attended and English competitions observed. Dongguan, like Manchester, has a heartbeat that shows anything is possible and if it isn’t here, you make it. You can make something new, or your bring something to the party. You can sit and complain about people taking your photo or saying, “wàiguórén” (foreigner/外国人) or you can show the people around you, your worth.

This week I was asked by the Dongguan Foreign Bureau to teach them. Sadly, I cannot fit their demands into my day. I’ve bene lucky to narrate advertisements, wear watches for model shoots, test-drive new bicycles and play with new robotics before they reached their target audience or global factory floors. Daily life has been far from mundane here with oddities and pleasures as varied as can be. What’s around the next corner? Well, visas are quicker and easier to get, despite more rules and demands. It seems far quicker than when I first arrived. Sometimes, I doubt that I have done everything right, yet it seems clear and simple. Just a checklist. This week I received my medical report back. Now, I need just a few other items for the 2020/21 visa… That’s progress.

Bridges have been made and links that could prove lifelong. The west and east have collided in bizarre ways often forming a touch of the unique. There has been colour, rainbows and diversity amongst the traditional and the common. There have been flashes of light and inspiration. There have been days when solitude has been sought and there will be more, no doubt, but one thing I find, and have found throughout my time here, people are just that. Just simple down to earth, regular people going about their days, looking for peace and good opportunities to survive or better themselves. There are more cars and less bicycles, which shows that some people’s bank accounts and credit-ratings have improved. Quality of life needs balance, and with that the subway/underground system of Dongguan is projected to change from one line to seven lines.

Words can say how thankful I am for my time here. I am enjoying life in different ways to others, and being who I want to be, when I want to be. I’m selfish or I’m sharing. I’m open or I am closed. I read or I watch. I write or I dictate. There are times to slip unseen, and times to lead an audience. It is good for the mind to be bored or alone. I truly believe that’s where creativity lies. It sits there waiting to be tapped and delivered to paper, computers or other outputs. I can wander from craft beer breweries to model car clubs to fusion and western food restaurants with ease and all of the time remain connected to modern and old China.

There is plenty of ugly in Dongguan, just like the rest of the world. To quote the 18th century French phrase, “ne saurait faire d’omelette sans casser des œufs“:  You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs. Humans must learn from the stains and damage we have caused to our planet globally, whether disease or pollution. We can’t give in. Our cultures, our pride and our people need to fight on and find solutions. Just as #BlackLivesMatter, all lives matter – whether human or worm or bug or panda. Life must find a way. Dongguan is radically changing its energy consumptions, factory practices and the way its environment is being respected. This is good for all. Maybe, I should really put my words into action and finish studying towards the HSK (汉语水平考试 Hànyǔ Shuǐpíng Kǎoshì) course for the Chinese Proficiency Test.

 

Dongguan has gone from a place with a handful of limited cinemas, to those with the IMAX, vibrating seats, private screens and many of the latest releases from the west. KTV bars make way for baseball batting cages, ten-pin bowling, archery cafes and all the latest crazes. The great thing is that with Wechat (born 2011), Alipay etc, you can leave your wallet behind and pay swiftly with ease using these simple electronic methods. Gone are the days of using equations and haggling to get a taxi a short distance. Piles of services are available via your phone, including electrical bills, water bills and Didi (driver and carshare service) is one such saving grace.

During these COVID-19 pandemic times, your phone provides your health code, advice in travel, guidance on health services and help. Dongguan’s local services for healthcare, private insurance and banking are on your fingertips, rather than a a few hours out of work. Life can be as fast or as slow as you wish. In 2010, Dongguan was named a National Model City for Environmental Protection and greenways, green belts and other greenery followed. There are hundreds of parks now, over 1200… it is easier than ever to stay healthy.

There is culture around us, old temples, modern pagodas, relics of time and shells of history. Dongguan’s landmarks are a tad tough to visit now. The Cwa humid subtropical climate here is far above the reported average annual temperature of 22.7 °C (72.9 °F). The rainfall is typical of the land below the Tropic of Cancer now. It is raining cats, dogs and occasionally elephants. Wellingtons and umbrellas are common sights these days, rather than the Dongguan Yulan Theatre, GuanYinShan (Budda mountain), Hǎizhàn bówùguǎn (海战博物馆 Opium War Museum) or Jin’aozhou Pagoda. Even a trip to my local coffee shop, Her Coffee, is like a swim in a river. It is blooming wet lately. As a Mancunian, I feel at home.

I’m here for education – to both teach and to learn. This city has hundreds of educational institutions, even Cumbria’s St. Bees are opening a school here. I’ve heard there are around 550 primary schools, 480 kindergartens and several universities now. To bump into a teacher amongst the 21,000 plus teachers is not unusual. Although it seems every second teacher works for one of the many Eaton House schools here. I’ve heard Tungwah Wenzel International School (TWIS) in Songshan Lake is one school to really watch. Like its neighbouring Huawei school, it is massive with around 1,000,000 square metres of surface area. I’ve seen the modern sports gyms, performance space and technology labs. It uses the latest gadgets and networking. It really is 21st century over there at Songshan Lake. Although Huawei have a German-style train-tram zipping around, piping back to older days. Dongguan University of Technology(DGUT; 东莞理工学院) is one of universities in the area meaning that you can educate beyond your teenage years here. It really is a place to learn. Watch out Oxford and Cambridge! Maybe that’s why Trump is always bad-mouthing China’s growth?

From eating chicken anus, to two weeks of quarantine in XiHu Hotel, Dongguan has given me more time to turn the contents of my head to words. Now that I am ready to publish a novel, I need a publisher, but how to do this during a pandemic? I haven’t a clue, but I know one thing, the challenge will be tough and worth it. Nobody ever climbed a mountain to sit at the top and look down without seeing another mountain, right? At the end of the day, the sun sets only to rise again. Dongguan faced lockdown impeccably and other challenges, just as the world did and does. Chin up, keep going and let’s crack on.

