Waits (& see: City)

Dear all, interested or not, especially Blues,

I’ve known Waits since I joined Shenzhen Blues way back in 2014-ish. The oddity of it all, is that he and I hadn’t met in person until July 2021. Arriving in the old Zhangye Railway Station I spot Waits by the railway station entrance immediately. His sky blue t-shirt emblazoned with MCFC was exactly what I had expected to see. Us Blues stand out. What amazed me most is that Zhangye is 2865km from Shenzhen. There are no direct flights, and certainly no direct trains. The quickest flights via Lanzhou are 5 hours and 50 minutes.

Brother Waits.

Waits has been following Manchester City for years. We’re not talking about a glory-seeker at all. He latched onto the singers of the blues on the back of a certain Sun Jihai. He’s endured seasons of toil and mid-table football, before the good times came along. He even said he preferred watching City from 2001 to 2009. Most City fans have that romantic lust for those times. The expectation and the angry eye of the media these days can be all-so-consuming. He’s sat up at all hours of day to see the famous sky blue and white team play umpteen teams over land and sea… and Stretford. He’s one of our own.

Submitted December 2019 to SZBs.

Over the years I have acted as his football jersey mule, occasionally sourcing one or carrying his Classic Football Shirt orders from my Mam’s house to China. His collection, his famed home-office (man cave?) is full of City. Tencent and QQ media have interviewed him. He was interviewed for Shenzhen’s live fan gathering at the end of the last season. He’s featured on City’s Inside City shows and other places too. Sometimes, I wonder why Manchester City’s China office hasn’t offered him a position (of remote working). His passion for teaching English and his love of City is for all to see.

Waits reply to his best goal: “SWP nearly zero angle shot”

Waits has translated the poem This Is The Place by Tony Walsh, with permission. The Chinese edition featured in Dongguan’s defunct HubHao magazine and online. Shenzhen Blues also published it to Manchester City fans in China. For years Waits has translated Manchester City’s On This Day information, statistics, facts, stories and tales of City folklore. He’s encouraged young and new fans alike, giving advice, passion and fairness accordingly. He has championed the Champions before they won leagues, cups and trophies (this century). Recently, he translated an interview between Mark McCarthy (Manchester City Match Worn Shirts, MCMWS) and Pete ‘The Badge’ Berry.

这是我和@Waits 还有@二蛋💭 一起运营的公众号,会发一些曼城相关的好玩内容。欢迎订阅!
Miranda, @Waits and @二蛋 are running this public account. It will share some interesting content about City on it. Come and subscribe!Go on!

His favourite game remains City beating Tottenham Hotspurs having gone 3-0 down to come away 4-3 winners. Considering the games that have passed since, he’s sticking to that one game. He even chooses Kevin Keegan as top gaffer over the elite leaders that have managed the Citizens since. He told me once that he translated subtitles for There’s Only One Jimmy Grimble! Hey Manchester City China, “Go on, give it to Waits!”

Shenzhen Blues in Zhangye… and a mad Aussie called Oliver.

Waits has much more to him than football. Whilst he plays it with students and local Zhangye folk, he can often be found strumming his guitar. A few renditions of Blue Moon have been heard over the years. And, in recent years he has welcomed Amos to his family alongside Mrs Waits. The family can enjoy tales of how Waits was raised on a cavalry base by his mother and father. They can discover their Sichuanese heritage, without taking a panda! Whilst Waits asked more questions, than I asked him, when he spoke, he spoke in an articulated way about all manner of things. I learned about Zhangye’s three Buddha statues. One standing, one crouching (tired) and one resting.

Wandering chitchat Blues

One thing, I can say about Waits is that his English is fantastic. He asked me, “What do you think of my English accent?” I think I hurt him, with my joking response, “It sounds Chinese.” In actual fact, his English is very clear and follows a British tone similar to that found on Downton Abbey and other TV drama shows set in England. I probably have only met a dozen Chinese-born people who have such a great spoken English accent. Obviously, Waits is not speaking Mancunian-nasal tones but his heart is definitely in it! Innit.

A small snack of kidney, liver, stomach, intestines and breads. The local Zhangye food was delicious!

Ode to Hart


Time, flows in passing days,
Memories, flashes now and then,
And my tears, reluctantly falling,
Falling like I’m faking falsely by no means.

No more you on the pitch
No more your passion, your shouting and your encouragement
No more your commitment, no more your fighting, your joy and regret
Because I know, gone is gone
Like your waving to us
Your clapping, and your farewell words

“We are all grown man, we get over with it.”
Happy 30th, my HART. Happy everyday
It’s not something I won’t let go
It’s you.

They may forget, but I won’t
They may laugh, and I won’t
Neither will I forget nor will I laugh
I will keep it in my heart and keep you my SOUL AND HART

 Waits [April 19th, 2017]

Dinner and a local brew.

I hope that the next time I see Waits, we can enjoy a good old chinwag and I’ll get to know more about him. It was good to hear him talk with enthusiasm about how my Mum with Paul visited him on his trip to Manchester to see his first City game. I liked his response to how a City steward offered him tickets to Old Trafford swamp to see that lot play and he flat out refused, pointing to his badge. Pride in battle indeed. Until next time I meet Waits, I consider him a great friend and a wonderful person to know (with great English).

  1. 你为什么追随曼城?Why do you follow Manchester City?
  2. 你最深刻的曼城记忆是什么?What’s your favourite Manchester City memory?
  3. 你最钟情的曼城球衣是哪几件?What are your favourite Manchester City shirts?
  4. 说出你心目中的曼城最佳阵容。Name your all-time Manchester City XI (eleven).
  5. 这个赛季最终的结果将会如何?How will this season end?
  6. 你去过曼彻斯特吗?如果没有,你梦想去那里旅行吗?Have you been to Manchester? If not, do you dream to travel there?
  7. 在中国,你会推荐外国城迷们去哪里参观?他们应该尝尝哪些中国的食物呢?Where do you recommend City fans see in China? What food should they try?

如需提交您的问题或者答案,请发送电子邮件至 acton28@hotmail.co.uk,或者联系微信:acton28

To submit your questions and answers, please e-mail acton28@hotmail.co.uk or send a WeChat message to: acton28.

What would it mean to you?

No history? 1880. 1894. 1904. 1934. 1937. 1956. 1968. 1969. Continental and domestic in 1970. 1976. Every year in between glued together with people, vibes, life and community. Deep shades of sky blue and glorious ambition, turmoil, truths, trouble, love and hope. This City has history as deep wider than the Manchester Ship Canal and deeper than the soils that Manchester sits on.

1981: a replay on a Thursday. I wasn’t born. I heard something happened. I kept hearing it again and again and again.

Growing up on European night stories and tales. The folklore. The tales. The late nights turned tables. Not going, not knowing and City not showing. Different times, fine lines.

Railway specials, walks from The Clarence, Kippax gone, homeless and nomadic, back to the new Kippax. Relax. Imre ‘Banana’ and blowing up as City implode and reload.

“Swales out!” “Lee out!” Ball in. Ball out. Coppell copped out. Frank Clark went to the park. Asa Hartford changing seats like underwear. Brian Horton left via Gorton. Book, Reid, Neal and Machin. Howard Kendall, any good? The managerial machine doesn’t need oiling – it needs scrapping!

Uwe! Uwe! Uwe!

Wondering how much sunblock Lomas applied as Kinky cried? Seeing torment arrive on a tide.

5-1 in our cup final, and Fergie’s baptism, and then schism after schism in stands of scaffolding. Walking back along the A56 year after year, without cheer.

Being unable to get to York away, unlike the other ten million Blues, because that day, work meant I couldn’t see us lose. The Blues. The blues. Boos. Chews and choose.

