Ubuntu.

Dear all,

This is an open letter of my thoughts and feelings. I’m having a tough time. I feel weighted down at the shoulders and hips. Perhaps, I have cursed myself (and those around me). I feel I want to retreat from here and hide away. I’m certain of it. In fact, I started writing this piece of crap on March the 4th and over 8 days, I kept thinking about deleting it or revisiting it for completion. In the end simmering anger won.

I had a real negative day on March the 3rd. Pessimism was my bedfellow. Something I had done, was rightfully pointed out to me as being somewhat controversial and sensitive. By placing two A3 pieces of paper (dark blue over yellow), the intended Ukrainian colours appeared as a flag. They faced outside of the classroom, affixed to the windows. On their inside, facing into the room, were pieces of work about the U.N. Human Rights Act and censorship. Our current grade 9 and 10 language and literature unit is themed around freedom of speech and creativity. The school principal rightfully advised that China is neutral and at present we shouldn’t draw attention to this fact. Nor should we mention that western intelligence [oxymoron?] has apparently (and reportedly) shown that Russia was asked to postpone its invasion of the Ukraine until after the Winter Olympics. China denies this. The western media isn’t exactly reliable. Mixed messages in China don’t make the matter any clearer.

Yesterday evening, I was sat on a bench tossing a ball for Panda, reading Melissa Hogenboom‘s article titled What is the best age to learn to read? It seemed idyllic to understand that babies in the womb and young babies respond to reading before being able to comprehend anything tangible. The article even argues and supports reasons not to teach phonics so militantly. As Panda caught the ball once again, a little dog, XiǎoBāndiǎn (小斑点) played alongside him and soft rays of golden sunshine swept through leafy trees onto the part-scorched grasses below. I took a long deep breath. I truly felt fed up.

Democratic nations, freedoms of speech and a constant tug of war between this and a certain unitary one-party socialist republic have been the norm for quite some time. The COVID-19 pandemic has been exploited by many throughout these last grinding two and a bit years. The constant bitching and arguing about origins of the bloody virus reached fever pitch long ago. Now the bloody virus is white noise. This tinnitus is still there but now the first Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic form a backdrop to Russia’s invasion upon Ukrainian soil. Football, culture and global togetherness seem unworthy of our attention. The CONIFA World and European football cups mean little right now. Cornwall will not be playing against either of these two Ukrainian-breakaway lands anytime soon. There’s far too much separatism and breaking away around the world. The climate change battle goes almost unheard.

“Increasingly irreversible losses.” – Svitlana Krakovska, Ukrainian climate scientist, Climate Change News.

The other complexity of yesterday was that I removed the two posters from the window and placed them on the wall lower down. Now, do I explain this to my Ukrainian colleagues (or was it them that has the worry in the first place?) or do I just carry on as normal? Am I over-thinking? No offensive intention was ever intended. Do I also consult my British-Russian colleague? Either way, there is an awkwardness that could entirely be self-paranoia, but I feel guilty and cannot decide what to do, or not. However, I won’t hide words or actions. If China does align itself with the invasive force of Russia, I won’t sit back and carry on. The media here won’t show anti-war protests or online petitions. This is their country, their rules. I respect that. The horrors of war are slipping through though. It is hard to ignore the one Foshan football shop trying to sell their last batch of Adidas Russia football shirts printed with Putin and some disgusting abusive social media slips through. The internet is not a trusty place. It is fast swelling up as a place of propaganda and people playing pitiful games of power as village idiots.

Ubuntu [ùɓúntʼù] comes from the Nguni Bantu peoples and languages. It roughly translates as “I am because you are”. It is a word that implies community is central to self. Sharing connects. The word can be found across South Africa in Zulu and Zhosa – and in the same form in Rwanda’s Kirundi and Kinyarwanda languages. At least two dozen other forms of the word can be found across Bantu countries. In Kenya, omundu, is the equivalent word. Our finite world is desperate for such beauty and community. We need more celebration, such as rediscovering Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton‘s Endurance and sharing those magical images to future explorers and scientists.

Civic pride can empower?

In my mind positivity’s optimist is in its own war with the pessimist and realist. I had a moment yesterday where I imagined refugees scratching walls at an abandoned Kwik Save supermarket in Abergele, revealing a lone tin of No Frills baked beans. Day dreams and wondering mindsets have become commonplace this last week or so. Days and hours blur as one. I used to be organised and focused. Now, I struggle to listen to Just a Minute for only 60 seconds.

“This year will be harder than last year. On the other hand it will be easier than next year” – Enver Hoxha’s message to Albania, 1967.

