Wilson x Silva: Musical Football Hero

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

Spanish footballer David Silva is a part of Manchester. Tony Wilson is ‘Mr Manchester’. What an ace city to be part of?! It’s got Shameless, it’s got Coronation Street and it’s got football and music by the bucketload. Some are born here. Some arrive here and fit right in.

I remember hearing the local tones of Anthony Wilson on Granada Reports news as a kid. In contrast to the home counties accents of England, used by the BBC, here was ITV’s regional voice with a proper twang. Known for his nightclub (Hacienda) and Factory Record, Anthony H. Wilson was deeply rooted in Manc culture. He still is, even after his early death, aged 57, in 2007.

Born in 1986, in Gran Canaria’s Arguineguín, a small fishing village, David Josué Jiménez Silva’s rise in football has been dramatic. His 5’ 7” (1.7m) stature has been iconic in the Premier League since his arrival at Manchester City in 2010. He leaves the club having won 4 league titles, 2 F.A. Cups, and 5 E.F.L. League Cups. There were also 3 Community Shields. During his time at City he has represented Spain and gained two UEFA European Championship trophies. All on the back of 2010’s FIFA World Cup crown. Bizarrely there has only been one Premier League Player of The Month award (September 2011). Many other individual awards have been picked up. David “El Mago” Silva is and has been Mr Manchester City.

“The best signing we [Manchester City] have made.” – Carlos Tevez, former Manchester City footballer, October 2011.

After finishing the delayed Champions League campaign, David Silva will leave the sky-blue base of Manchester for a new challenge. Seen as one of the best and exquisite midfielders around, he will leave buckets of memories for his adoring fans. His possession-retaining ball play, his rarity in losing the ball, his deft passes and his nimble runs along the Etihad Stadium turf will be missed.

Born in Pendleton (Salford), the man dubbed ‘Mr Manchester’ slotted into journalism, concert arrangement, and radio. His record label, Factory Records hugged Britpop and Mancunian music. His love of the city of Manchester can be seen throughout his colourful career. As an entrepreneur his Factory Records gave us Happy Mondays, A Certain Ratio, Joy Division and New Order. Madchester was born here in the late 1980s. Amongst the gloom yellow smiley faces and exciting vivid colour schemes gave pride back to the people of Manchester. He threw money at music and was a little careless in terms of making a profit. By the end of the 20th century both Factory Record and the Haçienda went bump. No money. No glory. His voice carried on and even down the road in Liverpool he was identified with. He didn’t like centralisation and clearly wanted more regionalism.

Xavi and Andrés Iniesta played alongside David Silva, and it can easily be argued that such dynamic playing styles will have influenced each another. Between the trio, how many future stars, current players and fans will have been inspired or motivated by them. The drool spilled from each twist and turn would probably fill Victoria Baths (Manchester) many times over.

“He pulls the strings on the pitch. A brilliant footballer with great movement, he can score, assist, a player who decides a game. He’s got so much to his game, that I would consider him one of the best ever.” – Andres Iniesta, footballer, Manchester Evening News, January 2020

Steve Coogan didn’t do too much of a bad impression in 24 Hour Party People. In fact, if anything, he elevated a charisma known to few of the younger generation and brought real warmth for Manc culture and the main man, Anthony Wilson. I’ve seen him star on World in Action and After Dark amongst other shows. What always truck me was his voice and his belief in what he said or did. When he started on Channel M it was exciting but never lasted beyond one episode due to his illness.

“I used to say ‘some people make money and some make history’, which is very funny until you find you can’t afford to keep yourself alive. I’ve never paid for private healthcare because I’m a socialist. Now I find you can get tummy tucks and cosmetic surgery on the NHS but not the drugs I need to stay alive. It is a scandal.” – Anthony H. Wilson, BBC News, 11/7/2007

In Spanish and Mancunian footballing history David Silva ranks at the highest orders. The boy from UD San Fernando (Maspalomas, Gran Canaria, Spain) will leave Manchester as a man – a man who has touched the hearts and minds of many City fans. His son Mateo will be able to look back on his father’s time at City with pride. Not bad for a boy born into City’s culture without knowing it. At the end of the day David Silva has been an exemplary custodian of Manchester City. To think that he started his playing days as a goalkeeper before switching to a winger and then midfield dynamo or trequartista. It’s been a journey with City and it all started under Roberto Mancini. The rest they say is history. Tomorrow night’s game against Real Madrid could be his final, or it could be close to the last game. The UEFA Champions League final would be a fitting farewell, but not all fairy tale has a happy ending.

Manchester Town Hall’s flag flew at half-mast in August 2007 following Tony Wilson’s death. FAC 501 was the number on his catalogued coffin. Peter Saville, famed designer and artist, alongside Ben Kelly (an interior designer) designed the gravestone. The headstone is marked as Anthony H. Wilson, ‘Cultural Catalyst’. Since then Factory Records has been reborn in some shapes and forms, and HOME/First Street in Manchester has a new square, Tony Wilson Place. A fitting tribute for a true champion of Manchester.

“Mutability is the epitaph of worlds/ Change alone is changeless/ People drop out of the history of a life as of a land though their work or their influence remains.” – Mrs G Linneaus Banks’s 1876 novel The Manchester Man

Statue of Limitation

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

There’s a financial crisis, then there is austerity, the Grenfell Tower disaster, then a global pandemic, and recessions, and environmental disasters, and climate change, before race battles and financial meltdowns and worries. Oh, there are worries. So many worries. A book written and translated in the 1880s is as ever-relating now as it ever was. We have the translation skills of Florence Kelley Wischnewetzky to thank. Following the 1848 revolutions, Friedrich Engels moved to Manchester for around two decades. Through capitalism he was afforded the luxury of revolutionary ideas.

Friedrich Engels dated Irish immigrant Mary Burns. After Mary’s death, his love passed to her sister Fenian (Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB)) Lizzie. They married on her deathbed. In ways he had a Clark Kent and Superman lifestyle. Between riding in hunts in Cheshire, chasing foxes for fixes, he was slipping money out of his accounts to revolutionaries. This Bruce Wayne on one hand, Batman on the other existence was a huge contradiction. Part knight in shining armour and protector to part capitalist imperialist pig. A life beautiful and ugly in the reflection of contradictions.

“social murder”  – Friedrich Engels, The Condition of the Working Class in England

Artist Phil Collins gave Friedrich Engels a home next to HOME in Tony Wilson Place. What was all that about? Our Friedrich Engels was an honorary Manc back in the day. He lived in and around the area for many years. He observed industry at its most brutal and gathered his thoughts in and around the city. The statue of German Friedrich Engels stands outside HOME, an arts and entertainment complex in the heart of the city of Manchester. Phil Colins gave Manchester a piece of its history that is well-documented in paper form, but little seen in the day to day tapestry of the city’s vast structures.

“The way in which the vast mass of the poor are treated by modern society is truly scandalous. They are herded into great cities where they breathe a fouler air than in the countryside which they have left.” – Friedrich Engels, The Condition of the Working Class in England

Whereas Engles came from Barmen, Kingdom of Prussia, the artist Phil Collins moved to Berlin, from Britain. Back in 2017, a 3.5 metre monster of a stone statue, fractured and left for ruin was moved from the eastern Ukrainian village of Mala Pereshchepina to Manchester. As part of the Manchester International Festival, it was unveiled as part of a show called Ceremony, featuring songs and dance, with a ditty by the Super Furry Animals’ frontman Gruff Rhys. In an unassuming carpark, the procession moved over to Tony Wilson Place and all around newbuilds sat and towered above old mills, relics of the Industrial Revolution, and people sipped coffee from Starbucks cups and held Tesco carrier bags. The statue passed by Engels’s birthplace in Barmen, Berlin and was subject to great interest.

