Exam stress: COVID-19 style.

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

This has been the most testing semester of my time teaching within China. When we look back on the spread of the pandemic from China outwards, we can count the tragic loss of lives, the social effects and far more damage to community. Many will look back at the economic impact with aversion. There will be hatred by some, about how governments and leaders globally have failed some and their nations. Loathing and abhorrence towards such matters as travel. There may be limited opportunity to flourish in this COVID-19 era. Trouble is already rife. How many people have lost out? How many people plan right now? Is there a disinclination to trust bug business? Has repugnance crawled around the globe like a thick mist? Do many feel a new kind of animosity?

My personal antipathy is towards the setbacks slung upon education. For many students and parents, they were locked in. Properly shut away. No outreaches and limits held over their head like a noose. Some students have been apart from one of their parents for so long. A mother in China here. A father over in Singapore, or Japan, or Korea, or France there. This isn’t a way for a kid to grow up. How many families are split up by the control of disease? Some will find their father or mother as close as Hong Kong to Shenzhen is, but to their tiny innocent minds, the distance may as well be as far as Kathmandu is from Sao Paulo. These are testing times as we approach the examination periods. Students are being drilled in test papers, exams, and assessments at a rate like bullets spraying from a machine gun in battle.

These poor little minds need protecting with less demands so early in their primary life. In China, students are tested mid-term, end of semester, mid-term and end of year. On top of this there are other tests, so many tests, and very little time to stop thinking about tests. Outside of the primary classroom, they may be assessed at extra learning and training centres, or even via online teaching assessments. I don’t recall seeing a test until I was in year 6 of Chapel Street Primary School. And then, year 9 of secondary school was key for testing. After that every secondary year, college and university year had tests. Yet, outside of England, and the U.K., testing can be little (like Finland) or frequently often (like China).

The pandemic claimed weeks of teaching, then came online teaching which many believed to be near-ineffective. The excitement and rush to the classroom was filled with joy, but soon the happy faces fell away as the weight of condensed programmes filled their tiny blossoming minds. A nine-year-old girl shouldn’t tell you she feels pressure. A ten-year-old boy shouldn’t break down in tears and worry about missing his drumming class. They should be playing in sand, building towers of Lego or shoving their fingers up their nose with not a worry in the world.

Last night’s defeat in the football game between City and Liverpool F.C.’s feeder team Southampton is thrown away. The perspective I have today is clear. These exams should be lighter and easier on the young minds of primary school kids. This is not a way to learn. My first foray into contact rugby on Saturday with Dongguan Bulldogs was tough physically but mentally it was far easier than what these students are facing in China. The gloomy feel of a pandemic lurking in shadows, worries about family and life are entering the world of children too early. Let’s be sensible and try to help them out. Less exams please.

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.

“OK, mum’s the word!”

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

“Let’s sing it and rhyme; Let’s give it one more time; Let’s show the kids how to do it fine, fine, fine, fine” – All The Best, R.E.M.

Happy birthday to my dearest Mum. Much can be said for my Mum. I want to write it though. Maybe the video says a little, but I think some words are best and need jotting down. Call it reinforcement. Call it a child of a mother without means to display emotion through a hug. Afterall geography and COVID-19 keep us apart. Mothering Sunday and Mother’s Day celebrate mums and mothers (or moms) around the world. A birthday is much more personal than that but by no means less important. Every day I live and breathe on this here Earth is because of my Mum. Dad too. But, deep down we all know mums are more important.

Mums are your first true friend. They’re the best friend we should all have from day one of our lives. They are a forever friend. Mums stick by you no matter what, or they should. There are always exceptions. If a mum disowns you for liking Man Utd, then that’s your own fault. Thankfully, my mum, Mum, as I call her, because she is my mum and Mum to two others: my dreaded siblings Astrid and Paul; yes, thankfully my Mum is brilliant. She’s always listened to great music like Pulp, R.E.M., James, Finley Quaye, and Led Zeppelin. Mum has encouraged me from an early age to read. I was deep into the worlds of Tolkien long before they were fashionable. Armed with knowledge of The Lord of The Rings. Mum made sure I was presented with a stage show version long before a live action version hit the silver screen. The Tameside Hippodrome remains a fond memory with orcs and lasers casting haunting imagery from the central stage. To receive books was always wonderful. Mum and Dad provided great volumes from an early age. Collecting Weetabix tokens sometimes led to great books. Some I still have today and share amongst my classroom. These were the books that set me on my way.

Mum has grafted and strived to make each of us better. Likewise, Mum has set a prime of example of improving herself. Mum has studied at the Open University in Sociology. Mum has always tried to reason her socialist values and community spirit. She has imparted her knowledge on me and always allowed me to make my own judgements and find my own way. As Mum has shared so many great things, I always want to show her my world. I have loved being able to see Mum at Manchester City, or go to a music gig like The Levellers with me. Mum may have heard of and witnessed the Waterboys when they first came around, but my musical world is constantly expanding. As I was experiencing James singing Sit Down at an Air Cadet Christmas party, Mum was being attending their live gigs. Over the years I have grew to love James, and their song Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) is an emotional track. It reminds me of me as a nuisance and a liability towards my mum, as I stuttered and faulted my way through secondary school. Mum has been great for me. My rock. My believer.

Mum treated me once to a birthday trip, with Neil Fanning, to Blackpool and it rained heavily. We were drenched. Mum took me to the Roxy Cinema to see Ghostbusters II and it was flooded. Mum showed me the V.E. celebrations at Manchester Town hall and we had fireworks rain down on us. At Woodford Airshow, Mum calmed me down after seeing a Spitfire crash. As the Supermarine Spitfire Mk XIV struck the ground at the bottom of a low level loop during an air display, Mum must have felt as sick as everyone around them. Pilot David Moore didn’t survive. Bizarrely the aircraft did and was moved to Rolls Royce in Derby for restoration to flying condition. Mum explained everything to me, a young boy, a bit upset by the huge explosion on 27/6/92 at 15:08. I’ve just seen the video again, and it made my eyes water with tears. That’s what mums do, they put their kids ahead of them. They’re the strongest people on Earth. They sacrifice their own time, space and energy to look after and protect us. That’s why Mum spotted me crying when Bambi’s mother died. I can’t explain the tears shed at E.T. or Thomas the Tank Engine. Perhaps those days were dusty.

