Len Johnson & Radical Manchester

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

I was reading about Manchester’s radical history in terms of racism and prejudice. I came across one Len Johnson and decided I needed to influence some fiction with some fact. The below is my noted interpretation of Manchester’s first black boxing legend. Somebody I knew nothing about, and someone who surely needs celebrating. Radical Manchester’s blog and website has a true account, but the below is a kind of reimagining:


 

In fiction there is truth

Years on ships had taught him how to breathe and observe calm seas without making a sound. Len Johnson towered above the people in the room. He was a strong figure of a man, just twenty-five years of age. His father, William, once a handsome seaman who emigrated from Sierra Leone, Africa had travelled to Manchester, a place known for its inland seaport. There he had met his young and beautiful mother Margaret. Len was now an engineer on ships, just like his father had been. On shore-leave he would put the deck-side practice into bouts within boxing rings. His middle-weight career had been growing in stature for some time. He had been prevented the chance to fight for titles though. Only white boxers had been permitted by the British Board of Boxing Control. He had been born, in Clayton, into a land and afforded little freedom, just because his father was African and his skin was not white.

Len had known that his father had suffered racism and abuse from an early age. His father, being a strong man mentally and physically, had always tried to shield him from the revulsion around him. Len’s mother was as heavy-weight as his father. Her durable resilience had led her to marry William. Unconcealed and sometimes ferocious actions were cast at the Johnson family. All they wanted to do was live a life of peace. Len’s father had always told him to stand up for himself and the people around him. His mother Margaret, despite being mutilated by attack remained beautiful in his eyes. Her purity gave him strength for many years.

Manchester and Salford did not have too many black community members. The Manchester Ship Canal gave a touch of African spirit to the city and region. Len’s pathway was not simple but he was big brother to two brothers and a younger sister. He wasn’t going to stay quiet or be walked over. His community may have been small, but he so wanted to give it a voice. Boxing for now was his strength. Skin colour didn’t seem to count against him.

After years of toughing it out in a foundry, Crossley Engines, Len had found trouble waiting for him in work. Rather than scold him, his father William took Len alongside his brothers to the Ashton Old Road’s Alhambra. Here boxing was watched. Len’s eyes opened wide with each brutal swing, the ballet as each boxer edged around the ring, inching for space and willing their opponent to let their guard down. It was beautiful art. Just as the boxing was then, here he stood listening to voices and comprehending new ideas. Perhaps, here, in this room, he would find the tools for the new battle ahead. Perhaps not. Either way, he had little to do, no fights to fight and his next ship wasn’t due for some time.

The boxing booths of Bert Hughes were distant memories, yet he allowed a moment to think how far he had progressed. Yet, he knew the journey to be regarded as an equal by the white man was far from over. Hitting sacks was one thing, or flooring a challenge with one blow, nonetheless he wanted to spar with words and skills not seen in the ring. Inside his belly he had fire and hunger for a fight. His head was just cool enough to learn slowly and listen often. It didn’t matter if he would need years of stamina to reach his goal.

The Free Trade Hall of Manchester wasn’t too far down the road. His first big fight had been there. Eddie Pearson. That path had seen him visit Australia. To date he had won more than he had lost. He knew deep down that he would be much more than a pair of fists at packed houses in Belle Vue. He desired a world where Imperial politics wouldn’t hinder people born in Britain, just because they were black. The British Empire and its stupid white supremacy feared defeat to the black man, he thought. He thought and he fought. He looked on. He listened. This was not for him. Not yet. But one day.


 

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(Image: Manchester Libraries)

Leonard Benker Johnson: 22nd October 1902 – 28th September 1974

 

  • In 1921, Len Johnson‘s first professional boxing bout was a third round knockout of Jerry Hogan.
  • Johnson would knock out 35 more opponents in his 99 wins.
  • Amongst 33 losses Johnson suffered 5 knock outs.
  • Seven fights were draws.
  • Johnson fought in Dublin (Croke Park), Brussels, Antwerp, Sydney Stadium, West Melbourne Stadium, Brisbane, Milan, the Royal Albert Hall (London) and many other venues.
  • World War II: Civil Defence heavy Rescue Squad, Manchester
  • On September 30th, 1953, Len Johnson ordered a beer in his local pub
  • Columnist: The Daily Worker
  • Active in civil rights and the community of Moss Side
  • Trade unionist
  • Co-founder: New International Society 

 


“Our true nationality is mankind.” – H.G. Wells (September 21st, 1866 – August 13th, 1946), author.

