Len Johnson & Radical Manchester

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

I was reading about Manchester’s radical history in terms of racism and prejudice. I came across one Len Johnson and decided I needed to influence some fiction with some fact. The below is my noted interpretation of Manchester’s first black boxing legend. Somebody I knew nothing about, and someone who surely needs celebrating. Radical Manchester’s blog and website has a true account, but the below is a kind of reimagining:


 

In fiction there is truth

Years on ships had taught him how to breathe and observe calm seas without making a sound. Len Johnson towered above the people in the room. He was a strong figure of a man, just twenty-five years of age. His father, William, once a handsome seaman who emigrated from Sierra Leone, Africa had travelled to Manchester, a place known for its inland seaport. There he had met his young and beautiful mother Margaret. Len was now an engineer on ships, just like his father had been. On shore-leave he would put the deck-side practice into bouts within boxing rings. His middle-weight career had been growing in stature for some time. He had been prevented the chance to fight for titles though. Only white boxers had been permitted by the British Board of Boxing Control. He had been born, in Clayton, into a land and afforded little freedom, just because his father was African and his skin was not white.

Len had known that his father had suffered racism and abuse from an early age. His father, being a strong man mentally and physically, had always tried to shield him from the revulsion around him. Len’s mother was as heavy-weight as his father. Her durable resilience had led her to marry William. Unconcealed and sometimes ferocious actions were cast at the Johnson family. All they wanted to do was live a life of peace. Len’s father had always told him to stand up for himself and the people around him. His mother Margaret, despite being mutilated by attack remained beautiful in his eyes. Her purity gave him strength for many years.

Manchester and Salford did not have too many black community members. The Manchester Ship Canal gave a touch of African spirit to the city and region. Len’s pathway was not simple but he was big brother to two brothers and a younger sister. He wasn’t going to stay quiet or be walked over. His community may have been small, but he so wanted to give it a voice. Boxing for now was his strength. Skin colour didn’t seem to count against him.

After years of toughing it out in a foundry, Crossley Engines, Len had found trouble waiting for him in work. Rather than scold him, his father William took Len alongside his brothers to the Ashton Old Road’s Alhambra. Here boxing was watched. Len’s eyes opened wide with each brutal swing, the ballet as each boxer edged around the ring, inching for space and willing their opponent to let their guard down. It was beautiful art. Just as the boxing was then, here he stood listening to voices and comprehending new ideas. Perhaps, here, in this room, he would find the tools for the new battle ahead. Perhaps not. Either way, he had little to do, no fights to fight and his next ship wasn’t due for some time.

The boxing booths of Bert Hughes were distant memories, yet he allowed a moment to think how far he had progressed. Yet, he knew the journey to be regarded as an equal by the white man was far from over. Hitting sacks was one thing, or flooring a challenge with one blow, nonetheless he wanted to spar with words and skills not seen in the ring. Inside his belly he had fire and hunger for a fight. His head was just cool enough to learn slowly and listen often. It didn’t matter if he would need years of stamina to reach his goal.

The Free Trade Hall of Manchester wasn’t too far down the road. His first big fight had been there. Eddie Pearson. That path had seen him visit Australia. To date he had won more than he had lost. He knew deep down that he would be much more than a pair of fists at packed houses in Belle Vue. He desired a world where Imperial politics wouldn’t hinder people born in Britain, just because they were black. The British Empire and its stupid white supremacy feared defeat to the black man, he thought. He thought and he fought. He looked on. He listened. This was not for him. Not yet. But one day.


 

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(Image: Manchester Libraries)

Leonard Benker Johnson: 22nd October 1902 – 28th September 1974

 

  • In 1921, Len Johnson‘s first professional boxing bout was a third round knockout of Jerry Hogan.
  • Johnson would knock out 35 more opponents in his 99 wins.
  • Amongst 33 losses Johnson suffered 5 knock outs.
  • Seven fights were draws.
  • Johnson fought in Dublin (Croke Park), Brussels, Antwerp, Sydney Stadium, West Melbourne Stadium, Brisbane, Milan, the Royal Albert Hall (London) and many other venues.
  • World War II: Civil Defence heavy Rescue Squad, Manchester
  • On September 30th, 1953, Len Johnson ordered a beer in his local pub
  • Columnist: The Daily Worker
  • Active in civil rights and the community of Moss Side
  • Trade unionist
  • Co-founder: New International Society 

 


“Our true nationality is mankind.” – H.G. Wells (September 21st, 1866 – August 13th, 1946), author.

Ships, slavery and suffering are no stranger to Manchester’s shadowy story. Nor any other great U.K. city for that matter.. The narration of our fair city isn’t quite as black and white or good or bad as many say. If a true memoire was to be written about Manchester, then now in the important time of #BlackLivesMatter, Manchester must take a look at itself and talk the talk that needs talking. There shouldn’t be a need for racism campaigns or months dedicated to Black History. Inequality needs to be kicked away and told never to return. Black History should be as integrated as the very people it serves to highlight. Manchester seems reasonably integrated these days. There are pockets of stupidity and hate, but they aren’t tolerated by the majority. Not at all.


 

“No matter how big a nation is, it is no stronger than its weakest people” – Marian Anderson

In 1806, the Atlantic slave trade ended. How much global change has happened? Not enough. One viewing of Spike Lee’s BlackKklansman movie should be enough to see that the USA still has buckets of hate and divide. How can any race of people consider itself above another? Isn’t genetic purity a load of old cobblers? How many ‘mericans have European blood? How many genetic ancestry routes does a European have? Vikings, Norsemen, Greeks, Romans, Ottomans, French, Spanish, Germanic, Barvarians, Albanians, Russians… Look at any number of races, times and people and intermingling was commonplace. The status quo may have kept their noble bloodlines mixed with other bloods of royalty but very few (read that as none) could be seen as being superior, untainted or the blessings of God(s).

“We treat racism in this country like it’s a style that America went through. Like flared legs and lava lamps. Oh, that crazy thing we did. We were hanging black people. We treat it like a fad instead of a disease that eradicates millions of people. You’ve got to get it at a lab, and study it, and see its origins, and see what it’s immune to and what breaks it down.” – Chris Rock, comedian, Vultures.

What is lit like to be white? Some of us Caucasians burn easy in the sun and some of us have ugly freckles, blotches of melatonin and all the imperfections of every other race. Because, we’re all the same! A species of human beings, Homo sapiens, despite some of us being so thick that other anthropological species, no longer with us, get insulting comparisons thrown at them. Our social and mortal species of humanoid is a being that is both individual and the same, yet different and with unique souls. This creature that inhabits and inhibits humanity on the form or a racist and uses radicalism impedes progression. There is radical for the sake of equality or balance – and then there is radical for the sake of ensuring the human being stays still with a banjo playing whilst avoiding all forms of bettering themselves.

“In this country American means white. Everybody else has to hyphenate.”- Toni Morrison, author & professor

There are tiny genetic differences that make some of us exhibit different behaviours, have different physical features and think differently, but we are one as a species. Anyone is capable of destruction and most can rip up a book easier than write one. Unpopular author Adolf Hitler wrote Mein Kampf, which is proof to all that anybody can write a book, and someone can influence. He drew on Popularism in ways that possible 21st Century apprentice Donald of the Trump has rebirthed in less than 280 characters. One used a book, marches and actions as a weapon. One uses Twitter, public gatherings and the media, alongside actions. I’d hate to be seen as being better for being Caucasian. Sometimes I am giving that approach in China and it does not feel comfortable. I always push for equality, even if I make somebody lose face. I’m not their puppet and I won’t be treated as a dancing monkey for their favour.

In Manchester, we’re lucky. We have been blessed by radicals. Some radicals have battled for equality and supported what we now have. I wonder how they will feel at the progress, or lack of progress that has been made. The Portico Library in Manchester was first chaired by anti-slavery campaigner John Ferriar. John Ferriar, a Scottish physician (Manchester Infirmary, 1789–1815) and a poet. He founded a Board of Health in Manchester in 1795. In 1788, a hundred years after Aphra Behn’s novel Oroonoko was published, John Ferriar published The Prince of Angola, a Tragedy, Altered from the Play of Oroonoko. And Adapted to the Circumstances of the Present Times. His play canvassed against slavery. Many other Portico Library members signed a petition to abolish the slavery trade.

“Men build too many walls and not enough bridges.” – Joseph Fort Newton (1876–1950), American Baptist minister

John Ferriar’s obituary read as:He was endowed by nature with an acute and vigorous understanding, which he had matured by a life of diligent study, and of careful and well-digested observation, into a judgment unusually correct and prompt in its decisions.’ I love this sentence as it contains so much and could be simply mean he observed, took a step back, evaluated and then delivered. It could be that inside his head he laboured with countless ideas and always stood by the one he took action with. It seems his ‘inflexible integrity’ set a fine example. The legacy of the Portico Library and his campaigning are far-reaching. Formed in 1784, The Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society, housed themselves on Mosley Street in a kind of Greek Revival style of building. The Bank of Athens even leased some of the property at one stage (Portico Library: A History, by Ann Brooks and Bryan Haworth, Carnegie Publishing). Nowadays the downstairs is The Bank, a public house.

Other Mancunians or honorary Mancs signed a counterpetition including Robert Peel (father of future Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel). George Hibbert, slave-owner and sugar plantation magnate would have probably added his signature. He came from a Mancunian family but was obviously not a very good person. Nowadays we are blessed by so much anti-racism and togetherness across the city of Manchester.

“Hating people because of their colour is wrong. And it doesn’t matter which colour does the hating. It’s just plain wrong.” – Muhammad Ali [Cassius Marcellus Clay] (January 17th, 1942 – June 3rd  2016), boxer and social activist

On the 15th  July 1978, Rock Against Racism and the Anti-Nazi League jointly threw a bash called, Rock Against Racism Northern Carnival. It followed a procession from Strangeways (a prison) up Bury New Road to Alexandra Park. 40,000 or so revellers enjoyed Buzzcocks and other great bands. Lodon’s Carnival Against the Nazis may have been an influence but to the people of Manchester, here was a valid cause to unify the people against racial prejudice on Mancunian soil.