Eating fresh bread at the observation area (not medical) of Manchester Airport and watching planes land made a few different days. Trips to museums in and around Greater Manchester gave me an appreciation of British heritage early on. Big steam wheels at Wigan Pier and seeing Gran and Ernie at the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry. You can’t fault Mum’s ability to keep our young brains active. Ernie gave me an Engine Driver hat that day.

I wanted to get Mum an experience day, or a stay at a hotel somewhere nice, but the climate around COVID-19/coronavirus isn’t so ideal. Besides, it is safer to remain indoors, stay at home and stay alert. You have to look after your mother because you can only have one. Unless you were adopted. Some of those foster mothers are brave lots, aren’t they?! Anyway, with the world being as it is, vouchers aren’t ideal. I remember Mum gave me a Borders bookstore voucher for Christmas but the company went into administration and closed, so I never used it. Well, I kind of did, but I can’t explain how or where. Those Stephen King horror-thrillers have since move on. I have an idea what to gift Mum, but I need to wait for this COVID-19/coronavirus to all blow over…

My passion for camping came from budget holidays as a kid, usually in the north of England or Wales. The fiscally challenged as those who suffer from political correctness would recognise that times were hard. Money was scarce but we had good food, holidays, and a roof over our head always. There were treats and Fridays used to be the day that maybe a Mars bar or another chocolate treat was waiting. Mum allowed me treats like staying up late on a Sunday to watch London’s Burning or other days to watch comedy shows like Have I Got News For You. On the whole early nights were encouraged and bed would be around 9 o’clock and often with a book under the duvet. Walking was encouraged and as Mum didn’t have a car, walking became normal. The Levenshulme to Reddish Vale and back, via Houldsworth Mill was a favourite trot. Zipping around Disley and Lyme Park was a bigger treat.

Whenever there has been a challenge and times have been tough, Mum has been there to support me and has very much been the 12th player that many football clubs claim to have. That knowledge that my Mum has been around the corner or a quick phone call away, has always made me feel stronger. Usually it takes very little conversation to wipe away any doubt or reduce a huge worry to little more than a niggling ache. I always think Marlon Brando’s farewell to his son speech in Superman: The Movie could easily fit my Mum, obviously with some gender realignments and name changes.

“You will travel far, my little Kal-El. But we will never leave you… even in the face of our death. The richness of our lives shall be yours. All that I have, all that I’ve learned, everything I feel… all this, and more, I… I bequeath you, my son. You will carry me inside you, all the days of your life. You will make my strength your own, and see my life through your eyes, as your life will be seen through mine. The son becomes the father, and the father the son. This is all I… all I can send you, Kal-El.” – Marlon Brando as Jor-El, Superman: The Movie

Mum’s the word

(a popular English idiom)

Used by William Shakespeare, in Henry VI, Part 2.

“Seal up your lips and give no words but mum.” – Henry VI, Part 2, Act 1, Scene 2

“Mum” is slang for momme. Momme means: be silent (or do not reveal). Old English: “mīma“. Latin: mimus (meaning silent actor/imitator).

It was used between 1350-1400 in Middle English.

“Thou mightest beter meten the myst on Malverne hulles; Then geten a mom of heore mouth til moneye weore schewed!” – Piers Plowman, William Langland

So, on this 20th of June, it is Mum’s birthday, the day before Bermuda’s Shaun Goater Day. Both should be in your calendar. And if not, why not? My Mum is ace. Shaun Goater was an ace player. Perhaps I can get Shaun Goater to say happy birthday to my Mum. That’d be fitting seeing as my Mum asked ‘The Goat’ to write me a Christmas card once. Mums are ace, right!?

goater


P.S. Mum, let’s go to Blackpool Tower and recreate this photograph in 2021. Good idea?

mumjohntowerblackpool

I’d also like to invite you to write some Blog posts for me too. Thanks in advance Mum!

Your loving son, John, aged 37.5-ish.

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!

wx_camera_1533834650410

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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Civic Duty

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

“It is your civic duty, so you avoid unknowingly spreading the virus and you help to break the chain of transmission.” – Matt Hancock, Health Secretary, BBC News.

Boris Johnson has urged you to move on. In a rare boiling of the blood, Boris told his peers to “move on” five times. In fact, it almost mirrored Kasabian’s Fire track, ‘move on, you got to move on. You got to get to the hip, get your shake on (I’m on fire)’. How dare his peers and opposition party politicians stoke the fire of a political ding-dong-the-witch-is-dead. It seems to be a running problem, that when the elitist leaders and their aides do something, others should do something else. You’re in this together, right? Not us. Not everyone. Not everybody. Them and us?

“Stop indulging in irrelevant debates about sharing the pie between manufacturing and services, the north and the south, women and men” – Dominic Raab et al, Britannia Unchained

Well, what better way to idle away time than watch a good cop show? Between writing, reading books and teaching, I did however find an electronic copy of the book Britannia Unchained:Global Lessons for Growth and Prosperity and sped through the material with consummate ease. Authored by Priti Patel, Elizabeth Truss, Dominic Raab, Kwasi Kwarteng, and Chris Skidmore in 2012, it is a treatise (a long essay) on politics and business. It argues that Great Britain should take more risk and engage a radical approach in economics and business. Its writers are all elitist Thatcherite-leaning Free Enterprise Group members and it shows across the 152 pages of content. They’re all part of Boris Johnson’s inner sanctum and the cabinet in some shape or form now. It advises that Great Britain should slacken employment laws and abandon fairness for the worker, in favour of global profits.  

“The British are among the worst idlers in the world. We work among the lowest hours, we retire early and our productivity is poor.” – Dominic Raab et al, Britannia Unchained

The book Britannia Unchainedargues that 85% of Japanese kids learn A-level standard mathematics to just 15% in the U.K. It fails to indicate how few students study these subjects and go on to work in a relevant area. It snubs any notion that arts and creativity are good for community and transferable skills. It doesn’t mention the outcome of Japan’s 15% of mathematical unqualified. It takes joy at the U.S.A.’s risk-taking but barely mentions the outcomes of flops and failures and the social or economic gambles gone wrong.