Ships, slavery and suffering are no stranger to Manchester’s shadowy story. Nor any other great U.K. city for that matter.. The narration of our fair city isn’t quite as black and white or good or bad as many say. If a true memoire was to be written about Manchester, then now in the important time of #BlackLivesMatter, Manchester must take a look at itself and talk the talk that needs talking. There shouldn’t be a need for racism campaigns or months dedicated to Black History. Inequality needs to be kicked away and told never to return. Black History should be as integrated as the very people it serves to highlight. Manchester seems reasonably integrated these days. There are pockets of stupidity and hate, but they aren’t tolerated by the majority. Not at all.


 

“No matter how big a nation is, it is no stronger than its weakest people” – Marian Anderson

In 1806, the Atlantic slave trade ended. How much global change has happened? Not enough. One viewing of Spike Lee’s BlackKklansman movie should be enough to see that the USA still has buckets of hate and divide. How can any race of people consider itself above another? Isn’t genetic purity a load of old cobblers? How many ‘mericans have European blood? How many genetic ancestry routes does a European have? Vikings, Norsemen, Greeks, Romans, Ottomans, French, Spanish, Germanic, Barvarians, Albanians, Russians… Look at any number of races, times and people and intermingling was commonplace. The status quo may have kept their noble bloodlines mixed with other bloods of royalty but very few (read that as none) could be seen as being superior, untainted or the blessings of God(s).

“We treat racism in this country like it’s a style that America went through. Like flared legs and lava lamps. Oh, that crazy thing we did. We were hanging black people. We treat it like a fad instead of a disease that eradicates millions of people. You’ve got to get it at a lab, and study it, and see its origins, and see what it’s immune to and what breaks it down.” – Chris Rock, comedian, Vultures.

What is lit like to be white? Some of us Caucasians burn easy in the sun and some of us have ugly freckles, blotches of melatonin and all the imperfections of every other race. Because, we’re all the same! A species of human beings, Homo sapiens, despite some of us being so thick that other anthropological species, no longer with us, get insulting comparisons thrown at them. Our social and mortal species of humanoid is a being that is both individual and the same, yet different and with unique souls. This creature that inhabits and inhibits humanity on the form or a racist and uses radicalism impedes progression. There is radical for the sake of equality or balance – and then there is radical for the sake of ensuring the human being stays still with a banjo playing whilst avoiding all forms of bettering themselves.

“In this country American means white. Everybody else has to hyphenate.”- Toni Morrison, author & professor

There are tiny genetic differences that make some of us exhibit different behaviours, have different physical features and think differently, but we are one as a species. Anyone is capable of destruction and most can rip up a book easier than write one. Unpopular author Adolf Hitler wrote Mein Kampf, which is proof to all that anybody can write a book, and someone can influence. He drew on Popularism in ways that possible 21st Century apprentice Donald of the Trump has rebirthed in less than 280 characters. One used a book, marches and actions as a weapon. One uses Twitter, public gatherings and the media, alongside actions. I’d hate to be seen as being better for being Caucasian. Sometimes I am giving that approach in China and it does not feel comfortable. I always push for equality, even if I make somebody lose face. I’m not their puppet and I won’t be treated as a dancing monkey for their favour.

In Manchester, we’re lucky. We have been blessed by radicals. Some radicals have battled for equality and supported what we now have. I wonder how they will feel at the progress, or lack of progress that has been made. The Portico Library in Manchester was first chaired by anti-slavery campaigner John Ferriar. John Ferriar, a Scottish physician (Manchester Infirmary, 1789–1815) and a poet. He founded a Board of Health in Manchester in 1795. In 1788, a hundred years after Aphra Behn’s novel Oroonoko was published, John Ferriar published The Prince of Angola, a Tragedy, Altered from the Play of Oroonoko. And Adapted to the Circumstances of the Present Times. His play canvassed against slavery. Many other Portico Library members signed a petition to abolish the slavery trade.

“Men build too many walls and not enough bridges.” – Joseph Fort Newton (1876–1950), American Baptist minister

John Ferriar’s obituary read as:He was endowed by nature with an acute and vigorous understanding, which he had matured by a life of diligent study, and of careful and well-digested observation, into a judgment unusually correct and prompt in its decisions.’ I love this sentence as it contains so much and could be simply mean he observed, took a step back, evaluated and then delivered. It could be that inside his head he laboured with countless ideas and always stood by the one he took action with. It seems his ‘inflexible integrity’ set a fine example. The legacy of the Portico Library and his campaigning are far-reaching. Formed in 1784, The Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society, housed themselves on Mosley Street in a kind of Greek Revival style of building. The Bank of Athens even leased some of the property at one stage (Portico Library: A History, by Ann Brooks and Bryan Haworth, Carnegie Publishing). Nowadays the downstairs is The Bank, a public house.

