It doesn’t take much to trip and slip when the angry dogs are snapping at your feet. They’ve invited wolves this time and they’re agitated in ways you knew as frequently possible m yet could never escape. They howl and snarl drawing nearer without ever getting close enough to sink their sorrowful rabid fangs into flesh. Their dirgeful salivating pus-filled gums drip oozing brown liquids across the foot of the bed. You feel heavy-hearted panic for a moment. Chapfallen fear.
A white hot cold like steel pressing against your mind’s eye, sliding all senses beyond control, the rage simmers and bubbles threatening to erupt to the heavens above, bringing hell to the day’s gloomy sky. Yet it won’t and can’t. You’re in a mediocre state. The best that can happen is average. The worst is equal to the best. Flailing and flat lining just above terrible but far below lugubrious pleasure. A monotonous gray scale of simply not good enough. The dour silent rage.
You know you can’t escape the wretched day that hasn’t come, but woebegone, you know it is soon to arrive. The fed up walls will fold in and the ground will crumble. You’ll slip, fall, down and tumble. The saturnine strives you had and the live you lived will be gone. The forlorn ashes of the fires burning around you will blow in sepulchral raging winds from north, east, south and west before slamming doleful thunderous bolts of lightning into the parched remains of your skeleton. That morose skeleton itself, fused and beyond mobility. Useless mirthless blue.
Hope knocks at your dejected door but the disconsolate door’s hinges have long dispirited rusted and welded to the wall. The wall has been long-covered by grim vines, rotten downhearted hanging nooses, despondent witch trial posters and fragments of a long forgotten camera obscura lens. The crestfallen wall’s dusted windows each produced Pepper’s ghosts no longer. Their cast down faded glass panes are grimed and moulded beyond shape and figure. Faded features hang weary and low, tangled in slim twine macramé. Downcast melancholy.
Life has so many pieces of small print, tucked under the seams, crammed into the crevices, and dropped into long forgotten pockets. They can be found as hints, messages and moments in our history. Some are beautiful, dutiful or testing. Most can be learned from, such is the way of life. The small print keeps coming though.
Rainham Steel and their hot flanged joists or cold circle angles being advertised at British football grounds has never ever made sense to me. Yet their imagery on football photography for years on end has stood out and crept into my psychology. The sign doesn’t have a phone number or website. Nothing. It stands out. No terms and conditions. Just a bizarre advert targeting football fans (in attendance or otherwise watching via television) who needs industrial standard steel. Rainham Steel have no clear purpose other than to be present through tradition and maintain their historical connections to the beautiful game. Now, where do I place my girders?
2021 started with optimism, way up in Yubeng village. Through a mixture of local hospitality, Oliver, Piotr and I finished a few days wander with a countdown below snow-capped mountains. It really recharged my mental batteries. Again in summer my passage followed the flow of Yunnan, as if swept a long by a calm river. That’s where I grabbed my first and only tattoo on date. No contract was mentioned. It was surprisingly easy to scar myself for exchange of cash.
A few days after leaving Yunnan for New Year and life’s finality was highlighted as City legend Colin Bell passed away. I never saw him play football. I lived off his video footage and stories from friends and family. I filled my heart with his warmth from a very reluctant biography. Somewhere at the back of my mind the joys of trekking clashed with the feeling of the passing of time. This is life. A condition of living is death.
Three cycle crashes in a year and one trip to hospital as a result of the latter crash brought me down to Earth. My first outpatient visit to an emergency room to patch up cuts and check some impact marks to bones happened. My first inpatient visit and night stays at hospital later in the year terrified me but left me thinking I need to improve my fitness and recover stronger than ever. Even if age is a small print, this challenge shouldn’t get the better of me. I’ll kick a ball again and find mountains to trek in 2022.
I now approach 8 years of life in China and Dongguan. That’s a hefty chunk of my thirties. It’s almost a quarter of my life. I’ve spent two Chinese New Year holidays in Dongguan and it looks like 2022 will be the same. This whole COVID-19 thing just drags on and on. Even my third jab (the booster) has left me lagging behind. I’m on analogue when all around me is on digital. Creased by politics, changing attitudes and a global pandemic of fear, working and living in China is increasingly less attractive. A new two year contract hasn’t been signed yet. I love the job but I must think deeply. There are many implications of signing.
