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.

Wilson x Silva: Musical Football Hero

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Retirement.

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

Dear Birmingham City,

When you withdraw a number from squad use, it is probably a good idea to have a good reason. Usually that player should retire after great service, or perhaps it honours a great player for their achievements on and off the football pitch.

NBA, NFL and other franchises may like to retire numbers for other reasons. Their game, their gaff, their rules. Football in Britain may cling to tradition and hug sponsors in ways that contradict one another, but mostly, on the whole, the home nations of Wales, England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the other bits do a pretty good job of honouring their own.

“Well, I only ever cried over two people, Billy Bremner and Bob… [long pause] He was a lovely man.” – Sir John Charlton OBE DL (8th May 1935 – 10th July 2020), footballer (England/Leeds Utd.) & manager (Ireland)

Norwegian club Fredrikstad retired Dagfinn Enerly’s number 8. He had been paralysed in a game against I.K. Start. West Ham Utd. dropped the number 6 shirt several years after club legend Bobby Moore OBE passed away from cancer. This created great dialogue and gave attention to bowel and cancer charities. It opened up conversation for quiet men. It did positive and wonderful things. Chesterfield F.C. retired the number 14 to mark Jack Lester’s retirement from the game in 2013. Six years of football weren’t ideal for his spell as manager at ‘The Spireites’. His 24.3% may have made the club reconsider retiring his club squad number…

Dropping a shirt number is a big thing. That number will never ever be used again. Never. Even adding someone else’s name is insulting. We’re talking memorials and recognition of players’ loyal service mostly. Squad numbers, that replaced a more traditional model (of 1 through to 11 plus subs of higher numbers) came into fruition in the 1990s and soon after North American (it came from Mexico in the ‘80s) sports influenced squad numbers. With it the notion of retiring numbers came about. New York Cosmos in the ill-fortuned NASL retired number 10. A certain Pelé had worn that shirt for around 56 games through three years upt0 1977. At first glance, he barely featured for them, but had years of wonderful football for Santos (18 years) and Brazil. What he did off the field for N.Y. Cosmos was remarkable, with exhibition games in Lebanon and the Dominican Republic. He used his pull to make a statement. Edson Arantes do Nascimento played at full houses in the Estádio do Maracanã and lifted the FIFA World Cup three times, amongst stacks of domestic awards. Off the field he remains a fantastic humanitarian. That’s why baby club (founded 1970) deserved to retire that number.

On one hand, if you drop any number 1-31, it is risky. They may represent somebody’s date of birth. Likewise if you drop numbers 1-12, as they are symbolic to months. The time-honoured 1-11 should be avoided for the sake of always having these numbers and conventional related positions available for aspiring youth players. What would the supporters or families of Jason Mayélé, Vittorio Mero, Marc-Vivien Foé, Miklós Fehér, Ray Jones, Dylan Tombides, François Sterchele, David di Tommaso, Antonio Puerta, Besian Idrizaj, Piermario Morosini and Davide Astori feel about Birmingham City’s seemingly soft approach to retiring the number 22? Who exactly is Jude Bellingham?

Jude Victor William Bellingham is now subject to mockery. That’s who. He’s a 17-year-old lad thrust into the public eye and has in the last week signed for Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga. Jude Victor William Bellingham has buckets of potential and had been at Birmingham City from the age of 8. Like many youth players before him, and a plethora of clubs, he dreamt of playing for his almost-hometown club (the glass-making town of Stourbridge is 16km/10 miles from Birmingham).  Born after Maine Road closed, and the City of Manchester (now Etihad) Stadium prepared to open, Bellingham has bagged 4 goals from 44 games, and a few assists during his only season of professional football. His England Under-16 and U-17 record isn’t bad too. FourFourTwo magazine amongst others describe him as “50 most exciting teenagers in English football”.

Bellingham leaves, to his rear, a Birmingham City team that narrowly avoided relegation. Like sex-symbol Fiona Butler (she was a tennis player caught scratching her bare behind) he has gone far since Stourbridge. Her posters are eveywhere. Well, not her posters, but here bottom in poster form. Good luck to Jude Bellingham at ‘The Black & Yellows’, who won’t be far behind. Pun intended.

Does Jude Bellingham deserve to join other shirt numbers that have been retired? Maybe, maybe not. Future Birmingham City players will no longer be able to wear the number 22. Still, you could be at other clubs with less choice. Good luck at C.F. Pachuca (a club founded by Cornish miners in 1901) in Mexico as they have retired shirt numbers 110, 17, 20 and 1.

#99 Bradley Wright-Phillips (New York Red Bulls): played 2013-2019.

#61 Gökdeniz Karadeniz (Rubin Kazan): played 2008-2018.

#55 Five-year old Joshua McCormack passed away from cancer, and his club Rochdale Rovers took note.

#50 Filbert Fox @ Leicester City F.C.

#61 Gökdeniz Karadeniz (Rubin Kazan): played 2008-2018.

#24 Hadi Norouzi (Persepolis): played 2008-2015 (died in his sleep)

#17 Former Chairman Massimo Cellino retired the number 17 at Leeds Utd due to superstitions. New chairman Andrea Radrizzani reinstated the number. Leeds have since been promoted. Wolverhampton Wanderers loan-star Hélder Costa wore 17.

#12 many clubs use this number as dedication to fans. Such as Borussia Mönchengladbach, Lech Poznan, Kerala Blasters, Beijing Guoan, Plymouth Argyle, Guadalajara and AC Omonia. The twelfth man indeed (or woman, or boy, or girl, or other)

#10 Diego Maradona (Napoli): played 1984-1991.

#8 Avi Nimni (Maccabi Tel Aviv): played in three stints, totalling around 15 years.