Last night, I ate Korean barbecue with great people to celebrate a treble-birthday, followed by proof that I am terrible at ten-pin bowling and awoke today feeling optimistic. The world is often reported to be going through a pandemic-sized recession. As the world sailed a wave in 2008 and Dongguan grew from that recession, I will everyone to go on. Manufacture a bucket of optimism. Just like the strings of New Dawn Fades by Joy Division, there is darkness but remember these famous lines: It was me, waiting for me; Hoping for something more; Me, seeing me this time; Hoping for something else. In 2008, low-tech industry switched to the high-tech. Boomtime arrived. Chances are that one in five phones around the globe were made in Dongguan. Is your phone Vivo, Oppo, Honor or Huawei? It was probably made down the road from me. So, Dongguan is closer than you think.


Manchester isn’t any place I will visiting in person for some time, so it has to come to me via playbacks of Oasis gigs at Maine Road and the written word. Over the next few months, I plan to read the following Mancunian-connected books:

Hell is a City – Maurice Proctor; The Manchester ManIsabella Varley Banks; Passing Time – Michel Butor; Magnolia Street – Louis Golding; Fame is the Spur – Howard Spring; Lord Horror – David Britton; The Emigrants – WG Sebald; Cold Water – Gwendolyne Riley; The Mighty Walzer Howard Jacobson; Manchester Slingback – Nicolas Blincoe; Vurt – Jeff Noon; A Man’s Game: The Origins of Manchester City Football ClubAndrew Keenan; Mary Barton – Elizabeth Gaskell; Cranford – Elizabeth Gaskell; North and South – Elizabeth Gaskell.

“I was thinking about what you said; I was thinking about shame; The funny thing how you said; Cause it’s better not to stay” – The Last Broadcast – Doves

Superman vs. Peter Pan

How do! / 你好 (nĭ hăo) / Namaste / Welcome!

“In the decade of the 1930s, even the great city of Metropolis was not spared the ravages of the worldwide depression. In the times of fear and confusion the job of informing the public was the responsibility of the Daily Planet. A great metropolitan newspaper, whose reputation for clarity and truth had become a symbol of hope for the city of Metropolis.” – Narration, by a boy, Superman: The Movie

Superman: The Movie made many of us believe a man could fly. Christopher Reeve’s warm portrayal of the extra-terrestrial sent to Earth was to many the greatest superhero of our generation. Well, all until Michael Keaton stepped in as the Dark Knight in Batman. Fast forwards to the 2000s and it seems that Marvel have serialised their comic arsenal to release a new character on a weekly basis. Even the latest Bad Boys (For Life) movie seemed to be swimming in CGI reminiscent of Marvel’s reign of fire.

“Dream, Believe, Dare, Do.” – Walter Elias Disney’s motto.

But, for those born in the late 70s and early 80s there will be a few of us that were treated to Christopher Reeve’s black lock of hair, a very-much clean-cut James Bond-type character. Director Richard Donner and Superman: The Movie squeezed over 300 million US dollars from the box offices, for a movie that cost but a sixth of that. 143 minutes of fantasy and fiction leapt out of the screen much like the scrolling title words and stars’ names. Filmed between the U.K., Panama, Switzerland and U.S.A., this movie was epic. The dark contrast of life being released from a dying planet, and evil being cast to the Phantom Zone, stemmed a story arc which leapt faster than a speeding bullet featuring comic and soft scenes amongst the pile-driving action. It was like watching a wrestling superstar cuddle a kitten.

“Some people can read War and Peace and come away thinking it’s a simple adventure story. Others can read the ingredients on a chewing gum wrapper and unlock the secrets of the universe.” – Lex Luthor; Superman: The Movie

Superman: The Movie claimed a few awards for best visual effects, a BAFTA (Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Roles; and Outstanding British Contribution to Cinema Award) and numerous nominations. John Williams and the London Symphony Orchestra’s score is dramatic and distinct. Mario Puzo’s story shuffles between serious issues and wastes little of the cast. Margot Kidder, Glenn Ford, Gene Hackman and Ned Beatty were big names. Terence Stamp would haunt many kids dreams for years to come. Marlon Brando was a global megastar and such was his feeling, he would never reappear in a Superman movie, as he was too buys suing for extra shares of the profits.

“Good form, Mr. Smee? Blast good form! Did Pan show good form when he did this to me?” – Peter Pan, Disney movie, 1953.

Mild mannered reporter Clark Kent starts life in The Daily Planet, before later appearing in cape and pants over his leggings. Many scenes were filmed at the world-famous Pinewood Studios. The Fortress of Solitude was on 007’s stage. British stunt double Vic Armstrong was there for Christopher Reeve for the first two movies.

“..children know such a lot now, they soon don’t believe in fairies, and every time a child says, ‘I don’t believe in fairies,’ there is a fairy somewhere that falls down dead.” – Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie

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Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created Superman. Richard Donner presented a snapshot of 1950s America, subtle humour in modern day Metropolis and the icy cold sci-fi realm of Krypton. The journey was created perfectly for the movies – and although the 2013 movie Man of Steel tried to start again. Jerome Siegel, just like Kal-El (Clark Joseph Kent and  Superman) used pseudonyms (Joe Carter and Jerry Ess) and was born to Jewish immigrants. This wonderful writer dreamed up Superman and with Canadian comic book artist Joseph Shuster by June 1938 Superman ascended into Action Comics #1. Until the 1980s the man of steel dominated the superhero genre of U.S. comic books.

“Stars are beautiful, but they may not take part in anything, they must just look on forever.” – Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie

Superman drew on many influences. Sci-fi gave some great pointers. Fritz Lang’s 1927 move Metropolis birthed a city within Superman’s eventual realm. Douglas Fairbanks as Zorro influenced the look, although arguably, that caped crusader was closer to the caped crusader, Batman. The geeky barbershop-look of slapstick comedian Harold Lloyd and his mild-mannered persona gave us Clark Kent. Siegel and Shuster’s trawling of pulp fiction, comics and popular media expanded in so many details. Perhaps Peter Pan, as a character from so many stage performances had some influence in there. After all J.M. Barrie’s wonderfully complex character had kids leaping from seats and beds following earlier performances. Much like Superman: The Movie, Peter Pan made many believe that they could fly.