“In the year of the disturbances in Moss Side there were running battles between us and the National Front.” – Gus John, Moss Side Defence Committee

Now, I’ve managed to get this far without really hitting on Moss Side. Moss Side has had a bad reputation for a long time. It was regarded to be a wee bit dangerous. The area that surrounded Manchester City’s old Maine Road home has so often be looked down upon. There were riots in 1981. So much so, that soon after the Moss Side Defence Committee was formed. They helped support youths, stood up against Police violence and tried to tell the story of what was happening in an area targeted by systemic Police racism. Andrew Bowman’s article is worth a gander over at the Manchester’s Radical History blog. Here you can also find a piece about The Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Relations Centre. The centre is named after a murdered Bangladeshi boy. It is an open access library specialising in the study of race, migration and ethnic diversity. The collection is unique and features a huge archive of resource. It is now part of the University of Manchester and a member of the Manchester Library-backed Archives+ partnership.

“The only disease right now is the racism that we are fighting. Just like the [new coronavirus] pandemic, we want to find a solution to stop it.” – Raheem Sterling, BBC interview, 8th June 2020.

Football is often seen as the screen to fight racism with City & United together against racism, but the problem is social, and pandemic. It needs to be fought head on by all. Universities, schools, the media, governments and so on – everybody together as one.

“Why is it that this question so often asked of people of colour? Not all ‘white’ people are British.” – Erinma Bell MBE, of We Stand Together, Manchester Evening News

Stand Up To Racism shares a great presence in Manchester. I can remember a black and white sticker I was given in primary school. I slapped it between my Jurassic Park, Supermarine Spitfire and Red Arrow stickers. Racism didn’t mean much to me as a kid. I knew people came from different families, countries and had different beliefs. As far as I was concerned, and still am, we’re all human. Even as June 15th 1996 a bomb blew the crap out of Manchester, I didn’t feel an ounce of hate towards the Irish or Ireland. I lived, at the time, in Levenshulme with a huge Irish community. I couldn’t blame anyone around me, and nor could anybody else. Manchester had for years been growing tighter with its Irish community. Since then, I believe that Manchester’s communities have tightened and the Irish in Britain Representation Group gaining a good footing. Where fear and divide could have conquered, a great sense of community and integration has stepped in. People with identity, their heart-felt history, and a desire to end marginalisation will prevail. They just need support, understanding and a strong will. That’s why I love Manchester. It is a city capable of bringing all together, no matter what race or religion.

“Racism is a weapon of mass destruction; Whether inflation or globalization; Fear is a weapon of mass destruction.” – Mass Destruction, lyrics Faithless

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(Image: Manchester Libraries)

Racism has no room in our society.

Bypassing Liverpool since ’94

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

This week Liverpool F.C. won the Premier League. Well done to them. There has been some boasting [19?] and gloating [mainly aimed at Man Utd and City]. James Milner, now a Champion at Liverpool F.C. had left Manchester City for pastures new and ended up in Anfield. He could have taken a train, car or even a ship to his new club.

Manchester by the Sea may sound like a crap funfair placed by a pond in Heaton Park, but it is actually a title of a movie by Kenneth Lonergan released in 2016. It won awards for acting and stuff like that. It has a soundtrack that doesn’t feature Oasis, The Charlatans or the Happy Mondays. Is it worth seeing? Not a clue. I’ll get round to it, but this movie set in the seaside town, first settled in 1629, of Manchester, Essex County, Massachusetts hasn’t got me yet. No hard feelings Casey Affleck.

Mark Vincent Collins, of The Charlatans, was born in Barton-on-Irwell, which is almost Manchester, but we call it the City of Salford. The Barton Swing Aqueduct allows a canal to pass over a canal. This Roman invention of the Aqueduct was modernised to become a moveable navigable aqueduct. It was a first at the time and many believe it is still the only of its kind. It opened in 1894, year of Manchester City’s naming, and remains working now Built to last by a Derbyshire firm from a plan by Sir Edward Leader Williams. A proper leader he was. So much so, few, if any have followed.

Birmingham may be the city of canals with more miles (56km/35 miles) of canals than Venice (42km/26 miles) but Manchester started the modern canal trend. The Bridgewater Canal runs from Runcorn to Leigh via Manchester. There was no river or stream. It was all dug in deep and long. Since 1761, steamboats, barges and small boats have utilised this modern canal. Used to ferry cotton goods and materials from the sea by Runcorn to Manchester and beyond, and vice versa, the canal was a great innovation. But, after over a hundred years if use it got mucky and couldn’t handle the traffic. Small ships could no longer navigate the near-impassable rivers Mersey and Irwell. The Irish Sea was an awfully long way away.

So, Manchester, faced with the problem of low rainfall, an expensive and limited railway cargo network and rivers ‘hopelessly choked with silt and filth’ (Owen, David, The Manchester Ship Canal, Manchester University Press) removed the barriers. Liverpool’s excessive goods fees had made it cheaper to head east to Hull for goods. That wasn’t good. On October the 7th, 1882 Punch magazine illustrated that Manchester’s idea to bring the sea inland was laughable, “MANCHESTER-SUR-MER. A SEA-DUCTIVE PROSPECT.” Proposals, legal matters and paperwork were underway, and within five years the ground for a new canal was broken.

ship canal

Opened a few days after completion, on the 1st of January 1894, by Queen Victoria, the Manchester Ship Canal was 58km/36 miles long. It is now the 10th longest ship canal in the world. At the time of opening it was second only to the Suez Canal (193km/120 miles) in terms of length for ship canals. Setbacks such as the lead contractor dying, harsh weather, floods (in a dry canal!), and serious money shortages, it was a miracle the canal had been completed. The Pioneer, a steamer, owned by the Cooperative Wholesale Society unloaded sugar that first day. Rouen, Normandy (France) and Manchester were connected and the Stereo MC’s weren’t around to record it.

There’s a great bleak and brown looking landscape by Benjamin Williams Leader (brother of lead engineer Edward Leader Williams) entitled ‘The Excavation of the Manchester Ship Canal: Eastham Cutting with Mount Manisty in the Distance’. Short names for paintings were evidently being rationed around the Long Depression era. The scarred Mount Manisty, Cheshire (a 30m/100’ tall hillock from earth extracted to form the ship canal) sits over the canal in present day and with its coating of trees, it looks to have been there forever. Manchester Liners used to pass this point and their ship the Manchester City, launched on the 27th October 1898.

The oldest proper canal is the Grand Canal of China (大運河 A.K.A. 京杭大運河; Jīng-Háng Dà Yùnhé or the Beijing–Hangzhou Grand Canal). It was started in the 5th century before what is known as the common era. Since then, this now UNESCO World Heritage Site, has ran over 1,794 km (1,115 miles). This Chinese mammoth of a canal is mostly improved rivers, watercourses and some extant diversions of rivers. Merchant Marco Polo, scholar Ibn Battuta, Italian priest Matteo Ricci and Scottish tea-hunter Robert Fortune went to the Grand Canal. The Grand Canal was intended for barges and not shipping.

By comparison, the Panama Canal, opened in 1914. It is 82km long and now is the 8th longest ship canal in the world. The Port of Manchester was once the U.K.’s third-busiest port. Just as the Panama Canals fortunes flagged then raised again, so did Manchester’s Ship Canal. Following slumps from the 1950s to 1960s, the Manchester Ship Canal almost faded away. Nowadays the city’s ship canal ends in Salford and is home to Media City (IV, BBC, Coronation Street, Blue Peter and CBBC), the Imperial War Museum and other leisure facilities, such as The Lowry Centre. You can still take a cruise to the sea – by way of leisure on regular excursion boats (take the Snowdrop from Irlam Locks). The Port of Manchester closed in 1982 and it wasn’t until regeneration kicked in around Salford Quays in the 1990s and then a greater rejuvenation in the decades that follows that the Manchester Ship Canal experienced a new wave of glory.

Far from the times when the Manchester Blitz saw bombs rain down on Trafford, the Manchester Ship Canal and the Port of Manchester, the sights now are much more of green banks and pleasing on the eyes. There’s prosperity around the wharfs, Detroit Swing Bridge, and the National Waterways Museum sits by the Ellesmere Port branch of the Shropshire Union Canal. There’s still a heart beat to the old ship canal yet.

Peel Holdings owns both the Manchester Ship Canal and the Port of Liverpool. Port Salford and the Atlantic Gateway may arrive by the year 2030. The locks, sluices and weirs of the old Manchester Ship Canal are far from closed yet. Ships will continue to sail under the high-level Acton Grange Railway Viaduct, as Network Rail work overhead on the West Coast Main Line, and the dramatic Queen Ethelfleda Viaduct Britannia Bridge (Runcorn Railway Bridge). The linear port has been accessible for over 125 years now and the once nick-named dirty ‘big ditch’dug by navvies is synonymous with the name of Manchester.

In memory of those who died creating the Manchester Ship Canal.

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

goater

Woolly balls, Alan & Xi’an

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

Is that…? No, it can’t be. But, wait, it bloody well is. I‘ll have a gander to check. I stepped into a stationery store in Dalang, attached to the Dongguan Dalang Football Association (DGDLFA). Football culture and community has always interested me. The crest of one of the DGDLFA clubs resembled Man Utd’s badge. I’m sure any do. It’s a curse in any Asian nation that most fans follow a red team. Their flags are red, their Communist brothers in arms are red, red stars, red scarves, red packets, lucky blooming red. Everywhere.

Instead of worn old leather footballs on the central axis, this club, Dongguan Zhicheng F.C. has in place two woollen balls. Zhī (织)means weave or knit. Chéng (城) means city or wall. So, here we have it a woolly mammoth-aged club wrapped in cotton wool. On the top of the crest there are kind of lucky bells, and golden scrolls. There is a ball in pace of Salford Rugby Club’s stolen red devil. Six people fail to adhere to social distancing beneath the ball. The sixsome is an oddity in itself. Most people I know play 7-a-side in China, and sometimes, every now and then 5-a-side. There is football in the traditional 11-a-side format, which is lesser-spotted. I only know of one 6-a-side field in Dongguan. We use it regular on a rooftop. So, Dongguan Zhicheng F.C., what is this mutant game you are playing?! I was in the stationery shop, a foreigner, a rogue and an unexpected shopper. I had to investigate further.