#7 Stanislav Vlček (Slavia Prague): played over 7 years at the club. Shirt number on pause. 7 conditions must be met to wear the shirt. Score three goals against Sparta Prague to start the list of 7…

#4 Franco Baresi (AC Milan): played 1977-1997

#3 Paolo Maldini (AC Milan): played 1984-2009 [although his offspring may wear it if they turn professional]

#3 Naoki Matsuda (Yokohama F. Marinos): played 1995-2010

For more retired numbers, have a gander here.

In memory of #23

The late great Marc-Vivien Foé (Manchester City, played 2002-2003)

THE URBANATHLETIC MEDALION

DSCF0883

Found in my documents, on the archives of my old computer, here’s some writing from July 14th in 2008:

GREENBLUE AND THE URBANATHLETIC MEDALION

The morning of Sunday July the 13th 2008 marked something rather different for me.  I woke up, had three Shreddies breakfast bars, a bowl of muesli and a banana.  I decided to skip having a bath or shower.  I affixed the bog standard shop’s own roll-on to my armpits.  I then walked my family’s dog Bailey around Highfield Country Park (Levenshulme) in glorious shimmering summer sunshine.  The bus journey into town and out towards Sportscity filled me with nerves.  Prior to today, I had only ever ran around chasing a football or on Aberystwyth Town reserve team runs with Richie Jones barking his orders at decibels only heard near commercial aeroplanes.

The full three months of training were about to come into fruition.  Had running like a Monty Python sketch artist up stairs in Plymouth’s Hoe before diving to the ground to do a transverse abdominal stretch on the grass made a difference?  Had cycling insane distances and mentally challenging hills improved my stamina?  Did laying off the real ale and whiskey make one iota of a difference?  Only today would tell all.

Watching The Gladiators since I was younger and occasionally catching great Olympians like Linford Christie and Sir Steve Redgrave on television should have been a big influence.  I should have done more sport back in my University days at Aberystwyth.  However, the Latin Superbia in proelia stuck to mind.  Having gotten sponsors that combined a total of over £700 between them, I had to do this as best possible for my chosen cause the Genesis Appeal.  I had chosen the Genesis Appeal for several reasons.  I like boobs.  One in ten women develop breast cancer (and even 1 in a 1000 men develop this too).  That’s shocking!  Imagine the days back at your secondary school, I went to Reddish Vale where we had around 1400 students at the time.  Just pin-balling figures around to say half the students were female to give us 700 and then dividing that by ten to give us 70 possible breast cancer sufferers.  Astoundingly large numbers.  Scary.  The other factors for choosing The Genesis Appeal included someone within the family undergoing treatment for breast cancer and my football club, MCFC (okay) choosing to nominate a cause I had up until then never heard of.  I perused the matchday programmes and visited their excellent website, www.genesisuk.org, to find they are a national charity based in my homeland of Mancunia.

Preparing for the run did not just involve physical preparations, but I had to bug people, kneecap them, and scrape for pennies towards my chosen charity.  The medium of Facebook proved easiest, setting up a group called the, “John Acton’s Urbanathlon Run In Aid Of The Genesis Appeal Charity” which could also have been named, “Oi, gimme cash for a bloody good cause, and I’ll do something stupid.”  Then there was the T-shirt… having emailed many custom-made t-shirt providers and got no response, I contacted a firm in Plymouth who took my order, then lost it, then re-took my order before eventually deciding a week before they could not find the order again.  I still await a refund.  So, off to the shops I go, I grasp the blue dye and apply liberally to a cheap polo shirt from a high street sports shop (the night before the run).

So, to the task in hand, the Original Source 2008 Urbanathlon in Sportscity, East Manchester… the warm-up was bloody hard work.  Diane Modahl launched the race, the first of its kind in Europe, and then on the day started us off.  And off I jogged.  Ouch, why do you always need a piddle after only a few minutes running?  The race started on the Regional Athletics Stadium, looped around the City of Manchester Stadium forecourts, over some concrete blocks, looped around beneath the F of The Fart (I mean B of The Bang), up the spiral staircases into the City of Manchester Stadium (I stopped enroute to use the men’s toilets), back out of the stadium and past the City Social café, over another wall, through a man-made lake of water, lemons and oranges, back out feet drenched before tumbling over a few logs, following the course below, alongside the canal, then up into Phillips Park, through towards the bridge, under the bridge, up a hill, over a pyramid of hay bails, down a dip, up a slope, over some trees, through stinging nettles, up a muddy embankment, down a hill, up a steep winding path, slid down a huge waterslide aided by Fireman Sam’s hosepipes (no pun intended), up a grassy slope, across more green fields, down a path, banking left, following the pathway alongside the river Medlock, through the river Medlock and up a steep bank of mud, following the river pathway yet again but on the opposing bank, back through the river, this time over more slippery pebbles, up onto the dry land in drenched trainers (will they ever wash clean?)…

…up a hill of hell, no car could ever climb this hill, it is far too steep and long, through more green pastures, descend some steps, crawl through the pipelines, grab some water where a lady informs me I’m halfway (is there no end to this hell?), a lad shouts to me, “well done Genesis Appeal, its horrible what happens in a Genocide.”  I slow my pace and inform him of what The Genesis Appeal is, I clamber through ropes aplenty in a horrible sapping rope course, waddle along the pathway, transcend a hill banking up towards Newton Heath, a silver car passes me by on the pathway with its hazard lights flashing to reflect my feelings, over an assault course (similar to that seen on parks), through some tyres one foot at a time, then run over the bridge, towards Ravensbury in Clayton, down a cobbled alley way, over a platter of car tyres, over the road back into Phillips Park.  Under the old bridge, onto the straights towards the finishing line which is now in sight…

over a sadistic climbing wall, I decide to leap two footed onto the cars just before the finish line before jogging over to glory, collecting my medal and goody bag before grabbing a drink and striding away in sheer agony.  Who’s idea was this?!  One milkshake later, a warm down and some water I decide to go and collect my time.  I was assaulted on the way by a Gazebo and promptly St. John’s ambulances called into action.  One superficial cut to the noggin cleaned up later and then a whiz round the Party In The Park before watching hundreds more cross the finish line. I had finished the 10k Urbanathlon in around an hour.  Not bad for a non-distance runner!

