The Last Broadcast

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

“So here we are; At the last broadcast; Here we are; Our last broadcast” – The Last BroadcastDoves

To the students, parents, colleagues, the principal, the parent/teacher association, the board of directors, and those concerned:

I write to say the deepest thank you to all of the above. I thank you for a sincere and wonderful experience at St Lorraine Anglo-Chinese Primary School. The experience was an excellent one and one that has helped our class take many more steps forwards than sideways. The classroom life may be drawn to a close this week, but we all leave here with unforgettable memories, a new port of calling for everlasting friendships and a sincere view of both Western and Chinese cultures. This will only serve to inspire and give us ample opportunity to gather smiles from our warm memories.

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Each year has seen new challenges and requirements. The advantages of enjoying such festivals of Children’s Day or Mid-Autumn Festival helps bring balance to the routine of the teacher’s daily life. We must be open and honest by evaluating our progress. What could we have done better? What could I have worked harder on? How can teamwork improve each and every single one of us? Take some time to review the matters that matter and invest energy and time into conquering obstacles.

Three school years is a long time to a child. It hasn’t felt so long to me. I haven’t met a single foreign teacher who has stayed with students for longer than two years. And at times, it has seemed like madness. Many students develop a familiarity that can mean that they now, what they can get away with. They know the limits of a teacher very soon. They know your blind spots of vision. Thankfully, 3F have been mostly wonderful. The days of Billy climbing me like a tree come to an end. There will be no Tony calling me “disgusting” at every opportunity. Marline’s daydreams and assortment of wonderful questions have come to an end. The quiet star Kitty can take her big voice to the next teacher. Marcus can talk about Lego and Aaron about travels with their next teachers. Roselle’s great artwork; Candy’s enthusiasm; Angela’s endless questions; Jimmy’s brilliant curiosity; Tyler’s reading passion; Leon’s sporting skills; Allen’s desire to lead every team; Alice’s requests for a new pet hamster; Evan’s lack of fear to pick up challenging reading materials; Kim’s conversations about her mammoth sleeping habits; Kristy’s great descriptive capabilities; Natalie’s cheerful drive for dancing; and Sabrina’s sense of humour. They will all be missed. These three years have been a privilege.

In the beginning there were lots of students, and through various reasons (change of location, new school choices), we’ve been reduced from 27 students to presently just 19 (although 2 have been unable to return this semester due to COVID-19). We had three fixed classrooms with temporary residence in one other classroom whilst mosquito guards were fitted. Everywhere we have been, we have tried as a class to decorate and leave a touch of our own warmth and creation there. From the original white walls, we made colossal suns, song words, signs, and warnings. There has been a blend of east and west, with lanterns, vases and hexagonal bee collages. Idioms have been learnt through curiosity and stacks of books lifted-up and put back down again.

When I first stepped into room 110 of St Lorraine Primary School, I was faced by a group of parents and colleagues. It was quite a friendly atmosphere and any nerves subsided soon enough. I was introduced to everyone by the principal, Mr Lam, and my co-worker Miss Zeng. Miss Zeng, or Cici as she is sometimes called would go on to be my co-worker for two years. Cici’s hobbies are sleeping and eating. Cake pillows are her dream. Throughout the initial year Cici really helped me communicate my ideas with the parents and create a pleasant feel for the class. Those foundation months were critical to where we are at now. Parents have been receptive and encouraging throughout my time with our class, our team and our journey. Many parents would be familiar faces throughout my three years with class 1F, 2F and ultimately 3F. I hope we all remain in contact. Miss Li has accompanied us throughout this third year of school. I wish them all the very best in the future.

Footballs have been humped around the field, kicked with passion and passed to friends. Rugby balls have looped over heads and basketballs dribbled through legs. There have been hours of games, laughter and creativity in action. Students have become teachers to me. English, like Chinese, is a wonderful and beautifully crafted language – and foreign teachers usually feel most welcome in learning your native tongue, whilst giving our all to give the students our command of English. The students enjoyed laughing at or teaching me one or two words throughout our time together.

Like I tell students, I advise them, “Don’t believe everything you hear and see.” In fact, believe nothing of what you hear, for until you see or hear, how do you absolutely know it to be true? A good environment needs a positive feel and respect, whether through reward or simple acknowledgment. All classes need classmates to be balanced in their manners and respectful. Don’t accept everything as it is. Look for ways to enhance and improve the working practices, without wasting time and passions. Encouragement is a valuable tool for students and teachers alike. Teachers such as Miss Huang (Minna), and Miss Cheng (Paris), amongst many can take their energy and give it to those they teach and work with. Over the years I have been lucky enough to meet many great people.

Life doesn’t get better by chance. It gets better by change. We adapt and we are flexible. Proper planning prevents poor performances, but that doesn’t always mean circumstances can be suited each time. Planning just makes us better prepared. Free time to do the things we love helps us come into school refreshed and ready to be effective. Holidays give us time to see family and planning such trips can be irritating and difficult. Uncertainty and discomfort can be avoided. That should be what a good teacher should always do. Avoid overworking and stay fresh for school. After all, that is something which we encourage our students.

Now, nobody’s saying the international class at St. Lorraine is the Garden of Eden, but it’s been a good home to us, to me, John Acton – and my students, who I’m proud of! Because every single one of them reminds me a little of… me. They can all think for themselves! Which they’ve their parents to thank for. Allen, who’s a bit loud! Aaron who is a lot like his sister, which is handy because she’s quiet and polite. Alice who bounces around like a ballet dancer. Our Billy, the little bucket of questions. Angela and her big smile. Candy, a model student until you take her pen away. Evan! The biggest trip hazard for a hundred kilogram plus-size teacher. Jimmy, a face of innocence with a head full of wit and humour. Kim and Marcus, fantastic neighbours for other students – until they open their mouths… and never close them! Kristy, who seems hellbent on making me bench press her bodyweight with, “Pick me up!” every other day. Marline, she’s gonna be a star, when she focuses. Natalie, skipping and hopping around with a big smile day after day. Roselle, she’s the student every teacher wants but only ever gets one of them. Sabrina, so curious and such a total angle. You’ve to check your desk but she’ll go miles out of her way to do you a favour. Tony and Tyler, full of energy, smiles and oddity. All of them, to a man, know first and foremost the most vital necessity in the classroom, is they know how to be part of a team. Let’s party! SCATTER!

