To Dad.

How do,

I wanted to write this on Dad’s birthday. I procrastinated. A habit I possibly learnt from Dad. Let’s talk about my Dad. He’s half of the reason why I exist. Now, where to begin? Last week, I had a video call with Dad on his birthday. He was sat on his lounge sofa and the frustrations of being unable to get out were etched on his face. Dad’s never been a mountain climber or a road cyclist, but he’s always been someone who enjoys the outdoors.

Dad, as father to Shaun, Tina, Asa and I, hasn’t always been perfect. Who amongst us, can say they are free from mistakes or poor choices? This is life, and the consequences of one action or inaction ripple like a stone crashing into a millpond. Things between Dad and I haven’t always been gloss paint or even matt, or emulsion. There have been paint spillages. I still love my Dad and I feel his love too. I’m lucky. I can’t imagine life without a Dad, and I truly don’t want to feel the loss of my Dad (or Mum): that would hurt too greatly.

Dad mentioned, in our last call, he’d been ‘cutting back Himalayan barbed-wire‘ or in layman’s terms, chopping the plants of blackberries. It was good to hear that the garden was once again embracing Dad. I grew up at Joyce Street allotments listening to City’s away games, or playing with our dog Pup on the nearby Broadhurst Park. Dad always seemed to have his allotment patch (and at times, two allotments).

Before my teenage days, I was acutely aware that Dad bodged things together. A loose panel fastened awkwardly here, and a piece of perspex draped there. Never quite fitting. Always in a place that served purpose. Not pristine, always functional. Dad would show me blackbirds nesting in his grey monolithic-looking shed. He’d feed me coriander and thyme, unwashed from a patch of ground. I would eat delicious tomatoes, rich in flavour, second only to my Granddad’s – and truth be told, not by much! I recall eating cucumbers, strawberries and planting potatoes, dancing with goats, finding old toys in impromptu concrete paths and losing races to my older brother Asa. The allotments were a good place to be. With Dad.

During the summers, sometimes he’d help at the Joyce Street Farm and I’d get to feed ponies, gain the trust of feral cats, collect chicken eggs, much out the horses and play with ducks. The goats were always my favourite. They’d be loaned out to allotment holders to go mow their plots or let out to feed on an adjacent banking of grass. Chickens and poultry would scatter up and down on a free range grass plain. Sometimes I’d stay there and enjoy the peace. Other times Pup and I would go bonkers and break the peace.

Dad with Granddad would take us to Tottington for cuttings and chrysanthemums. We’d go to Chester for seeds. It wasn’t unusual to serve Granddad leaning over walls taking a few freelance cuttings of his own, from other people’s gardens. Dad, Asa and I would walk ahead seemingly oblivious but totally aware. Other days and evenings we’d meet his friends, the legendary John ‘The Ghost’, Ernie at the farm, locals at the Working Man’s Club, etc.

Whether it was spam butties, salad from the allotment, a pie at Newton Heath market or reduced to clear food, I can’t say I ever went hungry. Boxes of broken biscuits at Manchester Victoria station or vanilla custard slices were probably where I got my sweet tooth. What I’d give to sit down with a shandy at Newton Heath Working Man’s Club, or Two Dogs Alcoholic Lemonade at the defunct Castle and Falcon, and talk with Dad.

From an early age, caravan holidays have been a thing. Actually, since Nana and Granddad passed away, Dad has maintained a. succession of caravans in Morecambe. They’ve been a holiday home for family, neighbours and friends of the family. Ritz Carlton they’ve never been, but a stone’s throw from Morecambe’s famous Midland Hotel, they’ve always been cosy and convenient. Walking with dogs, Snowy, Suzie, Pup, Nomaz, Jerry, Nobby, Blue, and others, even cats Sky and Lucy, around the caravan park resort or along the beaches to Heysham have given a great sense of relaxation to many an Acton.

There’s no place like home. I miss Dad, equally as much as I miss my Mum and other tribe members. I live and work here in sunny Dongguan, and have no plans to leave here. I enjoy the challenges of my job far too much. I respect the freedom it affords me. I hope in this troubled year I can be home for Christmas. The COVID-19 pandenic has probably stopped a summer jaunt to Manchester. And even if I could go back, could I visit all the family at all their houses without myself being the risk of spreading this godforsaken virus?