And even today my muscles twinge, my feet burn and my body demands energy.  If you sponsored me, thank you kindly.

John Acton,

www.justgiving.com/greenblue (open until September 2014  for sponsorship)

From my archives.

Len Johnson & Radical Manchester

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

I was reading about Manchester’s radical history in terms of racism and prejudice. I came across one Len Johnson and decided I needed to influence some fiction with some fact. The below is my noted interpretation of Manchester’s first black boxing legend. Somebody I knew nothing about, and someone who surely needs celebrating. Radical Manchester’s blog and website has a true account, but the below is a kind of reimagining:


 

In fiction there is truth

Years on ships had taught him how to breathe and observe calm seas without making a sound. Len Johnson towered above the people in the room. He was a strong figure of a man, just twenty-five years of age. His father, William, once a handsome seaman who emigrated from Sierra Leone, Africa had travelled to Manchester, a place known for its inland seaport. There he had met his young and beautiful mother Margaret. Len was now an engineer on ships, just like his father had been. On shore-leave he would put the deck-side practice into bouts within boxing rings. His middle-weight career had been growing in stature for some time. He had been prevented the chance to fight for titles though. Only white boxers had been permitted by the British Board of Boxing Control. He had been born, in Clayton, into a land and afforded little freedom, just because his father was African and his skin was not white.

Len had known that his father had suffered racism and abuse from an early age. His father, being a strong man mentally and physically, had always tried to shield him from the revulsion around him. Len’s mother was as heavy-weight as his father. Her durable resilience had led her to marry William. Unconcealed and sometimes ferocious actions were cast at the Johnson family. All they wanted to do was live a life of peace. Len’s father had always told him to stand up for himself and the people around him. His mother Margaret, despite being mutilated by attack remained beautiful in his eyes. Her purity gave him strength for many years.

Manchester and Salford did not have too many black community members. The Manchester Ship Canal gave a touch of African spirit to the city and region. Len’s pathway was not simple but he was big brother to two brothers and a younger sister. He wasn’t going to stay quiet or be walked over. His community may have been small, but he so wanted to give it a voice. Boxing for now was his strength. Skin colour didn’t seem to count against him.

After years of toughing it out in a foundry, Crossley Engines, Len had found trouble waiting for him in work. Rather than scold him, his father William took Len alongside his brothers to the Ashton Old Road’s Alhambra. Here boxing was watched. Len’s eyes opened wide with each brutal swing, the ballet as each boxer edged around the ring, inching for space and willing their opponent to let their guard down. It was beautiful art. Just as the boxing was then, here he stood listening to voices and comprehending new ideas. Perhaps, here, in this room, he would find the tools for the new battle ahead. Perhaps not. Either way, he had little to do, no fights to fight and his next ship wasn’t due for some time.

The boxing booths of Bert Hughes were distant memories, yet he allowed a moment to think how far he had progressed. Yet, he knew the journey to be regarded as an equal by the white man was far from over. Hitting sacks was one thing, or flooring a challenge with one blow, nonetheless he wanted to spar with words and skills not seen in the ring. Inside his belly he had fire and hunger for a fight. His head was just cool enough to learn slowly and listen often. It didn’t matter if he would need years of stamina to reach his goal.

The Free Trade Hall of Manchester wasn’t too far down the road. His first big fight had been there. Eddie Pearson. That path had seen him visit Australia. To date he had won more than he had lost. He knew deep down that he would be much more than a pair of fists at packed houses in Belle Vue. He desired a world where Imperial politics wouldn’t hinder people born in Britain, just because they were black. The British Empire and its stupid white supremacy feared defeat to the black man, he thought. He thought and he fought. He looked on. He listened. This was not for him. Not yet. But one day.


 

1_Len-Johnson

(Image: Manchester Libraries)

Leonard Benker Johnson: 22nd October 1902 – 28th September 1974

 

  • In 1921, Len Johnson‘s first professional boxing bout was a third round knockout of Jerry Hogan.
  • Johnson would knock out 35 more opponents in his 99 wins.
  • Amongst 33 losses Johnson suffered 5 knock outs.
  • Seven fights were draws.
  • Johnson fought in Dublin (Croke Park), Brussels, Antwerp, Sydney Stadium, West Melbourne Stadium, Brisbane, Milan, the Royal Albert Hall (London) and many other venues.
  • World War II: Civil Defence heavy Rescue Squad, Manchester
  • On September 30th, 1953, Len Johnson ordered a beer in his local pub
  • Columnist: The Daily Worker
  • Active in civil rights and the community of Moss Side
  • Trade unionist
  • Co-founder: New International Society 

 


“Our true nationality is mankind.” – H.G. Wells (September 21st, 1866 – August 13th, 1946), author.