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Turn off the subtitles, finetune your hearing and pick up those English newspapers, magazines and books. It’s always time to challenge yourself and push on for the next day of hard work. We can, little by little, make improvements. That’s why I’m saying thank you. You’ve improved me. Don’t stop learning. Don’t stop teaching. Look for those brighter and better days. The world’s future is calling you – and you must be ready for it. Anything is possible. A simple thank you is not enough. From the bottom of my heart to each and every one of you.

So, what now?

Yours in teaching; yours is passion for learning; yours truly and faithfully,

Mr John

THE URBANATHLETIC MEDALION

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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.


 

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(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.

Exam stress: COVID-19 style.

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

This has been the most testing semester of my time teaching within China. When we look back on the spread of the pandemic from China outwards, we can count the tragic loss of lives, the social effects and far more damage to community. Many will look back at the economic impact with aversion. There will be hatred by some, about how governments and leaders globally have failed some and their nations. Loathing and abhorrence towards such matters as travel. There may be limited opportunity to flourish in this COVID-19 era. Trouble is already rife. How many people have lost out? How many people plan right now? Is there a disinclination to trust bug business? Has repugnance crawled around the globe like a thick mist? Do many feel a new kind of animosity?

My personal antipathy is towards the setbacks slung upon education. For many students and parents, they were locked in. Properly shut away. No outreaches and limits held over their head like a noose. Some students have been apart from one of their parents for so long. A mother in China here. A father over in Singapore, or Japan, or Korea, or France there. This isn’t a way for a kid to grow up. How many families are split up by the control of disease? Some will find their father or mother as close as Hong Kong to Shenzhen is, but to their tiny innocent minds, the distance may as well be as far as Kathmandu is from Sao Paulo. These are testing times as we approach the examination periods. Students are being drilled in test papers, exams, and assessments at a rate like bullets spraying from a machine gun in battle.

These poor little minds need protecting with less demands so early in their primary life. In China, students are tested mid-term, end of semester, mid-term and end of year. On top of this there are other tests, so many tests, and very little time to stop thinking about tests. Outside of the primary classroom, they may be assessed at extra learning and training centres, or even via online teaching assessments. I don’t recall seeing a test until I was in year 6 of Chapel Street Primary School. And then, year 9 of secondary school was key for testing. After that every secondary year, college and university year had tests. Yet, outside of England, and the U.K., testing can be little (like Finland) or frequently often (like China).

The pandemic claimed weeks of teaching, then came online teaching which many believed to be near-ineffective. The excitement and rush to the classroom was filled with joy, but soon the happy faces fell away as the weight of condensed programmes filled their tiny blossoming minds. A nine-year-old girl shouldn’t tell you she feels pressure. A ten-year-old boy shouldn’t break down in tears and worry about missing his drumming class. They should be playing in sand, building towers of Lego or shoving their fingers up their nose with not a worry in the world.

Last night’s defeat in the football game between City and Liverpool F.C.’s feeder team Southampton is thrown away. The perspective I have today is clear. These exams should be lighter and easier on the young minds of primary school kids. This is not a way to learn. My first foray into contact rugby on Saturday with Dongguan Bulldogs was tough physically but mentally it was far easier than what these students are facing in China. The gloomy feel of a pandemic lurking in shadows, worries about family and life are entering the world of children too early. Let’s be sensible and try to help them out. Less exams please.

The bee’s knees

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do / S’mae / Namaste / Gled tae meet ye A’m gled tae meet ye,

It’s been dunky’s since a last saw ye…

Loch Awe Dalmally (159)Sometimes, some places really surprise you. Some people are wonderful, and staying in Dalmally Railway Station’s The Posting Room was one such experience. The hosts, as listed on AirBnB were Liz and Graham (Angus too). They’re ace. Graham welcomed us immediately from our train which arrived on the opposite platform. A proffering of tea and coffee, followed by some delicious courgette and tomato soup. The welcoming really was the bee’s knees.

Loch Awe Dalmally (19)Throughout the weekend Liz and Graham offered great destinations and advice about the locality. Following a ramble up to the Duncan Ban Mcintyre monument, the path swooped down to the A819 road caressing the Loch Awe’s bankside. Here a walk to view the beautiful Kilchurn Castle and Loch Awe scenery was essential. Heavy rain and a lift back by a friendly truck driver capped off a good wander. By evening hunger had arrived. Two miles up the road later: One pub meal in Ben Cruachin Inn resulted in rhubarb crumble. I was over the moon. The mains selected on visiting were something similar to the following:

SMOKED HADDOCK KEDGEREE RISOTTO Arborio rice, turmeric, saffron, garlic & boiled egg. £12.95
FILLET OF LOCH FYNE SALMON Saffron beurre blanc, asparagus & new potatoes. £16.95

The food at the Ben Cruachin Inn is hearty and filling. The local Fyne Ales equally tasty and refreshing. After dinner, the feeding of the legendary Scottish midges commenced at Loch Awe railway station, before a short ten minute journey into Dalmally for cups of tea and bed.

Loch Awe Dalmally (164)In the morning Graham delivered us more brews with porridge and some cake. If Mrs Doyle from Father Ted fame has a male Scottish counterpart, then Graham is he. That’s meant with no disrespect whatsoever. I haven’t experienced this nature of hospitality ever. A host who really cares about his guests. His partner Liz was busy with her felt studio, Heartfelt by Liz (located on the platform). Graham could be seen zipping between guest throughout the day and delivering warm pots of tea and coffee at almost every hour. It seemed everyone was invited for a brew, “On your way back, call by and come and have a brew.”

Loch Awe Dalmally (72)They go out of their way for you. Hospitality at its absolute best. I really want to revisit the station. Maybe next time I can try the Ben Cruachin room or the Rambler’s Rest – or ideally The Writer’s Retreat. The Shepherd’s Hut doesn’t look too bad too. All have great West Highland picturesque views, a stone’s throw from lochs, mountains and wildlife like the tawny owls or screeches of buzzards in the daytime. The idyllic village is a little far out from many places but a wonderful location for hiking, cycling and exploring the region. The venison burgers up the road in the Kilchurn Castle car park aren’t too bad an option. Add haggis.