Inside a larger, and rounder older Cantonese lady kind of sneered at me. She eventually asked what I was looking for. I uttered my crap Mandarin Chinese, “Wǒ zài kàn” (我在看). This in itself was bad, as she was clearly Cantonese. I had overheard her recording a flowing barrage of Canton dialect into her right-hand-clutched-like-a-Lego-man-mobile-phone. Can we say phone now? Most phones are mobile now. Landline phones in China are mostly ornamental, right? I could have said to her, “Wǒ zhǐ shì kàn kàn” (我只是看看。) Zhǐ shì means just/merely/only. I didn’t. We all know by now, that I was on a reconnaissance gathering mission. If anyone is monitoring me, I am buggered. Proper buggered. She said, a simple, “Hǎo de” (好的) because it was okay to look around right. It’s a stationery shop and not Area 51.

After selecting some useful stickers and highlighter pens, of various shades of sky blue, a man emerged from the adjoining office door of the Dongguan Dalang Football Association (DGDLFA). He looked at me with suspicion. There was a smidgeon of something in his eye. It could have been dust, curiosity or any other emotion. Maybe the bright yellow faded to peach coloured football shirt I wore was too loud. We looked eye to eye for far too long. I had to buckle and break the moment. The man’s square face framed in black glasses and a thick head of black hair age no emotion away. His game could have been poker. I crumpled and folded my coolness but calmly let out a dry word, “nĭ hăo” (你好). After all, who doesn’t like hearing a stranger say hello. We can’t all be Villanelle from Killing Eve. Some of us must be polite and less murderous.

After selecting some gold dust items, I went to the check-out and here the Lǎobǎn (老板/boss) chatted to me. “Nǐ xǐhuān mànlián ma?”, he said. 你喜欢曼联吗 translates to something offensive to me, and to many. He had asked, “Do you like Manchester United?” My response was calm, and to the point, “Wǒ bù xǐhuān mànlián” (我不喜欢曼联). I do not like Manchester United. It’s a fact. You can check my social media for diatribe and other denunciation of that club. There are rants, periods of haranguing and tirades that probably go back to 1982. I crossed my right hand over my chest and pointed to the crest upon my left breast. “Wǒ ài mànchéng”, said I. I love Manchester City (我爱曼城). He looked me up and down, smiled, and wearing his red polo top, with the crest that resembled Old Trafford’s footballing giants, he proudly said, “Wǒ zhīchí lìwùpǔ” (我支持利物浦). He supports Liverpool. He eventually told me in a mixture of Chinese and his good English that his team liked the badge of Man Utd. I asked him about his connection to Liverpool. None. He didn’t even watch games before the Champions League win last year.

And, that’s one of the reasons football struggles in China. A lack of clear identity. The balls of wool made me think that this team in 大朗 (Dàlǎng town) had pride on their locally known and nationally famous name of wool. Instead I left wondering why a Liverpool fan, would create a team with an almost Man Utd crest. He told me how they’d started a team from a school field in 2018 and then two teams, other teams followed. They play regular 8-a-side because 8 is lucky. I asked why their badge only has 6 people. He said the goalkeeper is not a player. I said, for 8-a-side, this still leaves his team one player short. He said there are 8 outfield players and a goalkeeper. That’s a lot of players on a FIFA regulation 7-a-side field. And, they use a size four football, not a regulation size five football. Good luck to the China national football team.

As I paid my bill, we talked international and domestic football. The excitement that the Premier League in England is returning at a time, that China will also welcome a restart to football. The Chinese Super League is set to resume soon (2020中国平安中国足球协会超级联赛). On July the 3rd, the league will be split into two groups. As China closed its borders to foreigners, the CSL upped the maximum number of players a team could have, from six to seven (throughout a season). At any one time, only six are allowed within the squad, of which, only five can play in one game. Of those five in one game, only four can be on the field at any one time. Following me? Good. Of those four, no foreign goalkeepers are allowed. Taiwanese, Hong Kong or Macau citizens are Chinese as long as they started their professional career as a player there.

Alan Douglas Borges de Carvalho, born José Bonifácio, Brazil is Chinese now. As is Elkeson de Oliveira Cardoso, but he was born in Coelho Neto, Maranhão, Brazil (which you won’t find on a map of China). The former player, Alan (阿兰), arrived from Red Bull Salzburg on 2015. The latter, Elkeson (艾克森/ Ài Kèsēn) arrived in 2013. Chinese citizenship via naturalisation has given both the chance to play for China’s national team. Ricardo Goulart (高拉特) from São José dos Campos, Brazil awaits FIFA to decide if he could play in the stages of the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualification. Aside frome Mousa Dembélé at Guangzhou R&F, Paulinho at Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao, Alex Teixeira at Jiangsu Suning, Marouane Fellaini at Shandong Luneng Taishan, Stephan El Shaarawy at Shanghai Greenland Shenhua there aren’t too many players out there that are household names. 27 Brazilians and 3 former Brazilians make up the 80 possible overseas players for 16 teams. Amongst the Brazilians, Hulk, at Shanghai SIPG isn’t the incredible one, but former-Chelsea player Oscar at the same team has a few awards to his name.

So aside from my covert quest into the local world of football, this turned into a great shop too. I found two A4 paper trimmers – also known as guillotines! Nothing says stationer like a machine with a blade named after a French Revolution beheading device. I hope the Chinese parliament and security forces don’t round me up for beheading postcards or cutting corners.

Xi’an: The Original Home of Football? Think Cuju (蹴鞠)

球迷会名称/Club name: 西安曼城球迷会 Xi’an Manchester City fans Association Club

球迷会联系方式/Club contacts: 阿圭罗的小媳妇儿 [Aguero’s Wife]

微博或其他社交媒体链接/Weibo or social media links: 西安曼城球迷会(微博名)
微信账号/Wechat account: 西安曼城球迷会(公众号)

关于我们/About us: 古称长安。长安城作为古代第一个人口破百万的国际化大都市,北濒渭河,南依秦岭,八水润长安。在这座古老的城市里,住着一群有着蓝色信仰的人们,这群人的存在给这座城市注入了新的活力,这就是我们——西安曼城球迷会。

不论你是土生土长的西安人,还是身在西安的异乡人,亦或是远在他乡的西安乡党,只要你信仰蓝月,我们都向你敞开怀抱。

Xi’an, is an ancient town, once known as Chang’an. Xi’an was one of the Four Great Ancient Capitals. Xi’an is the original starting point of the Silk Road. Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s Terracotta Army is based here. Bordered to the north by the Weihe River, the southern Qinling Mountains and known for 8 rivers, the city has great diversity and history. The sky blue and white faith of City reached Xi’an in modern times and adds vitality to a City mostly know for its great food and castle walls. Whether you are a native to Xi’an, or a visitor to Xi’an, Xi’an’s OSC opens their arms to meet you and your love for the Blue Moon. No reds allowed. 

Expect to eat: Roujiamo Chinese Hamburger (肉夹馍); Liangpi (凉皮); Paomo Mutton, beef, and Bread Pieces in Soup (羊肉泡馍); Biang Biang Noodles (油泼扯面); Jinggao Steamed rice cake stuffed with honey dates and black beans (甑糕).

Expect to see: Fortifications of Xi’an & Xi’an City Wall (西安城墙); Xi’an Bell Tower (西安钟楼); the Drum Tower of Xi’an (西安鼓楼); Mount Li (骊山); Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor (Qin Shi Huang) (秦始皇陵); Terracotta Army (兵马俑); Shaanxi Galaxy (陕西银河); Shaanxi Guoli F.C. (陕西国力)Shaanxi Renhe Commercial Chanba F.C. (陕西人和商业浐灞)Shaanxi Dongsheng (陕西东盛); Xi’an Evening News (西安晚报); Qinqiang opera (乱弹).
Did you know? Arthur Gostick Shorrock [from Blackburn, Lancashire, England] and Moir Duncan founded the Sianfu Mission in 1892.

U.K. Twin cities & Towns: Edinburgh, Bury St. Edmunds & Birmingham

爱与和平/Peace and love

Manchester Remembers.

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

In 2013 Tony Walsh penned the poem, This is the Place. Sadly, following an attack on civilians by an absolute coward and fool in the name of extremism – and one which has nothing to do with Islam, this poem became very well known. It is a poem about belonging and the importance of communities. They need nurturing and through Forever Manchester (est. 1989) they work to inspire and encourage projects that want to see healthier and happier neighbourhoods in Manchester. This is the Place became an anthem for the people of Manchester.

Concert-goers, from the artist Ariana Grande, had enjoyed a love-filled pop concert and filtered out of the packed Manchester Evening News Arena. The very arena at the centre of Manchester that I and many friends have enjoyed sports, music, arts and comedy at. It has held political and social justice events. It’s part of Mancunian culture and has been so since the 15th of July 1995. The Nynex Arena was a place many looked forwards to seeing Manchester Giants dunk balls through hoops and the Manchester Storm and Manchester Phoenix teams slash at pucks sliding up and down ice. It was here I’ve seen Meat Loaf, at least 3 times, Catatonia, Slipknot, Idlewild, the Mighty Boosh, Arcade Fire, and a concert campaigning for a minimum wage (28/4/2001). On either October the 13th or 14th in 2000, I attended Britney Spears tour for Oops!…I Did It Again Tour, with my mate Robert Hanna. It wasn’t that bad. The familiar ways in and out of the weird cuboid shaped cavernous arena are clear in my mind. It was and always should be a place of entertainment and joy.

But, on May the 22nd 2017, things could have changed. Things did change. The tool of death was a shrapnel-laden improvised homemade device was filled with pure hate. Twenty-two souls were claimed that horrible and atrocious night. At least 139 people were wounded physically, and hundreds suffered psychological traumas.