Ships, slavery and suffering are no stranger to Manchester’s shadowy story. Nor any other great U.K. city for that matter.. The narration of our fair city isn’t quite as black and white or good or bad as many say. If a true memoire was to be written about Manchester, then now in the important time of #BlackLivesMatter, Manchester must take a look at itself and talk the talk that needs talking. There shouldn’t be a need for racism campaigns or months dedicated to Black History. Inequality needs to be kicked away and told never to return. Black History should be as integrated as the very people it serves to highlight. Manchester seems reasonably integrated these days. There are pockets of stupidity and hate, but they aren’t tolerated by the majority. Not at all.


 

“No matter how big a nation is, it is no stronger than its weakest people” – Marian Anderson

In 1806, the Atlantic slave trade ended. How much global change has happened? Not enough. One viewing of Spike Lee’s BlackKklansman movie should be enough to see that the USA still has buckets of hate and divide. How can any race of people consider itself above another? Isn’t genetic purity a load of old cobblers? How many ‘mericans have European blood? How many genetic ancestry routes does a European have? Vikings, Norsemen, Greeks, Romans, Ottomans, French, Spanish, Germanic, Barvarians, Albanians, Russians… Look at any number of races, times and people and intermingling was commonplace. The status quo may have kept their noble bloodlines mixed with other bloods of royalty but very few (read that as none) could be seen as being superior, untainted or the blessings of God(s).

“We treat racism in this country like it’s a style that America went through. Like flared legs and lava lamps. Oh, that crazy thing we did. We were hanging black people. We treat it like a fad instead of a disease that eradicates millions of people. You’ve got to get it at a lab, and study it, and see its origins, and see what it’s immune to and what breaks it down.” – Chris Rock, comedian, Vultures.

What is lit like to be white? Some of us Caucasians burn easy in the sun and some of us have ugly freckles, blotches of melatonin and all the imperfections of every other race. Because, we’re all the same! A species of human beings, Homo sapiens, despite some of us being so thick that other anthropological species, no longer with us, get insulting comparisons thrown at them. Our social and mortal species of humanoid is a being that is both individual and the same, yet different and with unique souls. This creature that inhabits and inhibits humanity on the form or a racist and uses radicalism impedes progression. There is radical for the sake of equality or balance – and then there is radical for the sake of ensuring the human being stays still with a banjo playing whilst avoiding all forms of bettering themselves.

“In this country American means white. Everybody else has to hyphenate.”- Toni Morrison, author & professor

There are tiny genetic differences that make some of us exhibit different behaviours, have different physical features and think differently, but we are one as a species. Anyone is capable of destruction and most can rip up a book easier than write one. Unpopular author Adolf Hitler wrote Mein Kampf, which is proof to all that anybody can write a book, and someone can influence. He drew on Popularism in ways that possible 21st Century apprentice Donald of the Trump has rebirthed in less than 280 characters. One used a book, marches and actions as a weapon. One uses Twitter, public gatherings and the media, alongside actions. I’d hate to be seen as being better for being Caucasian. Sometimes I am giving that approach in China and it does not feel comfortable. I always push for equality, even if I make somebody lose face. I’m not their puppet and I won’t be treated as a dancing monkey for their favour.

In Manchester, we’re lucky. We have been blessed by radicals. Some radicals have battled for equality and supported what we now have. I wonder how they will feel at the progress, or lack of progress that has been made. The Portico Library in Manchester was first chaired by anti-slavery campaigner John Ferriar. John Ferriar, a Scottish physician (Manchester Infirmary, 1789–1815) and a poet. He founded a Board of Health in Manchester in 1795. In 1788, a hundred years after Aphra Behn’s novel Oroonoko was published, John Ferriar published The Prince of Angola, a Tragedy, Altered from the Play of Oroonoko. And Adapted to the Circumstances of the Present Times. His play canvassed against slavery. Many other Portico Library members signed a petition to abolish the slavery trade.

“Men build too many walls and not enough bridges.” – Joseph Fort Newton (1876–1950), American Baptist minister

John Ferriar’s obituary read as:He was endowed by nature with an acute and vigorous understanding, which he had matured by a life of diligent study, and of careful and well-digested observation, into a judgment unusually correct and prompt in its decisions.’ I love this sentence as it contains so much and could be simply mean he observed, took a step back, evaluated and then delivered. It could be that inside his head he laboured with countless ideas and always stood by the one he took action with. It seems his ‘inflexible integrity’ set a fine example. The legacy of the Portico Library and his campaigning are far-reaching. Formed in 1784, The Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society, housed themselves on Mosley Street in a kind of Greek Revival style of building. The Bank of Athens even leased some of the property at one stage (Portico Library: A History, by Ann Brooks and Bryan Haworth, Carnegie Publishing). Nowadays the downstairs is The Bank, a public house.

Other Mancunians or honorary Mancs signed a counterpetition including Robert Peel (father of future Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel). George Hibbert, slave-owner and sugar plantation magnate would have probably added his signature. He came from a Mancunian family but was obviously not a very good person. Nowadays we are blessed by so much anti-racism and togetherness across the city of Manchester.

“Hating people because of their colour is wrong. And it doesn’t matter which colour does the hating. It’s just plain wrong.” – Muhammad Ali [Cassius Marcellus Clay] (January 17th, 1942 – June 3rd  2016), boxer and social activist

On the 15th  July 1978, Rock Against Racism and the Anti-Nazi League jointly threw a bash called, Rock Against Racism Northern Carnival. It followed a procession from Strangeways (a prison) up Bury New Road to Alexandra Park. 40,000 or so revellers enjoyed Buzzcocks and other great bands. Lodon’s Carnival Against the Nazis may have been an influence but to the people of Manchester, here was a valid cause to unify the people against racial prejudice on Mancunian soil.