Lois: “Clark…says you’re just a figment of somebody’s imagination, like Peter Pan.” / Superman: “Clark?…Who’s that, your boyfriend?” / Lois: “Clark!? Oh, Clark. No, he’s nothing, he’s just, uh…” / Superman: “Peter Pan, huh? Peter Pan flew with children, Lois. In a fairy-tale.” Scene as Christopher Reeves plays Superman before he’s about to take Lois flying around the city of Metropolis. Superman: The Movie

Peter Pan is complex and rightfully so. The ninth of ten children, Sir James Matthew Barrie, 1st Baronet, had already lost two siblings before birth. This short-statured man from Kirriemuir in Angus, when aged 6, lost his older brother David the day before David would have turned 14 years old. With his mother’s favourite forever-absent, J.M. often imitated and tried to fill David’s place. By the age of eight, his eldest siblings were his teachers at the coeducational Glasgow Academy and six years or so later at Dumfries Academy. Somehow he managed to kick back against his conservative Calvinist Victorian family and crack in with his dream of writing. The University of Edinburgh beckoned, and he graduated with an M.A. in literature during April 1882. After some journalism, unpopular fiction and hard graft he turned his eyes to playwriting. By 1894 he was married and with a Saint Bernard puppy, and had worked with Sherlock Holmes’s creator Arthur Conan Doyle.

“Ostensibly a holiday entertainment for children but really a play for grown-up people” – Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw

The premiere date of 27 December 1904 of Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up arrived. Neverland was with us all – and a stark contrast to late Victorian and early Edwardian times. The Peter Pan models were extended and adapted throughout the years and the novel Peter and Wendy was inevitably released in 1911, with illustrations by F. D. Bedford. The two previous novels The Little White Bird and Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens are two equally delightful run outs for the boy who wouldn’t age or grow up. There is another outing in When Wendy Grew Up – An Afterthought. After that, popular culture claimed Pan for a silent movie in 1924, before Disney came knocking in 1953. The thrills of mermaids, fairies, Native Americans and pirates gained global viewers. J.M. Barrie himself commissioned sculptor Sir George James Frampton (he did the lions outside of the British Museum and Dr Barnardo’s Memorial) in 1912. The May Day surprise was a gift to the children of London.

“The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease for ever to be able to do it.” – Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie

Some years ago, I was lucky enough to wander through a dusk-lit Kensington Gardens and see the statue of Peter Pan. Six identical moulds were taken and can be found from Liverpool (U.K.), Canada’s Ontario to Camden, and New Jersey. St. John’s, Newfoundland, Brussels (Belgium) and Perth (Australia) complete the list of original replicas. There are multiple statues of various designs globally also. Great Ormond Street Hospital has its own interpretation and rightfully so. Ever since 1929, all the rights and copyrights were given to Great Ormond Street Hospital. The boy who would be a child forever could inspire and keep those in need, some company.

“When the first baby laughed for the first time, its laugh broke into a thousand pieces, and they all went skipping about, and that was the beginning of fairies.” – Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie

J.M. Barrie died in Manchester, well Manchester Street, Marylebone, that London on the 19th of June 1937. This was a man who had had Jerome K. Jerome as a friend; had divorced in 1909 and the hugely influential Llewelyn Davies family. George, John, Peter, Michael and Nicholas. Perhaps J.M. Barrie wanted to be a child forever. Perhaps Peter Pan was pretending to want to be forever young or showing off to his beautiful Wendy. Wendy was mature enough to surely see his insecurities. She displays great compassions as Peter Pan struts around his gaff, Neverland and does almost anything he wants. The land of adventures are at his command. The Darling family take his attention a little, but it does feel that Peter Pan would soon grow distracted of them and return to Neverland to do whatever he feels. Peter Pan is the antihero, to the hero of Superman. The two are alike, yet so far apart. Superman is a simple and clear character, with little conflict within. Peter Pan is like me, selfish and confused, and searching for a never-ending youth to hide from everyday burdens like responsibility and grown-up stuff.

“To die would be an awfully big adventure.” – Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie

Today, in China, it was Children’s Day and we watched the Disney retelling of Peter Pan, complete with lost boys, manipulation and an upset Captain Hook because Peter Pan had cut off his hand and fed it to a crocodile with a timepiece. Eton College-educated Captain Hook seems devoted to bringing Peter Pan down. The Neverland story goes on and on and on, with endless retellings and reinterpretations or works based on Peter Pan and company. The right to collect royalties in eternity under precise and explicit provisos in the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 mean that Peter Pan is the gift that keeps giving to Great Ormond Street Hospital. Superman, however, is the $5.48 billion cash card of DC Comics and Warner Bros.

“Never say goodbye because goodbye means going away and going away means forgetting.” – Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie

“I Hear You’re a Racist Now, Father?”

How do! / 你好 (nĭ hăo) / Namaste / Welcome!

This week I was asked to recommend some cheery comedy viewing and a book, by several people. During this COVID-19 days, with seemingly endless lack of positive news, I turn to Russel Howard’s Home Time Live, amongst other shows.

My early exposure to comedy was catching the odd bit of Spitting Image or other such TV series. I was never too keen on Children’s Television, other than say Stingray, Thunderbirds, The Real Ghostbusters and a few other cartoons. The ones that really got my attention were Dangermouse and Count Duckula. These last two titles had Only Fools and Horses great and comedy star David Jason as the voices of many of the great characters. I also recall David Jason appearing in bits on one of many Ronnie Barker shows. For years David Jason in a show meant that I wanted to see it. From the gentle drama of The Darling Buds of May to the gritty detective show A Touch of Frost, or seeing David Jason as Rincewind in Terry Pratchett’s The Colour of Magic, I enjoyed every appearance. But, I have never seen one full episode of Still Open All Hours or Open All Hours. I’m sure I’ll see Granville in the future. Sir David Jason OBE turned 80 years old this year. He is to television comedy as Sir David Attenborough is to wildlife on television.

Have I Got News for You represents perhaps the longest running show I have watched attentively throughout my life. If I miss a few episodes, or a run over a period of months, I will find a repeat online or in the archives. It now boasts over 520 episodes and the regular panel show game contestants Paul Merton and Ian Hislop share a camaraderie that few series can muster. They swipe at news and bring satire to often bleak or dull matters. They’re often inciteful and wide-sweeping in their opinions. It isn’t a how that tells you what to do. It is entertainment with buckets of wit. Guests such as Victoria Coren Mitchell (who really is very clever and sexy), Jo Brand, Janret Street-Porter and Ross Noble, mix it with politicians, entertainment stars, future Prime Ministers and stars of the silver screen. It isn’t free of controversy or wasn’t so when regular host Angus Deayton left after 12 years. Other satirical shows have been around but few have shown the staying power of this series.