Prime Minister Theresa May and Greater Manchester’s Chief Constable, Ian Hopkins acted accordingly and within the public eye. Millions of pounds were handed to the recovery and care of victims from that night. For many, counselling still goes on. It would be September the 9th before Manchester’s flagship arena would reopen. The patron saint of Manchester, Noel Gallagher held a special benefit concert. Mancunian defiance and love for our city, brought even red and blue together.

Manchester fought back with love. Accommodation and transport were supplied by people to the people. Taxi companies, houses, and companies threw open their doors. The Sikh gurdwaras temples nearby became shelters. A local hotel became a makeshift safety shelter and lost children tent. Underneath Manchester Victoria station was evacuated. The city was swiftly placed into action to check for further dangers and to assess the losses. Whilst repairs were possible to the arena foyer and the railways station, the true loss came in human tragedy.

The victims ages were from as tender age as just eight years old to 51 years of age. All cut too short from life. Ten people died below the age of 20. Two Polish nationals and twenty British nationals, from various walks of life, gone. Young Saffie Rose Roussos died aged 8. The Tarleton Community Primary School student’s parents invited Manchester to mourn with their family. Described as a little girl with a beautiful smile who loved dancing, gymnastics and music, she could be any primary school kid in any nation. Dreadfully and heartbreakingly, she was in the right place at the wrong time. Just like many of us as kids do, we follow – or we push our parents to go to see live concerts. Who does that hurt? Nobody. It never should.

Before that night, I’d barely known who Ariana Grande was. I knew she was a hip sexy popstar and idol of many young and even older fans. Her edgy music was appealing to many. It wasn’t my cup of tea, but it did entice 28-year-old John Atkinson from Bury. He enjoyed a break as a support worker for people with autism. The void left to his family and those he supported is unimaginable.

Halewood Academy’s Megan Hurley’s parents vowed to keep her memory alive. The charity pin, designed by her bigger brother Bradley helped that and now www.meganhurleyfoundation.org.uk supports families due to the sudden and unexpected loss of a child. The legacy of a 15 year-old-girl’s devastating passing keeps her treasured memories for her family whilst offering hope to those in dark, dark places.

Another 15-year-old victim Olivia Campbell-Hardy has a foundation in her honour. Liv’s Trust. It sounds so alive. Liv’s Trust has been set up to help under twenty-fives in Greater Manchester get help and receive education in music & dance. What a wonderful and noble cause.

“People are not born with hate. It is coming from somewhere. We need to integrate all age groups. We need to bring everyone together. At the end of the day, we are all human beings. That is what we are.” – Andrew Hardy, Manchester Evening News (28/9/2017)

Alison Howe (sexual health nurse and mother of two, with four stepsons), 45

Lisa Lees (beauty tutor at Oldham College and mother of two), 43

Angelika Klis (39) and Marcin Klis (42), residents of York, just waiting to collect their kids form the concert.

Martyn Hett, 29 (PR manager, social media star) #BeMoreMartyn

Georgina Callander, 18 (a college student from Lancashire)

Kelly Brewster, 32 (a globetrotter from Sheffield looking to settle down and be a loving stepmother)

Jane Tweddle, 51 (a school receptionist from Blackpool and mother-of-three)

Nell Jones, 14 (“She would not want you to hate because of what has happened, she would want you to love.” – her brother Sam’s words)

Michelle Kiss, 45 (Her widower husband Tony Kiss asked all to support children’s charity Derian House because she ‘she lived for her children’.)

Sorrell Leczkowski, 14 (a teenager from Leeds, robbed of her ambitions)

Liam Curry, 19, and Chloe Rutherford, 17 (a loving couple from South Shields, Tyneside)

Elaine McIver, 43 (served with the Cheshire Police for 19 years)

Wendy Fawell, 50 (a former primary school worker)

Eilidh MacLeod, 14 (from Barra, Outer Hebrides, Scotland)

Courtney Boyle, 19, and Philip Tron, 32 (from Gateshead, there to pick up a family member)

Off-duty consultant anaesthetist, Michael Daley, was one few medical experts on scene almost immediately. His name is quite rightly on the British Medical Association Book of Valour in June 2017. Sirens blazed throughout the centre of Manchester and the edge of Salford that May 22nd night. The North West Ambulance Service sent 60 ambulances to the wretched incident. Numerous walking wounded received treatment by key NHS workers.

I didn’t know any of these people, but I could have. These were everyday people going about their lives in a place of relative security and safety. Aside from the 1996 IRA bombing of Manchester and the events of World War II, Manchester has been like almost every other city, its fair share of unfortunate crime and hate, with trouble here and there. But, on the whole Manchester has and always will be a place of togetherness and inclusion. It doesn’t accept hate or perversion of any race of religion. It bounces back.

One Love Manchester was one high profile benefit concert event on the 4th June 2017. 55,000 people rocked up less than two weeks after the terrorist attack. Ariana Grande was graceful and full of strength and many stars took to the stage to offer a huge two-finger gesture to those who wish to destroy our everyday lives: you will not win. Following it, our Ariana Grande became an honorary citizen of the city. We look after our own and those who we claim as our own.

The British Red Cross received over £17 million of donations following the One Love Manchester concert. 50 countries around the world broadcast it, ensuring the people of China, Australia, Peru, and the listeners of Capital Radio Sierra Leone could share the love. Legend of popular music Stevie Wonder belted out Love’s in Need of Love Today and Marcus Mumford of a similar named-band played Timshel. As I watched YouTube’s livestream of Ariana Grande and Coldplay performing an Oasis number, even from the comfort of my sofa, Don’t Look Back in Anger rung very true. Liam Gallagher swaggered onto stage and sang Live Forever, and do you know what, as a Mancunian born and bred, I properly hope that none of those who died that day are forgotten. I trust and I hope that like then, now in these horrid COVID-19 times, that we as Mancs, born here, or raised here, or headed here (for good or for a day out), keep the flag waving for peace and love.

“…the City of Manchester was the Hero.” – Scooter Braun, manager of Ariana Grande to Billboard magazine.

Community and courage arose from the ashes, and for those lucky enough life went on. But, we didn’t forget our lost, our visitors who never travelled back, our guests our workers, and their losses. No, we remember. Manchester remembers.

爱与和平/Peace and love

///////////

Need further inspiration?

The bomber’s name won’t be written here and even now his brother is imprisoned on twenty or so counts of murder. Both attended Burnage High School for Boys (now Academy), a school once bombed by the Luftwaffe during World War 2. Just as Hitler shouldn’t ruin the name of Austria, Burnage should be seen in a better light. It’s motto is ‘Be The Best That You Can Be’. I’ve got friends and met many people from Burnage, and they’ve all lived to that motto. The school has a rich history. It offers chances to escape Manchester. Darren and Jason Beckford (Manchester City), Busby babe Roger Byrne, Wes Brown and Peter Coyne (Man. Utd.) make up the footballing graduates. Bass players Guigsy (Paul McGuigan) of Oasis and Dale Hibbert (The Smiths) attended there – as did Simply Red’s Aziz Ibrahim (he was also with Paul Weller, The Stone Roses and Ian Brown). There have been some big former students. Motivational speaker Brian Sterling-Vete, American football player Menelik Watson, and Jim O’Neill (Baron O’Neill of Gatley) was a government minister. Even a bloody bobsleigh competitor, Lamin Deen, made it out of Burnage to bigger things. It is unfair that the bomber’s name taints the school’s long-standing name and a place that 1966 BAFTA TV Award for Best Actor Alan Badel attended.

Author John Hutton attended Burnage High School. His novels are 29, Herriott Street (1979) and Accidental Crimes (1983). The latter received a Gold Dagger Award from the Crime Writers’ Association. My favourite Nepali film, Sherpa, was co-produced by John Smithson. This former Burnage student was also notable in his involvement in a huge list of hard-hitting dramas and documentaries. Toughing the Void, 127 Hours, and Deep Water. So with all the above, Burnage has created far more great people than the one mistake that the media highlights.

Optimistic Toddlers?

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

The cure is coming! There will be an end to all of this! The miraculous rays of hope are out there and all across the planet scientists are scurrying about, digging deep for elements and combinations. The manufacturing of the optimistic cure for COVID-19 is deep under way. Do you believe that we’ll win? The future if humanity may be riding on it, but we’re a species who can create great things. Anyway, you’re onto a win. I guarantee it. You have already done something wonderful today. Now, go and find someone and make them smile from ear to ear.

Science has constantly been like a toddler asking too many questions. It looks. It makes an assumptive comment that may in turn resemble a loose understanding. It is a bright toddler though. It then goes to ask its toddler peers. The little toddler grows up far too fast and then starts to collect bits and bobs. Before long it has a Filofax of data. The toddler is now enrolled and fast-tracked into school. Between the extra piano lessons after school and the pre-school Latin classes, our toddler is rampant for knowledge. Soon enough, this toddler is taking tests, is full of excitement and thinks he or she has found the meaning of life. They’re on to something. The latest edition of Children’s BBC’s Play School is released with our toddler’s work to date. It isn’t National Geographic but this kid is really onto something. They’re already rewriting Sherlock Holme and other toddlers are literally tearing the first toddler’s work to shreds. There are bits everywhere. Some of it has found its way into nappies and diapers and cracks that shouldn’t house a kid’s work. This toddler stands out though and is a modern exemplar of the highest standard. Other toddlers and older students can’t compete or find a way to headbutt this toddler off their highchair. The toddler is the epitome and personification of the New Scientist-reading U.K. government right now. They are lining themselves up for either the Nobel Peace Prize or the Oscars. Any flaws or shame will be avoided by glossing over the unsmooth surface and painting over any cracks. A win for ‘the science’ at the very least.

COVID-19 is the new Brexit. These are the defining annoyances of the 21st century for those who are British or inferior. Right or wrong? Emotions are real in the moment, and right now many people are struggling with their minds. This COVID-19 is an annoyance that has been here on Earth for the blink of an eyelash and seemingly won’t go. It will. Just remember that so many people over the history and sands of time have been in utterly dire moments with horrible situations right in their face. What did they do? Something, surely? We’re still here.