“The capitalists soon had everything in their hands and nothing remained to the workers.” – Principles of Communism (1847)

Like Christ, Mohammed and many other Gods, their words have been responsible for countless deaths through misinterpretation or abuse. They have been used by the powerful to suppress or enhance those who choose to use them. Think Trump with Twitter, or Elliot Carver (actor Jonathan Pryce) in the 1997 instalment of James Bond, Tomorrow Never Dies. So, having a legacy or words and ideas, a multifaceted figure arrived to Mancunian soil. A now-outlawed sign of communism may now be outlawed in the Ukraine, but in Manchester this statue of Engels symbolises the then, the now and the future. The scar where the statue was severed in half of the waist is clear. The artist Phil Collins had negotiated the statue as a gift from one community to another. Its journey was documented – with a video commissioned.

The writer of The Condition of the Working Class in England, in sculpture form fits in with the spirit of Manchester. A radical, against the establishment and for the people. The concrete structure looms over the paving slabs below, featuring patches of lichens and a broad beard. The very city he once developed his philosophies in has changed much but many social issues remain. The horrific conditions of workhouses have gone, but in the COVID-19 days of capitalism and struggle, new challenges are present. I’m lucky, as are many Mancs, that we grew up later in better times. Our Engels though, he was here when misery and suffering were commonplace.

“Manchester is a meeting point. It represents both the birth of capitalism and the factory system and the magic of capitalism, the magic of surplus value.” – Phil Collins, The Guardian, to writer Charlotte Higgins (30/6/2017).

Engels had such an influence on what would happen in the 20th century that even today, his relevance and legacy is present. This German philosopher, historian, communist, social scientist, sociologist, journalist and businessman understood Dialectical materialism and Continental philosophy whilst remaining a keen advocate of solutions to class struggle. So, on July the 16th 2017, Engels came home and Manchester had a bash to mark the occasion.

As per the ideas of Collins, he shifted a statue from one space to another, and an idea from one place that once embraced communism to one that in all fairness skirts closer to Labour and Socialism than the media would have you think. Now in 2020, we’re seeing statues of slavers, Romans, imperial figures and all under deep scrutiny. Just as Saddam Hussein and Colonel Muammar Mohammed Abu Minyar Gaddafi fell, so to, are the busts of Sir Winston Curchill and co. It’s like a historical hunt in the manner of Operation Yew Tree, but without BBC stars. Just like some of the childhood stars of old, even the big guns of history are there to be torn at with our claws. #BlackLivesMatter is opening a whole range of debates and dialogue.

“That the Materialistic Socialists will improve H. [History] for the poor. Their best writer, Engels, made known the errors and the horrors of our Factory System.” –  Lord Acton, quoted in Gertrude Himmelfarb, Lord Acton: A Study in Conscience and Politics (1952), pp. 181–82

It has been around three years since we could dress up like Engels, make banners or talk with academics in the then named Engels Exchange at Tony Wilson Place. The statue still stands. The beauty of history is that it has happened. Now we’re in an era when more and more history is being questioned. That’s good. That’s evolution in action. We have to be careful what we do with our history. Some statues remind us of different times and give us a voice for that period. They don’t always need to be celebrated and respected. They stand as a reminder of progress. All symbols must be questioned. It is our right and instinct as a species to want to be better. History shows us that Marx was more celebrated than Engels. As Engels slaved away writing Marx’s notes and supporting the Marx family, Marx had already departed this world. Engels may have come from a wealthy cotton-mill owning family but his time from 1842 to 1844 was profound.

In memory of those who have died in the workhouses and during this modern austerity.

Review: Reelin’ In The Years: The Soundtrack of a Northern Life

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

51RNDnzailL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_Reelin’ In The Years: The Soundtrack of a Northern Life is Mark Radcliffe’s fine written take on music. It features a track of music, some background on the odd year and bits about the evolution of music. Mark Radcliffe’s love for music shines throughout. His knowledge is in depth and music expert Brian endorses the cover, “Brilliant, funny and original. If I wanted to study the history of a modern music, I’d have Mark Radcliffe as my professor.” The book is simple. The author selects one rack from each year to twist and bind key points of the year as one. British culture is slapped together in a rather unique take. The choices are diverse and bold. Some, to me, are regular listened to tunes, thanks in part to people like Mark Radcliffe highlighting Mancunian music and great artists such as Kraftwerk and Slade. There are pointers throughout the book that I am now listening to, such as Stereolab, Cocteau Twins (from Grangemouth, Scotland) and Talk Talk. His book was published in May 2012. I picked it up in June 2020. Better late than never.

I grew up on a diet of Key 103 radio, Piccadilly Gold, some BBC Radio One and BBC Radio Two. By the time I’d reached Aberystwyth, Radio Ceredigion would be a new option. Mark and The Fall’s Marc “LardRiley on Radio One were witty and seemed to have the best playlists ever, covering pop music, some rock and a little indie. Steely Dan’s song Reelin’ In The Years was probably played at some point. After each show, I’d always want to listen to more. I’d try to recall the latest album or single that would make me head to a music shop Our Price, HMV, Zavvi or Fopp! But of all the music shops, the famous Piccadilly Records and Vinyl Exchange on Oldham Street would always get my attention. Often, they’d get a few quid, and sometimes I’d be lucky to bag a CD that was ‘for radio play only’, or a demo copy. Puritans love vinyl. I like compact and easy to carry.

Marc Riley and Mark Radcliffe could rival John Peel for eclecticism. Since those halcyon radio days, Mark Radcliffe moved on to join fellow Lancashire-born Stuart Maconie. Then he moved on again to a folk show. City fans Marc and Mark remain friends and probably went their separate ways at the right time. Both are immensely talented and have great connections to music. Marc Riley’s plugging of Massive Attack, Pixies and Happy Mondays can’t be a bad thing. The parody band (The Shirehorses) he and Mark Radcliffe made was comedy gold and remains a great period of music. You’re Gormless was a great play on Babybird’s You’re Gorgeous. Parody will only go so far. So now, I await the next dose of Marc Riley show on BBC 6 Music or The Folk Show with Mark Radcliffe.

Anyway, that’s how I spent today, in the COVID-19 era, reading this great book. I hope you can pick this book up, but better late than never – and if you want to find my copy of the book, after its own journey, it’ll be in Irene’s Bar, Houjie, Dongguan, Guangdong, China awaiting you.

Suffragette City: We can be heroes

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

“Men make the moral code and they expect women to accept it. They have decided that it is entirely right and proper for men to fight for their liberties and their rights, but that it is not right and proper for women to fight for theirs.” – Emmeline Pankhurst, My Own Story

Suffragette City by David Bowie was a song released in 1972. It was a B-side. That is to say that it wasn’t the focus of the single release. Starman, had that honour. Later it would appear on several albums, compilations and even other singles. Bowie had offered this song, written by himself and co-produced with Ken Scott to band Mott the Hoople. They politely said no thanks but accepted a song called All The Young Dudes. This piece of glam rock has a history before it was even recorded. It even references the movie A Clockwork Orange.