Loch Awe Dalmally (144)Staying in The Posting Room was idyllic. With a great variety of biscuits, porridge, jams and brew options. A rucksack of food provisions was barely needed! The final day of two involved a stroll to St.Conan’s Kirk, a church containing a bone fragment from Robert The Bruce. The architecture is splendid, diverse and varied. The architect Walter Douglas Campbell mixed in Norman, Roman, Celtic and other styles. There are famous ship timbers and it is easy to see why it was added to the Top 10 buildings in Scotland of the last 100 years list. The Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland made that list in 2016. The building was built around 1881 and renovated in 1906. Beyond the church there is a great tea room outside and the author Mary Stewart once resided at the nearby House of Letterawe.

Loch Awe Dalmally (49)


Stonehaven and Dunnotar Castle (35)Before visiting Dalmally, the whistlestop tour of Scotland began much further east in Stonehaven. The castle of Dunnotar has featured in Victor Frankenstein (starring James McAvoy and Daniel Radcliffe), Hamlet (with Mel Gibson) and other productions. For me, it was a castle I had seen in a book. Its clifftop location, on a kind of island of rock has long stuck with me. A walk from the charming Stonehaven Harbour, passing the dramatic (and deliberately unfinished) war memorial, leads to Dunnotar Castle. The memorial on Black Hill is imposing and powerful. A line of poem can be found inside the octagonal towers.

Stonehaven and Dunnotar Castle (21)

“One by one death challenged them, they smiled in his grim visage and refused to be dismayed” – Sankey’s Student in Arms

Stonehaven and Dunnotar Castle (66)Staying with another Graham – and Sam, in Aberdeenshire, an introduction to their master Percy and enjoyed wonderful hosts. Their house at the top of a hill gave the legs some good stretching but the location was peaceful and the room more than luxurious. The monk fish and chips from the sustainability champions at The Bay Fish and Chips was the best I have had in years. They were so good, a shitehawk (a gull) dropped a bomb across the back of my navy-blue shirt with precision. It didn’t get a single chip. Back off shitehawks!


Doune Castle (37)

Following a night in Stonehaven, a night in Stirling was next on the agenda. The famous National Wallace Monument was visible from the room at yet another AirBnB place with Iona and her family. After the quickest breakfast ever we headed to Doune Castle – as seen as Winterfell, Castle Anthrax, and series such as Outlander.

Your mother was a hamster and your father smells of elderberries” – Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Stirling Castle (11)Later in the day the National Wallace Monument witnessed a 120kg man struggling up the stairs and then being thankful he had no hair to blow away, once at the summit platform of the tower. Taking in each gallery along the way on the steps down, seemed the backwards way to do it, but damned if I was going to take a break on the 246 steep steps upwards. The Guardian of Scotland and influence of legendary stories since (including Mel Gibson’s Braveheart) featured alongside exhibitions on Robbie Burns (the famous poet) and Robert the Bruce. The monument is dramatic and almost like something from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings

From Dalmally the road (well railway) led ot Edinburgh… via Glasgow… and a route of other rained upon soggy places.

See ye efter

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

2019 – 1 day

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

28th December:

Firstly, there are too many distractions. I know this is true because I started writing the first sentence about a week ago. The second sentence followed a few days later. This sentence was written today. Yesterday, I met with Gerry, Cian, Lee, Mrs Lee, Toby (good luck in Thailand), Percy, and Maria. Some Premier League football was watched involving City’s deserved defeat at Leicester City. This is football. Far from ‘Typical City’ and much closer to ‘it’s a game of two teams’. Liverpool were on in the background and Man Utd. The less said the better. Turkey thigh and vegetables followed steak and the trimmings. It wasn’t bad. I felt very much fed up yesterday. The time difference plus a faulty VPN has made dialling the U.K. and family a tad difficult. Maybe, I’ll finally add a VPN to my phone now. Lesson learnt.

 

This weekend we worked on Saturday due to the nationally recognised New Year holidays of Sunday to Tuesday. I doubt that I’ll go anywhere. Probably take it very easy. Save all the travelling for Nepal beginning in late January.

31st December:

Yep, I was distracted.


Had a lazy day yesterday, and today… probably tomorrow too. So, here it goes… simply:

恭贺新禧 (gōng hè xīn xǐ)

Respectful congratulations on the New Year.

 

新年快乐 Xīnnián kuàilè

HAPPY NEW YEAR

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

The spirit of football.

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do,

“We’ll go on getting bad results.” (Jimmy Hill)

13/5/2012

The daylight emerged between the window frame. The curtains had been positioned in a way ill-prepared to create darkness. I had slept surprisingly well despite sticking to the sofa in a slight sweat. I went to the bathroom, had a shower, cleaned my teeth and generally prepared myself for that Sunday’s sunny day. With a spring in my step, I dressed and sat on the sofa. Bhagira the cat and Fuzzy kept me company. The red laser pointer pen activated and entertained my feline friends. Eventually Dan emerged, a little worse for wear. It may have been a cal by our friend Jack Daniels the previous night, or his seemingly strenuous job delivering home deliveries for Asda Walmart, either way his eyes weren’t awake. A coffee fixed that. It was Nescafe but I didn’t care. I enjoyed the warmth and milky taste. With a new sense of alertness, my buddy gave me a lift to Kirkham and Wesham railway station.

Waiting on the platform, pigeons fluttered and the cold polished bricks of over 100 years felt very familiar. I couldn’t recall if I had been there before or if it was just the Lancashire style of old stations. The two-platform station surrounded by sealed off arches and historic sidings had an air of calm, despite the Northern rail service rattling in quite loudly. The train departed, bound for Manchester Airport. I’d exit on platform 13 of Manchester Piccadilly. There, I’d change for Levenshulme, then drop my things at my mum’s house before heading back into Manchester city centre.

