R Kid – Little Big Sister

Happy birthday to Astrid!

I know being in lockdown isn’t ideal and staying at my Mum’s for the best park of a year isn’t so independent, but at least our kid is safe and sound.

Astrid has the unfortunate month of birth that falls in the shadow of Christmas and just after the January sales dry up, usually. This year has been testing and it seems the future is also difficult. I know my sister is strong and she’ll do her best to keep herself busy and relaxed. Copious amounts of Beyonce and other vocalists will probably be heard. YouTube will be in good company with our kid playing tune after tune.

Our kid has always been wonderful to me, sharing her Hotel Chocolat chocolates, buying me snazzy and fragrant soaps from Lush or simply watching movies with me and our brother Paul. Astrid has always and will always be my friend and sister. I can’t wait to catch her when I’m in the U.K. next. We’ll have a good natter and a party later. Until then, all my love and best wishes for? this special day.

Peace and love to Our Kid, Big Bro x

Goodness Gracious Me, Chapel Street!

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

Mother: “Look, I’m a student. I’m balancing a traffic cone on my head.” /     Son: “That’s not a traffic cone; it’s a small aubergine.” / Mother: Aubergine, traffic cone. I’m too drunk to tell the difference! – Goodness Gracious Me, BBC TV comedy series.

I’d had to move because Mum and her partner had to relocate. I was uprooted from New Moston School and sent to a strange foreign land: Clayton. I hated life in Clayton Brook Primary School. Luckily, I would spend just one and a bit years at the school.

“It took John a little while to settle down in class 3. He is a bright boy and is now working very well. Although he is very untidy, he has a good understanding and has been very enthusiastic about some topics we have tackled. He wants to do well and his attitude to work is excellent. Number work is also good, but he does tend to be careless. A very good start at Clayton Brook.” – I. Proudfoot, year 2 teacher, Clayton Brook Primary School, 3rd July 1990.

Chapel Street Primary School made me stronger. It was never an easy time there, but it wasn’t the worst time of my life. To my younger self, bullying and getting into childhood scraps probably readied me emotionally for puberty and the tests of young adult life. It didn’t scar me. In fact, I look back and think of how much of a little terror I was. I made silly mistakes – more than any other kid (probably).

Before Chapel Street, I’d already been at New Moston Primary School and Clayton Brook Primary School. They’d taken our classes to Moston Baths and Ravensbury Primary School’s swimming pools respectively. At Levenshulme Baths, Chapel Street Primary School students had long been making the area into a madhouse. Levenshulme Baths used to be located opposite Levenshulme Library and both were next to the back gate of our school. The Bluebell Pub (at one stage ran by a parent of a classmate) was to the other extreme of the back of the school, and lay across the north-eastern flank of the school was Chapel Street Park. Here I can remember great times playing football with Ben McGreavy and Kevin Fairfax, or climbing (trees?) with Dan and Peter Ridyard, or digging for treasures with Alex Muir.

At Chapel Street, I recall the great dinnerladies being ever so friendly and the dinnertime assistants at lunchtime (yeah, there’s a whole problem of terminology regarding mealtimes going on there). In the morning we’d have a bottle of milk around 10am. To this day, I sup as much milk as the cows can produce. I draw the line at soy milk. It gives men breasts, I read somewhere. The school day had three breaks, all of which involved the playground, running around crazy (pretending I was a velociraptor after seeing Jurassic Park at the Davenport Theatre; or I was one of the Royal Air Force Red Arrows after attending Woodford Airshow). I had my imagination and Micro Machine cars or Lego figures were in or out of my pocket often.  I wasn’t the closest friend to anyone.

“How big is his danda?” – example of a catchphrase from Goodness Gracious Me, BBC TV comedy series

Mrs Clegg’s class during year 4 meant that I would lose many Micro Machines and Lego men. Her big plastic laundry bag must have held hundreds, if not thousands, or possibly millions of them. She was an incredibly strict teacher who like many in her profession drank copious amounts of coffee. I recall her reeking of coffee. At that time, I hated the smell of coffee, but in hindsight, she knew best, coffee is wonderful. Although now, I only drink 1-2 cups a day, if any. I’m in China and there are too many wonderful teas to sample. This week at St. Lorraine Anglo-Chinese Primary School, Miss Zeng gave me Peach Oolong tea and anther oolong tea that tastes like champagne. At primary school, as a kid, all I’d drink was corporation pop (water) and the odd Barr’s Dandelion and Burdock if I had 20p to hand.

