The Mancunian Way, Dongguan

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

“I feel so extraordinary; Something’s got a hold on me; I get this feeling I’m in motion; A sudden sense of liberty.” – New Order’s song True Faith.

I’m patriotic towards the U.K. in a way. I sing praise and fly the flag for great people, wonderful history and fantastic places. I know that the story of the U.K.’s history has often been brutal, cruel and deserves little love. Even within the 21st century the U.K., as it moves away from a colonial and European past, and becomes less connected, yet more dependent on overseas trading and manufacture is and always will be a wonderful country. It’s my home. I was born in Manchester, England. I don’t call myself English. I’m British, when I choose to be. I’m Mancunian always. I have Celtic blood in me from my Irish and Welsh great grandparents. My roots are clear and free. But this tree doesn’t cling to the past and history. This tree wants to expand and be watered by different skies. For me tradition and culture are important but understanding and freedom to choose your own pathway are far more intrinsic to living. This tree is currently sat on its arse in Changping, Dongguan. Today’s and yesterday’s rugby and football have been washed out by Dragon Boat rains. I have some free time.


Today, I want to show a gallery and write a little about the culture of Dongguan and China. I’ve been here for the vast majority of the 2308 days now (11th February 2014). I believe many great days have passed and many more will follow. That’s why I am right here, right now. I arrived and didn’t feel too much way of culture shock. Around me a reasonably established cultured expat community threaded amongst the fabric of the local workforces and people of Guangdong.

“Because we need each other; We believe in one another; And I know we’re going to uncover; What’s sleepin’ in our soul” – Acquiesce by Oasis.

Since, I arrived I have seen Dongguan grow and grow. It is now classed as a Megacity. It seemingly will never stop growing. There are skyscrapers and apartment blocks skimming the sky in every single district of Dongguan. Whereas in 2014, I’d notice dozens of these mammoth constructions and many more sprouting buildings, now I am seeing hundreds and hundreds of established communities and hubs here, there and everywhere. I used to consider Nancheng and Dongcheng as the central axis of Dongguan. Now the townships of Chang’an (home of Oppo), Changping and the ever-growing former fields of Songshan Lake (home of Huawei), and the sprawls of Liaobu town could easily be seen as central areas. The arrival of the Huizhou to now West Dongguan Railway Station (soon to be Guangzhou East) or 莞惠城际轨道交通  /莞惠线 Guanhui intercity railway has added to rapid growth. As it joins the short-named Pearl River Delta Metropolitan Region Intercity Railway System (珠江三角洲地区城际轨道交通). That’s more than 65 railway stations in close proximity to Dongguan. Like all of the Pearl River Delta, this city is growing fast – and going places.

 

When not hopping on 200 km/h (124 mph) railway systems, I have ample opportunity to meet great people. Dongguan‘s community is largely migrant with people coming from all over China and the world beyond. International jet-setters with lives here, include Serbians, Kiwis, and even Scousers. They can be found in some of the office places, factories, bars and restaurants throughout the city. Playing football with Brazilians or Russians, or cycling with Dongbei people is possible or a spot of chess at Murray’s Irish Pub with Ukranian opposition. Anything goes here. Drinking homebrew at Liberty Brewing Company (曼哈顿餐吧) in Dongcheng after playing tag rugby with Tongans, South Africans, Germans and Malaysians makes me realise how lucky I am. This is a city that is tidying up and beautifying itself at an alarming rate.

Throughout the 6.5 years of life in and around Dongguan, I’ve slipped up and down ginnels, seeking out the new and old. There have been trips to pizza joints in obscure areas, Dragon Boat races watched, Cosplay events attended and English competitions observed. Dongguan, like Manchester, has a heartbeat that shows anything is possible and if it isn’t here, you make it. You can make something new, or your bring something to the party. You can sit and complain about people taking your photo or saying, “wàiguórén” (foreigner/外国人) or you can show the people around you, your worth.

This week I was asked by the Dongguan Foreign Bureau to teach them. Sadly, I cannot fit their demands into my day. I’ve bene lucky to narrate advertisements, wear watches for model shoots, test-drive new bicycles and play with new robotics before they reached their target audience or global factory floors. Daily life has been far from mundane here with oddities and pleasures as varied as can be. What’s around the next corner? Well, visas are quicker and easier to get, despite more rules and demands. It seems far quicker than when I first arrived. Sometimes, I doubt that I have done everything right, yet it seems clear and simple. Just a checklist. This week I received my medical report back. Now, I need just a few other items for the 2020/21 visa… That’s progress.

