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!
Here we go again. Another evening in a hospital bed. The sixth such sleepover. Unlike the former I’m unattached to monitoring equipment. Just a feed of oxygen. That should make sleeping easier providing the girls don’t accompany me again. Those sucking evil females visited me at night. I struggled to get to sleep. I awoke with itchy ankles, a track mark line worthy if Trainspotting and sores on my knuckles. The only plus was City beat U****d at Old Trafford in the previous evening. Watching that in a hospital bed wasn’t all bad. Bloody mosquitoes.
This evening I became a golf course. The 18th needle went in and out almost as fast as the grade 5 student making a video. Kim (Baozi) snuck in fresh from having her fractured and dislocated hand injuries operated on. At first she spoke with my nurse about this injection and then craftily video recorded the jab. She sent the video to her phone. That’ll teach me for leaving my phone unlocked. To be honest, it was funny and she’s in good spirits following her surgery, and I’m sure her mother will be pleased and proud of her resilience. The nurse performing my injection certainly enjoyed the chit chat of Kim. It’s good to see professionals beam with radiant smiles. That way I don’t have to worry about the needle.
Today has been filled with Guilt. A BBC production filmed around Edinburgh. The short four episode series whizzing by in atmospheric slowness between my 3200 steps to recovery. The short corridor walks and nattering with visitors really lifted my spirits. That and savouring City’s emphatic win at The Theatre of Dreams™ yesterday. John Stones had five times winner of the Ballon d’Or Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos Avery in his back pocket.
Miss Spring delivered heartyhope – filled pumpkin soup. Mr D brought his wit with him, gifting a milk tea ice cream and some balloons. I did consider the implicit of the inflation of such things on a cardiovascular ward. Probably not a good idea. Dr Xie and Dr Like will not be happy. Nor the great nursing team. Miss Laura tried to deliver corn. That was rejected and now our friendship faces a review. Mr Jason helped me get mosquito spray. Sunday was 30°C and with the windows open the bloodsuckers found me.
Also Benny from grade 7 delivered fruit and kind support. As did Kim from grade 5, but she’s resident to the hospital whilst undergoing a hand operation. Although after the operation she was typically bubbly and positive. She certainly made Nurse Xiao Yue smile and laugh. Kim wasn’t the best visitor to have as your stomach gets jabbed. I tried to shoo her away but it wasn’t successful. I was an immobile Patch Adams providing entertainment, I guess. A bit like Man Utd’s midfield on Saturday.
Monday, 8th November 2021
What a difference a day makes. There’s a song there. Today it is just 16°C. It feels fresh and crisp. I like it. This morning my blood was removed by arterial stick from my left wrist (radial/ulnar region). It was swift and left an incredibly uncomfortable ache afterwards for ten minutes. Not the best 6am wake up call. After breakfast my pin cushion experience carried on with Nurse Xiao Yue kindly injecting anticoagulant into my tummy. I won’t complain. Kindness by cruelty. No pain, no gain. Dr Xie had visited prior and said Thursday is the target for my release. She told me to go and walk, including some stairs. My oxygen levels are fast approaching pre-condition fitness. The harder we fall, the more cliches we use, and then climb again.
After a night if unsettled dreams, anxiety and discomfort, today’s news has been most welcomed. You can’t keep a Mancunian down.
Muck in your eyes, surging cries, looking at then falling skies.
Pain straining your train of thought, hate free world sought, avoiding a day of distraught.
Stress says take a rest, your chest days you’re not your best, can’t even get dressed.
Stumbled upstairs, fairs not so fair for your cares, time to go get some stares.
Off we went, full consent, not worried about the rent, feeling less than elegant.
While I live, I breathe, I hope. Those hospital superheroes got me off a bad slope. Those hospital heroes helped me cope. While I live, I breathe, I hope. Up once again looking down life’s telescope. While I live, I breathe, I hope. Those hospital heroes helped me cope.
Knees a quivering, head all shivering, doctors and nurses delivering.
