Trilogy.

Good evening from China.

Mr Ben caught my ear a few moon ago. He mentioned that the movie Unbreakable, with Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson was part of a trilogy. I did not know that. So, last week Mr Ben pointed me in the direction of the movies again. So, after an abandoned cycle ride after 45km, in torrential rain, I chomped on pizza, swigged good coffee and sank into the sofa.

Split and Mr Glass were most enjoyable. I found the intensity of Split closer to that of a truly well mastered horror movie. Mr Glass was closer to X-Men and Batman Begins without being over-glossed. Coupled with great menacing soundtracks, a well cast ensemble and gritty camera work, all were as digestible as my Lauren’s Pizza order.

As someone who appreciates graphic novels and their genre, I enjoyed the pull of both movies. I must confess to having not seen Unbreakable since 2000 when it came out, so now I’ll look back on that as a prequel. This trilogy was thankfully not just made for sales. Writer and director M. Night Shyamalan has come far since his 1999 hit The Sixth Sense. I see dead people? Signs remains one of my favourite flicks for its pointers back to classic thrillers and sci-fi. It did much for a revision of classic cinema in modern times. Manoj Nelliyattu (Night?) Shyamalan penned and directed The Happening which I enjoyed, despite the bleak feel. I’m now looking forward to the Indian-American director’s movie Old, due out in July of 2021.

Split stars one of my favourite actors in James Mcavoy. In this movie his tortured role doesn’t endear him quite the way he did whilst playing Rory O’Shea in Inside I’m Dancing. To many Mancunians, James Mcavoy will always be Liam from pub comedy Early Doors or Steve from Shameless. Scatter. Since those days though, Mcavoy has gone far and wide, scoring awards, landing big roles and doing proud for his native Scotland. Proof that Glaswegian talent can go anywhere, even if he does follow Celtic.

So following two good movies, I’m lay down listening to the music of Katherine Jenkins, Weezer, Foo Fighters, Ellie Goulding, Barry Gibb, Sia, and The Killers. A selection of 2021’s album releases isn’t a bad way to unwind. Weezer and Foo Fighters would definitely sound better live. The Killers have visit very familiar territory, whilst Barry Gibb, of famous band The Bee Gees, plays a few gentle collaboration hits. All very good for riding a bicycle casually. And The Bee Gees were formed in Manchester, so it’s good to visit one’s local music from time to time.

Enjoy your weekend.

Here’s a duo of photos from today’s bike ride:

Simple questions. Simple answers.

“Do you play football in the rain?”

“Of course!”

It’s raining.”

“We play on on an all weather pitch.”

“Don’t you get wet?”

“Yes, a little.”

“It must be very cold, right?”

“Not really, because we move and heat our muscles up.”

“What about your skin?”

“Skin is waterproof.”

/////

“What are you doing tomorrow?”

“Tomorrow, I’m cycling.”

“It’s raining tomorrow. How can you cycle in the rain?”

“Rain jackets and care.”

“Rain is cold and dangerous. Won’t you catch a cold?”

“A cold is a virus. I may be more susceptible but it’s unlikely I’ll catch a cold due to rain.”

“What about your skin?”

“Skin is waterproof.”

////

“We can’t go outside tomorrow. What can?we do?”

“We can go outside.”

“But… but… it’s raining. How can we?”

“Macintosh jackets, umbrellas and Wellington boots are useful.”

“What about my skin?”

“It’s waterproof.”

#VisitDongguan2021

Good morning/afternoon/evening/night/day,

Wherever you are, make sure it is a good one.

6th February 2021. Day 1 distance cycled: 94km. Tongsha Reservoir and Ecological Park (同沙生态公园) was the route chosen. Lodged beside the 107 National Highway, beginning at the Dongcheng District, the reservoir and ecological park stretches towards Foling Reservoir, linked by a stretch of road at the unknown named temple (under construction at grid reference 22.971147108234454, 113.82079775499022). The area is great for cycling, picnics, and walking. It has a mix of managed and wild forestry. There’s the odd farm selling fruits such as passion fruits, bananas and other such desideratum fruits. There’s often a good melody of bird calls and some wildlife can be found throughout, although patience is needed. The best way to enjoy the park, in my humble opinion, is on two wheels. There are some side cycle routes and the loop road throughout the area is safe enough to cycle on (with care). There’s a shop somewhere on the west flank and one towards the southern entrance (with cycle hire) which allows for snacks and refreshments. I often cycle to this parkland area just to buy my honey. I’ve yet to try flying kites or picking my own fruits. This park is the place for such joys.

On my return cycle, I swung by Songshan Lake and rolled through a new park (Central Park – ZhongXin GongYuan is next to 梦幻百花洲), discovering an abandoned theme park ruins and a good place to park my bottom whilst swigging a cup of hot cappuccino. Looking back at the day spent in a wetland and ecological park only built in 2006, I thought how quickly nature had taken hold of the area. For a teenage park, it has much more potential to blossom. The huge 40 square-kilometre region has small mountains, water bodies, flowery meadows and plenty of leafage. After that ride, I ate Hunan food with my friend Melody and then had dinner in Nancheng. It was a very pleasant day indeed.

7th February 2021. Day 2 distance cycled: 85km. Alongside my Spanish colleague Jaime, we set off for the most south-western point of Dongguan. We’re not allowed to leave Dongguan during the Chinese New Year festival. It’s part of the pandemic control. It makes sense. Why risk it? So, we headed to a place that overlooks Shenzhen’s most north-western tip. The new ecological park at JiaoYi Bay is so new that on arrival we found that most of the wild areas were under construction. The Marina Bay New District is being. Some land reclamation, some sea landscaping and plenty of soil was being moved. Still it was easy to work out what the end product would be. A Dongguan government propaganda piece has a alerted me to the area, and it wasn’t a bad wander. However the ride through Chang’an town and much of Dalingshan on the way there was an anticlimax. The ride back following the Dongbao river wasn’t bad even if sometimes the cycle path just vanished or had a construction site over it.

8th February 2021. Day 3 distance cycled: 70km. I went out for a coffee. I had no intention to do more than 20km. Songshan Lake has many inlets and side roads. Some areas are under intense building work, whilst others have immense environmental projects here and there. And then there’s Europe. Huawei’s European town is tacky and classy. It’s cheap and it’s extravagant. It’s simple and it’s complex. I’m unsure how I feel about this stack of contradictions. Although it does have a pretty cool railway system, I worry the scale is so large and so imposing that in a country struggling between Western and Eastern cultural identity that this piece of luxury is one step too far. Ox Horn Campus has 12 town styles inside it. And it seems to be growing, year on year, like a sinister James Bond nemesis set.

9th February 2021. Day 4 distance cycled: 0km. Today was our Murray’s F.C. x DGFC 30-man football tournament on Dongcheng rooftop. Between us all we had 5 teams, two fields (both 5 and 6 a-side) and a good evening of football, followed by beers and food at One For The Road and then Hollywood Baby Too. After many games throughout three hours, I was shattered and sore. The holiday needed me to have more energy…

Until next time.

Ronald Lindsay Johnson (24 September 1889 – 29 May 1917)

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

Ronald Lindsay Johnson (24 September 1889 – 29 May 1917)

I knew of the Ronald Johnson Playing Fields long before FC United of Manchester went slicing into the earth around it. Located on Broadhurst Park, in Manchester’s Moston, I always recall the red brick cycling track within a fenced compound adjacent to the passing St. Mary’s Road. Discovering the Western Front Association website, I recently read about Ronald Johnson. Together with a profile on the Friends of Broadhurst Park, I started clicking left, right and centre.

Like many that saw battle in the horrors of The Great War, Captain Ronald Lindsay Johnson (picture courtesy of the Altrincham Guardian) died in action. He was just 28-years old. His shares at Johnson, Clapham & Morris engineers were put to use in creating a sports ground. Initially for employees it became a public ground in the 1930s following Johnson, Clapham & Morris’s move to Trafford Park. It has since seen cricket, football (notably Moston Juniors F.C.), school sports days, car boot sales, fun fairs and life.

I can still recall the damp earthly smells of the ground that measured around 8-acres, sandwiched between a primary school and number 335 St. Mary’s Road. The recreation area was in memorial to Captain Ronald Lindsay Johnson and opened on the 17th June 1922 (or 1925), with Ronald Johnson’s mother present. The cycle speedway track was unique to the area – and existed long before the Manchester Velodrome was created in anticipation of the 2002 Commonwealth Games. I wonder if any cyclist transitioned from there to the often named ‘medal factory’ in Clayton.

By 2011, F.C. United of Manchester were offered the land and their 4,400-seater stadium (for £6.5 million) followed. The name Broadhurst Park was naturally fitting, following a brief period as the Moston Community Stadium. The all-weather pitch has seen a Benfica B team all in a stone’s throw from what was once Moston Hall, and residence to local industrialist Sir Edward Tootal Broadhurst. The park itself a World War One donation to recognise victory.

The New East Manchester and Manchester City Council development, once the home of a metal working and fabrication business team, had been resisted by local residents. The loss of public open space coupled with inadequate parking provision seemed to be the main problems. 2,226 letters of objection (mostly locally sent) were beaten back by 5,635 letters (many outside of Manchester) of support. Manchester Council plodded on with a success at the Court of Appeal in March 2013. The covenant on the land has always been recreation – and for the people of Moston. The one thing I find upsetting is that there isn’t a plaque or statue to honour that for almost 90 years these fields held a different name – but perhaps it hasn’t been made yet, or notified well.

Significant contribution was made by the Football Foundation Community Facilities Fund, Sport England, F.C. United Community Shares scheme, fundraising, Manchester City Council loan and the Football Foundation Football Stadia Improvement Fund amongst others. F.C. Ted (see the link for reasoning about the name) moved in eventually. At an Annual General Meeting of FC United, 10 April 2014, the Ronald Johnson Ground was one of seven names proposed for the new ground. Sadly, the historic Ronald Johnson Playing Fields seemingly vanished. F.C. United played Benfica B to mark the date of Man United’s 1968 European Cup Final, the day Ronald Johnson ceased to live.