Lincoln, Halifax, Shrewsbury, Bury and Stockport, where are you now? We were with you and now we’re not. We’re not really here. Thanks for keeping us company. No hard feelings, we’re just like you, but we’re not. You know what we mean. Macclesfield, cheers.

Listening on the wireless to the boom of Fred Eyre, on Piccadilly Gold. Not always because sometimes City were shoved aside for that Red lot over in Trafford. We couldn’t always go. Tickets away not available on the day.

Get that Dickov! Feed the Goat. Oooohhh it’s Nicky Weaver… Andy, Andy Mor-ri-son… Super Kevin Horlock. Edghill edged and Pollock pledged. Terry Cooke, he’s not red! Surely not! Jobson, Howey, Wiekens, Whitley brothers,

Wembley! Wembley! Wembley! Nineteen ninety nine was ever so fine. The divine stood in line and created a path headed towards a goldmine. The crocus. Dickov! Slide, slide, slide away… Tears! Tears of relief! Tears of joy! A dream reborn! CITY ARE GOING UP!

Ipswich Town in the rain? What a pain! Do it all again? Why not! Give it our best shot! Gene Kelly? Inside stand toilets? SMELLY.

Ewood Park without dark, what an hark and a lark as City are back, with some clack.

Bernarbia and Berkovic! Is this as good as it gets?

Gary Neville is a blue! The Goat? Feasted. Fed. Full.

Watching Viduka, Owen, Fowler, and every Tom, Dick and Harry pick their spots and find it. Again and again.

Seeing Keane being mean, standing over Haaland imposing his ridiculous square bean.

Keegan attacked and attacked and then got got side tracked.

Pearce’s lofted penalty hit a carcass of the Sputnik or some such other floating tin.

Goodbye Maine Road. Fireworks and sounds faded. A new concrete bowl provided.

#SAVEOURSVEN

Welcome Barcelona and Total Network Solutions… Is this the promised land?

Pearce off. How many goals in one season at home?! A ‘keeper up front?! Don’t pull that stunt! Wonky toes and European woes.

‘The Moston Menace’, SWP, BWP, tiny, tiny Willow Flood was good, and Ireland is Superman. Nedum can head ’em. Michael Johnson was on some. The golden generation we were told. Same old, same old?

Things good shook up. New owners. New investment. New opportunity. New ambitions. WE’VE GOT ROBINHO! WE’VE GOT ROBINHO! WE’VE GOT ROBINHO!

And then 2011 arrived. Things changed. But still they laughed. Still, we held our pride. Welcome to Manchester F.A. Cup. It wasn’t long before a young man name Sergio arrived… And an academy beyond our wildest imagination… and ever-growing ambitions…

But, now we’re here, watching super City from Maine Road, in Shenzhen on a television screen bigger than the North Stand at Maine Road. In China, fans are growing. Porto game showing. The Champions League Final. Whatever the weather, we’re not fair-weather. We’re not really here.

Rain! Rain! Rain!

How do,

“Rain, rain, rain, a wicked rain
Falling from the sky
Down, down, down, pouring down
Upon the night
Well there’s just one chance in a million
That someday we’ll make it out alive” – Wicked Rain, Los Lobos

Pluviophile means a lover of rain. I heard that people who identify as lovers of rain are generally down to earth and calm. I’ve even been told that daydreamers and those inclined to imagine are usually associated with that of rain. I’ve never fact checked these matters as I was too busy dreaming.

The beat of the rain droplets finding their way from way up high to land and join their countless companions. Some land on trees. Some impact puddles. Many land and immediately get swept away.

Many days without rain make my heart feel dry and untouched. Rain is my pacemaker. I’m from Manchester, a city with a heart of regular rainfall. I now in Dongguan, a city that gets a fair amount of showers throughout monsoon season. Every drop of life that falls from the sky brings

The energy of the downpour fills me. The damp smell opens my nostrils. It fills my lungs and soaks into my blood. I’m drawn to puddles and want to stamp in them, no matter the cost to my sodden shoes. That’s when I know that running is needed. Not in sun. Not in cold. Not on a dry hot evening blazing with colourful light. No. I choose rain.

Thank you kindly and ta’ra for now!

Best of British.

How do/你好,

It’s been over twenty months since I stepped on the soil of Great Britain. I’m not saying everything is roses and sweet gooseberries but I miss so much about the lands I was raised in. I want to feel the winds off the Irish Sea, the saturating rains of the Lake District, and see the fluffy clouds over the Pennines.

I long to see my family, friends, football and food. I want to visit my ancestral connections and toast my grandparents. I want to wander down lanes and places to reminisce about my dog Pup and all those days gone by. I don’t feel old but I do miss the ability to choose to visit my past and explore the future of my homelands.

I haven’t visited a proper charity shop or heard the term Bric-a-brac in so long now that even passing a construction site here in Dongguan excites me. Some discarded or unwanted piece of summat or t’other may grab my eye. Or land me in hospital with need for a tetanus jab.

I want to hug my sisters, brothers, uncles and aunts, Mum and Dad and all the other members of my scattered tribe. Nattering, sharing good foods, talking nonsense and stories, or catching up like it was yesterday. The new norm? No. We’ll carry on, just like we always did. Keep calm and drink Vimto.

Yes, I love my job and can keep busy but the longer this goes on, the bigger then pull grows. It’s tugging at emotions and connections that are strong and resolute. But even hours for the confident can be testing. Home sweet home? I’m looking for my home. I’m comfortable and content here. Opportunity is knocking on the door and chance is presenting a good hand in? life’s game of cards. Just there’s no Whitby scampy. No fish and chips, like back home.

They talk funny here but not like the funny there. I miss St Helens, Wigan, Glossop, Lancaster and all those diverse accents that are so close to home, yet so far. Winter Hill, I miss it too. The slopes, the towering vast plains and the bleak beauty under grey cool skies.

Road signs. Bus stops. Proper speed bumps. Those bubbles that appear in warm tarmac. Rhubarb crumble. Manchester tarts. Live music almost everyday, every where. Yes, I know, things have changed. No thanks to COVID-19 but the good times will return.

Manchester City versus Everton sees the return of fans. Sing like you’ve been stuck indoors for months. Champions of England. We know what we are. MCFC, ok.

Ta’ra. 再见

Stand #1

How do,

The steps leading up were worn and damp. The turnstile had swept me inside. The cool depths of the stand arched left harshly, then opened to a space aged yet far from antique. Brilliant white reflected harsh overhead lighting. Dad grabbed a match day programme. A chunky magazine booklet featuring the teams of the day. I tottered along on tired toes.

We’d strode at pace from the Clarence pub across streets far away. Eventually we swept up Kippax Street, around alleys and ginnels in to a brick wall gate. The rustic metal clanked and turned as a stub was ripped away. The darker than sky blue, yet far from royal blue panels fitted here and there gave a code to the area around. The bricks and mortar moulded to concrete and metal alike. The whole thing fitted together.

The steps into the stand opened up a tiny sliver into an outside world. Bright light forced its way in. It pierced all. The opening spread and unveiled line after line of seats. Wide to either side. Kippax blue. Glorious shades of blue, filled with those dressed in blue. Blue denim, sky blue football shirts and scarves of blue and white. Big bold lettering. Wonderful sounds. Waves of chants. The lullaby sounds sank and rose over and over again. The roof up above and the stands opposite bounced all the ambience back.

The smell of chicken balti pies reached me almost as fast as my Dad handed me the crusty sweet curry savoury snack. I gripped its warmth and shivered as the whole sense if occasion matched the cool air. I knew it at that moment that my place of worship was here.

