ERIC CARLE June 25th 1929 – May 23rd 2021

224 words shaped so many bedtime reading sessions. Bedrooms around the world were greeted with a heart-warming tale of growth, albeit through humour and a spot of seemingly obesity. The story has radiated like the light from the moon, from pages in over 60 languages to beaming eyes looking at the colourful intricate nature of the tale.

“That’s something I learned in art school. I studied graphic design in Germany, and my professor emphasized the responsibility that designers and illustrators have towards the people they create things for.” – Eric Carle

Eric Carle didn’t just write that one book of course. His designs, illustrations and words have appeared in numerous texts. Having dropped his first drawings in 1965, Aesop’s Fables for Modern Readers (Peter Pauper Press), the new-to-the-scene and relatively young illustrator was spotted by educator and author Bill Martin Jr. One red lobster in an advertisement led to a lifetime of colour and creation.

“We have eyes, and we’re looking at stuff all the time, all day long. And I just think that whatever our eyes touch should be beautiful, tasteful, appealing, and important.” – Eric Carle

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? was an award-winning book collaboration with the late author Bill Martin Jr. Thereafter cardboard editions, die-cut holes, inflatables, plastic pockets and multiple versions of artwork with words began to grow and filter from Eric Carle to the world. Countless children have lived and learned through rhyming picture books and used string in one of his many creations.

“One day I think it’s the greatest idea ever that I’m working on. The next day I think it’s the worst that I’ve ever worked on – and I swing between that a lot. Some days I’m very happy with what I’m doing, and the next day I am desperate – it’s not working out!” – Eric Carle

The story of the story-teller is ever more remarkable. This was a man, who his wife Barbara Morrison, strongly believed had held a form of post traumatic stress disorder. He’d dug trenches on the dreaded Siegfried Line of a World War II battlefield. He’d seen death at first hand, aged only around 15 years of age. But then, darkness turned to light over the years: “One Sunday morning the warm sun came up and – pop! – out of the egg came a tiny and very hungry caterpillar.” Okay, it wouldn’t have been that simple, but Eric Carle refused to bow down and give in. Years of toil brought his mind to a place where writing was permitted. An audience was earned. From Germany in World War II, he returned to his country of birth, the U.S.A. and found his way from Syracuse to the New York Times as a graphic artist.

“Let’s put it this way: if you are a novelist, I think you start out with a 20 word idea, and you work at it and you wind up with a 200,000 word novel. We, picture-book people, or at least I, start out with 200,000 words and I reduce it to 20.” – Eric Carle

Via stints back in Germany, for the U.S. Army (during the Korean War) he went on to be an art director at an advertising agency. His collage techniques, rich in hand-painted paper, featured layers and slices of vivid imagination set out as tiny pieces of artwork. Nature and wonder have set tones throughout his simple stories. These stories have been warm and inviting, and give hope to children, especially those new to schooling and education.

Papa, please get the moon for me is a tale of great importance in my opinion. It shows us that imagination is wonderful, even if it is breaking something seen as impossible. Whoever told me that Father Christmas, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny weren’t real, or anybody for that matter, that breaks the dreams of a child, deserves a good long look at themselves. Reality and imagination can sit side by side, otherwise Neil Armstrong, or Elon Musk or Celine Dion would not be around. Ability and knowledge need the company of spark and dream – and that’s where imagination grows.

“They are deceptively simple. I admit that. But for me, all my life I try to simplify things. As a child in school, things were very hard for me to understand often, and I developed a knack, I think. I developed a process to simplify things so I would understand them.” – Eric Carle

As I sit typing words and reading about Eric Carle’s history, I recall flicking through glossy covers of his books, and the joy as my face beamed when I discovered a translated copy in Hengli, Dongguan. That beautiful familiar white cover with a caterpillar and a red apple missing a mouthful, all slightly imbalanced, as if to say, and to appeal, that things aren’t always neat and tidy. One day when COVID-19 passes and the world is a little more tidy, I dream to fly to Amherst, Massachusetts to see the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. That would be as good as finding another Uroballus carlei on a trip to Hong Kong. The Caterpillar Jumping Spider’s Latin name is testament to the reach and pull of a world class picture book writer.

“My father used to take me for walks in the woods. He would peel back the bark of a tree and show me the creatures who lived there. I have very fond memories of these special times with my father and in a way I honor him with my books and my interest in animals and insects.” – Eric Carle

ERIC CARLE June 25th 1929 – May 23rd 2021

Defending mosquitoes.

Good evening.

The sequel to yesterday’s post involves the sudden deaths of five winged attackers. Slain at my hand on entering the apartment. As I squeezed through my open door, in a heartbeat, and closed quicker still, these terrors followed me in. The ones spotted are gone. At least one more remains.

Beware the lone gun. They blend in. They lurk in shadows. Mosquitoes aren’t like you and I. They’re equally not all bad. Sorry to say that.

Mother mosquito is doing a good deed. She’s genetically-programmed to hunt you and I down. We’re targets stuffed full of proteins and nutrients that give her a child-bearing body. Our amino acids are like the prenatal supplement human beings buy at a pharmacy. They’re good for eggs. Daddy mosquito is busy eating fruit and watching the football.

Whilst his mouth parts are shoved into juicy fruits, she’s probing you and I with her elongated snout. Her segmented body is often so light that we seldom notice the deed until the girl has left. Her wings rarely touch their target. She uses organs called halteres to gather intelligence before dipping in on her target. The original bouncing bomb over a dam. And they have separately formed compound eyes which may explain why swatting them can often prove difficult. Olfactory systems are fine tuned to smelling our perspiration or nonanal, also called nonanaldehyde, pelargonaldehyde or Aldehyde C-9. By the time you read them, chances are you were bitten.

For the girly mosquitoes, they start as eggs (thousands clutched together like a raft of doom), turn to larva then a pupa before becoming fully grown irritations of adults. Their male counterparts do the same steps but don’t directly irritate by biting people. From floating on water, they hatch into algae feeding juveniles before turning into proboscis hammering adults. Some live up to a week. Some species can live for several months. Splattered specimens don’t live as long. The adults breed and lay eggs in cupped leaves, ponds, lakes, disused waste containing water, cracks with water, and all shape and form of water containing objects or places. Just when you thought it was safe to pour out the water…

Mosquitoes are actually about 112 different genera. That makes up several thousand species. Not all feed on man (or woman, or child, or LGBTQ+). Other arthropods are on the menu. They’re on most corners of the Earth, provided a meal ticket is available, invited or not. It seems at times like every species is having a crack at me, and thankfully they’re not.

They’ve got bad reputation because of their irritating bites, and other small matters like malaria, yellow fever, Chikungunya, Dengue fever and so on. The list is longer than the average serial killer’s whoopsy points. They’re adapted to their watery breeding grounds and that’s where a vector can bring a long a nasty friend. The circle of life in inglorious action.

Transmission of disease kills. Pangolins and bats can take a deep breath, knowing they’ve possibly spread less harm to the COVER-19 world than an ill-timed Celine Dion world tour or mosquitoes. In fact, it’s said that of over half of the people that walked the Earth, mosquitoes carried the vector that helped caused their demise.* They’re the UPS of death. Much like, as the WHO are indicating, perhaps COVID-19 started life from a delivery system. Or perhaps mosquitoes are not responsible for that many deaths?**

Tonight’s ideal human menu: a starter of O type blood, with a side of human prone to abundant skin bacteria. For the main course, a heavy breathing type (to test that legendary mosquito detection skillset), alongside high body heat release. Dessert will comprise the blood of a pregnant woman. The ideal menu will then be inherited as a genetically-controlled component, meaning that mummy mosquitoes daughter will love your taste too!**** Our crepuscular (or otherwise) feeders don’t like to be disturbed in the day, however the ferocious Asian Tiger Mosquito hunts during daylight. And its spread from Southeast Asia to the globe has been rapid. Thanks to international travel and freight, it finds itself feeding overseas. Its distinct striped appearance is best noticed as you squish its central nervous system outwards.

Many cultures say mosquitoes evolved from the ashes of giants and their mortal remains being incinerated. Punegusse may well be the cause or that if a 79-million year old piece of Canadian amber containing Paleoculicis minutus*** would be a good evolutionary story. Whatever was stomping around when old P. minutus was buzzing about, I hope it was equally as bugged as I am by one lone wolf fly zipping around my apartment right now.

Did you know that before Walt Disney even dreamed of Mickey Mouse, Windsor McCay animated the mosquito in 1912? How a Mosquito Operates was state of the art for? its time. An animation about a man being tormented by mosquitoes. Almost a hundred and ten years have passed. Who can’t relate?

Citations:

*Timothy C. Winegard (31 Mar 2021). The Mosquito: A Human History of Our Deadliest Predator. Text Publishing. p. 2. ISBN TBC

**“More or Less – Have Mosquitoes Killed Half the World? – BBC Sounds”. http://www.bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 2021-03-31.

***G. O. Poinar; et al. (2000). “Paleoculicis minutus (Diptera: Culicidae) n. gen., n. sp., from Cretaceous Canadian amber with a summary of described fossil mosquitoes” (PDF). Acta Geologica Hispanica. 35: 119–128. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-10-29. Retrieved tonight.

****Fernández-Grandon GM, Gezan SA, Armour JA, Pickett JA, Logan JG (22 April 2015). “Heritability of attractiveness to mosquitoes”. PLOS ONE. 10 (4): e0122716. Bibcode:2015PLoSO..1022716F. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0122716. PMC4406498. PMID25901606.

Human Race.

Wasted energy just fizzled away. Wasted thoughts upped, up and away. Gone. Entropy, all said and done? Faded light in the thick darkness, a laser pen without power. No battery cell to zap outwards. Protons and neutrons inactive.

Plastic shreds, humanity on meds, ducks strangled by packaging. Gone. Waste management, and no fun? Carrier bags drifting in murky waters, a container without a rubbish bin. No recycling scheme to expand areas. Wrappers and sheaths defective.

Rubber tyres, telephone wires, headaches caused by noise. Gone. Bikes of thunder, and not one gun? Airplanes thunder overhead in shrouded skies, a siren without an emergency call. No laws to control the sounds. Banging fireworks completely reactive.

Grimy air, murky vision, stuffy noses full of dust. Gone. Smells of flowers, not by the sun? Machines clatter earth on stripped land, skies fill with ashes. No rule visited this land. This is all productive.

Do you remember trees?

What happened to the bees?

Rainbows and clouds vanished. Elephants and rhinos banished. Trees and grass diminished. Lakes and rivers finished.

Do you recall the smells of spring?

When did the birds last sing?

Dust filled the sky with pain. To see the horizon is a strain. No animals left with a mane. People struggling to stay sane.

How often did it snow back then?

Seasons. When?

The Human race. Who’ll be the winner?

Farewell 2020. Happy New Year.

Dear all,

All the very best for 2021.

Let’s not dwell on COVID-19 and it’s terrible spread throughout the globe. It’s been a challenging and upsetting year for many. The less said on this eve of a new year, the better. Stay positive.

With trips to Nepal, Thailand (as a Corona refugee), Suzhou and now Yunnan, I’ve been lucky to experience a variety of cultures and religions in different shapes and forms during 2020. All have stood the test of time and all have stories about being adaptable. 2021 for the human race will be no exception. I’ve been lucky to get some travelling in, during this new norm but unlucky not to travel and see loved ones. The future is tingling with uncertainty but when a reunion comes about, I’m certain it won’t be wasted.

Climatic change, political indecision, blundering idleness by an impenetrable elite, racism and divide, disease and worry. Twenty twenty’s themes will carry on into this year as we all live as best we can. The gloom of a serious Sir David Attenborough message should stay with us. As should Amnesty International. Black Lives will always matter. #MeToo? Where changes are needed things will always need to happen. Vaccines and immunisation can only cure so much.

2020 allowed me opportunity. I’ve been blessed to start work at Tungwah Wenzel International School. A few weeks of expensive quarantine and drastically overpriced return flights got me back into China, as others faced even tougher routes to work or pathways no longer open. It’s been a good ride at work so far. I can only see it getting better.

Football for and with Murray’s FC has provided a regular escape from a landscape tinged by trepidation. Having also joined Dongguan Bulldogs, for a few games of tag rugby, and several solo bike rides, freedom has been a privilege.

I’m writing from a cold bed in YuBeng village, Yunnan, China. I’d like to write more but like the new journal in my bag, there’ll be plenty of opportunity and positive days ahead for the writing of new well remembered days. All the best for 2021. Keep hope in your head and heart.

Peace and love x

Tashi Delek

Tashi Delek / 你好 / Hey, hey!

It was Christmas Eve and I enjoyed scrambled eggs, with toast and cappuccino. I decided to have an easy day of wandering. To acclimatize to altitude is important. I drank ginger tea, water and ate bananas with other dried fruits. Other tricks include walking high and then sleeping low. So, for Christmas Eve, I looked for a bumpy mountain. I had my eye on a few peaks around this valley that envelopes Shangri La city. The cold was manageable with a City shirt and my trusted Sherpa jacket. The Italian wool socks were and are highly effective too. Nighttime hit -12C outside but inside a Green Tree Hotel it was standard room temperature.

Following a late breakfast at The Compass, I headed to LánYuèGǔ (蓝月谷) which translates to Blue Moon Valley. It’s real name is Shika Mountain (石卡山; Shíkǎshān) and it towers to the west above Diqing Shangri-La Airport (DIG). The airport is at at around 3280m. I was able to wander up to about 3500m, way shy of the peak towering above. There were too many people saying, “You shall not pass.” Strong winds had closed the nearby cable car and every path upwards. Rules is rules. I headed back and spotted some cranes, a photo opportunity or two and plenty of construction. Some splendid stupas and magnificent views made for a pleasant wander. Blue Moon wasn’t all that, but the name belongs to City’s chant so what’d you expect?

In the evening, I enjoyed local Tibetan food and hospitality before heading back to rest. I woke up in the same Green Tree hotel, opposite the city bus station. At 08:20, I was on a bus headed for Déqīn town or city. Unsure what it actually is. From there many trails lead off to waterfalls, glaciers and villages.  This area is spelled as Diqen, Díqìng and Deqin (བདེ་ཆེན་རྫོང་). It’s rather confusing. Since Tibet handed over Kham province to Yunnan province, it’s become autonomous (迪庆藏族自治州). The many names should be a starting point for a clear up. By noon, after a climbing route of a road trip, the bus pulled into Deqing city’s bus station. Here I was told that I could go onto Feilaisi (飞来寺) village. I agreed and returned after a quick lunch. Less than an hour later and the bus halted outside a terrace of hotels. Opposite stood a rather imposing two metre wall. Beyond that wall, a view to a kill. The picturesque and snow capped range of MeiLi Snow Mountain (梅里雪山).

After a few minutes standing outside I checked into the a catching named hotel, Deqin Snow Mountain Town Tourist Reception Center (No.2 Reception). I couldn’t find the sequel. After dropping my bag up four flights of stairs, I grabbed my camera and crossed the road into the Mingzhu Langka Viewing Platform, and following my health code check, I was away to wander and enjoy the view. The panoramic settings on cameras was made especially for this kind of scene. The clear air, beautiful blue skies and Lancang river valley below only added to the dramatic setting. A main deck with 8 stupas, a rare Mani wall, and an abundance of prayer flags made my Christmas Day special in ways I hadn’t previously imagined.

The fluttering sound of prayer flags, slapping each other, and spiraling up and down on winds with the fragrance of incense and juniper took me moments to clear my mind. The overwhelming scenery had swallowed me up. With each majestic cloud hovering like a pirouette over the many peaks, it was easy to catch my jaw falling lower than usual. The interjection ‘wow’ felt seriously below par, yet it flew out of my mouth with consummate ease. The main peak, Kawagarbo, is 6740m up. Tibetan people refer to it as Nyainqênkawagarbo. It’s a hugely sacred mountain and climbing is banned. Climbers have tried and in 1991 it claimed 17 members of one expedition. It is a sinister and magnificent looking mountain range with twenty peaks, of those 6 tower over 6000m. Tibetan pilgrims cover a different distance each year, circumambulating 240km (150 miles) around the mountain base, praying to the warrior God inside the mountain. This UNESCO World Heritage Site has a real spiritual ambience. I’d look upon the framed snow peaks on both Christmas Day and Boxing Day in wonder. Absolutely stunning.

On Boxing Day, my light stroll rewarded me with views of at least ten vultures and different angles of the mountains over the raging river below. Dinner was nothing to shout home about but the oranges and pomegranates around Feilaisi certainly need a positive mention.

The walk goes on…

ALL CHANGE.

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

August 2020 has seen a few new components to my life. A new apartment. A new place of work. A new kettle. A new model bridge in the balcony garden. And finally, like Star Wars, a new hope. Moving from Changping to Songshan Lake and Dàlǐngshān (大岭山) was relatively straight forwards.

The new apartment sits over the line of the township borders. I live in Dàlǐngshān but I work in Sōngshānhú district (piànqū / 松山湖片区). Dàlǐngshān Zhèn (大岭山镇) is part of Sōngshānhú but these days Sōngshānhú is a very high-tech centre within the 6 townships that surround Sōngshān lake itself. Shilong (石龙), Chashan (茶山), and Shipai (石排) aren’t really that close to the lake area but they’re part of the district. The lake area is mainly surrounded by Dàlǐngshān, Dàlǎng (大朗) and Liáobù (寮步). Sōngshānhú as a town has grown from 2003, from a simple high-tech park to the mammoth green living space around the lake that is now. Huawei and many other tech giants are here. It has a railway station on The Dongguan West to Huizhou railway and will soon join the subway with three stations in Dàlǐngshān on the line 1 route (东莞轨道交通1号线/Dōngguǎn Guǐdào Jiāotōng Yī Hào Xiàn), and one at Sōngshānhú itself. The new line opens in 2022, so I won’t get too excited right now. The subway Line 3 will also have 4 stations in Sōngshānhú but that hasn’t began construction.

The new job has been welcoming, well-paced and full of encouragement. I am confident that this is a new start with great potential. Two former students are following me from grade 3 at St Lorraine Anglo-Chinese School to the new Tungwah Wenzel International School (TWIS). I’m sure that they will enjoy their grade 4 class – and I will have to work hard as their Home Room Teacher to ensure that they do. Between various conference calls, meetings and introductions there has been good coffee and ample time to down tools to think of a plan of action. I am terribly excited about the coming semester. Even amongst these COVID-19 times there is a lighthouse and beacon when we look in the right places.

Dàlǐngshān town isn’t far away, and in the relatively short time since I first went to Dàlǐngshān, the place has grown and has modern districts, several branches of Lauren’s Pizza and even a Walmart. There are universities and amongst the Guangdong Medical University is just over the road from me and DG University of Technology (东莞理工学院) isn’t far off. The lake has one large section that is completely free of cycles and cars. There is a parallel cycle route below a highway and under a cooling tree canopy. Cycling around the rest of the lake is a must. It is a great spot for tourism with backdrops of Huawei’s impressive European-style town and numerous picturesque places along the way. Lotus leaves, lush green sprawls, flowers and bird call should be abundant. Around the many tranquil pathways, you can see Tai Chi, yoga, dates holding hands and families flying kites. I can’t wait to hang up my hammock sooner or later.

“I feel invigorated.” – Those were my words spoken to a new colleague on Friday. The evening was finished with a leaving day drink for Calum from Murray’s F.C. He’s only moving to Shenzhen but felt the need to arrange a leaving meal and drinks. I didn’t attend the meal as all new team members of Tungwah Wenzel International School were treated to a splendid buffet meal at the stylish Dongcheng International Hotel (owned by Tungwah/Donghua group). Even the coach journey was on a Tungwah group coach. They own factories, gardens, estates, hospitals and schools. They’re a sizable group and well-known in this region. Between the blooming peach and plum trees of Dongguan, the group’s assets aren’t far off. The ministry of optimism within my head is thankful for such a great opportunity. My only regret is not buying a crane from the car park exhibition at the Dongcheng International Hotel. Dahan Construction Machinery have some great pieces, ideal for placing hammocks within.

There are plenty of places within a short cycle ride now. Tongsha lake and the parks around it are just a stone’s throw away. Dalingshan Park is between here and Houjie. I’ve already cycled back to Irene’s Bar for a sandwich. There’s much to see and do in the area that I have yet to explore. On my doorstep, I will find the Tongji Bridge (通济桥 Song Dynasty, 920-1279) and cross that bridge soon. It will help me forget my worries. That’s the literal meaning, I believe.

“Quite apart from its meaty content, we believe we have found a real dramatist” – Gerry Raffles of Theatre Workshop speaking about Shelagh Delaney’s play A Taste of Honey.

Every story should have a beginning, an end, and some middle parts. There should be a plot, a setting with characters, some form of conflict (because something must happen), and a resolution (the smooth end). Some books carry the resolution or conflict over a series. That is life. Some things drag on. Others happen and fade away. There is no one-size-fits-all story to life. There will le a logical following and flow to a story because they must run smoothly to allow the follower to tag along. British dramatist and screenwriter Shelagh Delaney (who featured on album cover Louder Than Bombs, by The Smiths) intended A Taste of Honey to be a novel. It is a very famous play now. The drunken working-class single mum of Helen, and a daughter called Jo have spread from the monotonous 1958 skyline of a desolate Salford to London’s West End, Broadway, BBC Radio 3 and the Royal Exchange Theatre amongst other places. Peter, the wealthy southern lover of Jo’s mother Helen and a black sailor called Jimmy feature alongside a camp art student called Geoffrey. It is a complex and heavily questioning piece of drama. Class, gender, sexuality, and race are dissected which for mid-twentieth-century Britain was highly risky. The stars have followed the play with Stockport’s Sally Lindsay, a cluster of soap TV stars and Dr Who extras, Joan Ann Olivier, Baroness Olivier, DBE (born 28th October 1929) and notably Dame Angela Brigid Lansbury DBE joining the productions. A certain Billy Dee Williams (Lando Calrissian) has also featured on the stage for this production. From Salford to Home and Away to a Galaxy far, far away…

But, right here, right now my story at Dongguan’s Tungwah Wenzel International School has just began.