We live in a world where former UK Deputy Prime Minister and Liberal Democrat-cum-Conservative party leader heads Facebook/Meta (can’t see the join?) and their global affairs. yes, he helped Gurkhas get the right to settle… but the coalition is a direct cause of Boris Johnson’s dark rise to the country’s premier position. Many attribute Nick Clegg to the slump of the Liberal Democrats party. It’s now hard to see this party as anything but a bit-part-player. They have allowed the elite of societies to distract and disrupt social groups. The left wing has been too busy infighting no notice the central-right leaping away. Celebrating millionaires and billionaires is all fair enough, but keep in mind the rich got richer during COVID-19 as the poorer classes were left to struggle and survive. Inequality as some doubled their accounts. How anyone can celebrate Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos is beyond me? Tesla and SpaceX grew over six-fold in their profits. The planet had to suffer the air damage but the banks raked in the funds. Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page, Larry Ellison, Sergey Brin. Warren Buffet, Steve Ballmer, the Waltons (Jim, Alice and Rob: Walmart’s owners), Phil Knight, Michael Bloomberg, and MacKenzie Scott make up a huge panel of those who average 61.7% growth between them. That’s just America. China had a similar pattern too – although leader Xi Jinping is working against that. COVID-19 has been good for the mega-rich individuals of China. It wouldn’t surprise me if their NAT tests use gold-plated swab tests. The giants stand on the dead, right? Although Russian oligarchs did well, they’re now getting smashed by sanctions following Russia’s real-life enactment of the board game Risk (buy a copy at local shop Amazon to keep Jeff Bezos fed). History really does repeat itself.

Apologies for any cohesion being lost by a piece of writing being edited a whole 8 days later. I haven’t quite had a mood to write for a long time. Rant over? TO BE CONFIRMED.

Peace and love x

Manchester Baby (Happy Father’s Day)

How do! / 你好 (nĭ hăo) / Namaste / Welcome!

The Manchester Baby, A.K.A., the small-scale experimental machine (SSEM) was not a device of torture or something living. It was a huge innovation and giver to the future. Here’s a little more about the Manchester Baby and how it came about on the 21st June 1948, just 71 years ago.

F.C. Williams sounds like a football team. There is a Manchester connection. It doesn’t involve a centre-half called Tom Kilburn. Kilburn, from Dewsbury in Yorkshire, resident of Blackpool, was actually a regular at Old Trafford. His being a Manchester Utd fan should exclude him from my writing but Tom Kilburn CBE FRS alongside Stockport-born Sir Frederic Calland Williams, CBE FRS changed the world. Much of our modern world owes itself to this dynamic duo. Geoff Tootill, from Chadderton, where my Gran worked at Avro once, also worked in the Electrical Engineering Department of the University of Manchester.

Freddie Williams was a dreamer and a doer. This pioneer in radar technology carried on a wave of momentum following World War II and applied his science to research for numerous years. Look up his thesis, ‘Problems of spontaneous oscillation in electrical circuits for some light reading. Much of what was written then is widespread knowledge now. He’d be known for Manchester Baby and the Williams tube (or Williams–Kilburn tube) – a device of computer memory. Geoff C. Tootill passed away on 26th October 2017. His contributions are long and illustrious. There’s a replica of Manchester Baby in the Museum of Science and Industry (Manchester), created in 1998, by the Computer Conservation Society. Tootill’s extensive notes and recollections made this possible.

Without this trio of grafters and trend-setters, the computer era could have been years, if not decades away. The Manchester Baby and Ferranti Mark 1 are iconic technological advancements. They represent the first electronic stored-program digital computers. Famous mathematician, computer scientist, logician, cryptanalyst, philosopher, and theoretical biologist Alan Turing ran a programme on Manchester Baby, having had it initially debugged by Geoff C. Tootill. Turing and the National Physical Laboratory had also been trying to make their own programmable computer. The former codebreaker and his team also spent much time in Manchester and greatly contributed to the future.


Happy Father’s Day Dad!

My father, David Acton, or Dad as I call him, because that’s what he is and always will be has given me many great memories. Caravan trips to Cleveleys, Morecambe and countless other days out have been had. There could have been more time spent together, but for divorce, Dad’s work schedule and other factors. It is water under the bridge now. Not every day growing up was wonderful, much was spent in anticipation and uncertainty. Other kids have had far worse feelings, but my dread was all I knew. On the days when Dad and Pup, or my elder brother Asa were around, then it was delightful. Having dinner at my Nana’s house, seeing my Granddad and listening to his many war and travel stories were treats.

I don’t look back with sadness on having my parents divorce so young. Around me many of my friends were in the same boat. That’s life. It is what it is. I was lucky. Some friends had lost their father at a young age, and some never even knew who their father was. Growing up in Manchester, you weren’t far away from a fatherless child. Then, I also knew kids who grew up with fathers who were abusive or neglectful. So, which is best? There are templates and ideals, but for many these were distant dreams not granted to us. Dad did his best, and always has done his best, and understanding my Dad is key. He’s laidback, relaxed and I love him unreservedly.