Other Mancunians or honorary Mancs signed a counterpetition including Robert Peel (father of future Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel). George Hibbert, slave-owner and sugar plantation magnate would have probably added his signature. He came from a Mancunian family but was obviously not a very good person. Nowadays we are blessed by so much anti-racism and togetherness across the city of Manchester.

“Hating people because of their colour is wrong. And it doesn’t matter which colour does the hating. It’s just plain wrong.” – Muhammad Ali [Cassius Marcellus Clay] (January 17th, 1942 – June 3rd  2016), boxer and social activist

On the 15th  July 1978, Rock Against Racism and the Anti-Nazi League jointly threw a bash called, Rock Against Racism Northern Carnival. It followed a procession from Strangeways (a prison) up Bury New Road to Alexandra Park. 40,000 or so revellers enjoyed Buzzcocks and other great bands. Lodon’s Carnival Against the Nazis may have been an influence but to the people of Manchester, here was a valid cause to unify the people against racial prejudice on Mancunian soil.

“In the year of the disturbances in Moss Side there were running battles between us and the National Front.” – Gus John, Moss Side Defence Committee

Now, I’ve managed to get this far without really hitting on Moss Side. Moss Side has had a bad reputation for a long time. It was regarded to be a wee bit dangerous. The area that surrounded Manchester City’s old Maine Road home has so often be looked down upon. There were riots in 1981. So much so, that soon after the Moss Side Defence Committee was formed. They helped support youths, stood up against Police violence and tried to tell the story of what was happening in an area targeted by systemic Police racism. Andrew Bowman’s article is worth a gander over at the Manchester’s Radical History blog. Here you can also find a piece about The Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Relations Centre. The centre is named after a murdered Bangladeshi boy. It is an open access library specialising in the study of race, migration and ethnic diversity. The collection is unique and features a huge archive of resource. It is now part of the University of Manchester and a member of the Manchester Library-backed Archives+ partnership.

“The only disease right now is the racism that we are fighting. Just like the [new coronavirus] pandemic, we want to find a solution to stop it.” – Raheem Sterling, BBC interview, 8th June 2020.

Football is often seen as the screen to fight racism with City & United together against racism, but the problem is social, and pandemic. It needs to be fought head on by all. Universities, schools, the media, governments and so on – everybody together as one.

“Why is it that this question so often asked of people of colour? Not all ‘white’ people are British.” – Erinma Bell MBE, of We Stand Together, Manchester Evening News

Stand Up To Racism shares a great presence in Manchester. I can remember a black and white sticker I was given in primary school. I slapped it between my Jurassic Park, Supermarine Spitfire and Red Arrow stickers. Racism didn’t mean much to me as a kid. I knew people came from different families, countries and had different beliefs. As far as I was concerned, and still am, we’re all human. Even as June 15th 1996 a bomb blew the crap out of Manchester, I didn’t feel an ounce of hate towards the Irish or Ireland. I lived, at the time, in Levenshulme with a huge Irish community. I couldn’t blame anyone around me, and nor could anybody else. Manchester had for years been growing tighter with its Irish community. Since then, I believe that Manchester’s communities have tightened and the Irish in Britain Representation Group gaining a good footing. Where fear and divide could have conquered, a great sense of community and integration has stepped in. People with identity, their heart-felt history, and a desire to end marginalisation will prevail. They just need support, understanding and a strong will. That’s why I love Manchester. It is a city capable of bringing all together, no matter what race or religion.

“Racism is a weapon of mass destruction; Whether inflation or globalization; Fear is a weapon of mass destruction.” – Mass Destruction, lyrics Faithless

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(Image: Manchester Libraries)

Racism has no room in our society.

Statue of Limitation

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

There’s a financial crisis, then there is austerity, the Grenfell Tower disaster, then a global pandemic, and recessions, and environmental disasters, and climate change, before race battles and financial meltdowns and worries. Oh, there are worries. So many worries. A book written and translated in the 1880s is as ever-relating now as it ever was. We have the translation skills of Florence Kelley Wischnewetzky to thank. Following the 1848 revolutions, Friedrich Engels moved to Manchester for around two decades. Through capitalism he was afforded the luxury of revolutionary ideas.