Bridges have been made and links that could prove lifelong. The west and east have collided in bizarre ways often forming a touch of the unique. There has been colour, rainbows and diversity amongst the traditional and the common. There have been flashes of light and inspiration. There have been days when solitude has been sought and there will be more, no doubt, but one thing I find, and have found throughout my time here, people are just that. Just simple down to earth, regular people going about their days, looking for peace and good opportunities to survive or better themselves. There are more cars and less bicycles, which shows that some people’s bank accounts and credit-ratings have improved. Quality of life needs balance, and with that the subway/underground system of Dongguan is projected to change from one line to seven lines.

Words can say how thankful I am for my time here. I am enjoying life in different ways to others, and being who I want to be, when I want to be. I’m selfish or I’m sharing. I’m open or I am closed. I read or I watch. I write or I dictate. There are times to slip unseen, and times to lead an audience. It is good for the mind to be bored or alone. I truly believe that’s where creativity lies. It sits there waiting to be tapped and delivered to paper, computers or other outputs. I can wander from craft beer breweries to model car clubs to fusion and western food restaurants with ease and all of the time remain connected to modern and old China.

There is plenty of ugly in Dongguan, just like the rest of the world. To quote the 18th century French phrase, “ne saurait faire d’omelette sans casser des œufs“:  You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs. Humans must learn from the stains and damage we have caused to our planet globally, whether disease or pollution. We can’t give in. Our cultures, our pride and our people need to fight on and find solutions. Just as #BlackLivesMatter, all lives matter – whether human or worm or bug or panda. Life must find a way. Dongguan is radically changing its energy consumptions, factory practices and the way its environment is being respected. This is good for all. Maybe, I should really put my words into action and finish studying towards the HSK (汉语水平考试 Hànyǔ Shuǐpíng Kǎoshì) course for the Chinese Proficiency Test.

 

Dongguan has gone from a place with a handful of limited cinemas, to those with the IMAX, vibrating seats, private screens and many of the latest releases from the west. KTV bars make way for baseball batting cages, ten-pin bowling, archery cafes and all the latest crazes. The great thing is that with Wechat (born 2011), Alipay etc, you can leave your wallet behind and pay swiftly with ease using these simple electronic methods. Gone are the days of using equations and haggling to get a taxi a short distance. Piles of services are available via your phone, including electrical bills, water bills and Didi (driver and carshare service) is one such saving grace.

During these COVID-19 pandemic times, your phone provides your health code, advice in travel, guidance on health services and help. Dongguan’s local services for healthcare, private insurance and banking are on your fingertips, rather than a a few hours out of work. Life can be as fast or as slow as you wish. In 2010, Dongguan was named a National Model City for Environmental Protection and greenways, green belts and other greenery followed. There are hundreds of parks now, over 1200… it is easier than ever to stay healthy.

There is culture around us, old temples, modern pagodas, relics of time and shells of history. Dongguan’s landmarks are a tad tough to visit now. The Cwa humid subtropical climate here is far above the reported average annual temperature of 22.7 °C (72.9 °F). The rainfall is typical of the land below the Tropic of Cancer now. It is raining cats, dogs and occasionally elephants. Wellingtons and umbrellas are common sights these days, rather than the Dongguan Yulan Theatre, GuanYinShan (Budda mountain), Hǎizhàn bówùguǎn (海战博物馆 Opium War Museum) or Jin’aozhou Pagoda. Even a trip to my local coffee shop, Her Coffee, is like a swim in a river. It is blooming wet lately. As a Mancunian, I feel at home.