The Maine Road home of Manchester has been missing since 2003 but the spirit goes on. We all long for those days and those feelings, but they live on, inside us. Sentimental as it is. I miss those feelings. That cool fresh Mancunian air. The longing for home is strong. But today, I feel something new. Only time can tell what it is.

Ta’ra for now.

Condolences to Football.

The day that football died could have been avoided. Instead the fans of Manchester City in the outer rims of Mongolia smiled at news they were now able to wear their Bayern Munich third kits twice a season, and quickly switch at half time to sky blue. They’d been loyal, ever since their birth into watching Arjen Robben wear the famous red of Munich. Sadly news filtered through. The German giants hadn’t joined the Super League.

The then reigning German Champions, and European Champions, and not to mention World Champions couldn’t qualify for the new European Super League. They had morality problems to overcome. Instead a team from Manchester who failed to win the Champions League ahead of being appointed to the European Super League would join a team fourth in their Italia league (at the time). There certainly had been no mention of FC Santa Claus or Aberystwyth Town. Not super enough.

The identity of football hung on a knife edge for a while. It was played in the shadows of Norwich, the villas of Aston, and islands such as Majorca. Even little old disputed Gibraltar was hoofing sacks of air around. For a while the purists switched off their television subscriptions and players ran down their contracts. Some desperado types willfully cheered for Glasgow Celtic and Rangers. They tried, with false hope, to end Secretariat ways. They begged Muslims and Jews to merge Palestinian fields with Israeli values. All was in a false belief that football could be repaired.

Mitre died first. Their football’s deflated and panels fell off. Nike prevailed with their colourful balls. Humphrey Brothers bowed out. Umbro fell to Nike and Nike sent them packing. Death arrived. Nike fired up the football kit photocopying machine.

In China, prestigious sponsors gathered around the H&M Morality Stadium to watch the Super League launch. Liverpool Red beat Liverpool Yellow by two goals to who gives a crap in the ‘The inaugural prestigious opening kicking of the ball for make benefit Great Football better at escaping Informative information technology work time tournament 2021 (postponed from the 2020 edition) Super League cup‘. You had to be there for the halftime video promotion of sunny Wuhan. The whole world gazed on in wonder at the Public Relations dream team in action. The new republic of football had found its launch moved the global online viewers to tears.

The irreparable damage to the national leagues of European professional football was not slow. Falling live viewing attendances from January 2020 ensure more people chose to watch online than be at the game. Some were even threatened by fines if they attended their local team done good. Wembley Stadium finally placed restrictions on visiting teams from Manchester and London, ensuring 70,000 seats couldn’t be purchased at their fair and reasonable set prices. Lord Carabao was perturbed but rode out the storm, only to give up hope when Red Bull F.C. Paris Saint Germain was announced. Emirates Airlines gave up the F. A. Cup and opted for a more traditional European Super League Cup Winners’ Cup deal.

The European Super League hit its first stumbling block when it announced clubs would continue to ‘compete in their respective national leagues’. The leagues sharpened their axes and expelled the 12 brave clubs. They awarded past titles and trophies to their historic runners up or whoever was closest. And then they went to court. Leagues versus the European Super League. Fans versus clubs. Clubs versus nations. FIFA didn’t recognise anyone. The new Super League Clubs had teams filled with Sepp Blatter. All unrecognised. Fans washed their hands of years of history. The suicides began. Shirts were burned. Civil war. Hooligans apologised and made up. Millwall F.C. adopted displaced Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham fans. Manchester City and United fans formed a breakaway club, F.C. Manchester of Manchester. FCMOM rose a few leagues but couldn’t afford the hefty burden of solemnity. A funeral for football was held in Preston.

The football museum in Manchester was archived away. England F.C. were on the brink of winning the FIFA 2022 World Cup in Qatar. They let Germany have a penalty in the final minute. As piped chanting of Three Lions ’22 blazed over the public announcement system, Germany missed the penalty. The game went to a penalty shootout in front of the English Sponsorship Corporate End and there it remains to this day. Neither side has scored a winning penalty… Each refused and refuse to be part of this game. Raheem Sterling just can’t hit the target.

At the time Manchester City’s Official Supporters Club said the move showed “those involved have zero regard for the game’s traditions”. It didn’t matter. They had added it was, “determined to fight against this proposed Super League”. The Paul Dickov knee slide and the moments of May 2012 faded fast. English Premier Boris Johnson warned his government would do everything possible to stop the renegade football league. Like Darth Vadar’s Death Star plan, it was a glowing end. Atletico Madrid started their 90 minute game (plua VAR infomercials) against Real Madrid and Barcelona in the big weekend opener. All the English teams had their visas denied. The league didn’t survive one full season.

The last known football in Europe was kicked by Sir Alex Ferguson to his new assist Jose Mourinho.

To Dad.

How do,

I wanted to write this on Dad’s birthday. I procrastinated. A habit I possibly learnt from Dad. Let’s talk about my Dad. He’s half of the reason why I exist. Now, where to begin? Last week, I had a video call with Dad on his birthday. He was sat on his lounge sofa and the frustrations of being unable to get out were etched on his face. Dad’s never been a mountain climber or a road cyclist, but he’s always been someone who enjoys the outdoors.

Dad, as father to Shaun, Tina, Asa and I, hasn’t always been perfect. Who amongst us, can say they are free from mistakes or poor choices? This is life, and the consequences of one action or inaction ripple like a stone crashing into a millpond. Things between Dad and I haven’t always been gloss paint or even matt, or emulsion. There have been paint spillages. I still love my Dad and I feel his love too. I’m lucky. I can’t imagine life without a Dad, and I truly don’t want to feel the loss of my Dad (or Mum): that would hurt too greatly.

Dad mentioned, in our last call, he’d been ‘cutting back Himalayan barbed-wire‘ or in layman’s terms, chopping the plants of blackberries. It was good to hear that the garden was once again embracing Dad. I grew up at Joyce Street allotments listening to City’s away games, or playing with our dog Pup on the nearby Broadhurst Park. Dad always seemed to have his allotment patch (and at times, two allotments).

Before my teenage days, I was acutely aware that Dad bodged things together. A loose panel fastened awkwardly here, and a piece of perspex draped there. Never quite fitting. Always in a place that served purpose. Not pristine, always functional. Dad would show me blackbirds nesting in his grey monolithic-looking shed. He’d feed me coriander and thyme, unwashed from a patch of ground. I would eat delicious tomatoes, rich in flavour, second only to my Granddad’s – and truth be told, not by much! I recall eating cucumbers, strawberries and planting potatoes, dancing with goats, finding old toys in impromptu concrete paths and losing races to my older brother Asa. The allotments were a good place to be. With Dad.

During the summers, sometimes he’d help at the Joyce Street Farm and I’d get to feed ponies, gain the trust of feral cats, collect chicken eggs, much out the horses and play with ducks. The goats were always my favourite. They’d be loaned out to allotment holders to go mow their plots or let out to feed on an adjacent banking of grass. Chickens and poultry would scatter up and down on a free range grass plain. Sometimes I’d stay there and enjoy the peace. Other times Pup and I would go bonkers and break the peace.

Dad with Granddad would take us to Tottington for cuttings and chrysanthemums. We’d go to Chester for seeds. It wasn’t unusual to serve Granddad leaning over walls taking a few freelance cuttings of his own, from other people’s gardens. Dad, Asa and I would walk ahead seemingly oblivious but totally aware. Other days and evenings we’d meet his friends, the legendary John ‘The Ghost’, Ernie at the farm, locals at the Working Man’s Club, etc.

Whether it was spam butties, salad from the allotment, a pie at Newton Heath market or reduced to clear food, I can’t say I ever went hungry. Boxes of broken biscuits at Manchester Victoria station or vanilla custard slices were probably where I got my sweet tooth. What I’d give to sit down with a shandy at Newton Heath Working Man’s Club, or Two Dogs Alcoholic Lemonade at the defunct Castle and Falcon, and talk with Dad.