Arguably, as noted by General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress Brendan Barber, there aren’t enough jobs knocking around and slackness may be a result of not being motivated to go pick lettuce in a slurry field on a wealthy conglomerate’s estate in Surrey. Not everyone needs to have the motivations or grafting spirits of Asia, but it does seem those who haven’t are being pushed to do so by those who have. Easily done when all is on a plate. What I love about British culture most, is when someone from a working class background steps up and becomes the hero of their people – the boy or girl who did good. The Billy Connolly or Danny Boyle types who defy, are few and far between. The rest of us scrap out for what’s left. The book proved who to watch and highlighted a class divide. It rang alarm bells at the time and now all the writers are in top government positions. The New Statesmen wrote of them, “They have joined the political version of celebrity culture – the same culture that they argue, to some extent compellingly, makes Britons believe they can get on without doing any hard work.”

“I didn’t float up the Lagan in a bubble” – character Ted Hastings, Line of Duty

That’s Line of Duty done with. I really enjoyed series 1-3, but the 4th season was much of the same. The fifth was strong and rightfully so has claimed good plaudits but the flow was a little slower. I understand that original director and writer Jed Mercurio announced two more series will follow. It is gripping and engaging as thrillers go, but surely co much corruption in the fictious Central Constabulary and East Midlands Constabulary must have been found by now. Oh, wait, maybe it is like real lifeTM. The latter four series were filmed in Northern Ireland by the BBC. The range of accents throughout all five series creates an almost perfect fictional city. It is so generic that you forget where you are. All the series feature big gun screen stars such as Keeley Hawes (Spooks, Ashes to Ashes), Thandie Newton OBE (Crash, Westworld), Kirkby-born Stephen Graham (Snatch, Boardwalk Empire’s Al Capone), and Nottingham’s Lennie James (The Walking Dead, ShakespeaRe-Told). Stephen Graham joined main star Vicky McClure in the movie This Is England and its spinoff TV series. It took me a awhile to realise that Nottingham-born McClure was Frances Lorraine “Lol” Jenkins from This is England. They’ve also starred in BBC’s The Secret Agent together too. There’s a tram named after her in Nottingham – one in which she was asked to leave for not paying her fare. Detective Inspector Kate Fleming and former footballer (Greenock Morton) Martin Compston’s Anti-Corruption Unit Detective Sergeant Steve Arnott with Superintendent Ted Hastings played by Adrian Dunbar make for a thrilling series, way better than the movie of the same name.

“Some little girls grow up wanting ponies. I always wanted to be a widow.” – character Alice Morgan, Luther.

Jed Mercurio was responsible for a TV series with Noddy Holder from 1997 to 2001 called The Grimleys. That was comedy gold-dust, set in and around Dudley, with some wonderful cameos throughout. He also created and wrote the thriller Bodyguard with Richard Madden and Keeley Hawes. His creation Line of Duty has fast become a favourite. It doesn’t hold back and a few surprise turns have kept countless viewers on their seat-edges. Each finale always seems to leave the viewer wanting more That’s what you want, especially from a cop show. I’d rank it #6 in my top thirteen cop shows. My choice for #13 is Inspector Morse. I’ve never disliked Inspector Morse and I can’t say it was amazing but it was always gritty (despite my lack of bias towards John Thaw being a Gorton-born Manchester City fan) and I think Jimmy McGovern’s Cracker (Robbie Coltrane) is much more than a cop show and deserves to be remembered for being very complex and about psychological motivations – plus it is Mancunian, so that’s why it is my #10 choice. David Jason’s A Touch of Frost just makes the #12 slot.

“I drink too much, I smoke too much, I gamble too much. I am too much.” – character Dr Edward ‘Fitz’ Fitzgerald, Cracker.

#11 Rebus (penned by Ian Rankin), #9  Life on Mars (nostalgic 70s drama), #8 The Shield (with rogue bald bad cop Vic Mackey), #7 The Wire (set in Baltimore), #5 Denmark’s The Killing, #4 Helen Mirren in Prime Suspect, #3 The Bridge (Nordic noir), and #2 Neil Cross’s Luther (Idris Elba) are all great cop shows. #1 But for me the king of all has to be Homicide: Life on the Street (Baltimore’s finest foray into the criminal world on a TV set). I would rate them all highly and recommend them even more so. If you have some COVID-19 lockdown time spare or wish to stay clear until a vaccination is found, then bang on a blues and twos box set.

Maybe by the time I have reviewed my top 13 cop TV shows, I will stumble on the reason Boris Johnson’s aide committed murder in Durham…

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Manchester Remembers.

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

In 2013 Tony Walsh penned the poem, This is the Place. Sadly, following an attack on civilians by an absolute coward and fool in the name of extremism – and one which has nothing to do with Islam, this poem became very well known. It is a poem about belonging and the importance of communities. They need nurturing and through Forever Manchester (est. 1989) they work to inspire and encourage projects that want to see healthier and happier neighbourhoods in Manchester. This is the Place became an anthem for the people of Manchester.

Concert-goers, from the artist Ariana Grande, had enjoyed a love-filled pop concert and filtered out of the packed Manchester Evening News Arena. The very arena at the centre of Manchester that I and many friends have enjoyed sports, music, arts and comedy at. It has held political and social justice events. It’s part of Mancunian culture and has been so since the 15th of July 1995. The Nynex Arena was a place many looked forwards to seeing Manchester Giants dunk balls through hoops and the Manchester Storm and Manchester Phoenix teams slash at pucks sliding up and down ice. It was here I’ve seen Meat Loaf, at least 3 times, Catatonia, Slipknot, Idlewild, the Mighty Boosh, Arcade Fire, and a concert campaigning for a minimum wage (28/4/2001). On either October the 13th or 14th in 2000, I attended Britney Spears tour for Oops!…I Did It Again Tour, with my mate Robert Hanna. It wasn’t that bad. The familiar ways in and out of the weird cuboid shaped cavernous arena are clear in my mind. It was and always should be a place of entertainment and joy.

But, on May the 22nd 2017, things could have changed. Things did change. The tool of death was a shrapnel-laden improvised homemade device was filled with pure hate. Twenty-two souls were claimed that horrible and atrocious night. At least 139 people were wounded physically, and hundreds suffered psychological traumas.

