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!”

To Dad.

How do,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you kindly for your time.