Best foot forward.

After a week of nightmares ruining my sleep, perhaps something was in my psyche warning me…

Last week, I started to wear grey K-Swiss trainers (or sneakers, if you’re that way inclined). These swish grey (or gray?) with white trims and soles felt a little tight. Size 13.5 UK (or 49 globally) sometimes can be that way, but, when you’re in South China’s Dongguan and limited to opportunity, something about choices being unavailable to those who beg.

Saturday and Sunday involved a walk around West Lake (惠州西湖) in Huizhou, in my new footwear. Having a few aches and pains in new shoes has always been normal to me. Size 14 UK has always been damn hard to get any comfortable footwear. Seeing as I flit between brands, owing to inconsistent sizing, sizes 50 and 49 usually fit the bill. A bit if wear and tear here and there usually molds them to my feet.

An agent of Timberland in Guangzhou helped me to get walking boots and shoes. Sadly, I’ve been wearing the latter to death. Their sheen has faded. I was just about to get them refurbished. I still will. I only need one shoe this week. That’s due to a run, with a football, without anyone challenging me, and not a soul nearby resulting in a sudden sharp pain. I jumped up and landed on the other leg, rolling sideways and yelping like a shot dog.

Sunday night, I needed to shower, and hobbled about from a car to my apartment, then ensured Panda, the dog, had a quick walk. I used a sweeping brush as crutches. I stupidly went to bed, thinking that staying still from 9.30pm would alleviate the pain. What a fool! A proper grade-A eejit! A plethora of pain and discomfort helped me to sleep at God Knows O’clock. I recall seeing the time at 4am and thinking sleep would be amazing. No. It was a terrible night’s sleep in a week of bad sleeps.

So, having awoke late on Monday, I felt ashamed to let my principal, Miss Ann, know I wouldn’t be coming in. By text. I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I’d tried to get to hospital the evening before but wasn’t willing to go without crutches or a wheelchair. Neither could be sourced. After frantically making arrangements to get to hospital, I rolled over and slunk into a deep dark place. Eyes open. Mind empty.

The temporary depression lifted and in the afternoon, I was offered help by Charif and Miss Keisel to walk Panda for a few days. That was a great relief. Then I pottered around and panicked. Worried some. I needed to know why I couldn’t place my foot down. Even touching the edge of my foot to the ground caused shooting pains. Agony in less than a full footstep.

With the assistance of Charif, I was dropped at the Tungwah Hospital. I had to hop, and abandon my broken sweeping brush crutches on the way to the elevator. I went down to the humid and dark vestibule of floor -1 and awaited Charif to pull up by the glass door. The journey to hospital was less than 5 minutes, by car. I can see the hospital emergency door from my bedroom window. It seemed too far. Thankfully I arrived. Charif went because my friend Maria and her boyfriend offered to come and translate.

Prior to their arrival, a kind security man placed me in a wheelchair. A porter smacked my foot against the reception desk having not noticed my outstretched foot. Further pain. Quite unwelcome. Before my translation arrived, I was dropped at an emergency room consultation room to see a doctor. And five nurses. A good chance for them to practice their English and for myself to use my crap Chinese.

On registering, again, at the hospital, I eventually seen a doctor. I stressed the pain and shown the swelling in my foot. They kept checking my ankle. I insisted it was entirely in my foot. A CT-scan and X-ray was arranged. Off I went. Eventually. Some instructions had been lost. Maria and her boyfriend arrived with a guy called Peter. The graduate of Nottingham University works with Maria and her boyfriend occasionally. He’s a genuinely nice chap. Eventually we worked out that we hadn’t been sent to the right place to wait. So, up next the hospital wheelchair sped towards to the X-ray and CT scan, department of radiology.

Whoops.

An hour later, following my first meal that day (I’d ate nothing since lunchtime on Sunday), the wheelchair and its posse went up to floor 8, met Dr Li (李医生) who was a colossal man. His hands the size of shovels and his huge frame made him appear like a Chinese Jack Reacher. The writer Lee Child may want to open his audience with this guy. Despite his towering physique and broad shoulders, the good doctor was gentle and kind. He consulted the scans and sent me for further scans to the toes. The CT scans and X-rays had focused on my ankle. Off we trotted, and rolled.