Prime Minister Theresa May and Greater Manchester’s Chief Constable, Ian Hopkins acted accordingly and within the public eye. Millions of pounds were handed to the recovery and care of victims from that night. For many, counselling still goes on. It would be September the 9th before Manchester’s flagship arena would reopen. The patron saint of Manchester, Noel Gallagher held a special benefit concert. Mancunian defiance and love for our city, brought even red and blue together.

Manchester fought back with love. Accommodation and transport were supplied by people to the people. Taxi companies, houses, and companies threw open their doors. The Sikh gurdwaras temples nearby became shelters. A local hotel became a makeshift safety shelter and lost children tent. Underneath Manchester Victoria station was evacuated. The city was swiftly placed into action to check for further dangers and to assess the losses. Whilst repairs were possible to the arena foyer and the railways station, the true loss came in human tragedy.

The victims ages were from as tender age as just eight years old to 51 years of age. All cut too short from life. Ten people died below the age of 20. Two Polish nationals and twenty British nationals, from various walks of life, gone. Young Saffie Rose Roussos died aged 8. The Tarleton Community Primary School student’s parents invited Manchester to mourn with their family. Described as a little girl with a beautiful smile who loved dancing, gymnastics and music, she could be any primary school kid in any nation. Dreadfully and heartbreakingly, she was in the right place at the wrong time. Just like many of us as kids do, we follow – or we push our parents to go to see live concerts. Who does that hurt? Nobody. It never should.

Before that night, I’d barely known who Ariana Grande was. I knew she was a hip sexy popstar and idol of many young and even older fans. Her edgy music was appealing to many. It wasn’t my cup of tea, but it did entice 28-year-old John Atkinson from Bury. He enjoyed a break as a support worker for people with autism. The void left to his family and those he supported is unimaginable.

Halewood Academy’s Megan Hurley’s parents vowed to keep her memory alive. The charity pin, designed by her bigger brother Bradley helped that and now www.meganhurleyfoundation.org.uk supports families due to the sudden and unexpected loss of a child. The legacy of a 15 year-old-girl’s devastating passing keeps her treasured memories for her family whilst offering hope to those in dark, dark places.

Another 15-year-old victim Olivia Campbell-Hardy has a foundation in her honour. Liv’s Trust. It sounds so alive. Liv’s Trust has been set up to help under twenty-fives in Greater Manchester get help and receive education in music & dance. What a wonderful and noble cause.

“People are not born with hate. It is coming from somewhere. We need to integrate all age groups. We need to bring everyone together. At the end of the day, we are all human beings. That is what we are.” – Andrew Hardy, Manchester Evening News (28/9/2017)

Alison Howe (sexual health nurse and mother of two, with four stepsons), 45

Lisa Lees (beauty tutor at Oldham College and mother of two), 43

Angelika Klis (39) and Marcin Klis (42), residents of York, just waiting to collect their kids form the concert.

Martyn Hett, 29 (PR manager, social media star) #BeMoreMartyn

Georgina Callander, 18 (a college student from Lancashire)

Kelly Brewster, 32 (a globetrotter from Sheffield looking to settle down and be a loving stepmother)

Jane Tweddle, 51 (a school receptionist from Blackpool and mother-of-three)

Nell Jones, 14 (“She would not want you to hate because of what has happened, she would want you to love.” – her brother Sam’s words)

Michelle Kiss, 45 (Her widower husband Tony Kiss asked all to support children’s charity Derian House because she ‘she lived for her children’.)

Sorrell Leczkowski, 14 (a teenager from Leeds, robbed of her ambitions)

Liam Curry, 19, and Chloe Rutherford, 17 (a loving couple from South Shields, Tyneside)

Elaine McIver, 43 (served with the Cheshire Police for 19 years)

Wendy Fawell, 50 (a former primary school worker)

Eilidh MacLeod, 14 (from Barra, Outer Hebrides, Scotland)

Courtney Boyle, 19, and Philip Tron, 32 (from Gateshead, there to pick up a family member)

Off-duty consultant anaesthetist, Michael Daley, was one few medical experts on scene almost immediately. His name is quite rightly on the British Medical Association Book of Valour in June 2017. Sirens blazed throughout the centre of Manchester and the edge of Salford that May 22nd night. The North West Ambulance Service sent 60 ambulances to the wretched incident. Numerous walking wounded received treatment by key NHS workers.

I didn’t know any of these people, but I could have. These were everyday people going about their lives in a place of relative security and safety. Aside from the 1996 IRA bombing of Manchester and the events of World War II, Manchester has been like almost every other city, its fair share of unfortunate crime and hate, with trouble here and there. But, on the whole Manchester has and always will be a place of togetherness and inclusion. It doesn’t accept hate or perversion of any race of religion. It bounces back.

One Love Manchester was one high profile benefit concert event on the 4th June 2017. 55,000 people rocked up less than two weeks after the terrorist attack. Ariana Grande was graceful and full of strength and many stars took to the stage to offer a huge two-finger gesture to those who wish to destroy our everyday lives: you will not win. Following it, our Ariana Grande became an honorary citizen of the city. We look after our own and those who we claim as our own.

The British Red Cross received over £17 million of donations following the One Love Manchester concert. 50 countries around the world broadcast it, ensuring the people of China, Australia, Peru, and the listeners of Capital Radio Sierra Leone could share the love. Legend of popular music Stevie Wonder belted out Love’s in Need of Love Today and Marcus Mumford of a similar named-band played Timshel. As I watched YouTube’s livestream of Ariana Grande and Coldplay performing an Oasis number, even from the comfort of my sofa, Don’t Look Back in Anger rung very true. Liam Gallagher swaggered onto stage and sang Live Forever, and do you know what, as a Mancunian born and bred, I properly hope that none of those who died that day are forgotten. I trust and I hope that like then, now in these horrid COVID-19 times, that we as Mancs, born here, or raised here, or headed here (for good or for a day out), keep the flag waving for peace and love.

“…the City of Manchester was the Hero.” – Scooter Braun, manager of Ariana Grande to Billboard magazine.

Community and courage arose from the ashes, and for those lucky enough life went on. But, we didn’t forget our lost, our visitors who never travelled back, our guests our workers, and their losses. No, we remember. Manchester remembers.