That day, May 13th 2012, was a far cry from several 1990’s conclusions to the season. The Castle and Falcon Club, Manchester city centre, was a backstreet dive.  The Dantzic Street location, just off Shudehill hid it from what is now The Printworks and far more modern uprisings. The bar has long closed and the Burtonwood Ales signage has long gone. It was here following a game at Stoke City, I sat with my Dad and his partner Bernadette. Manchester City F.C. had been relegated despite a wonderful 5-2 win at Stoke City. We’d been relegated before in my lifetime, the Premier League in 1995-96

Uwe Rösler as top scorer with just 9 league goals hadn’t helped at all. City were beyond woeful and the moniker as a club that could win cups for cock-ups was born. City had looked happy with a 2-2 draw against Liverpool. They never chased the win. Rösler’s penalty and Kit Symons’s goal that day gave no pleasure later in the evening. But, for me, I did not understand relegation back then. After changing from the very familiar sky blue to Kappa’s laser blue at the beginning of 1997-98, City’s crest also changed and an air of positivity crept in. The results did not have many highs, a 6-0 battering of Swindon and a friendly 2-2 draw in a Manchester Derby as part of Paul Lake’s Testimonial

During 1997-98, Murtaz Shelia, from well-known team Alania Vladkavkaz (sounds like a fashion model?) arrived. Nothing changed. City faced Stockport County and lost 3-1. They hadn’t played their local rivals for 87 years before that day! Another Georgian player entered the fold by January in Kakhaber Tskhadadze. City slipped into the relegation zone. Frank Clark was fired. Joe Royle came in to steady the ship and try to climb up the table. Combative midfield-enforcer Michael Brown won Player of The Year, as City lamented relegation to the third tier with a bizarre friendly game against Jamaica’s national team.

The 1998/99 season was an incongruous one. It had a great climax that remains fresh in club folk-lore but few discuss the oddities of that season. The club had changed from a team of stars and names to a team of relative unknowns. 16 friendlies accommodated a huge squad and before long City’s stuttering season began to build. One player, Ray Kelly, left to play part-time for Bohemians and study in Ireland. Little old City were struggling for off the field stability. As 1999 arrived, City looked far off the promotion race. City stuttered towards the finishing line looking like they’d sneak it before being whipped 2-1 to Wycombe Wanderers at Maine Road. The play-off semi finals arrived and City visited Springfield Park. Paul Dickov’s late crucial equaliser kept City in the tie. The return leg at Maine Road saw a Goater goal, which Wigan fans argued as being hand ball. Graeme Jones had struck the woodwork but City would return to Wembley for the first time in 14 years. The 1999 play-off final is, as they say, history.

Back to June, and Xiamen Gulangyu International Football Tournament 2018 saw Murray’s F.C. finish 7th overall. Not bad from 16 teams. Our first quarter-final game was hellishly muddy and concussion didn’t help my appearances from the bench so well. Every team battled and worked tirelessly in dire muddy conditions and the eventual winners Quanzhou Spartans deservedly took their second title in as many years. It was good to play Chilean Alex, now at Kunming Turtlebar, and also teams we’re familiar with in Hong Kong Krauts and Shenzhen Lions. The organisers of the tournament certainly know the spirit of football.

Returning back to 2012, I’d opted for a hospitality package at City. The QPR game had something about it. The possibility of a title win and being there in style didn’t take much to clutch onto. I’d dreamt of trying the City hospitality for many seasons but never wanted to leave the South Stand. Now, Nat Fatorechi who I shared my seasoncard with, gave a situation where we both wanted a ticket. It wasn’t a tough investment. But now, there is another unfamiliar moment of football, England at the World Cup and in the semi-final since the 1990 edition. I wasn’t in double digits of age then and can safely say I don’t recall any of that tournament.

Fair play to Gareth Southgate. So much more than the butt of a dozen crappy jokes about an under-par golden generation. He has his head firmly screwed on in football. He looked average as a manager at Middlesbrough and dropped into the ranks of England. Unlike many who do that, he didn’t drift off or head to Spain, or punditry too often. His spell as temporary gaffer wasn’t groundbreaking (the games weren’t huge tests, except Spain where a 2-0 lead was chucked away). But, the FA appointed him and for once they gambled on fresh blood with all the qualities of a modest manager and someone who keeps the game simple. He has benefitted from the role of FA’s head of elite development. He seems to know the future youth players well and his squad selection seemed geared to building for Euro 2020 and the 2022 World Cup. Best thing out of Watford since DCI Hunt/Philip Glenister (or Ginger Spice?).

“We’re not creative enough; we’re not positive enough.” (Trevor Brooking)

Remember a game when City faced Boro? We played in our away kit at home. Southgate had his bonce wrapped up and played a blinder. We drew. They went to Europe. That’s the kind of spirit England need, and not that of Rooney or Beckham with their egos and sponsorship deals following them. Look at Messi, he has more minutes advertising per year and it never paid off. Same for tRanaldo. Graft and the kind of grinding football that Leicester City did, with flare, that’s the future in cups. And, City can learn from this England spirit.

“I think it’s bad news for the English game.” (Alan Hansen)

Good to see City links all over the World Cup. Guidetti for Sweden, Boyata with Belgium, Corluka of Croatia, and the list goes on and on. I claim any City link I can. One that stands out is Bury-born Keirin Trippier. During his time at City, Micah Richards was linked with Chelsea and Ar$enil, as Zabaleta was talked about heading to Barca. Coupled with the fact Trippier still was developing physically, he was quite far down. We had a clutch of first teamers that could play RB as an unnatural position. He had little chance. Fair play to him in his evolution at Spurs. His football formation years also featured clubs like Burnley and Barnsley. He knows the game well enough to play for many years. He has appeared for England U18s, England U19s, England U20s, England U21s, and now the senior England squad. He is capable of joining the Masters team one day and could well reach national legendary status with the chance before him now. I wonder what the away friendly game for City, against Barcelona did for his vision. Did it inspire? That came a season after lifting the FA Youth Cup with City. Good luck to him with England and in his future of football.

The Lightning Seeds wrote and released Three Lions in ’96, it had a re-write in 1998 and now 22 years later it is being played in epidemic proportions. David Baddiel and Frank Skinner must be dusting off their karaoke microphones, surely? Will 2020 or 2022 feature new pessimistic quotes to amend Three Lions as a song once again? Tout est Possible. I do get the impression that this song will not go away, regardless of any results! The Lightning Seeds, despite being Scouse are a cracking band, so I won’t complain.