I’m here for education – to both teach and to learn. This city has hundreds of educational institutions, even Cumbria’s St. Bees are opening a school here. I’ve heard there are around 550 primary schools, 480 kindergartens and several universities now. To bump into a teacher amongst the 21,000 plus teachers is not unusual. Although it seems every second teacher works for one of the many Eaton House schools here. I’ve heard Tungwah Wenzel International School (TWIS) in Songshan Lake is one school to really watch. Like its neighbouring Huawei school, it is massive with around 1,000,000 square metres of surface area. I’ve seen the modern sports gyms, performance space and technology labs. It uses the latest gadgets and networking. It really is 21st century over there at Songshan Lake. Although Huawei have a German-style train-tram zipping around, piping back to older days. Dongguan University of Technology(DGUT; 东莞理工学院) is one of universities in the area meaning that you can educate beyond your teenage years here. It really is a place to learn. Watch out Oxford and Cambridge! Maybe that’s why Trump is always bad-mouthing China’s growth?

From eating chicken anus, to two weeks of quarantine in XiHu Hotel, Dongguan has given me more time to turn the contents of my head to words. Now that I am ready to publish a novel, I need a publisher, but how to do this during a pandemic? I haven’t a clue, but I know one thing, the challenge will be tough and worth it. Nobody ever climbed a mountain to sit at the top and look down without seeing another mountain, right? At the end of the day, the sun sets only to rise again. Dongguan faced lockdown impeccably and other challenges, just as the world did and does. Chin up, keep going and let’s crack on.

Last night, I ate Korean barbecue with great people to celebrate a treble-birthday, followed by proof that I am terrible at ten-pin bowling and awoke today feeling optimistic. The world is often reported to be going through a pandemic-sized recession. As the world sailed a wave in 2008 and Dongguan grew from that recession, I will everyone to go on. Manufacture a bucket of optimism. Just like the strings of New Dawn Fades by Joy Division, there is darkness but remember these famous lines: It was me, waiting for me; Hoping for something more; Me, seeing me this time; Hoping for something else. In 2008, low-tech industry switched to the high-tech. Boomtime arrived. Chances are that one in five phones around the globe were made in Dongguan. Is your phone Vivo, Oppo, Honor or Huawei? It was probably made down the road from me. So, Dongguan is closer than you think.


Manchester isn’t any place I will visiting in person for some time, so it has to come to me via playbacks of Oasis gigs at Maine Road and the written word. Over the next few months, I plan to read the following Mancunian-connected books:

Hell is a City – Maurice Proctor; The Manchester ManIsabella Varley Banks; Passing Time – Michel Butor; Magnolia Street – Louis Golding; Fame is the Spur – Howard Spring; Lord Horror – David Britton; The Emigrants – WG Sebald; Cold Water – Gwendolyne Riley; The Mighty Walzer Howard Jacobson; Manchester Slingback – Nicolas Blincoe; Vurt – Jeff Noon; A Man’s Game: The Origins of Manchester City Football ClubAndrew Keenan; Mary Barton – Elizabeth Gaskell; Cranford – Elizabeth Gaskell; North and South – Elizabeth Gaskell.

“I was thinking about what you said; I was thinking about shame; The funny thing how you said; Cause it’s better not to stay” – The Last Broadcast – Doves

The spirit of football.

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do,

“We’ll go on getting bad results.” (Jimmy Hill)

13/5/2012

The daylight emerged between the window frame. The curtains had been positioned in a way ill-prepared to create darkness. I had slept surprisingly well despite sticking to the sofa in a slight sweat. I went to the bathroom, had a shower, cleaned my teeth and generally prepared myself for that Sunday’s sunny day. With a spring in my step, I dressed and sat on the sofa. Bhagira the cat and Fuzzy kept me company. The red laser pointer pen activated and entertained my feline friends. Eventually Dan emerged, a little worse for wear. It may have been a cal by our friend Jack Daniels the previous night, or his seemingly strenuous job delivering home deliveries for Asda Walmart, either way his eyes weren’t awake. A coffee fixed that. It was Nescafe but I didn’t care. I enjoyed the warmth and milky taste. With a new sense of alertness, my buddy gave me a lift to Kirkham and Wesham railway station.

Waiting on the platform, pigeons fluttered and the cold polished bricks of over 100 years felt very familiar. I couldn’t recall if I had been there before or if it was just the Lancashire style of old stations. The two-platform station surrounded by sealed off arches and historic sidings had an air of calm, despite the Northern rail service rattling in quite loudly. The train departed, bound for Manchester Airport. I’d exit on platform 13 of Manchester Piccadilly. There, I’d change for Levenshulme, then drop my things at my mum’s house before heading back into Manchester city centre.

