Step back: I.

The journey from Dongguan to Manchester was by no means a short one. A drive, by neighbour and friend Charif, with Panda and I, was the first start. After handing back the Songshan Lake apartment, the over-the-top backpack (29.8kg), dog carrier (11kg + Panda 19kg) and 10kg hand luggage slotted into Charif’s spacious sports utility vehicle. Two toilet stops on the way to the airport for Panda, and then we arrived into a multi-storey car park. An elevator to the roof gave Panda ample time to drop off unwanted gut packages and then we shook hands with Charif, or in Panda’s case, a lick and a jump, and off past security we went.

Check-in went smoothly, save some panic about vaccination certificates needed in Amsterdam, for me! Panda’s paperwork went swimmingly. With a late flight, arrival was well in advance. Off Panda went, checked-in, down a a conveyor belt, for a lengthy journey ahead. I passed security, the health check corridor and baggage check before entering the departure lobby. A near empty airport had water refill points, poor wi-fi and little else of use. Dynamic zero and its COVID-19 policy has destroyed any fun to be had in airports. No food was available. I munched on a bag of beetroot crisps and drank my water (warm, not cold). Still, I was able to stream Manchester City’s 6-0 win over recently promoted Nottingham Forest. A hat trick for the fantastically good Erling Haaland, with a brace by Julián Álvarez and a strike by João Cancelo ensured three points for City, and a smile as I boarded the aircraft bound for Istanbul.

The two flight legs involved the watching of two movies, To Olivia, and The Professor and The Madman. The former is a biographic account of a tragedy that unfolds in the lives of the family of author Roald Dahl and actress Patricia Neal. It stars Hugh Richard Bonneville Williams as Dahl and Claire Julia “Keeley” Hawes as Neal. The director John Hay takes an affectionate and gentle touch to a tough task, delivering a dreamy movie with a warmly-hugged factor. He is a director known to myself for that great movie, There’s Only One Jimmy Grimble. Acting titans Mel Gibson and Sean Penn head a cast that tackles the formation of The New English Dictionary on Historical Principles (better known as Oxford English Dictionary). It sounds like a dull story, but in truth it is far from the dictionary definition of dullness.

Between flights, a brief stop at Istanbul gave me chance to sample great sandwich, coffees and some snacks before boarding for Amsterdam and a central European gateway to Britain… At this stage I was highly excited, nervous and bubbling with a mixture of emotions and anticipation. As the door to life in China swung to shut, an open door to the next chapter of life lurked ajar, but needed a few steps to get there.

Everything’s Electric

There used to be a time when I’d book things to look forwards to, places to go and events to see with family and friends. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen live music in an arena, music Hall or outdoor concert. If it wasn’t for tribute bands and variety acts around Dongguan, I’d have heard nil by ears.

Going home brings new opportunities. Many challenges and worries. But, as I dodge COVID-19 with the substandard Sinovac vaccination, I’ll grab some other up-to-date and tried and tested formula within a week of the ferry berthing in Kingston-upon-Hull.

Dock in Hull. First steps on English soil in a fraction beneath three years away from the U.K. Get to Manchester. Take Mum to Arcade Fire. Wander off to Gulliver’s a few days later to hear the sounds of Lael Neale (5/9). Get down to Cardiff, home of F.I.F.A. 2022 World Cup Qatar-bound Wales. Give our Liam Gallagher and The Charlatans a listen (15/9). Wait until November for Idlewild (20/11) followed by Florence and The Machine (22/11). Slot in the football at the Etihad, home of Manchester City, and seek out some comedy. And, ideally some track cycling.

“I think he’s coming home again.” – C’mon You Know lyrics, Liam Gallagher

A little further ahead it seem possible to witness the comedy talent of Henning Wehn in Stockport Plaza (18/2/23) and
Stewart Lee at the Lowry, Salford (31/2/23) with Mum and Paul.