“If it wasn’t for your wellies where would you be; You’d be in the hospital or infirmary.” -Billy Connolly, The Welly Boot Song.

At Aberystwyth University, I’d seen Jimmy Carr, Alan Carr, Men In Coats, and almost every stand-up comedian or visual comedy act from September 2001 to leave four years later. That may explain my poor graduation grades. Still, I met Al Murray as the Pub Landlord. After university I’d go to Manchester’s Frog and Bucket and the Comedy Store. Mark Thomas, a political comedian, became a great favourite and an emerging German Comedy Ambassador called Henning Wehn whet my appetite for comedy that enabled you to think too. Great shows like Dave Gorman’s Googlewhack Adventure and even Jim Bowen having a round of Bullseye in Aberystwyth’s Student Union made for memorable evenings. I’m very lucky to have access to comedians such as Andrew Lawrence over the years. Freedom of speech is a marvellous thing.

“The Buddhist version of poverty is a situation where you have nothing to contribute.” -Sir Michael Palin KCMG CBE FRGS, Himalaya

On paper Jon Ronson, Ardal O’Hanlon (best known as the hapless Father Dougal in Father Ted), and Christopher Brookmyre had my eye for their witty writing fashions. Recently I discovered Based on a True Story by Norm Macdonald which was picked up and never put down until it was finished. Saturday Night Live was also responsible for Steve Martin, Robin Williams, Bill Murray and numerous comedians gaining a foothold in the mainstream, but the ones who have gone on to write add greatness to their portfolio. However, Rich Hall and Charlie Brooker (creator of Black Mirror) remain my all-time favoured comedic writers, just after Eric Morecambe. I guess the Reluctant Vampire, Eric Morecambe on Fishing and Stella hold so much warmth that they are essential bookshelf companions for me. I don’t even like fishing. Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 is probably the only classic comedy writing that I’ve enjoyed. I found Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men In A Boat a little dull. I do have a book published in 1892 on my ‘to read list’: Diary Of A Nobody by George and Weedon Grossmith. Perhaps, that will be my latest essential shelf-filler.

Woody Allen may have been celebrated as a great writer of movies, but I didn’t get taken in by him at all. Mel Brooks’ Spaceballs was more my thing. Anything Monty Python became so laughable and cult that everyone (it seems) shares the same thoughts on their archive of classics. Richard Pryor was a bit part in Superman III. I am glad he was in the movie because years later after university life I delved into his back catalogue. What a star! His  observational and political speaking was acerbic and iconoclastic. For me, as a Caucasian Mancunian, I only spotted Lenny Henry and a few others on the predominantly white British TV stations as a kid. Andi Osho and Stephen K. Amos came later. But, for the most, few black or mixed-race comedians made it onto the television and Craig Charles in Red Dwarf had a scouse accent. Over time, and as the internet-age gave rise to more comedians from that America reaching our shores comedians such as Reginald D. Hunter, Martin Lawrence, Eddie Murphy, and Whoopi Goldberg became regular viewing. Comedy is like this COVID-19 disease: it doesn’t recognise gender or race. You’re either funny or you’re not (or ill or not).

“I think some of the best modern writing comes now from travellers” – Sir Michael Palin KCMG CBE FRGS, comedian, writer, & actor

Comedy needs diversity and it needs lovable rogues heading to foreign shores to ply their trade. Father Ted, written by Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews flung religion and culture onto the television with the powerful Catholic Church as the celebrated and loved butt of many jokes. It is surely the most successful comedy production from Ireland ever – and I hope the Pope Ted: The Father Ted Musical arrives sooner rather than later. Father Jack will surely approve. Arthur Mathews is the author of Well Remembered Days: Eoin O’Ceallaigh’s Memoirs of a Twentieth-century Irish Catholic. Pick that book up. Read it. Then, find the audiobook read by none other than actor Frank Kelly (who played slightly inebriated and loaded Father Jack from Father Ted).

My mum introduced me to David Tynan O’Mahony, better known as stage name Dave Allen. Dave Allen was an Irish satirical comedian well-known for sitting on a chair and talking. His style wasn’t too fast-paced but coupled with some creative sketches and ramblings, he remains an Irish comedy legend. Nowadays surreal comedic talent David O’Doherty, fast-mouthed Ed Byrne, the tremendous Tommy Tiernan, Dylan Moran and snappy Andrew Maxwell bring the great wit of the Emerald Isle to the world. Whilst America has its fair share of divide and racism to talk in the open Britain and Ireland have a fair bit of oppression and divide to discuss. Then there are also the political troubles, religion, sectarianism, recreational drug abuse, crime, and self-deprecation. But, being Irish and British means we’re not as good as the Americans when it comes to self-deprecation.

“I get snow blindness from looking at my diary.” – Barry Cryer, writer and comedian

Dag, a Norwegian comedy-drama, about a marriage counsellor and his sex-mad friend Benedict’s struggles through life, is a great dark comedy. It will make you cringe and feel warm in equal measures. Atle Antonsen plays the lead character and he is brilliant counterweight to his love-interest that is Tuva Novotny’s character. I’ve just found there to be a fourth series so I shall look this up soon.

From great comedy series such as Goodness Gracious Me, The Fast Show, Harry Enfield and Chums, or Not The Nine O’Clock News, Britain has been blessed with comedy. Such editions could not be seen in lesser-free states of the world. It is hard to reimagine Father Ted reimagined as Monk Lama set in Tibet, or the ‘going for and English’ sketch of Goodness Gracious Me being re-filmed in Pakistan as ‘going for a Russian’. The right blend of social awareness, love of culture, and respect of differences are required.

“Drumchapel is a housing estate just outside Glasgow. Well, it’s in Glasgow, but just outside civilisation,” – Sir Billy Connolly.