Suffragette City has wonderful rousing lyrics, great guitar work and power. An Occasional Dream, Heroes, and John, I’m Only Dancing are some of my favourite choices of David Bowie music. However, Suffragette City has an aura like no other. These tighter two-semitone gaps (F-G-A) really drive the song. That dummy ending, “wham bam, thank you, ma’am!” fires you back into an encore of chorus. It’s such a great track and one fitting for the growing theatrical rock and swagger of the 1970s.

Manchester though, should be the Suffragette City itself. The sometimes-called ‘powerhouse of the north’ was of course the birthplace of the Suffragette Movement. Our very own Mancunian superhero, Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters battled hard against money and power, for the people and for the women of the world.

“Governments have always tried to crush reform movements, to destroy ideas, to kill the thing that cannot die. Without regard to history, which shows that no Government have ever succeeded in doing this, they go on trying in the old, senseless way.” – Emmeline Pankhurst, My Own Story

Emmeline Pankhurst’s former residence is today a museum and home to Manchester Women’s Aid (against domestic violence). The Pankhurst Centre, a pair of Victorian Villas, was once home to Emmeline and her three daughters Sybil, Christabel and Adela. They were all immensely political. Between 1891 and 1907, they lived together under those roofs and flew the flag of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). The small house that is a museum features banners and sashes of the original purple and white colours.

“I want to say right here, that those well-meaning friends on the outside who say that we have suffered these horrors of prison, of hunger strikes and forcible feeding, because we desired to martyrise ourselves for the cause, are absolutely and entirely mistaken. We never went to prison in order to be martyrs. We went there in order that we might obtain the rights of citizenship. We were willing to break laws that we might force men to give us the right to make laws.” – Emmeline Pankhurst

Against the backdrop of cheap labour and a lavish textile industry, the city prospered as the spine of the industrial revolution. Here Socialism was birthed and Labour Unions formed. Community values were thrown at the establishment in their droves. So, with class division and heated change, up popped widow Emmeline Pankhurst. Her late husband Dr. Richard Pankhurst had been a barrister and sympathiser to the cause. There was immense risk to all for taking on the Edwardian overlords. Many were killed, many imprisoned and other atrocities committed towards them.

“Every man with a vote was considered a foe to woman suffrage unless he was prepared to be actively a friend.” – Emmeline Pankhurst, My Own Story

Manchester’s Free Trade Hall now replaced by the Radisson Blu Edwardian Manchester, was built in 1853. It was a place central to Manchester’s progressive and radical history. The Corn Laws were repealed, and this building was a celebration of that. The building also stands on the site of the infamous Peterloo Massacre. Here, at St Peter’s Field, in 1819, 15 people were killed by the government’s cavalry and police. Over 700 people were injured. Like some of today’s global protests over the late George Floyd, these peaceful protestors were met with disproportionate aggression. At the Manchester’s Free Trade Hall, during 1905, suffragettes Annie Kenney and Christabel Pankhurst pushed to fight for votes for women. Watching in the wings was a future prime minister, and then Liberal Party member, Winston Churchill. He offered to pay their bail but was refused. Five years later as Home Secretary, Winston Churchill would direct the uncompromising Police against Emmeline Pankhurst’s protest march of 300 women to Parliament Square. Politicians do like a good U-turn.

“The militancy of men, through all the centuries, has drenched the world with blood, and for these deeds of horror and destruction men have been rewarded with monuments, with great songs and epics.” – Emmeline Pankhurst, My Own Story

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Manchester has embraced pride in Emmeline Pankhurst and the Suffragette Movement. On St. Peter’s Square, just to the side of the Metrolink tramline, stands a proud Emmeline Pankhurst statue. Artist Hazel Reeves opted for Emmeline on a chair, a nod to her speech, “Rise up, women.” Some of her original and other Suffragette pieces can be found down the road, at the People’s History Museum. There are telegrams by Emmeline Pankhurst. The collection is a pure conservation to the history of working people in the UK. If you’re a student or an interested historian, this is the place to go for interpretation and study material relating to Suffragettes. It is all wrapped inside Henry Price’s former hydraulic pumping station. The Museum of Science and Industry and Quarry Bank Mill provide further atmospheric links to different times.

Quarry Bank MIll September 2019 (30)

“My conduct in the Free Trade Hall and outside was meant as a protest against the legal position of women today. We cannot make any orderly protest because we have not the means whereby citizens may do such a thing; we have not a vote; and so long as we have not votes we must be disorderly. There is no other way whereby we can put forward our claims to political justice. When we have that you will not see us at the police courts; but so long as we have not votes this will happen.” – Christabel Pankhurst

Influenced by her mother, Sophia Craine, Emmeline Pankhurst passed on her strong character to her daughters. On the 14th June 1928 died in a nursing home in Hampstead. She was buried in Brompton Cemetery, London. Her legacy is well-known.

“The world has never yet seen a truly great and virtuous nation because in the degradation of woman the very fountains of life are poisoned at their source.” – Lucretia Mott, U.S. Quaker, abolitionist, women’s rights activist, and social reformer.

Dame Christabel Harriette Pankhurst, DBE, born of Old Trafford (22nd September 1880), and was laid to rest in Santa Monica, California, U.S.A. in 1958, the day before Valentine’s Day. She had spent two years exiled in France during 1912-13 and directed the militant action of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). Charles André Joseph Marie de Gaulle had an airport named after him for his exile in World War 2. Christabel Pankhurst was made Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire for her dedication to public and social services. Of course, being British, and like many Suffragettes she had several blue plaques placed at places she frequented, mostly in Notting Hill.

“Mothers came to me with their wasted little ones. I saw starvation look at me from patient eyes. I knew that I should never return to my art” – Sylvia Pankhurst

Estelle Sylvia Pankhurst (5 May 1882 – 27 September 1960) was part of the alma maters of both the Manchester School of Art and the Royal College of Art. In 1956, she moved to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia with her son Richard at the invitation of Emperor Haile Selassie. Her social and healthcare work there earned her a state funeral. She died as an honorary Ethiopian. She is buried as the only foreigner with patriots of the Italian War, alongside the Holy Trinity Cathedral. Her son, Richard Keir Pethick Pankhurst OBE was a British academic and founding member of the Institute of Ethiopian Studies.

“The older I get, the greater power I seem to have to help the world. I am like a snowball – the further I am rolled the more I gain.” – Susan B. Anthony, American social reformer and women’s rights activist

Adela Constantia Mary Pankhurst Walsh (19 June 1885-23 May 1961) would move to Australia, far from her birthplace in Chorlton Upon Medlock. She would be the co-founder of both the far-left Communist Party of Australia and the far-right Fascist Australia First Movement. She spent some time in a Japan, before returning to Australia to face prison for her advocacy of peace with Japan.

“Now all we need is to continue to speak the truth fearlessly, and we shall add to our number those who will turn the scale to the side of equal and full justice in all things.” – Lucy Stone, suffragist and abolitionist.

Today the great-granddaughter of Emmeline Pankhurst and granddaughter of Sylvia Pankhurst, Helen Pankhurst CBE is an international development and women’s rights activist and writer, as well as a Visiting Professor at Manchester Metropolitan University. Her brother Alula Pankhurst (Manchester University PhD: Social Anthropology) is a social development consultant. His focus is Ethiopian studies and the Young Lives multidisciplinary, longitudinal study, multinational study. Like Alula, Helen Pankhurst CBE has two children and remains heavily connected to her Eithiopian heritage through CARE International.