Dad loves trains, and as a former painter and decorator of ‘anything but the trains’ he’d steam through stories about the places he’d been, witnessing snow on Winter Hill (in summer) and what painters do when watching paint dry. It took me a while to understand that the word crumpet wasn’t always food. These days the meaning would generate the #MeToo on Twitter. We’d visit steam trains or famous stations, as long as there was no cost. We’d ride in luggage cars, behind diesel trains or then speedy Intercity 125. Being sat on huge sacks of seaweed heading for Manchester’s gardens seemed normal to me. It was a pungent form of social distancing, far ahead of its time.

My Aunty Christine tells me Dad was a talented artist, and studied so. I’ve seen some of his works but it seems time has hidden them in Dad’s clutter. Uncle George, the youngest of Dad’s brothers and sisters, told many stories of them at Wembley, away games and Maine Road following the mighty Manchester City and occasional scraps with hooligan types. I could always see the family love in Aunty Irene’s eyes for Dad, but an awkwardness towards Dad’s habits. Our family, like many, has its quirks and oddities. I wouldn’t change it for the world.

One birthday, I pretended to sleep. I think I was disappointed that Dad hadn’t picked me up that weekend. Dad was supposed to pick me up every Saturday. My parents had divorced at, for me, an early age. I wasn’t in a broken home, thankfully, but the new norm for us all was different, yet not unheard of in Manchester. So, one night Dad opened my bedroom door and I was sleeping. But, I wasn’t. The gift was wonderful. I regret not sitting or waking up. I regret not hugging my Dad.

Gifts were always welcome. Books from the barrow at Manchestet Victoria Station, from Mum and Dad were always a treasure. Animal books, and adventures became habit. Over the years Mum would collect tokens and send off for hugely discounted books. I still have some here in China now. They’re both sentimental and functional. Dad would sometimes find stray Lego bricks and these little tokens (of an expensive luxury toy) fitted well. The two square road pieces with a helipad and three lanes were rarely out of use. I know that the once-paraffin barrel of Lego passed from me to Astrid and Paul, and then over to Shaun and Christina. So, a collection started by Mum and Dad has served well.

After completing the Morecambe Bay CrossBay run, I spotted Dad near the finish line and he took some photos of me looking shattered and void of energy. Cheers Dad! I was so happy to see Dad, that day, at Hest Bank. I think Christina and Shaun with there with the West Highland terrier Jerry. Either way after a mostly solo half-marathon distance through Morecambe Bay, it was a heartwarming sight. Also, it was at one of Dad’s favourite places, a sandy bank on the expanses of Morecambe Bay, complete with passing trains in close proximity.

There’s much more I can write about Dad. Perhaps I will one day.

Thank you kindly for your time.

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

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?

J3: The Secondary School Years

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

I woke up one morning in September drenched in my own urine.  The bullying had gotten so bad that I was physically shaking.  It was seven-thirty in the morning and I did not want to return to school.  I was scared.  The very few people I had talked with since entering the school were not strong enough to stand up to the bullies, with me or for me.  Since entering Mr Redmond’s class (7DR) I did not know where to turn to.  I was not enjoying my arrival to Reddish Vale High School at all. If I seemed to be smiling, during my first year at school, it was superficial. It was a lie. Inside my head was dizzy, lost and full of fear.

The high school had a farm located close-by to our tutorial room.  I would often go here at lunchtime throughout my first three years in Reddish Vale.  To protect myself from getting hurt I would not allow people to become too close a friend.  I sat on the 177 bus to school with James Cliff and Ben McGreavy but would not really associate myself with them in school.  James was a hit with the girls, I was not.  Ben was in a different class, and had his own interests with other groups, I did not want to intrude.  The armed forces of the U.K. mustn’t have had have more ranks than Reddish Vale High School, there was Peggy Rowe (head teacher), Mr Fowler (Deputy head teacher), Mrs Huntingdon (our head of year from year 7 to 11), and numerous teachers.  Yet I could not speak to anyone about the bullying. And when I tried to do so, I was watched.  I felt trapped, unsure of what to do.  I did what Mum advised me to, that being to get my head down and work.  So in classes I worked.  I competed for our tutor group in the Science Challenge, the Inter-Tutor group, and played as much football as feasible.  65 merit points, and 99.5 percent attendance later, and July arrived.  I, Ben, and James as a treat for great attendance were taken with many other 99% upwards students to Alton Towers for free.  That early summer’s day was mostly spent avoiding queues and riding the new ride, the Nemesis. We had to force James Cliff onto the ride but he went back for more. He was a good friend.