Friedrich Engels dated Irish immigrant Mary Burns. After Mary’s death, his love passed to her sister Fenian (Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB)) Lizzie. They married on her deathbed. In ways he had a Clark Kent and Superman lifestyle. Between riding in hunts in Cheshire, chasing foxes for fixes, he was slipping money out of his accounts to revolutionaries. This Bruce Wayne on one hand, Batman on the other existence was a huge contradiction. Part knight in shining armour and protector to part capitalist imperialist pig. A life beautiful and ugly in the reflection of contradictions.

“social murder”  – Friedrich Engels, The Condition of the Working Class in England

Artist Phil Collins gave Friedrich Engels a home next to HOME in Tony Wilson Place. What was all that about? Our Friedrich Engels was an honorary Manc back in the day. He lived in and around the area for many years. He observed industry at its most brutal and gathered his thoughts in and around the city. The statue of German Friedrich Engels stands outside HOME, an arts and entertainment complex in the heart of the city of Manchester. Phil Colins gave Manchester a piece of its history that is well-documented in paper form, but little seen in the day to day tapestry of the city’s vast structures.

“The way in which the vast mass of the poor are treated by modern society is truly scandalous. They are herded into great cities where they breathe a fouler air than in the countryside which they have left.” – Friedrich Engels, The Condition of the Working Class in England

Whereas Engles came from Barmen, Kingdom of Prussia, the artist Phil Collins moved to Berlin, from Britain. Back in 2017, a 3.5 metre monster of a stone statue, fractured and left for ruin was moved from the eastern Ukrainian village of Mala Pereshchepina to Manchester. As part of the Manchester International Festival, it was unveiled as part of a show called Ceremony, featuring songs and dance, with a ditty by the Super Furry Animals’ frontman Gruff Rhys. In an unassuming carpark, the procession moved over to Tony Wilson Place and all around newbuilds sat and towered above old mills, relics of the Industrial Revolution, and people sipped coffee from Starbucks cups and held Tesco carrier bags. The statue passed by Engels’s birthplace in Barmen, Berlin and was subject to great interest.

“The capitalists soon had everything in their hands and nothing remained to the workers.” – Principles of Communism (1847)

Like Christ, Mohammed and many other Gods, their words have been responsible for countless deaths through misinterpretation or abuse. They have been used by the powerful to suppress or enhance those who choose to use them. Think Trump with Twitter, or Elliot Carver (actor Jonathan Pryce) in the 1997 instalment of James Bond, Tomorrow Never Dies. So, having a legacy or words and ideas, a multifaceted figure arrived to Mancunian soil. A now-outlawed sign of communism may now be outlawed in the Ukraine, but in Manchester this statue of Engels symbolises the then, the now and the future. The scar where the statue was severed in half of the waist is clear. The artist Phil Collins had negotiated the statue as a gift from one community to another. Its journey was documented – with a video commissioned.

The writer of The Condition of the Working Class in England, in sculpture form fits in with the spirit of Manchester. A radical, against the establishment and for the people. The concrete structure looms over the paving slabs below, featuring patches of lichens and a broad beard. The very city he once developed his philosophies in has changed much but many social issues remain. The horrific conditions of workhouses have gone, but in the COVID-19 days of capitalism and struggle, new challenges are present. I’m lucky, as are many Mancs, that we grew up later in better times. Our Engels though, he was here when misery and suffering were commonplace.

“Manchester is a meeting point. It represents both the birth of capitalism and the factory system and the magic of capitalism, the magic of surplus value.” – Phil Collins, The Guardian, to writer Charlotte Higgins (30/6/2017).

Engels had such an influence on what would happen in the 20th century that even today, his relevance and legacy is present. This German philosopher, historian, communist, social scientist, sociologist, journalist and businessman understood Dialectical materialism and Continental philosophy whilst remaining a keen advocate of solutions to class struggle. So, on July the 16th 2017, Engels came home and Manchester had a bash to mark the occasion.

As per the ideas of Collins, he shifted a statue from one space to another, and an idea from one place that once embraced communism to one that in all fairness skirts closer to Labour and Socialism than the media would have you think. Now in 2020, we’re seeing statues of slavers, Romans, imperial figures and all under deep scrutiny. Just as Saddam Hussein and Colonel Muammar Mohammed Abu Minyar Gaddafi fell, so to, are the busts of Sir Winston Curchill and co. It’s like a historical hunt in the manner of Operation Yew Tree, but without BBC stars. Just like some of the childhood stars of old, even the big guns of history are there to be torn at with our claws. #BlackLivesMatter is opening a whole range of debates and dialogue.