爱与和平/Peace and love

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Need further inspiration?

The bomber’s name won’t be written here and even now his brother is imprisoned on twenty or so counts of murder. Both attended Burnage High School for Boys (now Academy), a school once bombed by the Luftwaffe during World War 2. Just as Hitler shouldn’t ruin the name of Austria, Burnage should be seen in a better light. It’s motto is ‘Be The Best That You Can Be’. I’ve got friends and met many people from Burnage, and they’ve all lived to that motto. The school has a rich history. It offers chances to escape Manchester. Darren and Jason Beckford (Manchester City), Busby babe Roger Byrne, Wes Brown and Peter Coyne (Man. Utd.) make up the footballing graduates. Bass players Guigsy (Paul McGuigan) of Oasis and Dale Hibbert (The Smiths) attended there – as did Simply Red’s Aziz Ibrahim (he was also with Paul Weller, The Stone Roses and Ian Brown). There have been some big former students. Motivational speaker Brian Sterling-Vete, American football player Menelik Watson, and Jim O’Neill (Baron O’Neill of Gatley) was a government minister. Even a bloody bobsleigh competitor, Lamin Deen, made it out of Burnage to bigger things. It is unfair that the bomber’s name taints the school’s long-standing name and a place that 1966 BAFTA TV Award for Best Actor Alan Badel attended.

Author John Hutton attended Burnage High School. His novels are 29, Herriott Street (1979) and Accidental Crimes (1983). The latter received a Gold Dagger Award from the Crime Writers’ Association. My favourite Nepali film, Sherpa, was co-produced by John Smithson. This former Burnage student was also notable in his involvement in a huge list of hard-hitting dramas and documentaries. Toughing the Void, 127 Hours, and Deep Water. So with all the above, Burnage has created far more great people than the one mistake that the media highlights.

Optimistic Toddlers?

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

The cure is coming! There will be an end to all of this! The miraculous rays of hope are out there and all across the planet scientists are scurrying about, digging deep for elements and combinations. The manufacturing of the optimistic cure for COVID-19 is deep under way. Do you believe that we’ll win? The future if humanity may be riding on it, but we’re a species who can create great things. Anyway, you’re onto a win. I guarantee it. You have already done something wonderful today. Now, go and find someone and make them smile from ear to ear.

Science has constantly been like a toddler asking too many questions. It looks. It makes an assumptive comment that may in turn resemble a loose understanding. It is a bright toddler though. It then goes to ask its toddler peers. The little toddler grows up far too fast and then starts to collect bits and bobs. Before long it has a Filofax of data. The toddler is now enrolled and fast-tracked into school. Between the extra piano lessons after school and the pre-school Latin classes, our toddler is rampant for knowledge. Soon enough, this toddler is taking tests, is full of excitement and thinks he or she has found the meaning of life. They’re on to something. The latest edition of Children’s BBC’s Play School is released with our toddler’s work to date. It isn’t National Geographic but this kid is really onto something. They’re already rewriting Sherlock Holme and other toddlers are literally tearing the first toddler’s work to shreds. There are bits everywhere. Some of it has found its way into nappies and diapers and cracks that shouldn’t house a kid’s work. This toddler stands out though and is a modern exemplar of the highest standard. Other toddlers and older students can’t compete or find a way to headbutt this toddler off their highchair. The toddler is the epitome and personification of the New Scientist-reading U.K. government right now. They are lining themselves up for either the Nobel Peace Prize or the Oscars. Any flaws or shame will be avoided by glossing over the unsmooth surface and painting over any cracks. A win for ‘the science’ at the very least.

COVID-19 is the new Brexit. These are the defining annoyances of the 21st century for those who are British or inferior. Right or wrong? Emotions are real in the moment, and right now many people are struggling with their minds. This COVID-19 is an annoyance that has been here on Earth for the blink of an eyelash and seemingly won’t go. It will. Just remember that so many people over the history and sands of time have been in utterly dire moments with horrible situations right in their face. What did they do? Something, surely? We’re still here.

The U.K.’s dealings with the COVID-19 cannot be collectively described as horrifyingly abysmal with a dash of utterly extreme rotten hard luck. Boris Johnson, ever-present during so many key moments has led from the front. He didn’t use private healthcare, so BUPA and his care plan wasn’t troubled one iota. He went full state service and utilised the very NHS he has always loved. He and his party have been consistent in telling hard-truths at both daily press conferences and within the Houses of Parliament. Thankfully none of the Conservative party members’ friends have benefited from this outbreak and no deals or contracts have been slotted their way like a croupier would in a bent casino.

Financiers are going extinct too. No matter your belief or state of mind, compare yourselves to others. It is natural to do so. Where are they? Where are you? How are they feeling? What do they have? What don’t you have? Look around you, what’s missing? What’s there and there for you alone? Who is with you? Who is truly alone? What help mechanisms are there? Who started out with nothing and still has most of it left? Be optimistic. Be energised. Be inspired.

There hasn’t been any gross ineptitude by the incomparable leadership of this government. There will certainly be movies made and speeches replayed for the next 70 or so years, about the defining hours of the year 2020. It isn’t the Great War, or World War II, but it will be remembered for the few. Those great few who gave their all and opened the treasury wide open to eliminate social and financial divide. As always, the nation obsessed with calling other nations corrupt is tendering left, right and centre to bat away any claims of British exceptionalism. This is a nation that resolved a growing homelessness crisis and stabilised the care home industry at the right time.

The virus and its associated disease COVID-19 rocked up to these secure island shores of Britain and was left floundered by a questionnaire. All the flights from struggling third world and developing nations such as Italy and Germany were halted. Instead Britain went on the offensive supplying help overseas and partnering with countries in need. Red Nose Day after Comic Relief after Children in Need was not needed. British aid was bolstered by fair-trade loving tax paying corporations and syndicates. “Help!”, they cried overseas in foreign lands. Britain dug deep and exported ‘the science’ and the world was grateful. You could feel bad because other nations and people have it better. Don’t. Don’t look over the garden fence at what they have. Don’t assume they’re better than you. Think on how good or bad things used to be. How can you get back to that? It could be much worse, right?