“In the year of the disturbances in Moss Side there were running battles between us and the National Front.” – Gus John, Moss Side Defence Committee

Now, I’ve managed to get this far without really hitting on Moss Side. Moss Side has had a bad reputation for a long time. It was regarded to be a wee bit dangerous. The area that surrounded Manchester City’s old Maine Road home has so often be looked down upon. There were riots in 1981. So much so, that soon after the Moss Side Defence Committee was formed. They helped support youths, stood up against Police violence and tried to tell the story of what was happening in an area targeted by systemic Police racism. Andrew Bowman’s article is worth a gander over at the Manchester’s Radical History blog. Here you can also find a piece about The Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Relations Centre. The centre is named after a murdered Bangladeshi boy. It is an open access library specialising in the study of race, migration and ethnic diversity. The collection is unique and features a huge archive of resource. It is now part of the University of Manchester and a member of the Manchester Library-backed Archives+ partnership.

“The only disease right now is the racism that we are fighting. Just like the [new coronavirus] pandemic, we want to find a solution to stop it.” – Raheem Sterling, BBC interview, 8th June 2020.

Football is often seen as the screen to fight racism with City & United together against racism, but the problem is social, and pandemic. It needs to be fought head on by all. Universities, schools, the media, governments and so on – everybody together as one.

“Why is it that this question so often asked of people of colour? Not all ‘white’ people are British.” – Erinma Bell MBE, of We Stand Together, Manchester Evening News

Stand Up To Racism shares a great presence in Manchester. I can remember a black and white sticker I was given in primary school. I slapped it between my Jurassic Park, Supermarine Spitfire and Red Arrow stickers. Racism didn’t mean much to me as a kid. I knew people came from different families, countries and had different beliefs. As far as I was concerned, and still am, we’re all human. Even as June 15th 1996 a bomb blew the crap out of Manchester, I didn’t feel an ounce of hate towards the Irish or Ireland. I lived, at the time, in Levenshulme with a huge Irish community. I couldn’t blame anyone around me, and nor could anybody else. Manchester had for years been growing tighter with its Irish community. Since then, I believe that Manchester’s communities have tightened and the Irish in Britain Representation Group gaining a good footing. Where fear and divide could have conquered, a great sense of community and integration has stepped in. People with identity, their heart-felt history, and a desire to end marginalisation will prevail. They just need support, understanding and a strong will. That’s why I love Manchester. It is a city capable of bringing all together, no matter what race or religion.

“Racism is a weapon of mass destruction; Whether inflation or globalization; Fear is a weapon of mass destruction.” – Mass Destruction, lyrics Faithless

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(Image: Manchester Libraries)

Racism has no room in our society.

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.

Manchester Liners

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

Manchester Liners ran ships to such exotic places at the Philadelphia (U.S.A.), Mediterranean, Montreal (Canada) and Boston, U.S.A. Other ships operated were the Manchester Progress, Manchester Enterprise, Manchester Port, and Manchester Merchant. There was war involvement for the Manchester Miller (1903) and Manchester Civilian (1913), helping to supply naval ships. Manchester Commerce (1899) was sank on the 26th October 1914 by mine. The first such ship to be sank by a mine in the Great War. The Manchester Trader was sunk by U-Boat on the 4th June 1917 in the Mediterranean. Manchester Engineer marked another loss on the 16th of August 1918. Manchester Division bucked the trend by ramming a German submarine and sinking it not far from the resting place of the Manchester Engineer. Typical Mancunian thing to go ramming an attacker with a ship.

Ship_Canal_Cartoon_PunchThis small but active shipping firm was gathering international recognition long after Manchester Spinner carried coal out of Sydney, Nova Scotia (Canada). In 1923 it carried aid to the Great Kanto Earthquake victims, from the U.S.A. The Manchester Regiment sailed in 1922. It could get to Quebec (Canada) in around seven days and nine hours. For all the pomp and ceremony, the years leading up to the Great Depression and the ones that followed forced Manchester Liners to scrap and sell many ships. As things improved, World War II erupted.

Manchester Liners’ ten ships would see varied action. Manchester City was at first a minelayer, then sent to the far east to act as a naval auxiliary ship. Many lives were lost and many ships sank. One of Manchester Liners’ ships rest-off the coast of Juno Beach Normandy having acted as a breakwater (Manchester Spinner); the Manchester Citizen, on passage to Lagos was sank by U-Boat. Manchester Merchant, sank was sank by U-boats in the Atlantic. Manchester Brigade, sank by the north of Ireland, having been torpedoed.

ship canal

Manchester Division would rescue beached passengers in Namibia. Peacetime resumed after the conclusion of World War II and Manchester Liners, much like the rest of the world counted the lost lives. Manchester Exporter, Manchester Shipper, Manchester Prospector, Manchester Vanguard, Manchester Venture, Manchester Faith and Manchester Fame are just some of the other great names. Look out for Manchester Commerce in the movie A Taste of Honey.

Some interesting stories surround Manchester Liners. Firstly, Captain F. Struss survived two ships that had been sank across The Great War and World War II. Then there is the huge ten-engine U.S. Air Force RB-36 Peacemaker that crashed off west-Ireland. Here the inbound Manchester Shipper, and the outbound Manchester Pioneer came to the rescue, in harsh weather, of the four surviving crew members. In another incident, a ditched Flying Tiger Line Lockheed Super Constellation landed in the Atlantic west of Shannon, Ireland. 48 passengers survived thanks to the works of temporary-rescue ship Manchester Faith and temporary-radio ship Manchester Progress. Heavy seas claimed 28 people that day. Another point to mention is that the chairman of Manchester Liners, a Robert B. Stoker, retired after 47 years with the company. That was in 1979. He left as his industry expanded to larger shipping company capacities, dockyard strikes, shipping, a decrease in profitability and a radically global market with corporations and investments networking far beyond regional and national gain.