The U.K.’s dealings with the COVID-19 cannot be collectively described as horrifyingly abysmal with a dash of utterly extreme rotten hard luck. Boris Johnson, ever-present during so many key moments has led from the front. He didn’t use private healthcare, so BUPA and his care plan wasn’t troubled one iota. He went full state service and utilised the very NHS he has always loved. He and his party have been consistent in telling hard-truths at both daily press conferences and within the Houses of Parliament. Thankfully none of the Conservative party members’ friends have benefited from this outbreak and no deals or contracts have been slotted their way like a croupier would in a bent casino.

Financiers are going extinct too. No matter your belief or state of mind, compare yourselves to others. It is natural to do so. Where are they? Where are you? How are they feeling? What do they have? What don’t you have? Look around you, what’s missing? What’s there and there for you alone? Who is with you? Who is truly alone? What help mechanisms are there? Who started out with nothing and still has most of it left? Be optimistic. Be energised. Be inspired.

There hasn’t been any gross ineptitude by the incomparable leadership of this government. There will certainly be movies made and speeches replayed for the next 70 or so years, about the defining hours of the year 2020. It isn’t the Great War, or World War II, but it will be remembered for the few. Those great few who gave their all and opened the treasury wide open to eliminate social and financial divide. As always, the nation obsessed with calling other nations corrupt is tendering left, right and centre to bat away any claims of British exceptionalism. This is a nation that resolved a growing homelessness crisis and stabilised the care home industry at the right time.

The virus and its associated disease COVID-19 rocked up to these secure island shores of Britain and was left floundered by a questionnaire. All the flights from struggling third world and developing nations such as Italy and Germany were halted. Instead Britain went on the offensive supplying help overseas and partnering with countries in need. Red Nose Day after Comic Relief after Children in Need was not needed. British aid was bolstered by fair-trade loving tax paying corporations and syndicates. “Help!”, they cried overseas in foreign lands. Britain dug deep and exported ‘the science’ and the world was grateful. You could feel bad because other nations and people have it better. Don’t. Don’t look over the garden fence at what they have. Don’t assume they’re better than you. Think on how good or bad things used to be. How can you get back to that? It could be much worse, right?

The concern of the everyday normal people running England has been overwhelming. The openhanded and transparent display of sharing ‘the science’ was praised globally by China, the W.H.O. and the successful President Trump, currently running away with a sweeping presidential campaign. The rise and accomplishment of near-100% testing within the U.K. was credit to Matt Hancock’s half hour of power. As he deputised for Boris Johnson, who was allowed a free weekend away from the spotlight (as thanks from the adoring nation), he practically rebuilt Public Health England so well that Wales, Scotland and little Northern Ireland came begging for the recipe. Even the Isle of Man came knocking. It has been so refreshing to see the love and admiration of down-on-their-luck types on their rags to riches rise into politics and their effect on the population.

Seeing how good it is over there in Switzerland or Sweden and how bleak it is here with you, that’s ony going to erode your mind. Those negative moments will multiply. Forget it. Kick the self-torturing in the dick and move on. Do we always deserve a raise in salary of someone else gets one? You be your judge. Fairness isn’t for everyone. What about those around you who didn’t get a pay rise? What about those who have no opportunity to get a pay rise because they haven’t even got a job? So, your flights and lifestyle changed. It hurts. Did you die? No. Did someone you love get hurt? Hopefully a big no. Be thankful COVID-19 didn’t enter your house. Wait a minute! Be thankful that you haven’t had it worse.

Thankfully hijackings of scientific methodology and terminology has been avoided. The general public have been treated to an open and clear display, free of patronising speech and overbearing experts with words longer than attention span. The steady messages have been clear. NHS workers: Stay alert at home safely and save protected lives or something like this or that: stay at home in order to protect the NHS and save lives. Whilst other nations scramble and scratch to replace their liars, their dealers of death, their wasters, their corrupt and their tyrants, Britain stands firm with reliance and love for the very institutions set up to make us one. Without the traditional household names of Virgin, Epson, Reliance, Yahoo, Facebook, Unilever, Coca-Cola, Kellogg’s, Ebay and Delta, we’d really be up a creak without a paddle. Many companies have been on hand to rescue the faltering National Health Service.

Perceptions are tools. Flip a switch to off for pessimism and bang the button of optimism. With that your emotional state will shine. With a little extra focus on what we have as being good, we can focus on how to make things better – and with that share to others on how to improve ourselves as people. As a species we have excelled and have dominated the planet, but now we’re of the mind that we need to bring balance to the world around us. Is it too late? That depends on the contents of your glass. If you look back five years, ten years and twenty years, you’ll see changes and adaptations. It may seem like the road ahead out of COVID-19 road or over the plastic seas is impossible, but look back at the journey, and we’ve got far. A few more steps and new things shall be possible.

For example, just look how far little 126-year-old Manchester City have progressed in 5 years, 10 years, 15 years and 20 years. Yes, there was investment but that’s professional football. Okay, no wins of the Champions League, but that’s work in progress. Look how far that they have moved. That’s motivating and inspiring for City fans. Now compare that to Leicester City, Manchester Utd., Real Madrid, and so on. But, keep in mind City were in the third tier of English football as recent as May 1999. Now it is 21 years later. So much is possible over the next 21 years.

Independent experts have been using their bias and brown paper envelopes globally to distance themselves from independent and pure nations. Within the broader cultures of the planet Earth, we’ve learnt much in recent months, and science, it seems, is s collection of lies spun by flat-Earthers and know-it-all-types alike. A beautiful British common-sense approach is all you need to bat away the virus that refuses to play cricket. Just wash your blooming hands to the tune of ‘Happy Birthday’ and all will be fine.

In 2017, I went to Nepal, I walked for many days and didn’t get close to my aim. I returned in 2019 and surpassed my now-based-on-experience-aim. In 2020, I returned to Nepal with a realistic aim of exploring new areas and setting no target for dates and times. It was all about new steps and progress. A bit further, a bit more, and a bit less worry. I may not want to climb every mountain or walk every trail, but I do want to be in a better place tomorrow than today. I’m sure as COVID-19 cures and treatments come about, humanity will be there too.

This week:

Three students entered the classroom of class 3F. Their eyes barely visible as small pools of dark pigmentation above their pale blue facemasks. Their long hair hung too low to be considered a maintained fringe. They greeted with hellos, as if the events of recent months hadn’t happened. Each had hand gel sanitizer strapped to their bags. They shuffled to their desks and sat quietly, awaiting the arrival of further peers.

The new term is well under way, albeit a wee bit later than planned. Around seven weeks of online teaching, and home-schooling was now at an almost end. For most. One student, in Taiwan and a further student in Japan cannot return. The border is closed for overseas visitors – and my student in Taiwan has valuable family time at this time of international emergency. It has been a disruptive period of a few months for students and teachers alike. Thankfully, much is salvageable with some crammed lessons, adapted revision and continual efficient planning. As my colleague Nick is trapped in Serbia, I will take his middle school classes twice a week, otherwise my timetable is not too dissimilar to last semester. The usual seven classes a day has been adapted to eight classes a day for the poor old hard-working students. Morning exercise is earlier in the day and mealtimes are allocated into slots to allow reasonable social distancing.

The reality of social distancing is rather different. As schools in France resume and 70 or so cases of COVID-19 have been linked to them, students elbow for space in corridors and staircases here. I type this having heard passers-by in the road expectorating throats from their mouths onto the road by our school I truly worry about complacency. Masks are being relaxed outside now and inside many places people are far more laissez-faire about wearing personal protective equipment. Yes, China has the virus in a suppressive state, but cases are emerging every now and then. The perfect storm only needs the right level of guards being dropped for COVID-19 to continue its survival unhindered. Personal protection equipment seems to be on the way out here. Is that good or bad?

There is no cure. There isn’t a valid vaccine, but big pharmaceutical companies, nations and leading scientists are working around the international clocks, together or separately, in order to find that final cure. The breakthrough will bring major amounts of money to many – and if available to all, hope for a brighter and more free future. Humanity has had a huge wake-up call to come together yet many are drifting apart. There’s a change coming. We can either sit back and watch it crumble or dig in deep and do something wonderful. Stubbornness and blind faith will only get us so far. Now is the time to manufacture some optimism and stoke up the fire of positivity. The world is a wonderful place, full of great people and during COVID-19’s reign of destruction, it is not a time to lose hope. There is no cure – at present. One day there will be. Right?

On the plus side, this week, I’ve played football for two hours (with great people) and I’ve just finished reading the Jack Reacher novel titled Blue Moon, written by Lee Child. Between the frantic handwashing, panic, worry and speculation, it isn’t easy to find time to switch off, but years of procrastination have prepared me well for…

John Nichols: You Know His Name

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

/vɪm/

noun

informal
noun: vim
  1. energy; enthusiasm.
    “in his youth he was full of vim and vigour
    Origin: mid 19th century (originally US): perhaps from Latin, accusative of vis ‘energy’.

Today I am mostly going to talk about Vimto. Well, maybe not talk, but write. Yes, today, I’ll write about Manchester’s John Nichols and Vimto. When I was at RAC Inspection Services in Cheadle, Stockport, we used to have a fizzy Vimto option on the drink vending machine. It’d pump out gassy and sugar-free purple liquid into a disposable cup, or mug if you remembered to place one down quick enough.

I have always enjoyed Vimto. My Gran and my Nana used to give me steaming warm cups of it when I was too young to touch the top of door frames. Not that the height of doorframes was a prerequisite for drinking the purple-golden cordial. I can even remember having it pumped on draught at the Working Man’s Club in Newton Heath and Morrison’s supermarket in Failsworth. Since those days, I have supped this drink at the Etihad Stadium, in Abu Dhabi’s airport and on Hua Hin beach in Thailand.

Vimto was originally a health tonic. It contains about 3% fruit juice concentration. The key fruits are possibly from Lancashire: raspberries and blackcurrants. There are grapes too. Don’t ask me which valley of Lancashire they came from – I can only assume Bowker Vale. It sounds plausible. Herbs and spices are bunged in too. Preston’s Ellis Wilkinson Mineral Water Manufacturer produced the water early on. It was really a health business on a healthy path of growth.