Dad often took me to Manchester Victoria station, where I’d meet his colleagues in a bland room above the main railway concourse. Broken biscuits, piping hot pint mugs of tea and natter would be had. Or, we’d nip over the road, down some steps to a subterranean Railway Men’s Club with the best corned beef and onion barmcakes (a bread roll) with proper mustard. When Dad wasn’t working, we’d be at the allotment on Joyce Street, Moston. Our dog Pup would be alongside us, and I’d be let out of the back gate alongside my best friend Pup. We’d run riot on Broadhurst Park, climbing trees, jumping the valleys and over the red brick stream within the park. We’d often sit together on a perch overlooking the allotment and Dad’s plot, watching as Dad bodged a greenhouse together or planted row after row of potatoes. Just by the Ronald Johnson Playing Field, Pup and I used to chase footballs. That’s now the site of F.C. United of Manchester. I like to think that Pup and I had a pooh there. I’m certain that a bush doubled-up as an open toilet for me, at least.

From time to time the Ronald Johnson Playing Field would host cycling events. It was the first place that I witnessed competitive cycling in Manchester. How lucky the city of Manchester has been since. Wandering within the confines of Broadhurst Park, Pup and I would never cross the line at Nuthurst Road, and we’d rarely walk down Lightbowne Road towards the junction at Kenyon Lane. My Gran and Ernie lived near there (off Judd Street), plus my Aunty Susan was on Joyce Street, just down Kenyon Lane. The risk of being seen was too high. We were sometimes allowed out of the allotment front gate and crossed over the road by Dad. Here in the armpit of St Mary’s Road and Joyce Street, up against the railway was a new scrub of parkland that ran behind Newton Heath Train Maintenance Depot.

Newton Heath Train Maintenance Depot, mostly known to us as ‘Newton Heath Loco’. It may or not have had a connection to a certain Manchester Utd., but for me it was a mysterious place full of oil and metallic smells. The Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company had long maintained a presence at this depot. My grandfather George Acton had worked here, as did my Dad at several points. Sometimes, Dad would drive into there to grab some tools or paints for his job. With Dad and Granddad, I was lucky enough to see under a train once or twice and wander around guided in ways health and safety executives now would grimace at.

The railway was central to my youth and time spent with Dad. Train rides to see aunts, uncles and relatives was normal. From time to time, car rides out to parks, the seaside and to see Nana and Granddad at the caravan were treats. I can recall numerous pilgrimages to see the legendary Blackpool Lights, with return trips sat on old Intercity diesel trains in the luggage and goods compartments. Lugging bags of seaweed for the allotment and garden was standard practice, in Dad’s eyes. Asa said how he, as a teenager, held a greenhouse on the roof of the possibly old Princess car, as it hurtled down the steep hill of St Mary’s Road towards Moston Brook. The residents of St. Mary’s Nursing Home may have seen a flying greenhouse as Asa lost his grip.

Dad’s cars have been antiquarian at best. Workhorses over shiny pride. I can recollect a Lada Riva in beige and faded cream. Further to that there was a black Ford Mondeo with air conditioning. The air-conditioning being electronic windows that seldom worked. Sometimes they’d roll down, but never roll up. There were occasional diesel railway vans and pick-ups. Dad had been for a long-time part of British Railways and then Network Rail as a painter and decorator. His job description was pretty much paint anything and everything – but not the trains. Work was scattered nationally but mostly confined the Lancashire and Greater Manchester area. Between work Dad, would have us nip up to what is now Julie’s Homebrew by Jessie Street and Copenhagen Street off Oldham Road. The Sharp factory would be nearby, so as sponsors of Man Utd, I was allowed to boo.

Taking Nana to Newton Heath market was always exciting as it usually meant a custard slice or Chewits. The dentist’s nightmares were through fault of Nana spoiling me. If I said that I liked a Cadbury’s Boost, Nana, a diabetic would fuel my requests. We’d even jib over the canal, Nana on the concrete walkway parallel to the Old Church Street road bridge, and me springing over the dangerous wooden canal lock gates. What is now Lidl, was once Kwik Save, and our Asa would sometimes be seen working out the back or on the graveyard evening shifts at the weekend.

Our ‘Ace’ was a hero to me, as a kid, and even though we never spent much time together, I always wanted to be him. I had brown curly unruly hair. Asa had well-kept curly black hair. Asa has and had chiseled looks. I resembled a pallet of spilt paint. My freckles and pale skin was quite far from our ‘Ace’. The good thing about ‘Ace’ was that he liked computers and would rarely touch my books. Books were everywhere and I’d pick up anything with words. Asa preferred computers, coding and all that. Picking up books from barrow stalls at Manchester Victoria was something Dad and Mum both gifted me. With my many questions, Dad would often have an answer and if he didn’t, he’d point me at a book or tell me who to ask.

Anyway Dad, have a Happy Father’s Day – see you for a drink and some City as soon as possible.

All my love, John

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