From an early age, caravan holidays have been a thing. Actually, since Nana and Granddad passed away, Dad has maintained a. succession of caravans in Morecambe. They’ve been a holiday home for family, neighbours and friends of the family. Ritz Carlton they’ve never been, but a stone’s throw from Morecambe’s famous Midland Hotel, they’ve always been cosy and convenient. Walking with dogs, Snowy, Suzie, Pup, Nomaz, Jerry, Nobby, Blue, and others, even cats Sky and Lucy, around the caravan park resort or along the beaches to Heysham have given a great sense of relaxation to many an Acton.

There’s no place like home. I miss Dad, equally as much as I miss my Mum and other tribe members. I live and work here in sunny Dongguan, and have no plans to leave here. I enjoy the challenges of my job far too much. I respect the freedom it affords me. I hope in this troubled year I can be home for Christmas. The COVID-19 pandenic has probably stopped a summer jaunt to Manchester. And even if I could go back, could I visit all the family at all their houses without myself being the risk of spreading this godforsaken virus?

Dad loves trains, and as a former painter and decorator of ‘anything but the trains’ he’d steam through stories about the places he’d been, witnessing snow on Winter Hill (in summer) and what painters do when watching paint dry. It took me a while to understand that the word crumpet wasn’t always food. These days the meaning would generate the #MeToo on Twitter. We’d visit steam trains or famous stations, as long as there was no cost. We’d ride in luggage cars, behind diesel trains or then speedy Intercity 125. Being sat on huge sacks of seaweed heading for Manchester’s gardens seemed normal to me. It was a pungent form of social distancing, far ahead of its time.

My Aunty Christine tells me Dad was a talented artist, and studied so. I’ve seen some of his works but it seems time has hidden them in Dad’s clutter. Uncle George, the youngest of Dad’s brothers and sisters, told many stories of them at Wembley, away games and Maine Road following the mighty Manchester City and occasional scraps with hooligan types. I could always see the family love in Aunty Irene’s eyes for Dad, but an awkwardness towards Dad’s habits. Our family, like many, has its quirks and oddities. I wouldn’t change it for the world.

One birthday, I pretended to sleep. I think I was disappointed that Dad hadn’t picked me up that weekend. Dad was supposed to pick me up every Saturday. My parents had divorced at, for me, an early age. I wasn’t in a broken home, thankfully, but the new norm for us all was different, yet not unheard of in Manchester. So, one night Dad opened my bedroom door and I was sleeping. But, I wasn’t. The gift was wonderful. I regret not sitting or waking up. I regret not hugging my Dad.

Gifts were always welcome. Books from the barrow at Manchestet Victoria Station, from Mum and Dad were always a treasure. Animal books, and adventures became habit. Over the years Mum would collect tokens and send off for hugely discounted books. I still have some here in China now. They’re both sentimental and functional. Dad would sometimes find stray Lego bricks and these little tokens (of an expensive luxury toy) fitted well. The two square road pieces with a helipad and three lanes were rarely out of use. I know that the once-paraffin barrel of Lego passed from me to Astrid and Paul, and then over to Shaun and Christina. So, a collection started by Mum and Dad has served well.

After completing the Morecambe Bay CrossBay run, I spotted Dad near the finish line and he took some photos of me looking shattered and void of energy. Cheers Dad! I was so happy to see Dad, that day, at Hest Bank. I think Christina and Shaun with there with the West Highland terrier Jerry. Either way after a mostly solo half-marathon distance through Morecambe Bay, it was a heartwarming sight. Also, it was at one of Dad’s favourite places, a sandy bank on the expanses of Morecambe Bay, complete with passing trains in close proximity.

There’s much more I can write about Dad. Perhaps I will one day.

Thank you kindly for your time.

Wikipedia

I was going to write about the artist César Manrique but Wikipedia has it covered.

I was going to pen a few lines about Peter Saville and his artistic influence on Manchester music culture but Wikipedia beat me to it.

I was going to draw up an outline of Manchester’s musical diversity but there’s no need as Wikipedia has shed the light on the matter.

I was going to scribe, jot and share much about Mancunian folklore and key moments but Wikipedia beat me to it.

I was going to foreground and draw a conclusion about life in Manchester but wouldn’t you know, Wikipedia snuck in on that one too.

Wikipedia, what haven’t you covered?

Midnight at the last and found.

Hello, hello, we are the City boys… 你好

Sat in the passenger seat across from my Dad, the warm fans blasted heat into my legs and the windows were wound down. The cool Lancashire air drifted in. We were returning from Morecambe to Manchester. It was probably a Sunday night. Dad had been playing heavy metal from Iron Maiden, the early stuff with drums plentiful.

“You see you’re losing, yet you still try The game just a’watches your life go by You’re playin’ well, Oh you’re playin’ the game.” – Meat Loaf’s song Razor’s Edge

Now, in he popped a new cassette, and on played Meat Loaf. The smooth tracks mixed with electric and melodic blues rock took me beyond the car journey. I’d suddenly been transported beyond my pre-teenage self into a world of words sang at just the right tempo to catch my ear. Razor’s Edge is my favourite track on the often-ridiculed album. It has a frantic feel but is such a short song in terms of lyrical content. That’s considering it’s just over 4 minutes long.

“I can tell by the look in your tear-filled eyes;
You need somebody you can hold onto; If you really want to, I’d love to hold you;
If you really want to, then I’d love to be the body that you hold onto.” – Meat Loaf’s song If You Really Want To

I still remember looking at my Dad at the wheel. As a small kid, I looked up to my Dad. He was a colossus of a man with shoulders like bridges and arms like tree trunks. His chest stuck out like a rugby forward. His hands were like two shovels. He smoked casually at the wheel, eyes forward into the traffic and we talked a little. City this. City that. I gained my passion for Manchester City from my Dad. Stories of the ballet on ice, Kippax crowds, Uncle George and Grandad at the games. King Colin Bell, the floral named Summerbee, Franny One-Pen (took me years to understand that name), Tony Book, Trevor Francis, John Bond, Asa Hartford, Paul Powers, Gerry Gow and so on. Many other names were mentioned but times eroding effect on a kid’s memories can be harsh.

We talked lego, steam trains and finally Dad introduced me to Meat Loaf. With the finale of the Midnight at The Lost and Found album, Dad ejected the cassette and popped in Bat Out of Hell. The first Meat Loaf album I’d heard had been like a warm up act. Now I was spellbound by the range of vocals, the ferocity and energy, the theatrical length of several tracks and the tracks within tracks. The lyrics of Jim Steinman were sensational and to this day are poetry in musical form. A few weekends later Dad played me Dead Ringer on vinyl. Fond memories. I can’t wait to talk with my Dad again on a video call soon. If only the VPN would work with Messenger, Skype or something to make it. easy. Here’s hoping. Until then writing helps homesickness.

Goodnight from China. 晚安

Colin Bell MBE 1946 – 2021

Colin Bell: 1946 – 2021

Let’s drink a drink a drink a drink/For Colin the King the King the King/He is the leader of Man City/He is the greatest inside Forward/that the world has ever seen.

I grew up on Colin Bell stories from my Dad, Uncle, and Granddad. Our kid had some too, but his playing days were before his time. Met Colin Bell many times in the years that City moved to the cold new grey City of Manchester Stadium. Can’t say, I was blown away, but I will say that talking with Colin Bell, was like talking to any down-to-earth person. He was quiet, welcoming and warm-hearted. Me being shy, I didn’t get a photo, but I did get a signature on more than one occasion. His Maine Road folklore will last long into the future.