“I’d rather go down in history as one lone Negro who dared to tell the government that it had done a dastardly thing than to save my skin by taking back what I said.” – Ida B. Wells, prominent journalist, activist, and researcher.

There are huge parallels to what’s happening in America and the world right now, with regards to the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Much can be learnt from the Suffragette movement and their struggles. Let’s look at the Minneapolis City Council who have decided to disband and break-up the Minneapolis Police Department. They have formally committed to forming a community-led Police system. The system was broke, and many should – and hopefully will have the right to fix it. By the people, for the people.

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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

Manchester Remembers.

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

In 2013 Tony Walsh penned the poem, This is the Place. Sadly, following an attack on civilians by an absolute coward and fool in the name of extremism – and one which has nothing to do with Islam, this poem became very well known. It is a poem about belonging and the importance of communities. They need nurturing and through Forever Manchester (est. 1989) they work to inspire and encourage projects that want to see healthier and happier neighbourhoods in Manchester. This is the Place became an anthem for the people of Manchester.

Concert-goers, from the artist Ariana Grande, had enjoyed a love-filled pop concert and filtered out of the packed Manchester Evening News Arena. The very arena at the centre of Manchester that I and many friends have enjoyed sports, music, arts and comedy at. It has held political and social justice events. It’s part of Mancunian culture and has been so since the 15th of July 1995. The Nynex Arena was a place many looked forwards to seeing Manchester Giants dunk balls through hoops and the Manchester Storm and Manchester Phoenix teams slash at pucks sliding up and down ice. It was here I’ve seen Meat Loaf, at least 3 times, Catatonia, Slipknot, Idlewild, the Mighty Boosh, Arcade Fire, and a concert campaigning for a minimum wage (28/4/2001). On either October the 13th or 14th in 2000, I attended Britney Spears tour for Oops!…I Did It Again Tour, with my mate Robert Hanna. It wasn’t that bad. The familiar ways in and out of the weird cuboid shaped cavernous arena are clear in my mind. It was and always should be a place of entertainment and joy.

But, on May the 22nd 2017, things could have changed. Things did change. The tool of death was a shrapnel-laden improvised homemade device was filled with pure hate. Twenty-two souls were claimed that horrible and atrocious night. At least 139 people were wounded physically, and hundreds suffered psychological traumas.

Prime Minister Theresa May and Greater Manchester’s Chief Constable, Ian Hopkins acted accordingly and within the public eye. Millions of pounds were handed to the recovery and care of victims from that night. For many, counselling still goes on. It would be September the 9th before Manchester’s flagship arena would reopen. The patron saint of Manchester, Noel Gallagher held a special benefit concert. Mancunian defiance and love for our city, brought even red and blue together.

Manchester fought back with love. Accommodation and transport were supplied by people to the people. Taxi companies, houses, and companies threw open their doors. The Sikh gurdwaras temples nearby became shelters. A local hotel became a makeshift safety shelter and lost children tent. Underneath Manchester Victoria station was evacuated. The city was swiftly placed into action to check for further dangers and to assess the losses. Whilst repairs were possible to the arena foyer and the railways station, the true loss came in human tragedy.

The victims ages were from as tender age as just eight years old to 51 years of age. All cut too short from life. Ten people died below the age of 20. Two Polish nationals and twenty British nationals, from various walks of life, gone. Young Saffie Rose Roussos died aged 8. The Tarleton Community Primary School student’s parents invited Manchester to mourn with their family. Described as a little girl with a beautiful smile who loved dancing, gymnastics and music, she could be any primary school kid in any nation. Dreadfully and heartbreakingly, she was in the right place at the wrong time. Just like many of us as kids do, we follow – or we push our parents to go to see live concerts. Who does that hurt? Nobody. It never should.

Before that night, I’d barely known who Ariana Grande was. I knew she was a hip sexy popstar and idol of many young and even older fans. Her edgy music was appealing to many. It wasn’t my cup of tea, but it did entice 28-year-old John Atkinson from Bury. He enjoyed a break as a support worker for people with autism. The void left to his family and those he supported is unimaginable.

Halewood Academy’s Megan Hurley’s parents vowed to keep her memory alive. The charity pin, designed by her bigger brother Bradley helped that and now www.meganhurleyfoundation.org.uk supports families due to the sudden and unexpected loss of a child. The legacy of a 15 year-old-girl’s devastating passing keeps her treasured memories for her family whilst offering hope to those in dark, dark places.

Another 15-year-old victim Olivia Campbell-Hardy has a foundation in her honour. Liv’s Trust. It sounds so alive. Liv’s Trust has been set up to help under twenty-fives in Greater Manchester get help and receive education in music & dance. What a wonderful and noble cause.

“People are not born with hate. It is coming from somewhere. We need to integrate all age groups. We need to bring everyone together. At the end of the day, we are all human beings. That is what we are.” – Andrew Hardy, Manchester Evening News (28/9/2017)

Alison Howe (sexual health nurse and mother of two, with four stepsons), 45

Lisa Lees (beauty tutor at Oldham College and mother of two), 43

Angelika Klis (39) and Marcin Klis (42), residents of York, just waiting to collect their kids form the concert.

Martyn Hett, 29 (PR manager, social media star) #BeMoreMartyn

Georgina Callander, 18 (a college student from Lancashire)

Kelly Brewster, 32 (a globetrotter from Sheffield looking to settle down and be a loving stepmother)

Jane Tweddle, 51 (a school receptionist from Blackpool and mother-of-three)

Nell Jones, 14 (“She would not want you to hate because of what has happened, she would want you to love.” – her brother Sam’s words)

Michelle Kiss, 45 (Her widower husband Tony Kiss asked all to support children’s charity Derian House because she ‘she lived for her children’.)

Sorrell Leczkowski, 14 (a teenager from Leeds, robbed of her ambitions)

Liam Curry, 19, and Chloe Rutherford, 17 (a loving couple from South Shields, Tyneside)

Elaine McIver, 43 (served with the Cheshire Police for 19 years)

Wendy Fawell, 50 (a former primary school worker)

Eilidh MacLeod, 14 (from Barra, Outer Hebrides, Scotland)

Courtney Boyle, 19, and Philip Tron, 32 (from Gateshead, there to pick up a family member)

Off-duty consultant anaesthetist, Michael Daley, was one few medical experts on scene almost immediately. His name is quite rightly on the British Medical Association Book of Valour in June 2017. Sirens blazed throughout the centre of Manchester and the edge of Salford that May 22nd night. The North West Ambulance Service sent 60 ambulances to the wretched incident. Numerous walking wounded received treatment by key NHS workers.

I didn’t know any of these people, but I could have. These were everyday people going about their lives in a place of relative security and safety. Aside from the 1996 IRA bombing of Manchester and the events of World War II, Manchester has been like almost every other city, its fair share of unfortunate crime and hate, with trouble here and there. But, on the whole Manchester has and always will be a place of togetherness and inclusion. It doesn’t accept hate or perversion of any race of religion. It bounces back.

One Love Manchester was one high profile benefit concert event on the 4th June 2017. 55,000 people rocked up less than two weeks after the terrorist attack. Ariana Grande was graceful and full of strength and many stars took to the stage to offer a huge two-finger gesture to those who wish to destroy our everyday lives: you will not win. Following it, our Ariana Grande became an honorary citizen of the city. We look after our own and those who we claim as our own.

