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!
There’s a financial crisis, then there is austerity, the Grenfell Tower disaster, then a global pandemic, and recessions, and environmental disasters, and climate change, before race battles and financial meltdowns and worries. Oh, there are worries. So many worries. A book written and translated in the 1880s is as ever-relating now as it ever was. We have the translation skills of Florence Kelley Wischnewetzky to thank. Following the 1848 revolutions, Friedrich Engels moved to Manchester for around two decades. Through capitalism he was afforded the luxury of revolutionary ideas.
Friedrich Engels dated Irish immigrant Mary Burns. After Mary’s death, his love passed to her sister Fenian (Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB)) Lizzie. They married on her deathbed. In ways he had a Clark Kent and Superman lifestyle. Between riding in hunts in Cheshire, chasing foxes for fixes, he was slipping money out of his accounts to revolutionaries. This Bruce Wayne on one hand, Batman on the other existence was a huge contradiction. Part knight in shining armour and protector to part capitalist imperialist pig. A life beautiful and ugly in the reflection of contradictions.
“social murder” – Friedrich Engels, The Condition of the Working Class in England
Artist Phil Collins gave Friedrich Engels a home next to HOME in Tony Wilson Place. What was all that about? Our Friedrich Engels was an honorary Manc back in the day. He lived in and around the area for many years. He observed industry at its most brutal and gathered his thoughts in and around the city. The statue of German Friedrich Engels stands outside HOME, an arts and entertainment complex in the heart of the city of Manchester. Phil Colins gave Manchester a piece of its history that is well-documented in paper form, but little seen in the day to day tapestry of the city’s vast structures.
“The way in which the vast mass of the poor are treated by modern society is truly scandalous. They are herded into great cities where they breathe a fouler air than in the countryside which they have left.” – Friedrich Engels, The Condition of the Working Class in England
Whereas Engles came from Barmen, Kingdom of Prussia, the artist Phil Collins moved to Berlin, from Britain. Back in 2017, a 3.5 metre monster of a stone statue, fractured and left for ruin was moved from the eastern Ukrainian village of Mala Pereshchepina to Manchester. As part of the Manchester International Festival, it was unveiled as part of a show called Ceremony, featuring songs and dance, with a ditty by the Super Furry Animals’ frontman Gruff Rhys. In an unassuming carpark, the procession moved over to Tony Wilson Place and all around newbuilds sat and towered above old mills, relics of the Industrial Revolution, and people sipped coffee from Starbucks cups and held Tesco carrier bags. The statue passed by Engels’s birthplace in Barmen, Berlin and was subject to great interest.
“The capitalists soon had everything in their hands and nothing remained to the workers.” – Principles of Communism (1847)
Like Christ, Mohammed and many other Gods, their words have been responsible for countless deaths through misinterpretation or abuse. They have been used by the powerful to suppress or enhance those who choose to use them. Think Trump with Twitter, or Elliot Carver (actor Jonathan Pryce) in the 1997 instalment of James Bond, Tomorrow Never Dies. So, having a legacy or words and ideas, a multifaceted figure arrived to Mancunian soil. A now-outlawed sign of communism may now be outlawed in the Ukraine, but in Manchester this statue of Engels symbolises the then, the now and the future. The scar where the statue was severed in half of the waist is clear. The artist Phil Collins had negotiated the statue as a gift from one community to another. Its journey was documented – with a video commissioned.
The writer of The Condition of the Working Class in England, in sculpture form fits in with the spirit of Manchester. A radical, against the establishment and for the people. The concrete structure looms over the paving slabs below, featuring patches of lichens and a broad beard. The very city he once developed his philosophies in has changed much but many social issues remain. The horrific conditions of workhouses have gone, but in the COVID-19 days of capitalism and struggle, new challenges are present. I’m lucky, as are many Mancs, that we grew up later in better times. Our Engels though, he was here when misery and suffering were commonplace.
Engels had such an influence on what would happen in the 20th century that even today, his relevance and legacy is present. This German philosopher, historian, communist, social scientist, sociologist, journalist and businessman understood Dialectical materialism and Continental philosophy whilst remaining a keen advocate of solutions to class struggle. So, on July the 16th 2017, Engels came home and Manchester had a bash to mark the occasion.