The year 2021 has been quite mentally testing. Unable to travel to the U.K. to see family and friends, blighted by world news of fear, panic and that bloody virus, I’ve sought solace in gardening my balcony and giving a new home to Panda the Border Collie. The little fur ball of joy joins me on the sands of Huizhou to welcome 2022 in. Alongside his doggy girlfriend Sasha and her human slaves Miss Keisel and husband Charif (with student Amir and his sister Emma). Talking with them I feel that homesickness is strangling talent. If we want to leave China to visit family and friends, it seems to be mostly a one way ticket. So few who have left have returned and 2021 had more than its fair share of leaving events.
On the subject of leaving, Sergio Aguero, scorer of that 93:20 goal, amongst his many records and City’s all-time greatest scorer, announced he would leave City. Then he left. He was warmly welcomed at new club Barcelona but the optimism evaporated as he was soon forced to hang his boots up due to a health problem. 2021 wasn’t a great year for Sergio but he did bow out with 2020/21’s Premier League title and a Champions League runners up medal. The perfect ending doesn’t always happen. That’s for fairytales.
Great writers like Jim Steinman and Eric Carle passed away, having influenced countless souls on their life journeys. Their words accompanied me at Scholastic’s Guided Reading conference, throughout three I.B. training periods and some Jolly Phonics. At the end of the day, reading has got me to where I am in Tungwah Wenzel International School (T.W.I.S.) and I intend to do my best with the knowledge I want to share. Perhaps, guidance is my destiny. Only 2022 can tell.
Summer witnessed the departure of many international colleagues to pastures new. Not before Mr Oliver and I trekked around Shanxi, Shaanxi, Ningxia and Gansu together. Not a bad way to say, “Bon voyage!” And then Autumn flew by. The October holiday gave me chance for hiking and wandering but nothing amazing happened. 2022 could be that year. If only the bloody virus would fizzle out. The movies Outbreak and Contagion each hand happy endings. Rene Russo and Kate Winslet didn’t do bad. 2021, however, is the poorer cousin of 2020.
Discrimination and prejudice have risen; borders have increased with social segregation and some countries closing to others; lifestyle changes such as Zoom and a plethora of online teaching, working and scamming; and misinformation became the norm. Afghanistan went backwards as if to illustrate a world trend of fans being hit by turds. Glasgow held COP26 and the world climate crisis was averted. I think. It’s been a funny old year. The most important thing though, is to forget the traditional ways and go for something sustainable and new. The old ways led us here. Let’s go new for 2022.
The stare goes through me. I’m being herded. I must counter this. I’m the alpha here. I’m the leader. We’re engaged in a battle that involves chewsticks, training and discipline. Panda the border collie can stare all he wants now, but this high energy ball of fur won’t be allowed the upper hand. And, to make my point clear, I have dropped him at the vets. He’s going to be neutered. No baby Pandas. No mini-stares. As an unwanted pet, rehomed after a month or so in a cage, his journey from a litter of puppied in Germany to Dongguan ends genetically wherever I choose to take him in our family journey. Stares or no stares.
The last week of school was interrupted twice by the standard COVID-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR). I had it last Tuesday and Friday at school, as well as Saturday in my apartment garden complex. It is what it is. One case a week last Tuesday in neighbouring Dàlǎng (大朗) town has risen to 25 today. As my school is in Sōngshānhú technological area and my house is in Dàlǐngshān town, we all fall under the 6 towns of Sōngshānhú district: Liáobù, Shípái, Cháshān and Shílóng.
Throughout the last few days, I’ve wandered into Dalingshan town because Songshan Lake and every surrounding park is closed. I was told (by government notice) that Dalingshan library was closed yet I sat there today reading in their branch of Pacific Coffee. I don’t usually favour chains but they have a strict no smoking policy. I read some more Jack Reacher short stories, watched Dave German’s Genius show on YouTube and did a little school preparation. On the way back, I passed an open mall area. Parks are closed. Indoor gathering spaces are closing. I shouldn’t complain. I never really did lockdown.