Colin Bell MBE played 501 games (scoring 153) for City. He played about 48 games (scoring 9) for England. He began his career in Bury, scoring 25 goals in 82 games. He had a short spell at San Jose Earthquakes. Nicknamed after a racehorse, Nijinsky had stamina and was soon nicknamed The King of the Kippax. He played in the days of Bell, Lee and Summerbee. Having scored at the Maracana Stadium (against a Brazil team featuring Pele), Wembley, Maine Road and countless other grounds, the crowds were won over by the skilful player who was forced to retire from the game all too early. He would later move on into coaching at City with the youth and reserve teams. Following that he quietly held club ambassador roles.

Number one was Colin Bell, number two was Colin Bell, number three was Colin Bell…

My condolences to his widow, family and friends.

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.

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

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Ronald Lindsay Johnson (24 September 1889 – 29 May 1917)

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

Ronald Lindsay Johnson (24 September 1889 – 29 May 1917)

I knew of the Ronald Johnson Playing Fields long before FC United of Manchester went slicing into the earth around it. Located on Broadhurst Park, in Manchester’s Moston, I always recall the red brick cycling track within a fenced compound adjacent to the passing St. Mary’s Road. Discovering the Western Front Association website, I recently read about Ronald Johnson. Together with a profile on the Friends of Broadhurst Park, I started clicking left, right and centre.

Like many that saw battle in the horrors of The Great War, Captain Ronald Lindsay Johnson (picture courtesy of the Altrincham Guardian) died in action. He was just 28-years old. His shares at Johnson, Clapham & Morris engineers were put to use in creating a sports ground. Initially for employees it became a public ground in the 1930s following Johnson, Clapham & Morris’s move to Trafford Park. It has since seen cricket, football (notably Moston Juniors F.C.), school sports days, car boot sales, fun fairs and life.

I can still recall the damp earthly smells of the ground that measured around 8-acres, sandwiched between a primary school and number 335 St. Mary’s Road. The recreation area was in memorial to Captain Ronald Lindsay Johnson and opened on the 17th June 1922 (or 1925), with Ronald Johnson’s mother present. The cycle speedway track was unique to the area – and existed long before the Manchester Velodrome was created in anticipation of the 2002 Commonwealth Games. I wonder if any cyclist transitioned from there to the often named ‘medal factory’ in Clayton.

By 2011, F.C. United of Manchester were offered the land and their 4,400-seater stadium (for £6.5 million) followed. The name Broadhurst Park was naturally fitting, following a brief period as the Moston Community Stadium. The all-weather pitch has seen a Benfica B team all in a stone’s throw from what was once Moston Hall, and residence to local industrialist Sir Edward Tootal Broadhurst. The park itself a World War One donation to recognise victory.

The New East Manchester and Manchester City Council development, once the home of a metal working and fabrication business team, had been resisted by local residents. The loss of public open space coupled with inadequate parking provision seemed to be the main problems. 2,226 letters of objection (mostly locally sent) were beaten back by 5,635 letters (many outside of Manchester) of support. Manchester Council plodded on with a success at the Court of Appeal in March 2013. The covenant on the land has always been recreation – and for the people of Moston. The one thing I find upsetting is that there isn’t a plaque or statue to honour that for almost 90 years these fields held a different name – but perhaps it hasn’t been made yet, or notified well.

Significant contribution was made by the Football Foundation Community Facilities Fund, Sport England, F.C. United Community Shares scheme, fundraising, Manchester City Council loan and the Football Foundation Football Stadia Improvement Fund amongst others. F.C. Ted (see the link for reasoning about the name) moved in eventually. At an Annual General Meeting of FC United, 10 April 2014, the Ronald Johnson Ground was one of seven names proposed for the new ground. Sadly, the historic Ronald Johnson Playing Fields seemingly vanished. F.C. United played Benfica B to mark the date of Man United’s 1968 European Cup Final, the day Ronald Johnson ceased to live.

Ronald_Lindsay_Johnson

Ronald Lindsay Johnson (24 September 1889 – 29 May 1917)

Family: His parents were William Henry Johnson, died 1914 and Agnes Morton Johnson née Brown. Brother, William Morton Johnson, educated in Cambridge, died July 1916 (in military action, aged just 34 years old). Mother, opened the playing field in June 1922. Ronald was the youngest of six children.

Raised: Woodleigh on Bradgate Road in Dunham Massay

Studied: Summer Fields School, Eton. BA Classics (posthumous MA awarded), @ King’s College, Cambridge.

Lived: Australia, 1912 until August 1914 (at the Sydney branch of Messrs Johnson, Clapham & Morris)

Partner/Chairman: Johnson, Clapham & Morris’ Wire Works (engineers)

Served: As a junior in the Cadet Corps; then Officer Training Corps at Cambridge. Enlisted (2nd October 1914) in the 23rd Division [103 Brigade RFA], Royal Field Artillery. Commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant.

Rank: Acting Captain and Divisional Trench Mortar Officer (DTMO). Entered the theatre of war from 27th August 1915 (landed Boulogne).

Medals: 1914-15 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal

Responsibilities: co-ordinating the targeting and positioning of mortar batteries

Notable events: Survived a rifle bullet to the ear, 19th September 1916. Evacuated by H S Dieppe (hospital ship) but returned to service by 11th December 1916.

Cause of death: Pre-Battle of Messines (Flanders, Belgium) preparations. Hit by a German shell, near Zillebeke Lake by ‘Hill 60’. He died in transit on the way to the Field Hospital near Brandhoek.

Place of Rest: Brandhoek Military Cemetery, Belgium (Plot II, Row D, Grave 1).

Commemorated: Dunham (St. Mark’s) war memorial and the Kings College, Cambridge War Memorial.

Other than the Ronald Johnson Playing Fields, he was honoured with the naming of the Johnson Chemicals Labs, Adelaide University, Australia. He is also mentioned in the Cambridge University Book of Honour.

Further reading:  Who was Ronald Johnson ? (David O’Mara, Western Front Association (WFA))

Radical Cowherd

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suffragette City: We can be heroes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quarry Bank MIll September 2019 (30)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Mancunian Way, Dongguan

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

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

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


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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Woolly balls, Alan & Xi’an

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

Is that…? No, it can’t be. But, wait, it bloody well is. I‘ll have a gander to check. I stepped into a stationery store in Dalang, attached to the Dongguan Dalang Football Association (DGDLFA). Football culture and community has always interested me. The crest of one of the DGDLFA clubs resembled Man Utd’s badge. I’m sure any do. It’s a curse in any Asian nation that most fans follow a red team. Their flags are red, their Communist brothers in arms are red, red stars, red scarves, red packets, lucky blooming red. Everywhere.

Instead of worn old leather footballs on the central axis, this club, Dongguan Zhicheng F.C. has in place two woollen balls. Zhī (织)means weave or knit. Chéng (城) means city or wall. So, here we have it a woolly mammoth-aged club wrapped in cotton wool. On the top of the crest there are kind of lucky bells, and golden scrolls. There is a ball in pace of Salford Rugby Club’s stolen red devil. Six people fail to adhere to social distancing beneath the ball. The sixsome is an oddity in itself. Most people I know play 7-a-side in China, and sometimes, every now and then 5-a-side. There is football in the traditional 11-a-side format, which is lesser-spotted. I only know of one 6-a-side field in Dongguan. We use it regular on a rooftop. So, Dongguan Zhicheng F.C., what is this mutant game you are playing?! I was in the stationery shop, a foreigner, a rogue and an unexpected shopper. I had to investigate further.