That day, May 13th 2012, was a far cry from several 1990’s conclusions to the season. The Castle and Falcon Club, Manchester city centre, was a backstreet dive.  The Dantzic Street location, just off Shudehill hid it from what is now The Printworks and far more modern uprisings. The bar has long closed and the Burtonwood Ales signage has long gone. It was here following a game at Stoke City, I sat with my Dad and his partner Bernadette. Manchester City F.C. had been relegated despite a wonderful 5-2 win at Stoke City. We’d been relegated before in my lifetime, the Premier League in 1995-96

Uwe Rösler as top scorer with just 9 league goals hadn’t helped at all. City were beyond woeful and the moniker as a club that could win cups for cock-ups was born. City had looked happy with a 2-2 draw against Liverpool. They never chased the win. Rösler’s penalty and Kit Symons’s goal that day gave no pleasure later in the evening. But, for me, I did not understand relegation back then. After changing from the very familiar sky blue to Kappa’s laser blue at the beginning of 1997-98, City’s crest also changed and an air of positivity crept in. The results did not have many highs, a 6-0 battering of Swindon and a friendly 2-2 draw in a Manchester Derby as part of Paul Lake’s Testimonial

During 1997-98, Murtaz Shelia, from well-known team Alania Vladkavkaz (sounds like a fashion model?) arrived. Nothing changed. City faced Stockport County and lost 3-1. They hadn’t played their local rivals for 87 years before that day! Another Georgian player entered the fold by January in Kakhaber Tskhadadze. City slipped into the relegation zone. Frank Clark was fired. Joe Royle came in to steady the ship and try to climb up the table. Combative midfield-enforcer Michael Brown won Player of The Year, as City lamented relegation to the third tier with a bizarre friendly game against Jamaica’s national team.

The 1998/99 season was an incongruous one. It had a great climax that remains fresh in club folk-lore but few discuss the oddities of that season. The club had changed from a team of stars and names to a team of relative unknowns. 16 friendlies accommodated a huge squad and before long City’s stuttering season began to build. One player, Ray Kelly, left to play part-time for Bohemians and study in Ireland. Little old City were struggling for off the field stability. As 1999 arrived, City looked far off the promotion race. City stuttered towards the finishing line looking like they’d sneak it before being whipped 2-1 to Wycombe Wanderers at Maine Road. The play-off semi finals arrived and City visited Springfield Park. Paul Dickov’s late crucial equaliser kept City in the tie. The return leg at Maine Road saw a Goater goal, which Wigan fans argued as being hand ball. Graeme Jones had struck the woodwork but City would return to Wembley for the first time in 14 years. The 1999 play-off final is, as they say, history.

Back to June, and Xiamen Gulangyu International Football Tournament 2018 saw Murray’s F.C. finish 7th overall. Not bad from 16 teams. Our first quarter-final game was hellishly muddy and concussion didn’t help my appearances from the bench so well. Every team battled and worked tirelessly in dire muddy conditions and the eventual winners Quanzhou Spartans deservedly took their second title in as many years. It was good to play Chilean Alex, now at Kunming Turtlebar, and also teams we’re familiar with in Hong Kong Krauts and Shenzhen Lions. The organisers of the tournament certainly know the spirit of football.

Returning back to 2012, I’d opted for a hospitality package at City. The QPR game had something about it. The possibility of a title win and being there in style didn’t take much to clutch onto. I’d dreamt of trying the City hospitality for many seasons but never wanted to leave the South Stand. Now, Nat Fatorechi who I shared my seasoncard with, gave a situation where we both wanted a ticket. It wasn’t a tough investment. But now, there is another unfamiliar moment of football, England at the World Cup and in the semi-final since the 1990 edition. I wasn’t in double digits of age then and can safely say I don’t recall any of that tournament.

Fair play to Gareth Southgate. So much more than the butt of a dozen crappy jokes about an under-par golden generation. He has his head firmly screwed on in football. He looked average as a manager at Middlesbrough and dropped into the ranks of England. Unlike many who do that, he didn’t drift off or head to Spain, or punditry too often. His spell as temporary gaffer wasn’t groundbreaking (the games weren’t huge tests, except Spain where a 2-0 lead was chucked away). But, the FA appointed him and for once they gambled on fresh blood with all the qualities of a modest manager and someone who keeps the game simple. He has benefitted from the role of FA’s head of elite development. He seems to know the future youth players well and his squad selection seemed geared to building for Euro 2020 and the 2022 World Cup. Best thing out of Watford since DCI Hunt/Philip Glenister (or Ginger Spice?).