 

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

The Trials of Life

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do,

Have you ever found your mind to be scattered almost everywhere simultaneously at the same time? Have you ever doubted the ground you stand upon as being this very Earth? Have you ever wondered why some things happen to you and not other people? Did you ever start to believe karma is real because once you threw a crisp packet into a litter bin, but it hit the side and blew away in the wind? Do bad days last forever? Has a music number from the genre of the blues been written just for you? Just exactly, how rainy is the day that never stops raining? If pain is temporary and class is permanent, then why did it hurt for so long? If good luck and bad luck are in a bar, then why does good luck choose to stay there and not visit you? How many instances of terrible fortune does it take to defy a fortune cookie? Did Coldplay write your life story? Anyway, it could be worse. I could support the Red Devils!


 

Today, a Thursday, and the fourth working day of a six-day week. Today and tomorrow are exams across the school. The midterm indicator exams. Nothing too special or worrying but amongst our foreign teacher team we have eradicated the need for oral exams at this time. Continual assessment and encouragement is of much more value. Besides it shows that you have more familiarity to the students and parents. For me, it has much more value. On Monday, Operation Greenblue commenced in class 1F. We have now five small rectangles of mint, lavender, rosemary, thyme, tomatoes and lemongrass in the process of growing. Even after two days, excited students peered upon the first sprouts of life. Marcus, the tallest boy, requested that we grow watermelons soon. We shall do our best. Victorie, the tallest girl, has given us all a huge rosemary plant. I encourage their enthusiasm and in turn their new plants will discourage mosquitoes. Meanwhile. my own small crop in my apartment is emerging well. Bye, bye mosquitoes?

 

In around 3 weeks we must stage a school drama and I am working on a script. I’ll add it after the final signature. I want something original and challenging for my 6-7 year-old tribe of talent. That’s why I am here, right? To be the CHAMPION equivalent of Pep Guardiola in the classroom. Surely, I cannot stop evolving simply because I have taught the words long, short, same, and different, this is not enough. Aim high. Later the job will be more rewarding.

 

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

Act 1: The dawn chorus [Music: Bring Me Sunshine, Ashleigh Wood]

Location: by a tree.

Lewson (narrator): A new day is dawning and all around the tree, sleepy nights are ending with waking yawns.

Sabrina Sunshine: Wow. Today will be a beautiful and bright day. I will make sure of that.

Aaron (bird): Yes, what a delightful day it will be.

CK/Tik (bird): I can’t wait for some yummy worms today.

Hardy (bird): I’m going to sing in my beautiful voice and wake everybody.

Doris (bird): I am a bird – and that means there is no homework!

Angela (Miss Rabbit): I love hopping, shopping and beat box popping.

Kristy Kangaroo: I like hopping too. I hope you get to see me hop all day!

 
Act 2: The Storm steals the sun [Music: Blue Moon]

Location: by another darker tree.

Allen (narrator): A naughty team is being led by Naughty Natalie. She really is very naughty!

Naughty Natalie: I don’t like the sun. It is all shiny and bright, shining in the sky so happily.

Monster Marcus: Yes, I like a dark night with the glow of the moon.

Typhoon Tyler: I like wind. Lots and lots of wind. I don’t mind of it is sunny or dark.

Marline the moon: I shine best at night. I need the sun for my light, but I can reflect with a smaller light if needed.

Tony the Tiger: Naughty Natalie, I have an idea! Let’s steal the sun and give the moon a new home.

Leon the Lion: Oh, you are naughty but I like you!

 
Act 3: The hunt for the sun [Music: Benny Hill theme tune]

Location: a tree by a small bridge.

Alice (narrator): In the U.K. people are always looking for the sun. Today, all around the world, many more animals and people are looking for the sun. Will they find the sun? Will they save the day?

Happy Henry (goat): I’m big Happy Henry, they all know me. I eat grass, whilst you sit on your…

Billy the kid (goat): Stop, I’m Billy the kid, a goat that did, not do homework, for I was chewing some grass, sat upon my…

Jimmy Jams (goat): Stop! I’m Jimmy Jams, a goat who slams, words for fun, out in the sun.

Candy the Caterpillar:  I have too many legs. It takes me an hour to tie my shoe laces. We’ve been walking for hours looking for the sun. It is too dark to find our lovely sun.

Kitty Cat: Don’t worry, I’m a cool cat and we look for food at night. That’s right. We can find anything at night. [Kitty Cat trips over in the dark]

Jumping Jessie Cat: Meeeeeoowwww, sunny, sunny sun, where are you? The sun is far too big to hide!

 
Act 4: Saving the sun [Music: Run Boy Run]

Location: A different tree, that looks like the other trees.

Allen (narrator): Many hours passed. A team of superheroes was called into action. Let’s get ready for action. Action!

Rocket Roselle: We have been flying around schools, parks, hospitals and even Manchester but we cannot find the sun!

Super Soffy: We can look around like the Old McDonald song. We can look here, there, everywhere…

Daring Dongyee: [sings] Old McDonald had a farm… [laughs] We can save the world, one step at a time. Where shall we look now?

Doctor Evan: I have been thinking and the sun is too big to hide. It must be on the other side of the world.

Kind Kelly: Okay, let’s go. Super Soffy and Rocket Roselle, you can fly there. Doctor Evan, Special Sharon and I can take a taxi.

Special Sharon: I might walk there. I don’t like taxis.

Altogether: Off we go, to save the day! We are stronger together!

 
Act 5: Altogether now [Music: Fight for the right to party]

Location: by two trees.

Allen (narrator): Our bold heroes find the other side of the world. After waiting for the taxi to arrive and making a very large payment, our heroes find the sun. The sun is trapped by Naughty Natalie.

Super Soffy: Give us back the sun!

Monster Marcus: You will not stop us. Ha ha ha. You are no Super Baby!

Doctor Evan: A baby can’t be super. I’ve never even seen a baby cook for themselves!

Typhoon Tyler: We will fight to the end!

Sunshine Sabrina: I just want to shine in the day and make everyone happy.

Daring Dongyee: Okay

Naughty Natalie: I will win this fight. Ha ha ha.