And now, ‘The Big Yin’, the one stand-up comedian I have never seen live, despite chasing ticket after ticket since I was a wee man. Sir William Connolly, CBE is as titanic as the ships that floated out of the Glasgow shipyards. He was and remains the heavyweight champion of storytelling. Having jumped ship from The Humblebums (Billy sang folk alongside Gerry Rafferty and Tam Harvey), lovable comedy-musician scraped a living in his homeland of Scotland doing comedy. Almost 55 years later he stopped, enforced mostly by Parkinson’s Disease, but probably by love of art. Along the road from Glasgow he’s starred with The Muppets, acted alongside Dame Judie Dench, produced music, been a pet zombie, travelled and ran entertaining documentaries and shared his love for his home country. On stage, Billy has always worn what he wants, danced like nobody watches him and shouted whenever he likes. ‘The Big Yin’ has an encyclopaedia of material and an archive that would probably take a lifetime to follow. You can do much worse than sit down to some Billy Connolly. He really is a fine orator much like the smooth whiskies of his homelands.

“It’s up to yourself. You manufacture it. You either look at the world one way or another. It’s the old half full half empty. It’s up to you. The world’s a great place, it’s full of great people. The choice is yours. Pessimism is a luxury you can’t afford”. – Sir Billy Connolly on optimism, BBC Radio Five.

Stay strong. Stay optimistic.

Bring Us Sunshine

To the National Health Service and all those careworkers, and keyworker, oh how you bring us sunshine!

How do! / 你好 (nĭ hăo) / Namaste / Welcome!

Ernie Wise: Its not easy for us authors to find new words.
Eric Morecambe: Have you got a thesaurus?
Ernie Wise: No,I don’t like motorbikes.

So far, it has all been writing, links and a few photos. Today the mould is broken. Welcome to embedded videos. This isn’t groundbreaking stuff, no, this is the first justified joyful collection of clips (to date) – available in all the countries around the world that allow YouTube (or via VPN in China). Other media players are available but to be frank, I can’t understand the language.

Thinking back to comedy, and there have been times when I have lay prone or been down in the dumps, feeling low or blue, and the voices of comedy have come calling. I love stand-up comedy and to be honest, I will watch anyone, at least once, sometimes twice. If I enjoy them, I will carry on enjoying them and look out for them at every possible turn. Then there is slapstick and comedy writing. There are so many layers of comedy from silent movies to dark comedy showings to modern day images blended to satire or adapted to show the absurd.

Comedy is a kind of medicine in a time of worry and suffering. The movie Patch Adams starring the wonderful comedian-actor Robin Williams was one fine example of humour as a remedy. The film is based on the real life doctor-clown-social activist and founder of The Gesundheit! Institute, Hunter Doherty “Patch” Adams MD. This is a man devoted to finding an alternative healthcare model not founded by insurance or by the haves over the have nots. In many ways he is a doer and a revolutionist. Besides which his kids are called Atomic Zagnut Adams and Lars Zig Edquist Adams. One interesting thing his inspirational portrayal by Robin Williams, led to Bollywood filming Munna Bhai M.B.B.S. which may have in turn led to Pakistan and India director Rajkumar Hirani having ideas for his movie, or not. Munna Bhai M.B.B.S. was remade in the Tamil, Kannada, Telugu and Sinhala languages. It has won many awards, as have its remakes. The ₹1.039 billion viewing audience plus the $202.3 million audience of Patch Adams may have reached far and wide financially, but it does make you wonder if the sense and spirit of both have reached and influenced many in the medical profession. I would imagine the essence of humour and a warm heart has always been with those in the natural work setting of caring for others. It is their job. The presence of these heart-warming and movies cannot hurt none.

The best writers are the ones who really show their passion in their works. Some even cast themselves from years of heard graft and find a vehicle for their talents. Jeremy Dyson, Steve Pemberton, Mark Gatiss and Reece Shearsmith aren’t always the fashionable names of modern stardom, but as The League of Gentleman they have shocked and terrorised using dark comedy to bring a belly laugh or a grizzly ‘Can-I-laugh-at-that?’ moment. Their productions such as Psychoville and Inside No. 9 have carried the enhanced tones of their earlier work inviting newer audiences by bringing an ensemble of well-known stars to their twisted scripts. The quadruple basis of the League of Gentleman cast carry fairly diverse and long appearances. They’re grafters who have done bit parts and played key roles. Reece Shearsmith even appeared in London’s Burning as was his rite along a passage to present day; whilst his colleague Steve Pemberton, of Blackburn, has featured in Manchester’s finest comedy-drama series Shameless – as well as the brutal series Blackpool, London-based Whitechapel and Benidorm. A seemingly wide set of locations. Jeremy Dyson has had a crack at Roald Dahl’s Twisted Tales amongst many hit West End and big-screen projects.

Having looked up Mark Gatiss and the other League of Gentleman cast members, following an online episode of Stay At Home with Stewart Lee and Josie Long, I’ve found out that my favourite historical piece Operation Mincemeat, by Ben Macintyre is being turned into a movie! The director John Madden has previously worked on Mrs Brown, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Shakespeare in Love. Scottish actress Kelly Macdonald and Matthew Macfadyen will also star in the Mac-See-Saw Films production. A spot of sunshine for the future.

You’ll Never Walk Alone…

Eddie Braben came from Dingle in Liverpool. It’s an area that gave rise to Ringo Starr (The Beatles), Robbie Fowler (Manchester City and Liverpool striker), Arthur Askey (comedian), Gerry Marsden (singer: Ferry Cross the Mersey; He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother; and contributor of The Crowd), and singer Billy Fury.

Eddie Braben had written countless wonderful lines for the duo of Morecambe and Wise. Through fall-guy Ernie Wise, Eric Morecambe would mock the “plays what he had wrote – sometimes 26 in one day”. Other great celebrities would enter the stage and screen, appearing on Christmas specials and transmitting to households all over the nation. Many argued these were the most-viewed shows outside of the Queen’s Christmas Day speeches. More than 20 million people watched on. Future James Bond star Judi Dench and all round great dame proved the draw to star on The Morecambe and Wise Show was like no other. Household names, movie stars, big names of the theatre, news presenters and more all lined up to join the cast.