Furness Withy were once part-owners of Manchester Liners but in 1970, they purchased the remainder of the company. In 1980, barely teenaged Orient Overseas Container Line snapped up Furness Withy. The company once owned by C. Y. Tung (董兆荣Dǒng Zhàoróng) was sold on again in 1990 to German multinational company Dr. Oetker (they make cakes, breakfast cereals and bakery stuff). All ships had been sold on by 1985.

There were firsts, the Manchester Challenge, was Britain’s first built and operated container ship. It would be joined by sister ships, Manchester Courage, Manchester Concorde and the Manchester Crusade. Not only that, like some of their early sister ships, this group of ships could break ice like the best of them – which was just as well, because Canadian water had plenty of ice. As the small shipping company expanded through Italy, Greece, Lebanon and Syria it acquired Manchester Dry Docks Ltd in the 1970s.

The line operated a flag with a red oval, over a white background and white lettering for ML. Their funnel was red and black. Some ships were painted red. I shouldn’t like anything to do with this red-loving shipping line, but Manchester Liners have a fascinating history, and all because in 1894, somebody opened a canal, 58km/36 miles long from the sea. Who is laughing now Punch magazine?

In memory of those who died in service for Manchester Liners.

Bypassing Liverpool since ’94

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

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

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

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

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

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

ship canal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Manchester Baby (Happy Father’s Day)

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

The Manchester Baby, A.K.A., the small-scale experimental machine (SSEM) was not a device of torture or something living. It was a huge innovation and giver to the future. Here’s a little more about the Manchester Baby and how it came about on the 21st June 1948, just 71 years ago.

F.C. Williams sounds like a football team. There is a Manchester connection. It doesn’t involve a centre-half called Tom Kilburn. Kilburn, from Dewsbury in Yorkshire, resident of Blackpool, was actually a regular at Old Trafford. His being a Manchester Utd fan should exclude him from my writing but Tom Kilburn CBE FRS alongside Stockport-born Sir Frederic Calland Williams, CBE FRS changed the world. Much of our modern world owes itself to this dynamic duo. Geoff Tootill, from Chadderton, where my Gran worked at Avro once, also worked in the Electrical Engineering Department of the University of Manchester.

Freddie Williams was a dreamer and a doer. This pioneer in radar technology carried on a wave of momentum following World War II and applied his science to research for numerous years. Look up his thesis, ‘Problems of spontaneous oscillation in electrical circuits for some light reading. Much of what was written then is widespread knowledge now. He’d be known for Manchester Baby and the Williams tube (or Williams–Kilburn tube) – a device of computer memory. Geoff C. Tootill passed away on 26th October 2017. His contributions are long and illustrious. There’s a replica of Manchester Baby in the Museum of Science and Industry (Manchester), created in 1998, by the Computer Conservation Society. Tootill’s extensive notes and recollections made this possible.

Without this trio of grafters and trend-setters, the computer era could have been years, if not decades away. The Manchester Baby and Ferranti Mark 1 are iconic technological advancements. They represent the first electronic stored-program digital computers. Famous mathematician, computer scientist, logician, cryptanalyst, philosopher, and theoretical biologist Alan Turing ran a programme on Manchester Baby, having had it initially debugged by Geoff C. Tootill. Turing and the National Physical Laboratory had also been trying to make their own programmable computer. The former codebreaker and his team also spent much time in Manchester and greatly contributed to the future.


Happy Father’s Day Dad!

My father, David Acton, or Dad as I call him, because that’s what he is and always will be has given me many great memories. Caravan trips to Cleveleys, Morecambe and countless other days out have been had. There could have been more time spent together, but for divorce, Dad’s work schedule and other factors. It is water under the bridge now. Not every day growing up was wonderful, much was spent in anticipation and uncertainty. Other kids have had far worse feelings, but my dread was all I knew. On the days when Dad and Pup, or my elder brother Asa were around, then it was delightful. Having dinner at my Nana’s house, seeing my Granddad and listening to his many war and travel stories were treats.

I don’t look back with sadness on having my parents divorce so young. Around me many of my friends were in the same boat. That’s life. It is what it is. I was lucky. Some friends had lost their father at a young age, and some never even knew who their father was. Growing up in Manchester, you weren’t far away from a fatherless child. Then, I also knew kids who grew up with fathers who were abusive or neglectful. So, which is best? There are templates and ideals, but for many these were distant dreams not granted to us. Dad did his best, and always has done his best, and understanding my Dad is key. He’s laidback, relaxed and I love him unreservedly.

Dad often took me to Manchester Victoria station, where I’d meet his colleagues in a bland room above the main railway concourse. Broken biscuits, piping hot pint mugs of tea and natter would be had. Or, we’d nip over the road, down some steps to a subterranean Railway Men’s Club with the best corned beef and onion barmcakes (a bread roll) with proper mustard. When Dad wasn’t working, we’d be at the allotment on Joyce Street, Moston. Our dog Pup would be alongside us, and I’d be let out of the back gate alongside my best friend Pup. We’d run riot on Broadhurst Park, climbing trees, jumping the valleys and over the red brick stream within the park. We’d often sit together on a perch overlooking the allotment and Dad’s plot, watching as Dad bodged a greenhouse together or planted row after row of potatoes. Just by the Ronald Johnson Playing Field, Pup and I used to chase footballs. That’s now the site of F.C. United of Manchester. I like to think that Pup and I had a pooh there. I’m certain that a bush doubled-up as an open toilet for me, at least.