“We’re not creative enough; we’re not positive enough.” (Trevor Brooking)

Remember a game when City faced Boro? We played in our away kit at home. Southgate had his bonce wrapped up and played a blinder. We drew. They went to Europe. That’s the kind of spirit England need, and not that of Rooney or Beckham with their egos and sponsorship deals following them. Look at Messi, he has more minutes advertising per year and it never paid off. Same for tRanaldo. Graft and the kind of grinding football that Leicester City did, with flare, that’s the future in cups. And, City can learn from this England spirit.

“I think it’s bad news for the English game.” (Alan Hansen)

Good to see City links all over the World Cup. Guidetti for Sweden, Boyata with Belgium, Corluka of Croatia, and the list goes on and on. I claim any City link I can. One that stands out is Bury-born Keirin Trippier. During his time at City, Micah Richards was linked with Chelsea and Ar$enil, as Zabaleta was talked about heading to Barca. Coupled with the fact Trippier still was developing physically, he was quite far down. We had a clutch of first teamers that could play RB as an unnatural position. He had little chance. Fair play to him in his evolution at Spurs. His football formation years also featured clubs like Burnley and Barnsley. He knows the game well enough to play for many years. He has appeared for England U18s, England U19s, England U20s, England U21s, and now the senior England squad. He is capable of joining the Masters team one day and could well reach national legendary status with the chance before him now. I wonder what the away friendly game for City, against Barcelona did for his vision. Did it inspire? That came a season after lifting the FA Youth Cup with City. Good luck to him with England and in his future of football.

The Lightning Seeds wrote and released Three Lions in ’96, it had a re-write in 1998 and now 22 years later it is being played in epidemic proportions. David Baddiel and Frank Skinner must be dusting off their karaoke microphones, surely? Will 2020 or 2022 feature new pessimistic quotes to amend Three Lions as a song once again? Tout est Possible. I do get the impression that this song will not go away, regardless of any results! The Lightning Seeds, despite being Scouse are a cracking band, so I won’t complain.

 

再见/ Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Ta’ra / Goodbye

If I could only find the words, then I would write it all down…

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do,

‘If I could only find the words, then I would write it all down…’ (Read ’em and Weep lyrics by Jim Steinman/sang by Meat Loaf)

Where are the great writers? They are everywhere. Songwriters, scriptwriters, playwrights, newspaper correspondents, comedians, bloggers, and authors. Great writers are everywhere. I am nowhere near them. I just enjoy writing and have ambitions. The popular writers spill off shelves in major bookstores, on eBook devices, and fill newspaper reviews about their works. The modern classics and classics get published in varied and often colourful editions. Some copies get graphic novel versions or huge distorted modifications to lure in new and old readers alike. Books are wonderful and shouldn’t need a World Reading Day to attract a soul. Impressive braille, audiobooks and many other delightful formats, such as large print, keep penned words open to the widest possible audiences. And, then there are translations! Some of the Harry Potter novel serials have reached 80 or so languages, including Scots, Hindi, and Chinese.

‘muckle, beefy-boukit man wi a stumpie wee craigie’ (Mr Dursley in Scots, from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone)

The novelists aren’t a bad place to start. I find Sir Arthur Conan Doye and H.G. Wells have caught my eye more and most from the considered classical writers. The Valley of Fear and The Sign of the Four are two of the former writer’s most gripping examples.

superfudgeLooking across the metaphysical divide at female writers, there are some wonderful writers in Mary Shelley (Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus; Rambles in Germany and Italy in 1840, 1842 and 1843), Elzabeth Gaskell (Cranford), Val McDermid (Trick of the Dark), the Poet Laureate for Great Britain Dame Carol Ann Duffy, Enid Blyton (The Island of Adventure), Edith Nesbit (Think Five Children and It, and not Stephen King’s It), Agatha Christie (By the Pricking of My Thumbs), Betrix Potter (The Tale of Peter Rabbit and 22 other similar tales), and Judy Blume (Fudge-a-mania and books that hist topics such as masturbation, racism, bullying, menstruation, divorce and other such family topics). But, most importantly, when I pick up a book, it isn’t based on the author’s gender.


now that daysIn my childhood, my varied reading included Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book; Jack London’s White Fang, The Sea Wolf; Colin Dann’s The Animals of Farthing Wood; Felix Salten’s Bambi; Aileen Fisher’s Now That Days Are Colder; Herman Melville’s Moby Dick; and a set of World Encyclopedias given to me by Mr Andrew Jones, in my final days in class 5AJ.