The news was confusing, my listening cruising and choosing, what it’s using, musing and infusing.
Shook by the broken heart, given a start, by way of observation chart.
Rating the flurry of worry, compared to a filling of slurry, bitter taste exiting in no hurry.
Human resources steadying, off for further readying, yet in a place unsteadying.
While I live, I breathe, I hope. No need to duck, dive and mope. While I live, I breathe, I hope. I cling on to the shipping towrope. While I live, I breathe, I hope. Walking together on every tightrope.
After the manic half hours, the room drained of flowers, friends turned away after hours.
Left with my thoughts, my personal dreadnoughts, gunshots casting lots and lots.
The demon at the foot of the bed, fear felt instead, I could have been brown bread.
Jabbed and prodded until sleep, a peak that weeped in heaped seep, knee-deep in thoughts that go deep.
Slipped in and out of shut eye, thoughts indivisible by, unable to oversimplify.
While I live, I breathe, I hope. Reach out for the good bathroom soap. While I live, I breathe, I hope. Thankful for the stethoscope. While I live, I breathe, I hope. Knowing today is just a kaleidoscope.
Condolences to the family and friends of Sean Lock, British comedian, writer and TV star. Ever since seeing 15 Storeys High starring writer Sean Lock with actor Benedict Wong, I’ve been hooked on this charming word-loving comic genius. His panel show appearances, stand-up comedy and writing for other top-notch acts will be missed.
Creating from destruction; removing from construction; stripping away from old walls to create new ones; shredding parts to create hearts; the caterpillars may be very hungry, but the leaves no longer are.
Actively inactive, sessile rhythms; Emerging from darkness into light; Gone are many legs, now wings to fly high; Dietary changes, decreased yet increased ranges; Seek food, partnership, courtship and repeat.
In the light of the moon, a little egg lay on a leaf.Hope.
Is it guilt biting away inside my gut? Am I but a projection of unfinished business? I wander far and wide searching but seldom finding. I stumble. I fall. I get up again. I dream by night. I dream by day. I dream to find that elusive other way.
Do I know the answers are deep in side me? Do they hide behind a cloud of misjudgment? Are they tucked under a rock of class hope? How do I drill down into the well of dreams? I so very much want to mine them.
Hope arrived on a wind of change. As soon as it came, it departed. In the blink of an eye the Universe unravelled and left me praying for more. I know it will come, yet insecurity claws away at my dearest hope. Did I let my guard down too soon? Would it be better to burrow down into the cold earth and hide my heart?
Yet the moon rises after sunset, and the sun rises the next day. Sometimes the moon sneaks into daylight. There’s rarely a day without one or the other. One as a heart. The other as a mind. Both giving energy. Both giving freshness to the day. The winds of change and the light of belief.
Here I stand. You’re out there. I know it. You know it. We both want it. We both need it. It beats from hearts into the air and through all it passes. The message is clear. Have not one fear, for you and I are here, my dear.
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 carleion 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
His hands grip around my throat. He’s strangling me. Trying to choke my last breath out. I struggle. Twisting and turning. I try to raise my left open palm upwards to force his vice-like grip to release me. I slap. No change. I use both flailing hands. Nothing.
Still he pulls his chest towards his hands. My throat trapped between his intended route. I slide and writh but I get nowhere fast. I twist my aching legs, trying to backwards kick his kneecaps. Anything. Any little hope. He grabs tighter. I know I don’t have long left. My throat is burning. Every gasping breath I take could be my last. I push my body forwards trying to open a space between his chest and arms. The Steel-like bicep is sweating on my neck. I open my mouth wide forcing little air in.
I’m beyond desperate. I feel woozy and clouded. My brain is losing a battle. He slides a few millimeters along my throat. That marginal gain gave him the extra he needed. He already had the upper hand. I feel his chest muscles stretch and tighten. He takes a tired deep breath. One heavy pull and I resist the extra force. He loosens his grip by the slightest of pressures. A budgie feather in a fight fit for an ostrich. Can I escape now?