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.

Radical Cowherd

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

“Animals are my friends…and I don’t eat my friends.” – George Bernard Shaw

The radical city of Manchester has and continues to change eating habits for many people. Independent food co-op The Eighth Day (111 Oxford Road) has a shop and a café in central Manchester. It’s part of a growing vegetarianism within Greater Manchester. Everything from food festivals (e.g. Plant Powered Sunday), vegan fairs, beer festivals and club nights can be found within the city.

“Now I can look at you in peace; I don’t eat you any more.” – Franz Kafk, German-speaking Bohemian novelist

William Cowherd died in Salford during 1816. He’d lived around that way for some time. Well done him. Salford, for those outside of Manchester, is a city that is west of Manchester. It is part of Greater Manchester, and when the news is positive, we Mancunians claim Salford as our own, but when it’s negative, Salford stands alone.

“As long as Man continues to be the ruthless destroyer of lower living beings, he will never know health or peace. For as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other. Indeed, he who sows the seed of murder and pain cannot reap joy and love.” –  Pythagoras, ancient Ionian Greek philosopher

For example, Salford Lads Club (est. 1903), is famous for a photo of The Smiths nearby by photographer Stephen Wright. That’s positive and claimed by Manchester. Murder for example, well that happened in Salford and has nothing to do with Manchester. Salford/Manchester’s William Cowherd advocated vegetarianism and in 1847 his philosophy founded the Vegetarianism Society (in Altrincham, just south of Manchester).

“William Cowherd, the founder and minister of Christ Church, Salford, died 24th of March, 1816, aged 53 years. At his request is inscribed, ‘All feared, none loved, and few understood.’ ” – The words of William Cowherd’s tomb at Christ Churchyard, King Street, Salford.

Popular with his followers, Cowherd gave free medical services, a lending library without cost and soup (vegetarian, obviously). Having trained at Beverley College, Yorkshire,  Cowherd moved to Manchester in the late 18th Century.. Heavily-influenced by 18th Century Swedish theologian Emanuel Swedenborg, Cowherd went his own ways after jumping ship from the Church of England to the Swedenborgian church before he went solo.

“Eaters of flesh could you decry; Our food and sacred laws; Did you behold the lambkin die; And feel yourself the cause?” – Hymn against flesh eating

Reverend William Cowherd established the Bible Christian Church in 1809. Located on King Street, Salford, his church broke away from the Swedenborgian New Church. He and his congregation [known as Cowherdites] vowed not to eat meat or other intoxicants. Born in 1763, William Cowherd, headed from his native Carnforth (Lonsdale South of the Sands). A keen writer, Reverend William Cowherd’s work could be found from the New Jerusalem Journal to the catchily named Liturgy of the Lord’s New Church. Various works of his were printed locally at the Manchester Printing Society. Considering Cowherd, which is a strange name for a man who hated eating meat, was only around for 53 years, his church managed to reach America [Philadelphia Bible Christian Church] and push the cause of vegetarianism and form of temperance to a wider audience. Other temples opened around Manchester for the Bible Christian Church, with one on Every Street just down from what is now known as the Etihad Stadium.

“It is my view that the vegetarian manner of living, by its purely physical effect on the human temperament, would most beneficially influence the lot of mankind.” – Albert Einstein

So, Cowherd convinced a group of congregates not to eat offal (stomach and intestine) etc. The poor were rarely able to invest in higher cuts of meat. These Cowherdites, his flock, went on and before you knew it meat was murder and the Vegetarian Society was born. At this time, vegetarianism was met with disdain. Nobody knew how the health effect would be. Few had studied it. Few had gone that way. Deaths within the Cowherdites were blamed on a lack of meat and two veg in their diets. Intellectuals throughout urbanisation and cities began to debate the ethics of killing and eating animals. Vegetarian restaurants in Victorian Manchester flourished.

“The thought of two thousand people crunching celery at the same time horrified me.” – George Bernard Shaw

Every acronym & their gunslinger.

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

I’m in China. The net-based citizens here are laughing and joking about freedom being dead in America. From Sina Weibo to Wechat to QQ, it is out there: America’s freedom is falling. After all when the looting starts, the shooting starts. Act like a donkey and be treated like one. Act with compassion and understanding, and…

“Oh Johnny, did you back thewrong horse! Will you hose him please?!” – Bill Murray as Peter Venkman, Ghostbusters II

Conducting the leadership over social media channel President of the U.S.A. (well, the white part, at least), Trump of the White House is now using the military against his own people. Well, if he identifies with them, that’d be a positive start. But this is a man telling state governors that, “you have to dominate”. The top brass is needed, this is a job for the A-Team. Step forwards General Milley, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. Trump and his massive cahunas were seen spotted at Lafayette Square (outside the White House) and heading into the slightly burnt St. John’s Church. Right Reverend Mariann Budde told the Washington Post, “I don’t want President Trump speaking for St John’s.”

Tear gas is a reasonable means to scatter peaceful protestors and rubber bullets don’t actually hurt that much. Is this Hong Kong or America we’re talking about? Could be either. Well as long as the free press keep their distance (like Sunrise & #7News from Australia didn’t and CNN failed to sort their acts out). President Trump has directed Attorney General Barr to effectively let all guns rolls. The entire weight of the F.B.I., A.T.F., D.E.A., B.O.P, and U.S. Marshalls are at his beck and call. The Department of Defence and the department of Homeland Security are also deployed to the District of Colombia. So, every acronym and their gunslinger are in town. Clint Eastwood just turned 90 years old and probably had an invitation to the party. Restoring order resembles the first or second invasion of Iraq.

“Hate just hides. It doesn’t go away, and when you have somebody in power who breathes oxygen into the hate under the rocks, it comes out from under the rocks.” – Joe Biden, Associated Press.

In the opposition wings, Democratic Presidential candidate, Joseph Biden has vowed to deal with institutional racism. Would Biden be comfortable removing peaceful protestors just so he can get his photo for the so-called-free-press? Biden is white or Caucasian. I’m white, or Caucasian. Many like him and I haven’t been subjected to servitude or feeling we’re of less, shall we say value, worth or merit than say someone without a title to their name, or land, or property, or a stable upbringing, or a private education – oh go on, let’s spell it clearer. Someone who is black – or Asian – or basically not white. I grew up in Levenshulme, Manchester and attended Chapel Street Primary School. Some of my earliest friends had Pakistani, Irish, Greek, Asian and Afro-Caribbean backgrounds. And? Well, there was no need for an ‘and’ because kids are kids, people are people and not one person should be seen as better than someone because of privilege, or position. Sorry Pope. Sorry leader of boyband al-Dawla al-Islamiya fil Iraq wa al-Sham. Sorry $2.1 billion Twitter user Trump.

“I am the least racist person there is anywhere in the world”- Donald Trump, MSNBC, 1/8/2019.

Racism is racism, pure and simple. It is fear or hate or dislike and it is totally unnecessary. I live and work in Dongguan. This last week I’ve played football or rugby with Tongans, Americans, Argentinians, Russians, Ukrainians, Scottish, Irish, South Africans, Chinese, Malaysians, and Brummies. Some of these great people even supported Man United. The world is a huge sphere with many people. These people bring stories, cultures, foods and difference. There is a great tapestry to my lifestyle here in China. I see and hear racism or judgment because I am a foreigner. Do I feel racially abused? No. I feel sad on their part. But, racism as hate – or ignorance, is racism. Xenophobia and fear of change may be deeply routed in nationalism which may or may not explain the global panic over China and Asia’s growth. The smoke of the fires in America is accompanied by a drumbeat by P.O.T.U.S.A. Trump and co.

“When you’re a star, they let you do it, you can do anything … grab ’em by the pussy.” – Trump, NBC, 2005.

Trump the populist-protectionist-nationalist uses his lack of prior military or government service as a badge of honour. A combination of bragging about business experience and success of making America great again has swollen many false or misleading statements often ridiculed by fact-checkers. His racially-charged comments and legal-challenging cowboy style have seen the U.S.A. stumble from Trans-Pacific Partnerships, the Paris Agreement, relations with China. Luckily he has fixed Syria, Russian problems and Kim Jong-un – as well as his own domestic investigations into electoral discrepancies. He seems stable. He can’t be defeated by anything, it seems. The environmental policies, freedom of trade… You could go on all day about Trump. Recent events just dig it all up again and again.

In the last day or so, likely victim of Police brutality, George Floyd’s death has been labelled as homicide. A post-mortem examination of the African-American died in handcuffs, lay face down on a city street. Video footage leapt around social media almost immediately. The Powderhorn community was devastated and Derek Chauvin, the white Minneapolis police officer could be seen kneeling onto George Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes. Minnesota’s capital Saint Paul is the twin city that borders Minneapolis. Between them there are five Fortune 500 companies based there. As of 2010, 63.8% of the population were white. There is divide, as per any American state, and The Gopher State is ran by Democratic–Farmer–Labor). They’re U.S. Democrats. Trump has beef with that lot. So, trouble on their patch has been ideal for him. If you can’t run your house, here is a blundering hero with orange skin and a comb-over…

Police officers across the U.S. have been shot from places like Buffalo (New York) to St Louis (Missouri) and even Las Vagas (Nevada). Curfews are in place in many cities. Because when a protest gets out of hand, and people get rubber bullets lobbed at them or teargas at them, they don’t feel so great or valued, so a few may partake in looting. It isn’t backing them or promoting them, but if you treat people like dirt, they may act like dirt. A few unprotected watches, TV sets and middle fingers stuck up to the man can and has happened.

One thing about Trump and America, that is positive, well, at least we don’t have him in charge in the U.K. – and at least China’s top man is less trigger happy. Yes, we see privilege in action in the U.K. but rarely so at the end of stomping boots and a rubber bullet-firing gun. We have water cannons in Britain, but thankfully God shone down on us and delivered us near-drought conditions. Our gaffer, Boris Johnson, is state-sponsored as the rest of his cronies, but he doesn’t target people because of their skin or creed. No, he’s pretty clueless to all races and probably hasn’t tasted life in Aston, Birmingham. He’s more Aston Martin, Whitehall.

Instead, right now we should be focusing on the Royal Shakespeare Company cancelling the remainder of the 2020 shows. We should be reviewing why a Sunday congregation in Singapore during January 2020 had such harsh global complications and how to prevent these things from repeating themselves. We should be digging into why Randox Labratories suddenly get a £133 million contract uncontested. Maybe asking Brexiter Owen Paterson would be a good start.

Instead, like many nations, we have to watch America erupt into flames, panic and division as we await the court proceedings of the fired and disgraced police officer. But, remember this, this isn’t about just one policeman or one victim. This is about institutionalised racism – and that’s now evidently in the hands of the U.S. leader – a man who was the focus of The Apprentice, filmed by Trump Productions at Trump Tower, N.Y.C. Trump this, Trump that, Trump, Trumperty-fecking-Trump. The dirty selfish Trump.

I wish all of those who feel persecuted and to have no voice to stand together. Defeat hate and pessimism with optimism and one collective togetherness. The continued flow of racial injustice and brutality by the state or its organs cannot be allowed to go on. There’s a global pandemic and other matters that need our fuller attentions. But, beliefs are beliefs and persecution and racism had no place in the 20th century. We’ve moved on but a few people want to drag us down. Fate hate, with peace and love. Unification is a dream worth humanity fighting for. No more slinging of terror or words of hate. What change will come?

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

Their gaff, their rules?

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

“If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.” – George Washington

Before I write any more, firstly, I need to clarify that I hate the idea of animals suffering. Actually, it forms one of the reasons why right now I do not have a pet. If I cannot be certain where I will live within twelve months, how can I look after a cat, dog or hamster? I’ve been lucky enough in my life to be raised around animals. My Dad and Mum gave me Pup, who was with me for about 17 years of my life as man’s best friend, a wonderful dog. There were cats along the way, Basil (think of a detective that was a rodent), Sparky and Tigger (original, right?). I had umpteen hamsters: Bright Eyes, Stripe, Gizmo and Gremlin to name but a few. Astrid, my sister, will tell you of her hamster Doris, and how she selected it on the basis that it bit her bigger brother (me) in the pet store. There were mice, bred and rehoused, with responsible intentions. I had fleeting dreams of being a vet – but for a huge dislike of blood. Then, it was time to study a BTEC National Diploma at North Trafford College and eventually study a BSc Behavioural Biology. Since then, my wildlife and animal passion has evolved into a pastime, set of interests and hobbies. The professional world was oversubscribed, underpaid and hard to escape clicks. It wasn’t for me. Instead I find myself softly influencing future generations and making people think twice.

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”- S.G. Tallentyre, The Friends of Voltaire.

Stumbling into education with transferable skills just meant I swapped elephant dung in the morning for a whole raft of new pooh. I’m in China, their gaff their rules. But I can talk freely about some topical issues. What is a wet market? Well, it’s just a marketplace that sells fish, meats, vegetables, and fruits. The produce is not dry (like fabric or electronics). The goods at wet markets are perishable. Not all wet markets slaughter animals or have a fishmongers. Across the Indian subcontinent (e.g. Thailand), China, Japan, Korea and the island countries northwest of Australia, wet markets can be found and are a common feature of daily life. Foods can be fresh, cheaper than supermarkets, and going to these markets themselves can be a huge part of your social life. It is tantamount to culture and traditions for many people. To close many wet markets may be seen as xenophobic and cause more problems. But, will these same wet markets yield the next outbreak?

Wang Mengyun’s video of a bat being eaten in Palau has become infamous. It is disgusting in my opinion. What adds further disgust is that RT and the Daily Mail, amongst many, posted this via news outlets and social media claiming it was from Wuhan. I was even sent it on the Chinese app Wechat. I’m not justifying or defending her, or any other fools eating weird crap. Data and images can easily fit any story, without, erm, actual information. Of course, if China is involved, then there’s always an element of menace and worry from a social point of view. What exactly are they up to over there?

The wet market here hasn’t reopened (and many will never reopen, as many are rumpured as marked for demolition, to be replaced by more sanitized versions) which is great. I’m actually excited for when it does because they have limited the list of edible species right down. You wouldn’t believe the list before. There was no list. It could have been likened to taking a walk in a zoo. Except, that zoo was closer to The Green Mile, and all the inmates were destined for the grimmest of chops. Owls, giant salamanders and frogs may not appear on the menu in Beijing, but across this large nation of China, there are huge differences in diets. Here in Guangdong, it is said that the Cantonese eat everything with four legs, excluding chairs and desks.

Afterall the list isn’t far off what is approved as meat in the U.K. The most exotic things are to be found all over Britain such as ostrich, deer, reindeer, alpaca etc. Sadly, the list still includes fur species: mink, foxes and raccoons. BUT activism and conservation are growing here. Thoughts are changing. Many influential and middle-class people really believe that bigger changes are coming. Conservation and animal welfare are some of the few things people can protest here. The WHO advised China to “sell safe food with better hygiene”. That seems to be triggering a huge revolution in hygiene. There’s revulsion at the rich who can afford palm civet soup, braised bear paws and deep-fried cobra. These rarities are not farmed or caught for everyone. There’s status and face to show off, and keeping up with the Joneses is on the menu. Rebecca Wong explains in her book about the illegal wildlife trade that things are far from simple.

The China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation is pushing for an end to meats from wild sources. Many cities such as Shenzhen and several provinces are banning the sale of wild-sourced meats – yet China only has a temporary ban in place (and that excludes use for Traditional Chinese Medicines – T.C.M.). Is the ban effective? Well, The Daily Mail, managed to get images and a journalist into Guilin, Guangxi province and show dogs alongside cats, with T.C.M. posters showing bats. The W.H.O., the U.N.’s Convention on Biological Diversity, have called on China to do more.

China’s Wildlife Protection Law to permanently make catching and eating wildlife as a food into a criminal law will follow. The decision’s first real steps had been made on February 24th 2020. It is expected the list of 54 wild species bred on farms will be further reduced. Do people really need to eat hamsters and bird of prey? Do these horrific farms need abolishing? Does the farm license from The State Forestry and Grassland Administration conflict with their interest in wildlife protection? Places like Guangzhou and this province of Guangdong will need to seriously rearrange their eating habits. Chinese news sources, backed and owned by the state, have decried the practice of eating wildlife. One such piece, China Daily, went further than most with an English opinion piece by author Wu Yong. He correctly pointed to the Institute of Virology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (home base: Wuhan) and their publications warning of the next big outbreak, following SARS in 2012. There are voices from within China banging a drum to the same beat: stop eating wildlife (50% of people surveyed in 2014 said wild animals should not be eaten). And should the laws come how vague will they be? How will provinces, cities and local areas enforce the laws? Who will steady the balance books of those who need the income?

“Without freedom of thought, there can be no such thing as wisdom – and no such thing as public liberty without freedom of speech.” – Benjamin Franklin

It is easy to say that wild animals carry viruses, and should they not be eaten by people, then there is little to no chance of these zoonotic viruses affecting human lives. If we do, then the viruses are with us. But, how many viruses start on farms from long-term domestic animals? Think Pandemic H1N1/09 virus and its outbreak from Mexico/U.S.A. in 2009 that killed about 151,700-575,400 people globally, according to the CDC. The problem is that for some their eyes are bigger than their bellies. They don’t want you and I, or others telling them what is right or wrong. For some status and entitlement is paramount. Why can a rich U.S. hunter go and shoot a lion in Africa, when a poor villager can’t catch pangolin in Vietnam to support their family? Will bans work? Will the trade go from loosely regulated to completely underground shady dealings? “Psst, wanna but a civet?” What is a civet anyway? I imagine many having seen a pangolin too. Look them both up. They’re wonderful little critters. Just don’t grill them!

“It is clear that not in one thing alone, but in many ways equality and freedom of speech are a good thing.” – Herodotus

China has endured food safety scandals, unusual additives being included in food, a distrust of food regulation, corruption and countless public health appeals and campaigns seeking to improve standards. If you live here long enough, you’ll know having diarrhea tablets to be most useful. Food poisoning happens and at public ad even private restaurants, finding hand soap can be a miracle. Everyone carries hand sanitiser and tissues, but few look forwards to visiting an outside toilet. To get to the modern regulation systems of the U.K. standards, the U.K. under the name of Great Britain and its Empire had many flaws and faults. Many want change but it will take time. Not every country is perfect, some wash their chicken in chlorine, don’t you America? Tradition and odd ingredients need talking about, at least. Without conversation and debate, how can we as people strike a balance between nature and need?

This pandemic is always going to throw up many questions. Should all wet markets adapt and abandon tradition in favour of hygiene and high standards? Yes, for the sake of humanity, surely! Should we be searching for the next big pandemic? Should we be vaccinating our pets and our zoo animals when the cure to COVID-19 arrives? Will the virus replicate and mutate in other domestic animals? Have we ignored the warnings (2017 and so on) for too long? Will wildlife poaching rise in the shadow of little eco-tourism? How many more lies will the internet spread about handwashing?

“We have to go see Bill Gates and a lot of different people that really understand what’s happening. We have to talk to them, maybe in certain areas, closing that Internet up in some way. Somebody will say, ‘Oh, freedom of speech, freedom of speech.’ These are foolish people. We have a lot of foolish people.” – Donald Trump, Twitter user.

Keep talking. It’s the only way to progress.

 

The cover image: chicken anus on a stick. From a Taiwanese takeaway store, in China.

 

Thanksgiving Day.

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

“And I was taught to feel, perhaps too much, the self-sufficing power of solitude.” – William Wordsworth, The Prelude.

So, my trek in Nepal was over. I’d passed through up to 28 ethnic groups of people, notably Thakali, Gurung, Magar, Chhetri, Bhotia and some Tibetans. I’d seen Annapurna II, Manaslu, my favourite haunt of this trek, Pagunda Danda and other great mountains. I’d passed through areas housing maybe just 45,000 or so people in a short distance and across great swathes of area. The river Marshyangdi had been by my side from beginning to the end, and never more than a few kilometres away from my wanderings. I’d tread along a world-renowned trekking destination that needs great care, for peril lurks at every ridge. Remarkable waterfalls, dense forests, and other climatic wonders had lined the sub-tropical, temperate, sub-alpine and alpine bio-climatic zones. These imposing regions offered diversity in both mammal and bird species, and plants that I’ve never seen anywhere else before, and no doubt will never see somewhere else. The barks of musk deer, the swoosh of vultures, the tweets of life from tree to tree, and flashes of Himalayan Langur will stay in my memories.

I’ve met people connected with agriculture, animal husbandry, tourism, the military, conservation, Buddhist monks and other labouring forces. These stirring moments reminded me why I love to visit Nepal. There have been moments when I’ve looked in shame at crumbling mountain sides, ripped open by new roads, and power lines draping over great scenery. The price of a modern world has cut open a blend of people in need of the new age, with as many in fear of what will arrive. Can these ethnic groups survive the new ways in, and the new exposure to the outside world? Will everything change too fast for some to understand? Will education and investment bring new opportunity? Can the high pressure on natural resources be reduced? Will an unequal distribution of tourism wealth and benefits leave some people behind? Poverty is there, but can it seriously be eradicated? Will Chinese hydroelectric dam projects benefit anyone if they have mostly Chinese workforces? Will Indian investment be reduced as Nepal juggles the money of China over India?

With hunting, poaching, pollution, loss of habitat and humans getting ever closer to wildlife, can the Annapurna or Manaslu parks be improved to reduce these problems? Will climate change, flooding and increased tourism add greater strain to the region? I read that 18% of the world’s plant species can be found in the Annapurna Conservation Area. The project there highlights that 58% of Earth’s birds are present. A staggering 33% of Earth’s reptiles have refuge in the region. Amphibians (20%), butterflies (53%), and flowering plants (18%) represent significant proportions of Earth’s species too. There’s much more to Annapurna than snow leopards and possible yeti sightings…

To have walked through the largest protected park of Nepal was a privilege. I sat down to a cold coffee in Pokhara and stroked my sore head. I decided I would fly from Pokhara to Kathmandu. My friend Jodie was to visit Kathmandu a day or so later. I decided the long arduous coach journey was too much for me. Besides I like to fly and the price wasn’t too bad (732RMB) – and bookable via my Wechat money and Trip.com application. After a few wanders from the now ghostly quiet Pokhara, I was ready to fly.

