Best of British.

How do/你好,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ta’ra. 再见

A Tougher Christmas Away From Home

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do / S’mae,

MERRY CHRISTMAS

圣诞节快乐 (shèng dàn kuài lè)

Here we go, here we go, here we go… Christmas is coming. The turkeys and other winged edibles are getting fat. Not that I can judge, as I’m a tad chubbier than chubby. The festive season isn’t my favourite. Too many selfish and greedy Christmas dreams of the latest Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles figures or Lego made it so. Actually, I’ve been very lucky at Christmas and maybe when I was young, I never quite appreciated it the same. When you’re a child stuck between divorced parents in a place called limbo, not knowing quite who or where you’d be, it isn’t easy. Some years I didn’t write Christmas cards to family because they’d be wasted. The year after I’d do it again, and they’d be unneeded. I think this shaped my adultlife more than I care to mention. Today, I am toying with electronic messages for all. There are rainforests afterall. Or there were, at the time of writing. Less so, by the end of each sentence. Trees have sentences too. Usually a stark chopping sound. Or do they use chainsaws?

Twinkle, twinkle, little bat! How, I wonder what you’re at! Up above the world you fly, like a tea tray in the sky. Twinkle, twinkle, little bat! How, I wonder what you’re at!

You’re homeless bat. The chainsaws just ripped through the stumps of the tree housing your crevice home. Goodbye bat. Oh, I think I have gone off topic. Back to the tinsel and baubles. I guess living in China and witnessing a very commercial society buy and sell everything Christmas for the sake of it, plus seeing life back home. The haves. The have-nots. The stripping of traditional values and beliefs make me long for family. Just family. Good times and days out. It is far better to enjoy time with those you love – and love you, than to say, buy them an iPhone What-The-Feck or the latest Ex-Box™ (check your recycling bin). Is our quality of life becoming so material that we will develop crab claws like some sort of mutant Lego man?

 Happy Holidays!

佳节快乐 (jiā jié kuài lè)

The humble pillow case at Christmas would often double-up as a Christmas tardis of joy. For Astrid, Paul and I, there’d be treats, mayba a selection box, some fresh fruit and gifts inside. In hindsight I feel sorry for Mum, over the years, probably spending her hard-earned efforts and time on things to make us happy for a moment. The lucky thing is that the memories are there. The fondest moments are of seeing my brother Paul open is latest Dr Who or Harry Potter something-or-other. Christmas away from home is mentally exhausting. To keep busy and free of Christmas regret is the key. In that sense, I want this Christmas to bring my brother Paul closer.

I’m almost certain my brother Paul detests me. I’m tired of chasing a brother that needs to mature, take responsibility for himself and his place of living. I wish him all the luck in the world and offer him love. I hope he realises how lucky he is to have home there by him, at home. I hope he cuddles my sister Astrid and wishes Mum and Mum’s boyfriend Paul a joyous and wonderful Christmastime. Perhaps, he’ll go carol singing or wash the Christmas dishes having spent the morning helping to prepare the main meal. He’ll probably suggest they all watch Morecambe & Wise on television and peruse old family photos. Some reminiscing and pondering are permitted before a game of Scrabble or Monopoly. Paul is just a victim of my frantic typing today. Every Christmas I think about those that I should be closer to, and those I want to do well in life. There are many. I hope Paul and I are at peace. I invite him to China – and try a portion of life free of Almost Everyday Shit™. It’d be nice to get a bit more than a short arse reply. It’d be nice to be there for each other. It is probably my fault, for not being there when he needed me. Brothers and sisters are just like friends following university – we drift apart. The difference being that some brothers never actually got close enough to be good friends. I’ve always admired how Paul and Astrid have been closer than me and them. Shaun and Christina on my Dad’s side of the family are the same.

Believe it or not, I miss my brother – and we haven’t been close. I miss all my siblings, Asa (with Steph) down in cider territory, big little sister Astrid, Christina (the brainbox of the siblings) and Shaun (named after Shaun Goater). Being from a family that has a splatmark rather than a family tree, it has never been easy but now I am finally mature enough to understand. We each lead our own life and walk a different path. It is great to know that brothers or sisters are there for each other in some shape or form. I can’t wait to see them all again. I dream of taking a photo of us all together, and dining well. Maybe I am naïve but at least I am a dreamer – and I know I’m not the only one. Cheers J.L.

So, for Christmas events so far, I’ve managed to dress as Santa Claus at the Shenzhen Blues. That day was long, with a few hours of costume chaos, orchestrated by Kat and Stephen as they paraded us like lambs to the slaughter. Fed on a light turkey lunch, Rebecca (my adoped Christmas wife) and I gave out gift baubles, certificates and smiled for countless photos. Following a swift coffee and natter with a legal friend, we cracked on for the second act. The meal, quiz and raffle seemed to whiz by, then City played at 01:30am local time and coffee would have been more use then. Bed at 4am, with City’s first defeat fresh in mind. Shenzhen Blues raised about 1300rmb for A Heart for China charity. Not bad for 10RMB tickets. Oh, and I met a professional Santa Claus, who was enjoying a drink after a hard day’s work in the hotel industry. He works all year, on photoshoots, promotions, as Santa – and even has a wedding ring with a snowflake on it.

In March 2014, I heard my first Christmas songs in China on loop at a fast food chain. Fast forward to November 2014 and I was told I could have Christmas Day off work with my colleagues.  Soon after I put up my Christmas tree and the happy season followed. I missed family and friends of course. Still, it wasn’t a bad Christmas in 2014. In 2015, I joined Hong Kong Blues for the Santa Stroll, had dinner with Hubhao, had a meal with colleagues on Christmas Eve before watching the musician Mr Walrus on Christmas Day itself. I still need to get round to completing that Chinese Proficiency Test, I set in 2015. In 2016 and 2017, I’d been Father Christmas at the Shenzhen Blues events. The former year involved a strange Christmas meal and the latter none, but Maria did go with me to a Christmas Eve concert. As for 2018, tell you later.

The week before last week saw a day of exams at school. I planned and organised my double science class for the JS2/Grade 8 students. It tanked. The behaviour of students on days with exams, plus their collective lack of interest in science doesn’t help. I should blame myself. I try, but once you get past showing toilet plant clips, the Titan arum plant, and trying to feed their imagination, then the technical terms are of little interest to them. If one boy, named Tony Stark, gets his way, then there will be no class. As friendly as he is, he blocks the rest of the class from concentrating. Sadly, taking out the leader is not possible. Engaging him as the central point of some activites has worked though. Further reading is required.

This week has been filled with pre-Christmas activities, similar to recent dance activities and a seemingly constant-flow of extracurricular… and I’m working Christmas Day, through choice. Wish me luck.

Nadolig Llawen i chi. Feliz Navidad. 愉快な. Lystig jul. Рождеством Христовым. Vrolijke Kerstmis. Natal feliz! Joyeux noël! Fröhliches Weihnachten!

 

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

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?