Every high school student around me had heroes, be they from bands, sports teams, the movies, family and friends, etc.  I chose to have several heroes, Morecambe & Wise, and my Nana amongst them.   One such hero was a German footballer called Uwe Rosler.  Uwe was brought into Manchester City F.C.’s line-up by Brian Horton from Bundesliga club FC Nurnburg.  Uwe was a holder of five East German international caps.  Rosler’s enthusiasm, and 64 goals, made him hugely popular with City followers like me – in his first three full seasons he was the top scorer with 22, 13 and 17 goals respectively.  His performance even outshone his more illustrious countryman Jurgen Klinsmann and won him City’s Player of the Year trophy in 1995.  In April 1998 he returned home when he joined Bundesliga leaders Kaiserslautern.  He was not a glamour-loving footballer, nor a man who asked too much, but he always gave his all, and his spirit encouraged others to give theirs too.  That is why he was my hero, and remained a hero even in 2005 when he was a football club manager in Norway.  He even battled off cancer.  Uwe Rosler is a true living City legend. He now manages Fleetwood Town, and his sons play at City. Colin and Tony are named after City legends Colin Bell and Tony Book.

By June of 1996, I was rewarded a prize for my effort and work in English by Reddish Vale High School.  This was similar to the Nobel Peace Prize, but much smaller and of less of an international recognition.  I would have also won the Inter-tutor group athletics long-jump had someone not jumped that extra centimetre beating me!  During the course of year eight I lowered my guard to Michael Clews, William Duncan, James Cliff, and David Jackson.  Occasionally, I even allowed the highly immature Adam “Madman” Morris into our group.  Me, William and Adam became known to our P.E. teachers Mr Moore and Mr Short.  I would only ever do P.E. if it was swimming, or football.  They would have to find me spare kit and force me into other sports, as I would purposely forget my kit on other occasions.  However, they would always seem to find me kit.  It also meant evading bullies. Adam and William were compulsive users of excuse-notes from their homes.  My effort grades were above average in everything, with the exceptions being the nothing subjects (drama, art, and music).  These grades carried on into year 9, by which bullying and bed-wetting was rife.  I did however manage to gain an award for I.T. in year 9.  Something they would later regret in year 10, as I crashed every school PC calling for many technicians to repair PCs.  Well it beats Adam putting Smarties in the floppy disk drives to see what would happen!

Out of school during years 7-9, I was close friends with Dan and Peter Ridyard who lived on Crayfield Road (having moved half a mile from Broom Lane).  This was convenient as they both lived around the corner from me.  Peter was the eldest, a few months younger than I.  Dan was a year younger, cheekier and bolder.  Over time we would get into trouble playing knock a door run, trespassing on golf courses, stealing golf balls, making dens, making bonfires, playing in builders’ sand, etc.  Dan and I became close friends as Peter drifted off.  Dan and Peter both attended Burnage High School for boys only.  Dan introduced me to Rob Hanna his school mate.  Rob kept a huge distance between himself and personal hygiene in 1997.  He is most definitely not gay.  Rob remained this way until in 2002 when he moved to Cleethorpes! I’m sure since then he has discovered soap and a tooth brush.

By September of year 9, Mr Rob Oxley had taken over from Mr Redmond.  Mr Oxley was tall, loud, and strict.  However, he was easy to fool or pushover.  He did not have full control of our class.  Graham Rothwell, Barry Rhodes, John Duncan, and Chris Grimes were expelled from our class.  He was now taking more control of class.  The exceptions being the lunch hour we opened up the tower lockers, removed the inner-shelves and locked James Cliff in there for a laugh.  Sadly, David Jackson found James too easy a victim for a laugh, and James would not defend himself.  After a month of this going on, I stepped in and ended up with a steal toe-cap in my face bruising my face and alleviating James’ bullying problem.  Who better to go for than defender of the victim?!  I could easily fight people off if needed to, but found the verbal name calling and constant taunting too much.  The teachers themselves seemed too afraid to help stop the bullies and this allowed the bullies the upper hand.  When alone the bullies would befriend me, but in their packs they would pick on me.