Before doing so I took in the sights of Pokhara, a bat cave and the Gurkha Memorial Trust. Since joining the British Army in 1815, after showing valour in the battlefield against the British, the Gurkhas have enjoyed great connection with Britain and India. The museum itself was alike almost every museum and trust collection, with cabinets of medals, regalia and factsheets. Photos of hundreds of faces, stories and campaign information could be found throughout the large building. I was welcomed by two former Gurkha soldiers in full uniform and shown to the ticket desk, then set free to enjoy the words of regimental life, the sounds and read about Victoria Cross winners. A history sheet was handed to me and I spent a good couple of hours perusing the displays. I had passed the museum by chance, and prior to walking to Bat Cave in the direction of Mahendra Cave not even know there to be such a museum. I did not expect to be so detailed and well-constructed. The passion of many had created their space to inform, educate and celebrate. Here I learned the name Gurkha comes from the hill of Gorkha, and not from a specific race of people. Better to die than be a coward, is the Gurkha motto. Their history attains to that. Long may they have the welfare and care of those who respect them.

Now, Bat Cave is called that on every sign. I could see signs for the religious Mahendra Cave frequently. Those signs had Nepali Sanskrit and English on. The Bat Cave just had English. Bruce Wayne had no chance of hiding a Batmobile and Batwing in there. Green foothills surround the cave, but before you get there, a gate, with a kind of turnstile not out of place at a 1980’s football ground and a pay booth await. Here they try talking you into hiring a guide. I resisted that. I wanted tranquillity. He handed me a large lamp. I handed that back and shown him my simpler headtorch set. In I went. After a few steep steps, a dip and a ducked head I was in the main cavern. Alongside me were around 70-100,000 horseshoe bats. I dipped my torch and gazed on enjoying the cold humid chamber underground. The floor is slippery, the air is whiffy (it is a home to nature, after all), and my good footwear helped me a great deal. I reminded one small group to stay quiet, and they respected my wishes – and that of the bloody great big sign saying to be silent. There was a tiny passage for an exit, but I doubled back without trouble. I wanted to avoid a bump on the head.

After the 20km round-trip walk, I headed back to Obey Guest House. The family were really very nice. Sushil’s place had been recommended to Srirang and I by Livia on our first brief stop in Pokhara. Each time I’d stayed, I ended up the same room: up the stairs, first right turn, first room. The big clean room had a double bed, coffee table, hat stand, two small chairs, a bathroom with a steaming hot shower and a sink for a proper scrub down. There was a tiny balcony and the door would open to allow me to put my stinking walking boots outside. On the top floor, there are several levels to appreciate the panoramic views and a place to sit with a garden table. The family were really welcoming, warm and friendly. They check on you and make you feel at home. Sushil had washed some of my laundry before the trek, and it was waiting in a bag for me, alongside some trainers I’d left behind. The lodge is a tall pink building up a road from Lakeside. It’s easy to find. There’s Wi-Fi and the family pointed us to a simple and tasty breakfast place at the top of the road. Every morning I awoke to beautiful bird call, and at night I enjoyed peaceful ambience. I had several good sleeps there. Sushil pointed us to the nearby TIMS office, other amenities and gave great advice throughout. If you want to stay somewhere peaceful without hassle and worry, then obey me and look up Obey Guest House.

I do have to apologise to Obey Guest House because I stupidly left my smelly walking boots on the balcony when I left… I hope that they turned them into a plant pot! They probably couldn’t be repaired, and they certainly won’t be now! Sorry Sushil and family!

So, with the wheels lifting off the Pokhara runway, flight YT676, operated by Yeti Airlines departed, I assume. I’d been shuffled onto an earlier departure that eventually departed later. Not to worry. It was a good flight. The flight comfortably descended into the Kathmandu valley and once again I was in the cradle of rapid urbanisation. Here I enjoyed more days at Northfield Café and hotel, met a good man to embroider my travelling shirt, and enjoyed a haircut. With room in my bag, eight Lee Child novels filled my bag and that was that. I was ready to go. Goodbye Nepal. Thanks to Srirang and Livia for great company. Thank you to all of those people I met. See you again.

 


 

Almost 54 days later, I am writing this piece. I should have been in Hong Kong and heading over to Dongguan, China on the 15th of April. Here, I am in Dongguan, preparing to end my time in quarantine. If my PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) test comes back as negative tomorrow, I will be allowed to go to Dongguan’s Changping town, to fill in more forms and scan a QR code to show that I am virus-free. I’ve penned a letter to the management and local government officials here. Maria and Waits translated it for me. It’s as per below:

 

二零二零年四月八日
8th April 2020

 

给相关人士 To whom it may concern.

 

诚 挚 地 感 谢 

T H A N K   Y O U   K I N D L Y !

我从心底里感谢你。谢谢你对我的帮助。就像一名优秀的曼城足球运动员一样,我会敞开心扉。我在这里的日子很艰难,但你们更加辛苦。Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Thank you kindly for helping me. Like a good Manchester City football player, I wear my heart on my sleeve. My time here has been tough, but you have been tougher.

当你路过西湖的时候,不管是东莞的这家酒店,还是那片著名的杭州的湖,还是惠州的那座城市,你都一定能够感受到你所做的这一切带给你的荣耀,是你肩负起了这份重任。When you pass West Lake, whether the hotel in Dongguan, the famous lakes of Hangzhou or the city of Huizhou, you’ll be able to think of the pride that you made a difference. You answered the call.

是你让所有人一起团聚;是你给予了爱人、朋友和亲人们一起纵享新时刻的机会;是你,在保护我们,你在照看我们,是你放弃了你们自己的时间,而把精力全部投入到了我们身上。You brought people back together. You gave loved ones, friend and family the chance to enjoy new moments together. You protected us. You looked after us. You gave up your time and gave us all your energy.

你为我打扫卫生,检查我的健康,为我尽心尽力。你让我的肚子饱饱的,并激发了我不知道我能做的锻炼。每当我口渴的时候,你就在那里。You have cleaned up after me, checked my health and waited on hand and foot for me. You have kept my belly full, and inspired exercises I didn’t know I was capable of. Every time I have been thirsty, you have been there.

我是东莞的客人。广东的客人。来中国的客人。你让我很受欢迎。我非常喜欢东莞。这是一座充满希望、想象力和雄心的城市。就像我的家乡曼彻斯特一样,这里也有工业路线,但这里的工业路线也越来越多。I’m a guest in Dongguan. A guest of Guangdong. A guest to China. You’ve made me welcome. I like Dongguan greatly. It is a city of hope, imagination and ambition. Like my hometown of Manchester, it has industrial routes but here too has grown to be so much more.

我们是如此的幸运,生活虽有不便但我们还是在这儿。那些倒下的人、那些逝去的人和那些殉职的人——正是因为他们,我们才能好好地活着。让我们一起为他们默哀片刻吧。We are the lucky ones. We are inconvenienced but we are here. Those who fell, those who died, those who died – it is because of them, we can live well. Let’s observe a moment of silence for them.

 

 

Mr John R. Acton

 


 

TO THE HEROES.

To the NHS staff in the U.K.; and to those health workers, care assistants, doctors, nurses, specialists and all going about in essential jobs right now. I salute you. Keep fighting on. Never give in. You are true heroes. The world needs you. I wish you well. Good luck! This is your hour to shine. Inspire the next generation and those who can and should support you. Look after your neighbours and we’ll find a brighter day. Peace and love!

 

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):

FB_IMG_1581173028754

I’m not gonna give up.

Sawasdeekhap / Namaste / Welcome!

Before the climb, we’d stopped in Danagyu, at a lodge on the right-hand side. It was busy. A family were playing cards. Kids were running around and one managed to hit both Livia and I with first her walking stick and second a snotty finger. I was fully aware of the coronavirus outbreak by now. It was by now February. Hygiene was on my conscience but this terrible toddler was not sharing my concern. Bogies smeared down my leg. I used soap and water to clean it away. Eventually a teenage girl came over and shuffled the toddler away. We’d already ordered pumpkin soup and momos now. Having seen the soon to be altogether contour lines on the map, our engines for walking needed some much needed fuel. One trekker’s bar wasn’t going to be adequate.

After reaching a waterfall tucked in a tight ravine, Livia went right along the road, and I went left up some steep steps. Srirang was just behind Livia, with his sore leg, yet he soldiered on and never gave in. Tough lad. After only a few steps, I started to see speedy little Himalayan squirrels and the view backwards of the peaks nearby to Manaslu was marvellous. Upwards was very much that. Up, up and away. After some crumbly steps, that could have been made of Lancashire cheese of apple crumble topping, I managed to reach the road, and cross straight over back onto the pathway. Here the green trees folded outwards ever so slightly, to show stacks of natural compost on the forest floor. The air had a damp natural earthy smell and occasional felled logs rotted alongside the trail. The track would mostly rise and do little of a fall. Soon enough the mud and dirt track became covered in frozen snow. Not the fluffy soft and easy to trudge through kind, but the solid mostly with a metre drop inwards should I find the bit unable to tolerate my weight, kind. And it seemed I was in for many steps up, and a few deep into the partially frozen snow. Heave. Heave. Heave.

The snow pretty much didn’t want to convey me and with every drop my boots, and the best part of my legs disappeared. Out came the crampons. Out came the determination. Onwards I went. My imagination enjoyed the peculiar eerie silence. I imagined packs of wolves, snow leopards and bears watching me go by. Not your ideal range of animals to picture you pass by, especially if one of them was very hungry, but here I was in the territory of nature, and damned if I was going to imagine Minecraft or a rock concert.

The pine trees shed patches of snow and melt water dripped all around me. Glorious rays of sunshine broke the canopy and occasionally I caught glimpses of mountain tops here and there. Then, a sudden crashing sound in the trees ahead, had me at full alertness. I froze solid as the iced floor around me. Silence resumed. Then a larger and louder thump and crunch. Something was in the trees ahead. I heard a racket and a commotion. Voices yelled from the canopy to my immediate left. The thuds and thumps were accompanied by a disturbance in the snow maybe a few hundred metres away. Then I spotted a monkey, Himalayan langur, springing up and down in the snow, swiftly from tree to tree across a small clearing. They didn’t seem too perturbed by the snow, but didn’t hang around either way. I tried to shoot them. My camera wasn’t quick enough though.

Throughout this journey, I had seen many mammals. These included Himalayan langurs, Assam macaques, Rhesus macaques, Irrawaddy squirrels, orange-bellied Himalayan squirrels, Himalayan striped squirrels, voles, Himalayan field mice, Himalayan pika, shrews, a variety of bats, and some wild boar, I’d never seen many animals in the snow. It was a privilege to enjoy the monkeys and hear them move over the forest. It was a welcome break from the constant in and out walking motions of the snow. I also had chance to reflect about the fall onto my walking stick which had gave the stick a slight bend, or three.

After crossing many streams carefully, over tiny little snow-covered bridges, and occasionally playing find the rock over the odd crossing point, I reached a stretched out chain bridge. Snowfall and heavy damage had ripped one end of the supports from its foundations. The two guard rails fanned out, practically useless. It wasn’t quite and Indiana Jones movie, but it looked far more precarious than comfort. The river flow was about five metres wide, pummeling steeply down to the River Marsyangdi many metres below in altiiude. I decided to chance my luck at a bridge further upstream. After 200 metres, I realised that this was the only bridge. I hadn’t seen one downstream either. Whilst I could hear the river nearby, I couldn’t see it and no alternative route evident. The flayed and flawed bridge was to be my point of movement. A way like no other.

So, off came the crampons, and then I positioned my rucksack tighter to my back. I stowed my walking sticks. I pulled out my thin winter gloves with extra grips (thanks Black Diamond) and I stepped through the first pocket of snow on the bridge. I tested the bridge for movement. First with a little weight and then applying all slowly, readied to dive into the snow to the side of the bridge. Then, I did a kind of half-hop. The bridge was surprisingly sturdy – a real testament to the Gurkha builders who had provided so many bridges across the country. From that, I leant and tested the sideways cable to my left, uphill and in appearance the least damage of the handrails. I turned square onto it. I placed my left hand over my right hand and never left any motion rightwards without one very firm hand on the rail. By the time I’d reached the centre of the bridge, the rail tilted upwards, almost as it should have been and all the snow had melted in the sunlight. I gently walked up to the other side and looked backwards. Stepping off the bridge was a relief. Then I peered left at the small landslips dotted along the river bank.

The fallen ground and occasional uprooted tree didn’t prove too much of a challenge. The trail banked left and into an open field, which led onto a rock-cobbled road. Each rock was jagged and unwelcoming. It had a Lord of The Rings feel to it. Wild, and otherworldly. Onwards, I plugged until reaching the Hotel Royal Garden, where I met Livia aftera few minutes. Here, I also met Shadow. Shadow wasn’t his name but for that day he would be my little shadow and follow us throughout the village of Timang. After a great lunch, Srirang joined us, and we checked in for the night, just 100 metres down the road. Ahead of us the weather looked bleak and unsettled. So, a Sherpa family welcomed us, and we dropped our bags into a room each. The Hotel Manaslu View Point had a view of Manalsu in the distance and the panoramic view in all directions was a clear sign that we were now in the Himalayas, proper. Timang (2630m) was about 400 metres higher than Danagyu (2200m). The air temperature was much more-icy here. Clouds floated over the mountains behind us, disguising hidden peaks and over the River Marsyangdi to the opposite side, occasional matchstick-looking pine trees, empty of leaves and needles, stood like wooden stakes in a cemetery. There looked to have been a nuclear blast over the valley. Even the ground appeared clear of life.

This village was both sinister and beautiful. Firstly, the crows, those often billed in horror movie birds, were everywhere. They made themselves known with sharp piercing cries and occasionally softer sounds. The Kāga (काग Nepali for crow or craven) here were not Carrion crows. These were bigger ravens, Corvus corax tibetanus, with long grey neck feathers. Light on their feathers gave a beautiful purple-blue iridescence. Amongst the pairs of ravens, Carrion crows moved and foraging by jackdaws, and other smaller birds like sparrows could be seen through the village. Now, the sinister, I described wasn’t too much about the crows…

One single storey building with a shop front on the right of the road gave me new heebie-jeebies. Outside the front a man swapped tyres on a jeep. At the side of this passengers from the jeep waited patiently. At the rear of the building in the garden, an animal pelt hung from a washing line. From a distance I couldn’t work out if it was red panda, a dog or something of similar size. I know that the rules in Nepal are extremely strict regarding hunting, but I could not for the life of me understand what it was. It was, in all probability, a goat – and certainly unwelcoming. And, not far from that pelt on the washing line, a dead crow was tied up by its neck, flying in the wind like a grim version of a child’s kite. I expected haunted hillbilly music and a narrative from an Alfred Hitchcock movie.

After a great dal baht, in front of a warm fireplace, we all departed for bed. The matchstick looking cluster of spiders in the toilets gave an appearance of buffalo pubic hair [you know what I mean!] – and they seemed to detect the cold too, nestling together like brush hair in the corners of the long cold toilet room.

After a good night’s sleep, a great omelette and some defrosted ice-water, we three departed, bidding our farewell to Shadow the dog and a variety of goat kids in the nursery nearby. The road headed out, skirting around the brow of the hills beside us, never quite leaving the river below. At Tanchok village it doubled back inwards, crossing a frozen stream before lurching back into the river valley below. It slid gently up to the crossroads at Koto before nestling its way into Chame (2700m), complete with signs for yet more hot springs. Monkeys had been sighted in the forest’s brow by the village of Tanchok, by Livia and I stood watching them for some time. Here the valley started to tighten up and appear much steeper than previous days.

Chame is a colourful place, but in February, the sun sets early, shrouded by mountainous ridges to the west. Here a dozen municipal buildings and hospitals can be found. Derelict military barracks stand to the village’s north. It is a town of about 1200 people. In winter it is quiet with many people heading to Kathmandu and Pokhara. There are signs of the April 2015 earthquake having struck here. There were also some very good small supply shops and chances to get some much needed fruit into our diet. We checked into the cosy New Tibet Hotel and Restaurant sandwiched between a brittle looking cliff face and the river’s east bank. We then had a wander around the village which seemed to be many scattered lodges along a kilometre of two. An upper level village to the west looked more modern and functional, but less touristic. There were the usual array of schools and public facilities with prayer flags visible all across the high points.

After the walk Livia tucked into her billionth bowl of rice pudding, and probably ordered one for the morning too. Seeing Livia eat rice pudding in a wolf/koala/bear hat was quite a frequent sight on the journey. I often had scrambled eggs, porridge and buckwheat bread of chapatti. Always with a milky coffee or tea. Several bank machines were available in the village but there was no internet and sporadic power cuts for the two nights that we stayed. There was even a roadblock on alert for any walkers from China! By now fear and panic about COVID-19 had spread up the road. I kept news that I had left China over two weeks before arriving there to myself. I’d heard Chame described as an often crowded place. We met only two other trekkers, both French and both walking solo (with a guide).

Our lodge was less than two minutes of walking from a lovely spot. The hot springs doubled up as an open air launderette. Livia and I washed our clothing in the warm flow of water, as local soldiers soaked up the minerals in the neighbouring swimming pool. The spring itself was a dull green bubbling hole with pipes jutting from it. Nothing exciting to the naked eye. The miracle of life and fresh water was surrounded by man-made concrete and exploitation. Still, it was a good place to wash my underpants. Bloody warm too. Later I scattered my clothes on the balcony and added some socks to a warm chimney to speed dry them in the fading sunshine. Night was soon rolling in, complete with starry skies and ice-inducing temperatures. To be continued…


 

On the I’d booked a flight between Bangkok Don Mueang International Airport and Shenzhen for April the 1st. April Fool’s Day. Appropriately Thai Air Asia cancelled it yesterday. As I had used Trip.com to book it, I have to use Trip’s customer services. Flight FD596 is no more. On top of that, my visa expires here on April the 14th. I have been told that to stay here, I need to have a letter from the UK Embassy to say that travel to my country of residence is not possible. The UK Embassy won’t give such a letter for British citizens traveling to China. Thailand’s Immigration won’t allow me to stay because I can currently fly to the U.K. There are flights to Guangzhou at drastically hyper-inflated prices but even they could be pulled. Trip.com’s phone numbers ring a little and then hang up, all three of them! Their email reply reads as follows:

“Due to the huge backlog of emails caused by Corona Virus pandemic, we are sincerely sorry that your email won’t be able to get reply as usual. It will be delayed but no later than 30 days. Kindly recommend to manage your ticket online or though APP.” – modern day example of a crappy auto-response from a customer disservice centre, March 2020.

I get that we’re in a global catastrophe and the world is going mad buying excessive amount of bog rolls and shutting borders, but when you haven’t got much cash, or hope to get around, and your head feels like it is going to explode if it doesn’t release the bubbling rage and worry inside. I even paid for new cycle lights to allow me to break out of my body, and fly away, like a bat out of hell… or at least peddle fast from stray dogs and monkeys now coming out from the temples and sanctuaries in search of food. Next I expect to see chameleons on sun loungers, well maybe not see them, but at least know they’re there when the fly numbers drop down. That’d be more amazing because as I am aware, there aren’t chameleons in Thailand, but with current world problems, maybe they’ll bounce back like other wildlife – especially now people are talking more about wildlife trade ending. Or, will this COVID-19 world hide a debate about climate change?

Still, worries aside, it could be worse. It could be much, much worse. I worry for others. I’ll survive and money I haven’t got will add to other money that I never had. You can’t repossess from a hobo, right? Especially one trapped in Thailand… trapped, with just two bottles of Vimto and two frozen portions of black pudding. Nope, it ain’t all that bad! Stay strong. Survive. Beyonce and her mates told you to.

“I’m a survivor (what), I’m not gon’ give up (what); I’m not gon’ stop (what), I’m gon’ work harder (what); I’m a survivor (what), I’m gonna make it (what); I will survive (what), keep on survivin’ (what)” Destiny’s Child’s song was covered by 2WEI.

 

Rainbow tapestry.

Sawasdeekhap / Namaste / Welcome!

Last Sunday, I went on a run. Yes, I walked occasionally after the 3km mark, and jogged a bit, but the beach was slanted to the right (east), which is not good when you have right ankle and tendon weaknesses. My right ankle has been suffering instability for year but since late autumn it has been recovering. There is no pain but the super over pronation is inwards and makes it easy for me to roll my ankles and my flat feet. Running is not something that I enjoy nor do I want to do. So, last Saturday evening Gerry and I cycled 20km or so to Cha Am. He was joining the Cha Am Bikini Run (10km run). There were other options such as the half-marathon and a 5km run. As he picked up his bib, to go over his USA flag speedos, I asked if you could run without wearing a bikini or speedos. That is to say, I was curious if you could run in regular shorts and shirts, rather than naked. The gentleman said yes. I asked if I could join the 5km run. I parted with 450 baht and was handed the running number 1143. It had space on it for a temperature check, because of COVID-19 and so on. So, just after 6pm on Saturday, I was to run at 6am the following day. Cheers Gerry!

I crossed the line, sweating and knackered. Just below 36 minutes for the heavy bugger on the old 5K beach run in sun-licked Cha Am. Not bad for someone who hates running. When the world stops worrying and this virus, disease and panic goes away, we’ll mourn the lost and seek normality. Until then, keep hope and do as much as you can in these dark hours. Don’t blame and judge. Be the difference and look to inspire. I entered the 5K run because infectious human attitudes made it appealing. It was a challenge and we as a species are always capable of rising to a challenge. Together we’re stronger. Seeing runners with smiles on their faces and their tribal passion for this sport made me escape the worries of the days ahead. The COVID-19 pandemic is shattering lives globally and I may end up trapped in Thailand for some time. It is what it is. We must find the light of positivity wherever we can. Apinterfood (Hua Hin) has made my day in recent weeks. I’m in Thailand enjoying ice cold Vimto. I wish all around the world peace and love at this difficult time. Vimto has and will bring calm. We need more calm. Less sensationalism, more calm. More Vimto too. Don’t panic buy Vimto. Share the purple love juice. As a wise Mancunian saying goes, “Stay safe our kid.”