By 10pm, we had the necessary scans and Dr Li then suggested two options of recovery. That followed a rather comedic look at how my injury had happened. The verdict translated as something like a 5th metatarsal stress fracture with a Jones/Tubes Avulsion twisting injury. The X-ray clearly showing a fractured. I guessed it to be a complete fracture. No evidence of displacement. Possible line indicates some connection remaining. Partial fracture possible. Certainly not compound or showing openness. Minor displacement but not out of line. No sign of a simple stress crack. The doctor suggested surgery or plaster and immobilisation. The latter option requires rest for 4-6 weeks. The former, depends on my body’s recovery after 3 weeks and involves bits of metal implants.

I opted for the plaster cast and Doctor Li agreed. He said that my age is just about young enough to recover that way. With lots of rest. I should use crutches and rest well for the first week. After one week I must return for a check-up. After two, three, four, five and six weeks, I must do the same. Tick tock. Time and healing.

So, why am I writing all this? To understand myself. To help my mind. This has a serious effect on my physical and mental health. My work life at TWIS (Tungwah Wenzel International School) is in its final chapter. That final chapter shall entirely be on crutches. I’m gutted, frustrated and upset at this finale. I can’t even wear trousers. They won’t go over the cast. I wanted to do my absolute best to leave doors open and gain a favourable recommendation letter. All that feels in danger. Evaporated like my hope.

There are far worse places to be in life. Even throughout this, I pass my best wishes to me Mam who is bravely going through breast cancer treatment and ensuring no recurrence from the removed tissue. I hope me Mam pulls through and retains that strength she’s always had. I barely have a patch of her self belief and courage, so she always gives me hope. And myself sister Astrid, at the Priory, hopefully recovering fast and gaining balance of mind. I miss them so much, at the best of times, but now, I wish I was embracing my whole tribe. These challenges, help us to find our feet and put our best foot forward. No matter how hard it may seem.

Weepy.

For handkerchief opportunities, many of us have visited Forrest Gump and Jenny. The main character’s love life, marriage and his mother. The ending. In 1994, Winston Groom’s novel became movie legend filmed by director Robert Lee Zemeckis and starring Tom Hanks. Hanks, himself, also starred in Turner and Hooch, which again had me blubbering like a baby. When Tom Hanks cries, we all cry. I hope to see the Indian remake of Forrest Gump soon: Laal Singh Chaddha. Although, Turner and Hooch has kind of seen many remakes…

“The young doe, Marena, said, “In this very hour many of us are going to die. Perhaps I shall be one of them.” – Felix Salten, Bambi

World War II was brutal. As was World War I. All wars, for that matter, are grim. Tinged with sadness and heartbreak. Souls are destroyed. Isao Takahata released Grave of the Fireflies [火垂るの墓], set to the backdrop of a totaled urban Japanese port of Kobe. This was no ordinary cartoon. Like Watership Down, here is a movie truly worthy of the title tearjerker. It is horrific and doesn’t pull any punches. The characters are young and dynamic. Let the movie draw your heart in. The movie is wide open to multiple and conflicting interpretations, much matching the confusing array of themes.

The Angel of Nanjing focuses on the famous Yangtze river and a bridge (the Nánjīng Chángjiāng Dàqiáo 南京长江大桥) in the city of Nánjīng. The protagonist Chen Si (陈思) has discouraged hundreds of people from topping themselves. The fall downwards is about 24 metres (79′) into lethally fast-flowing waters. The Chinese newspaper People’s Daily once reported that this bridge has more suicides than the famous Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. The movie is a thump to the heart.

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial that little extra terrestrial blob of joy left Elliot behind. The movie was almost entirely shot from a kid’s perspective. It had a touching poster with an alien digit connecting to a boy’s finger. Little whiny Drew Barrymore reminded me of my screaming sister Astrid. Divorced mum? Themes we could relate to too. Released shortly after I was conceived in 1982, it would be a few years before I watched and understood this story. Yet, every time since the music of John Williams and the direction of Steven Allan Spielberg has got me over and over again. Henry Thomas, the main character, was someone all viewers should have made a connection with, and probably will never ever shake that iconic movie away.

