XL

Lately the glasshouse whiteflies fly all around like shattered and scattered autumnal snowflakes. That’s during daylight. Not at 4.35am on a Monday morning. After just 4 hours of sleep, I departed for and then arrived at Manchester Airport, by bus and then train. I felt sleepy.

Walking through Terminal 3’s Customs they checked my toothpaste and deodorant in some kind of smear test. The need to stay fresh had to rule out that I’d joined Al Qaeda. Post-September 11th, 2001 has really made air travel irritating. My flight from Manchester to Katowice was smooth enough. Landing in Poland, I had to await the check-in desk to open. A walk outside revealed this Polish airport was closer to the Arctic Circle than the city of Katowice.

With two hours to go until take-off, I paid my bargain forty-eight quid boarding pass fee in Zlotys. Later Trip.com refunded this having not shared my data to the airline for the connecting flight. The wait was pleasant enough, at a modern and clean airport devoid of the failings of Manchester International Airport. The flight rumbled down a runway, complete with a toppled-over turboprop aircraft just in view. That positioning of a busted plane surely needs a review on TripAdvisor.

Landing in Dortmund, I walked through a crowd of Manchester City fans with shirts and things to sign. The odd Dortmund fan littered amongst them. I shuffled myself aside and watched as the reigning Premier League Champions dribbled through. Dressed in black sportswear, most of them looked like they were straight out of JD Sports. Waiting for that made me miss the bus to the city centre.

About an hour later I paid for my bus to town, and a fellow Blue who didn’t have cash to hand. European standards about card payments are so inconsistent and often inconvenient. Not that Great Britain is much better. I miss the convenience of the Wechat application in China and its ability to do anything, even issue toilet paper.

German efficiency is a phrase often banded about, with seriousness and wit. I found my apartment in the district of Funkenberg after a quick U-bahn-tram journey. A local dinner at a taverna of mushrooms and schnitzel quickly found its way to my belly before I went back for a good night of shut eye.

Having slept well, I checked out, darted to the Dortmund Haubtbahnhof at Königswall 15. I grabbed a coffee from a generic bakery chain and locked my bag away for 4 euros a day. I returned back to my locker after realising I’d locked my coffee in the locker, before crossing the road to the Deutsches Fußballmuseum. I like football. I like museums. I like Germany. The arrangement could have worked out well.

Sure enough the varied exhibits, mostly bilingual, were diverse, organised and engaging. A 3D holographic show, some nostalgia, loads of World Cup materials and a display on Women’s football feature throughout the museum but the 19 Euro charge in to see Paul the octopus encased and a sweaty Mario Götze World Cup winning boot seems excessive. England’s National Football Museum is suggested donation entry, but Germany has won four trophies to England’s one, so perhaps they’ve earned the right to price their security accordingly.

After the football museum, I had a ponder around the city of Dortmund, Germany’s eighth most populated city and noticed how many concrete and modern buildings there. In 1945, allied troops from the west flattened approximately 98% of homes, factories and other buildings of inner city Dortmund. Dortmund was Germany’s most bombed city in one night and one month. A month later the ground assault rolled through and Dortmund’s Nazi days were over.

Ballspielverein Borussia 09 e. V. Dortmund are one of Germany’s most successful and colourful football clubs. They also have handball, athletics, ice hockey and countless other sports because they’re a sports club with 145,000 active members and not just a footy club. Die Schwarzgelben play in black and yellow, resembling bees and have a fantastic fan base, even if they do sing You’ll Never Walk Alone.

Prior to the game friendly beer drinking, schnitzel and sausage tasting could be found outside the ground in picturesque settings, as well as every pub in town. The concourse in the ground was similar before, during and after City’s frustrated draw. The home team and fans celebrated their progression to the knockout stage. City took it in their stride.

The swift return to collect my bag at the railway station postmatch, followed a brusque walk to the central station. I grabbed it from the locker and went to get a sandwich for the late train at 23:30ish. The train went a whole stop, with everyone aboard experiencing a crush like stampede experience and sweating crazily. At Bochum it stopped and allowed an ambulance crew to attend to an emergency. Then another train arrived, also destined for Dusseldorf, as musical chairs started. Everyone wanted to be on the first train out.

The train arrived on Dusseldorf, close to 3am. I had a hotel booked for the next night, check in from noon. I was lucky and found a scenic spot by the Rhine until then. During my time in Dusseldorf I walked the banks of the Rhine, admired the architecture and increased my step count. Good food, great culture and a pleasant trip ended on a Thursday flight to Manchester.

By Friday, I had added one to thirty-nine and reached forty (XL in Roman numerals). A pleasant Vimto ice cream with Brahma after coffee in The Rascals Cafe (Manchester Royal Exchange Theatre) with my sister Christina took up the afternoon. In the evening I met my Mum, Paul and Kat from Shenzhen Blues for dinner and to see comedian Nick Helm at The Stoller Hall. After getting back, I walked Panda and the pleasant day ended with slumber time. A happy birthday.