IMG_20200201_124646

Back to the Nepal trek we go, and the many sounds of the Marsyangdi River. Leaving the cute puppy eyes, and Jagat behind, the first thing we witnessed was a sheep or goat completely cut open. It seemed a wedding or some other such festivity demanded it. The one thing about the hugely multicultural Nepali lifestyle is, you’re never more than a day or so from a regional, local, religious or personal holiday. All are fascinating in a mammoth amount of ways, however, stepping around a bath of blood on the muddy pathway was a bit too much for breakfast. In my eyes, anyway. Not long after leaving Jagat (1130m), Chamche (1385m) was a passing point. A stunning waterfall cast a rainbow in the blowing water spray, commanded a great place to stand and enjoy the view. Many more waterfalls followed that day, cutting and jutting from the high valley sides, but the Chamche Waterfall opposite the Boong Waterfall and Dense Fall Restaurant was a fine way to inspire a good walk.

Switching away from the road, I clambered along a trail pathway that faced into the ugly road over the valley. The road was a continual scar among the awe-inspiring mountainsides and colossal rocks. The dribbled blasted rocks and erosion alongside the scar gave the appearance of a weeping mountain.

IMG_20200130_170616Tal (1700m) was over a hill. By over the hill, I mean very far away and plenty of up, up, up. Not a hint of what Tal would look like because ultimately some very large geological features were doing a good job of screening the beyond. After some really emotional digging in we were back on the pathway, Livia and I, walking with Srirang not far behind. The few restaurants and hotels along the way were closed, and water had to be gained from river feeds into pipes, and then straight into the Life Straw bottle. Clean and fresh. The great sinister and prophesying slopes ahead didn’t encourage but we dug in. On reaching the top we had an eagle’s eye view into Tal, with an eagle flying beneath us over a wide valley plain and lake within the Marsyangdi River. The overlooking stone gate faced onto Tal. We toyed with how long before Srirang would arrived but decided the best thing was to find somewhere to eat. A gent introduced himself, and told us that his lodge was sadly under repair. His friend from Jagat, at Mont Blanc Hotel, had recommended his sister’s lodge. We said, not to worry, and carried on. We went all the way to the farthest point of the village, Paradise Lodge on his recommendation. Here we ordered food and fussed a local dog that followed us. The pumpkin soup and momos were brilliant. Well needed after that wander, The widened-valley stretched across the banks of the river beneath with a stone plain giving home to the village of Tal. Behind it the Tal waterfalls plummeted downwards powering a turbine or two.

IMG_20200131_094804After a cup of milky coffee, the weakest coffee ever, but warm and sweet, Srirang walked up the garden path. He did not have his backpack. He said he’d checked into Tashi Delek Lodge (named after a Tibetan greeting). We retreated back there and dropped our bags in. The girl at the lodge had wide Tibetan eyes, wonderfully smooth hair and a figure to die for. I seldom judge someone as breath-taking at first sight. She was. And, without appearing like a debauched foreigner, I politely thanked her for showing me to the wide room, and she slid away quietly. A man I assumed to be her father, and a woman who was clearly her mother shuffled around the garden and lodgings in the start of the Manang district. Before a wander out, we ordered our dinners and dal bhat was on the menu once again.

We set out back towards Jagat, but only as far as the lake and plain area opened out downstream. A golden looking dog joined us. He, Livia and Srirang were having a whale of a time. I wandered along quietly amazed at the litter amongst the river bed and shore. It is always sad to see a natural place covered in plastic and soggy discarded clothing. Some will have no doubt been trekking waste, but much would have been due to a lack of waste management. Plastic is a global menace. Tal sits on the line of Tibetan Nepal and Hindu Nepal. A clearer division of cultures was visible. Today’s dal baht was the best that I had ever had. I thought about how many argue that the road across the valley doesn’t detract from the beauty of the area, triggered by a motorbike ripping the arse out of the valley’s silence.

IMG_20200130_163546Before dinner, Livia, Srirang and our new Kukura (कुकुर – a dog) – abandoned Livia’s impressive learning of Nepali language and we went to see the waterfall, lit up by several bulbs and enjoyed the setting sun over the snow-capped mountain ranges of the west. To our north up the Marsyangdi River, cold clouds gathered and swirled. To the south, similar clouds menacingly eddied and flowed over distant peaks. We looked at pictures of a spider and Livia, with Srirang set about creating a kind of social media profile photo montage. The day had been epic in terms of the scale and ravines witnessed, with such dramatic sweeping scenery accompanying us along the way. Following steep stones and vast drops, a few photos of an eight-legged critter seemed fitting. The big and small, side by side.

IMG_20200131_104942The following morning blue skies greeted us all. I’d woken around 7am but we departed closer to 10.30am. Why rush? Armed with a stodgy breakfast we set off early, having chewed on buckwheat bread, omelettes and porridge. The beautiful girl waved us goodbye. The river bent north-west, and we followed the banks, as the valleys once again enclosed the Marsyangdi River. After only a short distance the river pointed north, and we looked upstream at gaping valleys. But, first we enjoyed a smooth and calm waterfall on our right shoulders. Livia washed her hair and Srirang rested for a while. I plodded up the stairs slowly at first and then having reached a crest, decided I’d trot on a little. The valley below deepened and over the river the road slipped lower below me. The mountains above me cast shadows and sunlight broke through the occasional pockets of bamboo forestry. Here the plants became more deciduous than before, with the air temperature hovering just below teens in centigrade. Sound thundered up from the deep vaIMG_20200131_121925lley beneath. After passing the first yak of the journey I found the small village of Karte. That was an ideal break point after some knee-stress-inducing steps on the route so far. As my lunch of pumpkin soup and momos was readied, I walked over the suspension bridge and back. By 12.50pm, I was at Karte, and now I had met the sister of a certain doggy back in Tal. Her puppies were nearby too. I sat and enjoyed the views and had a quick gander on the internet, via the lodge’s wi-fi. Here I read an excellent account of this trekking region by Tasha Amy (spotting a familiar dog too).

Somewhere after Karte, I decided to plonk my bottom down and have a short nap. I positioned my feet on a comfortable rock and slid my head back onto my resting backpack. Why rush? I hadn’t walked too much extra before reaching Dharapani’s first few guesthouses. Here I greeted the owners if the bright pink and green New Tibet Guest House. With a view up at a very high suspension bridge, I decided this would be a good place to stay – especially as Srirang, Livia and I had decided this would be the day’s end. I checked in, explored the waterfall over the river, had a wander within the village and waited not too long for Srirang and Livia to arrive. Dharapani has a few houses, and a population of just over a thousand, throughout about 232 houses. It is the gateway to the Manaslu trekking routes and all climbers who want that scap, head througIMG_20200131_161129h here. The so-called Gandaki Zone of northern Nepal. Just across the river a further 102 houses, house about four times as many people as front doors. The village of Thonje can be reached by a swinging suspension bridge. A river valley to the north-east gives Thonje a headland sandwiching it to the north-west by the Marsyangdi River. The north-easterly direction to Tilche and a village called Goa looked cold and uninviting. The name Thonje means ‘pine trees growing on a flat place’ in Gurung language.

IMG_20200201_131727An hour’s climb up a near vertical cliff-hugging pathway is not the best thing to do for a late breakfast. But, it had to be done. That vertical line of suspension bridge was calling out my name. Eventually I reached the steep-faced village of Nache (2300m) overlooking a sweeping plain and several farming stepped fields. I ducked into the Dona Lake & Restaurant lodge for lunch. With views of Manaslu (8163m) I sank a bowl of pumpkin and onion soup deep into my belly. Lovely vegetable momos joinIMG_20200201_140008ed the soup moments later. After thanking the owner and their family, I swiftly wandered around the bend, shuffled by two bulls blocking the path and skipped on forwards. To walk on a very-raised footbridge was my intention. The pathway descended and Annapurna could be seen across the opposite valley and way off into the distance.

Heights sometimes give me the heebie-jeebies. There’s a touch of anxiety and apprehension. It doesn’t freeze me in panic or fright, but I don’t feel completely comfortable. This bridge, the Nachai Tamrang bridge, was one heebie-jeebies instiller of the highest quality. The valley below is deep (more than 412m). After crossing, I passed some loggers and wandered through the cool pine forest interior. The chilly evening air was refreshing and I spent a long time pondering if the pathway would start to go downhill. It didn’t seem to go that way, until I found a landslip of many tonnes of soil. Just beyond it I could see prayer flags, a large chalky-coloured rock and some white-washed painted bricks and wood.

A Tibetan monastery, just about on the map (Coordinates: 28.526666408038352, 84.36179227677985), more than 55 years old received me. I hadn’t expected it. The monk shouted down to me, after his black dog had alerted him of my presence. I returned the call with a greeting, and asked for advice on how to pass the huge landslip in front of me. He kind of pointed and said, “There isn’t an easy way. Take great care”, followed by a gentle chuckle. I’d fathomed out a pathway to my right, and looped it around but again it had to cross the landslip, over a distance of two metres. Aside from that the landslip was mostly 5 to 15 metres wide. It ran down into a steep pocket of bushes and mud for about ten metres. I couldn’t slip far. I could get buried. It could have been dangerous. So, I did what anyone else faced with a lengthy walk back, I winged it. I jumped over the first metre with consummate ease, and pushed myself into the soft earth, to allow for a steady flick into the solid growth by a tree and then shuffled up to the gate at the top.

I talked with the resident monk, and he told me of the story of his predecessor who had been there for 55 years. He showed me damage on a wall from the terrible earthquake years ago, the huge tree grown from a seed by his predecessor. The steep garden reaching up from two buildings featured diversity in its birdlife. The national bird, the Himalayan Monal (Lophophorus impejanus) foraged amongst the peaceful greenery. Wind battered away at flags, and several thin cats wandered around. I had a guided tour within the small monastery and made a donation. With light fading I bid farewell, and shuffled off downhill for the bridge to Thonje, and then the eventual bridge to Dharapani, back to my lodge across the way from the highest bridge that I had ever seen, just upstream from the skeleton of a sagging bridge and its replacement nearby. The warm cushions and the fireplace alongside hot meals made for a good night of sleep, despite the icy cold temperatures outside. Dharapani will stick in my mind as one of the most pleasant places on this journey.

It had rolling power cuts as during daylight, they turned off the power whilst they fitted new power lines. Several huge boulders, landslides, avalanches and other such damage had created supply instability. Leaning and/or crushed pylons needed replacing for many kilometres. The monsoon seasons, the winter, the dry days, and other erosion factors made life hard for local people. The power and a recently installed internet feed gave a very modern touch, along with the new road creating regular gas deliveries and other luxuries throughout the region. What many take for granted around the world had only just arrived. The old and new. The New Tibet Guest House even had western toilets, complete with fully flushing bits. What wasn’t to like? A warm shower and a sit-down pooh. As many returning trekkers passed me by advising of closed pathways near Manang, I didn’t worry. If I couldn’t go that high, I’d not be too upset. The journey was already wonderful.

 

At Dharapani (1900m), on leaving our permits were checked. It was all very official and the Police here advised that trekking beyond Manang was unlikely for several days. Livia and Srirang looked disappointed but I guessed they’d wait it out. I was on a tight timetable and wouldn’t be rushing up, either way. The journey was magnificent and for me it had no planned end point. Something special always arrives if you let it. Okay, that sounded very Walt Disney, but I truly believe that you can’t force a trek in the Himalayas. Just go with flow. Feel the rhythm, feel the ride, it’s bobsleigh time…So, that day we slipped through Odar ( a village where I was told  a landslide killed a sleeping trekker some years ago) , Bagarchap (2160m – a village once washed away in 1995), Danagyu (2200m – an unappealing lengthy village, with a Buddhist Monastery opposite a Hydro Electric Plant warning about dangers in the workplace and you only having one life…), and spent some considerable time climbing to Timang (2710m). Livia and Srirang took the road, but I was bored of the road and wanted to see more natural settings that dusty rocks and broken lines of earth.

So, here began the tough part of the trek… forests of pine and fir…

 


Life will find a way.” – Ian Malcolm, character in the novel Jurassic Park, by Michael Crichton

Back to today’s news. Tragedy. More grimness and COVID-19 panic. More worries. It is making me feel down, actually. I worry. I try to escape.I don’t want to see Chinese people boasting how their great nation beat the virus. It isn’t over. I hope to hell, for many it will be over soon. Yes, great doctors and nurses have done wonderful things. But, leaders and officials have let people down. Still, the late Dr Li Wenliang has been exonerated by his government. Too little, too late? 

A while ago, Boris Johnson said he’d take the virus and disease outbreak – on a Friday. He called a COBR meeting for the Monday. This is the same man who said to sing Happy Birthday twice whilst scrubbing your mitts. USA had a drive-through testing centre made by Google. As foot-tap alternatives to handshakes greeted each other, I couldn’t help wondering how they take their shoes off, which obviously were exposed to things that people touched, and probably, hands earlier in the day… The Ian Duncan Smith virus harms the elderly amongst us and this virus is going all Energizer bunny, on and on, and on. It’s tragic but please stay safe, calm and dish out some Gallow’s Humour. Keep your stuff upper lip. The battle goes on.

“If there’s one thing the history of evolution has taught us, it’s that life will not be contained. Life breaks free, it expands to new territories, and crashes through barriers painfully, maybe even dangerously, but, uh, well, there it is.” –  Ian Malcolm, character in the novel Jurassic Park, by Michael Crichton

Life goes on.

 

Wonder Lost Wanderlust

Sawasdeekhap / Namaste / Welcome!

As pensioners and the vulnerable wipe away thoughts of pasta on toast, and dream of times, the better times, when three-ply toilet paper was a thing, Britain slips closer to the abyss. Gone are considerations of single-use plastics and the overuse of carrier bags. Armed with media footage of Australians panic buying toilet paper, Britain laughed at first and then they went out, with little shame and emptied shelves rapidly. Scenes in supermarkets across the lands, far and wide resembled lootings of old, and movies that centred around cataclysmic events. Football fans could not be heard chanting, “We’re fucked and we know we are…” over and over again. Amongst all this Liverpool held a half-marathon. Well Liverpool’s second football team Liverpool F.C. weren’t in action, so why not?

Food bank baskets were frantically emptied and hand soaps pilfered from hospitals across the land. Every man for himself, straight out of 1930s USA had arrived in Britain. The Great Depression reenactment society were even too busy to invite their friends on Facebook to this mass event. Luckily for the selfish amongst Britons, they’d already sneakily arranged their own do. And so, everyone went bat-shit crazy making Overlord of That America, Donny Trump proud as punch. It kept everyone away from his golf courses on Irish and British turfs. Same place anyway, right, Donny? Or is it not?

“And one of the reasons the UK, basically, has been: It’s got the border; it’s got very strong borders. And they’re doing a very good job. They don’t have very much infection at this point, and hopefully, they’ll keep it that way.” – Donald Trump, lover of borders, March 2020.

Community and social care are at stretching point. World relations hang on knife edges and just one stupid tweet can make the retro dark ages look modern and all right here, right now. So, we must each abandon hope, loved ones and become ultra-selfish now. I’m going to panic buy piccalilli, Marmite (in the hate camp, but needs and musts), and head off to an island and start a rhubarb and Rumex obtusifolius farm. Just need to learn how to farm wheat, bake bread and all that. What’re the key ingredients of brown sauce and Vimto? Any good (and uninfected) piggy farmers/butchers out there? Preferences will be given to those who have more skills than Bear Grylls and are of the opposite gender. These are not equal opportunity times. Nor, are they easy, for those apart from loved ones and family. Still, our older loved ones are being told to isolate themselves – and us younger ones are expected to be immune (or bust) according to Shit Donald Trump Boris Johnson… happy days, indeed. Ignore the WHO’s advice of test, test, test and go against the grain of the globe. What could possibly go wrong?

Let’s look for positivity. My Aunty Susan mentioned about a man with a mini bus taking the elderly shopping; community groups setting up help; local shops finding ways to get food delivered to those in need etc. That’s how it should be now. Not just, me, me, me, me, me (please like my blog), me, me, me… and my neighbour back in Manc, offered a note to Mum and co. to help with shopping assistance if needed.

“Panic on the streets of London; Panic on the streets of Birmingham; I wonder to myself; Could life ever be sane again?” – The Smith – Panic

As our brave NHS receptionists, nurses, doctors, cleaners and staff put themselves on the frontline, we must remember each will no doubt have family back home waiting. Their selfless acts may expose their mothers, fathers, children, husbands, wives, partners and grandparents to what is now on our shores. The days of Covid-19 are here. These true heroes are the real line of defence. Not all heroes wear capes, but let’s hope the British government tests them, protects them and provides them with more than shoddy NHS 111 advice or social distancing blurbs.


 

And, now for something completely different…

Walking to Khudi wasn’t the biggest of walks. A commute for many. The tourist bus journey from the day before had been a largely bouncy and claustrophobic affair, with little comfort and a variety of smells that were neither pleasant nor hell. The seats filled fast around the halfway point of the journey and emptied faster on arrival to Besi Beshar. The stop-start nature of the journey had jolted muscles and bones in ways only experienced when falling down hills. The first day of wandering was welcomed with joy. Accompanied by the rapid flowing Marshyangdi River to our right shoulder, off we trotted, up a gentle rise, through a farm field and away we went. The beginning had began.

Unlike the colourful yet featureless interior of the bus, the fresh air of the trail enveloped all senses. A breeze blew through my lack of hair and my nostrils filled with warm spring air. My birds filled with great natural sounds, unlike the bus’s Nepali music blaring out on a setting known as too loud. The dusts that blew through the window on the bus journey seldom visited our walk that day. The repetitive beats of Nepali music were soon replaced by water flowing, leaves rustling and animal cries. Goats? Check. Engines humming? Negative.

Embarking on a journey with beaten muscles is tough. It doesn’t inspire a lengthy trot. The backpack, made by Deuter, had been a secondhand purchase, but it fitted well offering comfort across 55 litres. A zip-on, zip-off daysack sagged from its exterior, making for an odd balancing act but after a few hundred metres it felt part of my super-structure.

Little bit up, little bit down, Nepali flat, actually felt very inappropriate today. The walk was not up at all. Good job! I had read many trekked as far as Tal in one day but I certainly would be going nowhere near there. Gentle and slow, and away we go, was a good motto to begin. The journey is key. You’ll experience more in a long trek and walk, then a rush and a click of the camera. You must always go at your own pace, and if with others, the pace of the slowest – or at least agree where to stop each day, in advance. The region by Annapurna wasn’t a tick-box exercise. It was, to me, a way to explore and see a little bit more, and understand more than I had done the day before. Relaxation, the testing of my physical condition and so on, were just bonuses. Stories for future camp fires or to slap online via a blog would be huge advantages, but not necessarily the aim of the wander.

Here, I was with good company (thanks Srirang and Livia), able to stroll off or amble a tad behind, with my mind. All two brain cells could have a natter and give me some clarity over this, that and the other. So, within a few moments, we’d decided Khudi would be our first port of call. Khudi, and the Maya hotel, right by a road bridge, had a hot spring pond. The chickens loved it. The heat obviously drew in insects and the garden was lush and well-kept. Two separate dining areas looked down on the thunderous Marshyangdi River whilst upstream a kind of footbridge was suspended over the river. The room costs 500NPR (4.21 USD/3.48GBP)and the food was pleasant enough. Dal Bhat daily, with a lovely pickle. I checked out the next morning, happy with my 2800NPR bill, despite it being far higher than the local rates.

The next day involved a bit more trekking – and 20NPR naturally grown bananas (five fresh fleshy ones). After around 10km, the end point was the village of Bahundanda (1310m).

After a snack in Bhulbhule (840m), the trail passed through much dust, passing the ugly hydroelectric dam and the Chinese construction project around there and Ngadi, it was good to escape the hum of engineering and electrical production. The silted river eventually cleared to a bluer and clearer channel. Signs for Wanderlust (also written as Wonder Lost due to an advertising error) appealed because of the words hot and spring. The guesthouse offered us a free room (0NPR, 0USD, 0GBP) on the condition we ate breakfast and dinner there. Deal done. I would check out after two nights with a bill for 3280NPR. I didn’t just eat Dal Bhat, I managed big breakfasts and copious amounts of coffee, the milky kind. As Srirang and Livia rested, I tumbled down a path freely, almost skipping in a happy way. Bats flew around me as daylight faded, and I found two hot springs bubbling away, with an orange rustic appearance. The muddy sludge around each pool shimmered in an unappealing kind of way – an uninviting emerald green stain, flanked by dry looking grasses and rich plants, fed by the rich waters emerging on the surface. The waters gently slipped down a pebbly slope into the raging Marshyangdi River below.

Many people spend one day plodding the road from Besi Behsar to Bahundanda and few stay longer than a night. Bahundanda was so relaxing that we stayed for two nights. It gave Livia the chance to shake off the Coronavirus bug she had, and Srirang and I chance to go over the other side of the valley. Here we clambered up to two villages, Arkhale (R-Kelly?) and Gairigaon. There was plenty of time spent observing a river of goats – they were everywhere, in trees, on rocks, all along the paths and probably on dogs’ backs too. A goat herder carried a small kid along the pathway and greeted me. He could have been a hundred years old. He certainly had no teeth but a very friendly smile, despite his lack of gnashers. On the opposite valley, towering over Bahundanda, was a conical mountain, almost volcanic in shape, and two small hot spring pools at the mountain foot, on the banks of the ferocious Marshyangdi River. Dry terraces, possibly of rice and other grains gave the appearance of monstrous steps to the southern face of the village.