Inside a larger, and rounder older Cantonese lady kind of sneered at me. She eventually asked what I was looking for. I uttered my crap Mandarin Chinese, “Wǒ zài kàn” (我在看). This in itself was bad, as she was clearly Cantonese. I had overheard her recording a flowing barrage of Canton dialect into her right-hand-clutched-like-a-Lego-man-mobile-phone. Can we say phone now? Most phones are mobile now. Landline phones in China are mostly ornamental, right? I could have said to her, “Wǒ zhǐ shì kàn kàn” (我只是看看。) Zhǐ shì means just/merely/only. I didn’t. We all know by now, that I was on a reconnaissance gathering mission. If anyone is monitoring me, I am buggered. Proper buggered. She said, a simple, “Hǎo de” (好的) because it was okay to look around right. It’s a stationery shop and not Area 51.

After selecting some useful stickers and highlighter pens, of various shades of sky blue, a man emerged from the adjoining office door of the Dongguan Dalang Football Association (DGDLFA). He looked at me with suspicion. There was a smidgeon of something in his eye. It could have been dust, curiosity or any other emotion. Maybe the bright yellow faded to peach coloured football shirt I wore was too loud. We looked eye to eye for far too long. I had to buckle and break the moment. The man’s square face framed in black glasses and a thick head of black hair age no emotion away. His game could have been poker. I crumpled and folded my coolness but calmly let out a dry word, “nĭ hăo” (你好). After all, who doesn’t like hearing a stranger say hello. We can’t all be Villanelle from Killing Eve. Some of us must be polite and less murderous.

After selecting some gold dust items, I went to the check-out and here the Lǎobǎn (老板/boss) chatted to me. “Nǐ xǐhuān mànlián ma?”, he said. 你喜欢曼联吗 translates to something offensive to me, and to many. He had asked, “Do you like Manchester United?” My response was calm, and to the point, “Wǒ bù xǐhuān mànlián” (我不喜欢曼联). I do not like Manchester United. It’s a fact. You can check my social media for diatribe and other denunciation of that club. There are rants, periods of haranguing and tirades that probably go back to 1982. I crossed my right hand over my chest and pointed to the crest upon my left breast. “Wǒ ài mànchéng”, said I. I love Manchester City (我爱曼城). He looked me up and down, smiled, and wearing his red polo top, with the crest that resembled Old Trafford’s footballing giants, he proudly said, “Wǒ zhīchí lìwùpǔ” (我支持利物浦). He supports Liverpool. He eventually told me in a mixture of Chinese and his good English that his team liked the badge of Man Utd. I asked him about his connection to Liverpool. None. He didn’t even watch games before the Champions League win last year.

And, that’s one of the reasons football struggles in China. A lack of clear identity. The balls of wool made me think that this team in 大朗 (Dàlǎng town) had pride on their locally known and nationally famous name of wool. Instead I left wondering why a Liverpool fan, would create a team with an almost Man Utd crest. He told me how they’d started a team from a school field in 2018 and then two teams, other teams followed. They play regular 8-a-side because 8 is lucky. I asked why their badge only has 6 people. He said the goalkeeper is not a player. I said, for 8-a-side, this still leaves his team one player short. He said there are 8 outfield players and a goalkeeper. That’s a lot of players on a FIFA regulation 7-a-side field. And, they use a size four football, not a regulation size five football. Good luck to the China national football team.

As I paid my bill, we talked international and domestic football. The excitement that the Premier League in England is returning at a time, that China will also welcome a restart to football. The Chinese Super League is set to resume soon (2020中国平安中国足球协会超级联赛). On July the 3rd, the league will be split into two groups. As China closed its borders to foreigners, the CSL upped the maximum number of players a team could have, from six to seven (throughout a season). At any one time, only six are allowed within the squad, of which, only five can play in one game. Of those five in one game, only four can be on the field at any one time. Following me? Good. Of those four, no foreign goalkeepers are allowed. Taiwanese, Hong Kong or Macau citizens are Chinese as long as they started their professional career as a player there.

Alan Douglas Borges de Carvalho, born José Bonifácio, Brazil is Chinese now. As is Elkeson de Oliveira Cardoso, but he was born in Coelho Neto, Maranhão, Brazil (which you won’t find on a map of China). The former player, Alan (阿兰), arrived from Red Bull Salzburg on 2015. The latter, Elkeson (艾克森/ Ài Kèsēn) arrived in 2013. Chinese citizenship via naturalisation has given both the chance to play for China’s national team. Ricardo Goulart (高拉特) from São José dos Campos, Brazil awaits FIFA to decide if he could play in the stages of the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualification. Aside frome Mousa Dembélé at Guangzhou R&F, Paulinho at Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao, Alex Teixeira at Jiangsu Suning, Marouane Fellaini at Shandong Luneng Taishan, Stephan El Shaarawy at Shanghai Greenland Shenhua there aren’t too many players out there that are household names. 27 Brazilians and 3 former Brazilians make up the 80 possible overseas players for 16 teams. Amongst the Brazilians, Hulk, at Shanghai SIPG isn’t the incredible one, but former-Chelsea player Oscar at the same team has a few awards to his name.

So aside from my covert quest into the local world of football, this turned into a great shop too. I found two A4 paper trimmers – also known as guillotines! Nothing says stationer like a machine with a blade named after a French Revolution beheading device. I hope the Chinese parliament and security forces don’t round me up for beheading postcards or cutting corners.

Xi’an: The Original Home of Football? Think Cuju (蹴鞠)

球迷会名称/Club name: 西安曼城球迷会 Xi’an Manchester City fans Association Club

球迷会联系方式/Club contacts: 阿圭罗的小媳妇儿 [Aguero’s Wife]

微博或其他社交媒体链接/Weibo or social media links: 西安曼城球迷会(微博名)
微信账号/Wechat account: 西安曼城球迷会(公众号)

关于我们/About us: 古称长安。长安城作为古代第一个人口破百万的国际化大都市,北濒渭河,南依秦岭,八水润长安。在这座古老的城市里,住着一群有着蓝色信仰的人们,这群人的存在给这座城市注入了新的活力,这就是我们——西安曼城球迷会。

不论你是土生土长的西安人,还是身在西安的异乡人,亦或是远在他乡的西安乡党,只要你信仰蓝月,我们都向你敞开怀抱。

Xi’an, is an ancient town, once known as Chang’an. Xi’an was one of the Four Great Ancient Capitals. Xi’an is the original starting point of the Silk Road. Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s Terracotta Army is based here. Bordered to the north by the Weihe River, the southern Qinling Mountains and known for 8 rivers, the city has great diversity and history. The sky blue and white faith of City reached Xi’an in modern times and adds vitality to a City mostly know for its great food and castle walls. Whether you are a native to Xi’an, or a visitor to Xi’an, Xi’an’s OSC opens their arms to meet you and your love for the Blue Moon. No reds allowed. 

Expect to eat: Roujiamo Chinese Hamburger (肉夹馍); Liangpi (凉皮); Paomo Mutton, beef, and Bread Pieces in Soup (羊肉泡馍); Biang Biang Noodles (油泼扯面); Jinggao Steamed rice cake stuffed with honey dates and black beans (甑糕).

Expect to see: Fortifications of Xi’an & Xi’an City Wall (西安城墙); Xi’an Bell Tower (西安钟楼); the Drum Tower of Xi’an (西安鼓楼); Mount Li (骊山); Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor (Qin Shi Huang) (秦始皇陵); Terracotta Army (兵马俑); Shaanxi Galaxy (陕西银河); Shaanxi Guoli F.C. (陕西国力)Shaanxi Renhe Commercial Chanba F.C. (陕西人和商业浐灞)Shaanxi Dongsheng (陕西东盛); Xi’an Evening News (西安晚报); Qinqiang opera (乱弹).
Did you know? Arthur Gostick Shorrock [from Blackburn, Lancashire, England] and Moir Duncan founded the Sianfu Mission in 1892.