I joined Chapel Street Primary School in year 3 with a short-haired teacher (who I cannot remember the name of) charged to calm me down. I’d entered part way through the school year and was a little unsettled. I soon became friends with the shortest member of the class, Peter Ridyard. He had a few brothers and sisters. His sibling clan of seven weren’t all dwarves. Far from it. I always remember his long-haired taller and older by a year or so sister Amanda with golden-red hair flowing like Rapunzel. I was scared of her instantly. She was a girl and a taller one at that. Then there was Steven, and he was older and much more streetwise. He was the guy with the cool kids and maybe some trouble. Apart from one incident over they years, Steven was fair to me, and never gave me problems. Actually, he stopped a few local knobheads kicking the crap out of me. Dan was Peter’s younger taller brother. Jodie, Adam and Sally made up the younger trio of the Ridyard clan. I used to sing to the theme of a Toys’R’Us advert tune, “Millions of Ridyards all under one roof…” but I did it with affection and jest. One thing about their mother, Margaret, she is a damn strong woman and has raised seven kids over a tight age-range. Dan and Peter would go onto be my best friends. I’d enjoy good friendships with Alex Muir and James Cliff too, but both would drift away in time.

My friends were needed because not long after moving to Levenshulme, my sister Astrid was hit by a car. She would endure many weeks in Booth Hall Children’s Hospital and then years of schooling at a specialist school to help her recuperate and catch up, before she could finally start at Chapel Street Primary School. I love my sister Astrid fiercely and seeing her curled up with traction devices and machines attached to her is a vision that haunts me. When she was finally back out running, I had my sister back. But, around this time, ‘Titch’ was mobile and in the education system. Her and Paul (the youngest of our tribe on my Mum’s side) grew closer. Astrid and Paul were inseparable as I started to outgrow them and their games. It remains a pleasant memory to recall.

5AJ with Mr Andrew Jones was where I switched from maths work lover to someone curious and interested by words. Mr Jones would set us challenges such as write as many words as possible beginning with ‘st’ but we must understand the meaning of every word. I read the dictionary. I started with ‘st’ and then I carried on through all the words starting with S. Then I went to the letter T. I decided I needed to read the prequels A through to R. After that, I decided U to Z needed a look. It wasn’t exciting and I understood very little, but I actually read a dictionary. I recall building Lego models at home and stopping to take in a page, with occasional writing of the word, running downstairs and asking my mum how I could say a particular word. She must have thought I was madness personified.

Around about 1997, I discovered Goodness Gracious Me on BBC Radio 4. Sanjeev Bhaskar, Kulvinder Ghir, Meera Syal and (my first crush on an Asian girl) Nina Wadia. I fell in love with Nina Wadia’s voice on radio and then when I did see the television version of the show, well she didn’t disappoint. Not that I could focus on her physique or voice. The show was far too funny for that. Here was a mould-breaking show, fast, witty and dynamic. It laughed itself, it mocked stereotypes, it ripped apart tradition. It flipped views of the British over to those of South Asia. It parodied and spoofed and after just 3 TV series, it left the world a better place. The best sketch has to be: Going for an English. In this sequence a group of Asian friends go for an English meal after a few lassis (non-alcoholic yogurt drink). They mispronounce and bumble the waiter’s name. They request the “blandest thing on the menu” and request a “stronger” steak and kidney pie. Who can possibly eat 24 plates of chips? The parody of British people, and you know there are some who still do this, getting drunk and going to end the night at an Indian restaurant. Surely, we’ve all met the macho guy who orders the hottest vindaloo. How many papadums can one actually eat?! Cheque, please. I need to go and watch Asian Top Gear again.