In the distance, I could see a small group, of colourful porters and guides ferrying excessively large backpacks and colourful trekkers behind them. I couldn’t see it, but I guessed at least one, and if not all the porters had sandals or other such ill-suited footwear for lugging weights far beyond their light frames. We descended back to the lodge, and enjoyed our meals, despite Srirang picking up a sprain or strain from some rock-scrambling. Well, we were avoiding bears. Maybe. Possibly. Or, just a little off the beaten track? I’m still finding the many seeds that stick to you, on my clothes now.

The Annapurna Circuit isn’t a complete loop, which is just as well, because 230km is a long walk. After a late check-out from Wander Lost, I left Srirang and Livia, looped onto a blue and white pathway and reached Ghermu around lunchtime. Here, I ate homemade potato momos (soft boiled dumplings), omelette, chapatti and a cup of milky tea. I talked with the owner of the Peaceful Lodge, who was wearing a Chelsea FC jacket, as his other job was to coach the local football team – alongside his other job as porter and guide. He explained more about the local Gurung people and the stretched flat plains of the Ghermu (1130m) village. He pointed out several eagles in the distance and we also discussed vultures and their importance to the circle of life. The day had involved a great little ascent surrounded by farmhouses and glorious scenery. Each slope was tough on the feet, yet farmers and village life seemed to zip uphill at breakneck speeds – carrying baskets of wood, and even rocks to repair a rising footpath.

We stayed a night in Ghermu in a place where I cut my head open on a low beam, twice. The second time did not help at all. Not that the first was any pleasure. A gecko clung to the cold walls, as we sat eating outside and enjoying the calm area. Our cook, who seemed to be the only cook in the village, was the same man from the Peaceful Lodge, earlier that day. Community in action.

The following morning involved a lazy and sluggish breakfast. On descending a steep path down to the footbridge to Syange, we walked through the Late-Mulka Bahadur Curying’s Memorial Gate which proudly had written, “Thanks for your visit.” After crossing the swinging suspension bridge, the west bank of the Marsyangdi river, the Lhasa Guest House and all the other lodges appeared closed. Drills and noise erupted from a nearby waterfall’s foot. A new concrete lodge was being built alongside the Besi Sahar to Chame Sadak (road). The road climbed upwards, sweeping left and right and hugging a few hairpin bends. There were few and far between sections of footpath acting like little breaks from the road ahead. Plenty of milky coffee was had after one particular rise, allowing Livia and I to await Srirang, who was nursing a leg strain, and plugging on despite the pain. A cyclist pedaled on upwards. He stopped and we talked. His intention was to cycle the entire Annapurna Circuit – and he bubbled with his native Dublin accent and enthusiasm. After talking by a roadside lodge and restaurant, he pedaled on, never to be seen by us, until the next time. His touring bicycle made mean work of the steep rocky road. Its handlebars, frame and his back didn’t look too prepared for wet and cold ahead. Brave man.

A cute kitten lolled around our feet and played blissfully as Srirang arrived. We then trekked on. At Jagat we took a wander through the long village before ducking back for the Mont Blanc hotel. The fresh coffee sold it to us. The Hotel New View wanted 2000NPR per night, per person, per room, but the Mont Blanc quoted a fairer 100NPR. A saving of 1900NPR for just ten footsteps. The sun-drenched top floor oozed warmth and I dropped my bag down. I did ask the owner why he had named his lodge after a mountain far away in France. He said he liked the name. It stood out amongst the Three Sisters, Everest, Manaslu, Annapurna, Peaceful Lodges, Tibet, Tashi Delek, and other names that formed a quite predictable list of lodge names.

Hotel Mont Blanc make sure that the guests come first. Welcomed with a warm smile, we stepped inside the lodge. On viewing a sun-baked top floor, it would have made no sense to have said no. The finest cappuccino for breakfast and great food throughout. Try the tagliatelle lasagna with local tomatoes and a hint of spice. I had room 4 on the top floor by the cold shower and squat toilet but wasn’t disturbed. On the ground floor is the hottest hot shower in Nepal. Trust me I have tried a few that claim to be hot. This one does not disappoint. Khusi and his wife pointed us to two different hot springs, both delightful. There’s a nice trek to Chipla on the opposite side of the river and you make see monkeys nearby one of the many waterfalls. A most wonderful place to stay. So good that we stayed an extra night. Try the Dal Bhat for a fully flavoured 24 hour power… ready for the days ahead.

Jagat allowed ample opportunity to feel the serenity and embrace the awe of the valley underneath. Here I dipped in my first hot spring bath, and observed tomato plants growing nearby. Monkeys flipped through trees and the fresh mountain air quenched every need of the day. Rivers, forests, and humanity sat side by side, as did a huge landslip of trash next to a trickle of beautiful waterfall. Supply and demand leaves to much rubbish at lesser accessible places with totally inadequate waste management systems. In the distance, snow-capped peaks peaked between clouds and rocks edged out precariously from mountains upstream. Banana trees, pines, tropical and lesser-tolerant of warmth plants towered around the village, flanked with great wide trees and great slowing green ground-level leaves. Jagat is a tranquil village perched on what appears to be a huge rock. Beneath it the Marsyangdi flows and to the north west side of the village, a stepped waterfall smashes into a pool, misting and swirling outwards.

The trek goes on… just like the news of our not-so-friendly COVID-19…

Pokhara footsteps.

Sawasdeekhap / Namaste / Welcome!

Kathmandu to Pokhara is a long and winding road. The Beatles didn’t sing about it though. The final stop of the 700NPR bus journey was on the edge of Pokhara (827-1740m) by the sports stadium. We checked in at 0100 on the 21st of January 2020, in the Obey Guesthouse, where Srirang had arranged to meet Livia, the angry hungry Hungarian from last year’s trek. I said hello, looked at the rooftop view and fell into a deep sleep. I slept like a baby. In the morning, a bit later, around 9am, I awoke. I stretched my legs, had a cold shower and dressed. I walked up the three floors to the rooftop. I looked south, trees and rooftops, east, a building obscured my view of more trees and rooftops. I walked up some steps to the next layer of the building. Standing on top of the building, my jaw dropped. I looked north, a little west and east. What a panorama! The prominent views of the tourism capital of Nepal are striking.

Pokhara is in the top left corner of the Seti Gandaki valley, if you look at the valley as football goalpost set. The mountains can rise over 6,500 metres across just 30 kilometres. You can see Dhaulagiri (8167m), Annapurna (6000m to over 8000m over several peaks), Manaslu (8163m), Machhapuchchhre A.K.A. Fishtail (6993m). Meanwhile Phew Tal lake sits at just 827m at the Lakeside area of the city. The moderate humid subtropical climate was just hovering around the low teens of 11°C, which made it feel very comfortable. At night, it fell into single figures. Very comfortable indeed. The World peace pagoda stands to the south, a cave full of bats lies to the north. Resorts, climbing shops, massage houses, spars, restaurants and lakeside boating are everywhere. Temples, shrines, gumbas, and forestry – serve the population that sits under half a million. The sprawling metropolitan city is far bigger than Kathmandu, and it feels far greener. This is a city that has survived much hardship losing the great India to Tibet trading route, following the Indo-China war in 1962. However, tourism has grown since. The British Gurkha Camp and Indian Gorkha (Gurka) camps are here. Many education sites are here. Some major businesses are based here.  The airport (soon to be replaced) and roads have regular and easy to find transport links across the country. Oh, and yoga is everywhere.

For dinner, I ate a masala curry, with roti bread. For lunch, I skipped it. For breakfast I tucked into omlette and a peanut dish with spices. Alu patthar was needed alongside the breakfast – a lovely potato bread. Just like the city of Pokhara, every area and every meal was geared for every kind and every taste. Pokhara’s lakeside area was akin to Blackpool lights in England, but smaller, and much quieter. By now the news of the coronavirus Covid-19 was emerging into Pokhara. Sellers on the streets offered a selection of fruits, “Sir, pineapple? Bananas? Ganga?” I declined all, before later watching City beat Sheffield Utd on my phone, as the temperature hit 2°C.

On the 22nd, we set out to the TIMS office, which doubles up as ACAP (Annapurna Circuit) entry – and the Nepal Tourism Board (all flanked by the ill-fated Visit Nepal 2020). TIMS and the ACAP are essential for trekking the region. The national park has strict control. On the day we visited, we were told that the highest we could trek, was Manang due to heavy snowfall – and missing trekkers on the Annapurna Base Camp trail. Under clear blue skies, and an air temperature of 20°C, we entered the doorway to news crews, cameras and stressed looking trekkers complaining that they were airlifted out of Annapurnas region without choice. They would have to pay once again, if they went in. And, they had to get their insurance companies to pay the helicopter rescue fees. The perils of trekking in full motion. Many trekkers seemed oblivious to the lost reported guides and trekkers. We answered questions with the ACAP and TIMS before passing over 2000NPR and 3000NPR respectively. We’d essentially agreed to take zero risks, and trek only as far as Manang. To me, I was fine. I just wanted to get onto the trail and see the sights, meet the people and enjoy a safe walk with good views. I decided there and then that not reaching the pass or completing the Annapurna Circuit was fine. It is what it is, as my older brother Asa, always says.

Pokhara is a very spaced out city. It’s relaxed and very green. There is so much to see and do. It is at the top of the league in terms of watching people go by, and enjoying the sounds of birdcalls. Nature is all around you, whether it is kites swooping overhead, tropical birds chirping in the morning or the croak of frogs. Then, there are many friendly and cute dogs, cats and the occasional free-roaming cow ambling along the roadsides.

With the terrible news coming out of Wuhan, of a pneumonia-causing virus, I became hyper-aware of people around me. Every sneeze and cough triggered a twinge of worry. The spate of deaths in China may have been a long way away, but in my mind, it could have been much closer. The spread of such trouble, just like heavy snowfall could easily have remained an ongoing worry for our trek.

On the 23rd, we checked out from the Obey Guesthouse (1000NPR per night), had breakfast and caught a taxi to the bus station in Pokhara. We departed Pokhara at 1135 for Besi Shahar at 1700hrs. Besi Shahar is only 760m in elevation. On arrival we stayed at Manange Chautara – Hotel Kailash. 200NPR a night, plus food and drink, we went to bed and readied ourselves for the walk. We were in no hurry, because we could only go as far as Manang. I had to leave Nepal by February the 15th, so that was settled. Take it all in, enjoy the walk. Rather than break the camel’s back, the next day, we walked just 7km to Khudi, staying at the Maya hotel, alongside the river and bridge. On the short 3 hour trek, we’d had brews at the ACAP check point, watched Himalayan Grey Langur monkeys for a while and not rushed at all.

 

The journey had started. How about your journey?

A refuge (with passion)

Sawasdeekhap / Namaste / Welcome!

In the first week of my arrival in Thailand, I was blessed by a visit to the Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand (WFFT). The word sanctuary implies something of an ethical nature. This is one such place. WFFT is an Elephant refuge and more. For just 1800 baht per person, Gerry and I were picked up in Hua Hin and dropped by the swanky I-Love-Phants-Lodge within the WFFT’s grounds. Our kind hosts told us to make ourselves at home, but avoid the trunk of a neighbouring mischievous elephant nearby. At lunch time we returned to the lodge for a fantastic and filling buffet meal. Animal lovers and those infected by passion for a good cause can learn much in this day out – and feed well.

Back in 2001, this N.G.O. (non-governmental organisation) started up. Since then, it has grown and stands for rescue, rehabilitation, and combatting the illegal animal trade. There’s an educational side too. Today, it offers visitors a full day out, to explore their grounds under supervision. The guides are knowledgeable, passionate and witty. As well as seeing rescued animals, you can meet volunteers, see their ambitious expansion of paddocks and community-available veterinary quarters. There’s a chance to further understand each animal’s case and hear of their many success stories. Expect to see gibbons, macaque, loris, langur, reptiles, otters, deer, birds and floppy-eared elephants. No touching is allowed but you do get to wash an elephant, feed an elephant and see them up close and personal.

The good work of the WFFT has made its way into living rooms around the world. The BBC, Bondi Vet, Animal Planet and National Geographic have showcased some of their work – but you can help out by getting involved, visiting or donating to help more than 600 animals on-site.  Eating lunch in the lodge allowed a view of gibbons, and their awesome swinging arms, alongside roaming elephants bathing themselves in dust and the sound of an orchestra of birdlife. I sat reading about how in 2012, they stood against government-backed raiders, battled in the courtroom, helped after the devastating 2004 Tsunami and worked overseas with other such groups, spreading the good name of Thailand. Founder Edwin Wiek has recently joined a parliamentary advisory committee charged with strengthening the 2017 Wildlife Preservation Act. There’s hope for gibbons and more, yet!

In Thailand, people pose with sedated tigers, gibbons and overworked elephants. Other animals join that list. The exploited animals are often torn painfully from the wild. Death has most likely come to the animal’s parental group. Inbreeding has likely happened in the case of tigers. Mothers forced to birth as quick as physically possible. Mistreated, malnourished and abused animals can occur in any country around the world. Here, there are monkeys trained to fetch coconuts and other animals performing stunt tricks. I’ve seen this kind of thing in China, and it sickens me that humanistic behaviours are forced upon people, all in the name of greed. Human amusement and bemusement, especially within the tourism industry strips, degrades and humiliates. Some argue it is traditional but can’t argue for ethical. We as travelers and tourists have a responsibility to end the demand. Or, will we just take one more selfie with a gibbon smacked off its tits on sleeping tablets? If people didn’t go to places like the notorious Tiger Temple, there’d be no demand. Simple as.

How did an elephant become a taxi on a Bangkok street? What does the weight of two people and a cradle cart do to the spine of an Asian elephant? How did the tiger train so well to get where it is? Use your noggin, your bonce, your head, wobble it a bit and let some steam filter out. Be diligent. A moment of research could mean your hard-earned money goes to a nasty man or to the good of mankind adding some beauty to the creatures of Earth. If you support the nasty man and his nasty animal place, you’re condoning crimes against wildlife and nature. Is that you? Support. Wreck the wilderness. Deaths. Abuse. Parade. View. Support. And on and on. Pain and suffering. Is that what you want just for a few likes on Instagram or Facebook? Right now, the Covid-19 outbreak is denting tourism and sanctuaries need support more than ever.

Around Thailand, there is an increasing change in attitudes towards conservation and animal welfare. The Gibbon Rehabilitation Project (reintroducing the once extinct gibbon to the island of Phuket); Chang Mai’s Elephant Nature Park; numerous dog and cat rescue centres (many providing adoptions, neutering and vaccinations); Burm and Emily’s Elephant Sanctuary (again Chang Mai); more elephants at Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary (BLES) in Sukhothai; and yet more free-roaming elephants at the Krabi Elephant Sanctuary.


 

Speaking of suffering…

There’s a huge difference from the Manchester Derby games of the 90s. City didn’t compete for trophies then.  They certainly didn’t have two pieces of silverware in the cabinet for the current season.  We didn’t win against Man Utd that often and Old Trafford was a place of dread. All derby games can go either way, with single moments being turning points.  A weird free kick for a foul that probably never was, a hand offside, or a penalty claim waved away. That’s football. City didn’t deserve the win yesterday. This season we’re soft in our hunger and leadership. There really are a few sparks missing. Still, much to play for.

The bragging rights have gone, 3-1 to Them Lot. We’ve had worse days.  Be nice if we can meet them in the Champions League and put that right. Oh… oops. That sounded proper RAG then, and I didn’t even want it to be arrogant. FA Cup semi, if we both make it? Sterling, Ederson, Rodri, and nOtamendi, with Zinchenko didn’t set the world alight and will surely be a tad better next time round. Really set it up for Liverpool at our place, wouldn’t it be nice to give them the guard of honour? That doesn’t bother me thankfully. Right, I’m going to go and polish Ederson’s boots and re-stitch his gloves. Manchester City ruined my life? Never. The boys in blue never give in.  Next.


Back to Chef Cha’s?

Today I have mostly been eating breakfast. Chef Cha is very convenient. Too convenient. After a bowl of breakfast cereal and a glass of orange juice, I’ve found myself drawn to the occasional late breakfast (or I guess some call it brunch). For elevenses, I’ve enjoyed scrambled eggs, bacon, toast with a salad trimming, and a coffee for 150 baht a few times this last week. With my friends Eddie and Gerry, we’ve also sampled some great evening foods there too. There’s a great mix of western and Thai foods. The restaurant itself is sheltered from the sun (unless you opt for the very in the sun areas), has both a sheltered indoor area and a very enclosed area too.

There’s a quaint feel to the place, that is both modern and classic. The decor isn’t loud. The music is well-balanced and cosy. The staff in Chef Cha are really warm and welcoming. Even the two very clean cats that visited rolled around without disturbing our food and shared some affection afterwards. There’s class there too. Chef Cha has a great wine list and a reasonable selection of both soft and hard drinks. If you do get time, have a look at the walls, and see the former Hilton hotel chef’s personal history. You can’t fault people who take pride in their passions. Fair play. I’ll be back again soon. Maybe tomorrow, in fact. Right after the aloe vera massage, maybe?

So much joy you can give, to each brand new, bright tomorrow…

Thai Pride.

Sawasdeekhap / Namaste / Welcome!

The fan on the external wall of the bathroom rattled in the wind. Its guards occasionally lifted an dropped with each passing breath outside. The inactive power let the blades of the fan spin around silently. Beyond the cubicle-shaped bathroom an air conditioner whined gently through the thin plastic doors. The shower unit to the left of the toilet pulsated hot water into the mostly cold feeling tiled room. Steam rose and applied condensation to the mirror over the cumbersome ceramic sink. Two towels, used in a rotation of beach bathing, swimming outside and showers within the room hung lifelessly from two polished metal pegs. They faced the sink, a sink surrounded by soaps, cheap bottles of fragrance and shampoos. Not the worst place to have a pooh on a toilet.

“Good times, bad times, give me some of that” –  (Edie Brickell – Good Times)

I’m in a land where music, dance, the arts (I watched a bizarre Hua Hin 2: The Musical at the Cicada market last night), and creativity really flow. There are more things that could be classed as unique, than that of most places that I have travelled. People here really embrace their nation with real love and care. No chewing gum on the streets and little litter. This is a place that really takes pride in itself. The fact that the market is named after an unglamourous insect is a sense of greatness too.

The people of Thailand are visibly in love with their nation. There’s a soft heartfelt passion for flag and monarchy. There’s not a touch of aggression towards it.  Pictures of the Royal hierarchy are throughout the land. Vajiralongkorn AKA Rama X has been on the throne since October 2016 by crowned only as of May 2019. His pictures and that of former flight attendant and now Queen Suthida are everywhere. The apartment we have has one, and one of the previous King and his Queen. Chakra, the weapon of Rama or Vishnu comes from an old Sanskrit word Chakri. It belongs to the Thai King. The monarchy therefore hold the position as the guardian of civilization. Lord Rama co-exists with Ayutthaya (the light of Thai civilization). The respect for the royal family here is tremendous. King Bhumibol Adulyadej composed around 48 pieces of jazz music. Now that’s a contribution to culture! Throughout the lands of Thailand there are countless places funded by the Royal House to improve agriculture, health, and the environment. Unlike many other Monarchs around the globe, here was a King dedicated to improving the lives of the poorest and most vulnerable. Thailand take their monarchy very serious and some of the laws reinforce this. I have no reason to insult these welcoming lands that I have landed upon, so I am unworried about the Articles 490 and 491 of the criminal code govern lèse-majesté. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. Their gaff, their rules, as Al Murray’s Pub Landlord would say.

Actually, finding that it is illegal to leave the house without underwear, was my biggest worry! No commando today. Up there with shirtless drivers and vaping (electronic cigarettes). Totally illegal. I’ll just concentrate on showing my Wai greeting – and not my lack of underwear.  On top of this, my shorts must sit below the knee for visiting sacred sites. That’s not a problem. I carry spare trousers (winter ones) for such occasions. Putting your hands together and bowing slightly in the form of Wai, is similar to the hand greeting of Namaste in Nepal. This is great, because I prefer both over shaking hands and not knowing what germs or bogies are now on my hand from the person who shook my hands. The handshake was started to show vulnerability in that no swords could be grabbed easier. With the Wai, there is no chance a sword will appear and eye contact allows you to feel the genuine warmth of a greeter.

Unlike Nepal, the form of Buddhism is a little different. Theravada Buddhism is everywhere and clearly the dominant religion without being practical. A few million Thai Muslims help keep the meat industry rolling.  There’s an odd balance between meat and two veg here. That isn’t a comment on the nightlife, which is globally known for its liberal attitudes. Thailand, so far, is a swirl of saffron-clad monks and neon signs.  Very colourful indeed.  You cant kill. Yet you can eat that of something which was killed by others.  At shrines, fizzy drinks can often be seen alongside other offerings. All very different from the rocks, papers and carvings found within Nepal’s Buddhism. Very interesting contrasts, in my opinion. Here there is a real tolerance to people and their sexuality, choices and lifestyles. It seems very laid back and relaxed. People are people and that’s great. The world is a better place in the land of smiles.

Until next time.

Contagious travels in Hua Hin

Sawasdeekhap / Namaste / Alright there,

And the drum keeps banging the rhythm to the beat… and the beat goes on, and the beat goes on…

In an era when British comedian Joe Lycett, had changed his name by deed poll to Hugo Boss, to take on the corporate bullies and claim some of the German fashion brand’s name, it isn’t difficult to be reminded that now is a huge time for popularity. Every Tom, Dick and Prince Harry has their 15 minutes of fame. Being a YouTuber can be a lucrative profession. In my mind it ranks down there with unblocking a U-bend on a toilet. But, who am I to judge? I don’t ask for followers or likes. You can take it or leave it, but please keep reading, or I will cry into my cornflakes tomorrow. Again. Tears and milk. Remember that every morning? Well, you don’t have to look far. Hysteria and pain is everywhere. You should have seen my reaction when they postponed the Thai football leagues.