The British Red Cross received over £17 million of donations following the One Love Manchester concert. 50 countries around the world broadcast it, ensuring the people of China, Australia, Peru, and the listeners of Capital Radio Sierra Leone could share the love. Legend of popular music Stevie Wonder belted out Love’s in Need of Love Today and Marcus Mumford of a similar named-band played Timshel. As I watched YouTube’s livestream of Ariana Grande and Coldplay performing an Oasis number, even from the comfort of my sofa, Don’t Look Back in Anger rung very true. Liam Gallagher swaggered onto stage and sang Live Forever, and do you know what, as a Mancunian born and bred, I properly hope that none of those who died that day are forgotten. I trust and I hope that like then, now in these horrid COVID-19 times, that we as Mancs, born here, or raised here, or headed here (for good or for a day out), keep the flag waving for peace and love.

“…the City of Manchester was the Hero.” – Scooter Braun, manager of Ariana Grande to Billboard magazine.

Community and courage arose from the ashes, and for those lucky enough life went on. But, we didn’t forget our lost, our visitors who never travelled back, our guests our workers, and their losses. No, we remember. Manchester remembers.

爱与和平/Peace and love

///////////

Need further inspiration?

The bomber’s name won’t be written here and even now his brother is imprisoned on twenty or so counts of murder. Both attended Burnage High School for Boys (now Academy), a school once bombed by the Luftwaffe during World War 2. Just as Hitler shouldn’t ruin the name of Austria, Burnage should be seen in a better light. It’s motto is ‘Be The Best That You Can Be’. I’ve got friends and met many people from Burnage, and they’ve all lived to that motto. The school has a rich history. It offers chances to escape Manchester. Darren and Jason Beckford (Manchester City), Busby babe Roger Byrne, Wes Brown and Peter Coyne (Man. Utd.) make up the footballing graduates. Bass players Guigsy (Paul McGuigan) of Oasis and Dale Hibbert (The Smiths) attended there – as did Simply Red’s Aziz Ibrahim (he was also with Paul Weller, The Stone Roses and Ian Brown). There have been some big former students. Motivational speaker Brian Sterling-Vete, American football player Menelik Watson, and Jim O’Neill (Baron O’Neill of Gatley) was a government minister. Even a bloody bobsleigh competitor, Lamin Deen, made it out of Burnage to bigger things. It is unfair that the bomber’s name taints the school’s long-standing name and a place that 1966 BAFTA TV Award for Best Actor Alan Badel attended.

Author John Hutton attended Burnage High School. His novels are 29, Herriott Street (1979) and Accidental Crimes (1983). The latter received a Gold Dagger Award from the Crime Writers’ Association. My favourite Nepali film, Sherpa, was co-produced by John Smithson. This former Burnage student was also notable in his involvement in a huge list of hard-hitting dramas and documentaries. Toughing the Void, 127 Hours, and Deep Water. So with all the above, Burnage has created far more great people than the one mistake that the media highlights.

Jump On, Happy Now

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

I recall Mr Jones at Chapel Street Primary School making a simple poem. It was wordplay on my name John. Jump on, happy now. So simple. So memorable. Like other school events. When I was young, our class went to Mam Tor and the Blue John Cavern in Castleton, Derbyshire. I remember very little other than giggling at the name Blue John. The cavern is named after a semi-precious mineral Blue John. The 250 million years old was and is mined for the purposes of jewellery. The cavern sits beneath Mam Tor, a rather tall hill, a 517-metre (1696ft) peak of the world famous Peak District. I never picked up any fluorite (with bands of a purple-blue or yellowish colour) but I do recall the French name of bleu-jaune (blue-yellow). So, my name went from blue to yellow. In China blue movies are called yellow movies.

Our class had walked the 4.8km up (3 miles) from a car park, where our coach awaited. In misty wet conditions we returned, a little soggy. The views across the Edale Valley and Kinder Scout were wasted on us. It was completely shrouded by clouds. The Derwent Moors were less than visible. We even walked to another cave, Windy Knoll, but the entrance was covered by loose rubble. That was invisible to us too. Still we’d climbed up the peak that means ‘Mother Hill’. The brittle shale and so-called shivering mountain also left us shivering in the damp and cold too. As our teeth chattered a teaching assistant rambled on about Bronze Age and Iron Age forts. To kids in a field, drenched head to toe, he mustered zero enthusiasm. We all had ideas of using the caves (Speedwell Cavern, Peak Cavern A.K.A. ‘The Devil’s Arse’ and Treak Cliff Cavern) as a kind of natural umbrella.

So, that was my first time to see the name John in a strange place. Our primary school used to have three Johns. John O’Neill and John Doherty, with myself. Recently, I played football with John Burns and John Crompton. My surname is Acton. So, here in China, we had John A, B and C at Murray’s F.C. It isn’t an unusual name. John is Jewish, or was. It coms from a word meaning ‘Graced by Yahweh’ – a kind of Samarian God. Jack, Jackie, Johnny and Jonathan all come from the name John. Jackie Chan is a wannabe John. also comes from the name John but as a Manchester City striker, I can’t take responsibility for him, and nor should the name John. Johns can be equally good or bad. Everton, not the football team, but the name also comes from the name John. Being a very biblical name, John has been mutated and transpired into Celtic (Ianto), Germanic, Romance, European, Arabic (يُوحَنّا‎), Hungarian, Albanian (Xhoni), Slavic (Ján) and other forms. One of the most common names in English-speaking countries is sticking around hard and fast.

Yahweh is or was a storm-and-warrior deity which explains why I like the rain a fair bit. That and being Mancunian – it’s a kind of Stockholm syndrome. Here in China, as the Dongguan rain lashes down, I can write Yuēhàn (约翰) into my phone to produce a local version of my name that sounds more German than Chinese. My Korean student Kim could write my name as Yohan (요한) and my Japanese student Leon could write my name as Yohane (ヨハネ). Then there are countless feminine forms around the world such as Jone, Johanna, Ghjuvanna and Sinéad.

John is mentioned countless times throughout religion, with the Gospel of John, First through to Third Epistles of John and the Book of Revelation by a certain Saint John the Divine scribbling something down. There were no blog pages in his time. Apocalypses have remained popular in fiction and non-fiction ever since. Well, until the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. Gospel of John was the third sequel to the Gospel of Matthew. Mark and Luke were the other members of the Gospel boyband. The Gospel of John has much prattling and something to do with the raising of Lazarus and contrasts Judaism. It’s probably where Christianity broke away, circa AD90-110. Three faith-raising sermon letters (epistles) of John followed much like the Fast & The Furious franchise.

“Who’s that writin’? John the Revelator. Who’s that writin’? John the Revelator. Who’s that writin’? John the Revelator. Wrote the book of the seven seals” – John the Revelator, Blind Willie Johnson

Many kings and queens have taken on the various forms of the name John through time, with prophet John the Baptist (died 30AD-ish), John the Apostle (one of a dozen). John the Evangelist (an author type), John of Patmos (the Revelator/the Divine), John the Presbyter (open to interpretation), another John (father of Saint Peter etc), John of Antioch (a chronicler which is a kind of news reporter of the time), umpteen Pope Johns (at least 21 of them), and several Saint Johns. There are Saint John churches and places as diverse as Cornwall (a parish village with the nearby St John’s Lake SSSI), Malacca in Malaysia, the capital city of Newfoundland and Labrador and even the Church of St John-at-Hackney. Wherever a boat could sail, and a missionary could set up a parish, that’s where the name has reached. If you don’t believe me, take a glance at the maps of Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica and Grenada. Oh, and there are ambulances displaying the saintly name: St. John Ambulance. Mighty Mouse was even a St. John Publications comic character.