“That the Materialistic Socialists will improve H. [History] for the poor. Their best writer, Engels, made known the errors and the horrors of our Factory System.” –  Lord Acton, quoted in Gertrude Himmelfarb, Lord Acton: A Study in Conscience and Politics (1952), pp. 181–82

It has been around three years since we could dress up like Engels, make banners or talk with academics in the then named Engels Exchange at Tony Wilson Place. The statue still stands. The beauty of history is that it has happened. Now we’re in an era when more and more history is being questioned. That’s good. That’s evolution in action. We have to be careful what we do with our history. Some statues remind us of different times and give us a voice for that period. They don’t always need to be celebrated and respected. They stand as a reminder of progress. All symbols must be questioned. It is our right and instinct as a species to want to be better. History shows us that Marx was more celebrated than Engels. As Engels slaved away writing Marx’s notes and supporting the Marx family, Marx had already departed this world. Engels may have come from a wealthy cotton-mill owning family but his time from 1842 to 1844 was profound.

In memory of those who have died in the workhouses and during this modern austerity.

Black or White? More grey…

100_2063How do! / 你好 (nĭ hăo) / Namaste / Welcome!

Today marks the memorial of the terrible fire and Grenfell Tower disaster that claimed 72 lives. The enquiry goes on. The battle against protected imperialist privilege remains. The racism of yesteryear hasn’t faded at all. These days a man born on November the 30th in 1874 at a palace (Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire) is gaining rather a bit of attention. This, a man who, somehow appears (on camera) to have been meddling in Police affairs in 1911. This is long before you look at Sir Winston Churchill’s cash for influence…

“…ought to be lain bound hand and foot at the gates of Delhi and then trampled on by an enormous elephant with the new viceroy seated on its back” – Winston Churchill, on Gandhi, “a half-naked fakir”

Hussein Onyango Obama is better known to many as former US president Barack Obama’s grandfather. He was one of thousands held in British detention camps during Kenya’s Mau Mau Uprising of the 1950s. Winston Churchill served as leader there from 1951–1955. Not many people know about that. Even the Imperial War Museum’s web link skirts over the wartime leader’s involvement.

“Many of our friends in Muslim countries all over the East have already expressed great appreciation of this gift.” – Winston Churchill addressed the cabinet in 1940, They set aside £100,000 for a London mosque to honour the Indian Muslims who fought for the British Empire.

At the weekend thugs and far right fascists waved Hitler-style right arm salutes in front of the Sir Winston Churchill statue. The very character who helped Britain and her allies to overcome Nazi Germany, fascist-state Italy and a hugely militarist Japan hellbent on expanding their Empire. In April 2014, Labour candidate Benjamin Whittingham tweeted on Twitter that Sir Winston Churchill was “a racist and white supremacist”. The Labour Party removed the post and apologised to Churchill’s grandson Sir Nicholas Soames – and the world. In February 2019, before COVID-19 ravaged Europe, Labour’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell called Sir Winston Churchill a villain. Newspapers often dig up some rusty pieces of Churchill-bashing and The Guardian’s Gary Younge’s piece from 2002 is hugely relevant today.

“I think my grandfather’s reputation can withstand a publicity-seeking assault from a third-rate, Poundland Lenin. I don’t think it will shake the world.” – Sir Nicholas Soames (Grandson of Sir Winston Churchill, The Daily Telegraph, February 2019.

Groomed by class, and shaped by his headstrong opinion, Sir Winston Churchill helped deliver Britain through its darkest hours. Strong leadership and action needed to prevail – and it did. People gave their all for freedom and choice. Without such actions, Britain and Europe surely would have fell to Nazi ideals. To freely discuss Sir Winston Churchill and his party’s feelings of other races is easy now. Back then, in another lifetime and era, many were obsessed with master races and strong genes over others. There are even religions, cults and countries now pushing and plugging that notion, but that is another story, for another day.