“My father used to go into work on Saturdays in those days, back in the mid-to-late ’60s, and so there was a fascination. And in those days my grandfather, who invented the product in the beginning, was still around.” – Grandson John Nichols

(John) Noel Nichols came from Shortridge, Scotland to 19 Granby Row, Manchester. By 1908 he had invented his new drink, just off Sackville Street, and around the corner from Back Acton Street. After 4 years his vim tonic was shortened in name to Vimto. The wholesaler of herbs, spices and medicines had found something quite popular amongst local people – especially in the shadow of the temperance movement and the new 1908 Licensing Act. Soft drinks were a new and exciting market. It changed from health tonic to cordial by 1913 and the rest they say is history.

It is not clear if John Nichols would have approved of the Purple Ronnie character or the slightly rude Giles Andreae poems (friend of screenwriter Richard Curtis). These highly marketable poems and colourful animations appeared in the 1990s and set a tone for a trendy drink – as an almost indie alternative to the giants of Pepsi and Coca-Cola. Nowadays the family link is retained within Nichols plc. Grandson John Nichols is the Non-Executive Chairman. His two sons also work within Nichols plc.

“We have a very open, friendly approach and encourage any member of staff to talk to the management team about their ideas for the business. Innovation has been key to our success in developing the iconic Vimto brand and identifying new brands, products and market opportunities.” – John Nichols, interview with Warren Partners.

Vimto Cordial has diversified from its original form, to sugar-free varieties, fizzy carbonated cans and bottles, cherry and strawberry editions. Then there is Vimto Remix. And sweets. Ice-lollies too. With new space needed, Vimto moved to the edge of Manchester into Salford’s Chapel Street, now home to the luxury Vimto Gardens apartment complex. By the year 1927, they then scattered to Old Trafford (then home to the teenage-aged Manchester Utd. F.C. who had by then picked up five senior domestic trophies) before heading back onto Mancunian soil in Wythenshawe by 1971. Nowadays the multi-billion dollar American-Canadian beverage and food service provider Cott Corporation produces Vimto in Leicestershire and Yorkshire. Presumably both exotic locations have better access to grapes. Traditional bottled soft drink manufacturer A.G. Barr in Forfar and Cumbernauld still make the pop too.

Vimto Soft Drinks and Newton-le-Willows based Nichols plc retain the license alongside other favourites like Panda Pops. Under their Cabana name they manufacture a fair range of soft drinks and post-mix solutions – both at home and overseas to around 80 plus countries. Outside of the traditional market, Vimto enjoys huge presence in the middle-east and Arabian countries. It is made in Yemen, The Gambia and the Saudi Arabian city of Dammam City. It is apparently produced under license (since 1979 by Aujan & Brothers) in order for demand around Ramadan and other occasions that demand fasting. Vimto is so international that it is even made by Mehran Bottlers in Pakistan, is once again back in India, and Nepal’s Himganga Beverage Pvt Ltd. There are currently no products available in China or Taiwan or Hong Kong. Macau? No.

Granby Row has a park now, called Vimto Park with a statue to the drink. It’s a very Mancunian statue erected in 1992. Most cities celebrate iconic politicians and movements, but Manchester being Manchester, we celebrate the birth of a soft drink. The artist Kerry Morrison carved wood from a sustainable forest. Again, forward-thinking and considerate!

12th July 2015 Manchester centre and City campus (15)

Anyway, I’m sat in Dongguan, China, parched and thinking, maybe, I need a meeting. Who wants to invest? Drop me a line. During these COVID-19 outbreak time, we need more sunshine. Let’s bring the purple to the red land of China.

“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” – Was it Mohandas Gandhi who said that? Arleen Lorrance?

Kippax, Red Devils & Dreams

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

The day before I was born (27th October 1982), Manchester City beat Wigan Athletic through two Paul Power goals. Three days later they beat Swansea City by two goals to one at Maine Road in the football league. Denis Tueart scored the first whilst Asa Hartford scored what would be the winning goal. Fast forward some years to 2020, to Dongguan city, China, during the sleepy stuffy hours of May the 4th… and a kind of nightmare.

I’ve been to many football games and the majority have been at Maine Road, The Etihad Stadium and one at Manchester City’s other home ground of the 21st century (Oakwell, Barnsley). There have been some great memories over the years but today I awoke from a surreal nightmare and felt I was back in 1996, really annoyed by City’s loss to Barnsley. The dream I recall, was an odd one. I was walking into the lower tier of the almost-new Kippax stand. Up some steps and into the beautiful atrium of the ground. The bright greens of the field, the darker Kippax blues and the sky blues of the stands, with much cheer and optimism. Alan Ball had been fired not long before and club legend Asa Hartford added Scottish steel to the rocky City’s manager hotseat.

barnsley home 1996 to 97 progI remember the game well for an exciting 21-year-old called Jeff Whitley stepped onto the field for his debut. “Officer” Dibble returned to goal in a game that saw my favourite player Uwe Rösler wasteful. Steve Lomas had put a chance on a plate for him, but I guess the advancing Barnsley goalkeeper had done his maths well in advance. City fell a goal behind due to some calamitous defending but restored the game through a Steve Lomas cross turned in by Nigel Clough (son of Brian). Bald left-back defender Frontzeck hugged the hell out of Clough as he pushed him away. Later on, young debutant Jeff Whitley gifted Barnsley the winning goal opportunity and Trinidad & Tobago striker Marcelle now had two goals. It was a mistake. We all make them. I’m certain Jeff Whitley came back a better player because of that moment.

I can recall rolling up my matchday programme and heading to The Clarence pub with my Dad, struggling to keep up with his pace and half-understanding his anger at the City team. I was a spotty thirteen-year-old kid with curly hair and no appeal to the opposite gender. Different times, different hair. The Kippax had been bouncing with atmosphere but at times it had been so quiet, silenced by the visiting team and their strength over a disjointed City squad. From my dream I had all that, and the Manchester United fans laughing at me in school the week after. Even the Stockport County fans in Reddish Vale School enjoyed a laugh at my expense. I don’t recall Clewsy the lone Blackpool fan having a dig at me though.

“City, well, quite simply in a state of turmoil.” – host Elton Welsby, Granada Goal Extra, September 7th, 1996

The 1996/97 season was a drab affair. As it was Asa Hartford would step aside as caretaker manager for Steve Coppell and then Frank Clark. Uwe Rösler would bag 17 goals that season and take the club’s golden boot. City would finish 14th and spend the following season wallowing in the Football League First Division once again as Barnsley gained promotion to the Premiership. Manchester City weren’t always that bad, sometimes they were worse, and sometimes not bad, and now they are amazing. Nor was the Kippax so quiet at times, despite the crap football.

Manchester City 1-2 Barnsley / Division One (New) / Saturday 07 September 1996. Attendance: 26464. CITY 1 Andy Dibble / 2 John Foster < 53’ Rae Ingram / 3 Michael Frontzeck < 75’ Gerry Creaney / 4  Steve Lomas / 5 Kit Symons / 6 Nigel Clough [Goal] / 7 Nicky Summerbee / 8 Jeff Whitley / 9 Paul Dickov < 75’ Martin Phillips / 10 Georgi Kinkladze / 11 Uwe Rosler  Barnsley Watson, Eadon, Appleby, Sheridan, Davis, de Zeeuw, Marcelle [GOALS 2], Redfearn, Wilkinson, Liddell, Thompson – subs Regis (81’), Bullock(unused), Bosancic (unused)

The new Kippax stand had been opened by club goalkeeping legend Bert Trautmann in October 1995. It would stand on the former ‘Popular side’ of the field opposite the Main Stand of Maine Road until 2003 when it faced demolition due to Manchester City’s relocation to the then City of Manchester Stadium. Back in 1956, the ‘Popular side’ became known as the ‘The Kippax’ at what many called ‘The Wembley of the North’. Money from the FA Cup final win (that same year), featuring Bert Trautmann, gave the ‘The Kippax’ a roof to shelter from the very Mancunian weather. This vocally active and huge terrace of noise was well-known in football for many, many years. Unlike other famous noisy football stands, this ran goal-end to goal-end, much like the players upon the pitch. The passionate Kippax stand gave name to the fanzine, King of the Kippax. The Kippax name came from Kippax Street behind the stand itself. Kippax though, is a parish village within Leeds and Yorkshire. It was called Chipesch back in Domesday Book of 1086 and later sometimes spelt as Kippeys, Kypask and Kypax. City’s stand could have been named after kippers. The word itself may relate to ash trees.

“One of my first memories was we played Twente in the UEFA Cup and when we scored, it was utter bedlam. Arms and legs going everywhere. I ‘d never experienced anything like it before.” – Sean Riley, Failsworth, Manchester Evening News

As kids we used to play football with tin cans, bottles (glass wasn’t unusual) and any other rags we could boot around. Think of the back of the old Kippax as a kind of nursery or kindergarten. Following standing areas being outlawed, so too were tin-can football stands. Instead new VIP areas and executive boxes found a home over areas once known for hide and seek and tiggy-it games. The new three-tier stand was full of seats and at one stage the highest football stand in England. Utd fans loved to sing about City being a massive team because of the highest floodlights in the land and then the highest stand.

“When we scored everyone would charge around but it felt like you always ended up back where you started. That’s how it felt to me anyway. Night games were just amazing. Those cup runs we had in the 70s, it was absolutely rocking. Unbelievable atmosphere.” – Brian Houghton, Droylsden, Manchester Evening News

As Manchester City moved to bigger things, the Kippax nickname carried over to the new stadium, with the East Stand sometimes being referred to as the Kippax. The familiar Kippax seat colours filled the now Etihad Stadium from day one of the 2002 Commonwealth Games. The old and new Kippax stands at Maine Road witnessed Rugby League Championship play-off finals, League Cup finals, Charity Shield games, David Bowie, Queen, Oasis, The Rolling Stones, and even religious meetings.