“You are who you choose to be.” – Ted Hughes, The Iron Man

The Iron Man, as a book, by Ted Hughes was lovely and warming. As a movie, it was renamed to The Iron Giant, its big presence shook the internal emotions left, right and centre. How graphic animation can leave a viewer enraged, baffled and devastated is beyond me! The director Brad Bird and his production team conjure up magic in this animation classic.

Thomas J. Sennett: “I’m gonna drive us to Liverpool.”
Shelly DeVoto: “Liverpool?”
Vada Sultenfuss: “Big Ringo fan.” – My Girl, the movie

Vada Sultenfuss (Anna Chlumsky) and Thomas J. (played by the middle-name monster Macaulay Macaulay Culkin Culkin – yes he apparently changed his name this way) light up My Girl with an earthly romance of youngsters. One of my favourite comedian-musican-actors Dan Aykroyd is a big name in the movie, as was Jamie Lee Curtis but neither are allowed time to upstage the duo of young starlets. They pull at your heartstrings from the get-go.

“I don’t need easy, I just need possible.” – Soul Surfer dialogue

Brief Encounter and Soul Surfer are two very different movies. The former is classic cinema noir. The latter deserves to be remembered and revered for a long time. If Jaws struck fear into you getting back into the water, then imagine being Bethany Hamilton who lost an arm to a shark attack. The movie Soul Surfer dips into her strength and determination to ride the waves again. She was 13 years of age when the shark caused her to lose an arm. Her quest to conquer the waves again sees her meet victims of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami. This heart-warming tale explains why she wouldn’t change her outcome of life, if given the choice. It is a slab of inspiring cinema based on Hamilton’s book, Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to Get Back on the Board. Released in 1945, a decade after a play by Noël Coward, Brief Encounter, has become one of Britain’s greatest movies of all time. I first heard of it whilst changing trains at Carnforth railway station in Lancashire. The music, the story and the pace really resonate beautifully when placed with the intense black and white cinematography. Like many great stage play adaptations, this movie is full of clipped words and energy. The comparison to Soul Surfer is far apart, but both leave you clinging for Kleenex. As someone who has had my own brief encounters, and lost a little piece of heart each time, there’s a real sadness and pity to this yarn.

“The future was uncertain, absolutely, and there were many hurdles, twists, and turns to come, but as long as I kept moving forward, one foot in front of the other, the voices of fear and shame, the messages from those who wanted me to believe that I wasn’t good enough, would be stilled.” – Chris Gardner, The Pursuit of Happyness

Will Smith, when not busy slapping comedian Chris Rock, can be found in countless movies. One such heartfelt piece is his recent Oscar-winning role in King Richard. But, before he played the father of the famous Williams sisters, try The Pursuit of Happyness. Son of Will and Jada Koren Pinkett Smith, Jaden stars alongside his father striving to keep tears and depression at bay. The film is a modern tale that is all too familiar to many people seeking work in the many job markets defunct of opportunity. Will he overcome adversity? Perhaps the memoir (of the same name) by Chris Gardner and Quincy Troupe might be a starting point.

圣诞快乐 A very merry Christmas

Dear all,

From the bottom of my heart, I would like to wish each and every one of you a very merry Christmas. Greetings of this special season that shall live on in and spirit and memories far beyond just one holy day. Christmas is not just a day for the religious, nor just little boys and girls. It’s become a multi faith and cultural key to bringing people together no matter their creed, race or religion. You don’t have to believe in Jesus or God to follow Christmas. It’s about togetherness.

Love thy neighbour. Surely every religious follower, no matter their faith or upbringing can agree on that. We’re on this planet Earth together. As one. So, wishes are sent to you to hope something magnificent and magical can happen in the season of Christmas, and beyond in the New Year. Happy New Year!

May all adults have the same wonderment and cheer that juveniles around the world embrace on this special day and morning. As gifts are unwrapped, joy is felt and some disappointments and worries or loneliness melt in a moving, mixing bowl of emotions, don’t feel hate and don’t look back in anger. Tomorrow, or some day we’ll find a brighter way. Stay positive. Try positive thinking.