“The people here believe the tree to be sacred, so that even if one leaf falls onto the track, the whole line is immediately shut down.” – Goodness Gracious Me, BBC TV comedy series, sketch: Great Train Journeys of the World: Fenchurch Street to Southend

During the final year of primary school Miss Rowe (6RO) and her classroom assistant calmed me down. When the final last day came, I never collected signatures on old schoolbooks or signed my school jersey. I just walked out of the gate saying thank you and goodbye. It didn’t seem to be a big thing. The sterile looking Reddish Vale Secondary School awaited. I would move on a free transfer from Manchester’s educaton authority to that of Stockport. How bad could it be?

Their gaff, their rules?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

John II

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

Mum and Paul soon needed a larger house; there were five of us and only two rooms.  We arrived at Broom Avenue, off Broom Lane in 1991.  This road was located in the district of Levenshulme.  Levenshulme was famed for its antiques village, and very little else.  I started at a new primary school, this time Chapel Street Primary.  The new challenge of making friends was not easy.  Year 3 was not easy.  The bullies soon discovered new prey.  Who better to pick on than a dictionary-crazed, mathematically-ahead-of-them, wildlife-loving kid who was way ahead of them, or seemed to be because he didn’t eat erasers or fart the national anthem using his armpit as an instrument. I never thought I was better than anyone. They projected this onto me. Made me feel inferior by appearing superior. I hurt lots. Every day. Every year for nearly four years straight.  I became more and more distant from the other kids, as I often found people would reject me as a friend. I didn’t trust anyone, initially.  Troublesome Peter Ridyard, and snobby Alex Muir became my friends.  It was rare I would play out with them until year 5, as they lived far away at the other end of Broom Lane [although just 2km away, it seemed, back then, to be closer to London].

Within days of moving into Levenshulme, Pup had run from the house, and Astrid had run after him between parked cars.  Astrid was hit and landed many feet from the point of impact as the car screeched to a halt.  I remember the day as it was so confusing for me.  I had been taken to see trains go by with Ernie (my Granny Ivy’s partner) at Levenshulme station.  We were eating Gregg’s Bakery pasties on the platform and he was telling me and Grannyny Ivy all about how trains worked and the good old days of steam.  We returned to my house to discover from the neighbour’s Mary and Bill that they had all rushed to hospital with Astrid.  Later that day Paul returned with Paul junior.  He told us how it had happened, and how Astrid was.  She had suffered severe head injuries and a broken leg.  It would take weeks at Booth Hall Children’s Hospital (where I had my hernia operation aged 7), and months of intense physiotherapy and treatment at Rodney House Specialist Support & Outreach School before Astrid with recover.

The day after the accident Dad collected Pup from our home.  The only way I would now see my closest friend was when Dad would pick me up.

During May 1991, within days of starting school I finally swam my length at Levenshulme swimming baths.  It was apparent I was not going to be a channel swimmer, but I did progress from a width to a length.  Class 4PC as dictated by the tyrant Miss Clegg started with a bang.  Within two weeks I had many things confiscated by the hairy-nosed teacher.  Two Lego men, countless Micro Machine cars, and twenty pence (as provided by the tooth-fairy) went into her large laundry-bag-come-personal-suitcase.  My attendance at school however was excellent.  I did enjoy learning even if I hated the bullies.  Miss Clegg referred to me as a loner on many occasions but made no effort to help me make new friends.  I was behaving sensibly (to mix and mingle amongst the other monsters may have got me into trouble and maybe even eaten by Miss Clegg).

Miss Clegg was an enforcer of learning.  Whilst under her control, our class worked as hard as possible.  We worked on as many ways as to wind her up on the class trip to Levenshulme library [a place of dreams], we sneak off and hunt down the Anne Hooper’s books for a giggle.  We also rotated the “who can throw a rubber [eraser] at Cleggy and get away with it” game amongst ourselves.  At parents’ evening as with many years of schooling, I’d be told alongside my parents that my work was great, and my work rate was above average but my handwriting was poor.  Maybe then I had foreseen the Computer-typed work age.  Besides in Miss Cleggs class would I shiver often at the thought of being told to slow down and let others catch up.  That, and I had to keep an eye on my back, at the bullies. How could my handwriting be neat under those conditions?