‘Now that days are colder, now that leaves are down, where are all the chipmunks at the edge of town?’ (Aileen Fisher’s Now That Days Are Colder)

roald dahlAs I grew from size 9 shoes to size 12 shoes, I picked up such reads as Eoin Colfer’s Benny and Omar, and soon discovered Michael Crichton. J.R.R. Tolkien was read with vigour. The college years involved Roald Dahl’s complete works getting a read. Douglas Adams and George Orwell added to the vibrant multihued reading material. I even had a crack at the works of Robert Louis Stevenson and Charles Dickins. Amongst the known names, I recall reading two pieces that really caught my attention. The first was about CJD and prionic diseases. The title was rather welcoming, Deadly Feasts: The “Prion” Controversy and the Public’s Health by Richard Rhodes. There is a real detective feel to this book. It zips from cannibals in New Guinea, cattle globally, young people in America, Britain and France – and beyond. It really makes you think and carries a powerful warning about beef, and eating meat. That being said, I carried on eating meat after a year’s experiment as a vegetarian.

‘Don’t gobblefunk around with words.’ (Roald Dahl’s The B.F.G.)

wewishThe second covered a dark period of recent history and journalist Philip Gourevitch’s We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda (the link directs to chapter one). The theme chronicles the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, in which an estimated 1,000,000 Tutsis and Hutus were killed. What shocked me, was how neighbours turned on themselves and the psychological effects followd. It skirts on the political challenges of survival. It is gripping and full of pain. I even had a crack at the complete works of one William Shakespeare. The dramas make for tough reading but nevertheless their importance and influence is beyond comparison.

‘At least fifty mostly decomposed cadavers covered the floor, wadded in clothing, their belongings strewn about and smashed. Macheted skulls had rolled here and there.’ (Philip Gourevitch’s We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda)

aberAt university I switched into daydreaming mode and the movie popularity of The Lord of the Rings led to a re-read of everything J.R.R. Tolkien. Between daydreaming, textbooks and general procrastination of university work, I found little time for reading. There was always something shiny or distracting. However, I did read through the entire available works of Michael Crichton and the brilliant noir writer Malcolm Pryce – his Aberystwyth Mon Amour series being topical to my location.

‘That’s the trouble with people like you, Knight, you only know how to mock. How to break things. You don’t know how to create anything. You never did.’ (Malcolm Pryce, Aberystwyth Mon Amour)

JurassicparkJurassic Park had been on and off my bookshelf since my mother bought me an omnibus edition, with the novel Congo included. The distinctive movie red, yellow and black logo made for great artwork but within the text was something more appealing. Scientific facts mixed with imagination and fiction. Like every book I have read by the late Michael Crichton, there are technical descriptions crossing the genres of action (Prey), science fiction (Micro), thrillers (Disclosure), and medical fiction (Five Patients). One of my favourite pieces has been Eaters of the Dead [a tale of Ahmad ibn Fadlan’s own interpretation of his genuine voyage north and his understandings with and reflections of Vikings], however the posthumous release of the 1974 penned piece Dragon Teeth [fossil hunters in the historical fiction form] comes close. But then, Pirate Latitudes, as action goes is damn exhilarating. Whilst the movies and series versions of some of his works never live up to the style of his writing, I hope that those who watch them gain enough curiosity to pick up the books. 200 million book sales is too few for such a great writer.

‘All major changes are like death. You can’t see to the other side until you are there.’ (Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park)

ducksFollowing university, I dipped in and out of books like rain lashing the rooftops of Manchester. Ian Fleming’s great travel novellas sporting a certain James Bond gripped me for a while. Every shadow writer of that spy-battering ram has been read since. From BBC’s The Fast Show, comedy writer Charlie Higson has delivered great slices of young Bond novels for teenagers and a series called The Enemy. Well worth of a read. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert should be reviewed by the #MeToo movement. Forget 50 Shades of Gray! George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four actual reads as a documentary and doesn’t seem like fiction in one way! The entire works of Christoher Brookmyre was far more than an Attack Of The Unsinkable Rubber Ducks – more like All Fun And Games Until Someone Loses An Eye. Every book of his will grip you tight – don’t be fooled by his colourful covers.