Ronald_Lindsay_Johnson

Ronald Lindsay Johnson (24 September 1889 – 29 May 1917)

Family: His parents were William Henry Johnson, died 1914 and Agnes Morton Johnson née Brown. Brother, William Morton Johnson, educated in Cambridge, died July 1916 (in military action, aged just 34 years old). Mother, opened the playing field in June 1922. Ronald was the youngest of six children.

Raised: Woodleigh on Bradgate Road in Dunham Massay

Studied: Summer Fields School, Eton. BA Classics (posthumous MA awarded), @ King’s College, Cambridge.

Lived: Australia, 1912 until August 1914 (at the Sydney branch of Messrs Johnson, Clapham & Morris)

Partner/Chairman: Johnson, Clapham & Morris’ Wire Works (engineers)

Served: As a junior in the Cadet Corps; then Officer Training Corps at Cambridge. Enlisted (2nd October 1914) in the 23rd Division [103 Brigade RFA], Royal Field Artillery. Commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant.

Rank: Acting Captain and Divisional Trench Mortar Officer (DTMO). Entered the theatre of war from 27th August 1915 (landed Boulogne).

Medals: 1914-15 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal

Responsibilities: co-ordinating the targeting and positioning of mortar batteries

Notable events: Survived a rifle bullet to the ear, 19th September 1916. Evacuated by H S Dieppe (hospital ship) but returned to service by 11th December 1916.

Cause of death: Pre-Battle of Messines (Flanders, Belgium) preparations. Hit by a German shell, near Zillebeke Lake by ‘Hill 60’. He died in transit on the way to the Field Hospital near Brandhoek.

Place of Rest: Brandhoek Military Cemetery, Belgium (Plot II, Row D, Grave 1).

Commemorated: Dunham (St. Mark’s) war memorial and the Kings College, Cambridge War Memorial.

Other than the Ronald Johnson Playing Fields, he was honoured with the naming of the Johnson Chemicals Labs, Adelaide University, Australia. He is also mentioned in the Cambridge University Book of Honour.

Further reading:  Who was Ronald Johnson ? (David O’Mara, Western Front Association (WFA))

The Mancunian Way, Dongguan

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

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

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


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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Before quarantine.

你好 (nĭ hăo) / Namaste / Welcome!

“In general what I tell people I have learnt is that it’s far better to make a friend out of a possible enemy than an enemy out of a possible friend. You can’t go far wrong.” – Bob Weighton, aged 112 – interview on Good Morning Britain.

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“We need to call Mr Lam back in 20 minutes,” Gerry said, explaining that we had little time to make a decision or get out of Thailand. Monday had started heavily, with worries about an impending closure of the whole of Thailand. Royal mandates and decrees were in position and martial law was on the horizon. A state of emergency was teetering into play, threatening one to three months of lockdowns. Flights were being cancelled and the prospect of all international flights being suspending was approaching fast. We’d been supplying our Principal, Mr Lam with regular requests for assistance for many days, as it was. And, both Gerry and I had had flights cancelled in the run up to that Monday. My Thai Air Asia flight could be rebooked, as long as it was before the scheduled flight on April the 1st, April Fool’s Day. Trip.com, the agent that I booked with has yet to provide any customer assistance. That’s understandable considering the world’s population of humans have big, big, big problems now.

The British Embassy and UK Foreign Office were essentially telling all British citizens to fly home to the motherland – a green land heavily infected with COVID-19. The Thai people said I could remain there and all I needed was a British embassy letter. The UK Foreign Office had previously said don’t go to China – and had yet to retract that statement, despite China being one of the few places seriously controlling the spread of COVID-19…

Mr Lam, and the school could not confirm of the school would be responsible for flight costs or any potential quarantine costs. At that stage, flight tickets had jumped from about 900RMB one way to 4660RMB – and quarantine could be anywhere between 200-400RMB a day. We were pretty much assured that we would be allowed home quarantine as many others had experienced this. Another colleague Nick, was trapped in Sri Lanka, with fast-diminishing flights outbound, but was due to fly on April the 3rd. Two colleagues, Garth and Jason had been in Dongguan during their lockdown and were finally enjoying restaurants and fresh air after lengthy periods tucked in their homes.

So, I agreed with Gerry, that we had to go. With that Mr Lam booked us on a China Southern Airlines flight to Guangzhou. So from an evening playing four-in-a-row and checkers with science teacher Sirimook, I was frantically packing my bags and cramming bottles of Vimto into spaces that weren’t actually there. Around midnight, I was lay on the bed, everything packed and ready to go. It seemed to fast. This was an urgent few hours.

IMG_20200325_091650I awoke at 7.30am, I jumped onto the hire bicycle and returned it to Mr Wichai, who was very kind throughout the hiring period of said mountain bike. As I jumped on a tuk-tuk back, I told Gerry to fry up some of the Wiltshire bacon and the black pudding that we had ordered for a future treat. He complied, and as the kind woman driver of the tuk-tuk waited outside, we tucked into the quick breakfast, doused in HP brown sauce and then bid Amy and Eddi good luck and goodbye. They were to remain there indefinitely and would probably not emerge until Liverpool lifted the 2019/20 Premier League title, and the world was a safer place.

Back onto the friendly tuk-tuk driver’s tuk-tuk, we zipped out Chanta village gates, waving goodbye to the security guard and gatekeeper (in a mask, just like us), and turned right, then left at the roundabout, across the really quiet main road. We stopped so that I could pick up my City hat, it blew off due to turbulence and a gust. I ran to grab it. A snake darted off the near empty roads. I jumped back onto the tuk-tuk. The driver floored it. We reached the modern Hua Hin Airport to Bangkok Airport bus station. We paid her 600 baht for her driving, way above the usual rate – but she certainly wasn’t getting many customers that day. Hua Hin was desolate. Everyone who could fly away, had gone, or were at the airports desperately finding a way to their native lands. About a tenth of the average million visitors to Thailand were at that time stranded or clutching at straws to get out. We grabbed our bags and went to the counter. Almost all the buses that day had sold out. Our luck was in. We paid 294 baht. Within an hour we boarded the full 11:30am service, which left 30 minutes. The usual journey time was anticipated to be three to five hours dependent on traffic. We arrived before 2pm. Way too early check-in. Even with roadworks, our coach had practically flown into Bangkok uninhibited.

At Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport, our temperature was checked on the way in and we were each labelled with a green sticker. We were in. After being told that we were far too early to check in, we skipped past many returning Chinese nationals in hazardous materials suits. Some had full facial gas masks on. Some wore visors. Many sported full body rain ponchos that could be found in theme parks across the world. Others had kits resembling a kind of pale Ghostbusters. We wandered downstairs, well travellators, for lunch passing sets of four seats with two red exes closing off the central seats. A green tick meant that you could sit down. Posters, banners, hand gels, sanitizers, signs, announcements and swarms of temperature gun-toting airport staff. The pandemic response was clear to see.

Next was some queuing on red dots and trying to occupy one red dot on the floor per person, without being close to the person in front or behind. After dropping our bags in, scanning a QR code which gave us a National Health Commission of China health declaration, in Chinese, we proceeded to customs and passed several LED screens full of cancellations. Very little was due to fly that day. We were lucky. I showed Gerry that the Spring Airlines flight to Guangzhou that evening was cancelled. That was our other possible way out. There still was a chance that we would not lift off the ground. Flights were also known to face diversions and returns to their departure airports. We kept hope.

wx_camera_1585137521122After a goodbye beer in the airport, we grabbed sandwiches to go, quickly, as our flight’s departure had moved forwards a little. We boarded the flight and at the rear of the plane we were able to move from row 57 to 61 and enjoy lots of empty seats. They’re here, they’re there, they’re every slipping where, empty seats, empty seats… No headphones in flight and all the staff had latex hands, and half-hidden faces. After the usual health and safety video, the China Southern Airlines, flight CZ364 taxied and then rocketed down the runway. The wheels lifted and the plane went skywards. Up, up and away.

After an inflight sandwich or two, and a pre-packed inflight snack pack, our flight descended. We had no real idea of when we would eat next or how the reported quarantine and testing processes would be. We’d filled in the health declaration form – the first of four paper sheets that night and following early hours. Another QR code later, and we’d replicated the paper form on an electronic giving us a further QR barcode to provide to the epidemiological investigations team, after two temperature checks. Here a translator copied my English form to a Chinese form. Gerry was led away to another room. Eventually I was also directed to that room. The cast of Outbreak, in their sky-blue and white uniform hazmat suits wandered in and out. Gerry was led away to a smaller room and came out soon after saying the swab test was uncomfortable.

When my turn came, a young suited and booted man, who I could only see the eyes of, through steamed goggles, led me into the smaller room. Here I as happy that no needles were involved. That was – until a roughly 12cm swab was tunnelled up my left nostril and then my right one. It seemed to last forever. It was probably closer to a second or two. After that, I felt relief that it was over. Then a second swab appeared. The medic in white said, “Say, ahhhh.” I was closer to saying, “ARGHHHHH!” My gag reflex made me throaty and horrible in sensation. It was a vile feeling. I left the room with a taste of something unrecognisable and utterly vile. I whipped my mask down and swigged a few needed gulps of water. Gerry and I were each handed a stamped certificate to say that we’d had the tests. Out we went, through the next temperature gates and over to customs, after filling in yet another form. After passing customs, we found our bags slowly spinning around the baggage carousel amongst many other suitcases. At least ten baggage carousels filled the great arrivals hall. We were the only two souls within the room. It was now close to 01:30 on Wednesday morning. We’d landed around 23:30 the previous day. After gripping our bags, we passed through the customs declaration channels, gone right up a cordoned pathway, up some escalators and then left over a bridge. A young girl sporting a full hazmat suit directed us the only possible way we could walk, forwards.

The path was a bridge, entirely sealed and led to some stairs on our right. Down we went and turned right. Gerry mentioned that it reminded him of the registration tents of a marathon run. After scanning another QR code, and filling another paper form, we sat down and awaited a bus or coach to Dongguan. All around us, many tables displayed towns within Guangzhou, cities around Guangdong and one sign for provinces beyond. Eventually, around 3am, a dozen or more fellow Dongguan-bounded passengers were marked outside. Considering Gerry had stopped someone taking a bottle of hand-sanitizer by accident, they were all lucky to be boarding. In fairness, it was placed next to the complimentary water bottles. What struck me about ot all, here we were, in a nation at the time, that had suffered thousands of deaths, tens of thousands of infected ill people and yet spirits were high, and nobody seemed worried.