Nicknames involving Johns area round us too. My Dad had a friend who was nicknamed ‘John the Ghost’ because of his pale look and I think had a few near misses with death in hid life. John the Hunchback isn’t as famous Quasimodo. Being a General and Politician in Roman times on the flanks of the Eastern Roman Empire wasn’t quite as romantic as being the protagonist of The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. John “the Savage” features in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. John “OO” Fleming is a trance D.J. and his music could be heard on a portable speaker sat atop your very own Johnboat (an aluminium hunter-fishing boat). My mate John Petrie shares the name of Arbroath F.C.’s striker extraordinaire – he scored a record 13 goals in a 36-0 win. That’s something to mull over as you listen to former Meat Loaf and Marilyn Manson guitarist John 5. There are countless Johns to plug: I mentioned John Rabe and John Nichols before.

Whether in a campaign, a B-side on a Kylie Minogue with Robbie Williams song, a Giant Cave of Gilbratar, the John’s Langur (Semnopithecus johnii), a famous New York pizzeria, archaic phones, or a show about Tourette’s syndrome, the name John can be used for good or bad. Fritz John made an ultrahyperbolic partial differential equation that carries the name John’s equation. It was pretty bad for my eyes to see it and understand very little of it. Not all Johns make sense. I know that I don’t.

“Be thine own palace, or the world’s thy jail.” – ― John Donne, The Poems of John Donne (Volume 1)

The name John is popular in many ways. Master Chief Petty Officer John-117 from the video game Halo wasn’t an ideal role model for me but he did accompany far too many adolescents through early development blasting the hell out of crazy religious Covenant alien radicals. Almost as great as sending a Dear John letter to tell your loved one that they are a former loved one and now you have a new loved one. Writer Philip Jerome Quinn Barry wasn’t a John but in 1927 the New Yorker published his play called, yes, you guessed right, John. That play was unsuccessful. Bad John. Lil’ Wayne (2011) and Desireless (1988) didn’t write their songs of the same name, based on P.J.Q. Barry’s failed play. They sold around 2 million and 313,000 respectively.

“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.” – John Milton, Paradise Lost.

Other odd uses of the name John can mean someone who uses a prostitute, slang for a toilet (cheers America!), tropical storms and hurricanes, and there are about 13,400,137 Johns in the U.S.A. at any one time. That’s about one in every 25 Americans. On the flipside, John the Ripper is a program used to test the strength of a password. In Morse code John looks like this: .——….-. (which may be useless in the digital age). John Lennon and John F. Kennedy didn’t get any Morse code message of their fate. John R. “Johnny” Cash is one of my favourite Johns, in terms of talented Johns. John Paul Henry Daniel Richard Grimes is not.

Bizarrely the names Eoin, Evan, Yohannes, Ifan, Ioane, Hermes, Siôn, Janes, and Núño have origins in the name John. Jhon is also a real name. I guess somebody couldn’t type or spell, and it stuck. John has grace the rich and famous with numerous kings, Elton John, the late huge-nosed Gottfried John, Dame Olivia Newton-John and (was it personal?) R&B singer William Edward “Little Willie” John having a certain name. That 24-bar blues song Leave My Kitten Alone is so underrated. The Beatles and Elvis Costello copied it at some state too.

“Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard, are sweeter” – John Keats, Ode on a Grecian Urn and Other Poems

The name John is classic. It is a natural and wholesome formal name, refined and well at home in history and equally strong for the present day. It can represent the boring aspects of name history and the simple yet serious mature look of a person. Whether the name represents an author or an actor in Downton Abbey, the name John could likewise be a Canadian prime minister or a character in DC comics. John can be legend or literature, musician or theologian. The name John was once consistently popular in one of its many forms. Now newer names and international culture are heavily influencing naming across the globe. The name John, however, will not fade away.

Johnny Marr is from Manchester and spent some of his years in Ardwick. He probably wasn’t far from another famous John in Manchester. All of the above writing could easily have been a huge and tedious introduction to Manchester’s famous John Dalton. Born in Cumberland at a place called Eaglesfield (by Cockermouth), John Dalton headed for Manchester. He would go on to be a hugely influential chemist, physicist, and meteorologist. He made huge contributions to atomic theory research, the study of colour blindness and dissenting educationalists from church-backed establishments. He was radical.

Buried under Ardwick’s playing fields (former cemetery), Dalton’s legacies are far more than a statue-bust in Manchester’s town hall. The John Dalton Building of Manchester Metropolitan University houses the Faculty of Science and Engineering. There’s a statue of John Dalton outside. John Dalton Street connects Deansgate and Albert Square in central Manchester. There’s a bleu plaque at 36 George Street, his former residence. Dalton published many pieces including work on the Law of Multiple Proportions, Dalton’s Law of Partial Pressures, Daltonism (also known as colour blindness). He earned his Royal Medal amongst many plaudits and lived to study and research. Nowadays his name lives on through such terms as Dalton (S.I. unit), Daltonism, and the Dalton Minimum. The latter was a period of low sunspot count, representing low solar activity, possibly much like the City of Manchester’s exposure to sun at the peak of winter, right?

“John Dalton’s records, carefully preserved for a century, were destroyed during the World War II bombing of Manchester. It is not only the living who are killed in war.” – Isaac Asimov, Writer & Biochemistry professor

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!

After quarantine.

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

 

After quarantine isn’t quite what I expected. I expected life to be much more difficult, but it isn’t. On arriving back to the garden compounds of my home apartment, I had my temperature checked, had a form filled in for me, and after maybe ten tense minutes, I was driven to my apartment door. Here I took the squeaky-clean lift up to my floor, opened the door, scanned a QR code and registered myself. That’s for the garden management, the local authority and the Police to know where I am. There was a form given to me, with 14 days on it, for my temperature but as I’d completed government-ran hotel quarantine and had a lovely certificate to show for it, I was exempted.

“If your smiling you’d better smile, for us all; If your laughing you’d better laugh, for us all; Well you better from now on; Yeah you better from now on” – For Us All, Levellers

Every day in quarantine, I thrashed my exercise out to several songs, one was For Us All, by the Levellers, alongside their track England My Home and many more! When the darkness drifted in and I felt myself so alone, I turned to music. I read the songs in my mind like fine books. I embraced the beats, the tempos and felt raw emotions like never ever before, perhaps enhanced by my temporary hermitage existence. The solitary confinement can’t be compared to that of a prisoner in a box of solitude, but for me, it was a personal struggle. I can be a loner of my own choosing, but this eremitic period of time has certainly convinced me that I will never be a true solitudinarian. More upbeat numbers of my childhood such as Sub Sub’s, Ain’t No Love (Ain’t No Use), and copious amounts of Black Grape (It’s your big day in the north, love…).

Outside, after a gentle jog (I felt knackered after doing less than 2km) and a brief wander to say hello ( and collect a medal from a colleague), I went to Kings Bar in Changping to enjoy pizza and a trio of beers (two IPAs and a stout from Master Gao brewery). I felt shattered and tired all night. It was good to be out, but emotionally it was a strain. I could see my colleague Gerry, wasn’t too fresh from quarantine too. There’s only so much conversation that you can have when you’ve both been stuck in a room for one, over 14 days. Luckily Kingston and Andy added to our nattering. The complimentary stout helped welcome us back – and was much, much appreciated.