Sir Winston Churchill was not a stranger to eugenics and controversy. The man himself adorns countless history books, five-pound notes and was and is celebrated by many. Many British-Indians see Sir Winston Churchill as a figure of division. They have a just case, and rightly so they are free to argue their cause, after all the defeat and prevention of Nazi rule on British soil was all about that. Freedom of speech belongs in the U.K. Even during Sir Winston Churchill’s time pre-war and after World War II many argues his faults and his seemingly eugenic views as far more than just class division. His speeches were often tinged with venom and fear-mongering: watch out for those pesky East Asians

I’ve always found Sir Winston Churchill’s books – of which there are volumes to be fascinating and idiosyncratic. They’re outlandishly eccentric pieces from a time of Empire and fear of Communism and Fascism. They’re contradictive deep pieces of opinion and words twist and turn hither and dither to form a kind of blog or diary or history bibliography. Many have deep direction. Most have one-sided takes. The more that people can read into Sir Winston Churchill’s works the better. They’re illuminating and showcase an often-troubled mind full of intellect and discovery. One moments they pour with respect, the next they stand over their quarry and stamp their feet down. Like all heroes, he’s a troubled kind. To question his legacy is natural. There is no alternative narrative from his dealings in World War II. But there are other stories, lesser told and lesser written about. Sir Winston Churchill’s A History of the English-Speaking Peoples is by and large referred to as social Darwinism in a manuscript.

“I do not admit for instance, that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America or the black people of Australia. I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race, a more worldly wise race to put it that way, has come in and taken their place.” – Part of Winston Churchill’s address the Palestine Royal Commission in 1937.

If given a school report for his handling of World War II, Sir Winston Churchill would be awarded an A* with all possible distinctions and awards.  For his relationships to the Suffragettes, well, how can you offer bail one day and then imprison many just a few years later? That’s the mark of a poor Home Secretary. Sorry, Sir Winston Churchill that’s a U mark on your report card: unclassified, as in terrible. Historians and defenders of the recently desecrated statue of Sir Winston Churchill are now doing battle in the foreground of society. Was Sir Winston Churchill a racist? Hmmm, these knights, there must have been a few over the years that have fell foul of the race cards. How about his treatment to the working classes and liberals he once represented? Scribe another U on the report card please. How about using the Army (Lancashire Fusiliers) against Welsh miners in 1910? That Tonypandy and Rhonda Valley matter deserves another U. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, superfan (in the girl group sense of things) denounces any such things.

Without looking over the Atlantic at the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, we have a few of our own in Britain, in recent years. Racism has never gone away. I recall the Stephen Lawrence enquiry in 1999 said that the killing of young black teenager was “institutionally racist”. Disparity in races has been around all my lifetime and I don’t believe anyone who thinks otherwise. Social-economic constraints act as shackles and supress. I always wondered how shows like Little Britain and Bo’ Selecta could get away with playing black characters. But, me being white, I didn’t question them, I just assumed somebody somewhere in the ages of political correctness had said these shows were portrayals on not to mock anyone. Now it seems actors, comedians, writers and more are apologising for fun. Others like Ricky Gervais are making video blogs.

#BlackLivesMatter and other protests, as well as raves in Daisy Nook (near Oldham, Lancashire), and seem to cast a shadow over the COVID-19 coronavirus problem that is filling our lives right now. The bug is back in Beijing, China and should serve as a warning that suppression of the virus globally is far from achievable – right now. Just as the establishment presented Sir Winston Churchill as a hero and awarded him a state funeral, I can’t help but think that the powers that be will paint all the protestors with one dirty paintbrush and dishonestly claim that they’re the problem. Sir Winston Churchill was made to look like he won World War II with speeches and dogged determination alone. As the Red Army of Russia rolled over Nazi Germany and into Europe, Sir Winston Churchill campaigned so fiercely to take out the Communist threat that he was swiftly shuffled aside. The coalition with the supportive Labour Party sent him packing. It was his ousting that paved the way for Dominion of India to gain independence from Great Britain/the U.K. on 15th August 1947 ( a day after the Dominion of Pakistan). That led to the Republic of India.

Indian history is complex – and British intervention, colonialism there only makes things more complicated. Hindus and their belief, have been around far longer than second testament Christian values and have experienced more fusions, branches away. Nobody has the right to say their religion is better than any other religion. But, as history tells us, our species is pretty damn good at enforcing and passing the message of the latest Messiah, God or entity to pray to at some temple, home or prayer mat. Sir Winston Churchill was raised a time when 24% of Earth’s lands sat under the British Empire’s flag. He knew that “the empire on which the sun never sets” was fragile. The ruins of European nations and the balance of global power now swung between the U.S.A. and U.S.S.R. Anti- European colonialism and anti-imperialism thoughts. Peaceful disengagement led to a British Empire of 700 million becoming just 5 million.

Our modern multicultural society is really privileged. We have the freedom and the questions to tear apart pop idols, song lyrics, scientific facts and history. We can have discussions that our parents and forefathers could not. Well, some of us. Don’t deny the good things from history and hide the sculptures and portraits away. Dig out the dirt and add it. Let people make their decisions and choices about how to remember people from key historic times. Nobody is perfect. I wasted a punnet of blueberries this weekend. They went mouldy. I feel ashamed. I hate wasting food.