U.K. Twin cities & Towns: Edinburgh, Bury St. Edmunds & Birmingham

爱与和平/Peace and love

Manchester Remembers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Georgina Callander, 18 (a college student from Lancashire)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wendy Fawell, 50 (a former primary school worker)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

爱与和平/Peace and love

///////////

Need further inspiration?

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

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

John Nichols: You Know His Name

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

/vɪm/

noun

informal
noun: vim
  1. energy; enthusiasm.
    “in his youth he was full of vim and vigour
    Origin: mid 19th century (originally US): perhaps from Latin, accusative of vis ‘energy’.

Today I am mostly going to talk about Vimto. Well, maybe not talk, but write. Yes, today, I’ll write about Manchester’s John Nichols and Vimto. When I was at RAC Inspection Services in Cheadle, Stockport, we used to have a fizzy Vimto option on the drink vending machine. It’d pump out gassy and sugar-free purple liquid into a disposable cup, or mug if you remembered to place one down quick enough.

I have always enjoyed Vimto. My Gran and my Nana used to give me steaming warm cups of it when I was too young to touch the top of door frames. Not that the height of doorframes was a prerequisite for drinking the purple-golden cordial. I can even remember having it pumped on draught at the Working Man’s Club in Newton Heath and Morrison’s supermarket in Failsworth. Since those days, I have supped this drink at the Etihad Stadium, in Abu Dhabi’s airport and on Hua Hin beach in Thailand.

Vimto was originally a health tonic. It contains about 3% fruit juice concentration. The key fruits are possibly from Lancashire: raspberries and blackcurrants. There are grapes too. Don’t ask me which valley of Lancashire they came from – I can only assume Bowker Vale. It sounds plausible. Herbs and spices are bunged in too. Preston’s Ellis Wilkinson Mineral Water Manufacturer produced the water early on. It was really a health business on a healthy path of growth.

“My father used to go into work on Saturdays in those days, back in the mid-to-late ’60s, and so there was a fascination. And in those days my grandfather, who invented the product in the beginning, was still around.” – Grandson John Nichols

(John) Noel Nichols came from Shortridge, Scotland to 19 Granby Row, Manchester. By 1908 he had invented his new drink, just off Sackville Street, and around the corner from Back Acton Street. After 4 years his vim tonic was shortened in name to Vimto. The wholesaler of herbs, spices and medicines had found something quite popular amongst local people – especially in the shadow of the temperance movement and the new 1908 Licensing Act. Soft drinks were a new and exciting market. It changed from health tonic to cordial by 1913 and the rest they say is history.

It is not clear if John Nichols would have approved of the Purple Ronnie character or the slightly rude Giles Andreae poems (friend of screenwriter Richard Curtis). These highly marketable poems and colourful animations appeared in the 1990s and set a tone for a trendy drink – as an almost indie alternative to the giants of Pepsi and Coca-Cola. Nowadays the family link is retained within Nichols plc. Grandson John Nichols is the Non-Executive Chairman. His two sons also work within Nichols plc.

“We have a very open, friendly approach and encourage any member of staff to talk to the management team about their ideas for the business. Innovation has been key to our success in developing the iconic Vimto brand and identifying new brands, products and market opportunities.” – John Nichols, interview with Warren Partners.

Vimto Cordial has diversified from its original form, to sugar-free varieties, fizzy carbonated cans and bottles, cherry and strawberry editions. Then there is Vimto Remix. And sweets. Ice-lollies too. With new space needed, Vimto moved to the edge of Manchester into Salford’s Chapel Street, now home to the luxury Vimto Gardens apartment complex. By the year 1927, they then scattered to Old Trafford (then home to the teenage-aged Manchester Utd. F.C. who had by then picked up five senior domestic trophies) before heading back onto Mancunian soil in Wythenshawe by 1971. Nowadays the multi-billion dollar American-Canadian beverage and food service provider Cott Corporation produces Vimto in Leicestershire and Yorkshire. Presumably both exotic locations have better access to grapes. Traditional bottled soft drink manufacturer A.G. Barr in Forfar and Cumbernauld still make the pop too.

Vimto Soft Drinks and Newton-le-Willows based Nichols plc retain the license alongside other favourites like Panda Pops. Under their Cabana name they manufacture a fair range of soft drinks and post-mix solutions – both at home and overseas to around 80 plus countries. Outside of the traditional market, Vimto enjoys huge presence in the middle-east and Arabian countries. It is made in Yemen, The Gambia and the Saudi Arabian city of Dammam City. It is apparently produced under license (since 1979 by Aujan & Brothers) in order for demand around Ramadan and other occasions that demand fasting. Vimto is so international that it is even made by Mehran Bottlers in Pakistan, is once again back in India, and Nepal’s Himganga Beverage Pvt Ltd. There are currently no products available in China or Taiwan or Hong Kong. Macau? No.

Granby Row has a park now, called Vimto Park with a statue to the drink. It’s a very Mancunian statue erected in 1992. Most cities celebrate iconic politicians and movements, but Manchester being Manchester, we celebrate the birth of a soft drink. The artist Kerry Morrison carved wood from a sustainable forest. Again, forward-thinking and considerate!

12th July 2015 Manchester centre and City campus (15)

Anyway, I’m sat in Dongguan, China, parched and thinking, maybe, I need a meeting. Who wants to invest? Drop me a line. During these COVID-19 outbreak time, we need more sunshine. Let’s bring the purple to the red land of China.

“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” – Was it Mohandas Gandhi who said that? Arleen Lorrance?

Kippax, Red Devils & Dreams

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

The day before I was born (27th October 1982), Manchester City beat Wigan Athletic through two Paul Power goals. Three days later they beat Swansea City by two goals to one at Maine Road in the football league. Denis Tueart scored the first whilst Asa Hartford scored what would be the winning goal. Fast forward some years to 2020, to Dongguan city, China, during the sleepy stuffy hours of May the 4th… and a kind of nightmare.

I’ve been to many football games and the majority have been at Maine Road, The Etihad Stadium and one at Manchester City’s other home ground of the 21st century (Oakwell, Barnsley). There have been some great memories over the years but today I awoke from a surreal nightmare and felt I was back in 1996, really annoyed by City’s loss to Barnsley. The dream I recall, was an odd one. I was walking into the lower tier of the almost-new Kippax stand. Up some steps and into the beautiful atrium of the ground. The bright greens of the field, the darker Kippax blues and the sky blues of the stands, with much cheer and optimism. Alan Ball had been fired not long before and club legend Asa Hartford added Scottish steel to the rocky City’s manager hotseat.

barnsley home 1996 to 97 progI remember the game well for an exciting 21-year-old called Jeff Whitley stepped onto the field for his debut. “Officer” Dibble returned to goal in a game that saw my favourite player Uwe Rösler wasteful. Steve Lomas had put a chance on a plate for him, but I guess the advancing Barnsley goalkeeper had done his maths well in advance. City fell a goal behind due to some calamitous defending but restored the game through a Steve Lomas cross turned in by Nigel Clough (son of Brian). Bald left-back defender Frontzeck hugged the hell out of Clough as he pushed him away. Later on, young debutant Jeff Whitley gifted Barnsley the winning goal opportunity and Trinidad & Tobago striker Marcelle now had two goals. It was a mistake. We all make them. I’m certain Jeff Whitley came back a better player because of that moment.