Centuries of studies into the seasonal flu, versus weeks of study into the current SARS-CoV-2  that leads to Covid-19 brings my thoughts to one fact. There are too many so called experts, political or otherwise, tampering with and slinging news at the public in many nations. Okay, some have strong censorship and can control it a wee bit, but right now, go to almost any western media source and there are live streams and blogs dedicated to death tolls and outbreaks. Our minds are at risk of contracting God knows what. I should be sorry for my use of a possibly fictional character to those with a negative disposition to God. I could have used other prophets and so on, but some people are a tad more militant in their replies these days. Thinking of which, a certain Supreme Leader’s Expediency Council member has fell victim to this dreadful outbreak. As have at least two other top members of parliament – and their military leader was taken out by US missiles recently. Expect a power vacuum in Iran then.

Australia burnt at an alarming rate. Many other forest fires popped up around the globe. Then flash flooding and droughts and biblical locust invasions. Wayne Rooney returns against Man Utd too. What next? Armageddon by an asteroid? Well, we’ll all have so much toilet paper stockpiled, it should bounce back into outer space. If not, feel free to land here: 53.4631° N, 2.2913° W. There’s always and has always been something bad going on around the world but rarely do we have chance as a species to really share the plight of humanity. We’ve blissfully hidden the climatic change issue behind the smog of car fumes and turned a blinded eye to the seas of plastic. Hoaxes, lies and damned statistics. What’s the point in worrying? What’s the worst that could happen? Everybody’s dead Dave. There’s even a drought in Hua Hin, Thailand, where I am. The waterfall at Pala-U is more of a dry wall installation. It is a good job Gerry and I didn’t cycle the 75km to see it. Saddle sore and disappointment.

IMG_20200228_173925Hua Hin is a lovely place. I’m told it is a good town for a gentle introduction to Thailand. Less ping pong balls, and more deckchairs. I’ve only been sexually assaulted twice by rather aggressive and overzealous characters. Just being polite and saying no has worked. Oh, and a rather large sidestep whilst removing a hand from up your shorts. And telling someone to put the scissors down. Keep calm and carry on. Since arriving in Thailand, I departed the Bangkok International airport for 294 baht, by an air-conditioned bus to Hua Hin. Gerry had said look out for the Airport and Stamford International University. Here I was escorted by a shuttle taxi van to Chanta Village. On arriving here, I met Eddie and his wife Amy, also seeking refuge from sunny Dongguan, China. They own a place in the village but had let it out until May. So, Eddie and Amy had rented somewhere nearby. Gerry had invited me along to cut the rental costs. 8,300 baht (about 204 quid) for a month each. Although after two weeks we had to move across the road, as the condominium owner was to return (and they haven’t yet, annoyingly). Still, we ended up paying the same, with electricity a little on top. There’s the added benefit of a private room (I started with bunk beds and moved to a room with a double bed) and a swimming pool. Who can complain at that?! And, kitchen facilities, to prepare cheap eats and survive the outbreak.

IMG_20200225_090812To date I have visited Cha Am’s beach and harbour, on a reasonably round cycle ride of about 55km. The journey took in Wat Marikathaywan, some mangroves at Sirindhorn International Environmental park, Cha Am Forest Park (and education centre based along a section of the main road from Hua Hin to Bangkok), and passed by the Thai-Victorian era Maruekathaiyawan Palace. The journey between the latter and Cha Am itself, involved two double punctures to front and rear tyres, that cost 60 baht to repair in a motorcycle garage. All’s well that ends well.

IMG_20200227_152659In the future, I want to ride up and see some caves at Khao Nang Phanturat. An impressive six-armed Buddha denying all senses outside the statue of King Naresuan and Neranchararam temple was worthy of a quick stop – and here a man greeted Gerry and I in the oddest of ways, using his little English to create a conversation that made little sense. Brave and happy man. I won’t laugh at him, because my Thai stretches to hello, thanks and left or right, and forwards. One day, I’ll master stop and some numbers.

wx_camera_1582609364233Around the corner from where we’re staying, and north a bit, you can find the Venezia resort. I’ll avoid a false Venice right now (not because people are avoiding the real one due the bug outbreak). It looks kind of plastic and uninviting. The Cha Am area actually is on the line of where we’re staying, marking a border with Hua Hin. The beaches here are golden soft sands and lovely. Cha Am’s central beach is practically washed away by tidal erosion but good enough for a swim for a few hours like we did. We stopped for a lovely Pad Thai and salad at the oddly-out-of-place-named Apple Crumble restaurant. I had one of the best iced cappuccinos ever. On the beach we chilled on loungers and had a dip, being pummeled by wave after wave, some much higher than 2 metres, but still fairly safe to jump in and through.

IMG_20200228_163705Another day, a solo cycle ride to Pranburi Forest Park, south of Hua Hin allowed me to see an impressive mangrove forest from a wooden raised pathway and appreciate the many crab species from above. The beach views out to sea and the general feel of the well-managed forest park made for a calming meander following a hard slog against the wind. On the return leg of the journey, I swung left into the Ratchabak Park – to witness the awesome standing Seven Kings of Siam. As statues go, against a sunset or sunrise, these are a splendour and a half! The Seven Kings of Siam, sounds like a movie. There should be such a series (if there already isn’t). The history of each king is rich and diverse. Thailand is a rich land of freedom and the Thai history has royally shaped the present. These statues stick out far and wide. They’re sighted in a facility for training NCOs. They’re sacred. People come here on pilgrimage. I’d recommend to anyone to have a gander and learn a little history whilst you’re at it from the magnificent seven.

wx_camera_1583407256590With sweeping views north and south, and obviously out to sea, Hua Hin beach is just the place to get some perspective on the lay of the land. Set down a ginnel from the Hilton Hotel and the main bar and restaurant areas, it is easily accessible with plenty of things to keep you there all day. Sun loungers, massages, deck chairs, juicy fruits and rockpooling are just a few things to busy away time. Then, there’s swimming, running on the fine sands and other such activities. You can see kite-surfing to the north and fishing boats to the harbour a little south. Not the worst way to relax.

IMG_20200219_195613First, Hua Hin Railway Station is a living museum, with active trains and all the electronic boards of a modern station. The royal pavilion is grand. It is unique. It had an air conditioning unit for a reason. Beyond the dramatic Guard’s Room, Police Station and numerous old station relics, you can find an old railway hand-cart in one direction (south) and an old steam engine on a siding (northbound). The evening makes for a pleasant time to take photos and it even feels a tad romantic, even to a solo traveller like me.

IMG_20200221_164711Firstly, I could pan the Wat Khao Takiap temple area for a visit. I won’t. It is worthy of a pre-informed visit. Don’t show me your gums and teeth at my comments. Nor, show it to the monkeys or the many stray dogs. If you have a catapult, or a watergun, consider taking it. Beware of anything shiny and anything sweet. If you value your appearance, blend in. We, the human race, created this shrine, and we fed the monkeys, and all the other animals there. The monkeys bred, and bred and from my recent visit, even the one with a wonky leg was having a go at breeding. There is some serious erosin around the brow of the far temple, so take care. If you’ve got that far, then you have no doubt passed hundreds of (long-tailed?) macaques. They’re not that bad. They’re just surviving and doing a reasonably good job of it too. Respect them, and respect the views. It is worth a wander. Forewarned is forearmed. Don’t feed the monkeys.

IMG_20200302_002456Soi Bintabaht Walking Street is essentially a street full of bars, snack sellers and hawkers trying to flog you Man Utd posters or other cheap tack. However, it is a great place to watch sports on the telebox, natter away to friends, play pool (billiards to some), engage in mindless conversation with strangers and watch people amble by. Yes, it is a girly bar area, but everyone is friendly enough, apart from the lady who wanted to rearrange my downstairs forest, but even she was joking. I hope. There are plenty of sidestreets and ginnels, each offering similar bars or slightly more classy food restaurants. It is very friendly and it is easy to forget that some people aren’t lucky enough to be high-power bankers or run cruise liners. Here the bar staff and friendly strangers can be the most down to earth and real that you can find. Be careful of the scissors though. Snip, snip. I wouldn’t mind but I’m not overly hairy…

wx_camera_1581849088144There are two huge malls here. One shopping centre is called BluPort. Some places are a little expensive (their sport shop sells Manchester City shirts and shorts though with 40 percent off). Plenty of food places and choice. Almost everything is here including a cinema and banks etc. The thing I visited for was the Hua Hin immigration office for visa advice. They’re open from 08.30 to 15.30 Monday to Friday. I found that should I need to I can extend my visa by 30 days, then a further 7 days without leaving the country. Now that’s useful. The other mall or shopping centre is called Market Village. Again, some places are a little expensive (Puma do sell Manchester City shirts though); and some are useful (Tesco Lotus is a fairly big store) and then there’s a Home Depot or something like that (for water hand pumps and so on). Plenty of food places and choice. Electronic goods on the third floor, by a cinema and banks etc. Now, I had left Nepal with very little summer clothing. I’d donated most of my winter clothing and hiking gear to a local charity in Kathmandu. So, on arrival to Hua Hin, I grabbed two pairs of shorts for 400 baht. Since then, I’ve grabbed one further pair of shorts. And one t-shirt. Everything I had was long-sleeved and too hot.  I’m in fully committed survival mode after all.

See you on the other side…

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

 

The Red Blue (or is it a Blue Red?)

78531392_582334829206983_7948421672325873664_n你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do / S’mae / Namaste

I’ve never interviewed and election candidate before. I’ve never really given any questions to any political representative unless you count pinging a tweet at President Trump in anger.

Being located in China and taking into account the eight-hour difference, I finally pinned down Brahma Mohanty. Had I have been clever enough, we could have discussed politics during summer in depth over ice cream at Ginger’s Emporium in Affleck’s Palace, Manchester. Back then the world was a different landscape and Brahma wasn’t due to stand as a Labour party representative. Bizarrely, I did feel and tell him that’s where his future will be if he so wants it. So, here we are at the last broadcast (of the day).


 

Isn’t politics boring?

Brahma shakes his head. He knows my question is tongue in cheek, yet he comes back with a dismissive answer like a knife to my jugular, “In many ways football and politics can be the same. Both can be complex and dramatic. We can be perplexed. When things work, we can be exhilarated, and I think it something that we can all be passionate about. If we don’t have a say it affects us all in our everyday lives. Whether it is accessing the best healthcare or public transport – or the economy affecting pricing on everyday things and even the cost of a football game ticket.”

davI need a bit of an education. Is Brexit worth worrying about?

“Just as how these are turbulent times for Manchester City on the pitch, it is the same within British politics,” Brahma has tailored his answer to catch my interest. Off he goes again, “Now is the time to get involved and the stakes couldn’t be any higher, in terms of this election. The results will determine how Brexit is resolved. There could be a crash out of the EU with a hard Brexit. There could be a gentle yet painful Brexit with a deal that is favourable to few. Perhaps, a renegotiation that protects our workers and our rights – with a final say on the matter can be agreed. I believe Labour can offer this.”

Brahma is blue City fan. He’s also red (for Labour). I’ve heard City fans say that the vote the Conservative party because they’re blue. Politics is a contentious domain. Was choosing to represent the Labour party a difficult choice?

“Not at all,” Brahma confidently swats the question a swift reply. He continues, “Since my parents came here in the 1970s, they have voted in every election that they have been able to vote in. Now my parents weren’t necessarily politicos but they always identified more with Labour. Labour’s position on inclusivity, respecting and advocating a multicultural society gave my parents, as Indian immigrants, a voice. Britain back then wasn’t always a great place to be in but they felt that the Labour party were for them, more so then other party groups.”

So, it came as a natural selection to stand with Labour?

BManchester city centre 12th July 2017 (78)rahma beams with pride, “My family have had a longstanding involvement with the NHS, which as you know was created by Labour. Commitment to values of equality for all, whether within education, housing or healthcare were followed by my family. That has been influenced upon me deeply by my family. Supporting the Labour party when I was first eligible to vote allowed me to be in touch with society in a very inclusive way. I grew up in a region of the world where the Labour party has always been very well represented. Manchester has a great history tied to Labour’s roots and the left-wing side of politics.”

How confident are you right now?

“I’m confident that I am going out there now,” Brahma replies, “giving a positive message about that I and the Labour Party have to offer, and offering the people of my potential constituency and also across the country in marginal seats a positive progressive vision in contrast to what we’ve had to put up with in terms of austerity and the Conservative Party for almost a decade. I’m confident that this message is getting out there to our people. Obviously, we won’t know until the final polling results next week.”

What difference can you make?

wx_camera_1533826817200“In terms of difference of what I can make,” Brahma’s eyes lock on mine, deeply showing his passion in his words, “I will advocate for the policies I’ve mentioned before. We need a much more strongly and robustly supported NHS – to ensure that everyone has the best access at the point of need. Further investment into public transport, will enhance connectivity, and improve logistics whilst assisting to combat climate change. Less cars will mean less fuel and less carbon emissions – but for that we must have an efficient public transport system that isn’t seen as grimy, unreliable and aged.”

Why did you choose to set a course into the world of politics?

“Drawing on all my personal experiences,” Brahma shuffles in his seat, dropping words from his soul with confidence, “whether, it was growing up in and around Greater Manchester, my involvement within Labour and in terms of overcoming barriers and obstacles, which I’ve had to encounter quite a lot. Not just in terms as a person of a different ethnicity, but also with regards to my disability and mental health issues. TV shows such as The Last Leg and London 2012’s great Paralympic games have really swayed people’s opinions and moved us away from the term disability to realise that everyone with a disability have real genuine abilities to shine. Whilst these things may have prevented certain times of my education and career, I want to draw on my personal experience to lead and set an example by applying it to my role within the Labour party team. I want to demonstrate that anything is possible. People don’t need to be held back. Nothing is impossible with our own powerful minds.”

What are your beliefs in terms of the NHS?

P70821-144016“As I have mentioned about the NHS, it obviously needs more than a lick of paint,” Brahma states. He pauses before carrying on, “It needs a greater level of funding to ensure that we can maintain a high standard of care and assistance. Despite a decade of under this awful austerity-driven government, the NHS is still regarded as great institution domestically and overseas. It is often cited as one of the best systems in the world – if not the best healthcare system on Earth. As a Labour candidate and the Labour movement, we want to ensure that this is always the case. It cannot be privatised and sold off, to make needless profits. We’re proud of the NHS legacy – and want future generations to have the support and fallback of the NHS with them from birth to death. It makes Britain great.”

And how do you feel about the hotbed that is the railways?

hdr“Railway networks need improving to allow people to get from A to B. Our commitment to combating climate change, means we need less cars on the road and with that less carbon emissions from fossil fuels. An improved transit system such as national railways or tramlines within cities, gives people the chance to make use of an efficient system of transport. That’s the bedrock of what we believe in, in terms of improving public transport.”

For the current and potential students out there, may I ask your views on tuition fees?

Brahma’s educated answer follows, “Scrapping tuition fees stops people from being put off by further education. You shouldn’t be stopped from learning because you can’t afford to attend university. Let our people in Britain pursue their degrees and careers that they wish to. Do we want an enhanced talent pool in our country?”

Can a Mancunian truly represent people from a completely different region?

olympic celebration 2012 (26)“As a Mancunian, I can bring the spirit of never say die, hardworking determination and grit, and I suppose politics is like the current Man City team, international, diverse and going out there each week wearing the badge and colours in pride. The last decade has been the most successful period for City. I can take example from that. You don’t necessarily have to have been born in a place or from the area to advocate the best for the people there. We’re all people at the end of the day. Manchester has the People’s History Museum – a kind of de facto unofficial museum of the Labour party and the Labour movement. Not far up the road in Rochdale, we have the birthplace of the Cooperative movement. I believe that there is a museum there too. Manchester and the industrial past have been a hotbed of socialism. That naturally influenced upon me. Like the industrial revolution, Manchester’s reach has been global – and doesn’t seek to impose itself unfairly.

There are 650 seats in the House of Commons. That’s 650 possible MP positions. Why Surrey Heath?

“Coming into an area like Surrey Heath, with a fresh pair of eyes can be very beneficial, “Braham affirms. “Being able to draw on my own experiences from my time working and living away from Manchester, I can apply this to the role. Just like in a sports team, each woman, man or youth player brings a different set of skills and talents – whether international or locally-born, they all sit under one banner representing their team with pride. And I’m not just talking Manchester City! This could easily be that of England – in rugby or football terms, amongst a whole host of teams.

326 seats are needed for a majority party to assume a government. With the last few elections leading to coalition governments, do Labour have a chance for a majority party government? How do you view the opposition?

“In terms of the opposition, I’m unhappy with what I see in terms of a decade of austerity that has really affected British society. Homelessness is on the rise, armed force members – past and present, lack real support, young people can’t afford to get onto the property ladder, more people are renting than ever before, or even still living at home with parents. There’s an increased use of foodbanks. This climate of austerity has led us to where we are. Do we want to be here?

The ill-feeling created by austerity is, I believe, what drove people to vote for Brexit. This conception that it was immigrants from within the EU and beyond were to blame for issues domestically, when in fact, it was as a result of Conservative-led austerity, in coalition with the Liberal Democrats. The terrible thing with the Brexit is not only has it impacted on the U.K.’s economy, the value of the pound sliding, but it has created an uncertain job market. Businesses are feeling the instability. It has created divisions and tensions. In the last three and half years, hate crime has increased, whether racist, anti-Semitism, homophobic, transphobia, Islamophobia, or other abuses. Brexit has unleashed a lot of bad characters, looking to put their views upon the majority of us – giving a footing for the far right. Do we really want to lose our neighbourhoods to hate?

I feel that the opposition should be held accountable for these divides and the rise of hate. I hold them responsible for what we have right now. An era of tension and division that has now led us to have a General Election, at this time when most of Britain could be better suited to enjoying Christmas – but under such circumstances, we’re hopping outside in the cold weather to cast votes. Simply put, the country is at a crossroads. We are in a period of uncertainty. ”

In what is a safe seat (historically) do you feel you have that extra sparkle to really challenge the established MP?

“Do I have that extra sparkle? I’m under no illusions that this is and always been a very safe and stable Conservative seat since its creation,” Brahma straightens up his body. He is now looking very serious. “I focus on the best possible message that I can provide, which is a positive progressive message as an alternative to the austerity-driven policies like those offered by the Conservative party, like figures such as Michael Gove have been at the foreground promoting – and indeed Surrey Heath, like much of the country was divided upon Brexit, so I’m offering a progressive view on that. I want to avoid a focus on appeasing those who voted for Brexit, or those who seek to revoke Article 50 whilst ignoring the concerns of those who voted for Brexit. The Labour party is committed to supporting the 100%. What we’re saying is, that we’re unhappy with the deal that has been carried back by Boris Johnson from the EU, which offers no assurances on the economy, business, workers’ rights, or job protection. What we’re saying, if we get into power, we want to renegotiate the deal with the EU. Once that has been done, we want to do what we believe, the most democratic thing of all – and put that information and ultimately the decision to the British people. Some may say that we have already voted on this matter, and that was the end of that. In some respects, yes, I can understand people feeling that way but at the same time, none of us could put our hands on our hearts and say that even now, we knew exactly what Brexit will or has meant. The referendum needed clarity and clear discussion. In 2016, did we have the right information? Given that the picture and the landscape of the Brexit decision has changed many, many times. Many of those who have backed a no deal have flipped sides. Many of those who voted for Brexit have changed their minds. The processes have been complex and unclear to many. I don’t think that it is unfair or irrational to say that the British people should have the final say upon our future following our negotiations because this is something that is going to affect our people in the here and now – and for future generations.

Individuals must be registered to vote by midnight twelve working days before polling day. That point has now passed. I Does voting really matter?

“I think it is absolutely essential to vote now,” Brahma’s head is full of ice, yet I can sense his belly is full of fire. He resumes, “Those who can vote, must vote. As I have stated before, this General Election is because of Brexit. It has been almost a century since we had an election of this kind in December! Brexit is probably the biggest event to affect this country since the end of the Second World War. The effects will be felt by the British people for years to come and it will have an impact not only British society but on Britain’s standing in the world. It is absolutely imperative that of you have a view on this matter – and you’re eligible to vote, that you cast your vote. Obviously, I’d hope that they would vote for the Labour party, but it is more important to vote on this matter knowing that by not doing so, you’ll be losing your say on Brexit, the NHS, the future of transport within the UK, housing, or the homelessness crisis. Voting is such an important part of the democratic process. It is one that many people have fought for and died over. All around the world people still continue to do so. It is vital to be part of that process – especially now as we reach a very marked point in the road for Britain’s place in the world.”

 Just to be clear, I personally assigned a proxy vote via my mother in Manchester.

 Much is being made of the power held by younger voters. Can younger voters make a difference to their regions?

“This is the first time that those born after 2000 will get a chance to vote. This will affect their futures more than anyone else. Cast your votes. Listen to the debates from all sides. It is so important that younger people embrace politics. Get involved.”

SAMSUNG CSC

Finally, do you have any further comments to make?

“It is vital that people vote. The key issue is Brexit. That’s why we’re having a General Election on a cold winter’s day. Just like the last General Election, people must have their say. Whilst some party groups say that will get Brexit done or conclude the matter, it is worth noting that the Conservatives have had three Prime Ministers since the referendum and are no closer to resolving the impasse one way or another. Only the Labour party is offering a viable proposal to this. At the same time, our policies are far more than the NHS. We have focuses on the NHS, improving public transport, looking after our elderly communities, scrapping tuition fees and so on.”

Brahma can see that my attention needs a kickstart. He glibly closes with a statement, “Politics is just like football. It has highs and lows. It has moments that we will remember for a lifetime and there are times that leave us completely stunned. Just like Vincent Kompany’s goal against Leicester City last season, or Aguero’s last minute winner against QPR in 2011/12, you can feel such highs in politics as well. It only works with involvement and togetherness – making that contribution. People must be involved. I support progressive values with the Labour party. We must fight for the many and not just the few. As I always say, one of our great sayings within the labour movement, by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we do alone. That underlies any team sports, just like at City. Yes, some has come due to investment, but investment alone won’t create a team. Everybody has played an important role in the club, behind the scenes and across the field – and that’s how Labour must be. We need a team for all.”