The coach departed with an escort vehicle. For some unknown reason there was a beeping sound for some time. I imagine it was to do with the hazard lights being on. The coach slowed down around Machong Town and a half-sleepy me heard my number (2) and Gerry’s number (3) and went to depart. I managed to get off the coach. In actual fact it was everyone but numbers two and three. So, back onboard I went. Then, the coach started up again and away we went. The bleeping sound never relented. As the coach pulled off the highways to more local roads, we could see recently constructed barriers between gardens and walls of MDF and scaffolding. Eventually, the coach passed the Botanical Gardens, pulled left, and a few hundred metres, left again into West Lake Hotel. The escort car shot up the raise to the hotel at the top of the hill. We followed, slowed and then stopped. The doors opened. We departed. Hazmat suits everywhere. Here they carried our bags, checked us in with yet another form at 05:00. The actual cost was to be an eye-watering 450RMB a night. I was handed my room number. No key. Gerry was allocated a different floor and wing of the hotel. Off we went. At the fourth floor (in the UK, it’d be the third floor), I told Gerry I’ll see him soon, and off I went, a few doors down on the right. I stepped through the door into quarantine.

It begins.

 


 

This week in Manchester, little Britain and the world.

“It’s irresponsible for the Prime Minister and Health Sec to say they’ll only self-isolate for 7 days. The WHO say people can be infectious 14 days after symptoms stop.” – Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, Labour MP for Tooting/NHS hero: A&E Doctor

Mancunian people, whether workers or businesses have always been known for their spirit when faced with the terrible. Mancs, not manky mongrels. Through kindness and solidarity, Manchester, whether blue or red, or other, whether queer, straight, transgender, lesbian, gay and all the wonderful colours of the spectrum of sexuality have and will always show love to hate, love to fear, and togetherness in adversity. Yes, there are exceptions and every village as their idiot, but we don’t look down on that lot, we reason, we educate ‘em and we again show love.

So, NHS, you beautiful creation and wonderful giver of life and provider in strife, here’s the City of Manchester Etihad Stadium, council-owned and City-leased for you to use as you see fit. Do as you need, because you need and they need, more than we need. Cry Sis’? No crisis, the superheroes with their inadequate masks and their gowns weakened by cuts, are here fighting. They’re our front line and with them I feel fine. If anyone can save me, it won’t be Superman, Batman or the Avengers, it’ll be Doctors like Rosena Allin-Khan, in Tooting, or our boys and girls in blue (or whichever nursing colours they choose) in Wythy, and my place of birth Crumpsall and the numerous other trusts up and down these green and pleasant lands. But, they need us. They need our volunteers, they need our support and they need us to stay indoors. The longer we do this, the sooner we’re out. If you anyone out, don’t give them a clout, maintain a distance and shout, “Oi, get inside and don’t be snide.” Feel the rhythm, feel the ride? No time for a sneaky bobsleigh ride. Watch the tele’  instead. Or find yourself lucky with beeping at the bed. Don’t be misled, by Trump and his fools, or Boris and his tools, 14 days here, is better than 14 days under soil, feeding worms and all the bugs. Overhead, thoroughbred might be okay, but in their hospital beds, some won’t live, and that’s the thing that you can give. A chance. One little chance. Stay at home, like I said.

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Returning to China has been eye-opening. What’ve I seen? World class control. Top rate protection. No risks. This is the now, and not the beginning which obviously was a huge Alan Ball’s up. I’d rather be here than Britain, right now. That says a lot. I’d be home in a jiffy, if I felt it was safe enough to protect my family and friends. I feel I can’t offer much more than a mass clap for the NHS.

The clap for the NHS was wonderful. It gave hope and lifted spirits. It wasn’t the true support that the NHS needed, but it was as a national scale response to the superheroes both in the UK and beyond that are battling for our lives. Some are giving their own lives. The government dissection and eventual evaluation of what could have been done better has begun, and will continue throughout, but I think the time to reflect must be after. Not now. By all means, question now and help to make suggestions. What’s absolutely unforgivable is that this Conservative government do not care about the general population of Britain. They found money with consummate ease to ease the worries and support the masses. It seemed mostly to support the upper echelons and middle tier of society, with so many hidden support packages for business and industry. People, the working class mainly, may not have jobs to go to after all of this blows over or fades away. That’s on the assumption that they make it through this alive.

This government downsized our capacity for dealing with outbreaks. They made devastating cuts and prevented those in medical capacities from having access to adequate personal protection equipment. The matter of Brexit pressed on and the warnings of SARS-CoV-2 barely existed. Not that any rival party politics groups were waving warning flags either. Nor was the WHO. The Conservatives seem, on the surface, to be facing up to their mistakes of old, realising that the chasm-like depth of suffering was on their doorstep – and soon enough it was flooding in and around them, swirling and taking no prisoners.

COVID-19’s arrival comes on the back of decades of reductionism at the NHS. Many aspects of the NHS are under market control. Cash for care. Money for statistics. Insurance by stockpiling medical goods, undermines profit and gain. Why put things in boxes and let them go dusty?

Capitalism protected itself (in June, not now) in unparalleled ways during this exceptional time. Chancellor Rishi Sunak was pushed forwards with his cool and emotional responses. A temporary floatation of cash keeps many people feeding the industries essential to keeping an economy afloat. This impermanent flash of generosity may be short-lived. Does it protect newly self-employed staff? No. Those undertaking redundancy recently? No. Those on a zero-hours contract? No. The unemployed and those on disability? No. They can apply for Universal Credit, which was increased to £94.25, up about twenty quid in these harder than hard times. £377 per month may help you travel far enough to buy the last bag of pasta, or pay a water bill on time. If you’re self-employed you can get up to £2500 a month. Chancellor Rishi Sunak cited fraud as being a huge concern. These are hardly terms to discourage people from going outside looking for a bit of work on the quiet. How long will this go on?

Government grants, from state funds, are bailing out businesses in a period of unknown. Like the idea of herd immunity, it could well be the same as pissing into the wind. Not of much use. The big plus being that the workers of Britain will not experience hunger or poverty, for now.

Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, had already said he couldn’t live on £94.25 a week. Around £330 billion has been set aside for business. The unemployed have a ringfenced figure of £7 billion to enjoy amongst themselves – over time. We’re in this together – some less than others, some more than others, and many doing near nothing – and some doing nothing but getting paid for it. There’s no such thing as equality. None. The rewards seen by businesses aren’t meant for the working classes. In a nation divided by those susceptible by this COVID-19 disease, there are already people plagued by means-testing, heavy taxes, debt, student loans (hell, years ago, I’ve thought about suicide on that subject but never considered it – I couldn’t hurt anyone in my family or my friends), and so many crippling factors. Now a fairer government would say, okay, hey, this is bad, erm, let’s have X amount of the pot divided by the population number. Each payment will be weighted larger towards those with care costs, children, disability, assistance requirements etc. Those who own a house, have less outgoings, no travel or fuel costs, will get less. Those stuck overseas and unable to return will get X, Y and Z provided. What am I talking about? A fairy tale. Stabilise people and their minds, keep them indoors and protect each other. Not with this government…

To highlight the hate directed at the mis-leadership that is this government’s modern day Neville Chamberlain, Boris Johnson (better described by Stewart Lee as…), preoccupied with conserving their social order and trying to escape self-isolation a week early is getting death threats and utter abuse. As his chancellor supports those who earn more (the more you earn, the more you get support), Boris is locked away in Number Ten Downing Street. Health Secretary Matt Hancock and England’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty are also isolating alone. They all tested positive for COVID-19. Each shown symptoms of the viral disease that treats its hosts to universalism, something the Tory hosts may never understand. The Tories don’t care about you. Boris didn’t receive much love either. Just many cheers of joy and a few death wishes too.

A twat is a twat, but nobody truly deserves death or illness for being that. We’re not Gods and we don’t deserve to hang each other on nooses. As disgusting as someone is, isn’t it more human to reason, debate, democratically talk sense to a thickie… if not then, we all deserve the end. That’s bleak. That’s horrible. I imagine somewhere his education and his upbringing wasn’t like yours or mine and that shaped him. By all means don’t feel sorry for him, but don’t default to being Adolf bleeding Hitler on him. Yes, Boris, has years of systemic life-reduction methods and decision in his tank, but does anyone have the right to respond with heinous distasteful emotional attacks on the man? Is anyone entitled to stab a man in the back on his bed of illness? His policies may target groups of people and favour the few, but deep down below that tuft of white mop-hair, he’s a human. Or at least a lizard-humanoid, because he ONLY needs 7 days of self-isolation.

Or, we could argue that illness and hate is deserved. His floundering and dithering government sat back on this COVID-19 outbreak too long before making a huge U-turn to take it on. Dawdling the message of herd immunity fell away for the delaying weaker policy of ‘please stay at home’ and struggling into an eventual negligence and incompetence, aside from the heart-warming handclap. Personally, I don’t respect faltering Boris. He lost my respect long ago as stumbling Mayor of London, and wallowing as other fools since then. I won’t be his fan. Luckily, I won’t be wishing he dies or gets ill. I will be wishing that this government wakes up and gets its act together. Britain, the UK, England, whatever, it cannot go alone. The world must act together. Pool resource. Put aside emotion and concentrate on this global issue. Mother nature has a great new way to make compost – or air pollution via cremations. COVID-19 isn’t to be defeated, but gently turned away and eradicated. Viruses, like governments, and civilisations can fade away. Humanity should not. But, it does need to adapt P.D.Q. (pretty damn quick).

Unluckily, Brazil’s top dog and general knobhead, posing president Jair Bolsonaro has laughed at and almost denied COVID-19 as the world struggles. He even threatened to sack his health minister and any experts critical of his regime handing. Brazil is at high risk.