In September 1993, a wise and witty teacher by the name Andrew Jones began to teach us.  He allowed us more room with our imaginations and helped us with our vocabularies.  This teacher was dedicated to his job.  He helped my confidence, encouraged me to be recognised by the class in teams, and congratulated me on a determined improvement of my handwriting.  During this academic year several pupils visited Ghyll Head Outdoor Education Centre, close to Lake Windermere.  The car park view looked over the great lake.  Our supervisory teachers included Mr Jones, Mrs Treanor (the deputy head-teacher), and Miss Spencer.

On the Monday we explored the site grounds of Ghyll Head, climbed the rope course, and I also met numerous mallard ducks.  They were already hand tame and loved the bread I had brought them.  On the Tuesday, we enjoyed rock scrambling on Humphrey Head overlooking Morecambe Bay.  We also kayaked across Lake Windermere seeing several swan eggs along an island to the West of the lake.  The other days varied from horse-riding like John Wayne, to gorge walking, tunnelling two miles up an underground flood drain, caving in Ingleside (Yorkshire) and singing on many mini-buses.  On the final night we had a barbeque and Mr Jones claimed he was drinker a Larger drink, but we all knew it was Lager!  During my stay at Ghyll Head, I had to sleep for five nights in room Gimmer.  There was also five others there, and we chatted late into the night with mad post-mushy-peas farting epidemics. The older kids were friendlier than the younger students there. I didn’t feel threatened.

The end of year five arrived, and before departing for home for the summer period, Mr Jones very kindly gave me a set of encyclopaedias he had learnt from as a child.  It was a very generous and touching gift, and I thanked him.  Mr Jones was my greatest Primary school teacher.  In fact he remains my greatest teacher of all time, and I hope he is doing very well for himself.

Miriam Roe was our next teacher.  6MR was a very lively year, with me, Osman and Alex always doing Smashy and Nicey impressions (characters from the TV show, Harry Enfield and Chums).  We even allowed Evangalia Votski into our group, she was a very kind friendly Greek girl. She was also the first girl I ever found attractive and wanted to kiss. It wasn’t to be. Miss Roe taught me that even when I wish to be independent that asking for help at times when I required it would not be frowned upon.  I survived a year of bullying, and Chapel Street Primary school with its giant six-foot-plus headteacher that was Mr Gary Kershaw.  I no longer had Mr Kershaw to guide me through school, and help me avoid trouble.  After Summer, I would enter high school in Reddish Vale with classmate James Cliff.

To summarise my early years, I had a coin ride obsession when I was a wee toddler; I most likely kept Professor Peabody’s in Blackpool’s Winter Gardens open for trade; enjoyed many a holiday in Cleveleys and Morecambe with Nana and Dad, and many other family members; I remember getting drenched one birthday in Blackpool with Neil Fanning and my Mum;  I even remember pushing my sister Astrid, aged two, up the Great Orme in Llandudno; and if anyone invites you to Scarborough for a holiday, say no.  Scarborough can boast grey skies that would rival the likes of a winter in Wales. But now, after three primary schools and years of relative comfort, the ride of life would begin…

TO BE CONTINUED

Chapter John.

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

On the 28th of October 1982 I was born.  I cannot remember it, nor wish to remember it.  My birth certificate was to arrive several days after my birth.  Either the registrar was busy, or my parents were contemplating such names as “Eric”, “Steven”, “Bert”, or “Joe”.  The prospect of being called Peter Eric Acton over my real name is not something I’d have desired – after all my initials would spell out a green garden seed.  Thankfully this was avoided when Mum decided on naming me after a line of Grandparents – John Robert was named.  I have a Mr Tom Danson (Registrar of Births & Deaths) for approving my given name, and also confirming I was born.  I’m sure Mr Danson was a terribly nice bloke, his signature on my birth certificate was stylish!

I was born a male, and thankfully still remain one [I checked earlier, and have been doing so since I was a teenager].  Crumpsall Hospital, now North Manchester General Hospital, gave rise to me.  I imagine I was a terrible burden on my parents, probably burping, farting, and vomiting to a strict schedule.  Something I may have carried on with throughout life, but cannot confirm.