The concern of the everyday normal people running England has been overwhelming. The openhanded and transparent display of sharing ‘the science’ was praised globally by China, the W.H.O. and the successful President Trump, currently running away with a sweeping presidential campaign. The rise and accomplishment of near-100% testing within the U.K. was credit to Matt Hancock’s half hour of power. As he deputised for Boris Johnson, who was allowed a free weekend away from the spotlight (as thanks from the adoring nation), he practically rebuilt Public Health England so well that Wales, Scotland and little Northern Ireland came begging for the recipe. Even the Isle of Man came knocking. It has been so refreshing to see the love and admiration of down-on-their-luck types on their rags to riches rise into politics and their effect on the population.

Seeing how good it is over there in Switzerland or Sweden and how bleak it is here with you, that’s ony going to erode your mind. Those negative moments will multiply. Forget it. Kick the self-torturing in the dick and move on. Do we always deserve a raise in salary of someone else gets one? You be your judge. Fairness isn’t for everyone. What about those around you who didn’t get a pay rise? What about those who have no opportunity to get a pay rise because they haven’t even got a job? So, your flights and lifestyle changed. It hurts. Did you die? No. Did someone you love get hurt? Hopefully a big no. Be thankful COVID-19 didn’t enter your house. Wait a minute! Be thankful that you haven’t had it worse.

Thankfully hijackings of scientific methodology and terminology has been avoided. The general public have been treated to an open and clear display, free of patronising speech and overbearing experts with words longer than attention span. The steady messages have been clear. NHS workers: Stay alert at home safely and save protected lives or something like this or that: stay at home in order to protect the NHS and save lives. Whilst other nations scramble and scratch to replace their liars, their dealers of death, their wasters, their corrupt and their tyrants, Britain stands firm with reliance and love for the very institutions set up to make us one. Without the traditional household names of Virgin, Epson, Reliance, Yahoo, Facebook, Unilever, Coca-Cola, Kellogg’s, Ebay and Delta, we’d really be up a creak without a paddle. Many companies have been on hand to rescue the faltering National Health Service.

Perceptions are tools. Flip a switch to off for pessimism and bang the button of optimism. With that your emotional state will shine. With a little extra focus on what we have as being good, we can focus on how to make things better – and with that share to others on how to improve ourselves as people. As a species we have excelled and have dominated the planet, but now we’re of the mind that we need to bring balance to the world around us. Is it too late? That depends on the contents of your glass. If you look back five years, ten years and twenty years, you’ll see changes and adaptations. It may seem like the road ahead out of COVID-19 road or over the plastic seas is impossible, but look back at the journey, and we’ve got far. A few more steps and new things shall be possible.

For example, just look how far little 126-year-old Manchester City have progressed in 5 years, 10 years, 15 years and 20 years. Yes, there was investment but that’s professional football. Okay, no wins of the Champions League, but that’s work in progress. Look how far that they have moved. That’s motivating and inspiring for City fans. Now compare that to Leicester City, Manchester Utd., Real Madrid, and so on. But, keep in mind City were in the third tier of English football as recent as May 1999. Now it is 21 years later. So much is possible over the next 21 years.

Independent experts have been using their bias and brown paper envelopes globally to distance themselves from independent and pure nations. Within the broader cultures of the planet Earth, we’ve learnt much in recent months, and science, it seems, is s collection of lies spun by flat-Earthers and know-it-all-types alike. A beautiful British common-sense approach is all you need to bat away the virus that refuses to play cricket. Just wash your blooming hands to the tune of ‘Happy Birthday’ and all will be fine.

In 2017, I went to Nepal, I walked for many days and didn’t get close to my aim. I returned in 2019 and surpassed my now-based-on-experience-aim. In 2020, I returned to Nepal with a realistic aim of exploring new areas and setting no target for dates and times. It was all about new steps and progress. A bit further, a bit more, and a bit less worry. I may not want to climb every mountain or walk every trail, but I do want to be in a better place tomorrow than today. I’m sure as COVID-19 cures and treatments come about, humanity will be there too.

This week:

Three students entered the classroom of class 3F. Their eyes barely visible as small pools of dark pigmentation above their pale blue facemasks. Their long hair hung too low to be considered a maintained fringe. They greeted with hellos, as if the events of recent months hadn’t happened. Each had hand gel sanitizer strapped to their bags. They shuffled to their desks and sat quietly, awaiting the arrival of further peers.

The new term is well under way, albeit a wee bit later than planned. Around seven weeks of online teaching, and home-schooling was now at an almost end. For most. One student, in Taiwan and a further student in Japan cannot return. The border is closed for overseas visitors – and my student in Taiwan has valuable family time at this time of international emergency. It has been a disruptive period of a few months for students and teachers alike. Thankfully, much is salvageable with some crammed lessons, adapted revision and continual efficient planning. As my colleague Nick is trapped in Serbia, I will take his middle school classes twice a week, otherwise my timetable is not too dissimilar to last semester. The usual seven classes a day has been adapted to eight classes a day for the poor old hard-working students. Morning exercise is earlier in the day and mealtimes are allocated into slots to allow reasonable social distancing.

The reality of social distancing is rather different. As schools in France resume and 70 or so cases of COVID-19 have been linked to them, students elbow for space in corridors and staircases here. I type this having heard passers-by in the road expectorating throats from their mouths onto the road by our school I truly worry about complacency. Masks are being relaxed outside now and inside many places people are far more laissez-faire about wearing personal protective equipment. Yes, China has the virus in a suppressive state, but cases are emerging every now and then. The perfect storm only needs the right level of guards being dropped for COVID-19 to continue its survival unhindered. Personal protection equipment seems to be on the way out here. Is that good or bad?

There is no cure. There isn’t a valid vaccine, but big pharmaceutical companies, nations and leading scientists are working around the international clocks, together or separately, in order to find that final cure. The breakthrough will bring major amounts of money to many – and if available to all, hope for a brighter and more free future. Humanity has had a huge wake-up call to come together yet many are drifting apart. There’s a change coming. We can either sit back and watch it crumble or dig in deep and do something wonderful. Stubbornness and blind faith will only get us so far. Now is the time to manufacture some optimism and stoke up the fire of positivity. The world is a wonderful place, full of great people and during COVID-19’s reign of destruction, it is not a time to lose hope. There is no cure – at present. One day there will be. Right?