Luckily, some nations are taking action. The National Health Commission of China will not dismiss a second wave of this disease outbreak. That’s why the borders of China were closed to foreigners, on the 28th of March 2020. Around 10% of China’s so-called imported cases came from returning foreigners. As xenophobia and fear ramps up, China has called for calm. It also imposed a rule that allows one airline to go to one country, once a week. Posing the selfish question, how can I get to the UK in summer, if this carries on?!

“One thing I think the coronavirus crisis has already proved is that there really is such a thing as society.” – Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Twitter.

Luckily, COVID-19 doesn’t discriminate and isn’t corrupt.

Unluckily, the longer this goes on, the more our lives will change because of COVID-19.

Luckily, some nations are seeing drops in infections and deaths.

Unluckily, COVID-19 could be here for a while or mutate…

Luckily, Trump is taking U-turns and allowing states and other proper leaders to do a job.

Unluckily, Trump.

Luckily, Dyson and F1 are making ventilators, Brewdog are making hand gels, Santini (cycling jerseys) switched to making masks, and so many great stories. Trump is using the Korean War-era Defense Production Act to get General Motors producing items of use to the medical profession. Food banks, which shouldn’t exist in the first place, are being supported by major supermarkets.

Unluckily, many on the frontline of healthcare have died or are in isolation.

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The above image was made by SZ Blues member Waits.

Luckily, City & Utd came togetherand supported local foodbanks. #ACityUnited

Unluckily, Bugzy Malone’s boredom led to a crash. Get well soon.

Bastard of the week: McDonald’s asked for help from customers. This was only a week after Ronald McDonald House evicted a ten year old boy. NB: While the fast food company provides funding and organisational support, Ronald McDonald House Charities is an independent charity.

Luckily, many medics returning to fight against the outbreak. The NHS is testing more workers than ever before. #StayHomeSaveLives

As COVID-19 almost doubles every five days or so, it isn’t all doom and gloom. People are recovering. That’s key. Hope.

I’d like to leave you with this:

“There is no such thing as society.” – Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister (U.K.), 1979-1990

Hey, Maggie, we’re about to really find out… look up from Dante’s Inferno and see how we get on.


Personal Protection Equipment
I keep getting asked about how to buy masks from China. I can’t help, I’m in quarantine. If you need any masks, give Maria at Unique Dongguan a shout on Skype (+86)18122819259, 370105612@qq.com, or #wechat for info or help. #covid19UK #covid19 – and take a look at: dgsali.com

Rainbow tapestry.

Sawasdeekhap / Namaste / Welcome!

Last Sunday, I went on a run. Yes, I walked occasionally after the 3km mark, and jogged a bit, but the beach was slanted to the right (east), which is not good when you have right ankle and tendon weaknesses. My right ankle has been suffering instability for year but since late autumn it has been recovering. There is no pain but the super over pronation is inwards and makes it easy for me to roll my ankles and my flat feet. Running is not something that I enjoy nor do I want to do. So, last Saturday evening Gerry and I cycled 20km or so to Cha Am. He was joining the Cha Am Bikini Run (10km run). There were other options such as the half-marathon and a 5km run. As he picked up his bib, to go over his USA flag speedos, I asked if you could run without wearing a bikini or speedos. That is to say, I was curious if you could run in regular shorts and shirts, rather than naked. The gentleman said yes. I asked if I could join the 5km run. I parted with 450 baht and was handed the running number 1143. It had space on it for a temperature check, because of COVID-19 and so on. So, just after 6pm on Saturday, I was to run at 6am the following day. Cheers Gerry!

I crossed the line, sweating and knackered. Just below 36 minutes for the heavy bugger on the old 5K beach run in sun-licked Cha Am. Not bad for someone who hates running. When the world stops worrying and this virus, disease and panic goes away, we’ll mourn the lost and seek normality. Until then, keep hope and do as much as you can in these dark hours. Don’t blame and judge. Be the difference and look to inspire. I entered the 5K run because infectious human attitudes made it appealing. It was a challenge and we as a species are always capable of rising to a challenge. Together we’re stronger. Seeing runners with smiles on their faces and their tribal passion for this sport made me escape the worries of the days ahead. The COVID-19 pandemic is shattering lives globally and I may end up trapped in Thailand for some time. It is what it is. We must find the light of positivity wherever we can. Apinterfood (Hua Hin) has made my day in recent weeks. I’m in Thailand enjoying ice cold Vimto. I wish all around the world peace and love at this difficult time. Vimto has and will bring calm. We need more calm. Less sensationalism, more calm. More Vimto too. Don’t panic buy Vimto. Share the purple love juice. As a wise Mancunian saying goes, “Stay safe our kid.”


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Back to the Nepal trek we go, and the many sounds of the Marsyangdi River. Leaving the cute puppy eyes, and Jagat behind, the first thing we witnessed was a sheep or goat completely cut open. It seemed a wedding or some other such festivity demanded it. The one thing about the hugely multicultural Nepali lifestyle is, you’re never more than a day or so from a regional, local, religious or personal holiday. All are fascinating in a mammoth amount of ways, however, stepping around a bath of blood on the muddy pathway was a bit too much for breakfast. In my eyes, anyway. Not long after leaving Jagat (1130m), Chamche (1385m) was a passing point. A stunning waterfall cast a rainbow in the blowing water spray, commanded a great place to stand and enjoy the view. Many more waterfalls followed that day, cutting and jutting from the high valley sides, but the Chamche Waterfall opposite the Boong Waterfall and Dense Fall Restaurant was a fine way to inspire a good walk.

Switching away from the road, I clambered along a trail pathway that faced into the ugly road over the valley. The road was a continual scar among the awe-inspiring mountainsides and colossal rocks. The dribbled blasted rocks and erosion alongside the scar gave the appearance of a weeping mountain.

IMG_20200130_170616Tal (1700m) was over a hill. By over the hill, I mean very far away and plenty of up, up, up. Not a hint of what Tal would look like because ultimately some very large geological features were doing a good job of screening the beyond. After some really emotional digging in we were back on the pathway, Livia and I, walking with Srirang not far behind. The few restaurants and hotels along the way were closed, and water had to be gained from river feeds into pipes, and then straight into the Life Straw bottle. Clean and fresh. The great sinister and prophesying slopes ahead didn’t encourage but we dug in. On reaching the top we had an eagle’s eye view into Tal, with an eagle flying beneath us over a wide valley plain and lake within the Marsyangdi River. The overlooking stone gate faced onto Tal. We toyed with how long before Srirang would arrived but decided the best thing was to find somewhere to eat. A gent introduced himself, and told us that his lodge was sadly under repair. His friend from Jagat, at Mont Blanc Hotel, had recommended his sister’s lodge. We said, not to worry, and carried on. We went all the way to the farthest point of the village, Paradise Lodge on his recommendation. Here we ordered food and fussed a local dog that followed us. The pumpkin soup and momos were brilliant. Well needed after that wander, The widened-valley stretched across the banks of the river beneath with a stone plain giving home to the village of Tal. Behind it the Tal waterfalls plummeted downwards powering a turbine or two.

IMG_20200131_094804After a cup of milky coffee, the weakest coffee ever, but warm and sweet, Srirang walked up the garden path. He did not have his backpack. He said he’d checked into Tashi Delek Lodge (named after a Tibetan greeting). We retreated back there and dropped our bags in. The girl at the lodge had wide Tibetan eyes, wonderfully smooth hair and a figure to die for. I seldom judge someone as breath-taking at first sight. She was. And, without appearing like a debauched foreigner, I politely thanked her for showing me to the wide room, and she slid away quietly. A man I assumed to be her father, and a woman who was clearly her mother shuffled around the garden and lodgings in the start of the Manang district. Before a wander out, we ordered our dinners and dal bhat was on the menu once again.

We set out back towards Jagat, but only as far as the lake and plain area opened out downstream. A golden looking dog joined us. He, Livia and Srirang were having a whale of a time. I wandered along quietly amazed at the litter amongst the river bed and shore. It is always sad to see a natural place covered in plastic and soggy discarded clothing. Some will have no doubt been trekking waste, but much would have been due to a lack of waste management. Plastic is a global menace. Tal sits on the line of Tibetan Nepal and Hindu Nepal. A clearer division of cultures was visible. Today’s dal baht was the best that I had ever had. I thought about how many argue that the road across the valley doesn’t detract from the beauty of the area, triggered by a motorbike ripping the arse out of the valley’s silence.

IMG_20200130_163546Before dinner, Livia, Srirang and our new Kukura (कुकुर – a dog) – abandoned Livia’s impressive learning of Nepali language and we went to see the waterfall, lit up by several bulbs and enjoyed the setting sun over the snow-capped mountain ranges of the west. To our north up the Marsyangdi River, cold clouds gathered and swirled. To the south, similar clouds menacingly eddied and flowed over distant peaks. We looked at pictures of a spider and Livia, with Srirang set about creating a kind of social media profile photo montage. The day had been epic in terms of the scale and ravines witnessed, with such dramatic sweeping scenery accompanying us along the way. Following steep stones and vast drops, a few photos of an eight-legged critter seemed fitting. The big and small, side by side.

IMG_20200131_104942The following morning blue skies greeted us all. I’d woken around 7am but we departed closer to 10.30am. Why rush? Armed with a stodgy breakfast we set off early, having chewed on buckwheat bread, omelettes and porridge. The beautiful girl waved us goodbye. The river bent north-west, and we followed the banks, as the valleys once again enclosed the Marsyangdi River. After only a short distance the river pointed north, and we looked upstream at gaping valleys. But, first we enjoyed a smooth and calm waterfall on our right shoulders. Livia washed her hair and Srirang rested for a while. I plodded up the stairs slowly at first and then having reached a crest, decided I’d trot on a little. The valley below deepened and over the river the road slipped lower below me. The mountains above me cast shadows and sunlight broke through the occasional pockets of bamboo forestry. Here the plants became more deciduous than before, with the air temperature hovering just below teens in centigrade. Sound thundered up from the deep vaIMG_20200131_121925lley beneath. After passing the first yak of the journey I found the small village of Karte. That was an ideal break point after some knee-stress-inducing steps on the route so far. As my lunch of pumpkin soup and momos was readied, I walked over the suspension bridge and back. By 12.50pm, I was at Karte, and now I had met the sister of a certain doggy back in Tal. Her puppies were nearby too. I sat and enjoyed the views and had a quick gander on the internet, via the lodge’s wi-fi. Here I read an excellent account of this trekking region by Tasha Amy (spotting a familiar dog too).

