Midnight at the last and found.

Hello, hello, we are the City boys… 你好

Sat in the passenger seat across from my Dad, the warm fans blasted heat into my legs and the windows were wound down. The cool Lancashire air drifted in. We were returning from Morecambe to Manchester. It was probably a Sunday night. Dad had been playing heavy metal from Iron Maiden, the early stuff with drums plentiful.

“You see you’re losing, yet you still try The game just a’watches your life go by You’re playin’ well, Oh you’re playin’ the game.” – Meat Loaf’s song Razor’s Edge

Now, in he popped a new cassette, and on played Meat Loaf. The smooth tracks mixed with electric and melodic blues rock took me beyond the car journey. I’d suddenly been transported beyond my pre-teenage self into a world of words sang at just the right tempo to catch my ear. Razor’s Edge is my favourite track on the often-ridiculed album. It has a frantic feel but is such a short song in terms of lyrical content. That’s considering it’s just over 4 minutes long.

“I can tell by the look in your tear-filled eyes;
You need somebody you can hold onto; If you really want to, I’d love to hold you;
If you really want to, then I’d love to be the body that you hold onto.” – Meat Loaf’s song If You Really Want To

I still remember looking at my Dad at the wheel. As a small kid, I looked up to my Dad. He was a colossus of a man with shoulders like bridges and arms like tree trunks. His chest stuck out like a rugby forward. His hands were like two shovels. He smoked casually at the wheel, eyes forward into the traffic and we talked a little. City this. City that. I gained my passion for Manchester City from my Dad. Stories of the ballet on ice, Kippax crowds, Uncle George and Grandad at the games. King Colin Bell, the floral named Summerbee, Franny One-Pen (took me years to understand that name), Tony Book, Trevor Francis, John Bond, Asa Hartford, Paul Powers, Gerry Gow and so on. Many other names were mentioned but times eroding effect on a kid’s memories can be harsh.

We talked lego, steam trains and finally Dad introduced me to Meat Loaf. With the finale of the Midnight at The Lost and Found album, Dad ejected the cassette and popped in Bat Out of Hell. The first Meat Loaf album I’d heard had been like a warm up act. Now I was spellbound by the range of vocals, the ferocity and energy, the theatrical length of several tracks and the tracks within tracks. The lyrics of Jim Steinman were sensational and to this day are poetry in musical form. A few weekends later Dad played me Dead Ringer on vinyl. Fond memories. I can’t wait to talk with my Dad again on a video call soon. If only the VPN would work with Messenger, Skype or something to make it. easy. Here’s hoping. Until then writing helps homesickness.

Goodnight from China. 晚安

Murray Christmas.

早上好。Good morning.

Having boarded a Didi taxi car (express service) to Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport Terminal Two, I’m currently motoring up the whatever it’s called highway northwards. As the car hurtles towards the border of Dongguan, I realize that this is only the second time I’ve left Dongguan city proper since returning in Spring 2020. In October, I went to Suzhou and that’s about it. I haven’t been to Shenzhen at all. I had a football tournament with Murray’s FC in Foshan for a day. And, a school trip to Guangdong Science Centre, allowed a few hours on the outskirts of Guangzhou. Okay, so travel has happened, but not much.

As many people around the world, just like family and friends back in the UK can relate, travel these days is a rare thing. It’s not always wise. I’m lucky, no, I’m privileged to be able to move around in relative freedom. Many people will travel domestically in Chinese New Year. The mainland of China often resembles a fast paced Rubik’s cube at that time. I doubt that I’ll travel then. The risks will increase, despite the experts here saying the risks are low.

So, here I go, heading to catch a flight to Shangri La Airport. And it isn’t a fictional airport or city. Zhōngdiàn (中甸) was renamed to Shangri La (Xiānggélǐlā/香格里拉) to draw in tourists. Mission accomplished. The so-called picturesque Yunnan province city awaits. From there I hope to trek/ramble/walk into the wider area of Díqìng Tibetan autonomous prefecture [迪庆藏族自治州]. This will give me a risk free (although under caution and care) wander in a mountainous land. Armed with face masks, hand cleaning gel and common sense, tonight I’ll be sleeping at a higher altitude.

The Didi car driver called me to check I was okay for today, immediately after pre booking the journey yesterday. Powered by Cantonese and Mandarin power ballads, at an acceptable volume, the driver, Mr Yang is allowing his electric Toyota to zip forwards. This Uber-like service has been invaluable since it appeared on the scene to foreign customers several years ago. Using my poor Chinese, I feel quite proud to have understood many little phone and car conversations. Each driver has been my spoken Chinese tutor for some time. The cost of the journey today is about 330RMB for an estimated 99 minutes of travel time. I figured the cost worth it when placed against other options. Had I have gone by train (40rmb), stayed in a hotel for a night (120+rmb), used local taxis etc it wouldn’t have been far off the cost of this journey. Besides, I was able to enjoy flour noodles and hotpot yesterday evening.

So, with my bags packed, a litre of pure orange juice, a premade sandwich and familiar warm music, the darkness of 5am passes me by, occasionally punctuated by rear taillights and a rare street lamp. Strangely, unlike other solo or group walks, I’m far from excited. It’s Christmas time. I’m alone. I’m far from home. I expect that my green health QR code will be accepted but I may encounter some wariness or prejudices. I could be wrong. I hope so. I don’t believe people are bad but I do believe there’s lots of worry around. Worry leads to fear. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to suffering. Sorry, too much Grogu and Yoda there.

Last Saturday, Murray’s FC held its annual Christmas game and barbecue. There aren’t many places in the world where you can mix a large group of people and play football. We really are in a strange time. There were many missing faces and we all pass on our love and peace to Murray’s FC players, friends, associates, past and present. We may have adopted the Dongguan F.C. moniker but we’re still the same sharing and caring team that welcomes all. Even Man U fans. The game finished 7-7 and marked by second 8-a-side goal in three months. Gareth Southgate wasn’t there to witness it. He won’t get my rejection either. The ball, fueled by Alvaro’s strike, bears an imprint of my gonads to this day. I can still taste them. Horrible moment. Other than that, it was a very pleasant day culminating with a barbecue at Liberty bar.

In closing, my bag has simple cold weather clothes, a lesser spotted windbreaker (Sherpa brand from Nepal), a rain jacket layer, walking boots, a sleeping bag, a walking pole, a notepad, a camera and little else. Supplemental oxygen? No thanks. I’ll take the altitude change slowly and surely. No rush. No aims. Just explore. Waterfalls, glaciers, and mountains are all bonuses after months in the city of Dongguan. So, what now?

再见 Goodbye. Have yourself a Murray Christmas. 圣诞快乐。