“I Hear You’re a Racist Now, Father?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay strong. Stay optimistic.

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

Tuesday the 28th of April 2020 will be a sad day. It is still almost a week away. At 11am, on that morning the U.K. will engage in a minute’s silence to mourn key workers who have died during this pandemic. Backed by UNISON, the Royal College of Nursing and the Royal College of Midwives all should join the tribute at 11am. So, on International Workers’ Memorial Day, I will bow my head at 11am local time and 11am U.K. time.

At least 112 health care and key workers have died from COVID-19.

Social care workers.

Doctors.

Nurses.

Surgeons.

Specialists.

Porters.

Care home workers.

Others linked to key jobs.

#YouClapForMeNow is and was all over Twitter and other social media. I always will clap and cheer for the NHS. I was born because of the NHS and I have seen a few NHS heroes over the years. You have laid some of my family to rest. You’ve helped them too. You’ve helped my friends. Always loved you all. Even if, doctors do have sh!t handwriting…

The Guardian has been posting notes about the deaths of NHS workers, volunteers and other health workers. There are many entrants on its news page amongst its 91 recorded deaths. The official government figure is that there have been 27 recorded deaths in the NHS. Newcastle Royal Victoria Infirmary Nurse Rebecca Mack was only 29 years old. Watford general hospital Nurse John Alagos was just 23 years old. Essex GP Dr Habib Zaidi was 76 years old. Andy Howe, 48, was a bus driver in Nottingham, simply ensuring that NHS workers and patients could get to and from hospital. 33-year-old Pooja Sharma, a hospital pharmacist died the day after her father had passed away from the same illness. Retired gynaecologist, Hamza Pacheeri was 80 years old. He’d answered the call and returned to treat those with Coronavirus in Birmingham. Born in Kerala, India, he passed away in Birmingham. Grant Maganga in Tameside, Greater Manchester, should be doing his job as mental health nurse. Now he can no longer treat those at Hurst Place. Those who have died in service to healthcare shouldn’t be losing their lives. They’re our protectors. They’re our carers.  

I don’t have too many experiences with Doctors and Nurses, thankfully. I was born in 1982 in Crumpsall Hospital, had a hernia operation at an early age in Booth Hall Children’s Hospital, and visited Manchester Royal Infirmary with a cracked leg after doing a cross country run – much to the delight for Dan and Peter Ridyard (I was walking and then I disappeared from view, having fell down an open manhole in a field). Then there was the time I had my nose and eye rearranged by rock, in Scotland Hall Road Park, Newton Heath, but I can’t remember much. I just know it ruined City’s white and maroon away shirt from 1996/97. Oh, and some tick bites… and erm… dentistry… and vaccinations and continuous support as a child. Oh, I do love the NHS – they’ve always been there for me and so many others! The NHS is one institution that I’d love every nation to copy, model and shape as their own. Caring and sharing for the community, at that level needs money and support – and that’s why we pay National Insurance from our wages. I’d pay more for the NHS. Would you?

News round-up: The effects of the virus pandemic are long and wide, with cases of depression up globally, deaths in quarantine, possible surges in case numbers around travelling football fans, former footballers importing masks via crowdfunding, debate over how long to quarantine yourself, and newspapers rewriting modern day history. At least some writers will look to support those who care, invent and make more.

Of course, nothing lasts forever, and much like Man Utd being unable to afford Harry Kane, the world around us will take shape in a new form, if we’re bright and breezy about it. Common sense and recent experience highlight how much the NHS is needed – and costs being cut over the years and closures alike, shows how much it needs a massive future-proofing boost. Things will change. Those who die on the frontline now deserve to be remembered. They should be part of the very fabric of the new era of community healthcare throughout the U.K. Will it happen that way? Only time will tell.

Boris Johnson, applauded nurses and namechecked several immigrant nurses recently. That’s the same cheerer of the Conservatives blocking pay rises of nurses in a Commons vote during 2017. Wouldn’t be nice to have that same vote tomorrow?

“Three hundred thousand, thirty four, nine hundred and seventy four thousand” – Home Secretary Priti Patel reports the number of COVID-19 tests completed, at the Downing Street briefing on the 11th April 2020. She was eleventy-four percent right in the year twenty-twelvety.

These deaths in the NHS and care industries put my own personal problems into perspective. I’m lucky enough to have such small hinderances compared with what the brave frontline of COVID-19 are facing. I just have the small matter (that could affect my future) of not being able to renew my passport.


The British Consulate General Guangzhou do not handle passport matters. All passports are dealt with by HMPO, who have an office in Guangzhou too. Neither are open to the public during this global pandemic. The consular sent an automatic reply as: ‘We will try to get back to you as soon as possible regarding your enquiry. However, if your email relates to consular assistance, passports or visas please see the below information.’ It pointed me to a link that I’d already tried: UK Visa Application Centre. A passport replacement does not count as an emergency situation – and should I get an Emergency Passport it must have the stated journey, dates, booked flights and final destination. However, my passport is water damaged and the ID page is falling out, so maybe it does count towards that… But, it does cost more than a regular passport, and technically I am alright here until July the 31st 2020. However, I have one passport page and before then I will need to review my visa to remain within China…

I could wait for the passport renewal site to come online again. That’d be £95.50 (34 pages) or £105.50 (50 pages) £23.01 for courier fee. Or, I could try to blag an Emergency Passport (and double my costs!). The passport renewal site advises for those in China: “We are currently unable to accept applications from this country. Due to coronavirus (COVID-19), UK visa application centres are closed. We will update this page when the service becomes available.”