Andrew Marr, I am not. Thank you kindly for your time Brahma Mohanty – and best of luck for Election Day 2019.

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

 

Leave only footprints. 请只留下脚印

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

Run boy run sang by Bugzy Malone featuring Rag N Boneman is a soulful grime song. It shares its title with Woodkid’s Run Boy Run as featured on the album The Golden Age. There are so many songs that have the theme of escape or running away. Think Everybody’s on The Run, as belted out by former-Oasis man Noel Gallagher. You’ve got to love yourself these days. Bruce Springsteen sums it up with his song, Born to run. Either way, running right now feels as if a knife is embedded deep into my right calf. I’m certainly in no hurry to pick up the top 100 running songs albums or exercise megahit CDs that usually line the shelves in the run up to Christmas.

So, in order to occupy my recovery with a target, I’ve been digging around. And it all makes sense. Everywhere I look there are hints. In recent weeks I have seen shoes presenting the brand of Khumbu. A message appeared in my inbox from Srirang and Livia about their springtime plans. China had a recent movie release called The Climbers, focused on very early Everest expeditions. There was even an email in my junk email box from Everest Windows. On WeChat, I received a message from a Sherpa friend. But, above all that, my heart is longing for the glory of walking amongst the Himalayan mountain range. There is a deep-seething hunger that hasn’t gone away since the day I stepped from the bus onto the soil of the Jiri road in 2017. Seeing those mountains stretching west, east, north and climbing from the clouds of Nepal, on that bus journey has captured me. I read of many people, famous and unknown to the masses, that returned year after year – and everyone I met there had either returned or had immediate plans to come back. Whether it is the spirits of the mountains, the allure of the nature or the warmth of the people, Nepal gets into your skin. A small country with a big heart.

Deep down, my heart is torn. I want to go home and see family for Christmas, yet circumstances have worked against me. My sister Astrid will probably be most disappointed, but she’ll be the first one I’d like to take away in the summer holidays of 2020. I wish I could be there for all my family but I’m selfish. I want to see and do more whilst I still can. There should be plenty of time to make good memories in the future. You can’t have it all. The world is too big and too diverse for one lifetime.

So, Makalu, Manaslu or a trek near to Annapurna called are now on my radar. Makalu is a serious beast and February is noted as being too cold to attempt that trek. Plus, it has an offshoot trek that can get you back onto the path to Lukla – the famous Everest trail. However, that’s proper mountaineering actually – and rope climbing. Not quite the rambling I wish to do, right now. As a route it looks amazing, with diverse tropical valleys, temperate zones and then some serious Himalayan tundra. Plus, you get to see the world’s highest mountain range from a new angle – and all those glorious peaks in between there an India’s Sikkim.

Tumlingtar 285m – Mane Bhanjyang 1440m  – Chichara 1980m – Num 1851m – Sheduwa/Sedua 1500m – Tashi Gaon 2100m – Khongma/Kauma 3760m – [REST/ acclimatisation] – Dobato 3700m – Jark(Yak) Kharka 4800m – Hilary Base Camp 4800m – Makalu Base Camp 4870m – and back again…

Manaslu really seems inviting. There is need for a Restricted Area Permit (RAP) [USD50-100 +15/day over 7 days] because it touches the sensitive regions of the Tibetan-Chinese border. You also need the Manaslu Conservation Area permit [NPR2000] and the Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP) entry fee [NPR3,000]. There are quoted trekking times of 14-22 days, depending on fitness and whether you explore the Tsum Valley. If that is the case then this area could allow time to fly to Meghauli Airport and get over to Chitwan national nature reserve. Rhinos and mountains. Tempting, very tempting.

Soti khola (710m) – 14km Machha Khola (900m) – 22km to Jagat (1340m) – 20km to Deng (2095m) – 19km to Namrung (2900m) – 10.5km to Lho Gaun (3180m) – 8km to Samagaun (3500m) – [REST/ acclimatisation: Pungyen Gompa or Manaslu Base Camp ] – 8km to Samdo (3690m) excursion to Tibet border – 6km to Dharmasala (4450m) – Larkya La Pass (5220m) 24km to Bhimphedi (3590m) – Gho (2515 m), 26km to Tilje (2300m) – 19km to Chyamche  (1410m) – Besisahar – and back again…

The third option is Dhaulagiri’s base camp trek which a friend has recommended highly. Highly being an appropriate word because it will be quite amongst the clouds. Ranked 7th globally, Dhaulagiri (धौलागिरी) stands at a dramatic 8,167m. The massif is the highest mountain within a single country’s borders. Dhawala (धवल) translates to dazzling, white, beautiful and giri (गिरि) is mountain. Its parent peak is K2. From 1808 until 1838 it was listed as the world’s highest point until Kangchenjunga was surveyed. Dhaulagiri I’s peak has a sudden rise. In just 30km of distance it juts up a staggering 7000 metres from the Kali Gandaki River to the southeast. The south and west face have equally dramatic 4000m rises too! The climbing history is dramatic and marked with deaths. The south face has never been completed. Plenty of contours on the trekking routes too. Might be worth further consideration and research

Trek Beni to Babichaur ( 1000m / 3280ft ) 6-7 hrs; Babichaur to Dharapani ( 1565m / 5134ft ) 7 hrs; Dharapani to Muri ( 1850m / 6068ft ) 6.5 hrs; Muri to Boghara ( 2050m / 6724ft ) 7.5 hrs; Boghara to Dhoban ( 2630m / 8626ft ) 6 hrs; Dhoban to Italian Base camp ( 3500m / 11,480ft ) 6-7 hrs; Rest and Acclimatization day; Italian Base camp to Glacier camp ( 4250m / 13,940ft ) 5 hrs; Dhaulagiri Base camp ( 4650m / 15,252ft ) 4 hrs; Acclimatization day; Dhaulagiri Base Camp to French Col 4 hrs; Hidden Valley Camp ( 5000m / 16,400ft ); Hidden Valley to Yak Kharka (4200m / 13,776ft) 6 hrs; Yak Kharka to Jomsom ( 2,715m / 8,910ft ) 7-8 hrs

 

Yesterday, as part of the recovery from my calf muscle tear, I hobbled up Baiyunzhang (白云嶂) in Huizhōu (惠州). It is 1003m tall, and in warm sunshine it certainly felt every metre as high, as we’d started from about 150m. Nick, Milly and Almog made good company on the dry walk upwards. The golden meadow at the summit was worth the wander having stumbled up dry dirt paths and tested my aching calf muscle beyond that of what I should have done. Around the uneven loose sands and slippery pathways birds tweet away and snakes slither through the undergrowth, oblivious to those who walk the well-defined path upwards. Unlike the sun-exposed first and last sections of the path, the middle section is under canopy. Here mosquitoes dart in front of your eyes, more keen on your warm blood than your desire to trek upwards.

Leave only footprints.  [ 请只留下脚印 qǐng zhǐ liú xià jiǎo yìn ]

The trail up Baiyunzhang (meaning ‘white cloud sheer ridge’) is sadly surrounded by so much discarded litter and rubbish. It is sad to see. Passing fellow hikers on the route, they all had bags and pockets. There is no excuse for trail waste. Perhaps we should all greet each other along the route with a phrase, “Leave only footprints.”  [ 请只留下脚印 qǐng zhǐ liú xià jiǎo yìn ]

Huizhou’s other mountains for hiking are: Luofu Mountain (罗浮山), Nankun Mountain (南昆山), Xiangtou Mountain (象头山), Jiulongfeng (九龙峰), Lotus Mountain (莲花山), Baima Mountain (白马山), Wumaguicou (五马归槽), Baiyunzhang (白云嶂), Honghuazhang (红花嶂), Xieyan Top (蟹眼顶), Pingtianzhang (坪天嶂), Wuqingzhang (乌禽嶂), Axe Stone (斧头石), Xianren Village (仙人寨), Guifeng Mountain (桂峰山) and Sanjiao Mountain (三角山).

Next weekend I am looking for a hike in the Shenzhen area. Perhaps Maluan Shan Mountain (马峦山, address: 深圳市区东北方向约50公里的龙岗区坪山街道马峦村 – Xinxiu metro statio) or Dananshan (大南山) or the pretty looking peak of Wutong Shan Mountain (梧桐山, address: 深圳羅湖區梧桐山村 – bus 211 from Cuizhu metro station exit B2). So, with this all in mind, I’m going for a walk now and a little think…

 

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

POP GOES THE #GETGOVEOUT

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

POP goes the weasel! Or, in my case POP went my right calf. As I stumbled to the ground in agony, I knew the night’s game of football was over. I barely played five minutes. Even with a warm-up, a gentle jog to the game and adequate hydration, something went wrong. My foot hit the deck in a way that caused my ankle and calf some shock. The result was the rear of my calf muscle belly was electrically charged with pain. That was around 9pm last night. More than 17 hours have passed – and I still cannot curl my toes or stand properly. There is visible swelling and no amount of hot water [Chinese medicine?] can cure this.

Playing back the moment that it happened, I’d suddenly changed direction in my run and accelerated which felt good until that POP. The grade of muscle tear is ranked as somewhere between a grade one and a grade two. It could mean a few days of being on crutches, or a few weeks. It will mean recovery in around one to six weeks. I won’t be returning to sports too soon and will need some physiotherapist guidance as to how to recover progressively and prevent a further tear.

For now, the tears in my eyes are mostly caused by the application of Wong To Yik. This balm is a Woodlock Oil, although I’m still not entirely sure what that actually is. It has a mild initial heat upon application but that rapidly warms up into something akin to fire. Any evaporated fumes usually burn everywhere they come into contact with. Handwashing is needed to prevent future shock when touching sensitive regions. Don’t apply it and then go and urinate guys! For a few days, I have the Murray’s FC physiotherapy centre’s crutches. No weight-bearing is allowable. Rest is a must.

My body is fixing itself through mature collagen scar formation. This will take around 6 weeks to build up. Soon, I’ll need to do exercises to help lengthen, orientate and stretch my new scar tissues. Neurodynamic mobilisations sound amazing. What are they? I don’t have a clue. Hopefully, the day where I can walk without a limp will arrive sooner rather than later. In the meantime, resistance loaded exercises will remain a thought. There will be little concentric (upwards) or eccentric movement (downwards). One day I’ll be running a high speed (for me), with some power, proprioception and agility (if possible). Only then can I consider a return to football.

Wong To Yik is wonderful. It’s an external analgesic made of Camphor (10%), Turpentine Oil (12%), Menthol (16%) and Methyl Salicylate C8H8O3 (50%). The remaining 12% is a mystery but I read somewhere that there is an inactive ingredient in Lavender Oil and dāngguī (当归; female ginseng). It seems to warm the muscles – but makes Original Mint Source shower gel seem tame when in contact with hypersensitive regions. Wong To Yik strips away skin in those areas, so do take care…


 I started writing the above last Wednesday, then was distracted by mid-term exams, a school trip and a shedload of hopping.


 

Pro Chemnitz neo-Nazis may like Paypal but my recent dealings with eBay and Paypal have been far from idyllic. How any company can accidentally double charge you fees is beyond me. After I made a manual payment, a week later an automatic amount of the same was taken. I complained to one and the other but neither replied with clarity. Timeframes and rules, with lots of small print gets automatically thrown at you, or they hold your money – despite you providing the required information, and hide behind nameless auto-responses time and time again. I’d imagine that Paypal is too busy protecting their Saxony-based right-wing extremists than to deal with little old me. Online shop, eBay Inc. are probably equally busy rigging their system so that you can only use Paypal or finding ever-decreasing ways to talk to their customers. It seems that only automatons are within eBay corp. French-born, Persian-named American Pierre Omidyar had started something amazing and useful for all. A website for selling second-hand goods – almost called Echo Bay sprang onto the world wide web in 1998 and has remained there ever since. With assets now valued at US$22.819 billion, the global corporation has an equally diluted take on customer services – but they don’t allow Nazi paraphernalia, firearms, tobacco, alcohol or uranium – so they aren’t pure evil. Eve Walmart allow some of those items.


 

Concluding this post of randomness, I’d like to say best of luck to my good friend Brahma Mihir Mohanty as he stands for a seat in Surrey Heath – with the Labour Party. H’es up against the quite capable Green Party candidate Sharon Galliford and Alasdair Pinkerton of the Liberal Democrats. There’s also UK Independence Party (UKIP)’s David Roe and the Tory Party are backing Michael Gove.

Labour has never scored more than 21.4% in the General Elections for the seat of Surrey heath. Since 1997, the seat has only had a Conservative holder: Nick Hawkins or Michael Gove. The Liberal Democrats had higher vote numbers than Labour until 2015. The electorate of around 78,453 are likely to turn out in a similar figure to the wards 70% or so houses that are detached or semi-detached (apparently the second highest in the South East, behind the New Forest ward). It is a great logistical ward, well connected to London and the world via Heathrow Airport – and the M3/M4 motorways. Aldershot and Sandhurst, Farnborough and Blackbushe Airport give it a military and a private airfield link or two. It is an area that registered jobseekers are noted as being ‘significantly lower than the national average’. So, who is who in the competition for Surrey Heath’s hot seat?

Councillor Galliford represents the Lightwater ward and is dedicated to her job as a voice for her community. Sharon Galliford’s declaration of interests reveals she works ad-hoc for Dept of Clinical Psychology, Royal Holloway University of London and sits on a few well-intentioned boards within the same field. Sharon Galliford’s twitter (242 followers & 444 following) has a modest self-description advising, “I am a Sound- Healer, Transpersonal Psychologist, Astrologer and Educator.” Nobody can argue that educators are bad, right? Her 2580 tweets can be publicly seen alongside a personal website. Although an update is needed on the website because the next New Moon astrology gathering is Monday 14th May 2018… Never-the-less Sharon Galliford looks like a good representative of the people – with clear beliefs and conscience. In 2017, Sharon did not win the 2017 General Election seat despite gaining the 2017 Surrey County Council local election seat. Her experience will serve her well.

Now, in the Liberal Democrat’s corner we have Alasdair Pinkerton. The surname remains me of a detective agency started by a Scotsman of the same family name. Okay, solid name with more than 15,500 tweets to his name. He is followed by 4621 twitter-folk and follows 2259 so he’s clued up on social media. The academic candidate is clear with his views #GetGoveOut #GetBrexitGone, so no fence sitting a touch of fight about him. I had a brief scoot around and could see many claims and a video that all boast Alasdair is an academic, but it took me a Facebook page about section to reveal smarty-pants Al to be an Associate Professor of Geopolitics, within the Royal Holloway University of London. An educator again. His specialist areas are British Overseas Territories – so should I send a few Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China (HKSAR) questions now or later? Or, he may be busy replacing torn down Liberal Democrat placards (It is really immature to tear down these, but they are unsightly and bright orange). Mr Pinkerton is on a debut stand for a seat at this coming election.

David Roe, well, he has stood on the 2016 and 2019 Woking local elections. In 2017 he was Egham’s candidate for the 2017 Surrey County Council local election. Mohammed Bashir, Lib Dem (1,088) beat both Mohammed Ali and David Roe, UKIP (345) in 2012 for a Woking council seat. Little else is known about Mr Roe. UKIP usually have that feel. All or nothing.

Born in an NHS hospital, and raised in a care home for a short time, having been Graeme Logan, was soon to renamed by his Labour-supporting family, as Michael Gove. Scholarships allowed him to study at the independent Robert Gordon’s College. He even supported Labour. He even took part on strikes over union recognition and representation. Soon after he was licking the bottom of Robert Murdoch, and comparing the Good Friday agreement to “the appeasement of the Nazis in the 1930s. Somewhere in the 1990s the journalist went from raw intelligence writer to history rewriter and political commentator – and here began dangerous comments and public mistakes. The Tories had already told him that he was “insufficiently political” and “insufficiently Conservative” – and journalism seemed to favour him. A wordsmith with a weapon. He backed Tony Blair, when others walked away. He worshiped and continues to worship Thatcher.

Since the Tory Party have been in power, Michael Gove has bumbled from Secretary of State for Education (2010–2014) – approving Creationist schools and a catalogue of controversies. Then, as Chief Whip of the House of Commons (2014–2015) he was stuck in a toilet. Next, his role was the Secretary of State for Justice (2015–2016) where happenings were criminal. New Prime Minister Theresa May axed him. His journey soon found the role of Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (2017–2019). He introduced a ban on bee-harming pesticides. At last something great! Actually, his animal welfare work was ground-breaking but he refused to declare a climate emergency – which parliament passed soon after. He went head to head with Boris Johnson for leader of the Conservatives and as such the next Prime Minister following Theresa May’s stand-down. Now, Michael Gove is Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, which means he is the Duke of Lancaster – which means he looks after the estates and portfolios of the Royal Family. In a nutshell, a glorified caretaker’s job.

So, as the billionaire-owned press slashes and chops away at the Labour party, Liberal Democrats and all the other runners for seats, remember some clear facts: positive publicity is paid for by the privileged few. They don’t want you sat at their tables or in their bars. Well, if you’re up for some change and you’re down Surrey Heath way, vote Brahma Mihir Mohanty – and if you need a good reason to back my friend, I’ll tell you this. He is genuine. He is true. He is decent and human – and I know that he values the NHS, etc. I’m sure that you can ask him many important questions in person – and from that understand that he will represent you very passionately and openly. Failing that you can talk about a variety of sports.

Good luck to my friend. Have a great campaign – and, erm, talk with your regional committee about an independent interview sometime…

 

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

Walking on eggshells

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

“I don’t pretend to be a gentleman, but I am entitled to paint what I see.” – Interview tapes with G B Cotton & Frank Mullineux (undated) L. S. Lowry – A Biography by Shelley Rhode

Free Pussy Riots was the best banner that I ever witnessed at a Man City game. The cardboard boos shown to UEFA were a close second. Is protesting and politics at home in sport?

“Hey John, how can you be so ignorant to China and H.K.?” – someone asked me this today, in China. And like anything else political here, I replied with, “This is not the place to have this discussion and I am not prepared to carry on.” I also wanted to say that I refuse to influence people in China – and I do. It is not my job to meddle in politics and the policy of China. Of course, I have an opinion. I have beliefs but I also have the wisdom to know that you cannot tickle a tiger’s balls and expect to get away with it.

So, NBA has gone down a bit in China due to comments on social media. Politics and sports cannot be mixed these days – and certainly not on mediums such as Twitter. At a Philadelphia Sixers game versus Guangzhou Loong Lions, a fan and his wife were ejected for shouting their views on Hong Kong. The Wells Fargo Center court is located in as Francis Scott Key said, “the land of the free”. The American national anthem features something similar, right? Well, sport, has a long-winded and painful view of politics and freedom. To cut a story short, great moments of history such as the 1968 black power movement stand out in history – because they signify defiance and stand for belief. It wasn’t part of the running material and matchday programme. Tommie Smith and John Carlos have statues on the San Jose State University campus grounds. They joined in the 2008 Global Human Rights Torch Relay which ran in parallel to the Beijing Olympics torch.

Protests affect more people than you often know. They send little and big ripples, visible and invisible, left, right and centre. One NBA tweet, by Houston Rockets’ coach Daryl Morey, who retracted it, has been slammed by President Trump.

In China, Chinese sponsors have suspended their ties with NBA clubs. The TV channels have removed tonight’s games and other games from the schedules. Since then NBA Commissioner Adam Silver defended Morey’s right to tweet as he wishes. San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich backed him up, “He came out strongly for freedom of speech.” NBA fans in China are backing their country over their love for the game of basketball. Most fans here demand an apology before they carry on their love affair with America’s basketball. A huge repletion of one quote can be found seemingly everywhere, “China-U.S. relations began with ping-pong, and they’ve ended with basketball.” What President Nixon did in 1971 is being undone by a closed-shop sports league that usually puts capital over principals.

What’s the story, Mr Morey? Well, he later added a post to the affects of a desperate boyfriend who has shunned the love of his life. Basketball is huge in China. China is huge. Almost every garden, park or recreation area has a court, or two, or more. The Chinese Basketball Association believes 300 million people play the sport. I feel that is an understatement. From school bus drivers to security guards to uncles minding their grand kids, and the other more expected hoop-throwing youths, it is everywhere. It dominates ball sports here. Rugby Union played its part in Apartheid; the Munich massacre happened; LGBT rights protests surrounded the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia; 8 nations (including China) boycotted the 1956 Olympics in Australia after Russia were suspended for invading Hungary; China boycotted two other Olympic games (’64 as China had entered the Games of the New Emerging Forces (GANEFO);’80 due to USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan); the massacre at Tlatelolco happened; but overall sport is essential to world relations. Now, NBA is thrust into the limelight (unlike South Park, removed from search histories).

As NBA has been met with displeasure, some hot heads have used stronger language and hate as their reply. That’s not on. It can’t be that way. How can we all find a common path to the future if we don’t talk? For some fashion and perfume brands, China is not a good place to trade now. Keeping quiet has more of a benefit than losing potential custom. Sport is the same. Discrimination is bad. The vulnerable, the needy and those subject to abuse because of prejudices need a voice. Colour, race, ethnicity, religion are always topics which will need sensitivity. But, on the other hand, how far do you believe in your freedom of speech? And right now, many brave souls are stepping up.

Whether with Extinction Rebellion at London City Airport, or forming a rather large Tibet flag at a French football game… even a 91-year-old called John has been arrested, complete with a walking stick. Of course, Liverpool FC faced opposition to their attempt to trademark the name of Liverpool, and also when they drove local property values down in a bid to buy the properties for cheaper later – because commercial development is where it is at. But, we must look at the other side of the conversations too. China may be huge but its 5000 years of civilisation as been invaded in many places, colonised and used as a factory. Now it gathers strength enough to speak out loud. China sings from the same hymn sheet – and mostly through pride in identity. Other countries are often divided – split and messy, yet they all like to shout about how it is done.