“I cannot understand this squeamishness about the use of gas. I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes” – Winston Churchill, Minister for War and Air, 1919. Was it teargas or mustard gas? Academics are still debating

Sir Winston Churchill had read about the Irish Famine and knew of its bleak effect on humanity. This knowledge was useless to him. The man who sacrificed Coventry, would let down Bengal to an even greater effect. The Japanese occupation of Burma and its affect on Bengal led to Sir Winston Churchill having to do something. He didn’t. He actively refused to send aid – and perhaps as Britain was engaged in austerity it was a justified lack of aid, or not. There is great debate. Some estimates say 2-3 million people died. British Empire colonial policies did not come to the rescue. Sir Winston Churchill had served in the Boer War he had seen concentration camps, he deployed the infamous Black and Tans (Irish War of Independence, 1919). If you think Saddam Hussein was bad or ISIS (Daesh), look up Mesopotamia and a certain Winston Churchill, Colonial Secretary. Perhaps there is reason as to why some memorials keep getting targeted with paint. Maybe the Indians shouldn’t as Churchill called it, bred “like rabbits”?

“Churchill was very much on the far right of British politics over India. Even to most Conservatives, let alone Liberals and Labour, Churchill’s views on India between 1929 and 1939 were quite abhorrent.” – John Charmley, Churchill: The End of Glory

Voted as Britain’s Greatest Ever Briton in 2002, today’s society is understanding this complicated man in ways less fitting for a late Sunday night TV drama. In 2007, Sir Winston Churchill’s legendary statue on Parliament Square was splattered with red paint. The once mighty Churchill grew up in and around an era where racial hierarchies and eugenics were plentiful. We, on the other hand, have the chance to fight and discuss equality. The man who sent tanks and troops to Glasgow in 1919 should not be spared our discussions – and he should not be met with hate, for it is too late. Now, more than ever, we must embrace the past and educate – or learn.

You choose.

The Man on Brazennoze Street

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

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There’s a global pandemic on. The coronavirus and its related disease COVID-19 has ravaged the planet, taking at least 411,277 (from 7,238,611 infected) lives. Racism is being warred against too. As protestors and police get close and personal, belief and freedom are risks. Standing up against police violence, draws people into a dilemma. End or delay the battle against racism? Contribute to the spread of a potentially fatal disease? If you choose to overwhelm the NHS (National Health service). The virus doesn’t care one iota about your race. You’re ostensibly more likely to die if you are black, Asian or Middle-Eastern, so is it safe to protest? What are your thoughts? For something that disproportionately affects minority communities, that are now coming together in protest, well this could be a huge disaster. Beliefs versus risks. In my mind, I’d want to support the protests, but I’d want to support and protect the NHS too…

“We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

I used to eat at Shirley’s Café or Gregg’s bakery and get a breakfast barmcake with a coffee, when I worked on the corner of Brazennoze Street. Here I could walk down the road and see something odd. Manchester has a statue living down the road from Albert Square. High upon a granite plinth the distinct shape of Abraham Lincoln can be seen standing. That’s right. Abraham Lincoln (February 12, 1809 – April 15, 1865), 16th President of the U.S. of America. He’s been stood on Brazennoze Street since around 1986 eyeing passers-by but casting no judgement. The street runs between Albert Square and Deansgate gaining large footfall around office hours.

“You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.” – Abraham Lincoln

The square opening on Brazennoze Street is known as Lincoln Square. Few know this. There aren’t many signs and up until a recent renovation nearby, the square has largely been overlooked in favour of the more marketable St. Anne’s Square, Albert Square and the Corn Exchange frontage. The pedestrianised pathway uses red bricks so common within northwest England, and on a damp rainy Mancunian day, it isn’t a place to go looking for escape. A few saplings and trees can be seen nearby but it doesn’t feel very green or warm. Manchester, like many port cities (we have a Ship Canal don’t you know!), has links to slavery. Any city with an insurance company or a bank does. Sorry Liverpool.

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Our Lincoln, the our kid of that America, used to be stood down Platt Fields Park. The son of William Howard Taft (27th President of the U.S.A.) made it. Charles Phelps Taft’s statue was one of two gifted to England – not Manchester, as a symbol of Anglo-American togetherness. One replica ended up in London, as the capital city. The original was left in Cincinnati, Ohio where Taft Junior was mayor.