“But it’s there to find if you have the mind; And you don’t live in fear of it…” – Men-an-Tol, The Levellers

Today, I went to a supermarket and a coffee shop. Temperature checks and all that were normal. The frequency of said checks in the supermarket was abnormal: four times. Yesterday, an old man spat towards me on the way to school. He shouted something towards me calling me American or something about America. Gerry had a car refuse to pick us up, and they messaged him with the word ‘poisonous’. It is fear and worry, no doubt, but it’ll go away, we all hope. This is not a time for hate and fear. That being said counterfeit testing kits and fake masks, scams, lies, pure hate, alleged W.H.O. bias, and xenophobia are fuelling a global atmosphere of hate and distrust. Fight I with love and support. The minority, the knobheads and the uneducated lowlife responses don’t represent us all – and increasingly many governments and politicians do not either. There’ll be a brighter day soon.

There is hope out there, amongst the gloom. UCI show us how the professional cyclists keep going; charities left, right and centre help those in need; research is making progress in finding a vaccine or helping to alleviate symptoms; footballers are throwing their money at the NHS too; and countless other goodwill moments. China is sending aid to many countries – sometimes to mixed responses. The Vatican had benefited, Pakistan too, Israel has, Spain (did but they were faulty), France also, similarly Greece and Italy likewise. Pick a region or country and you’ll find China has been helping, whether through government, enterprise or charitable donations. Many argue the W.H.O., U.N., U.S.A. and China working as one are key. Some argue that there isn’t enough input from one or the others; but Europe is increasingly receiving support from China. The U.S.A. appears to be extensively alienating itself. Canada and Mexico, its geographically closest neighbours aren’t exactly being encouraged. 3M were ordered not to export to Canada despite 3M receiving the bade components and materials. And, Mexico is always the brunt of a Trump border problem. Corona beer production in Mexico is on hold for other reasons.

Oh and my letter to Dongguan was published on the local Here! Dongguan magazine online channel. Right time to go eat a salad… homemade with sweet potato leaves and peanuts. Why not?

Vivid moments on the Earth’s crust.

好 (nĭ hăo) / Namaste / Welcome!


Eddie, Eddie give us a wave!

Rest in peace Eddie Large. The comedian born in Scotland came to Manchester as a kid and adopted City. Well City adopted him as a mascot later on in the years and one thing about him and Syd Little, they really were a sweet comedy pair. On his heart problem: “He said, “What stresses you out?”, I said, “football”, he said, “What team do you support?”, I said, “Manchester City”. He said, “That’s it.”” Later he ends the brief video story as, “I don’t blame it on City, but he did.” Rest in peace big man – and condolences to your family. The likes of Matt Lucas saying that Eddie Large offered him support when he started out says a lot. Eddie Large has a large legacy.


Words and actions are being thrown around in these tough times. I love reading and can’t focus because the information that is out there is too much. There’s great and good. There’s sad and devastating. For example, the BBC News footage of the news presenter Jane Hill saying the government expected 30,000 ventilators. Before that, she sounded so bleak, and she shows all the pain in her face, “…and we have been double-checking this, but it does seem to say thirty.” So, so worrying. Even the media are struggling to comprehend this all now. Shandong province, of China, have sent support to the U.K.

“This virus is a disaster. Footballers can live without receiving a single paycheck for a few years, but I feel sorry for the person who wakes up at 6 in the morning and comes back at 9 at night just to feed his family. Us footballers can make a difference.” – Carlos Tevez, footballer

Someone, somewhere, wrote to me, ‘How’s the bat soup going down. & the puppy blamange desert?’At first I wan’t going t reply. There’s so much hate and pain going around. There’s so many xenophobic lines just bashed out on keyboards. I know, because all I want to do is exercise my right to reply or write something. Usually, I hold back. Spread peace and love. I try. I hate hate. But away, I went as per below:

This is obviously linked to wet markets and wildlife trade. China is pushing through some serious laws. They’ve lost so much face, and many lives, many. The world is suffering too. If it wasn’t here, it could have started in Vietnam, Korea, a whole list of countries. The thing is, it is too late to laugh at it all, because it’s on our doorsteps, everywhere, knocking and pushing its way through. We’ll all suffer for this. It is too sad for me to laugh at. Especially, seeing as bear bile is classed as a TCM (traditional Chinese med)… and is sanctioned to treat COVID19.

Sorry, I can’t joke anymore about this. Over here, in China, foreigners are experiencing xenphobia for importing cases into the country, jobs are going for fellow teachers and workers who were needed here. Gallow’s humour is all well and good but there is a time and place. The blancmange is to die for.

This virus and spread of disease may be hell for many. Some will go into lockdown and may never come out. Elliot Dallen imagined spending his last few weeks with friends. Now his final time is slipping away. I can’t imagine the dread he is going through and there are no words that I, or many others can offer for him. I hope he gets the tangible bonds of friendship and family time, he like many, are missing. Life must carry on, right to the end.


 

The journey goes on.

Leaving Chame (2710m) town, we clambered up a wide pathway, below a very steep cliff of a mountain. The rattle and whistle of prayer flags could be heard overhead. The path led out, upwards gently, hugging the valley. Eventually in reached a small village and then another smaller village. Bhratang (2850m) was quite a small village. Not so much a village, more of a hamlet. A small number of houses before modern signs for The Farmhouse. The Farmhouse is an eco-resort, and many note it as being a heaven for apples. I was excited. I wanted to try an apple from here, despite knowing that the orchard much be closed. Maybe, just maybe they’d have one or two apples knocking around in a cold room. I clung to hope. The Farmhouse has a link to both Bhratang Apple Farm and Agro Manang. This is Nepal’s biggest and most famous source of apples. Maybe, they’d have some apple sauce? Some ciders? Apple vinegar? The apples that the bus in Swayambhu, Kathmandu had carried (to Pokhara) had come from here. I’m not a huge apple fan (I could have said big apple, right?) but the smell of those apples on that bus journey was scrumptious.

Soon after I would pass a huge apple orchard with discernible damage from storms. Power lines, trees and fencing didn’t just lean over, it littered the scattered exposed earth. The acres of apple trees leaned towards the south in a way a rugby team would crouch in a scrum. The naked branches of each tree were bound together with reinforced ropes and supports, giving it the view of a kind of wooden graveyard. The towering rockface to the right of the path sparkled in the sunlight, with occasional ledges much like the whole mountain had been carved away by an immense force. The eco-park beneath it and The Farmhouse were closed. There was no chance of an apple tart or an apple flapjack. I refilled my water bottle from one of three gushing springs set in a wall.

The orchard was hidden by fences that could have belonged in Jurassic Park. Warnings about keeping out were everywhere. Every now and then a tree had fell out of the in, and into the road. Bits of electrical pylons dotted the pathways and the odd electrical wiring slung here and there. An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but this pile of ruins wasn’t inviting me to look for the scattered rotten apples on the floor. Quite the opposite. I trotted on.

Rounded a sharp-rising pathway from Bhratang, the huge western face of Pagunda Danda became visible. The mountain could easily have doubled as a slate of hill, or a hill of slate. It is so smooth-looking that you wonder if it has been moisturising for millennia. Many people trek the Annapurna Circuit for the biggies, the large peaks but views such as Pagunda Danda alone made my trip well worth doing. I can see the appeal of a scramble and ice-climb up the face, but with melting and sunlight upon it, the risks of avalanches were high.