This pandemic has spread fast and gets me muttering, “Bloody virus” quite often. Yet, since 14 days of quarantine in April 2020, I’ve personally experienced no lockdown. I’ve been very blooming lucky. Of course, the inconvenience of being unable to travel to my hometown in Blighty does more than counterbalance that fact. Now lockdown sits in the town next door – and threatens life in my Blighty. Britain is blighted by this bloody modern plague. COVID-19 released its Christmas hit as Omicron. 2020 definitely helped my knowledge of the Greek alphabet even if the variants list is a cast of horrors.
Twas the nightmare before Christmas and all around the house, excitement sank away. After watching the climax (or anticlimax) of La casa de papel or Money Heist, I found myself feeling like I did at the end of 007’s latest (but not last) outing, No Time To Die. So, what now? It’s almost like 2021 is a loose bundle of scripts with no apparent direction, as if all order had become tangled in the mop head of Boris Johnson.
Walking around, as a solo foreigner, in a town located in South China is easy. It’s safe. Millions of people in a huge catchment area and just a few dozen virus cases. Low violent crime. Scams, for sure. Air pollution, but improved conditions. Man Utd fans, but they’re everywhere. Poor Ole. The one thing that’s got me muttering words like a 1990’s Essex gangster is simply hurtful: people who dart out of my way, or pull their masks up suddenly or cup their hands over their mouth or say in Chinese that I may have the virus. 2020 and 2021 has seen too many divisions. I remain in China as a token of hope. I believe things shall be better. They may need to break more before they get better. It is what it is. Whilst I breathe, I’ll remain positive. Even when I’m negative. Still, it’s hard to be totally positive when Panda is staring at me. Dogs!
Xiexie ni he zai jian! Thank you kindly and goodbye!
It’s less than fifty stairs. I’ve moved up just one floor. My head is pounding. Is a gorilla crushing my temple? I feel my legs heavy and weighted down. Am I walking through deep clay?
There are stars dancing around my eyes. Something is shaking the ground beneath my feet. The view I see is bending and reshaping. It’s coming and going from shapes I know to blurred distortions in colours I know but I can’t place.
I feel I’m going to tumble and fall. I stumble. My knees are folding and refuse to work with me. My feet are rooted to the ground but they feel like they’re sliding away. There’s ice under me and the clouds over head are dancing, except it’s a ceiling. I try to focus but my pulse is in both ears and drumming so loud. I can’t concentrate.
This shortness of breath is terrifying. It is horrid to suddenly feel so debilitated. I’m gasping the fiery air and it is raking my pipes on its way down. It tears shreds of my windpipe and leaves my mouth tasting bitter and vile. The little moisture in my mouth has an acidic taste. I have and choke on a lack of air.
For a moment, I feel my heart speed up. It’s struggling. I try to slow myself down and understand these moments. I panic. I imagine my coffin and I try to say out loud, “Your number’s up.” I feel my eyes heavily close and I nod my head forwards. That brief moment of consciousness loss wakes me sharply. Not now. I breath in with all my might. Not today. I force air inward. After what seems like a lifetime, I stand.
If you checked out now, how would you be remembered? Fondly by some? Infamous by others? Perhaps. Not. At. All. Maybe you’ll be forgotten, like a lost teddy bear on a train bound for nowhere in particular.
What’s your legacy? Did you do something good? Did you make someone better? Maybe you broke a heart, or a string of hearts. Maybe you’re but a regret to most and a faded memory to another. Perhaps. Nobody. Will. Recall. You.
What did you do right? How did it go? What did you leave behind? A divorce? A fatherless child? A mother grieving over an unborn dream? It could be that words won’t be spoken about you. Perhaps. Silence. Is. Best.
Who’ll be there? At your funeral. Will there be shadows cast from people? Or the shapes of memories dancing in fading lights spun by the branches of trees dancing in the wind? Perhaps. No one. Will. Know. When. You. Go.
Will you get a choice when to go? Unlikely. Most never know. Some expect. Some arrive at an unfortunate moment. Some prepare well ahead but it arrives far too soon. Some get through extra days and leave as heroes. Some die another day. Some have no time to die. Perhaps. You’ll. Never. Know. Until. It’s. Over.