Somewhere after Karte, I decided to plonk my bottom down and have a short nap. I positioned my feet on a comfortable rock and slid my head back onto my resting backpack. Why rush? I hadn’t walked too much extra before reaching Dharapani’s first few guesthouses. Here I greeted the owners if the bright pink and green New Tibet Guest House. With a view up at a very high suspension bridge, I decided this would be a good place to stay – especially as Srirang, Livia and I had decided this would be the day’s end. I checked in, explored the waterfall over the river, had a wander within the village and waited not too long for Srirang and Livia to arrive. Dharapani has a few houses, and a population of just over a thousand, throughout about 232 houses. It is the gateway to the Manaslu trekking routes and all climbers who want that scap, head througIMG_20200131_161129h here. The so-called Gandaki Zone of northern Nepal. Just across the river a further 102 houses, house about four times as many people as front doors. The village of Thonje can be reached by a swinging suspension bridge. A river valley to the north-east gives Thonje a headland sandwiching it to the north-west by the Marsyangdi River. The north-easterly direction to Tilche and a village called Goa looked cold and uninviting. The name Thonje means ‘pine trees growing on a flat place’ in Gurung language.

IMG_20200201_131727An hour’s climb up a near vertical cliff-hugging pathway is not the best thing to do for a late breakfast. But, it had to be done. That vertical line of suspension bridge was calling out my name. Eventually I reached the steep-faced village of Nache (2300m) overlooking a sweeping plain and several farming stepped fields. I ducked into the Dona Lake & Restaurant lodge for lunch. With views of Manaslu (8163m) I sank a bowl of pumpkin and onion soup deep into my belly. Lovely vegetable momos joinIMG_20200201_140008ed the soup moments later. After thanking the owner and their family, I swiftly wandered around the bend, shuffled by two bulls blocking the path and skipped on forwards. To walk on a very-raised footbridge was my intention. The pathway descended and Annapurna could be seen across the opposite valley and way off into the distance.

Heights sometimes give me the heebie-jeebies. There’s a touch of anxiety and apprehension. It doesn’t freeze me in panic or fright, but I don’t feel completely comfortable. This bridge, the Nachai Tamrang bridge, was one heebie-jeebies instiller of the highest quality. The valley below is deep (more than 412m). After crossing, I passed some loggers and wandered through the cool pine forest interior. The chilly evening air was refreshing and I spent a long time pondering if the pathway would start to go downhill. It didn’t seem to go that way, until I found a landslip of many tonnes of soil. Just beyond it I could see prayer flags, a large chalky-coloured rock and some white-washed painted bricks and wood.

A Tibetan monastery, just about on the map (Coordinates: 28.526666408038352, 84.36179227677985), more than 55 years old received me. I hadn’t expected it. The monk shouted down to me, after his black dog had alerted him of my presence. I returned the call with a greeting, and asked for advice on how to pass the huge landslip in front of me. He kind of pointed and said, “There isn’t an easy way. Take great care”, followed by a gentle chuckle. I’d fathomed out a pathway to my right, and looped it around but again it had to cross the landslip, over a distance of two metres. Aside from that the landslip was mostly 5 to 15 metres wide. It ran down into a steep pocket of bushes and mud for about ten metres. I couldn’t slip far. I could get buried. It could have been dangerous. So, I did what anyone else faced with a lengthy walk back, I winged it. I jumped over the first metre with consummate ease, and pushed myself into the soft earth, to allow for a steady flick into the solid growth by a tree and then shuffled up to the gate at the top.

I talked with the resident monk, and he told me of the story of his predecessor who had been there for 55 years. He showed me damage on a wall from the terrible earthquake years ago, the huge tree grown from a seed by his predecessor. The steep garden reaching up from two buildings featured diversity in its birdlife. The national bird, the Himalayan Monal (Lophophorus impejanus) foraged amongst the peaceful greenery. Wind battered away at flags, and several thin cats wandered around. I had a guided tour within the small monastery and made a donation. With light fading I bid farewell, and shuffled off downhill for the bridge to Thonje, and then the eventual bridge to Dharapani, back to my lodge across the way from the highest bridge that I had ever seen, just upstream from the skeleton of a sagging bridge and its replacement nearby. The warm cushions and the fireplace alongside hot meals made for a good night of sleep, despite the icy cold temperatures outside. Dharapani will stick in my mind as one of the most pleasant places on this journey.

It had rolling power cuts as during daylight, they turned off the power whilst they fitted new power lines. Several huge boulders, landslides, avalanches and other such damage had created supply instability. Leaning and/or crushed pylons needed replacing for many kilometres. The monsoon seasons, the winter, the dry days, and other erosion factors made life hard for local people. The power and a recently installed internet feed gave a very modern touch, along with the new road creating regular gas deliveries and other luxuries throughout the region. What many take for granted around the world had only just arrived. The old and new. The New Tibet Guest House even had western toilets, complete with fully flushing bits. What wasn’t to like? A warm shower and a sit-down pooh. As many returning trekkers passed me by advising of closed pathways near Manang, I didn’t worry. If I couldn’t go that high, I’d not be too upset. The journey was already wonderful.

 

At Dharapani (1900m), on leaving our permits were checked. It was all very official and the Police here advised that trekking beyond Manang was unlikely for several days. Livia and Srirang looked disappointed but I guessed they’d wait it out. I was on a tight timetable and wouldn’t be rushing up, either way. The journey was magnificent and for me it had no planned end point. Something special always arrives if you let it. Okay, that sounded very Walt Disney, but I truly believe that you can’t force a trek in the Himalayas. Just go with flow. Feel the rhythm, feel the ride, it’s bobsleigh time…So, that day we slipped through Odar ( a village where I was told  a landslide killed a sleeping trekker some years ago) , Bagarchap (2160m – a village once washed away in 1995), Danagyu (2200m – an unappealing lengthy village, with a Buddhist Monastery opposite a Hydro Electric Plant warning about dangers in the workplace and you only having one life…), and spent some considerable time climbing to Timang (2710m). Livia and Srirang took the road, but I was bored of the road and wanted to see more natural settings that dusty rocks and broken lines of earth.

So, here began the tough part of the trek… forests of pine and fir…

 


Life will find a way.” – Ian Malcolm, character in the novel Jurassic Park, by Michael Crichton

Back to today’s news. Tragedy. More grimness and COVID-19 panic. More worries. It is making me feel down, actually. I worry. I try to escape.I don’t want to see Chinese people boasting how their great nation beat the virus. It isn’t over. I hope to hell, for many it will be over soon. Yes, great doctors and nurses have done wonderful things. But, leaders and officials have let people down. Still, the late Dr Li Wenliang has been exonerated by his government. Too little, too late? 

A while ago, Boris Johnson said he’d take the virus and disease outbreak – on a Friday. He called a COBR meeting for the Monday. This is the same man who said to sing Happy Birthday twice whilst scrubbing your mitts. USA had a drive-through testing centre made by Google. As foot-tap alternatives to handshakes greeted each other, I couldn’t help wondering how they take their shoes off, which obviously were exposed to things that people touched, and probably, hands earlier in the day… The Ian Duncan Smith virus harms the elderly amongst us and this virus is going all Energizer bunny, on and on, and on. It’s tragic but please stay safe, calm and dish out some Gallow’s Humour. Keep your stuff upper lip. The battle goes on.

“If there’s one thing the history of evolution has taught us, it’s that life will not be contained. Life breaks free, it expands to new territories, and crashes through barriers painfully, maybe even dangerously, but, uh, well, there it is.” –  Ian Malcolm, character in the novel Jurassic Park, by Michael Crichton

Life goes on.

 

Contagious travels in Hua Hin

Sawasdeekhap / Namaste / Alright there,

And the drum keeps banging the rhythm to the beat… and the beat goes on, and the beat goes on…

In an era when British comedian Joe Lycett, had changed his name by deed poll to Hugo Boss, to take on the corporate bullies and claim some of the German fashion brand’s name, it isn’t difficult to be reminded that now is a huge time for popularity. Every Tom, Dick and Prince Harry has their 15 minutes of fame. Being a YouTuber can be a lucrative profession. In my mind it ranks down there with unblocking a U-bend on a toilet. But, who am I to judge? I don’t ask for followers or likes. You can take it or leave it, but please keep reading, or I will cry into my cornflakes tomorrow. Again. Tears and milk. Remember that every morning? Well, you don’t have to look far. Hysteria and pain is everywhere. You should have seen my reaction when they postponed the Thai football leagues.

Centuries of studies into the seasonal flu, versus weeks of study into the current SARS-CoV-2  that leads to Covid-19 brings my thoughts to one fact. There are too many so called experts, political or otherwise, tampering with and slinging news at the public in many nations. Okay, some have strong censorship and can control it a wee bit, but right now, go to almost any western media source and there are live streams and blogs dedicated to death tolls and outbreaks. Our minds are at risk of contracting God knows what. I should be sorry for my use of a possibly fictional character to those with a negative disposition to God. I could have used other prophets and so on, but some people are a tad more militant in their replies these days. Thinking of which, a certain Supreme Leader’s Expediency Council member has fell victim to this dreadful outbreak. As have at least two other top members of parliament – and their military leader was taken out by US missiles recently. Expect a power vacuum in Iran then.

Australia burnt at an alarming rate. Many other forest fires popped up around the globe. Then flash flooding and droughts and biblical locust invasions. Wayne Rooney returns against Man Utd too. What next? Armageddon by an asteroid? Well, we’ll all have so much toilet paper stockpiled, it should bounce back into outer space. If not, feel free to land here: 53.4631° N, 2.2913° W. There’s always and has always been something bad going on around the world but rarely do we have chance as a species to really share the plight of humanity. We’ve blissfully hidden the climatic change issue behind the smog of car fumes and turned a blinded eye to the seas of plastic. Hoaxes, lies and damned statistics. What’s the point in worrying? What’s the worst that could happen? Everybody’s dead Dave. There’s even a drought in Hua Hin, Thailand, where I am. The waterfall at Pala-U is more of a dry wall installation. It is a good job Gerry and I didn’t cycle the 75km to see it. Saddle sore and disappointment.