“What he did for Eric and Ernie was incredible. He was the third man of the comedy.” – Sir Bruce Forsyth on Eddie Braben

Writer Eddie Braben replaced Dick Hills and Sid Green. Braben wasn’t too confident about filling such big boots and writing for what were then a very popular and successful comedy act. His specimen material started with one solo appearance with Eric Morecambe opening his jacket and telling his heart, “Keep going you fool!” And from then on, Braben added gold to the Morecambe & Wise cabinet of materials. He’d previously written for Charlie Chester and Ken Dodd, from the comforts of Liverpool, but now he had London T.V.’s finest to pen for. Hiding away from the stage itself, Braben wouldn’t elope to London. Instead he’d be home again via the train soon after filming. His methods worked and he was awarded gongs from the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain for three consecutive years over several years. In 1972 he even picked up a BAFTA. He worked tirelessly and had a nervous breakdown, recovering to pen for Little and Large, Jimmy Cricket, Les Dawson and Ronnie Corbett, amongst others. His autobiography, The Book What I Wrote, is a modest and heart-warming account of comedy and television. For a man who hated the limelight he certainly influenced the stage and screen. His 24 writing credits to just 3 tiny appearances speak volumes.

“All men are fools, and what makes them so is having beauty like what I have got.” – Glenda Jackson, in the Antony & Cleopatra sketch, Morecambe & Wise Chrismas Special

Asked, in a Roman sketch, if he had “the scrolls”, Eric Morecambe replied: “No, I always walk this way.” Eddie Braben’s writing was so very good, and the production team that were around Morecambe and Wise appeared to be ad-libbing like no tomorrow. Prince Philip once commented, “I thought they just made it up.” That was the magic of the well-written sketches, the production design and the chemistry between the two star leads. In surreal ways, Braben had Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise haring a bed together. You can’t see the join. There was little vulgarity to it. It was far from innuendo. Just like the perceived rudeness of Eric Morecambe towards guest-stars who would appear and Eric would get their names wrong.

“Sorry I’m late, but I was digging the Suez Canal when some fool filled it full of water” – Eric Morecambe as Disraeli.

Eddie Braben’s notes and poems can be found in various books. One sweet piece is as follows:

Two cows chewing grass, on a warm sunny hillock. I thought, ‘This time tomorrow, that grass will be millock.’

Such simplicity and beauty within a few short sentences. No over-padding. No need for profanity. No need for stressing and over-writing. Such wonderful word imagery.

Lay on a bed together: ERIC MORECAMBE (as the Duke of Wellington): Would you like something to warm you up?
VANESSA REDGRAVE (as Empress Josephine): (Seductively) I would very much.
ERIC: Good, I think I’ve got some extra-strong mints in my greatcoat.

There’s only one way to end this post.

Bring us sunshine!

Happy New Year: MMXX

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do / S’mae / Namaste

MMXX is here. It sounds like a rapper. This year is a leap year. This all assumes that you and I follow the Gregorian calender – and the Common Era (CE: previously known as AD, year of the lord and all that). Other calenders and timelines are available.The Byzantine calendar is somewhere between the years 7528 and 7529. China’s calender is much more confusing. The years 己亥年 (Earth Pig) 4716 or 4656 to 庚子年 (Metal Rat) 4717 or 4657 with us. Ghostsbusters will return as a franchise, following the original two movies.

A new decade begins with hope (and fireworks, bushfires and other shameful carry ons from 2019). The Holocene calendar says 12020 but Unix time mentions the numbers 1577836800 – 1609459199. I’m going to keep 2020 in mind. It is far more simple. However, when I got to Nepal on the 18th of January, I will be landing in Kathmandu in the Nepali year of 2076 (according to Bikram Sambat’s calendar).

The U.K. is scheduled to leave the E.U. on the last day of this month. I will be relegated from a citizen of Europe to just a British person. It’s coming home was played at London’s slightly smoky firework displays (although the BBC coated over the smoke cloud) and this year will see England get knocked out at the UEFA Euro 2020 tournament staged across E.U. countries, and the U.K. Perhaps some Irish kids will open their 1996 time capsuleand pull out a copy of that song by The Lightning Seeds just in time for the football tournament. Or, it can also be used at Tokyo’s 2020 Olympics

This year NASA will aim to launch a mission to Mars to check out if it is habitable. Perhaps as the probe returns to Earth, it will find Earth is no longer habitable, as climate change and November’s Presidential Election may have swallowed up the last dregs of breathable air for humanity. However, Norway is paying Liberia to stop cutting down trees. A new hope?

As we enter the 2020s, keep in mind Morpheus from The Matrix said to Neo, “in the early 21st century mankind united in celebration when they created Artificial Intelligence”. Half-Life 2 is set around now, as was monster battling robot war movie Pacific Rim. Writer Ralph Peters penned that an alliance of Japan, South Africa, and the Arab Islamic Union, a confederation of militant Islamic states would be at war with the U.S.A. His novel, penned in 1991 was named The War in 2020. Snore-inducing dragon movie Reign of Fire also gave this year a dramatic post-apocalyptic science fantasy setting.  Terrahawks by Gerry Anderson and co, saw Earth defending itself. We should also beware the Knights of God, a fascist religious order with origins in 1987 television. But don’t worry too much Johnny Mnemonic is set next year. And in 2022, the gold from Fort Knox that Goldfinger said was useless, should be okay – the same year Geostorm is expected to hit. By 2029, the T-800 and a T-1000 will head back to kill either Sarah or John Connor, this giving a bodybuilder some work that will eventually lead him to be the 38th Governor of California. And finally, according to Data, the reunification of Ireland is achieved in 2024., Star Trek: The Next Generation (“The High Ground“). So, this decade isn’t all that bad!

 

再见/ Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Ta’ra / Goodbye / Hwyl Fawr / Dhanyabaad / Alavidā

 

Comedy Prescription

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do / S’mae / Namaste

I Think, You Stink! written and directed by comedian Nick Helm was surprising for many reasons. Not least the warning about strobe lighting and strong language (swearing) but the acting and singing. The dancing too. Amongst the initial audience participation of the B-movie spoof romp, it became clear we the watchers were in for a treat. The 10th anniversary of Helm’s earlier joyous show, was far from dead. The hypno-vision and giggles made the show in Assembly Roxy fly by. The special effects were underwhelmingly overwhelming. Beasts, beauty and great vocals drove the drive-in show far and wide, concluding with a standing ovation. Catchy melodies delivered by great comedy vocalists and teamwork for a simple stage show. Oluwatayo Adewole gave it a 5-star in his review purely because his writing captures the energy that the acting team throw at the performance. Rob Kemp, Jenny Bede, Katie Pritchard and the stunningly seductive Sooz Kempner all can lead a show wonderfully. This wasn’t just a Nick Helm show. This a was a Premier League of talents working together. If only they could be in Parliament – then the tiresome Brexit and poison chalices being banded about may be sorted by a proper organised outfit.