The Sunday afternoon that followed Asa’s 19th birthday celebration night would scar me for life, and cause me to miss two weeks of school.  I was on Scotland Hall Road Park playing field near my Nana’s home.  The park was behind Seven Acres Lane, in Newton Heath.  Me, a lad called Noel I’d met and his two friends were talking whilst I cycled around the swings they sat upon.  A large group of thirty or so males (ages ranging from 11 to 19) entered the park from an illegal pathway beyond the Clayton Vale railway track.  The group looked intimidating so Noel, his friends and I moved to the park edge.  My mountain bike would not go any faster, and I could see that the large group was running at us.  I jumped off the bike leaving it on the ground.  I ran as fast as I could onto the road, just behind Noel.

Noel and I returned to the park field twenty minutes later.  My mountain bike was where I had left it.  Without a worry I ran to the bike, grabbed it, lifted it up, and turned ready to leave the park.  From behind several trees behind me emerged several of the large group.  They had been waiting to ambush somebody.  Rocks hurtled past me, stones and sticks hitting the ground around me.  As I turned around to see how far behind me they were, a large piece of tarmac thrown from about 10m slammed into my face.  I fell over.  I was dazed and unsure.  I could hear them getting closer.  Confusion set in.  Panic did not set in.  I was dazed.  I looked up.  I was ready to die there and then.  I was awaiting torture.  My attackers closed in.  They looked at me.  They could see how they damaged me.  They could see how I was.  They ran.  I was ready to collapse.  I wanted to pass out.

An arm reached down to me, Noel had returned.  He lifted me up so I could stand.  All my weight was on him.  I was floppy, exhausted and dazed.  He helped me back to Nana’s house.  Nana rang Dad, who was now at his house at the top of Ludgate Road.  Nana called for an ambulance.  I collapsed.

I awoke in the bathroom upstairs, Nana holding a cloth over my face.  I was shaking, tortured, shocked, and deep into fear.  I could see my burgundy and white Manchester City shirt was below the blood that covered it.  Nana was rubbing my back trying to calm me.  I could taste the blood running down my lips.  I looked up and saw myself in the mirror.  The left-hand side of my cheek was swollen up as large as a tennis ball.  A gash stretched from under my eye to the side of my face.  Small cuts punched red patches around my eyebrow.  Blood poured from the top of my nose.  Below which I had no distinguishable nose features down to my nostrils.  The nostrils were flaps of skin waving about.  I could see fragments of my nose bone.  Blood was everywhere.  I could not see through my left eye.  I was horrified.  I panicked more.

Dad came rushing in.  He told me not to worry.  Dad rubbed my back, covered my nose in the cloth, and lifted me up.  He helped me down the stairs.  A taxi drove us to Asa’s nearby house.  Ace drove us to Crumpsall Hospital.  From here on a combination of nausea, dizziness, and confusion make the story patchy.

I remember waking up in Nana’s house and spending several days recovering in the same room.  Despite two witnesses and details I could remember the Police failed to catch anyone.  Many stitches, and some nose surgery later and I recovered.  I returned to school slightly traumatised but none the less more determined to avoid problems.

During year 11, my careers advisor Jenny Edge had persuaded me that there were more routes after school than A-levels or working full time at McDonalds.  She had told me of the BTEC National Diploma in Animal Care, and even found me several colleges to which I could study at.  This talk had also advised me where to do my work experience.  I was to carry my placement out at Manchester Pets and Aquatics in Ardwick.  This placement came and went, and Ron Bale (the manager) offered me a part-time job.  This job lasted until the following summer, where I worked full time until August 1999.

On the day Manchester City beat Macclesfield Town two goals to nil, I contemplated buying a pet mouse.  I wanted to name any new pets after the goal-scorers that day (Gareth Taylor and Shaun Goater).  The next day I went to work, and returned with three mice.  Silverside, Redcoat, and Dash were the three male mice.  Speedy Gonzales was a female mouse amongst them.  Speedy Gonzales killed all the males except for Dash.  They lived in my room happily for a long time, and reproduced several times (allowing me to sell them to Manchester Pets and Aquatics).  Mice will always make brilliant pets, as they are active, rarely aggressive and inquisitive little friends.