IMG_20200228_173925Hua Hin is a lovely place. I’m told it is a good town for a gentle introduction to Thailand. Less ping pong balls, and more deckchairs. I’ve only been sexually assaulted twice by rather aggressive and overzealous characters. Just being polite and saying no has worked. Oh, and a rather large sidestep whilst removing a hand from up your shorts. And telling someone to put the scissors down. Keep calm and carry on. Since arriving in Thailand, I departed the Bangkok International airport for 294 baht, by an air-conditioned bus to Hua Hin. Gerry had said look out for the Airport and Stamford International University. Here I was escorted by a shuttle taxi van to Chanta Village. On arriving here, I met Eddie and his wife Amy, also seeking refuge from sunny Dongguan, China. They own a place in the village but had let it out until May. So, Eddie and Amy had rented somewhere nearby. Gerry had invited me along to cut the rental costs. 8,300 baht (about 204 quid) for a month each. Although after two weeks we had to move across the road, as the condominium owner was to return (and they haven’t yet, annoyingly). Still, we ended up paying the same, with electricity a little on top. There’s the added benefit of a private room (I started with bunk beds and moved to a room with a double bed) and a swimming pool. Who can complain at that?! And, kitchen facilities, to prepare cheap eats and survive the outbreak.

IMG_20200225_090812To date I have visited Cha Am’s beach and harbour, on a reasonably round cycle ride of about 55km. The journey took in Wat Marikathaywan, some mangroves at Sirindhorn International Environmental park, Cha Am Forest Park (and education centre based along a section of the main road from Hua Hin to Bangkok), and passed by the Thai-Victorian era Maruekathaiyawan Palace. The journey between the latter and Cha Am itself, involved two double punctures to front and rear tyres, that cost 60 baht to repair in a motorcycle garage. All’s well that ends well.

IMG_20200227_152659In the future, I want to ride up and see some caves at Khao Nang Phanturat. An impressive six-armed Buddha denying all senses outside the statue of King Naresuan and Neranchararam temple was worthy of a quick stop – and here a man greeted Gerry and I in the oddest of ways, using his little English to create a conversation that made little sense. Brave and happy man. I won’t laugh at him, because my Thai stretches to hello, thanks and left or right, and forwards. One day, I’ll master stop and some numbers.

wx_camera_1582609364233Around the corner from where we’re staying, and north a bit, you can find the Venezia resort. I’ll avoid a false Venice right now (not because people are avoiding the real one due the bug outbreak). It looks kind of plastic and uninviting. The Cha Am area actually is on the line of where we’re staying, marking a border with Hua Hin. The beaches here are golden soft sands and lovely. Cha Am’s central beach is practically washed away by tidal erosion but good enough for a swim for a few hours like we did. We stopped for a lovely Pad Thai and salad at the oddly-out-of-place-named Apple Crumble restaurant. I had one of the best iced cappuccinos ever. On the beach we chilled on loungers and had a dip, being pummeled by wave after wave, some much higher than 2 metres, but still fairly safe to jump in and through.

IMG_20200228_163705Another day, a solo cycle ride to Pranburi Forest Park, south of Hua Hin allowed me to see an impressive mangrove forest from a wooden raised pathway and appreciate the many crab species from above. The beach views out to sea and the general feel of the well-managed forest park made for a calming meander following a hard slog against the wind. On the return leg of the journey, I swung left into the Ratchabak Park – to witness the awesome standing Seven Kings of Siam. As statues go, against a sunset or sunrise, these are a splendour and a half! The Seven Kings of Siam, sounds like a movie. There should be such a series (if there already isn’t). The history of each king is rich and diverse. Thailand is a rich land of freedom and the Thai history has royally shaped the present. These statues stick out far and wide. They’re sighted in a facility for training NCOs. They’re sacred. People come here on pilgrimage. I’d recommend to anyone to have a gander and learn a little history whilst you’re at it from the magnificent seven.

wx_camera_1583407256590With sweeping views north and south, and obviously out to sea, Hua Hin beach is just the place to get some perspective on the lay of the land. Set down a ginnel from the Hilton Hotel and the main bar and restaurant areas, it is easily accessible with plenty of things to keep you there all day. Sun loungers, massages, deck chairs, juicy fruits and rockpooling are just a few things to busy away time. Then, there’s swimming, running on the fine sands and other such activities. You can see kite-surfing to the north and fishing boats to the harbour a little south. Not the worst way to relax.

IMG_20200219_195613First, Hua Hin Railway Station is a living museum, with active trains and all the electronic boards of a modern station. The royal pavilion is grand. It is unique. It had an air conditioning unit for a reason. Beyond the dramatic Guard’s Room, Police Station and numerous old station relics, you can find an old railway hand-cart in one direction (south) and an old steam engine on a siding (northbound). The evening makes for a pleasant time to take photos and it even feels a tad romantic, even to a solo traveller like me.

IMG_20200221_164711Firstly, I could pan the Wat Khao Takiap temple area for a visit. I won’t. It is worthy of a pre-informed visit. Don’t show me your gums and teeth at my comments. Nor, show it to the monkeys or the many stray dogs. If you have a catapult, or a watergun, consider taking it. Beware of anything shiny and anything sweet. If you value your appearance, blend in. We, the human race, created this shrine, and we fed the monkeys, and all the other animals there. The monkeys bred, and bred and from my recent visit, even the one with a wonky leg was having a go at breeding. There is some serious erosin around the brow of the far temple, so take care. If you’ve got that far, then you have no doubt passed hundreds of (long-tailed?) macaques. They’re not that bad. They’re just surviving and doing a reasonably good job of it too. Respect them, and respect the views. It is worth a wander. Forewarned is forearmed. Don’t feed the monkeys.

IMG_20200302_002456Soi Bintabaht Walking Street is essentially a street full of bars, snack sellers and hawkers trying to flog you Man Utd posters or other cheap tack. However, it is a great place to watch sports on the telebox, natter away to friends, play pool (billiards to some), engage in mindless conversation with strangers and watch people amble by. Yes, it is a girly bar area, but everyone is friendly enough, apart from the lady who wanted to rearrange my downstairs forest, but even she was joking. I hope. There are plenty of sidestreets and ginnels, each offering similar bars or slightly more classy food restaurants. It is very friendly and it is easy to forget that some people aren’t lucky enough to be high-power bankers or run cruise liners. Here the bar staff and friendly strangers can be the most down to earth and real that you can find. Be careful of the scissors though. Snip, snip. I wouldn’t mind but I’m not overly hairy…

wx_camera_1581849088144There are two huge malls here. One shopping centre is called BluPort. Some places are a little expensive (their sport shop sells Manchester City shirts and shorts though with 40 percent off). Plenty of food places and choice. Almost everything is here including a cinema and banks etc. The thing I visited for was the Hua Hin immigration office for visa advice. They’re open from 08.30 to 15.30 Monday to Friday. I found that should I need to I can extend my visa by 30 days, then a further 7 days without leaving the country. Now that’s useful. The other mall or shopping centre is called Market Village. Again, some places are a little expensive (Puma do sell Manchester City shirts though); and some are useful (Tesco Lotus is a fairly big store) and then there’s a Home Depot or something like that (for water hand pumps and so on). Plenty of food places and choice. Electronic goods on the third floor, by a cinema and banks etc. Now, I had left Nepal with very little summer clothing. I’d donated most of my winter clothing and hiking gear to a local charity in Kathmandu. So, on arrival to Hua Hin, I grabbed two pairs of shorts for 400 baht. Since then, I’ve grabbed one further pair of shorts. And one t-shirt. Everything I had was long-sleeved and too hot.  I’m in fully committed survival mode after all.

See you on the other side…

Snow White & The Huntsman (2019 Edition)

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

 

This week has mostly been spent preparing for and running examinations. I’ve recorded six listening tests. I’ve assessed 76 students in their oral English examinations. I’ve also ran 26 mathematics and English papers for my class. Yes, we’re firmly into the final furlong of the school’s academic year. Next week will be spent writing 26 student reports and seeing their parents. In some ways it is a pleasure to feed back how good many of the students are behaving and how well they are achieving. My class’s students will have reports based on a school report I had at a similar age. The sections will include:

  1. Attitude
very talented / demonstrates a great capability / increasing in ability / consistent / vocabulary impressive / grammar improving / understanding of work clear / thoughtful / focused / cooperative / enthusiastic /often overzealous / observant / strong / very creative / daydreamer / seeks information independently / good organisational skills / positively curious / passionate / great listening skills / energetic / often a model student / great eye contact and rapport
  1. Interests
  2. Handwriting
excellent / very clear / very good / good / satisfactory / improving
/ needs improvement / poor at times / poor
  1. Effort
Almost the same options as per handwriting.
  1. Recommendations
  1. Read English books or comic books. e.g. Roald Dahl, Dr Seuss, Judith Kerr, Michael Bond, Judy Blume.
  2. Watch productive English videos. e.g. Blue Planet II, Our Planet, Life on Earth, ManCity.com
  3. Listen to English music. e.g. BBC Radio 6 Music, Doves, Arcade Fire, Cherry Ghost, David Byrne
  4. Keep building up their confidence. This is the beginning and we can only get better!
  5. They need more self-belief! YOU CAN DO IT! We can do this together. We need you!
  6. Try to speak English more often. Raise their hand more often. If you don’t try, you don’t do. Practice phonetics/phonics/sounds/reading aloud often.
  7. Practice and improve handwriting. Copy words and sentences from difficult storybooks. Improve accuracy.
  8. Improve teamwork skills. Be more patient. Stop shouting out! Share more. Use manners often. Follow the class rules more closely.
  9. Keep learning! Make mistakes without fear! Talk English as often as possible. Stay curious. Ask questions and look at new things.
  10. Find an interest in cultures, history, wildlife, music, entertainment, etc. What? Who? When? Why? Where? Which? Do? How? Which?
  1. General comments
WORK/CHILDREN/ADULTS excellent / very good / satisfactory / poor at times / poor
OVERALL considerate / well-mannered / positive attitude / would benefit from a little more care and attention / sometimes distracted by others / sometimes needs help controlling emotions / needs further encouragement / expresses ideas clearly / bubbly / dependable

From this, the conversation with each student’s parents will last around 15 minutes. My colleague Cici will provide a great translation service for some but not all the parents.