My future in teaching now hangs on a tiny thread. It has caused me to really reflect upon the past six years. Why do I like teaching? To see the reward that you can make a young learner jump up their steps of learning at the end is an amazing feeling. I believe with energy, passion and drive, you can infect a child’s ability and will to learn more smoothly and refine their desire to find their chosen interests. You can open so many doors and light a flame for learning. You’re not just a lighthouse for help, you can be a rock and a foundation for a student to develop. You are part friend, part parent and fully a guardian.

I’ve had six years here in China, teaching withing Dongguan’s Houjie and Changping townships. At the end of each semester in Houjie, I’d be sent to cover for teachers in Guangzhou at high school and college levels. One summertime, I had experience teaching a small kindergarten class. Like some schools, my ambition is big. With access to continued learning and opportunity, I feel I can give much more to education and bring something new to a team. Whilst I’ll be a team player, I hope to add my own unique blend of culture and experience to give all a slightly different output. I desperately want to progress as a teacher. If it all goes wrong, I just have to accept it. People are in far worse places.


 

Many teachers influenced me over the years. I could never choose one great teacher over another, so I’m afraid I will give several key teachers who really influenced me. At Primary School, Mr Andrew Jones stood out. He knew that I’d had it hard in previous years from bullying and I’d been at three primary schools due to my mother moving houses and locations within Manchester. Mr Jones helped other students to include me more and fuelled my growing appetite for reading. As a parting gift before the summer holidays, he gifted me three huge thesaurus books. That was the summer sorted! After he left Chapel Street Primary School, I never did find out where he went. I still want to say, “Thank you kindly!” Miss Roe in primary school was level-headed and offered great support at helping me to self-study, often far ahead of other students and sometimes with books from advanced years ahead. She gifted me an A-Level biology book and I studied it ferociously. Mrs Clegg took my Lego and Micro Machines. The primary school years had seen three schools: New Moston, Clayton Brook and finally Chapel Street Primary School. The dinnerladies of Chapel Street and other teachers along the way guided me.

“If I had my whole life to live over again, I’d make all the same mistakes, only sooner.” – Eric Morecambe, one half of Morecambe and Wise, a famous comedy duo from England.

In my secondary school, the late Mr Tony Mack, really engaged my interest in his English classes. Whilst science and geography firmly held my intended ambitions, words and wordplay were always my passion. Mr Mack gave me added confidence at belief to really play with sentences, structures and be creative. Reddish Vale Secondary School must have seen countless students flow through their doors over many years, I wonder how many students he really pushed on? Further to Mr Mack, in secondary school, Mr Robert Oxley was typical Yorkshire coolness and relaxed attitude, and I think he kind of made me more independent by setting an example at times. I can recall Frau Hodges in my German class having to battle unruly students but being a mighty fine teacher. If only I had focused more. Mr Meheran in later English classes was wonderful and Mr Walker in history was a great teller of stories, but few respected him, because he had a beard. Teenagers are bastards.

But throughout life, my Mum has and always will be my greatest teacher. I haven’t always learned the easy way, but I have always had the support and love of my mother. Cheers Mum!


One for the road – who would I take on board a return train journey along the Cambrian Coast to Aberystwyth from Pwllheli?

One. Marvin Aday (AKA Meat Loaf), singer, songwriter and artist. Any wordsmith and singer could provide entertainment but more importantly, great conversation and stories. Of course, it would be selfish to ask someone along on a cruise, just to give. I think I’d like to suggest he writes a book of poetry, and I would give good reason for this, to him. Also, how cool would a rock and roll interpretation , fused with the local passing scenery be?

Two. Roald Dahl, the greatest author of many children’s books ever. Like Lewis Carol and JRR Tolkein, Roald Dahl had seen action in war, and came back scarred and with stories to tell. Roald was in many ways different to Carol but also similar to Tolkein. He created new words, new phrases and filled his characters with emotions and zest. I suspect his books have influenced a whole batch of young readers who have since been unable to put books down.

Three. Emmeline Pankhurst, the U.K.’s suffragette movement leader. I am a fiercely passionate Mancunian (people of Manchester, England) and I would love to know how Emmeline Pankhurst would look back on her legacy, her family’s influence on present day society and equality. What could she suggest in order to make the world a brighter place now?

Four & Five & Six. Eric Morecambe, Ernie Wise & Eddie Braben. More on them another time…

“On his gravestone): “I told you I was ill.” – Spike Milligan, comedian

I have ambitions to be a novelist, and I know many others share that dream, but I’ve spent two years writing (and now rewriting) a real novel. On top of this, I like writing shorter warm-up pieces and scribbling ideas down for the next novel(s). I love cycling and can be found on the ‘rupture machine’ quite often – or watching the latest Grand Tour race. Then, there is football, which is the perfect embodiment of teamwork, exercise and the British passion for sports. I’m from the city of Manchester, so I had no choice – nor would I change it anyway!


I’m not one to wish to be a typecast, within the I.B.O. (International Baccalaureate Organization) scheme, but I’d slot somewhere between ‘Inquirers’, ‘Thinkers’ and ‘Open-Minded’. My reasoning is because I feel adaptable, accountable and I am forever curious. I respect tradition but equally I will reject it for progression, if it causes no insult or worry to others. I like to think of the causes and effects that change can bring. I don’t believe in change for the sake of change. We must progress sustainably and carefully. The world is so big and there’s only so much we can know, but I’m certain that there is room for more. That’s why I am here, right?


 

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