“It was just an assault on the senses. It was always packed, everyone was always pushing and shoving. Some people didn’t even bother going to the toilet, they just went where they stood. But it was the atmosphere that drew you there, it really was incredible, unlike anything we have now.” – Kevin Parker, secretary of City’s official supporters club, Manchester Evening News

City were always the main tenants at Maine Road but a certain Manchester United called Maine Road home from 1945–1949. Old Trafford having been bombed by the Germans (and possibly Uwe Rösler’s granddad if you believe the t-shirt) made Man Utd homeless. So, City being City offered the use of Maine Road. During the 1947/48 season, the Reds set a record of 81,962 at a Football League game, against Arsenal. Probably fair to say, in the post war years, many fans would have gone and watched their rivals and City fans would happily have watched anyone at their home ground.  And then in 1956–1957, the ‘Heathens’ soon to be known as ‘Red Devils’, came knocking and played three out of four European games at Maine Road. City had floodlights. United didn’t.

City’s Hyde Road, Maine Road and Etihad Stadium were or are all in Mancunian districts. Old Trafford, on the edge of Salford Docks, may have a Manchester postcode is in the Metropolitan Borough of Trafford. It isn’t in the City of Manchester or the City of Salford. However, Greater Manchester (formed 1st April 1974) mixed some of the ancient county boundaries of Lancashire, Cheshire, Derbyshire and even Yorkshire (Saddleworth way) to give Mancunian flavour and togetherness. Maine Road, like Old Trafford had remained a reasonably easy place to access and football was the draw for red or blue for many years. Geography used to be the biggest debate between City and Utd fans, before City were founded in 2008.

Heathen chemistry? Matt Busby had experienced City as a player and would go on to manage United over successful years. Apparently, he hated his team being called the ‘Busby Babes’ and wasn’t too keen on ‘Heathens’ so he stole Salford rugby’s nickname (which was given to them by the French press in 1934: ‘Les Diables Rouges’). Even though Barnsley F.C. are known as ‘The Tykes’ or ‘The Colliers’, but for me ‘The Reds’ of Yorshire will always be known as the ‘Red Devils’ because of that 1997/97 game – and a few bad nights’ sleep at 7 Days Inn in China (owned by current Barnsley F.C. Chairman Chien Lee).

“Buster will be the first British £10 million pound player.” – Alan Ball, as Manchester City manager after signing Martin Phillips

I blame last night’s dreams on Martin “Buster” Phillips. Why? Because yesterday, with Murray’s F.C. we had a 6-a-side tournament on a rooftop field, with only 18 players. As the games went on, they slowed down dramatically. The 32°C heat plus 100% humidity and direct sunlight didn’t help. During a break Alex from Spain and Lucho from Argentina were asking what we called someone who couldn’t score in front of an open goal. I said, “in Manchester, we call them Buster Phillips.” Sorry. Dream well.

Now Help Some(more)

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

Tuesday the 28th of April 2020 will be a sad day. It is still almost a week away. At 11am, on that morning the U.K. will engage in a minute’s silence to mourn key workers who have died during this pandemic. Backed by UNISON, the Royal College of Nursing and the Royal College of Midwives all should join the tribute at 11am. So, on International Workers’ Memorial Day, I will bow my head at 11am local time and 11am U.K. time.

At least 112 health care and key workers have died from COVID-19.

Social care workers.

Doctors.

Nurses.

Surgeons.

Specialists.

Porters.

Care home workers.

Others linked to key jobs.

#YouClapForMeNow is and was all over Twitter and other social media. I always will clap and cheer for the NHS. I was born because of the NHS and I have seen a few NHS heroes over the years. You have laid some of my family to rest. You’ve helped them too. You’ve helped my friends. Always loved you all. Even if, doctors do have sh!t handwriting…

The Guardian has been posting notes about the deaths of NHS workers, volunteers and other health workers. There are many entrants on its news page amongst its 91 recorded deaths. The official government figure is that there have been 27 recorded deaths in the NHS. Newcastle Royal Victoria Infirmary Nurse Rebecca Mack was only 29 years old. Watford general hospital Nurse John Alagos was just 23 years old. Essex GP Dr Habib Zaidi was 76 years old. Andy Howe, 48, was a bus driver in Nottingham, simply ensuring that NHS workers and patients could get to and from hospital. 33-year-old Pooja Sharma, a hospital pharmacist died the day after her father had passed away from the same illness. Retired gynaecologist, Hamza Pacheeri was 80 years old. He’d answered the call and returned to treat those with Coronavirus in Birmingham. Born in Kerala, India, he passed away in Birmingham. Grant Maganga in Tameside, Greater Manchester, should be doing his job as mental health nurse. Now he can no longer treat those at Hurst Place. Those who have died in service to healthcare shouldn’t be losing their lives. They’re our protectors. They’re our carers.  

I don’t have too many experiences with Doctors and Nurses, thankfully. I was born in 1982 in Crumpsall Hospital, had a hernia operation at an early age in Booth Hall Children’s Hospital, and visited Manchester Royal Infirmary with a cracked leg after doing a cross country run – much to the delight for Dan and Peter Ridyard (I was walking and then I disappeared from view, having fell down an open manhole in a field). Then there was the time I had my nose and eye rearranged by rock, in Scotland Hall Road Park, Newton Heath, but I can’t remember much. I just know it ruined City’s white and maroon away shirt from 1996/97. Oh, and some tick bites… and erm… dentistry… and vaccinations and continuous support as a child. Oh, I do love the NHS – they’ve always been there for me and so many others! The NHS is one institution that I’d love every nation to copy, model and shape as their own. Caring and sharing for the community, at that level needs money and support – and that’s why we pay National Insurance from our wages. I’d pay more for the NHS. Would you?

News round-up: The effects of the virus pandemic are long and wide, with cases of depression up globally, deaths in quarantine, possible surges in case numbers around travelling football fans, former footballers importing masks via crowdfunding, debate over how long to quarantine yourself, and newspapers rewriting modern day history. At least some writers will look to support those who care, invent and make more.

Of course, nothing lasts forever, and much like Man Utd being unable to afford Harry Kane, the world around us will take shape in a new form, if we’re bright and breezy about it. Common sense and recent experience highlight how much the NHS is needed – and costs being cut over the years and closures alike, shows how much it needs a massive future-proofing boost. Things will change. Those who die on the frontline now deserve to be remembered. They should be part of the very fabric of the new era of community healthcare throughout the U.K. Will it happen that way? Only time will tell.

Boris Johnson, applauded nurses and namechecked several immigrant nurses recently. That’s the same cheerer of the Conservatives blocking pay rises of nurses in a Commons vote during 2017. Wouldn’t be nice to have that same vote tomorrow?

“Three hundred thousand, thirty four, nine hundred and seventy four thousand” – Home Secretary Priti Patel reports the number of COVID-19 tests completed, at the Downing Street briefing on the 11th April 2020. She was eleventy-four percent right in the year twenty-twelvety.

These deaths in the NHS and care industries put my own personal problems into perspective. I’m lucky enough to have such small hinderances compared with what the brave frontline of COVID-19 are facing. I just have the small matter (that could affect my future) of not being able to renew my passport.


The British Consulate General Guangzhou do not handle passport matters. All passports are dealt with by HMPO, who have an office in Guangzhou too. Neither are open to the public during this global pandemic. The consular sent an automatic reply as: ‘We will try to get back to you as soon as possible regarding your enquiry. However, if your email relates to consular assistance, passports or visas please see the below information.’ It pointed me to a link that I’d already tried: UK Visa Application Centre. A passport replacement does not count as an emergency situation – and should I get an Emergency Passport it must have the stated journey, dates, booked flights and final destination. However, my passport is water damaged and the ID page is falling out, so maybe it does count towards that… But, it does cost more than a regular passport, and technically I am alright here until July the 31st 2020. However, I have one passport page and before then I will need to review my visa to remain within China…

I could wait for the passport renewal site to come online again. That’d be £95.50 (34 pages) or £105.50 (50 pages) £23.01 for courier fee. Or, I could try to blag an Emergency Passport (and double my costs!). The passport renewal site advises for those in China: “We are currently unable to accept applications from this country. Due to coronavirus (COVID-19), UK visa application centres are closed. We will update this page when the service becomes available.”

My future in teaching now hangs on a tiny thread. It has caused me to really reflect upon the past six years. Why do I like teaching? To see the reward that you can make a young learner jump up their steps of learning at the end is an amazing feeling. I believe with energy, passion and drive, you can infect a child’s ability and will to learn more smoothly and refine their desire to find their chosen interests. You can open so many doors and light a flame for learning. You’re not just a lighthouse for help, you can be a rock and a foundation for a student to develop. You are part friend, part parent and fully a guardian.

I’ve had six years here in China, teaching withing Dongguan’s Houjie and Changping townships. At the end of each semester in Houjie, I’d be sent to cover for teachers in Guangzhou at high school and college levels. One summertime, I had experience teaching a small kindergarten class. Like some schools, my ambition is big. With access to continued learning and opportunity, I feel I can give much more to education and bring something new to a team. Whilst I’ll be a team player, I hope to add my own unique blend of culture and experience to give all a slightly different output. I desperately want to progress as a teacher. If it all goes wrong, I just have to accept it. People are in far worse places.


 

Many teachers influenced me over the years. I could never choose one great teacher over another, so I’m afraid I will give several key teachers who really influenced me. At Primary School, Mr Andrew Jones stood out. He knew that I’d had it hard in previous years from bullying and I’d been at three primary schools due to my mother moving houses and locations within Manchester. Mr Jones helped other students to include me more and fuelled my growing appetite for reading. As a parting gift before the summer holidays, he gifted me three huge thesaurus books. That was the summer sorted! After he left Chapel Street Primary School, I never did find out where he went. I still want to say, “Thank you kindly!” Miss Roe in primary school was level-headed and offered great support at helping me to self-study, often far ahead of other students and sometimes with books from advanced years ahead. She gifted me an A-Level biology book and I studied it ferociously. Mrs Clegg took my Lego and Micro Machines. The primary school years had seen three schools: New Moston, Clayton Brook and finally Chapel Street Primary School. The dinnerladies of Chapel Street and other teachers along the way guided me.