From time to time the Ronald Johnson Playing Field would host cycling events. It was the first place that I witnessed competitive cycling in Manchester. How lucky the city of Manchester has been since. Wandering within the confines of Broadhurst Park, Pup and I would never cross the line at Nuthurst Road, and we’d rarely walk down Lightbowne Road towards the junction at Kenyon Lane. My Gran and Ernie lived near there (off Judd Street), plus my Aunty Susan was on Joyce Street, just down Kenyon Lane. The risk of being seen was too high. We were sometimes allowed out of the allotment front gate and crossed over the road by Dad. Here in the armpit of St Mary’s Road and Joyce Street, up against the railway was a new scrub of parkland that ran behind Newton Heath Train Maintenance Depot.

Newton Heath Train Maintenance Depot, mostly known to us as ‘Newton Heath Loco’. It may or not have had a connection to a certain Manchester Utd., but for me it was a mysterious place full of oil and metallic smells. The Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company had long maintained a presence at this depot. My grandfather George Acton had worked here, as did my Dad at several points. Sometimes, Dad would drive into there to grab some tools or paints for his job. With Dad and Granddad, I was lucky enough to see under a train once or twice and wander around guided in ways health and safety executives now would grimace at.

The railway was central to my youth and time spent with Dad. Train rides to see aunts, uncles and relatives was normal. From time to time, car rides out to parks, the seaside and to see Nana and Granddad at the caravan were treats. I can recall numerous pilgrimages to see the legendary Blackpool Lights, with return trips sat on old Intercity diesel trains in the luggage and goods compartments. Lugging bags of seaweed for the allotment and garden was standard practice, in Dad’s eyes. Asa said how he, as a teenager, held a greenhouse on the roof of the possibly old Princess car, as it hurtled down the steep hill of St Mary’s Road towards Moston Brook. The residents of St. Mary’s Nursing Home may have seen a flying greenhouse as Asa lost his grip.

Dad’s cars have been antiquarian at best. Workhorses over shiny pride. I can recollect a Lada Riva in beige and faded cream. Further to that there was a black Ford Mondeo with air conditioning. The air-conditioning being electronic windows that seldom worked. Sometimes they’d roll down, but never roll up. There were occasional diesel railway vans and pick-ups. Dad had been for a long-time part of British Railways and then Network Rail as a painter and decorator. His job description was pretty much paint anything and everything – but not the trains. Work was scattered nationally but mostly confined the Lancashire and Greater Manchester area. Between work Dad, would have us nip up to what is now Julie’s Homebrew by Jessie Street and Copenhagen Street off Oldham Road. The Sharp factory would be nearby, so as sponsors of Man Utd, I was allowed to boo.

Taking Nana to Newton Heath market was always exciting as it usually meant a custard slice or Chewits. The dentist’s nightmares were through fault of Nana spoiling me. If I said that I liked a Cadbury’s Boost, Nana, a diabetic would fuel my requests. We’d even jib over the canal, Nana on the concrete walkway parallel to the Old Church Street road bridge, and me springing over the dangerous wooden canal lock gates. What is now Lidl, was once Kwik Save, and our Asa would sometimes be seen working out the back or on the graveyard evening shifts at the weekend.

Our ‘Ace’ was a hero to me, as a kid, and even though we never spent much time together, I always wanted to be him. I had brown curly unruly hair. Asa had well-kept curly black hair. Asa has and had chiseled looks. I resembled a pallet of spilt paint. My freckles and pale skin was quite far from our ‘Ace’. The good thing about ‘Ace’ was that he liked computers and would rarely touch my books. Books were everywhere and I’d pick up anything with words. Asa preferred computers, coding and all that. Picking up books from barrow stalls at Manchester Victoria was something Dad and Mum both gifted me. With my many questions, Dad would often have an answer and if he didn’t, he’d point me at a book or tell me who to ask.

Anyway Dad, have a Happy Father’s Day – see you for a drink and some City as soon as possible.

All my love, John

goater

“OK, mum’s the word!”

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

“Let’s sing it and rhyme; Let’s give it one more time; Let’s show the kids how to do it fine, fine, fine, fine” – All The Best, R.E.M.

Happy birthday to my dearest Mum. Much can be said for my Mum. I want to write it though. Maybe the video says a little, but I think some words are best and need jotting down. Call it reinforcement. Call it a child of a mother without means to display emotion through a hug. Afterall geography and COVID-19 keep us apart. Mothering Sunday and Mother’s Day celebrate mums and mothers (or moms) around the world. A birthday is much more personal than that but by no means less important. Every day I live and breathe on this here Earth is because of my Mum. Dad too. But, deep down we all know mums are more important.

Mums are your first true friend. They’re the best friend we should all have from day one of our lives. They are a forever friend. Mums stick by you no matter what, or they should. There are always exceptions. If a mum disowns you for liking Man Utd, then that’s your own fault. Thankfully, my mum, Mum, as I call her, because she is my mum and Mum to two others: my dreaded siblings Astrid and Paul; yes, thankfully my Mum is brilliant. She’s always listened to great music like Pulp, R.E.M., James, Finley Quaye, and Led Zeppelin. Mum has encouraged me from an early age to read. I was deep into the worlds of Tolkien long before they were fashionable. Armed with knowledge of The Lord of The Rings. Mum made sure I was presented with a stage show version long before a live action version hit the silver screen. The Tameside Hippodrome remains a fond memory with orcs and lasers casting haunting imagery from the central stage. To receive books was always wonderful. Mum and Dad provided great volumes from an early age. Collecting Weetabix tokens sometimes led to great books. Some I still have today and share amongst my classroom. These were the books that set me on my way.