As per the ideas of Collins, he shifted a statue from one space to another, and an idea from one place that once embraced communism to one that in all fairness skirts closer to Labour and Socialism than the media would have you think. Now in 2020, we’re seeing statues of slavers, Romans, imperial figures and all under deep scrutiny. Just as Saddam Hussein and Colonel Muammar Mohammed Abu Minyar Gaddafi fell, so to, are the busts of Sir Winston Curchill and co. It’s like a historical hunt in the manner of Operation Yew Tree, but without BBC stars. Just like some of the childhood stars of old, even the big guns of history are there to be torn at with our claws. #BlackLivesMatter is opening a whole range of debates and dialogue.
“That the Materialistic Socialists will improve H. [History] for the poor. Their best writer, Engels, made known the errors and the horrors of our Factory System.” – Lord Acton, quoted in Gertrude Himmelfarb, Lord Acton: A Study in Conscience and Politics (1952), pp. 181–82
It has been around three years since we could dress up like Engels, make banners or talk with academics in the then named Engels Exchange at Tony Wilson Place. The statue still stands. The beauty of history is that it has happened. Now we’re in an era when more and more history is being questioned. That’s good. That’s evolution in action. We have to be careful what we do with our history. Some statues remind us of different times and give us a voice for that period. They don’t always need to be celebrated and respected. They stand as a reminder of progress. All symbols must be questioned. It is our right and instinct as a species to want to be better. History shows us that Marx was more celebrated than Engels. As Engels slaved away writing Marx’s notes and supporting the Marx family, Marx had already departed this world. Engels may have come from a wealthy cotton-mill owning family but his time from 1842 to 1844 was profound.
In memory of those who have died in the workhouses and during this modern austerity.
“In the decade of the 1930s, even the great city of Metropolis was not spared the ravages of the worldwide depression. In the times of fear and confusion the job of informing the public was the responsibility of the Daily Planet. A great metropolitan newspaper, whose reputation for clarity and truth had become a symbol of hope for the city of Metropolis.” – Narration, by a boy, Superman: The Movie
Superman: The Movie made many of us believe a man could fly. Christopher Reeve’s warm portrayal of the extra-terrestrial sent to Earth was to many the greatest superhero of our generation. Well, all until Michael Keaton stepped in as the Dark Knight in Batman. Fast forwards to the 2000s and it seems that Marvel have serialised their comic arsenal to release a new character on a weekly basis. Even the latest Bad Boys (For Life) movie seemed to be swimming in CGI reminiscent of Marvel’s reign of fire.
“Dream, Believe, Dare, Do.” – Walter Elias Disney’s motto.
But, for those born in the late 70s and early 80s there will be a few of us that were treated to Christopher Reeve’s black lock of hair, a very-much clean-cut James Bond-type character. Director Richard Donner and Superman: The Movie squeezed over 300 million US dollars from the box offices, for a movie that cost but a sixth of that. 143 minutes of fantasy and fiction leapt out of the screen much like the scrolling title words and stars’ names. Filmed between the U.K., Panama, Switzerland and U.S.A., this movie was epic. The dark contrast of life being released from a dying planet, and evil being cast to the Phantom Zone, stemmed a story arc which leapt faster than a speeding bullet featuring comic and soft scenes amongst the pile-driving action. It was like watching a wrestling superstar cuddle a kitten.
“Some people can read War and Peace and come away thinking it’s a simple adventure story. Others can read the ingredients on a chewing gum wrapper and unlock the secrets of the universe.” – Lex Luthor; Superman: The Movie
Superman: The Movie claimed a few awards for best visual effects, a BAFTA (Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Roles; and Outstanding British Contribution to Cinema Award) and numerous nominations. John Williams and the London Symphony Orchestra’s score is dramatic and distinct. Mario Puzo’s story shuffles between serious issues and wastes little of the cast. Margot Kidder, Glenn Ford, Gene Hackman and Ned Beatty were big names. Terence Stamp would haunt many kids dreams for years to come. Marlon Brando was a global megastar and such was his feeling, he would never reappear in a Superman movie, as he was too buys suing for extra shares of the profits.