Independence and life will hit like a brick in the face. The next steps will be clearer. I still don’t actually know where I’ll be sleeping for the foreseeable future in Blighty. My fear of becoming homeless is closer than ever. That green and pleasant land of Brexit and Conservative destruction is crumbling like the White Cliffs of Dover. It’s going to be hard to get by, but a positive mental attitude is on its way. With Panda. At least I’ll be a little entertained. Providing I can get by with extortionate gas, electric, water and council taxes feeding the fat cats.

Of course, after two weeks on crutches (with two to four more expected, provided I heal), looking forward is more important than ever. This loose cast and elevated legs daily are trying and testing my patience. I’m teaching myself resilience. Still, it could be worse. Much worse. I’ve known two friends to lose their mother in the last two years and that’s a horrible experience to witness others suffer.

A slippery apartment, wet floor tiles outdoors, puddles, whizzing electric bikes, phone zombies who don’t look up whilst walking, dog owners who can’t shuffle their poodle left a little and vomit puddles in the elevator make going to work difficult. That and showering on one leg. One leg outside as I dance, shuffle and avoid slips, trips and falls. Things broken don’t just include my right foot. 120kg of mass moving at gravity – assisted speed onto chairs, bed frames and stools generates a fair crack of sound. The crutches don’t grip moisture. Dongguan is all about the humidity these days. And heavy rain.

My second visit to the Songshan Lake Tungwah Hospital (东华松山湖医院) radiology department via the emergency department and with the help of Dr Li (李医生, orthopedic department) went okay. No huge progression after a week. Carry on with this, that and the other. Time is a healer. Thanks to Maria and her boyfriend, and Peter for accompanying me the initial time and at the sequel. The very professional hospital have been most helpful this academic year at T.W.I.S.

C’mon You Know is Liam Gallagher’s umpteenth foray into music. The former Oasis member and brother of Noel has mixed some soulful pop with bite and some catchy lyrics. It’s decent enough if you’re into indie and rock, with the usual shade of 90s and The Beatles thrown in for good taste. It definitely sounds like it should be at home on festival stages and in front of stadium crowds.

Still, I enjoyed chicken with the quad of Alice, Keisel and Laura yesterday. Panda has been walked by all three and 7 others this last two weeks. We’re having a few bumpy times but he’s still a happy doggy. Thanks go Benny, Jaime, Mr D, Nem and Aleks, Alice, Keisel, Charif, Daisy, and Maria for walking Panda. He really appreciates it too. Especially, the 5.30am walks… and the runs! Thank you kindly.

They’ll be better days.

All subject to change.

Best foot forward.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whoops.

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

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

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

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

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

Ts & Cs

How do! 你好!

The fuse? Candle wax? Tree into tied activities? A trapeze act stuck inside?

Life has so many pieces of small print, tucked under the seams, crammed into the crevices, and dropped into long forgotten pockets. They can be found as hints, messages and moments in our history. Some are beautiful, dutiful or testing. Most can be learned from, such is the way of life. The small print keeps coming though.

Rainham Steel and their hot flanged joists or cold circle angles being advertised at British football grounds has never ever made sense to me. Yet their imagery on football photography for years on end has stood out and crept into my psychology. The sign doesn’t have a phone number or website. Nothing. It stands out. No terms and conditions. Just a bizarre advert targeting football fans (in attendance or otherwise watching via television) who needs industrial standard steel. Rainham Steel have no clear purpose other than to be present through tradition and maintain their historical connections to the beautiful game. Now, where do I place my girders?

2021 started with optimism, way up in Yubeng village. Through a mixture of local hospitality, Oliver, Piotr and I finished a few days wander with a countdown below snow-capped mountains. It really recharged my mental batteries. Again in summer my passage followed the flow of Yunnan, as if swept a long by a calm river. That’s where I grabbed my first and only tattoo on date. No contract was mentioned. It was surprisingly easy to scar myself for exchange of cash.