The raging battle for Number 10 Downing Street’s hot seat goes on. Jeremy Hunt, Tory MP said, the next Prime Minister “must be trustworthy to avoid no Brexit”. He them went on to say he is trustworthy. Is he oblivious to why people call him an obscenity that rhymes with his name? A year as Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, followed around 6 years as Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. Before that he was the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport during a time when London held the 2012 Olympics. He was the Minister for the Olympics, having been Shadow Minister for the Olympics and Shadow Minister for Disabled People. Since 2005 he has represented the poor region of South West Surrey as their Member of Parliament. So what is wrong with 52 year old Jeremy Richard Streynsham Hunt?

Some would argue he is a cunt. Others just slip it into news broadcasts and interviews. As a son of a senior officer in the Royal Navy (Admiral Sir Nicholas Hunt), Mr Hunt hasn’t done bad for himself. His rise from impoverished Lambeth to the Houses of Parliament has been meteoric. It hasn’t been helped by him being a distant relation of Elizabeth II and Sir Oswald Mosley. Mr Hunt was educated at a school for the needy, Charterhouse. Here, as headboy, he read Philosophy, Politics, and Economics before attending Magdalen College – a kind of inner-city comprehensive blighted by gun and knife crime. Mr Hunt has been an English language teacher in Japan, on a TEFL-scheme but couldn’t sell marmalade to the Japanese. He needed to explore the Peruvian market.

Mr Hunt has never had trouble with expenses, rules, and has never had a topsy-turvy attitude to exiting the European Union. Nepotism and privilege are word unfamiliar to him. The News Corporation takeover bid for BskyB went well. Nor did he need to apologise over anything relating to the Hillsborough football disaster and national scandal by governments since. If he did, he could use his tax savings from his Hot Course project.

Throughout it all Mr Hunt has supported the NHS – even at the Olympics, via the proven science of homoeopathy, abortion control, chasing foreigners for lost money, hammering back any payrises for medical staff (the greedy undeserving bastards), and managed 231,136 followers on a UK Government website. He has dispensed helpful advice, championed experts, assisted Accident and Emergency departments, and backed extra weekend work. He has truly understood junior doctors, expanded medical care, followed peer reviews closely, without a worry about his own interests. After the NHS he backed the bombers and our bombs and has since battered the EU for being like the former USSR. How his Chinese wife Lucia Guo finds time to see Mr Hunt is beyond me? His political heroes are Hull-born William Wilberforce and Maggie Fucking Thatcher. Mr Hunt cannot be mixed up with the retired cyclist Jeremy Hunt because that 2001 and 1997 British national road race champion wasn’t a cunt. The now director sportif of Azerbaijani Continental team Synergy Baku Cycling Project. The cycling Jeremy Hunt would never refer to his Chinese wife as being “Japanese”. Bad stereotypes, talking about your own wife, and difficult rival nations aside, political Jeremy Hunt is a [INSERT EXPLETIVE HERE].

On the 24th of July, either The Right Honourable Jeremy Hunt or Boris Johnson will enter Number 10 as Prime Minister. The comedian and pub landlord sang. “If we’re going to go down, we’re going to go down together.” Knuckle down and strap yourself in, welcome to the new Blitz,. Snow White or The Huntsman?

 

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

J7: 2007-2011 Diary notes.

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do,

I joined Facebook on the 15th of December 2006. That was much later than everyone else. I had enjoyed a reasonably sheltered life in Aberystwyth before that. There was little real need for the internet. I’d never had a MySpace, Twitter or such account prior to this. I’d established www.atfc.org.uk in 2004. That was my internet exposure. It kept me busy!


In the year of 2007 things became somewhat more confusing.  I decided to sacrifice life in Manchester to follow Nikki to university in Plymouth. I dropped off the Army Intelligence recruitment list (be it very late on) in favour of maintaining our relationship. I had no qualms with that decision, I would make it again in the flash of a synapse. However, I moved from a place with good friends and a relaxed homely feel to a place unfamiliar. My Granddad George Acton had arrived in Plymouth during the 1940s before setting sail for a global conflict. My conflict was closer to home. My nomadic life had seen me return to Manchester in 2006 for a brief stint at home. Work was proving hell to find. I had left Aberystwyth for similar reasons. Opportunity wasn’t knocking on my door and I was turning over every stone to find it! E-mails and text messaging made me feel close to friends but sadly these texts trimmed down.

 

A January saunter to Berlin helped things nicely. Oh yes, back to Berlin in January.  I arrived at Berlin Tegel on the 3rd of January 2007 (the day after Nikki had arrived at Schönenfeld Airport).  I clambered off the lime green DBA aircraft (despite flying with Air Berlin) and within minutes of arriving at the baggage carousel my ruck-sack was to hand.  I walked out of the arrivals doorway and to my surprise little Miss Brown was waiting for me.  After exchanging Great British Pounds for the Euro, Nikki introduced me to the public transport ticket machine.  The machine-printed ticket was very good value for money (even if the money resembled Monopoly currency).  So off we go onto a bus into the centre of Berlin to S-Bahn und U-Bahn Zoological Gardens.  We get an over-ground train and arrive at Waschauer Straße.  A short walk later and we were in the Sunflower Hostel.

 

On the 7th Nikki flew away from Schönenfeld airport and as she took off my eyes filled with tears.  This wasn’t right, I shouldn’t have been here alone.  I wanted to be with someone.  I couldn’t.  A city full of millions surrounded me, but I was alone.  I trundled, dawdled, plodded, feet dragging towards the S-Bahn station for my journey back into a more central Berlin.  My head torn about by thoughts of loneliness, when would I be back, and why I had booked those extra days.  The strength of mind I usually had, had deserted me, left me feeling vulnerable.  I opened the train door and stepped on board, taking a seat.  An irate German couple shouted something abusive about not closing the door on my way in.  It was icy cold.  I did not notice.  I could not see a button to close the door.  I ignored them.  My peril was worse than theirs.  My heart was lacking companionship.  It needed to feel camaraderie to gain warmth.  I sat in a seat far from any other.  The slow trickles of tears seeped down my cheeks.  I held my head down and dreamed of being somewhere else.  I could imagine Nikki sat on her flight home, listening to music, smiling, and comfortable. Here I was though, cold and lonely and far from home. Still, worse things had happened in this city.  Eventually, I relaxed as the journey took my North back towards the East of Berlin.

 

That next day, I visited Sachsenhausen.  It was a place that made me feel no hunger for food that night. Alone with my reflective thoughts I plodded the streets of Berlin and walked through the monumental Treptower Park (visiting a Russian Memorial). How could a human do those things to other humans? It was truly eye-opening and scarily funereal. The next day, I lightened the mood. I spent time sitting alone in a big park with red squirrels etc, following a visit to the Topography of Terror museum. Talk about bleak. As morbid and disturbing as the days had been, I believe to appreciate how lucky you are, and the losses of yesteryear, or for lessons to be learnt, all should learn about atrocities. We can’t go on this way.

 

My cold mood returned to Manchester in a mood of winter. I had spent the night sleeping in an airport because my budget was short by one day and I didn’t ask for help. My employers in Aberystwyth had failed to pay me – and they had conned me previously. Still, the paperback at the time made a whole night pass quickly. In that night, I had decided life in Aberystwyth must come to an end. Life in Manchester was not for me. I needed something new. Nikki was in Plymouth, and had been there since September. It made sense.

 

So, Plymouth it was. Being a Northern Man don’t mind the South that much. It was pricier, the water is shit but it ain’t all that bad. After all you could get Warburton’s bread in some of the supermarkets and there was the odd branch of Morrison’s down here.  The Northern invasion had begun. Beware! Life would never be the same again.  The monster was loose, and he was just starting to settle in. Making good friends in John Petrie, Andy, and Paul helped. They were originally Nikki’s friends but a few ales in James Street Vaults swayed them my way. Not that I was looking to usurp her friend group, even if Nikki would tell me so! Working with another Paul, Darren and Steve at Royal Mail in Plympton. Meeting friendly colleagues and playing football for Royal Mail F.C. helped. That and walks into Plymptom and the surrounding parks. Here was a good place to cycle but not a place I wanted to call home.

 

2008 – oddly, in this year, I kept a diary. On Friday the 12th of January 2008, I left Plymouth at 1435. I arrived at 0235 on Saturday. Long journeys between Manchester and Plymouth were the norm. It was only on the 17th of January, that I discovered blue cheese, and slapped a load of it with garlic on a homemade pizza. It was delicious. On the 11th of February, at Old Trafford, City ended a cursed run of defeats and draws stretching over several decades. “There’s only one Benjani, only one Benjani, he got lost on the way, so we don’t have to pay, walking in a Benji wonderland.” He only signed for City a little earlier that year. On March the 7th Astrid, (who had been struggling from late-2007 with mental health problems) ran away. She fled to London from the family home in Manchester. It was only the beginning of Astrid’s problems. One day, I will dig in, and try to write how much mental health problems affect us all. One day. By the 12th of March, my shooting boots found the net twice in a 4-2 win for Royal Mail F.C. since I had moved from striker to defender. On April the 9th, I caught a mouse whilst I was washing the dishes. I packed it in a Tupperware box and released it far away from the house christened the House of Wang, named after its strange-looking cacti. On the 19th of April I headed to The North once again enjoying a wander on Middleton Sands with Dad, Shaun and Christina. Two days later, and Astrid and I walked Bailey the dog on Highfield Country Park, Levenshulme. On June the 27th I watched Meat Loaf rock at Home Park, Plymouth with Mark from Royal Mail. The soggy weather didn’t dampen the Casa de Carne tour night. I would also see the same gig on the 23rd of July in Hamburg’s beautiful Stadtpark. The trip to Hamburg also featured City’s game at HSV, as well as a tour of the city taking in Miniatureworld, a submarine, museums, funfairs and great fish and chips. What a great city!