The other replica was kind of posted to Liverpool but Manchester Art Gallery put in a sneaky bis in 1918, kind of a precursor to eBay outbidding and snatched it from Scouse hands [see also Demba Ba and Steven Gerrard]. London, then went one better and brought a much larger replica of a different Lincoln statue, in what can only be seen as a pissing competition. London urinated higher. By 1919, Manchester’s Lincoln statue was added to Platt Fields. By 1986, Manchester wanted to give more prominence to Lincoln and the cause. It was moved to Lincoln Square and placed on a new plinth. Beneath it a plague reads, “The support that the working people of Manchester gave in their fight for the abolition of slavery during the American Civil War…….By supporting the union under President Lincoln at a time when there was an economic blockade of the southern states the Lancashire cotton workers were denied access to raw cotton which caused considerable unemployment throughout the cotton industry.”

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“Slavery is founded in the selfishness of man’s nature – opposition to it is his love of justice. These principles are an eternal antagonism; and when brought into collision so fiercely, as slavery extension brings them, shocks and throes and convulsions must ceaselessly follow.” – Abraham Lincoln

Manchester’s liberal values and Lincoln’s cause became as one. Britain was an ally. Reportedly even the Confederate Flag flew on some Lancashire mills during the American Civil War. Decades of air pollution and legendary Mancunian weather had left it neat impossible to read the words on the statue of Lincoln’s plaque. His Royal African Company displaced around 80,000 people (men, women and children) to America. Manchester’s statue of Lincoln is seen as a key point for the opposition to slavery. Known often as the ‘Great Emancipator’, Lincoln was part of society’s push towards progression and racial justice. Some argue he was a racist, some don’t. But, what can’t be chalked away from history are the facts. Lincoln made a difference, in far more difficult times for many, especially Africans and African-Americans. What should be taken from Lincoln’s appearance in Manchester, is that Lincoln, like many of his peers was complex character and times, which may explain why he apparently wanted to re-colonize the former-slaves, or send them back to Africa

“Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves; and under the rule of a just God, cannot long retain it.” – Abraham Lincoln

The Abolition of the Slave Trade Act came in 1807. Almost 213 years later a statue was torn down, toppled and sank in Bristol. The name Colston has long been known. Edward Colston was a 17th Century slave trader. A bastard and a blight on British history, part of the very tapestry that had built an Empire. Around 10,000 people paraded the wreckage before the statue was scuttled in the harbour. Around this time Sir Winston Churchill’s statue is London was sprayed with additional text, ‘was a racist’. Scottish streets were renamed after police brutality victims. Oxford University is a target due to its links to Cecil Rhodes (think white supremacy, colonialism and racism).

Whilst Abraham Lincoln was unsure about what to do with slaves after the end of slavery, now society finds itself at a road where one terrible death has triggered a wave of protest. There is no room in society for racism. Many of yesterday’s heroes or founders of today’s world are not good. Just as many companies has profited from the Nazi persecution of Jewish and other ethnic backgrounds, we have to embrace the atrocities and learn.

“Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.” – Abraham Lincoln

JAB Holdings (Reimann family) that own Krispy Kreme, Panera Bread and Pret a Manger etc have admitted to profiting under the Nazi regime. French cosmetics company L’Oréal have been tied to illegal property seizures. Barclays Bank (established 1690) has already compensated Jewish members who had their assets seized in France. If you have heard of Siemens, Bayer, Nestle, Coca-Cola, Allianz (Bayern Munich’s ground which is weird for a club once taunted as a so-called “Jews’ club” by Hitler’s twonks), Audi, BMW, IBM, Hugo Boss, Mercedes-Benz, and Volkswagen well you may have heard that they are some of the corporations that made some money from forced Jewish labour. These historic crimes were after black slavery (to and in America), yet seem to have been discussed more openly. History cannot afford to hide indifference.

“If there is anything that a man can do well, I say let him do it. Give him a chance.” – Abraham Lincoln

We’re in the 21st century yet a few idiots want to keep us in the past and destroy world relations. The less said about ‘Miss Hitler’ and Trump the better. We can reshape history and move artefacts that our forefathers and mothers saw fit to decorate cities and towns. We don’t have to be proud of all of our heritage. We don’t need to hide it all. We shouldn’t be hiding any of it. I was born a European and next year, I’ll just be British. I’m human and I am Mancunian – and for me being Mancunian is all about embracing people no matter where they come from, what they believe or who they support (even if it is United).

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

爱与和平 and love

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Suffragette City: We can be heroes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quarry Bank MIll September 2019 (30)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Mancunian Way, Dongguan

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

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

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


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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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