“If I had my whole life to live over again, I’d make all the same mistakes, only sooner.” – Eric Morecambe, one half of Morecambe and Wise, a famous comedy duo from England.

In my secondary school, the late Mr Tony Mack, really engaged my interest in his English classes. Whilst science and geography firmly held my intended ambitions, words and wordplay were always my passion. Mr Mack gave me added confidence at belief to really play with sentences, structures and be creative. Reddish Vale Secondary School must have seen countless students flow through their doors over many years, I wonder how many students he really pushed on? Further to Mr Mack, in secondary school, Mr Robert Oxley was typical Yorkshire coolness and relaxed attitude, and I think he kind of made me more independent by setting an example at times. I can recall Frau Hodges in my German class having to battle unruly students but being a mighty fine teacher. If only I had focused more. Mr Meheran in later English classes was wonderful and Mr Walker in history was a great teller of stories, but few respected him, because he had a beard. Teenagers are bastards.

But throughout life, my Mum has and always will be my greatest teacher. I haven’t always learned the easy way, but I have always had the support and love of my mother. Cheers Mum!


One for the road – who would I take on board a return train journey along the Cambrian Coast to Aberystwyth from Pwllheli?

One. Marvin Aday (AKA Meat Loaf), singer, songwriter and artist. Any wordsmith and singer could provide entertainment but more importantly, great conversation and stories. Of course, it would be selfish to ask someone along on a cruise, just to give. I think I’d like to suggest he writes a book of poetry, and I would give good reason for this, to him. Also, how cool would a rock and roll interpretation , fused with the local passing scenery be?

Two. Roald Dahl, the greatest author of many children’s books ever. Like Lewis Carol and JRR Tolkein, Roald Dahl had seen action in war, and came back scarred and with stories to tell. Roald was in many ways different to Carol but also similar to Tolkein. He created new words, new phrases and filled his characters with emotions and zest. I suspect his books have influenced a whole batch of young readers who have since been unable to put books down.

Three. Emmeline Pankhurst, the U.K.’s suffragette movement leader. I am a fiercely passionate Mancunian (people of Manchester, England) and I would love to know how Emmeline Pankhurst would look back on her legacy, her family’s influence on present day society and equality. What could she suggest in order to make the world a brighter place now?

Four & Five & Six. Eric Morecambe, Ernie Wise & Eddie Braben. More on them another time…

“On his gravestone): “I told you I was ill.” – Spike Milligan, comedian

I have ambitions to be a novelist, and I know many others share that dream, but I’ve spent two years writing (and now rewriting) a real novel. On top of this, I like writing shorter warm-up pieces and scribbling ideas down for the next novel(s). I love cycling and can be found on the ‘rupture machine’ quite often – or watching the latest Grand Tour race. Then, there is football, which is the perfect embodiment of teamwork, exercise and the British passion for sports. I’m from the city of Manchester, so I had no choice – nor would I change it anyway!


I’m not one to wish to be a typecast, within the I.B.O. (International Baccalaureate Organization) scheme, but I’d slot somewhere between ‘Inquirers’, ‘Thinkers’ and ‘Open-Minded’. My reasoning is because I feel adaptable, accountable and I am forever curious. I respect tradition but equally I will reject it for progression, if it causes no insult or worry to others. I like to think of the causes and effects that change can bring. I don’t believe in change for the sake of change. We must progress sustainably and carefully. The world is so big and there’s only so much we can know, but I’m certain that there is room for more. That’s why I am here, right?


 

Now

Help

Some(more)

A refuge (with passion)

Sawasdeekhap / Namaste / Welcome!

In the first week of my arrival in Thailand, I was blessed by a visit to the Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand (WFFT). The word sanctuary implies something of an ethical nature. This is one such place. WFFT is an Elephant refuge and more. For just 1800 baht per person, Gerry and I were picked up in Hua Hin and dropped by the swanky I-Love-Phants-Lodge within the WFFT’s grounds. Our kind hosts told us to make ourselves at home, but avoid the trunk of a neighbouring mischievous elephant nearby. At lunch time we returned to the lodge for a fantastic and filling buffet meal. Animal lovers and those infected by passion for a good cause can learn much in this day out – and feed well.

Back in 2001, this N.G.O. (non-governmental organisation) started up. Since then, it has grown and stands for rescue, rehabilitation, and combatting the illegal animal trade. There’s an educational side too. Today, it offers visitors a full day out, to explore their grounds under supervision. The guides are knowledgeable, passionate and witty. As well as seeing rescued animals, you can meet volunteers, see their ambitious expansion of paddocks and community-available veterinary quarters. There’s a chance to further understand each animal’s case and hear of their many success stories. Expect to see gibbons, macaque, loris, langur, reptiles, otters, deer, birds and floppy-eared elephants. No touching is allowed but you do get to wash an elephant, feed an elephant and see them up close and personal.

The good work of the WFFT has made its way into living rooms around the world. The BBC, Bondi Vet, Animal Planet and National Geographic have showcased some of their work – but you can help out by getting involved, visiting or donating to help more than 600 animals on-site.  Eating lunch in the lodge allowed a view of gibbons, and their awesome swinging arms, alongside roaming elephants bathing themselves in dust and the sound of an orchestra of birdlife. I sat reading about how in 2012, they stood against government-backed raiders, battled in the courtroom, helped after the devastating 2004 Tsunami and worked overseas with other such groups, spreading the good name of Thailand. Founder Edwin Wiek has recently joined a parliamentary advisory committee charged with strengthening the 2017 Wildlife Preservation Act. There’s hope for gibbons and more, yet!

In Thailand, people pose with sedated tigers, gibbons and overworked elephants. Other animals join that list. The exploited animals are often torn painfully from the wild. Death has most likely come to the animal’s parental group. Inbreeding has likely happened in the case of tigers. Mothers forced to birth as quick as physically possible. Mistreated, malnourished and abused animals can occur in any country around the world. Here, there are monkeys trained to fetch coconuts and other animals performing stunt tricks. I’ve seen this kind of thing in China, and it sickens me that humanistic behaviours are forced upon people, all in the name of greed. Human amusement and bemusement, especially within the tourism industry strips, degrades and humiliates. Some argue it is traditional but can’t argue for ethical. We as travelers and tourists have a responsibility to end the demand. Or, will we just take one more selfie with a gibbon smacked off its tits on sleeping tablets? If people didn’t go to places like the notorious Tiger Temple, there’d be no demand. Simple as.

How did an elephant become a taxi on a Bangkok street? What does the weight of two people and a cradle cart do to the spine of an Asian elephant? How did the tiger train so well to get where it is? Use your noggin, your bonce, your head, wobble it a bit and let some steam filter out. Be diligent. A moment of research could mean your hard-earned money goes to a nasty man or to the good of mankind adding some beauty to the creatures of Earth. If you support the nasty man and his nasty animal place, you’re condoning crimes against wildlife and nature. Is that you? Support. Wreck the wilderness. Deaths. Abuse. Parade. View. Support. And on and on. Pain and suffering. Is that what you want just for a few likes on Instagram or Facebook? Right now, the Covid-19 outbreak is denting tourism and sanctuaries need support more than ever.

Around Thailand, there is an increasing change in attitudes towards conservation and animal welfare. The Gibbon Rehabilitation Project (reintroducing the once extinct gibbon to the island of Phuket); Chang Mai’s Elephant Nature Park; numerous dog and cat rescue centres (many providing adoptions, neutering and vaccinations); Burm and Emily’s Elephant Sanctuary (again Chang Mai); more elephants at Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary (BLES) in Sukhothai; and yet more free-roaming elephants at the Krabi Elephant Sanctuary.


 

Speaking of suffering…

There’s a huge difference from the Manchester Derby games of the 90s. City didn’t compete for trophies then.  They certainly didn’t have two pieces of silverware in the cabinet for the current season.  We didn’t win against Man Utd that often and Old Trafford was a place of dread. All derby games can go either way, with single moments being turning points.  A weird free kick for a foul that probably never was, a hand offside, or a penalty claim waved away. That’s football. City didn’t deserve the win yesterday. This season we’re soft in our hunger and leadership. There really are a few sparks missing. Still, much to play for.

The bragging rights have gone, 3-1 to Them Lot. We’ve had worse days.  Be nice if we can meet them in the Champions League and put that right. Oh… oops. That sounded proper RAG then, and I didn’t even want it to be arrogant. FA Cup semi, if we both make it? Sterling, Ederson, Rodri, and nOtamendi, with Zinchenko didn’t set the world alight and will surely be a tad better next time round. Really set it up for Liverpool at our place, wouldn’t it be nice to give them the guard of honour? That doesn’t bother me thankfully. Right, I’m going to go and polish Ederson’s boots and re-stitch his gloves. Manchester City ruined my life? Never. The boys in blue never give in.  Next.


Back to Chef Cha’s?

Today I have mostly been eating breakfast. Chef Cha is very convenient. Too convenient. After a bowl of breakfast cereal and a glass of orange juice, I’ve found myself drawn to the occasional late breakfast (or I guess some call it brunch). For elevenses, I’ve enjoyed scrambled eggs, bacon, toast with a salad trimming, and a coffee for 150 baht a few times this last week. With my friends Eddie and Gerry, we’ve also sampled some great evening foods there too. There’s a great mix of western and Thai foods. The restaurant itself is sheltered from the sun (unless you opt for the very in the sun areas), has both a sheltered indoor area and a very enclosed area too.

There’s a quaint feel to the place, that is both modern and classic. The decor isn’t loud. The music is well-balanced and cosy. The staff in Chef Cha are really warm and welcoming. Even the two very clean cats that visited rolled around without disturbing our food and shared some affection afterwards. There’s class there too. Chef Cha has a great wine list and a reasonable selection of both soft and hard drinks. If you do get time, have a look at the walls, and see the former Hilton hotel chef’s personal history. You can’t fault people who take pride in their passions. Fair play. I’ll be back again soon. Maybe tomorrow, in fact. Right after the aloe vera massage, maybe?

So much joy you can give, to each brand new, bright tomorrow…