“Dark and twisted, but strangely sweet in the middle” – Mail on Sunday

A few weeks back I watched a Billy Connolly celebration. At first it seemed like a memorial show and I started to panic, thinking The Big Yin was dead. Luckily the 76-year old comedy star, folk rocker and actor has not left the mortal life. The show was simply a festivity of his works – with the feelings experienced by those watching over the years. Billy & Me was touching and sweet but one moment stood out to me. Narrated by Surrane Jones, one viewer said she had been suffering from depression and the doctor prescribed comedy. By watching The Big Yin, for an hour a day, her condition approved. Having not watched as much comedy during the last few years (accessibility and time issues, are my makeshift excuse), I agree. Comedy is a good prescription for a period of time with monsters lurking at the foot of the bed. Nick Helm’s how did just that trick. The world became a brighter place. On that note look up Danny Wallace’s book on rudeness, I Can’t Believe You Just Said That: The truth about why people are SO rude. On reading that you’ll start to think a bit more.

The importance of reading, comedy and thinking for yourself have been amongst civilisations since the dawn of civilization. Anyway, if it makes you think and smile, without making someone else sad, upset or offended, then why not? Our mental health is important. Go on, find a prescription now.

“Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes. After that who cares? He’s a mile away and you’ve got his shoes!” – Billy Connolly

再见/ Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Ta’ra / Goodbye / Hwyl Fawr / Dhanyabaad / Alavidā

Favourite Flicks

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do / S’mae,

In 2019, Velvet Buzzsaw, starring Jake Gyllenhaal arrives on general release in February. The arty feel of the trailer made me think of some of my favourite movies. I also gandered a dozen other trailers, include Men In Black International, which in its first edition was refreshing and great fun. Pet Sematary as a remake excites me too. Hellboy as yet another remodelling seems okay too. It does make me think that new ideas for Hollywood are limited but you’ll still see me watching Godzilla: King Of The Monsters in May. Triple Frontier, The Mustang and Bird Box follow tested formulas and throw in solid casts, but they carry much anticipation. I do like a good movie though. In 2020, maybe Ghostbusters 3 will be marvelous – with the teaser adding familiar noises and music. Who knows?

In 1993, Jurassic Park was my first truly antipcated movie. I’d been glued to the novel years before and now I wanted to see the words on the big screen. Mum and I went to the Davenport Cinema near Stockport. The cinema has since been demolished. I remember that the screen was massive, and the old theatre style was beautiful. It had become too expensive to maintain. I grew up having watched few movies, unless you count Dot and The Kangaroo. Movies rarely interested me. Watership Down had probably freaked me out too much – and then The Plague Dogs – too much you know, erm, grimness. At least the former had a great song!

Movies that I like that are probably on almost everyone’s list include: Braveheart, Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, The Silence of the Lambs, Titanic, Toy Story, Schindler’s List, The Lion King, The Shawshank Redemption, Fight Club, Groundhog Day, Heat, Fargo, 10 Things I Hate About You, Trainspotting, Brassed Off, The Fugitive, Goldeneye, Mrs Doubtfire, Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, Goodfellas, Forrest Gump, The Green Mile, Bad Boys, The Iron Giant, and Con Air. I’m sure you can pick this entire collection up on DVD for less than £10 now. I watched Saving Private Ryan with my Granddad. It was the only time I seen him cry. The realism was all too much for someone who had seen it up close and personal.

Do you believe in UFOs, astral projections, mental telepathy, ESP, clairvoyance, spirit photography, telekinetic movement, full-trance mediums, the Loch Ness Monster and the theory of Atlantis?

In 1984, the world had new heroes. The Ghostbusters. Just like 1984’s Gremlins, 1990‘s Gremlins 2: The New Batch, 1985‘s Goonies and 1989‘s Ghostbusters 2, I had a winter’s day movie. Great entertainment and fun, that you can watch time and time again, are hard to come by in a movie. Flash Gordon sits in there too, alongside the Back to The Future trilogy. From my year of birth, 1982‘s E.T. – the Extra Terrestrial is on that list but give me a tissue. A tissue to watch 1942‘s Bambi too. From 1988 onwards, The Naked Gun triology just requires a light-hearted laugh. 1980‘s Blues Brothers wins on that count too.

‘Little Sir Echo, how yo you do?’ – Bing Crosby, 1939

Night Train to Murder starred Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise and came out in 1985. It was written by the comedy duo too, alongside the original James Bond Casino Royale director Joseph McGrath. Well one of them. There were about six! His credits included the Beatles’ music videos, The Goon Show and Rising Damp. Night Train to Murder would be his final movie. 16 TV appearances would follow and two writing jobs. The Glaswegian went near silent. Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise’s TV movie. One half of the duo was ill during filming of this movie and soon after in May of 1984. Roger Brierley, Richard Vernon and Pamela Salem co-star. The film would be the fourth and final expected big screen outing for Morecambe and Wise. Due to Eric’s death, it became a TV release in 1985. The closing moment of the TV movie sees Morecambe and Wise walking away together. There never was another televised gig.

 

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon [卧虎藏龙] gave international audiences something unseen before. Hovering, fluttering and graciousness seemed to be hand in hand with violence, menace and misery. Warriors, destiny and mythology gave Michelle Yeoh [杨紫琼] good reason to shake off the Bond Girl moniker. That same year, of 2000, saw Snatch hit the screens. As me and my best mate Dan watched, the movie entertained us. Momento came out too. Gladiator may have ruled the screens but Requiem For A Dream would carry as great a memory in time. Cast Away was epic.

Y Tu Mamá También, came out in 2001. This Mexican road movie is essential viewing. Donnie Darko was a very indie film with a great indie score. A beautifully dark movie. Black Hawk Down was a fine example of a bleak war movie. A Beautiful Mind, was as the title said.