Avalanches had been noted from just before Chame village onwards. One avalanche field had swept trees, boulders and all in its path down across the pathway. The pathway had been sliced open again and cleared. Either side of the road potato-shaped but basketball-sized balls of frozen snow piled high, with twigs, branches and stumps jutting outwards. On the lower levels of the pathway, fallen electric pylons and rocks the sizes of cars had crashed downwards. The avalanche was not fresh, but it wasn’t particularly old. Looking upwards into the steep valley to a mountain ridge, I deliberated about where all this material had actually come from. It was frighteningly too much for mind to compute.

The second avalanche field I encountered was on the opposite bank of the gushing Marshyangdi River. It was so big that it covered over the river and arrived at the steep base far below my footing. The river had tunnelled through the frozen snow overhead. It was an eerie sight to behold. Just before that field a few tonnes had piled on the sharply-carved Bhratang to Chame road making the area impassable, and causing a huge landslide to make the footpath as wide as a human could walk safely. Just. Below in the river, a carcass of a Toyota jeep sat well-below the narrow road overhead. Later, Livia had found out that back in October, several people were on board as the jeep slipped off the road. Thankfully all had managed to jump clear. A real miracle in the mountains.

The sharp road is but only wide enough for one car. The rock above is barely two metres high. It’s a ledge that commands real respect and no hanging around. A long horizontal slat has ice caps and blastholes in equal scatterings. Walking far from the edge, I could peek at the drop below. Ravine of the week was alongside me for several hundred metres. I felt I needed to be roped to the wall behind me.

The largest path of avalanche destruction lay soon after the perils of the cliff track. A huge sweeping sheath of snow and debris had swept from the southern flank of Pagunda Danda. This casing of ice and power had ripped over the pathway into the river below. A clearly demarked pathway was cut through and lined with pines from nearby trees. The crevices and nooks around which were not safe to linger for too long.

On approach to the well-named Marshyangdi River Bridge, Pagunda Danda’s splendour was there for all to see. This 1500m (4,900ft) elevation is striking. Almost like a vivid piece of the Earth’s crust curved outwards and upwards in a kind of skateboard park half-pipe shape. It isn’t beyond the imagination to picture people skiing down the snow covered silky-looking solid surface or perhaps cycling up the shiny and extraordinary rockface itself. I was reliably informed by a passing guide that once upon a time it once was a lakebed. My imagination could barely see that. Now, local legends believe that mass of rock, known as Swarga (heaven) Dwar (gates) is the route to the afterlife. After leaving your mortal remains behind, you must clamber up this wall to reach the beyond. Few cracks and very little green grew along this gargantuan surface. Its various tones glimmered in the sunlight. Swarga Dwar is heavenly.

I decided I’d walk over the wider bridge. Bad idea. Not so soon after, I had to double back in deep-unbroken snow to the pathway that connected from the smaller chain suspension bridge. Still, the views were worth it, or that’s what I kept telling myself. On crossing the bridge, I noticed that not one, but of my walking boots had worn splits in them. They would remain watertight for that day, but worry set in. How easy is it to buy a pair of UK size-14 boots in the mountains? Was there much demand for European-sized 50 boots in that neck of the woods? Would a repair shop be open in Manang?

The slog up to Dhukur Pokhari (3240m) involved a little bit of that famous Nepali flat (little bit up, little bit down) on the last section. Ordinarily, I’d have enjoyed that, but waist-deep snow and a heavy frame meant I spent a fair bit of time digging myself out and starting up and over again, only to have to dig myself out again. Occasionally, for the sake of variety I flumped over like a dropped teddy bear and rolled around in the snow. These are the moments we hike for – to get in touch with nature, even if gravity is fully in charge. This also gave me time to really appreciate the incredible views. Snow-capped peaks are in every direction and the lower hills around me give glimpses of the fuller Annapurna range. The path had been a zigzagging tour of the under-canopy of pines and firs. The trees had nestled so closely at times that sunlight had failed to melt much of the deep snow beneath the natural green sunshade.

At Dhukur Pokhari, a brightly coloured lodge offering a fruit juice and sun-bathed benches caught my attention. Several trekkers were tucking into what looked like proper potato chips. Would they also have gravy and a nice piece of haddock too? I decided that lunch was needed. Well, actually my belly was rumbling like hell having ran on a trekker’s fuel bar, porridge and omelette for far too long. I greeted the lodges family, “Tashi delek” and took the menu from them. The crisp air, with sunshine beating down on me, reminded me of a winter’s sunny day on Morecambe Bay. I was warm despite the now sub-zero temperatures.

After a lunch of vegetable momos, chips, and allu paratha (potato in a bread), I didn’t enjoy the dal bhat later that evening, but I did have plenty in the tank for the final part of the walk. The steep upwards pathway through to Dhukur Pokhari had burned a fair bit of energy but on leaving the village, the trail was quite smooth, with only a few upward rises, and most of them in the finale of the path.Livia, Srirang and I set out once more and remained together for the final push of the day. The air was much thinner than earlier than day, and a huge radio mast amongst the crumbling old and proud new buildings marked out the final stop for the day. It grew ever closer.

After crossing a footbridge, alongside two twisted bridge remains, the pathway snaked in and out of small bushes and a very hidden abandoned settlement. To the left the river moved away, and fields spread outwards. To the right a new peak became clearer. Pisang takes its name from Pisang Peak (locally called Jong Ri – 6091m high), of which Paungda Danda is its south-eastern subsidiary peak. The so-called ‘Great Wall of Pisang’ was easily visible in the fading sunlight. Pisang Youth Club’s football fields could be made out amongst the snow on our right, as the goalposts gave it away. To our left, a huge sweeping curing avalanched seemed to have completely lost momentum at a stonewall. It was stonewalled just a metre from our footpath. The jagged windswept icy tufts of the avalanche stood in contrast to intact wheat shoots to the avalanche’s left.

Upper Pisang (3300m) is part of the Pisang village. Lower Pisang (3200m) is its slightly lower down and over the valley other half. About 307 live across 105 houses, according to a census in 2011. It seemed on my visit, that far fewer people were here. Arriving at our guesthouse, the lucidly turquoise Marshyangdi River could be seen a hundred metres or so below. If life it what you make it, then right there and then, life was wonderful. To reach Lower Pisang, you don’t cross the bridges, you follow the river and cross a different bridge. The Lower Pisang plains and the buildings looked cold and uninviting because the mountains above cast such a large shadow below.

Upper Pisang has sweeping great views of Annapurna II and ample opportunity to take endless snaps on your camera. The lodge’s family feel is completed by a young girl singing from YouTube videos on a phone. Mother and father, busy cooking occasionally pop out to check on her, and she looked up every time, with full respect and listened to all instructions, in the Tibetan language.

After gaining 600m in elevation and trekking about 14.5km that day, we’d all earned a good night’s sleep. I tucked under my extra blanket and crept into my sleeping bag. I sat up suddenly and took one last look outside at the valley beneath and the few twinkles of electric light. The dark sky and stars made me realise how cold it was, so I slipped back into the sleeping bag and soon fell asleep, deep into a dream…

“Listen as the wind blows, from across the great divide, voices traoped in yearning, memories trapped in time. The night is my companion, and solitude is my guide…” – Possession by Sarah McLachlan

 

Cover image by the angry hungry Hungarian and great trekker Livia (Srirang and I passing an avalanche field the day after arriving at Upper Pisang):

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