She called. He listened. They talked. They laughed. It gave him warmth deep inside. She spoke openly. He told his story. They giggled. He answered questions. Once. Twice. Three times. The minutes stacked up. Time froze.
He chased. She was busy. He waited. She did not come. He wanted her. She was not available. He imagined. She slipped by. He thought of her. She had no voice. He dreamed. She remained silent. Once. Twice. Three times. It was as if it was a blink of an eye. Time came to a complete stop.
What do you believe in? Is it fairytale endings? Is it a happily ever after story? Maybe it’s pots of gold at the end of colourful striped rainbows? Perhaps there’s a pirate ship sailing through your skies above. Do you believe in love? Is hate something you shove?
Who believes in you? Do they think you’re a prince or princess? Are they your happily ever after? Maybe they’ve seen shining rings of gold? Perhaps they’re buying long dresses and swanky suits for that special day they dream of. Do you believe in yourself? Do you have a heartbeat of wealth?
Why do you believe in you? Do you know your happy ending? Is it flowers and sunshine at the end of your road? Maybe it’s celebrity and fame down your journey of fate? Do you believe in success? Is your life free of duress?
Whatever will be, what ever you wish may follow, but deep down, amongst it all you need to sweat it and bet it. Without a gamble, the adventure can’t be written. Without a step off the beaten track, you’ll never find what you’re looking for. Danger may hurt you but the monotonous life will drain and kill you. They may all sound like cliches, but didn’t they cliche writers have a point?
Your comfort zone: you’ll remain alone or go insane. Your sense of exploration: you’ll adapt or be born again. So, what are you waiting for?
Let’s not dwell on COVID-19 and it’s terrible spread throughout the globe. It’s been a challenging and upsetting year for many. The less said on this eve of a new year, the better. Stay positive.
With trips to Nepal, Thailand (as a Corona refugee), Suzhou and now Yunnan, I’ve been lucky to experience a variety of cultures and religions in different shapes and forms during 2020. All have stood the test of time and all have stories about being adaptable. 2021 for the human race will be no exception. I’ve been lucky to get some travelling in, during this new norm but unlucky not to travel and see loved ones. The future is tingling with uncertainty but when a reunion comes about, I’m certain it won’t be wasted.
Climatic change, political indecision, blundering idleness by an impenetrable elite, racism and divide, disease and worry. Twenty twenty’s themes will carry on into this year as we all live as best we can. The gloom of a serious Sir David Attenborough message should stay with us. As should Amnesty International. Black Lives will always matter. #MeToo? Where changes are needed things will always need to happen. Vaccines and immunisation can only cure so much.
2020 allowed me opportunity. I’ve been blessed to start work at Tungwah Wenzel International School. A few weeks of expensive quarantine and drastically overpriced return flights got me back into China, as others faced even tougher routes to work or pathways no longer open. It’s been a good ride at work so far. I can only see it getting better.
Football for and with Murray’s FC has provided a regular escape from a landscape tinged by trepidation. Having also joined Dongguan Bulldogs, for a few games of tag rugby, and several solo bike rides, freedom has been a privilege.
I’m writing from a cold bed in YuBeng village, Yunnan, China. I’d like to write more but like the new journal in my bag, there’ll be plenty of opportunity and positive days ahead for the writing of new well remembered days. All the best for 2021. Keep hope in your head and heart.
Thank you kindly to everyone who has wished me well today. A few moments of kindness have made my heart feel warm inside. x
If I leave here tomorrow, I’ll travel far on your love. If I need strength to walk on, you’ll carry me further. If I find myself lonely, memories will strengthen me. If I stumble and fall, I’ll stand up once more tall. If all around me crumbles, you’ll be there to hold it altogether. Hope, relentless hope, you’re inside my heart. Dreams big, and small, realised and unreleased, you’re in my company. 38 years and I’m still here. 38 years and you’re still here. The years, we’re still here.