Marline the moon: I want to be alone – all by myself. No sun. Just me, the moon!

Tony the Tiger: Grrrrrreat

Leon the Lion: Let’s eat the sun. I bet it tastes lovely and hot.

Kind Kelly: You will do no such thing.

Special Sharon: I don’t want to fight!

 

[breakdancing battle]

 

[rock, paper, scissors fight]

 

[arm-wrestling fight]

 

Justin Time: Wait! Wait! Wait! Stop! Stop! Stop! We all need the sun. We all need the moon. We all need day to play and we all need night to sleep.

Doctor Evan: Yes, Justin Time, you are right. We need to be friends. We must enjoy both the day and the night.

Jumping Jessie Cat: All we need is love.

Altogether: {sings} du du du duhhh

Victoire Violin:

[sings] I love you. You love me. We love each other and we’re family.

Altogether: [sings] I love you. You love me. We love each other and we’re family. [and dancing]

 
Students bow to audience and say, “Thank you kindly for watching our performance. Have a happy day today, tomorrow and keep smiling!”

[Music: Hello Sunshine, Super Furry Animals]

 

 

 

If I could only find the words, then I would write it all down…

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do,

‘If I could only find the words, then I would write it all down…’ (Read ’em and Weep lyrics by Jim Steinman/sang by Meat Loaf)

Where are the great writers? They are everywhere. Songwriters, scriptwriters, playwrights, newspaper correspondents, comedians, bloggers, and authors. Great writers are everywhere. I am nowhere near them. I just enjoy writing and have ambitions. The popular writers spill off shelves in major bookstores, on eBook devices, and fill newspaper reviews about their works. The modern classics and classics get published in varied and often colourful editions. Some copies get graphic novel versions or huge distorted modifications to lure in new and old readers alike. Books are wonderful and shouldn’t need a World Reading Day to attract a soul. Impressive braille, audiobooks and many other delightful formats, such as large print, keep penned words open to the widest possible audiences. And, then there are translations! Some of the Harry Potter novel serials have reached 80 or so languages, including Scots, Hindi, and Chinese.

‘muckle, beefy-boukit man wi a stumpie wee craigie’ (Mr Dursley in Scots, from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone)

The novelists aren’t a bad place to start. I find Sir Arthur Conan Doye and H.G. Wells have caught my eye more and most from the considered classical writers. The Valley of Fear and The Sign of the Four are two of the former writer’s most gripping examples.

superfudgeLooking across the metaphysical divide at female writers, there are some wonderful writers in Mary Shelley (Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus; Rambles in Germany and Italy in 1840, 1842 and 1843), Elzabeth Gaskell (Cranford), Val McDermid (Trick of the Dark), the Poet Laureate for Great Britain Dame Carol Ann Duffy, Enid Blyton (The Island of Adventure), Edith Nesbit (Think Five Children and It, and not Stephen King’s It), Agatha Christie (By the Pricking of My Thumbs), Betrix Potter (The Tale of Peter Rabbit and 22 other similar tales), and Judy Blume (Fudge-a-mania and books that hist topics such as masturbation, racism, bullying, menstruation, divorce and other such family topics). But, most importantly, when I pick up a book, it isn’t based on the author’s gender.


now that daysIn my childhood, my varied reading included Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book; Jack London’s White Fang, The Sea Wolf; Colin Dann’s The Animals of Farthing Wood; Felix Salten’s Bambi; Aileen Fisher’s Now That Days Are Colder; Herman Melville’s Moby Dick; and a set of World Encyclopedias given to me by Mr Andrew Jones, in my final days in class 5AJ.

‘Now that days are colder, now that leaves are down, where are all the chipmunks at the edge of town?’ (Aileen Fisher’s Now That Days Are Colder)

roald dahlAs I grew from size 9 shoes to size 12 shoes, I picked up such reads as Eoin Colfer’s Benny and Omar, and soon discovered Michael Crichton. J.R.R. Tolkien was read with vigour. The college years involved Roald Dahl’s complete works getting a read. Douglas Adams and George Orwell added to the vibrant multihued reading material. I even had a crack at the works of Robert Louis Stevenson and Charles Dickins. Amongst the known names, I recall reading two pieces that really caught my attention. The first was about CJD and prionic diseases. The title was rather welcoming, Deadly Feasts: The “Prion” Controversy and the Public’s Health by Richard Rhodes. There is a real detective feel to this book. It zips from cannibals in New Guinea, cattle globally, young people in America, Britain and France – and beyond. It really makes you think and carries a powerful warning about beef, and eating meat. That being said, I carried on eating meat after a year’s experiment as a vegetarian.

‘Don’t gobblefunk around with words.’ (Roald Dahl’s The B.F.G.)

wewishThe second covered a dark period of recent history and journalist Philip Gourevitch’s We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda (the link directs to chapter one). The theme chronicles the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, in which an estimated 1,000,000 Tutsis and Hutus were killed. What shocked me, was how neighbours turned on themselves and the psychological effects followd. It skirts on the political challenges of survival. It is gripping and full of pain. I even had a crack at the complete works of one William Shakespeare. The dramas make for tough reading but nevertheless their importance and influence is beyond comparison.

‘At least fifty mostly decomposed cadavers covered the floor, wadded in clothing, their belongings strewn about and smashed. Macheted skulls had rolled here and there.’ (Philip Gourevitch’s We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda)

aberAt university I switched into daydreaming mode and the movie popularity of The Lord of the Rings led to a re-read of everything J.R.R. Tolkien. Between daydreaming, textbooks and general procrastination of university work, I found little time for reading. There was always something shiny or distracting. However, I did read through the entire available works of Michael Crichton and the brilliant noir writer Malcolm Pryce – his Aberystwyth Mon Amour series being topical to my location.