After my birth and entrance to life, my parents returned to Margate Avenue in Newton of the Heath [a greyer place there was not].  There was no peaceful return, screams and wails ruled now.  Newton Heath, the origin of a certain controversial Trafford based football team, and was also made up of many railway workers.  The area was not an ideal Conservative Party recruitment point.  The house was also home to Beaut, a German Shepard dog, who sadly passed away with old age in early 1983.  Mum had Basil, a black and white cat whose hobbies included Samurai sword fighting and bingo.  We all uprooted to Warbeck Road in Moston.  We were joined by a new family addition, he was young, black with golden patches, and available for free donkey rides.  Pup Acton, our wee dog had arrived, and he grew at an alarming rate over the years, keeping his big floppy ears.  He would lick many people, and always be by made side for many years.  Basil and Pup loved each other, in a cat chases the dog, dog chases cat kind of way.  On the 13th of August 1985, my Grannydfather John Roberts died aged sixty.  The family was devastated.

As I grew older, my parents grew apart.  Divorce soon followed.  My Dad moved back to  Ludgate Road, in Newton Heath, with Nana and Granddad.  A crappy settlement was agreed upon whereby Dad could only pick me up on Saturdays.  A primary school child would always feel worry, when Dad would not ring, nor arrive on Saturdays.  A waiting child would regularly sit watching through the front lounge window, without even a hint by phone that my Dad would not be turning up.  After twenty minutes of waiting past the time of his expected arrival Mum would tell me he was probably working.  Still I’d wait until long after the sun would set.  I’d expect every diesel engine car that turned onto our road to be his car.  I’d often cry myself to sleep, crying for wanting to see my Dad, hoping for him to arrive.  There was one night I remember when I was young when Dad visited late one night, full of excuses.  I did not care for his excuses.  I just wanted to see him.  He brought with him a Goblin head, which when you pulled its eye out, it made a gurgling sound.  It was a really heavy toy, with bright and thick orange hair set on a green head littered with scars. I wish I had that toy but am most satisfied that I have the memory. I hope the good moments never leave my skull.

I would not care whether we went to watch football [be it Man City or Oldham Atheltic, Maine Road F.C. or whoever], go to the allotment (Pup could tag along too), or visit Nana and Granddad.  Time with Dad was always enjoyable.  We would spend many days on the allotment.  The allotment on Brookdale Park may not have seemed a magical place, but my imagination and the company of Pup made it wonderful.  Dad would provide fizzy pop, cooled in a barrel of rainwater, as a treat.  I and Pup would trek into Brookdale Park and its wilderness, whilst Dad would build a greenhouse or dig up his plot.  We’d plod over imaginary mountains, I’d climb trees whilst Pup bounded around below, we’d play hide and seek, and walk up the park stream.  And when I became tired we would ascend the highest point of the stream embankment looking down onto the allotment.  We would sit on the peak and look down at Dad working hard.

After a day out or at the allotment, Dad would take me to Nana and Granddad’s house for our evening meal.  Nana would cook something homemade and always wonderful to the taste buds.  Nana would spoil me with sweets, usually Chewitts, Vanilla slices or Boost chocolate bars.  Granddad would treat me to some yellow tomatoes which were his specially grown variety.  I miss the stew, dumplings and delights. The return home would not fill me with joy, because I never knew how long it would be before I could see my Dad again.  How long would it be before I would see Nana and Granddad again?  Nana was an amazing lady, always treating the younger family members, and spoiling the dogs she kept over the years:  Snowy (a West Highland terrier, for which breed Nana loved), Nomaz (a Yorkshire terrier short hair, of which breed Nana also adored), Suzie (also a West Highland Terrier and perhaps the oldest of Nana’s dogs during my lifetime), Pup (when he visited), and even the neighbours dog Nobby (who was clearly the offspring of Pup, as were the majority of Newton Heath’s mongrel dogs – sorry, RSPCA!).

A bowl of Nana’s homemade stew alongside some potato croquettes or chips and you would soon feel full.  There would always be room for desert, and desert always came with custard, warm or cold.  There was no need for posh restaurants as far as I was concerned; a meal at Nana’s was luxury.