ERIC CARLE June 25th 1929 – May 23rd 2021

224 words shaped so many bedtime reading sessions. Bedrooms around the world were greeted with a heart-warming tale of growth, albeit through humour and a spot of seemingly obesity. The story has radiated like the light from the moon, from pages in over 60 languages to beaming eyes looking at the colourful intricate nature of the tale.

“That’s something I learned in art school. I studied graphic design in Germany, and my professor emphasized the responsibility that designers and illustrators have towards the people they create things for.” – Eric Carle

Eric Carle didn’t just write that one book of course. His designs, illustrations and words have appeared in numerous texts. Having dropped his first drawings in 1965, Aesop’s Fables for Modern Readers (Peter Pauper Press), the new-to-the-scene and relatively young illustrator was spotted by educator and author Bill Martin Jr. One red lobster in an advertisement led to a lifetime of colour and creation.

“We have eyes, and we’re looking at stuff all the time, all day long. And I just think that whatever our eyes touch should be beautiful, tasteful, appealing, and important.” – Eric Carle

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? was an award-winning book collaboration with the late author Bill Martin Jr. Thereafter cardboard editions, die-cut holes, inflatables, plastic pockets and multiple versions of artwork with words began to grow and filter from Eric Carle to the world. Countless children have lived and learned through rhyming picture books and used string in one of his many creations.

“One day I think it’s the greatest idea ever that I’m working on. The next day I think it’s the worst that I’ve ever worked on – and I swing between that a lot. Some days I’m very happy with what I’m doing, and the next day I am desperate – it’s not working out!” – Eric Carle

The story of the story-teller is ever more remarkable. This was a man, who his wife Barbara Morrison, strongly believed had held a form of post traumatic stress disorder. He’d dug trenches on the dreaded Siegfried Line of a World War II battlefield. He’d seen death at first hand, aged only around 15 years of age. But then, darkness turned to light over the years: “One Sunday morning the warm sun came up and – pop! – out of the egg came a tiny and very hungry caterpillar.” Okay, it wouldn’t have been that simple, but Eric Carle refused to bow down and give in. Years of toil brought his mind to a place where writing was permitted. An audience was earned. From Germany in World War II, he returned to his country of birth, the U.S.A. and found his way from Syracuse to the New York Times as a graphic artist.

“Let’s put it this way: if you are a novelist, I think you start out with a 20 word idea, and you work at it and you wind up with a 200,000 word novel. We, picture-book people, or at least I, start out with 200,000 words and I reduce it to 20.” – Eric Carle

Via stints back in Germany, for the U.S. Army (during the Korean War) he went on to be an art director at an advertising agency. His collage techniques, rich in hand-painted paper, featured layers and slices of vivid imagination set out as tiny pieces of artwork. Nature and wonder have set tones throughout his simple stories. These stories have been warm and inviting, and give hope to children, especially those new to schooling and education.

Papa, please get the moon for me is a tale of great importance in my opinion. It shows us that imagination is wonderful, even if it is breaking something seen as impossible. Whoever told me that Father Christmas, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny weren’t real, or anybody for that matter, that breaks the dreams of a child, deserves a good long look at themselves. Reality and imagination can sit side by side, otherwise Neil Armstrong, or Elon Musk or Celine Dion would not be around. Ability and knowledge need the company of spark and dream – and that’s where imagination grows.

“They are deceptively simple. I admit that. But for me, all my life I try to simplify things. As a child in school, things were very hard for me to understand often, and I developed a knack, I think. I developed a process to simplify things so I would understand them.” – Eric Carle

As I sit typing words and reading about Eric Carle’s history, I recall flicking through glossy covers of his books, and the joy as my face beamed when I discovered a translated copy in Hengli, Dongguan. That beautiful familiar white cover with a caterpillar and a red apple missing a mouthful, all slightly imbalanced, as if to say, and to appeal, that things aren’t always neat and tidy. One day when COVID-19 passes and the world is a little more tidy, I dream to fly to Amherst, Massachusetts to see the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. That would be as good as finding another Uroballus carlei on a trip to Hong Kong. The Caterpillar Jumping Spider’s Latin name is testament to the reach and pull of a world class picture book writer.

“My father used to take me for walks in the woods. He would peel back the bark of a tree and show me the creatures who lived there. I have very fond memories of these special times with my father and in a way I honor him with my books and my interest in animals and insects.” – Eric Carle

ERIC CARLE June 25th 1929 – May 23rd 2021

Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh 1921-2021

British life had the The Duke of Edinburgh Awards which was a most unique bond between the Royal household and common people. He was a refugee, raised at a school in Scotland and experienced a fairly good life after the Royal Navy. He did marry his third cousin though. Never shy of controversy and bold in his outlook he followed a great Jewish German educator from Germany to Scotland. His mentor Kurt Hahn gave him stability at an early age. I’m by far not a Royalist but his ethos reached the Air Training Corps and the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme rubbed off on me.

As a key reformer of a ruling monarchy he served the nation for many years. He also tried to give something back.

Rest in peace to the former Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark. 10/6/1921 – 9/4/2021.

An incredible story and life.