‘That’s the trouble with people like you, Knight, you only know how to mock. How to break things. You don’t know how to create anything. You never did.’ (Malcolm Pryce, Aberystwyth Mon Amour)

JurassicparkJurassic Park had been on and off my bookshelf since my mother bought me an omnibus edition, with the novel Congo included. The distinctive movie red, yellow and black logo made for great artwork but within the text was something more appealing. Scientific facts mixed with imagination and fiction. Like every book I have read by the late Michael Crichton, there are technical descriptions crossing the genres of action (Prey), science fiction (Micro), thrillers (Disclosure), and medical fiction (Five Patients). One of my favourite pieces has been Eaters of the Dead [a tale of Ahmad ibn Fadlan’s own interpretation of his genuine voyage north and his understandings with and reflections of Vikings], however the posthumous release of the 1974 penned piece Dragon Teeth [fossil hunters in the historical fiction form] comes close. But then, Pirate Latitudes, as action goes is damn exhilarating. Whilst the movies and series versions of some of his works never live up to the style of his writing, I hope that those who watch them gain enough curiosity to pick up the books. 200 million book sales is too few for such a great writer.

‘All major changes are like death. You can’t see to the other side until you are there.’ (Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park)

ducksFollowing university, I dipped in and out of books like rain lashing the rooftops of Manchester. Ian Fleming’s great travel novellas sporting a certain James Bond gripped me for a while. Every shadow writer of that spy-battering ram has been read since. From BBC’s The Fast Show, comedy writer Charlie Higson has delivered great slices of young Bond novels for teenagers and a series called The Enemy. Well worth of a read. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert should be reviewed by the #MeToo movement. Forget 50 Shades of Gray! George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four actual reads as a documentary and doesn’t seem like fiction in one way! The entire works of Christoher Brookmyre was far more than an Attack Of The Unsinkable Rubber Ducks – more like All Fun And Games Until Someone Loses An Eye. Every book of his will grip you tight – don’t be fooled by his colourful covers.

“People are islands,’ she said. ‘They don’t really touch. However close they are, they’re really quite separate. Even if they’ve been married for fifty years.” (Ian Fleming, Casino Royale)

psychoIn China, I have been limited to the works of Andy McNab (notably the Nick Stone and Tom Buckingham series) alongside other odds and ends found on bar book exchange shelves or tucked away collecting dust in book shops. I have found time to re-read Peter Pan, by playwright J.M. Barrie. Johnny Marr’s autobiography Set the Boy Free, War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (which wasn’t to my enjoyment, and the riveting Moby Dick, by Herman Melville. The complete works of Jon Ronson (I thoroughly recommend The Psychopath Test) have been perused. The Welsh neo-journalist loves a good debunk or conspiracy to grip and twist until all the juices ooze out into the pages. Hunter S. Thompson (Hell’s Angels) would be proud of his works! I wonder if Jon Ronson has booked a firework-clad funeral for his future passing.


touchMy obsession with Mount Everest has drawn me to a related selection of books. I read most of these in the shadow of the mountain during January 2017. The following works were all written following the 1996 disaster in which many climbers and sherpas lost their lives.

“Ultimately, the Buddhist teachings say, misfortune happens less often to those whose motives are pure.”  (Jamling Tenzing Norgay, Touching My Father’s Soul: A Sherpa’s Sacred Jouney to the Top of Everest)
  • Into Thin Air: Death on Everest – a well-known climbing disaster book by Jon Krakauer;
  • The Climb by Anatoli Boukreev;
  • Left For Dead: My Journey Home from Everest, penned by Beck Weathers;
  • Touching my father’s soul: a Sherpa’s journey to the top of Everest, by Jamling Tenzing Norgay;
  • Climbing High – a lesser known read by Danish Psychological Counselor and climber Lene Gammelgaard;
  • The Other Side of Everest by Matt Dickinson.

If you piece together the events on the mountain based on the accounts and reports received soon after and long after, you will be no clearer as to what happened – other than it being a monumental mess of tragic proportions. The best of the bunch for me, was Jamling Tenzing Norgay’s account, as it touched on the spirituality and complexity of Sherpa and beliefs within the shadows of the highest mountain peak on our Earth. It also explored his relations and the effects of living in the following of his father Sherpa Tenzing Norgay.


“Colonel Vivian had convinced himself that Ivor Montagu’s enthusiasm for Ping-Pong was a cover for something more sinister.” (Ben Macintyre, Operation Mincemeat: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied Victory)

mincemeatSince that rambling holiday to Nepal, I have picked up Ben Macintyre’s Operation Mincemeat at Murray’s Irish Pub in Dongcheng. Since then Double Cross, Agent Zig-Zag and just this week Rogue Heroes: The History of the SAS, Britain’s Secret Special Forces Unit That Sabotaged the Nazis and Changed the Nature of War have followed. For Your Eyes Only: Ian Fleming and James Bond, was a book I read in 2008 and didn’t enjoy quite as much as his other well-researched and fine-tuned storytelling. Facts and simple description, even criticism and questioning of reported myths bore at you like an angry wolf. They are real page turners, not bogged down by over-complicated technical terminology and wordings unnecessary. The Times columinist cuts a good read up and builds a remarkably fascinating picture of moments in history. I guess with an extra day of freedom each year, he has extra time to write. His birthday being on Christmas Day. Some other writers lose their focus and clutter text or fill pages for fun. Every page of Macintyre’s work is blessed by an assiduous and attentive hand. His mind has carved questions in reported stories and embellishments that others may have accepted. When it comes to knowns, he wants the reader not just to read, but use the full force of their frontal lobes.  Next up, I will re-read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. To pick that particulatr gem up will be like revisiting an old friend. Another good friend could even be Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. Not a single movie version has touched on the depth of that epic adventure!

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

Definitely Maybe Almighty

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do,

Chinese New Year had reached Manchester and the great city delivered a colourful display of culture. It has done so for many a year and shall forever more do so. This year a giant dragon filled St Ann’s Square and activities spread over the city. The Almighty Sometimes provided an afternoon’s entertainment. The Royal Exchange Theatre have always been a bold and open-minded kind of theatre. They are open to all and test waters that others wouldn’t even think about it.


The Almighty Sometimes, as penned by Kendall Feaver, had been converted from though to words to a stageplay excellently. Katy Rudd, as director, and her team dropped a monster of a show into the arms of the watching. Tackling both language and the use of medication to chemically castrate those who battle their imaginations and thoughts, this production had sharp-edged teeth. Norah Lopez Holden is a beautiful actress, and her character Anna has a mind more wide and dreamy than most. The actress sucks you into her head and the character is someone you attach to, instantly. A Mancunian spin and by local actress Julie Hesmondhalgh (who you soon forget as playing Hayley from Coronation Street) and Mike Noble’s nasal tones as Oliver support a cast with actress Sharon Duncan-Brewster portraying Vivienne – the child psychiatrist.