‘Tis the season to watch The Morecambe & Wise Christmas Show

We receive so many messages during this heavily commercialised season but try to grip in our heart’s hands, the messages of joy, hope and love. May you and your family find laughter as a medicine for the challenges you’ve overcome and the trials ahead. It can be a season comparable to a snowstorm with murky unclear weather all around you, but the eastern horizon, when you find it, is a place where the sun will rise again. Each brand new, bright tomorrow shines our way.

Let our arms be as warm as the sun from up above. Bring peace home. Feel jolly. Let someone or something give you a sparkling and shimmering warming touch. The season of giving is about living and loving. Find your solace. Express your gratitude. You’re here and now. Who can you thank today? Who can you wish a merry way?

Christmas is a time for families and communities. They may be divided by that bloody virus or other factors. Don’t let it get you don’t. Don’t let the bastards get you down! Share every ounce of your energy with those who deserve it. I’m glad of the football community, the T.W.I.S. (Tungwah Wenzel International School) education community, my pocket of Dongguan and China people, the Shenzhen Blues and City fans over here and the groups I belong to and communities I engage with. Christmas would not be the same without you all. Together we are stronger!

Last Christmas, I spent time in Yunnan, alone, in my own relaxed way. This, virus outbreak permitting, shall not be too extravagant and hopefully be once again at Irene’s Bar in Houjie (where 2 from 8 of the last Christmas dinners have been spent), but next Christmas is the one I’m looking forward to most. Who knows what it can bring?! Hopefully, it’ll be on Mancunian soil.

With each passing Christmas, I recall memories of yesteryear and flood myself with warm moments of those who were part of my life. The absent but present grandparents, the friends watching from the tier above our grounds, the lost silent loud noises of the musicians and stars of our lives. Wherever they exist now, thank out for being amongst us. You’re missed.

I hope that 2021 inspired you to be extra good, thus allowing Santa Claus to find you. I pray you fell asleep dreaming of the chimes of bells as reindeer slipped through the sky overhead. Dream deeply of the love that arrives at this time of year remaining for the year ahead. Imagine that! It doesn’t matter how we say it, just say it with passion: Joyeux Noël, happy holidays and seasons greetings.

Dad, I don’t tell you how much I love you. Thank you for always caring and listening. Thanks for taking me to Nana and Grandad’s to see the delightful decorations on the tree and enjoy trips to Aunty Christine’s for Boxing Day. Mum, you are always there for me, no matter what. I love you unconditionally. Went I think of Santa, I always think of you, sneaking in after midnight (when I was a kid, not now) and delivering jolly gifts and fruit. I miss the pillow case fruit hampers more than the chocolate selection boxes. You always put your heart into it. Aunty Christine, stay strong and beat that bloody virus so we may have Christmas lunch in July, with Uncle Ed, Uncle George and whoever else is available.

To my brothers Asa, Shaun and Paul; for my sisters Astrid and Christina, did I miss anyone? You are all missed. I may not be the closest sibling but I care and I really enjoy hearing from you. In a better world, I wish you could visit here and I there. The pressures and cares of life are with us all throughout the year, and if I can listen or help, you know my number (although the phone bill may be expensive and I believe we’re genetically tight-fisted). You’re also my friends. I miss you all.

For cousins, aunts and uncles, you’re resigned to a few short lines of love. I’d be here all day otherwise and I really need to wee. I could save a draft and come back later. That’s not going to happen. May the light of the festive season shine on you all. My Aunt Carolyn has been messaged me often throughout my time in China and I wish her and Uncle Phil a pleasant holiday. Aunty Irene and cousin Sophie enjoying Spanish skies have served as an inspiration for living overseas. Uncle George, enjoy the festive flutters – and up the Blues! Aunty Susan has been battling X, Y and Z yet remains resilient. That’ll be the teacher in her.

Dan, Vanessa, Damo and Alex, have a very Merry Christmas. Last year’s gifts and this are in a box with the ones from the year before. Santa couldn’t pick them up due to stringent quarantine conditions in the People’s Republic of China. However, in the style of Royal Mail, they’re not forgotten or misplaced, they’re just delayed. Dan is my closest friend and teacher. I’ve learned much from my brightly haired chubby – faced friend. As an Irish proverb says, “May you never forget what is worth remembering or remember what is best forgotten.” That’s my gift to you Dan.

This was my Christmas prayer to all. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Peace and love, John & Panda “WOOF!”

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?