 

Whilst I’d been in Plymouth Nikki had left for around 6 months, to South Africa. Once again, I was left waiting. On the 5th of July she had returned. The day after, we caught a ferry and ate at The Bridge by Mount Batten, Plymouth. Two days later we visited Bedruthland Steps and Holywell Bay – enjoying great jam scones at the former, and crazy golf at the latter. Back to the North, I headed for my first ever running challenge, the Urbanathlon, a 10K assault course sponsored by Original Source shower gel. I completed it in a sluggish 1 hour and 7 minutes. I was never cut out or interested in such running challenges. By August Nikki and I had moved in together, in a house, in Heaton Chapel. On August the 2nd, I watched City at Stockport County and four days later I had completed my TEFL in Plymouth, before heading back to Manchester on the 19th to watch City versus Portsmouth. On the 29th of September I went to Wigan Athletic versus Manchester City with Sean and Tom, neighbours of my Mum. On October the 7th, someone stole my bicycle. I was in tears and shreds because bicycles have always been part of my life. On the 18th of October, I watched Jason Manford, a comedian before two days later three bands (Cure the Disaster, These Eyes Are Cameras and Wheatus) at Manchester’s Roadhouse. On the 1st day of November I walked around Lyme Park, eventually reaching the Lantern, witnessing many deer in the vast wilderness. On the 16th of November, I watched Irish comedian Ed Byrne at The Lowry in Salford. The weekend of the 22nd saw City face Arsenal and then the next day a comedy night with Paddy McGuinness. On Saturday December the 6th, I headed to London’s Craven Cottage to watch City at Fulham. My love for 6am bus journeys not present, as always. The following weekend involved winter bulb planting at Highfield Country Park and watching City, as always. Somehow, I managed to get to work on the 19th December 2008, having departed a bar the previous evening, and arriving back very, very late. I was full of blisters and had dehydration.

 

That New Year’s Eve, Paul, Eastham, John Petie and Abbie Matthews visited Manchester, having headed from Plymouth to The North. We all enjoyed New Year’s Eve together. By the 7th day of 2009, I had to wade to work in snow. On the 10th of January I watched Daniel Draig and Liev Schreiber in Defiance in the cinema. That was a good reward for a day’s winter hike around Lyme Park. On the 17th January, The Wrestler, at the cinema followed City’s 1-0 win over Wigan Athletic.

Following a great Christmas party at RAC Inspection Services, I went to watch Seasick Steve with my colleague Claire on January 23rd. Dessert was a lovely jammy Swiss Roll. The next day featured Valkyrie at the cinema. On the 27th, I watched City Reserves beat Newcastle Utd 3-0, before watching City beat Newcastle Utd 2-1 the next day. A walk and a daydream of a ride on the metal playground train in Phillips Park followed. The final day of the month saw a trip to watch City lose at Stke 1-0. A spell at the cinema watching Slumdog Millionnaire helped cure the pain of defeat. On the weekend of the 6th to 8th of February, I headed to Aberystwyth – and the game in Caersws was called off, due to snow, so a weekend staying at The Glengower and wanderings was had.

Like Claire, and my colleagues we all were told that we would have to relocate offices or take redundancy on Friday the 13th of February. Nightmare. I had only officially been working for RAC Inspection Services for a few months, following a temping job with them. I spent the following Sunday walking around Reddish Vale, worried that I would have no job and doubting the future. On the 17th of that month there was a question and answer session, the 20th a visit to Aviva’s Albert Square office, and on the 27th I had an interview with Jeremy Rouch for a job at Aviva. The last day of February saw Al Murray, Pub Landlord and comedian visit the Manchester Apollo. I watched his show and enjoyed it very much. On the 10th of March, Dave Armitage and Chris from Aviva further interviewed me. I moved offices on March the 23rd. On the 22nd of March, I watch comedian Andy Pasrons at The Lowry. Comedy like music and football was my escape.

On March the 7th, I stood watching lapwings on derlict carparks by the City of Manchester Stadium, before City Youth beat Norwich City 1-0. I was soon transferred to work for Norwich Union (Aviva) at Albert Square. In this month, on the 10th, high school mate Leigh Kenyon and I went to a players’ evening meeting then-City manager Mark Hughes, Pablo Zabaleta and Vincent Kompany.


Other notes from my spacious and almost bare diary.

April 2009

13/4/09 – Easter event, Highfield Country Park

16/4/09 – City 2-1 Hamburg

23/4/09 – Mark Radcliffe book signing

10/4/09: is watching City v Fulham on Sunday, then has an Easter event at Highfield on Monday before the big one: City v Hamburg on Thursday. We will play much better. We can do it.

16/4/09: City v Hamburg

Greenfields to Standedge tunnel to Manchester along the Huddersfield Canal & Ashton Canal, 18/4/09.

25/4/09: Everton v City

30/4/09:  £369 for my 2009/10 seasoncard!

May 2009

Walked with Dad, Christina and Shaun around Hest Bank, 10/5/09

16/5/09: Spurs v City

June 2009

7/6/09:  Heaton Park.  Free Peace, Twisted Wheel, Kasabian, The Enemy and Oasis. I went to the urinals and a girl whipped her knickers down to have a pee next to me. Classy girl.

12/6/09:  The Doves tomorrow, then running the Pants in The Park 5K (28mins) run tomorrow on Sunday followed by Bill Bailey at The Lowry.

July 2009

5/7/09:  CITY OF MANCHESTER 10K (1hr9mins)

13/7/09: is off to Hyde U****d v City Res on Wednesday, training Thursday evening, at Live For City gig featuring Doves/Kid British/Twisted Wheel on Friday then off to Aberystwyth v Leev-urrrr-poooohl on Saturday.

23/7/09: cannot run the Moonraker 10K this Sunday, cannot train for a week more and is generally pissed off with this fecking reaction to one fecking bite!!!!

24/7/09: is recruiting a shovel/spade to did a hole and bury himself. This fecking bite has detroyed my fitness, moral, and left leg. New leg needed.

July 2009: Live from City.

August 2009

Morecambe, sunset. Saturday, 15/08/09. The night before I ran the Cross Bay Challenge half marathon. (2hr 31mins and 54 secs.)

30/8/09: went off to Portsmouth (v City) at 5am-ish. Bit far to travel for a pie, pint and some sea air…

September 2009

4-6/9/09: Bingley Live Festival/Ponden Guest House camp site [4/9/09:  the Undertones; 5/9/09: Doves; 6/9/09: Calvin Harris, Rev And The Makers, Futureheads, VV Brown, The Editors]

Stopgap Dance Company 19/09/09, Stopgap in Piccalilli gardens

24/9/09: has just opened his wardrobe door, grabbed a shirt and realised the wardrobe is purring. That pesky cat!

October 2009

7/10/09: first trip to Clacton-on-sea

19/10/09: has 2 days of work, then a muddle of running, music, cycling, British Track cycling championships and football. Perfect.

25/10/09: is off t’ footy t’ see t’ City v t’ Fulham, c’mon t’ Blues!

28/10/09: lonely birthday meal in Asda, City 5-1 Scunny in League Cup

30/10/09: wonders how Horseflies track him down. 3, That’s three bites this year! At cycling World cup which is awesome’

November 2009

1/11/09: HELLRUNNER. Delamere Forest. OFFICIAL FINISH TIME OF 3HRS, 5MINS AND 12 SECONDS!!!! RESULT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I WAS 1428TH OVERALL OF 1521. – a stress fractured foot, a bruised knee, torn calf muscles, blisters but it was worth the ride

6/11/09: Paracycling, Manchester Velodrome.

December 2009

11/12/09-12/12/09:  work do/haggered bar tour with Anthony and his brother Steve. Great night!

12/12/09: Bolton v City

18/12/09: Tapas (Deansgate), Doves, Manchester Central.

What happened in 2010?

Sunday, 5/9/10: Rider number 45. Manchester 100 cycle ride, left 0730hrs, halfway check in 1230hrs.  Departed 1310hours, arrived 1530hrs finish line. Route: Wythenshawe Park, Knutsford, Northwich, Norley, Tattenhall, Nantwich, Middlewich, Wilmslow, Styal, Wythenshawe Park

January 2011

1/1/11 – City 1-0 Blackpool, went with Dan / Cinema: Gulliver’s Travels

2/1/11 – Day in DVDs

5/1/11 – City v Arsenal

7/1/11-9/1/11 – A trip to Plymouth

15/1/11- Revo Cycling after City v Wolves

February – April 2011

23/2/11-27/2/11 – Nikki up North

24/2/11 – City v Aris, with Dad and Uncle George

15/3/11-18/3/11- Nikki up North

16/3/11 – Manchester Cathedral, Cherry Ghost

9/4/11-10/4/11 – Colchester

14/4/11-18/4/11 – Colchester

23/4/11 – Newtown v Aber

28/4/11 – Court date regarding rent at place in Manchester

May-June 2011

5/5/11 – Reserves v Chelsea

14/5/11 – FAC Final: City v Stoke City

21/5/11 – Blue Square Final, CoMStad

22/5/11 – Bolton v City

4/6/11 – Avenue Q

July-August 2011

1/7/11 – Leaving do, Manchester

2/7/12 – Left for Norwich, departed 0742, arrived 1233, moved in same day

4/7/11 – Willow House, Norwich city centre – interview

7/7/11-16/7/11 – Cornwall

29/7/11 – 1/8/11 – Dublin

5/8/11-7/8/11 – London, Community Shield

15/8/11 – City v Swansea

16/8/11 – NCFC v Blackburn Reserves

27/8/11 – Spurs v City

31/8/11 – MEN, Arcade Fire

September-December 2011

16/9/11 – Holiday

5/11/11 – QPR v City

6/11/11 – Mark Watson, Colchester Arts Centre

8/11/11 – Andy Parsons, UEA Playhouse

8/12/11 – Shapi Khorsandi, UEA Playhouse

11/12/11 – Ross Noble, Colchester Arts Centre

16/12/11-19/12/11 – Dusseldorf