Mum has grafted and strived to make each of us better. Likewise, Mum has set a prime of example of improving herself. Mum has studied at the Open University in Sociology. Mum has always tried to reason her socialist values and community spirit. She has imparted her knowledge on me and always allowed me to make my own judgements and find my own way. As Mum has shared so many great things, I always want to show her my world. I have loved being able to see Mum at Manchester City, or go to a music gig like The Levellers with me. Mum may have heard of and witnessed the Waterboys when they first came around, but my musical world is constantly expanding. As I was experiencing James singing Sit Down at an Air Cadet Christmas party, Mum was being attending their live gigs. Over the years I have grew to love James, and their song Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) is an emotional track. It reminds me of me as a nuisance and a liability towards my mum, as I stuttered and faulted my way through secondary school. Mum has been great for me. My rock. My believer.

Mum treated me once to a birthday trip, with Neil Fanning, to Blackpool and it rained heavily. We were drenched. Mum took me to the Roxy Cinema to see Ghostbusters II and it was flooded. Mum showed me the V.E. celebrations at Manchester Town hall and we had fireworks rain down on us. At Woodford Airshow, Mum calmed me down after seeing a Spitfire crash. As the Supermarine Spitfire Mk XIV struck the ground at the bottom of a low level loop during an air display, Mum must have felt as sick as everyone around them. Pilot David Moore didn’t survive. Bizarrely the aircraft did and was moved to Rolls Royce in Derby for restoration to flying condition. Mum explained everything to me, a young boy, a bit upset by the huge explosion on 27/6/92 at 15:08. I’ve just seen the video again, and it made my eyes water with tears. That’s what mums do, they put their kids ahead of them. They’re the strongest people on Earth. They sacrifice their own time, space and energy to look after and protect us. That’s why Mum spotted me crying when Bambi’s mother died. I can’t explain the tears shed at E.T. or Thomas the Tank Engine. Perhaps those days were dusty.

Eating fresh bread at the observation area (not medical) of Manchester Airport and watching planes land made a few different days. Trips to museums in and around Greater Manchester gave me an appreciation of British heritage early on. Big steam wheels at Wigan Pier and seeing Gran and Ernie at the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry. You can’t fault Mum’s ability to keep our young brains active. Ernie gave me an Engine Driver hat that day.

I wanted to get Mum an experience day, or a stay at a hotel somewhere nice, but the climate around COVID-19/coronavirus isn’t so ideal. Besides, it is safer to remain indoors, stay at home and stay alert. You have to look after your mother because you can only have one. Unless you were adopted. Some of those foster mothers are brave lots, aren’t they?! Anyway, with the world being as it is, vouchers aren’t ideal. I remember Mum gave me a Borders bookstore voucher for Christmas but the company went into administration and closed, so I never used it. Well, I kind of did, but I can’t explain how or where. Those Stephen King horror-thrillers have since move on. I have an idea what to gift Mum, but I need to wait for this COVID-19/coronavirus to all blow over…

My passion for camping came from budget holidays as a kid, usually in the north of England or Wales. The fiscally challenged as those who suffer from political correctness would recognise that times were hard. Money was scarce but we had good food, holidays, and a roof over our head always. There were treats and Fridays used to be the day that maybe a Mars bar or another chocolate treat was waiting. Mum allowed me treats like staying up late on a Sunday to watch London’s Burning or other days to watch comedy shows like Have I Got News For You. On the whole early nights were encouraged and bed would be around 9 o’clock and often with a book under the duvet. Walking was encouraged and as Mum didn’t have a car, walking became normal. The Levenshulme to Reddish Vale and back, via Houldsworth Mill was a favourite trot. Zipping around Disley and Lyme Park was a bigger treat.

Whenever there has been a challenge and times have been tough, Mum has been there to support me and has very much been the 12th player that many football clubs claim to have. That knowledge that my Mum has been around the corner or a quick phone call away, has always made me feel stronger. Usually it takes very little conversation to wipe away any doubt or reduce a huge worry to little more than a niggling ache. I always think Marlon Brando’s farewell to his son speech in Superman: The Movie could easily fit my Mum, obviously with some gender realignments and name changes.

“You will travel far, my little Kal-El. But we will never leave you… even in the face of our death. The richness of our lives shall be yours. All that I have, all that I’ve learned, everything I feel… all this, and more, I… I bequeath you, my son. You will carry me inside you, all the days of your life. You will make my strength your own, and see my life through your eyes, as your life will be seen through mine. The son becomes the father, and the father the son. This is all I… all I can send you, Kal-El.” – Marlon Brando as Jor-El, Superman: The Movie

Mum’s the word

(a popular English idiom)

Used by William Shakespeare, in Henry VI, Part 2.

“Seal up your lips and give no words but mum.” – Henry VI, Part 2, Act 1, Scene 2

“Mum” is slang for momme. Momme means: be silent (or do not reveal). Old English: “mīma“. Latin: mimus (meaning silent actor/imitator).

It was used between 1350-1400 in Middle English.

“Thou mightest beter meten the myst on Malverne hulles; Then geten a mom of heore mouth til moneye weore schewed!” – Piers Plowman, William Langland

So, on this 20th of June, it is Mum’s birthday, the day before Bermuda’s Shaun Goater Day. Both should be in your calendar. And if not, why not? My Mum is ace. Shaun Goater was an ace player. Perhaps I can get Shaun Goater to say happy birthday to my Mum. That’d be fitting seeing as my Mum asked ‘The Goat’ to write me a Christmas card once. Mums are ace, right!?

goater


P.S. Mum, let’s go to Blackpool Tower and recreate this photograph in 2021. Good idea?

mumjohntowerblackpool

I’d also like to invite you to write some Blog posts for me too. Thanks in advance Mum!

Your loving son, John, aged 37.5-ish.