I can recall rolling up my matchday programme and heading to The Clarence pub with my Dad, struggling to keep up with his pace and half-understanding his anger at the City team. I was a spotty thirteen-year-old kid with curly hair and no appeal to the opposite gender. Different times, different hair. The Kippax had been bouncing with atmosphere but at times it had been so quiet, silenced by the visiting team and their strength over a disjointed City squad. From my dream I had all that, and the Manchester United fans laughing at me in school the week after. Even the Stockport County fans in Reddish Vale School enjoyed a laugh at my expense. I don’t recall Clewsy the lone Blackpool fan having a dig at me though.

“City, well, quite simply in a state of turmoil.” – host Elton Welsby, Granada Goal Extra, September 7th, 1996

The 1996/97 season was a drab affair. As it was Asa Hartford would step aside as caretaker manager for Steve Coppell and then Frank Clark. Uwe Rösler would bag 17 goals that season and take the club’s golden boot. City would finish 14th and spend the following season wallowing in the Football League First Division once again as Barnsley gained promotion to the Premiership. Manchester City weren’t always that bad, sometimes they were worse, and sometimes not bad, and now they are amazing. Nor was the Kippax so quiet at times, despite the crap football.

Manchester City 1-2 Barnsley / Division One (New) / Saturday 07 September 1996. Attendance: 26464. CITY 1 Andy Dibble / 2 John Foster < 53’ Rae Ingram / 3 Michael Frontzeck < 75’ Gerry Creaney / 4  Steve Lomas / 5 Kit Symons / 6 Nigel Clough [Goal] / 7 Nicky Summerbee / 8 Jeff Whitley / 9 Paul Dickov < 75’ Martin Phillips / 10 Georgi Kinkladze / 11 Uwe Rosler  Barnsley Watson, Eadon, Appleby, Sheridan, Davis, de Zeeuw, Marcelle [GOALS 2], Redfearn, Wilkinson, Liddell, Thompson – subs Regis (81’), Bullock(unused), Bosancic (unused)

The new Kippax stand had been opened by club goalkeeping legend Bert Trautmann in October 1995. It would stand on the former ‘Popular side’ of the field opposite the Main Stand of Maine Road until 2003 when it faced demolition due to Manchester City’s relocation to the then City of Manchester Stadium. Back in 1956, the ‘Popular side’ became known as the ‘The Kippax’ at what many called ‘The Wembley of the North’. Money from the FA Cup final win (that same year), featuring Bert Trautmann, gave the ‘The Kippax’ a roof to shelter from the very Mancunian weather. This vocally active and huge terrace of noise was well-known in football for many, many years. Unlike other famous noisy football stands, this ran goal-end to goal-end, much like the players upon the pitch. The passionate Kippax stand gave name to the fanzine, King of the Kippax. The Kippax name came from Kippax Street behind the stand itself. Kippax though, is a parish village within Leeds and Yorkshire. It was called Chipesch back in Domesday Book of 1086 and later sometimes spelt as Kippeys, Kypask and Kypax. City’s stand could have been named after kippers. The word itself may relate to ash trees.

“One of my first memories was we played Twente in the UEFA Cup and when we scored, it was utter bedlam. Arms and legs going everywhere. I ‘d never experienced anything like it before.” – Sean Riley, Failsworth, Manchester Evening News

As kids we used to play football with tin cans, bottles (glass wasn’t unusual) and any other rags we could boot around. Think of the back of the old Kippax as a kind of nursery or kindergarten. Following standing areas being outlawed, so too were tin-can football stands. Instead new VIP areas and executive boxes found a home over areas once known for hide and seek and tiggy-it games. The new three-tier stand was full of seats and at one stage the highest football stand in England. Utd fans loved to sing about City being a massive team because of the highest floodlights in the land and then the highest stand.

“When we scored everyone would charge around but it felt like you always ended up back where you started. That’s how it felt to me anyway. Night games were just amazing. Those cup runs we had in the 70s, it was absolutely rocking. Unbelievable atmosphere.” – Brian Houghton, Droylsden, Manchester Evening News

As Manchester City moved to bigger things, the Kippax nickname carried over to the new stadium, with the East Stand sometimes being referred to as the Kippax. The familiar Kippax seat colours filled the now Etihad Stadium from day one of the 2002 Commonwealth Games. The old and new Kippax stands at Maine Road witnessed Rugby League Championship play-off finals, League Cup finals, Charity Shield games, David Bowie, Queen, Oasis, The Rolling Stones, and even religious meetings.

“It was just an assault on the senses. It was always packed, everyone was always pushing and shoving. Some people didn’t even bother going to the toilet, they just went where they stood. But it was the atmosphere that drew you there, it really was incredible, unlike anything we have now.” – Kevin Parker, secretary of City’s official supporters club, Manchester Evening News

City were always the main tenants at Maine Road but a certain Manchester United called Maine Road home from 1945–1949. Old Trafford having been bombed by the Germans (and possibly Uwe Rösler’s granddad if you believe the t-shirt) made Man Utd homeless. So, City being City offered the use of Maine Road. During the 1947/48 season, the Reds set a record of 81,962 at a Football League game, against Arsenal. Probably fair to say, in the post war years, many fans would have gone and watched their rivals and City fans would happily have watched anyone at their home ground.  And then in 1956–1957, the ‘Heathens’ soon to be known as ‘Red Devils’, came knocking and played three out of four European games at Maine Road. City had floodlights. United didn’t.

City’s Hyde Road, Maine Road and Etihad Stadium were or are all in Mancunian districts. Old Trafford, on the edge of Salford Docks, may have a Manchester postcode is in the Metropolitan Borough of Trafford. It isn’t in the City of Manchester or the City of Salford. However, Greater Manchester (formed 1st April 1974) mixed some of the ancient county boundaries of Lancashire, Cheshire, Derbyshire and even Yorkshire (Saddleworth way) to give Mancunian flavour and togetherness. Maine Road, like Old Trafford had remained a reasonably easy place to access and football was the draw for red or blue for many years. Geography used to be the biggest debate between City and Utd fans, before City were founded in 2008.

Heathen chemistry? Matt Busby had experienced City as a player and would go on to manage United over successful years. Apparently, he hated his team being called the ‘Busby Babes’ and wasn’t too keen on ‘Heathens’ so he stole Salford rugby’s nickname (which was given to them by the French press in 1934: ‘Les Diables Rouges’). Even though Barnsley F.C. are known as ‘The Tykes’ or ‘The Colliers’, but for me ‘The Reds’ of Yorshire will always be known as the ‘Red Devils’ because of that 1997/97 game – and a few bad nights’ sleep at 7 Days Inn in China (owned by current Barnsley F.C. Chairman Chien Lee).

“Buster will be the first British £10 million pound player.” – Alan Ball, as Manchester City manager after signing Martin Phillips

I blame last night’s dreams on Martin “Buster” Phillips. Why? Because yesterday, with Murray’s F.C. we had a 6-a-side tournament on a rooftop field, with only 18 players. As the games went on, they slowed down dramatically. The 32°C heat plus 100% humidity and direct sunlight didn’t help. During a break Alex from Spain and Lucho from Argentina were asking what we called someone who couldn’t score in front of an open goal. I said, “in Manchester, we call them Buster Phillips.” Sorry. Dream well.

Vivid moments on the Earth’s crust.

好 (nĭ hăo) / Namaste / Welcome!


Eddie, Eddie give us a wave!

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


 

The journey goes on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

FB_IMG_1581173028754

A refuge (with passion)

Sawasdeekhap / Namaste / Welcome!

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

Speaking of suffering…

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

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


Back to Chef Cha’s?

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

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

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

The Red Blue (or is it a Blue Red?)

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

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

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


 

Isn’t politics boring?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How confident are you right now?

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

What difference can you make?

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

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

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

What are your beliefs in terms of the NHS?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SAMSUNG CSC

Finally, do you have any further comments to make?

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

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

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

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