“Good form, Mr. Smee? Blast good form! Did Pan show good form when he did this to me?” – Peter Pan, Disney movie, 1953.
Mild mannered reporter Clark Kent starts life in The Daily Planet, before later appearing in cape and pants over his leggings. Many scenes were filmed at the world-famous Pinewood Studios. The Fortress of Solitude was on 007’s stage. British stunt double Vic Armstrong was there for Christopher Reeve for the first two movies.
“..children know such a lot now, they soon don’t believe in fairies, and every time a child says, ‘I don’t believe in fairies,’ there is a fairy somewhere that falls down dead.” – Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie
Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created Superman. Richard Donner presented a snapshot of 1950s America, subtle humour in modern day Metropolis and the icy cold sci-fi realm of Krypton. The journey was created perfectly for the movies – and although the 2013 movie Man of Steel tried to start again. Jerome Siegel, just like Kal-El (Clark Joseph Kent and Superman) used pseudonyms (Joe Carter and Jerry Ess) and was born to Jewish immigrants. This wonderful writer dreamed up Superman and with Canadian comic book artist Joseph Shuster by June 1938 Superman ascended into Action Comics #1. Until the 1980s the man of steel dominated the superhero genre of U.S. comic books.
“Stars are beautiful, but they may not take part in anything, they must just look on forever.” – Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie
Superman drew on many influences. Sci-fi gave some great pointers. Fritz Lang’s 1927 move Metropolis birthed a city within Superman’s eventual realm. Douglas Fairbanks as Zorro influenced the look, although arguably, that caped crusader was closer to the caped crusader, Batman. The geeky barbershop-look of slapstick comedian Harold Lloyd and his mild-mannered persona gave us Clark Kent. Siegel and Shuster’s trawling of pulp fiction, comics and popular media expanded in so many details. Perhaps Peter Pan, as a character from so many stage performances had some influence in there. After all J.M. Barrie’s wonderfully complex character had kids leaping from seats and beds following earlier performances. Much like Superman: The Movie, Peter Pan made many believe that they could fly.
Lois: “Clark…says you’re just a figment of somebody’s imagination, like Peter Pan.” / Superman: “Clark?…Who’s that, your boyfriend?” / Lois: “Clark!? Oh, Clark. No, he’s nothing, he’s just, uh…” / Superman: “Peter Pan, huh? Peter Pan flew with children, Lois. In a fairy-tale.” Scene as Christopher Reeves plays Superman before he’s about to take Lois flying around the city of Metropolis. Superman: The Movie
Peter Pan is complex and rightfully so. The ninth of ten children, Sir James Matthew Barrie, 1st Baronet, had already lost two siblings before birth. This short-statured man from Kirriemuir in Angus, when aged 6, lost his older brother David the day before David would have turned 14 years old. With his mother’s favourite forever-absent, J.M. often imitated and tried to fill David’s place. By the age of eight, his eldest siblings were his teachers at the coeducational Glasgow Academy and six years or so later at Dumfries Academy. Somehow he managed to kick back against his conservative Calvinist Victorian family and crack in with his dream of writing. The University of Edinburgh beckoned, and he graduated with an M.A. in literature during April 1882. After some journalism, unpopular fiction and hard graft he turned his eyes to playwriting. By 1894 he was married and with a Saint Bernard puppy, and had worked with Sherlock Holmes’s creator Arthur Conan Doyle.
“Ostensibly a holiday entertainment for children but really a play for grown-up people” – Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw
The premiere date of 27 December 1904 of Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up arrived. Neverland was with us all – and a stark contrast to late Victorian and early Edwardian times. The Peter Pan models were extended and adapted throughout the years and the novel Peter and Wendy was inevitably released in 1911, with illustrations by F. D. Bedford. The two previous novels The Little White Bird and Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens are two equally delightful run outs for the boy who wouldn’t age or grow up. There is another outing in When Wendy Grew Up – An Afterthought. After that, popular culture claimed Pan for a silent movie in 1924, before Disney came knocking in 1953. The thrills of mermaids, fairies, Native Americans and pirates gained global viewers. J.M. Barrie himself commissioned sculptor Sir George James Frampton (he did the lions outside of the British Museum and Dr Barnardo’s Memorial) in 1912. The May Day surprise was a gift to the children of London.