On the plus side, this week, I’ve played football for two hours (with great people) and I’ve just finished reading the Jack Reacher novel titled Blue Moon, written by Lee Child. Between the frantic handwashing, panic, worry and speculation, it isn’t easy to find time to switch off, but years of procrastination have prepared me well for…

CHAPEL STREET NEWS – May 1993 – Edition 2

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

From the archives of Chapel Street Primary School (Levenshulme, Manchester) via my own scrap book. Arthur Lowe (best known as Dad’s Army‘s Captain Mainwaring) went to the same primary school as I. Chapel Street Primary School was founded in 1903 (March 21st). It is over 100 years old. Like much of the world, students are currently unable to attend school due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

“After 21 happy years at Chapel St I will be retiring at the end of this school year. My retirement coincides with the centenary of the school and I am so thrilled to be a part of this historical occasion.”- former Head Teacher, Mr Gary Kershaw, 2005, Manchester Evening News.

CHAPEL STREET NEWS

[cost 20p] / May 1993 – Edition 2 – Page 3

It’s wild – not the kids!

By our wildlife correspondent, John Acton (Year 5)

When we arrived we were told to unpack.

DAY 1: we went on the rope course. Later we explored the grounds. I saw a mouse. At night we had the legendary cuckoo spit lecture.

DAY 2: we went rock scrambling near Morecambe. Also we did canoeing. I thought I saw some pike. We arrived on an island and saw a goose lay an egg.

DAY 3: we went gorge-walking and abseiling. Then we went tunnelling.

DAY 4: we went horseriding and caving.

I saw a wild ferret or a weasel. Later we had a barbecue. On Thursday we saw some deer. We heard some cuckoos.


LETTERS PAGE

Dear Chapel Street News,

I would like to recommend Ghyll Head to all little juniors. It is very educational.

John Acton (5.AJ)

CHAPEL STREET


 

The above writing and a vague memory of a story I’d called ‘Samson The Wonder Dog’ based on my own dog Pup are probably the first few times I tried any real writing. Encouraged by Mr Andrew Jones, during my time in 5AJ I used to look on in awe as Amanda Tetlow, Evangelia Votski, Ian Gray and Paul Rawcliffe would do great pieces of writing. They made me want to be better at writing.

“The trick is to believe it. And the best way to believe it is tell the truth. Stories should all have an element of truth in them. Truth can be boring. You sometimes have to tart it up a little bit.” – Sir Billy Connolly

Now, I am encouraging students in China, aged 9-10 (the very same age) to write their own stories and to try writing more. Life feels good, despite the worries. Yesterday, two government departments of Dongguan assured me that renewing my visa and transferring my work permit will be okay, despite having only one blank passport page. As my present school asked me to renew a contract two days ago, I had to give them a notice that I will change employer at the end of the school term (no later than August the 1st, 2020). Since I listened to and re-read the quote by Sir Billy Connolly, I have fell in love with the below quote:

“It’s up to yourself. You manufacture it. You either look at the world one way or another. It’s the old half full half empty. It’s up to you. The world’s a great place, it’s full of great people. The choice is yours. Pessimism is a luxury you can’t afford”. – Sir Billy Connolly on optimism, BBC Radio Five.

I love it. You manufacture optimisim. Pessimism is unafordable but the components of optimisim sit inside your factory waiting to be churned out. So, stay positive and make some optimisim.

“I Hear You’re a Racist Now, Father?”

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

This week I was asked to recommend some cheery comedy viewing and a book, by several people. During this COVID-19 days, with seemingly endless lack of positive news, I turn to Russel Howard’s Home Time Live, amongst other shows.

My early exposure to comedy was catching the odd bit of Spitting Image or other such TV series. I was never too keen on Children’s Television, other than say Stingray, Thunderbirds, The Real Ghostbusters and a few other cartoons. The ones that really got my attention were Dangermouse and Count Duckula. These last two titles had Only Fools and Horses great and comedy star David Jason as the voices of many of the great characters. I also recall David Jason appearing in bits on one of many Ronnie Barker shows. For years David Jason in a show meant that I wanted to see it. From the gentle drama of The Darling Buds of May to the gritty detective show A Touch of Frost, or seeing David Jason as Rincewind in Terry Pratchett’s The Colour of Magic, I enjoyed every appearance. But, I have never seen one full episode of Still Open All Hours or Open All Hours. I’m sure I’ll see Granville in the future. Sir David Jason OBE turned 80 years old this year. He is to television comedy as Sir David Attenborough is to wildlife on television.

Have I Got News for You represents perhaps the longest running show I have watched attentively throughout my life. If I miss a few episodes, or a run over a period of months, I will find a repeat online or in the archives. It now boasts over 520 episodes and the regular panel show game contestants Paul Merton and Ian Hislop share a camaraderie that few series can muster. They swipe at news and bring satire to often bleak or dull matters. They’re often inciteful and wide-sweeping in their opinions. It isn’t a how that tells you what to do. It is entertainment with buckets of wit. Guests such as Victoria Coren Mitchell (who really is very clever and sexy), Jo Brand, Janret Street-Porter and Ross Noble, mix it with politicians, entertainment stars, future Prime Ministers and stars of the silver screen. It isn’t free of controversy or wasn’t so when regular host Angus Deayton left after 12 years. Other satirical shows have been around but few have shown the staying power of this series.

“If it wasn’t for your wellies where would you be; You’d be in the hospital or infirmary.” -Billy Connolly, The Welly Boot Song.

At Aberystwyth University, I’d seen Jimmy Carr, Alan Carr, Men In Coats, and almost every stand-up comedian or visual comedy act from September 2001 to leave four years later. That may explain my poor graduation grades. Still, I met Al Murray as the Pub Landlord. After university I’d go to Manchester’s Frog and Bucket and the Comedy Store. Mark Thomas, a political comedian, became a great favourite and an emerging German Comedy Ambassador called Henning Wehn whet my appetite for comedy that enabled you to think too. Great shows like Dave Gorman’s Googlewhack Adventure and even Jim Bowen having a round of Bullseye in Aberystwyth’s Student Union made for memorable evenings. I’m very lucky to have access to comedians such as Andrew Lawrence over the years. Freedom of speech is a marvellous thing.