Sport is a great friendship tool. It bridges division and cultures. Iraq play football and could face Nepal, equally they could host Australia or Qatar. England can travel to Scotland, Sweden or Slovenia. The game of football, like basketball and other such sports can influence and deepen relations. Claimed sovereignty, national interests and cultures can be better understood. When two differences are clear, then dialogue can be heard – or silenced. Boycotts and closure won’t help every battle. Tolerance is not even enough. We must be careful in this day and age, as people, not to shout abuse and close our minds.

For me, I’d like to view Tibet first hand, and see the region. I will remain neutral. I’d like to speak about Hong Kong, but I won’t. I must remain neutral – Hong Kong is part of China – and the days of it being a British colony are long gone. This is a matter for the people of the affected regions and not the former occupants and their Union Flag. I’m here in China as a guest. A foreigner who feels foreign and is always reminded that I’ll never be local or Chinese. I know where I stand. That’s fine. It is accepted. I’m just trying to make a living and find a way to get onto the U.K. property ladder in my home country that is also far from free. I want to be like Mel Gibson’s William Wallace and say something like he did in the movie Braveheart, “I came back home to raise crops, and God willing, a family. If I can live in peace, I will.”

East and West are crashing together like heavy waves on a shoreline susceptible to costal erosion. For those of us living between the two, we have to knuckle down and work, without tickling any tiger’s testicles – and keeping the burning heat of tiger balm far away from our balls.

“I look upon human beings as automatons because they all think they can do what they want but they can’t. They are not free. No one is.” – Maitland Tapes-interview with Prof. Hugh Maitland 1970 L. S. Lowry – A Biography by Shelley Rhode

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

…I’m getting off?

“Time spent among trees is never time wasted.” – Anonymous

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

Carbon emissions are one thing. The ozone layer and its depletion seemed to be the theme of the 1990s. But what about the other crap that we fling upwards into our atmosphere? As a species we have used our intelligence to create and combine a wealth of chemical knowledge to form so many new things. Earth had the basics and we adapted everything from nature into manmade conceptions. Our creativity spawned new fabrications and handiworks and we didn’t know their effects upon the natural world. Or, did we turn a blind eye?

So, where did this all begin? Manchester, of course. Well, not just my hometown, but pretty much all of Great Britain. Steam power, textiles, iron making and the inventors having a field day making new tools kicked off the Industrial Revolution. As fast as the spinning mule could spin, the revolution spread across Europe and to North America. As long as the cotton made on a loom could stretch, the methods of fast industry shout outwards across the world. Waters in rivers ran with colours and toxins unregulated. Skies turned black. Farming fields and forestry secumbed to the Cottonopolis that was Manchester. Coal demand shot up. Steam billowed upwards into the sky alongside toxic soot. The raw materials needed moving. Bridges such as Iron Bridge in England’s Shropshire set a new level of industrial infrastructure. Sir Richard Arkwright, Robert Peel, John Rylands and a  whole host of blokes became rich, powerful and industrial very fast.

“One of the first conditions of happiness is that the link between man and nature shall not be broken.” – Leo Tolstoy, Russian writer

Yorkshire, Lancashire, Salford, Cheshire and Manchester became central to many movements. Even today, Quarry Bank Mill, in Styal operates to show visitors of life back then. Alongside this, there are UNESCO sites in Derbyshire dedicated to Arkwright’s work and so on. The effect of the Industrial Revolution demanded true innovation and architects met the call willingly. Up popped Bradshaw Gass & Hope, David Bellhouse, Philip Sidney Stott, and others to build for the new era. With that power needed generating and John Musgrave & Sons, amongst other stepped up to the glorious age of steam and engine power. One such company, Mather & Platt still exist today in South Africa. Their 1817 origin by Peter Mather in Salford to John Platt taking over Salfird Iron Works in 1837 has been a diverse ride. They did their bit to enhance safety in cotton mills, distributing an automatic sprinkler; they expanded rapidly; they shipped the Machinery Annexe of the Paris Exhibition from France, up the Manchester Ship Canal and rebuilt it in Newton Heath by 1900. They expanded into Pune (India) before an Australian company purchased the company in 1978. After this Thailand, a German-takeover and still operate to this day. How many other companies from the Industrial Revolution era have gone on to become industrial powerhouses?

As a teenager I’d pass Houldsworth Mill, built by a design of Stott and Sons. The red brick mill had seen many cleaning jobs and now is housing accommodation fit for the rich and wealthy of today. Little did I know that at the time of passing that mill, I was passing a sister mill of ones found in Oldham’s Chadderton – not far from my Gran’s house. The factory system had given capitalism a huge kick up the backside. Like modern day China factory bosses, many factory owners back then in Britain became very rich, very fast. Some invested heavily in urbanisation for their workers. Healthcare, education and opportunity developed suddenly. A demand for better quality and fresher food followed. The standard of living improved. Did the working classes still feel the exploitation of heavy industry? Did each technological enhancement drown shances of a good swim the employment pool? Did they notice the smog building up?

“Environmentally friendly cars will soon cease to be an option … they will become a necessity.” – Fujio Cho, Honorary Chairman of Toyota Motors

Soon enough people got wise. Socialism and Marxism were born. People like Welshman Robert Owen influenced social care and reformation of working practices. Owenism became a movement, long before England centre-forward Michael Owen became a young mover of the footballing game. People were starting to see that the skies weren’t perfect. Something that has maintained to this day in the like of Greenpeace and others who don’t like too many airplanes in the sky.

“Eight hours labour, Eight hours recreation, Eight hours rest.” – Robert Owen, philanthropic capitalist and social reformer.

Convicted terrorist and former University of Michigan mathematics Professor, Theodore Kaczynski was quoted as saying, and writing,“The Industrial Revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race.” In many ways, this is an agreeable statement. The western world gained considerable wealth and dominated the globe. Pollution, such as the legendary London smogs, the discolouration of tree barks, and the deaths of many aquatic species became general knowledge. The world’s population started a huge upwards trend. Natural resource depletion had begun. Chemical warfare on nature was now in full swing, battling against fresh air, clean seas and green habitats. The fossil fuels were now unlocked and ready to go.

“I only feel angry when I see waste. When I see people throwing away things we could use.” – Mother Teresa

As conditions improved generally for people, the speed of growth was unsustainable. Many became left behind. Poor working and living conditions, lack of education and healthcare and low wages alongside child labour amongst a whole host of problems arose. The world around humanity had fundamentally changed from a largely agricultural civilisation to one of machinery and motion. Even now, agriculture advanced with new machinery. Land could be used faster. Railways spread and communities grew ever closer. Dust tracks became lanes that became roads that became highways than became lane after lane of traffic. Sanitation had to catch up. Some countries dug drains and found ways to get those little poohs we do from the bowl to further along the water cycle, like the sea.

“There is a tendency at every important but difficult crossroad to pretend that it’s not really there.” – Bill McKibben, The End of Nature

Disease occurrence escalated. We spotted new illnesses and cancers. Before we’d found the cures or ailments, more came along. And the more. And more. Still more pop up. Some were found to be linked to toxins, metals and exposure to manmade materials or chemicals. And today, our air is saturated with gases that reduce the protective layers of ozone (O3) needed to keep the Earth cool. Big hitters, of the fume world, chlorine and bromine atoms do huge damage. Just once chlorine atom smashes 100,000 ozone molecules out of the park. Wham. Gone! There are other similar ozone-destructive gases. This doesn’t take into account the gases that don’t reach the stratosphere. Some are too heavy to rise and end up in smoggy conditions or absorbed into our waterways.

“If the bee disappeared off the face of the earth, man would only have four years left to live.” – Maurice Maeterlinck, The Life of the Bee

One single rocket launch by NASA or whoever fancies a spot of space exploration, releases enough soot and aluminium oxide to deplete the ozone in a quantity far higher than global CFC emissions (chloroflurocarbon chemicals). So, expect to experience a few more UVB rays… and an added bonus of skin cancer might be swinging your way, unless by the year 2075 we can return the ozone hole to the levels noted before 1980. The 46-state signatories of the Montreal Protocol are likely to help. Especially, seeing as trump card Trump hasn’t exited it – but has yet to ratify the recent Kigali Amendment. Well he needs to concentrate on piping sales first. Trump’s record of science denial is alarming. His expected eradication of P.O.T.U.S.A. Obama’s Clean Power Plan is slowly gathering momentum, turning a nation that was slowly ridding itself of coal into a nation that once again will depend on coal. Please the fossil fuel industry. Fuck the world. The Affordable Clean Energy Rule is weak, at best. One mammoth nation does as a Twitter handle with a wig pleases.

“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” – George Bernard Shaw, Irish Playwright

Another gargantuan and colossal nation ploughs on with sweeping environmental policies. Public image pleasing, a sense of responsibility and a duty to the planet seem to be groing in China. China has undertook the Industrial Revolution and the Information Revolution at a lightning pace. It became the world’s manufacturing base practically overnight and maintained business as usual for a few decades. Since 2014, the Ministry of Ecology and Environment the People’s Republic of China has evolved. Headed by Li Ganjie (李干杰;). Steps have been small and steady but China’s eco-friendly energy generation is increasing. On top of this technology and environmental projects are under way left, right and centre. Qingdao will soon have an Eden Project – one of three in China. Laws, standards and regulations are being felt nationally. Shanghai has implemented strict recycling rules. Dongguan in South China’s Guangdong has many factories closing its doors because they cannot satisfy environmental protection laws. Policing is improving and implementation is going from lax to structured. Mega projects continue and this adds to the huge biodiversity loss of a nation that is suffering from significant environmental sustainability problems. Rapid urbanisation, energy demand and population growth won’t help – but some could debate China is doing more than the developed US of A. Resource demand shows no slowing as of this year… Much like the rest of the world – especially nations still developing.

“The Earth is what we all have in common.” – Wendell Berry, Poet

So, what now?

 

 

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

Stop the world, I’m…

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

“Your Country Needs You to Recycle” – imagine of nations and governments out aside differences and used one simple campaign to rid the world of excessive waste. Or do those countries have a vested interest in keeping their pockets lined? Can we defeat the private sector and the laws that protect it? Is there good reason to give a shit about these matters? Are we guilty of following the consumeristic and individualistic ways that some want us to go? Ooh… an Apple iPhone just for me! I. Me. My. All mine. Just for me. My precious…

100 companies account for around 71% of global carbon emissions. So, no matter what local and small changes we make, we’re pissing into the wind until some top dog and a top dog country barks loud enough for others to follow. Will it be P.O.T.U.S.A Donald Trump? Not likely, he fired off his science team studying the harmful air quality effects on human health. As of this month Trump has destroyed more than 85 laws and environmental regulations stopping Big Corporations and their Shitty Friends from making a quick buck. Air pollution and emissions are lies. Drilling and extraction are a priority. Toxic substances and safety? No worries! Emit away!

Xylem are a company campaigning and creating solutions to predicted water shortages. They’re global. Water pollution is also global. The band Muse made a track called Unsustainable for a reason, not because it’d a be a jolly laugh. Or was it to gain an endlessly growing fanbase? I can never tell. Let’s solve water is Xylem’s message but how open to external influence can a corporation dedicated to water shortage solving be? I’m sure they are no Skynet and Terminators won’t come from their offices, but you never know if there is a volcanic lair somewhere on a company portfolio these days. Who benefits and how? Part of me prays to the known Gods, and unknown deities that this company is as pure as the water they aim to distribute. We’ll probably all need it.

Infrastructure and planning when it comes to energy production matters greatly. Now to the world’s second most populated country, having heating in winter and power all year matters. China (Coal) accounts for 14% of global emissions (1988-2015) and China is growing. It doesn’t take a Gazprom OAO (3.91%) scientist to work out that being top of the pollution league is sustainable in an unsustainable world. Saudi Arabian Oil Company (Aramco) with their 4.5% could argue that they do supply a huge swathe of the world. Despite restrictions on their overseas business, National Iranian Oil Co manage 2.28% of the world’s gunky carbon output. Evil ExxonMobil Corp (1.98%) make up the top 5. Coal India, in the most populated country on Earth, scrape a 1.87% output, whilst Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex) manage a 1.87% rate. Russia (Coal) and their 1.86% give us more reason to dislike the word coal. It is a keyword is coal. Royal Dutch Shell PLC (1.67%) and China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC)’s 1.56% move us away from the word coal. So, do these top 10 carbon emitters need a rebrand? Should a government spin doctor get in there quick? Or, do they secretly have people behind the scenes plating trees and working on environmentally friendly energy creation methods? Answers on a recyclable postcard to: YOUR MUM, MOTHER NATURE, OUR EARTH. Almost all of the top 100 companies are oil, coal, gas, or fuel related. A few hide their names under green sounding phrases such as Natural Resources, but, overall there are no recycling forms in there.

“There is no such thing as society.” – former oxygen breathing parasitic enemy of the people, Margaret Thatcher

I can only vote leaders in the U.K., and for now Europe (Brexit permitting), and make my tiny influence that way. Or by backing the cool sounding Extinction Rebellion in their quest to make a difference. I follow them on Facebook and Twitter and by doing so, I feel like I have already made a difference. I even tutted when I read about Donald Trump Vadar mocking a 16 year old girl. Greta Thunberg is a brave kid, full of passion and her epeech at the U.N. was proper human kindness and devotion to a cause. Forget Mel Gibson in Braveheart. Here we had a youngster stepping up to a podoim, or rather sitting down, and delivering an impassioned speech as good as, if not better than anything Sir Winston Churchill could muster. How did the world react? “Is Greta Thunberg Really an Actress Named Estella Renee?”, read one headline. Others belittled her as a fantastist or someone with head problems.

“She seems like a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future. So nice to see!” – Cunt of The Decade, Donald Trump (by twitter, of course)

Non-violent rebellions are underway – and at one in Manchester recently, a lot of attention was given to the petrol generator given to powering the stage equipment. Have you tried getting solar panels to work under Manchester’s pepetual cloud? Ecological justice needs laws and rapid regulations but in a democratic society, that is slow and laborious. The often arduous processes of protracted cmapigning, legislation preparation and strenuous arguments need money. The other side, the oiled and gas rich have money. They have lawyers and they have influence in all the right places. The age of the next mass extinction is with us now – and we will have to battle hard.

This year I have made efforts to reduce my meat intake to 2 meals a week, on average. I’ve carried on the habot of avoiding plastic bottles and as much packaging as possible – although in Dongguan (China) most places chuck things in a bag, despite me having a bag held out waiting and me telling them not to give me a bag. Cutting meat down was difficult but cutting plastic waste is much, much harder! It is everywhere. Pleasingly I am seeing more compostable cups and items out there. I do struggle with not using an air conditioner – and the energy rating seems to be low. Do I believe the packaging advice? Are they entirely eco as per the button labelled eco?

Goverments of the world can change in some places but by and large, we the people, we the masses, we have to be the revolution, we have to be the collective change… but first the trailer of Braveheart 2 on YouTube awaits my attention…

 

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

Robots in disguise.

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

For every minute that passes, a football pitch is lost in the Amazon. Tick. Tock. Tick. Well, rather an area of trees that could cover a football pitch. Is that why Brazil are so good at football? Are they chopping and sawing away trees in order to beat Argentina and co? Of course, the environment and conservation in general are taking epic beatings. It isn’t all doom and gloom.

Britain has flowery roads, replacing lost meadows; Sir David Attenborough is reaching the youth of today at music festivals; Sky are aiming to plant 3 billion trees before the year 2050; farmland is being explored as potential new forests; farms diversification for a public benefit; Shanghai is dividing litter and rubbish into four types with view to recycling more (although education is needed); Yangtze rehabilitation schemes are in place; actually, beyond the gloom there are some pretty selfless and amazing projects happening.

#QuicklyDividingRubbishSendsShanghaiCitizensCrazy (#快被垃圾分类逼疯的上海居民)

Yet dead whales are being found with 40kg of plastic in their bellies; Japan is whaling again; the Antarctic ice is falling faster then ever before; life is changing for many, it is getting warmer; poisoned farmlands; farms that need actions now; famine; or the Australian condemnation of threatened species over farmland necessity. Jakarta’s residents will sue their government due to bad air pollution. Surely, knowing a little how taxes work, they will realise that they will sue themselves. And, didn’t they cause the air pollution too? #SetorFotoPolusi – oops.

Stable ice may be shrinking fast globally. Israel may be ready to start a war with Iran. China may be ignoring sanctions and buying a few fighter jets from Russia. Radioactive magma may erupt from the Yellowstone national park in USA. The Ring of Fire may trigger a huge earthquake and the Phillipines is on high alert.

Conservation and envioronmental protection needs more. The world needs to pull together. Many great projects need government and world body backing. That’s the hard part. Some governments are petrol-backed and busy building walls, or destroying cultures using cultural genocide…


 

Meanwhile in China, many characters with their flyers have collared me this week. It is normal. Most cannot speak English as they thrust their gym advertisement leaflet into my chubby hands. This week, an exception, a man with clear English and knowledge about the U.K., “London is a big city” he shouted. He slammed his body in front of my pathway. It impeded me crossing at the green for pedestrian dancing man. The red man appeared. More solid. Less inviting. Cars quickly prevented me dashing over the wall. “You could move into an investment opportunity tomorrow,” he smiled through words that barely left his immobile jaw. His eyes beamed expecting an instant commitment to his probably well-tested sales pitch. He caught my apprehension and carried on, “You can move in tomorrow.” He then delivered many words in English, too fast for me to understand. I interrupted him, and said, “I’ll take two.” His face lit up. He seemed over the moon, and then a thought triggered across his eyes manifesting in one word, “Really?” So, here I stated, “No, thank you. I need to go across the road and have a coffee. Goodbye. Enjoy your day.” Did he lose face? Only to me – his pack of colleagues didn’t understand. He asked for this. The green man flashed after 90 seconds and off I went. Straight to the sanctuary of Starbucks. Well, it was Independence Day.


66346153_10158668691255760_6510162903012737024_n

This weekend I went to Shenzhen (44.5RMB train ticket each way), jumped on the subway (7RMB) and went to watch football at the Xixiang Stadium. Shēnzhèn Péngchéng (深圳鹏城) faced Sìchuān Jiǔniú (四川九牛), City Football Group’s Chinese partnership club. On the day, it appears, UBTECH of Shenzhen have changed the club’s name to Sichuan UBTECH. City’s partnership club had no away tickets available. They had to be ordered in advance, so I went to the home end. On passing through a metal detector security gate, I was handed a ticket for free. Not bad. The stadium was built around a running track, with only one stand in the east (I believe). The southern end displayed the China flag. The north faced onto a hill. The park around the stadium was entirely devoted to sports (basketball, racket sports and swimming) easy to see. A huge netting cast over the western end of the park. Presumably a golf driving range housed the emitting clinks of balls on clubs. There could have been pterodactyls there.

With the sun strong, and the temperature around 32°C, the game kicked off. Sporting a Puma kit in white, the Sichuan team soon turned the shirt translucent with sweat. A water break after 22 minutes gave the visiting team a kind of nudist look. The bench dressed in all-black gave stark contrast. All looked soaked with sweat, as was in the unwelcoming concrete stand. The 3,000 faded seat stadium could have been called the Bird’s Nest, due to all the dried crap on the floor from the birds’ nests overhead. I was trying to figure out if the team had changed name and abandoned their traditional yellow kit for this game, or forever. No-one that I spoke with had a clue. The board displayed the name Sichuan UBTECH in Chinese. The new away shirt was all white with a sky blue sponsor.

66508354_10158668659195760_4743651817764683776_n

Half-time refreshments involved water, or water. The only option was free and served from a hand-pump over a 20L water bottle. In the heat the water was certainly needed. With this I talked with a fan called Luke who was very familiar with Manchester City goalkeeper history. Hart was mentioned, Ederson too, and which was best, which was a Given, according to him. The fans mulled around, smoked a few cigarettes and talked. The teams reemerged and out came the orchestrated beats of a drum and megaphone induced Olé, Olé, Olés – from bullfighting to south China. I sat back and reflected on seeing a goal scored by the Shenzhen team, where the striker went through the defender… and then the net itself gave him a lovely Spider-Man promotion feel.

66132647_10158668656820760_8347157738777739264_n

Before the game there had been red scarfs held up in the home end, to no tune and certainly no hymns like “You’ll never walk alone.” They did have some songs and chants but I couldn’t follow most. Apart from when they were 1-0 up, they’d sing “Èr bǐ líng” [二比零] which means 2 against 0. That is a weird thing to say. Ttally unlike “C’mon City” or “We want seven!” The away end had a fair bit of noise, with the rat-a-tat of inflatable cheering sticks being quite visible. I love going to a football game, and I’ll happily watch the likes of Rhayader Town, Hyde Utd or in this case Sichuan UBTECH. My friend Chris Howells, a super photographer back in Aberystwyth enjoys the passion of the players and the crowd atmosphere. I’ve learnt from him to spend some time watching the people in the stands. It is a wonderful and quite relaxing experience. As summer swallows swooped over the field during yet another waterbreak, I thought to myself, a regular thought that I have, I need to watch more football from the stands.

66461712_10158668657620760_1806568827878637568_n

The Chinese Football Association Division Two League (Simplified Chinese: 中国足球协会乙级联赛) is the third tier of domestic football. It is split into a northern and a southern group. The top 4 clubs from each segment play off for promotion to the Chinese Football Association Division One League. Bottom of the league means play-offs or automatic relegation to the confusingly named 2019中国足球协会会员协会冠军联赛 which translates as the Chinese Champions League. These two teams reflected mid and upper table, with the Sichuan club bidding for promotion at the first chance following their takeover.

65991027_10158668659655760_2649611427081355264_n

Their new signing, number 32 came on in the 32nd minute and Yang Jun Jie seemed like a kind of Jamie Pollock player. The team were 1-0 down – after 26 minutes, and playing calm football, against the opposition and the late-afternoon heat. They soon went 2-0 down before a spirited second half, which sadly for the visitors didn’t result in an equaliser. An official report can be found here. Of the 600 fans in the stadium 200 had entered the away end. 2000km away games, in the third tier demand a bit of respect.

65959728_10158668663230760_2962556737271365632_n

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

66401820_10158668656810760_3569770232803229696_n