“The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease for ever to be able to do it.” – Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie
Some years ago, I was lucky enough to wander through a dusk-lit Kensington Gardens and see the statue of Peter Pan. Six identical moulds were taken and can be found from Liverpool (U.K.), Canada’s Ontario to Camden, and New Jersey. St. John’s, Newfoundland, Brussels (Belgium) and Perth (Australia) complete the list of original replicas. There are multiple statues of various designs globally also. Great Ormond Street Hospital has its own interpretation and rightfully so. Ever since 1929, all the rights and copyrights were given to Great Ormond Street Hospital. The boy who would be a child forever could inspire and keep those in need, some company.
“When the first baby laughed for the first time, its laugh broke into a thousand pieces, and they all went skipping about, and that was the beginning of fairies.” – Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie
J.M. Barrie died in Manchester, well Manchester Street, Marylebone, that London on the 19th of June 1937. This was a man who had had Jerome K. Jerome as a friend; had divorced in 1909 and the hugely influential Llewelyn Davies family. George, John, Peter, Michael and Nicholas. Perhaps J.M. Barrie wanted to be a child forever. Perhaps Peter Pan was pretending to want to be forever young or showing off to his beautiful Wendy. Wendy was mature enough to surely see his insecurities. She displays great compassions as Peter Pan struts around his gaff, Neverland and does almost anything he wants. The land of adventures are at his command. The Darling family take his attention a little, but it does feel that Peter Pan would soon grow distracted of them and return to Neverland to do whatever he feels. Peter Pan is the antihero, to the hero of Superman. The two are alike, yet so far apart. Superman is a simple and clear character, with little conflict within. Peter Pan is like me, selfish and confused, and searching for a never-ending youth to hide from everyday burdens like responsibility and grown-up stuff.
“To die would be an awfully big adventure.” – Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie
Today, in China, it was Children’s Day and we watched the Disney retelling of Peter Pan, complete with lost boys, manipulation and an upset Captain Hook because Peter Pan had cut off his hand and fed it to a crocodile with a timepiece. Eton College-educated Captain Hook seems devoted to bringing Peter Pan down. The Neverland story goes on and on and on, with endless retellings and reinterpretations or works based on Peter Pan and company. The right to collect royalties in eternity under precise and explicit provisos in the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 mean that Peter Pan is the gift that keeps giving to Great Ormond Street Hospital. Superman, however, is the $5.48 billion cash card of DC Comics and Warner Bros.
“Never say goodbye because goodbye means going away and going away means forgetting.” – Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie
‘If I could only find the words, then I would write it all down…’ (Read ’em and Weep lyrics by Jim Steinman/sang by Meat Loaf)
Where are the great writers? They are everywhere. Songwriters, scriptwriters, playwrights, newspaper correspondents, comedians, bloggers, and authors. Great writers are everywhere. I am nowhere near them. I just enjoy writing and have ambitions. The popular writers spill off shelves in major bookstores, on eBook devices, and fill newspaper reviews about their works. The modern classics and classics get published in varied and often colourful editions. Some copies get graphic novel versions or huge distorted modifications to lure in new and old readers alike. Books are wonderful and shouldn’t need a World Reading Day to attract a soul. Impressive braille, audiobooks and many other delightful formats, such as large print, keep penned words open to the widest possible audiences. And, then there are translations! Some of the Harry Potter novel serials have reached 80 or so languages, including Scots, Hindi, and Chinese.
‘muckle, beefy-boukit man wi a stumpie wee craigie’ (Mr Dursley in Scots, from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone)
The novelists aren’t a bad place to start. I find Sir Arthur Conan Doye and H.G. Wells have caught my eye more and most from the considered classical writers. The Valley of Fear and The Sign of the Four are two of the former writer’s most gripping examples.