“People are islands,’ she said. ‘They don’t really touch. However close they are, they’re really quite separate. Even if they’ve been married for fifty years.” (Ian Fleming, Casino Royale)

psychoIn China, I have been limited to the works of Andy McNab (notably the Nick Stone and Tom Buckingham series) alongside other odds and ends found on bar book exchange shelves or tucked away collecting dust in book shops. I have found time to re-read Peter Pan, by playwright J.M. Barrie. Johnny Marr’s autobiography Set the Boy Free, War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (which wasn’t to my enjoyment, and the riveting Moby Dick, by Herman Melville. The complete works of Jon Ronson (I thoroughly recommend The Psychopath Test) have been perused. The Welsh neo-journalist loves a good debunk or conspiracy to grip and twist until all the juices ooze out into the pages. Hunter S. Thompson (Hell’s Angels) would be proud of his works! I wonder if Jon Ronson has booked a firework-clad funeral for his future passing.


touchMy obsession with Mount Everest has drawn me to a related selection of books. I read most of these in the shadow of the mountain during January 2017. The following works were all written following the 1996 disaster in which many climbers and sherpas lost their lives.

“Ultimately, the Buddhist teachings say, misfortune happens less often to those whose motives are pure.”  (Jamling Tenzing Norgay, Touching My Father’s Soul: A Sherpa’s Sacred Jouney to the Top of Everest)
  • Into Thin Air: Death on Everest – a well-known climbing disaster book by Jon Krakauer;
  • The Climb by Anatoli Boukreev;
  • Left For Dead: My Journey Home from Everest, penned by Beck Weathers;
  • Touching my father’s soul: a Sherpa’s journey to the top of Everest, by Jamling Tenzing Norgay;
  • Climbing High – a lesser known read by Danish Psychological Counselor and climber Lene Gammelgaard;
  • The Other Side of Everest by Matt Dickinson.

If you piece together the events on the mountain based on the accounts and reports received soon after and long after, you will be no clearer as to what happened – other than it being a monumental mess of tragic proportions. The best of the bunch for me, was Jamling Tenzing Norgay’s account, as it touched on the spirituality and complexity of Sherpa and beliefs within the shadows of the highest mountain peak on our Earth. It also explored his relations and the effects of living in the following of his father Sherpa Tenzing Norgay.


“Colonel Vivian had convinced himself that Ivor Montagu’s enthusiasm for Ping-Pong was a cover for something more sinister.” (Ben Macintyre, Operation Mincemeat: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied Victory)

mincemeatSince that rambling holiday to Nepal, I have picked up Ben Macintyre’s Operation Mincemeat at Murray’s Irish Pub in Dongcheng. Since then Double Cross, Agent Zig-Zag and just this week Rogue Heroes: The History of the SAS, Britain’s Secret Special Forces Unit That Sabotaged the Nazis and Changed the Nature of War have followed. For Your Eyes Only: Ian Fleming and James Bond, was a book I read in 2008 and didn’t enjoy quite as much as his other well-researched and fine-tuned storytelling. Facts and simple description, even criticism and questioning of reported myths bore at you like an angry wolf. They are real page turners, not bogged down by over-complicated technical terminology and wordings unnecessary. The Times columinist cuts a good read up and builds a remarkably fascinating picture of moments in history. I guess with an extra day of freedom each year, he has extra time to write. His birthday being on Christmas Day. Some other writers lose their focus and clutter text or fill pages for fun. Every page of Macintyre’s work is blessed by an assiduous and attentive hand. His mind has carved questions in reported stories and embellishments that others may have accepted. When it comes to knowns, he wants the reader not just to read, but use the full force of their frontal lobes.  Next up, I will re-read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. To pick that particulatr gem up will be like revisiting an old friend. Another good friend could even be Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. Not a single movie version has touched on the depth of that epic adventure!

再见/ Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Ta’ra / Goodbye