Manchester Baby (Happy Father’s Day)

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

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

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

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

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


Happy Father’s Day Dad!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All my love, John

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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

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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.