Looking across the metaphysical divide at female writers, there are some wonderful writers in Mary Shelley (Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus; Rambles in Germany and Italy in 1840, 1842 and 1843), Elzabeth Gaskell (Cranford), Val McDermid (Trick of the Dark), the Poet Laureate for Great Britain Dame Carol Ann Duffy, Enid Blyton (The Island of Adventure), Edith Nesbit (Think Five Children and It, and not Stephen King’s It), Agatha Christie (By the Pricking of My Thumbs), Betrix Potter (The Tale of Peter Rabbit and 22 other similar tales), and Judy Blume (Fudge-a-mania and books that hist topics such as masturbation, racism, bullying, menstruation, divorce and other such family topics). But, most importantly, when I pick up a book, it isn’t based on the author’s gender.
In my childhood, my varied reading included Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book; Jack London’s White Fang, The Sea Wolf; Colin Dann’s The Animals of Farthing Wood; Felix Salten’s Bambi; Aileen Fisher’s Now That Days Are Colder; Herman Melville’s Moby Dick; and a set of World Encyclopedias given to me by Mr Andrew Jones, in my final days in class 5AJ.
‘Now that days are colder, now that leaves are down, where are all the chipmunks at the edge of town?’ (Aileen Fisher’s Now That Days Are Colder)
As I grew from size 9 shoes to size 12 shoes, I picked up such reads as Eoin Colfer’s Benny and Omar, and soon discovered Michael Crichton. J.R.R. Tolkien was read with vigour. The college years involved Roald Dahl’s complete works getting a read. Douglas Adams and George Orwell added to the vibrant multihued reading material. I even had a crack at the works of Robert Louis Stevenson and Charles Dickins. Amongst the known names, I recall reading two pieces that really caught my attention. The first was about CJD and prionic diseases. The title was rather welcoming, Deadly Feasts: The “Prion” Controversy and the Public’s Health by Richard Rhodes. There is a real detective feel to this book. It zips from cannibals in New Guinea, cattle globally, young people in America, Britain and France – and beyond. It really makes you think and carries a powerful warning about beef, and eating meat. That being said, I carried on eating meat after a year’s experiment as a vegetarian.
‘Don’t gobblefunk around with words.’ (Roald Dahl’s The B.F.G.)
The second covered a dark period of recent history and journalist Philip Gourevitch’sWe Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda (the link directs to chapter one). The theme chronicles the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, in which an estimated 1,000,000 Tutsis and Hutus were killed. What shocked me, was how neighbours turned on themselves and the psychological effects followd. It skirts on the political challenges of survival. It is gripping and full of pain. I even had a crack at the complete works of one William Shakespeare. The dramas make for tough reading but nevertheless their importance and influence is beyond comparison.
‘At least fifty mostly decomposed cadavers covered the floor, wadded in clothing, their belongings strewn about and smashed. Macheted skulls had rolled here and there.’ (Philip Gourevitch’sWe Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda)
At university I switched into daydreaming mode and the movie popularity of The Lord of the Rings led to a re-read of everything J.R.R. Tolkien. Between daydreaming, textbooks and general procrastination of university work, I found little time for reading. There was always something shiny or distracting. However, I did read through the entire available works of Michael Crichton and the brilliant noir writer Malcolm Pryce – his Aberystwyth Mon Amour series being topical to my location.
‘That’s the trouble with people like you, Knight, you only know how to mock. How to break things. You don’t know how to create anything. You never did.’ (Malcolm Pryce, Aberystwyth Mon Amour)
Jurassic Park had been on and off my bookshelf since my mother bought me an omnibus edition, with the novel Congo included. The distinctive movie red, yellow and black logo made for great artwork but within the text was something more appealing. Scientific facts mixed with imagination and fiction. Like every book I have read by the late Michael Crichton, there are technical descriptions crossing the genres of action (Prey), science fiction (Micro), thrillers (Disclosure), and medical fiction (Five Patients). One of my favourite pieces has been Eaters of the Dead [a tale of Ahmad ibn Fadlan’s own interpretation of his genuine voyage north and his understandings with and reflections of Vikings], however the posthumous release of the 1974 penned piece Dragon Teeth [fossil hunters in the historical fiction form] comes close. But then, Pirate Latitudes, as action goes is damn exhilarating. Whilst the movies and series versions of some of his works never live up to the style of his writing, I hope that those who watch them gain enough curiosity to pick up the books. 200 million book sales is too few for such a great writer.