“The Buddhist version of poverty is a situation where you have nothing to contribute.” -Sir Michael Palin KCMG CBE FRGS, Himalaya

On paper Jon Ronson, Ardal O’Hanlon (best known as the hapless Father Dougal in Father Ted), and Christopher Brookmyre had my eye for their witty writing fashions. Recently I discovered Based on a True Story by Norm Macdonald which was picked up and never put down until it was finished. Saturday Night Live was also responsible for Steve Martin, Robin Williams, Bill Murray and numerous comedians gaining a foothold in the mainstream, but the ones who have gone on to write add greatness to their portfolio. However, Rich Hall and Charlie Brooker (creator of Black Mirror) remain my all-time favoured comedic writers, just after Eric Morecambe. I guess the Reluctant Vampire, Eric Morecambe on Fishing and Stella hold so much warmth that they are essential bookshelf companions for me. I don’t even like fishing. Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 is probably the only classic comedy writing that I’ve enjoyed. I found Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men In A Boat a little dull. I do have a book published in 1892 on my ‘to read list’: Diary Of A Nobody by George and Weedon Grossmith. Perhaps, that will be my latest essential shelf-filler.

Woody Allen may have been celebrated as a great writer of movies, but I didn’t get taken in by him at all. Mel Brooks’ Spaceballs was more my thing. Anything Monty Python became so laughable and cult that everyone (it seems) shares the same thoughts on their archive of classics. Richard Pryor was a bit part in Superman III. I am glad he was in the movie because years later after university life I delved into his back catalogue. What a star! His  observational and political speaking was acerbic and iconoclastic. For me, as a Caucasian Mancunian, I only spotted Lenny Henry and a few others on the predominantly white British TV stations as a kid. Andi Osho and Stephen K. Amos came later. But, for the most, few black or mixed-race comedians made it onto the television and Craig Charles in Red Dwarf had a scouse accent. Over time, and as the internet-age gave rise to more comedians from that America reaching our shores comedians such as Reginald D. Hunter, Martin Lawrence, Eddie Murphy, and Whoopi Goldberg became regular viewing. Comedy is like this COVID-19 disease: it doesn’t recognise gender or race. You’re either funny or you’re not (or ill or not).

“I think some of the best modern writing comes now from travellers” – Sir Michael Palin KCMG CBE FRGS, comedian, writer, & actor

Comedy needs diversity and it needs lovable rogues heading to foreign shores to ply their trade. Father Ted, written by Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews flung religion and culture onto the television with the powerful Catholic Church as the celebrated and loved butt of many jokes. It is surely the most successful comedy production from Ireland ever – and I hope the Pope Ted: The Father Ted Musical arrives sooner rather than later. Father Jack will surely approve. Arthur Mathews is the author of Well Remembered Days: Eoin O’Ceallaigh’s Memoirs of a Twentieth-century Irish Catholic. Pick that book up. Read it. Then, find the audiobook read by none other than actor Frank Kelly (who played slightly inebriated and loaded Father Jack from Father Ted).

My mum introduced me to David Tynan O’Mahony, better known as stage name Dave Allen. Dave Allen was an Irish satirical comedian well-known for sitting on a chair and talking. His style wasn’t too fast-paced but coupled with some creative sketches and ramblings, he remains an Irish comedy legend. Nowadays surreal comedic talent David O’Doherty, fast-mouthed Ed Byrne, the tremendous Tommy Tiernan, Dylan Moran and snappy Andrew Maxwell bring the great wit of the Emerald Isle to the world. Whilst America has its fair share of divide and racism to talk in the open Britain and Ireland have a fair bit of oppression and divide to discuss. Then there are also the political troubles, religion, sectarianism, recreational drug abuse, crime, and self-deprecation. But, being Irish and British means we’re not as good as the Americans when it comes to self-deprecation.

“I get snow blindness from looking at my diary.” – Barry Cryer, writer and comedian

Dag, a Norwegian comedy-drama, about a marriage counsellor and his sex-mad friend Benedict’s struggles through life, is a great dark comedy. It will make you cringe and feel warm in equal measures. Atle Antonsen plays the lead character and he is brilliant counterweight to his love-interest that is Tuva Novotny’s character. I’ve just found there to be a fourth series so I shall look this up soon.

From great comedy series such as Goodness Gracious Me, The Fast Show, Harry Enfield and Chums, or Not The Nine O’Clock News, Britain has been blessed with comedy. Such editions could not be seen in lesser-free states of the world. It is hard to reimagine Father Ted reimagined as Monk Lama set in Tibet, or the ‘going for and English’ sketch of Goodness Gracious Me being re-filmed in Pakistan as ‘going for a Russian’. The right blend of social awareness, love of culture, and respect of differences are required.

“Drumchapel is a housing estate just outside Glasgow. Well, it’s in Glasgow, but just outside civilisation,” – Sir Billy Connolly.

And now, ‘The Big Yin’, the one stand-up comedian I have never seen live, despite chasing ticket after ticket since I was a wee man. Sir William Connolly, CBE is as titanic as the ships that floated out of the Glasgow shipyards. He was and remains the heavyweight champion of storytelling. Having jumped ship from The Humblebums (Billy sang folk alongside Gerry Rafferty and Tam Harvey), lovable comedy-musician scraped a living in his homeland of Scotland doing comedy. Almost 55 years later he stopped, enforced mostly by Parkinson’s Disease, but probably by love of art. Along the road from Glasgow he’s starred with The Muppets, acted alongside Dame Judie Dench, produced music, been a pet zombie, travelled and ran entertaining documentaries and shared his love for his home country. On stage, Billy has always worn what he wants, danced like nobody watches him and shouted whenever he likes. ‘The Big Yin’ has an encyclopaedia of material and an archive that would probably take a lifetime to follow. You can do much worse than sit down to some Billy Connolly. He really is a fine orator much like the smooth whiskies of his homelands.

“It’s up to yourself. You manufacture it. You either look at the world one way or another. It’s the old half full half empty. It’s up to you. The world’s a great place, it’s full of great people. The choice is yours. Pessimism is a luxury you can’t afford”. – Sir Billy Connolly on optimism, BBC Radio Five.

Stay strong. Stay optimistic.