A few days after leaving Yunnan for New Year and life’s finality was highlighted as City legend Colin Bell passed away. I never saw him play football. I lived off his video footage and stories from friends and family. I filled my heart with his warmth from a very reluctant biography. Somewhere at the back of my mind the joys of trekking clashed with the feeling of the passing of time. This is life. A condition of living is death.

Three cycle crashes in a year and one trip to hospital as a result of the latter crash brought me down to Earth. My first outpatient visit to an emergency room to patch up cuts and check some impact marks to bones happened. My first inpatient visit and night stays at hospital later in the year terrified me but left me thinking I need to improve my fitness and recover stronger than ever. Even if age is a small print, this challenge shouldn’t get the better of me. I’ll kick a ball again and find mountains to trek in 2022.

I now approach 8 years of life in China and Dongguan. That’s a hefty chunk of my thirties. It’s almost a quarter of my life. I’ve spent two Chinese New Year holidays in Dongguan and it looks like 2022 will be the same. This whole COVID-19 thing just drags on and on. Even my third jab (the booster) has left me lagging behind. I’m on analogue when all around me is on digital. Creased by politics, changing attitudes and a global pandemic of fear, working and living in China is increasingly less attractive. A new two year contract hasn’t been signed yet. I love the job but I must think deeply. There are many implications of signing.

The year 2021 has been quite mentally testing. Unable to travel to the U.K. to see family and friends, blighted by world news of fear, panic and that bloody virus, I’ve sought solace in gardening my balcony and giving a new home to Panda the Border Collie. The little fur ball of joy joins me on the sands of Huizhou to welcome 2022 in. Alongside his doggy girlfriend Sasha and her human slaves Miss Keisel and husband Charif (with student Amir and his sister Emma). Talking with them I feel that homesickness is strangling talent. If we want to leave China to visit family and friends, it seems to be mostly a one way ticket. So few who have left have returned and 2021 had more than its fair share of leaving events.

On the subject of leaving, Sergio Aguero, scorer of that 93:20 goal, amongst his many records and City’s all-time greatest scorer, announced he would leave City. Then he left. He was warmly welcomed at new club Barcelona but the optimism evaporated as he was soon forced to hang his boots up due to a health problem. 2021 wasn’t a great year for Sergio but he did bow out with 2020/21’s Premier League title and a Champions League runners up medal. The perfect ending doesn’t always happen. That’s for fairytales.

Great writers like Jim Steinman and Eric Carle passed away, having influenced countless souls on their life journeys. Their words accompanied me at Scholastic’s Guided Reading conference, throughout three I.B. training periods and some Jolly Phonics. At the end of the day, reading has got me to where I am in Tungwah Wenzel International School (T.W.I.S.) and I intend to do my best with the knowledge I want to share. Perhaps, guidance is my destiny. Only 2022 can tell.

Summer witnessed the departure of many international colleagues to pastures new. Not before Mr Oliver and I trekked around Shanxi, Shaanxi, Ningxia and Gansu together. Not a bad way to say, “Bon voyage!” And then Autumn flew by. The October holiday gave me chance for hiking and wandering but nothing amazing happened. 2022 could be that year. If only the bloody virus would fizzle out. The movies Outbreak and Contagion each hand happy endings. Rene Russo and Kate Winslet didn’t do bad. 2021, however, is the poorer cousin of 2020.

Discrimination and prejudice have risen; borders have increased with social segregation and some countries closing to others; lifestyle changes such as Zoom and a plethora of online teaching, working and scamming; and misinformation became the norm. Afghanistan went backwards as if to illustrate a world trend of fans being hit by turds. Glasgow held COP26 and the world climate crisis was averted. I think. It’s been a funny old year. The most important thing though, is to forget the traditional ways and go for something sustainable and new. The old ways led us here. Let’s go new for 2022.

Happy new year and all the best!

May 2002 deliver hope and dreams.

Ta’ra! 再见!