Lucy Carter’s lighting, the simple set design by Rosanna Vise and striking sounds by Giles Thomas enhance Vicki Manderson’s movement directions. The dialogue, much as the original script, is gripping. It plucks strings on the heart if the banjo and jabs away drumbeats using smashing drumstick movements. Every ounce of sweat was bled dry from the cloth of the ensemble and towards the interval I felt tears run. They ran again, at least twice. The labelled main character Anna draws you in and tortures you in a way as bipolar as beauty and the beast could only be. It hurts. It makes you love. It kicks out. It embraces you. Such torture and cuh pleasure. I f**king hate this show. I love it equally. Ever imagined being someone desperate for independence? And I mean painfully desperate. The spot by wit’s end identified as critical and inconsolable. That bursting recklessly easger point of extreme anxiety? Anna will take you there. Not only that but the complexities of mother, friends and lovers – even the so-called experts of mental health will all be sliced apart and left to questions. There is a spectrum that is so diverse – so broad – it will leave you without words, and just raw emotions. It will not leave you cold. Julie Hesmondhalgh has leapt from Accrington to the electronic screens, but on stage she is hypnotizingly charismatic and soon has you forgetting the New Order t-shirt. Her young daughter on stage, Norah Lopez Holden, is eloquent, powerful and engaging. She radiates passion in every line and action. Her Hispanic looks, with a Mancunian twang fade away as each line jabs out like a boxer’s right hook. She is exactly the reason I never attempted drama at secondary school, because I could never do what she does. Living overseas, in a reasonably western-free area, means I may not see another theatre production, of that calibre, in a while but I am more than inspired to hunt them down on that showing. Thank you for such a distressing yet astonishing experience. It was part-ballet, part walking on broken glass. It was close to home. Very.


The train from Manchester Airport to Barrow-on-Furness was cancelled. Instead it would head off from Manchester Piccadilly. This being an annoyance, an alternative route with delays was found, via Carlisle, instead of via Barrow-on-Furness. After a long while of scenery out of the window, the fourth train of the day rolled into Parton, a village north of Whitehaven. Here I’d catch up with Dan, Vanessa, Alex and Damian.

Catching up Dan, Vanessa, Damian and Alex proved to be a great experience. Between walking the four-year old twins to school, talking, playing and polishing off some rum, exploration of the local area was also called for. The Lake District Coast Aquarium in Maryport offers crazy golf, engaging talks, a variety of British marine tanks, a working conservation lobster hatchery and staff that know their marine biology. The layout is good for a few hours sandwiched around a walk alongside the historic Marport marina, harbour and promenade. This was certainly a place for families to visit! The centre has a café and there are numerous pub grub options in a short walking distance. A walk around Ennerdale Water, far off from Bassenthwaite Lake (the only actual lake in the Lake District) and wanderings around Whitehaven town centre also allowed for relaxation – although climbing mountains in high heels isn’t normally fun.


Abbot’s Hall Hotel is a Christian Guild property. The décor is dated yet classic and relaxing. The furniture and fittings follow a similar mould. The grounds are pleasant and it hosts a wonderful indoor heated pool. The café and restaurant are ample with nearby restaurants in Grange-over-Sands. Kents Bank train station is outside the gate, less than two minutes stride away. Beyond the treelines and up a windy road Kents Tower can be reached, offering wonderful views of Morecambe Bay and the Lake District’s southern mountain range. One night here was not enough. However, it proved a pleasant contrast from a trip to London the next day.


That London was the next stop on the tour of England. A quicker than expected passage across the famous London Underground gave an arrival at Broughton. Crossing just three streets and walking a few hundred yards allowed for safe arrival at Zoly Apartment (23 Tabard Street), as found on Booking.com. London awaited. The simple apartment needed an electronic code for the front door and a different one for the room. The facilities were modern and included an electronic tablet notepad filled with lots of useful bits and bobs. A kitchen and a good bathroom made for probably my favourite place that I have stayed in London, ever, apart from Paul Thomas’ place after an ill-fated journey from Norwich to Manchester, via That London.

Dinner at Nando’s on the banks of the River Thames, gave wonderful archway views from Southwark looking northwards. Underneath Blackfriars Road bridge, tucking into spicy chicken wings, wedges and a host of sides made for a comforting dinner, two nights out of three spent in That London. The Clink Street location is close to the historic Golden Hinde, London Dungeons and many other attractions. The location really is something.

Royal Observatory Greenwich followed by dinner at Nando’s and a speedy passage to Piccadilly Circus to enjoy The Comedy About A Bank Robbery. Firstly, the Criterion Theatre is a gem, sank beneath the streets of the City of Westminster. On entering from Piccadilly Circus, you grab your tickets at a quaint ticket booth before tip-toeing downstairs beyond the top tiers of the theatre seating, and then into the lower circle. Beneath are the stalls and the stage. The horseshoe-shaped theatre seats a little shy of 500 spectators. It opened in March 1874 as a concert hall and soon was converted to a theatre. Long gone are the dangerous gaslights and in their place is a modern interior with occasional hints at the venue’s first usages. Names of composers line the walls on the staircasing. Henry J. Byron, W.S. Gilbert, and other such playwrights who commanded the use of an initial letter have perfomed at this charming venue. In World War II, it was even a BBC safe and recording studio! Secondly, the production of The Comedy About A Bank Robbery is an absolute delight. Packed full of wit, charm, comedy – and a rich dialogue with fine vocals and production of the highest calibre. The Mischief Theatre have won awards – and toured the world for good reason. They are.

The final day or so in Manchester involved shopping, a birthday lunch for Dad and packing a stupendous amount of luggage (mostly gifts).


WRITE HERE, WRITE NOW.

More than 250,000 blogged words later… [208 Wix Posts + 77 WordPress posts = 285 posts]


 

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

 

Under the fragrant bait you will find a hooked fish. Gǔlái fāng ěr xià, shéi néng bù tūn gōu?