One year, Dad drove me and Mum to Knowsley Safari Park.  On arrival we sat in the car, watching the Peacocks outside.  Dad suggested we had some food in the car, and handed out Spam sandwiches.  We watched the Peacocks for hours.  The zoological park had closed eventually.  I think Dad was a little short of cash and could not afford to go in.  I loved the day trip never-the-less.

My New Moston Primary School days hold little memory for me.  I just remember playing catch the girl, kiss the girl and catching my classmate Claire at the time; a friend called Anthony; and me having a pooh in a classroom because the teacher would not allow me to go to the toilet.  I whipped my trousers down, squatted in a playroom kitchen pen and laid one down.  Sadly, a fellow pupil and classroom whinge-bag Kelly spotted me and promptly enlightened the teacher to my doings.  I never got away with it.

A couple of weeks prior to my seventh birthday I learned to swim.  The school enforced visits to Broadway swimming baths enabled schoolchildren back then to combat the risk of drowning.  They simply subject you to water deeper than your body height, throw you in, and watch you learn that no kicking of the legs or motion in the arms will ultimately result in swallowing excessive amounts of water towards the lungs and belly.  My first width certificate was in the bag on the 13th of October 1989.  It was also noted that you could leave a yellow slipstream behind you if the teacher would not allow you to the toilet.  Had she not learned from my earlier primary school actions!?

Not that my teacher was the only victim of my terror, the dentist who had not warned of his intentions to probe my mouth, soon found his hand littered with a John-size bite mark.  Having someone else’s hand in your mouth will always seem wrong to me.  Even Mum became a victim of me pouring cornflakes down the toilet, blocking it with old toilet roll tubes, and also seeing exactly how much washing up liquid would empty from the bottle in one squeeze (naturally onto a clean surface, for example the carpet).

My craze for Thomas the Tank Engine was quickly topped by Ghostbusters, and before long Dangermouse, Count Duckula, and eventually the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  Lego remained faithfully by my side throughout the years. Secret showings of The Gremlins on video at my Nana’s house when Nana was away, under Dad’s supervision had me praying for a Mogwai for my birthday.  Instead Dad allowed me to choose a present at Morrison’s superstore in Fallowfield.  Naturally, I went for a small Lego pirate set along with a large truck space carrier.  The next day Mum invited my friend Neil and another friend who like Turtles too around for a birthday meal.  I was allowed the choice of food, so we had Bangers and Mash with beans.  This was my favourite at the time.  Mum had brought me a Lego castle set, as she was always trying to bring out my imaginative side.  Neil came from several doors down.  His mum Miriam knew my mum.  To get to Neil you could walk along the front road, or run to the back of the garden and cut through the back of several gardens past the man who always recited “Peter Piper picked a pepper…” to us and made us giggle.  One day on the route down to Neil’s house I discovered a dead gull.  It looked lifeless as expected, and when prodded with a stick, it was rock hard and crawling with small beetles.  There was a lesson to be leant, but it passed me by whatever it was.

In 1988, Astrid was born.  I now had a little sister to fight with, and to love and cherish.  It was around this time that Basil the cat had left home, and moved a few doors away to be fed.

Mum, met Paul Mathers in early 1990, and we moved to 2 Range Street, Openshaw.  Dad moved from Nana and Granddad’s house into 76 Warbeck Road, and I often visited to share bowls of Frosties for an evening meal!  Plus, the new neighbours to my Dad were of Chinese origin and loved to share Lego with me.  My new primary school was to be Clayton Brook Primary.  They made me retake my width certificate on the 8th of October 1990, the idiots were holding my progress back with P.E.  However, I could zoom far further ahead with mathematics and science in classes.

We added Ben the cat to the family; and Mum and Paul also added a new child to the family.  Paul Anthony Mathers junior was born on the 15th day of November 1990.  After escaping to my room to play with Lego and eventually exhausting my supply of bricks, I decided to play out in the new area.  Originally I was only allowed to the park around the corner, and to the top of my street.  I did make one friend, but he was banned from playing with me by his parents one day, as a result of me hitting his head off the opposite side to a see-saw I was on.  Accidents do happen.  I did not like Openshaw, I knew very few people there, and the area was riddled with good for nothing kids and derelict factory buildings.

TO BE CONTINUED?