‘All major changes are like death. You can’t see to the other side until you are there.’ (Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park)
Following university, I dipped in and out of books like rain lashing the rooftops of Manchester. Ian Fleming’s great travel novellas sporting a certain James Bond gripped me for a while. Every shadow writer of that spy-battering ram has been read since. From BBC’s The Fast Show, comedy writer Charlie Higson has delivered great slices of young Bond novels for teenagers and a series called The Enemy. Well worth of a read. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert should be reviewed by the #MeToo movement. Forget 50 Shades of Gray! George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four actual reads as a documentary and doesn’t seem like fiction in one way! The entire works of Christoher Brookmyre was far more than an Attack Of The Unsinkable Rubber Ducks – more like All Fun And Games Until Someone Loses An Eye. Every book of his will grip you tight – don’t be fooled by his colourful covers.
“People are islands,’ she said. ‘They don’t really touch. However close they are, they’re really quite separate. Even if they’ve been married for fifty years.” (Ian Fleming, Casino Royale)
In China, I have been limited to the works of Andy McNab (notably the Nick Stone and Tom Buckingham series) alongside other odds and ends found on bar book exchange shelves or tucked away collecting dust in book shops. I have found time to re-read Peter Pan, by playwright J.M. Barrie. Johnny Marr’s autobiography Set the Boy Free, War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (which wasn’t to my enjoyment, and the riveting Moby Dick, by Herman Melville. The complete works of Jon Ronson (I thoroughly recommend The Psychopath Test) have been perused. The Welsh neo-journalist loves a good debunk or conspiracy to grip and twist until all the juices ooze out into the pages. Hunter S. Thompson (Hell’s Angels) would be proud of his works! I wonder if Jon Ronson has booked a firework-clad funeral for his future passing.
My obsession with Mount Everest has drawn me to a related selection of books. I read most of these in the shadow of the mountain during January 2017. The following works were all written following the 1996 disaster in which many climbers and sherpas lost their lives.
Into Thin Air: Death on Everest – a well-known climbing disaster book by Jon Krakauer;
The Climb by Anatoli Boukreev;
Left For Dead: My Journey Home from Everest, penned by Beck Weathers;
Touching my father’s soul: a Sherpa’s journey to the top of Everest, by Jamling Tenzing Norgay;
Climbing High – a lesser known read by Danish Psychological Counselor and climber Lene Gammelgaard;
The Other Side of Everest by Matt Dickinson.
If you piece together the events on the mountain based on the accounts and reports received soon after and long after, you will be no clearer as to what happened – other than it being a monumental mess of tragic proportions. The best of the bunch for me, was Jamling Tenzing Norgay’s account, as it touched on the spirituality and complexity of Sherpa and beliefs within the shadows of the highest mountain peak on our Earth. It also explored his relations and the effects of living in the following of his father Sherpa Tenzing Norgay.
Since that rambling holiday to Nepal, I have picked up Ben Macintyre’sOperation Mincemeat at Murray’s Irish Pub in Dongcheng. Since then Double Cross, Agent Zig-Zag and just this week Rogue Heroes: The History of the SAS, Britain’s Secret Special Forces Unit That Sabotaged the Nazis and Changed the Nature of War have followed. For Your Eyes Only: Ian Fleming and James Bond, was a book I read in 2008 and didn’t enjoy quite as much as his other well-researched and fine-tuned storytelling. Facts and simple description, even criticism and questioning of reported myths bore at you like an angry wolf. They are real page turners, not bogged down by over-complicated technical terminology and wordings unnecessary. The Times columinist cuts a good read up and builds a remarkably fascinating picture of moments in history. I guess with an extra day of freedom each year, he has extra time to write. His birthday being on Christmas Day. Some other writers lose their focus and clutter text or fill pages for fun. Every page of Macintyre’s work is blessed by an assiduous and attentive hand. His mind has carved questions in reported stories and embellishments that others may have accepted. When it comes to knowns, he wants the reader not just to read, but use the full force of their frontal lobes. Next up, I will re-read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. To pick that particulatr gem up will be like revisiting an old friend. Another good friend could even be Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. Not a single movie version has touched on the depth of that epic adventure!