City of God (Cicade de Deus), has great street chases, raw energy, a lack of Hollywood gloss and shows realism that modern gangland movies can only dream of. This 2002 movie is a snapshot of a Latin America that the tourism boards will hate. Another movie that I can’t reverse watching was Irréversible. It made me feel physically sick. Powerfully forlorn cinema. The camera shots and soundtrack are dizzying. Perhaps look up Daft Punks’ Thomas Bangalter and his solo work. Many a film critic said it was, “a movie so violent and cruel that most people will find it unwatchable” – and some labelled in homophobic. I just found it dizzying and extreme. The Bourne Identity was simple to follow, with a great sequence of pursuits throughout. In some ways it was James Bond without the boobs. 28 Days Later and Signs added to the cinematic splendour.

In 2003, Oldboy leapt off screens from Korea. It was remade many years later. Avoid that. The best in this case is the original. Prepare to be shocked. Kill Bill: Volume 1 was released too, with one of the best soundtracks for some time. Bad Boys 2 probably marked my last VHS owned.

In 2004, Downfall, was made and suddenly Hitler’s angry map scene would occupy an endless flow of memes. Kill Bill: Volume 1 wasn’t just released – it was practically flung at you like a dagger. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and The Terminal completed a good year. Ttosi landed in 2005. It is hugely emotive, dynamic and lives up to its meaning of thug. Redemption may or may not be earned. Lord Of War added wit and seriousness to the world of arms dealing.

The Lives of Others released in 2006 is worth a look. Of course, you are being watched – just like the antagonists on screen. That same year Pan’s Labyrinth became quite mainstream for a foreign movie. The movie is up there on the good ground with David Bowie in Jim Henson’s Labyrinth. Batman Begins kept my love of mainstream movies that year. It also gave us Little Miss Sunshine, and Letters from Iwo Jima.

In 2007, The Bourne Ultimatum made great contrast to the movie adaptation of Into The Wild, perhaps my favourite tragic book of all time. Sunshine was great viewing too. The Western movie 3:10 to Yuma ranked highly on my watchlist. 2008’s guilty pleasure for me was Iron Man. If only we knew what was to come!? Slumdog Millionnaire was an instant hit and the soundtrack made my MP3 player soonafter. Lion’s Den was the most gripping movie of the year. Like Stars on Earth is the sweetest teacher-themed movie of all time. The Baader Meinhof Complex is brutal and wonderful in equal proportions. If you needed a taste of mental health awareness – though extreme, Belgain film Ben X had it.

Three Idiots was a surprise. It was neither Bollywood, nor Hollywood. I’ve tried watching many Indian and Pakistani movies. None have succeeded in keeping my attention, until Three Idiots arrived in 2009. There is a buddy movie feel that Trains, Planes & Automobiles successfully caught – as did the Canadian production Due South. Tragedy and warmth drips from the screen. District 9 added a valid and tangible story to the usual CGI-gone-mad state of movies of this period. The Secret in Their Eyes was a particularly good thriller. The White Ribbon, set before World War One is a mystery that both grips whilst it presents oddity and intrigue.

127 Hours was not as long as the title suggested and with a soundtrack to suit the true story, the movie whistled by in no time at all. In 2010, the book was promptly picked up afterwards. Incendies followed twins returning to their former middle-eastern homes. Biutiful was a great and disturbing movie that awoke the imagination. Can you imagine knowing how you will die? Javier Bardem was hypnotically mesmerising.

The following year of 2011 gave many awards to Drive, and rightfully so. Moneyball added some baseball to my viewing but the story was wonderful, so I let the U.S. version of rounders slip without a worry. Super 8 surprised me with how good a feel it could generate. The Intouchables was heart-warming and witty – and in 2017 the formula of a caregiver with an aristocratic quadriplegic was remade with Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston.

In 2012, The Dark Knight Rises, wasn’t quite as the previous two Christopher Nolan incarnations of Batman. Still it is a favourite. Skyfall made up for that. At last a Bond movie with a real bite to it. The Hunt gave us a look at how creepy Mads Mikkelsen can appear.

Captain Phillips told audiences, in 2013, a story of Somalian pirates. Tom Hanks stars. When he performs well, the audience always feels it. Accolades and awards followed. The Man of Steel reinvented Superman before DC Comiscs trashed that in almosy every instalment since. All Is Lost, scored by Alex Ebert, lasted 105 minutes – and starred just Robert Redford. It was not last time watching that masterpiece. Pacific Rim followed a Transformer, Power Rangers, Godzilla feel but kept me inside a Colchester cinema out of a heatwave. I enjoyed the movie greatly. It was one of my guilty pleasures that year.

In 2014, Boyhood gave probably the most original piece of cinema for a long, long time. The coming-of-age drama had been shot over an epic period spanning more than a decade. Nightcrawler added thrills and gave the pulse a work-out. Gone Girl was another great thriller. Godzilla was okay, just okay. Birdman was a wonderful comedy and The Theory of Everything was positively riveting. American Sniper told a sorry story well.

The Revenant in 2015 was powerful and moody. The Martian was atmospheric and moving. Spectre started great but fizzeld out. Idris Elba’s Beasts Of No Nations, opened discussions and eyes to an otherwise ignored world within the 21st century. Everest, tried to bundle together many accounts of a disaster offering a respectful disaster and made a wonderful IMAX feature. 2016 reinvigorated the Jurassic Park machine by bringing is Jurassic World, a rollercoaster of a movie. In 2016, Deadpool refreshed the graphic novel/superhero genre with a splash of bad taste and violence. The Jungle Book, in live-action was almost a frame by frame copy of the cartoon by Disney but it added sweetness to the silver screen. Suicide Squad added wit to the overly-full genre of superhero outings. Star Wars: Rogue One was a good war movie, albeit with a scifi backdrop. Tom Hanks once again wowed audiences with his performance in Sully.

Dunkirk was visually stunning and well shot in 2017. Wonder Woman challenged gender roles for superhero main stars and also added some good drama between the CGI sheets. Logan added a geriatric take the hero genre. Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing Missouri swept away many awards and rightly so. War for the Planet of the Apes concluded a great trilogy remaking. The Darkest Hour gave the excellent Gary Oldman a vehicle to display his varied talents. Disney added a live action beauty in Beauty & The Beast.

In 2018, Bohemian Rhapsody added a loveable rock star to our screens. Freddie Mercury was extragavant, complex, talented and had a voice like so few. This movie captured the magic and gave voice to a story that many didn’t know. I didn’t know that Farrokh Bulsara was born in Zanzibar and went on to become the lead singer of Queen.

 

再见/ Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Ta’ra / Goodbye / Hwyl Fawr