On a Sunday in January 1999, Manchester Pets and Aquatics experienced an armed robbery.  The criminals forced staff member Lee into the store with a knife to his back.  They had bats, knifes, and a sword in their possession.  They forced us to the ground.  Debbie was forced to the ground behind me, and one thuggish member spotted the phone nearby to me.  He lifted the phone, slamming it onto my right knee.  As he walked past he kicked Debbie in the back.  They forced Ron the manager up the stairs.  He was forced to hand over the days takings.  The criminals left with their new found wealth.  Within minutes half of Manchester’s Police force was on the doorstep.  It was too little, too late. I broke down in tears much later.

On the 9th of March, 1999, City beat Burnley by six goals to nil at Turf Moor Stadium.  Shaun Goater bagged a hat-trick, with Andy Morrison heading home, Horlock curling one in, and Allsop bagging a strike.  This gave City hope of returning to the Nationwide Division One.

Nana had been unwell for many months.  She had always suffered from Diabetes since I was born.  A silent car pulled into the farthest car park at Crumpsall Hospital.  Dad, Ace, Uncle Pud, and I climbed out of the car doors.  We walked into the hospital, neither of us speaking.  Our feet slapping the cold concrete ground echoing down long corridors.  We walked directly to a ward.  A body lay still, motionless on a bed three beds to our right.  “Come on Nana, get up. Let’s leave here now,” I thought.  Her silence, unconsciousness, peaceful body beneath the blankets did not remind me of how Nana would act.  This was the first time Nana had not offered me a Vanilla Slice or packet of Chewitts on my arrival to the same room as her.  A tear trickled down my cheek.  I could see Dad, Uncle Pud and Ace struggling to hold back their tears.  Ace was crying, he had moved into Nana’s spare room in recent years whilst he was studying at Salford University.  Nana’s battle with Cancer was coming to an end.  Her body was being pumped with Morphine to alleviate her final pain.

The phone rang on the 29th of April, 1999.  Mum answered the call.  She could not hear anyone.  Bernadette took the phone.  She told Mum that Nana had died.  I knew she was dieing, but I did not know to react when she had died.  Nobody so close had died, whilst I was over the age of five.  My wise, humorous, loving, caring, and hugely influential Nana had died.  I could talk openly with Nana about my ambitions, and we would talk about animals all day, whether in Morecambe, Morrison’s supermarket or Newton Heath market or even her family home.

I did not cry immediately.  I walked up the stairs at our home on Broom Avenue.  I opened my door, closed my door.  I sat by my bed, and pulled the quilt onto myself.  A torrent of tears released over me.  I cried myself to sleep.

The funeral of my Nana was to be held midweek during the spring school term.  I wanted to go to the funeral.  My Dad had passed the message about where the funeral would be held, and the time it was to be held.  I would have to make my own way.  I wanted to go, but did not have a black tie or white shirt.  I decided I did not want to let Nana down by going to the funeral in my scruffy clothes, so I would go to school instead.  I started walking to school, across the Highfield Country Park.  I could not walk anymore, I wanted to break down and cry.  I found a spot in some bushes to sit down.  I sat there all day crying.  Had my Dad or some other family member collected me, I would have gone to the funeral.  I wanted to say my goodbyes at the funeral, and Nana’s final resting place.  It would take me almost six whole years to visit Nana’s final resting place.  My memory of where it was wiped away and I was too afraid to ask Dad for the location.  I would visit Nana’s house and expect to see her, and for her to offer a friendly hello.  The once warm house grew cold, and Granddad grew lonely by the day.  I’d sit on the three-cushion settee by Granddad and expect Nana to come around the glass lounge door and offer biscuits and cherryade.  I hope there is a heaven, for Nana will be caring for everybody there.

In May 1999, City looked to be remaining in the Nationwide Division Two.  89 minutes had passed at Wembley Stadium, and Gillingham was leading by two goals to none.  Kevin Horlock hit a lucky strike in, the deficit had been halved but time was running out.  City were dominating, but time was against them.  Somehow in the moments of injury time, Paul “Crocus” Dickov had broken away from the defenders.  Goater’s shot ricocheted off the defence, before Paul Dickov fired the ball into the net.  City was level when the full time whistle went.  Thirty agonising minutes of extra time was played.  The penalty shoot out went ahead.  Dickov’s penalty hit the right post, and ran behind Bartram hitting the left post.  It never crossed the line.  Nicky Weaver saved a shot from the Gillingham striker moments later.  City had won 3-1 on penalties.  City was back in Division One for the 1999/2000 season. What a day!

In June 1999, following my year 11 exams, I met Joanna Fallows at work.  She was on work experience from a school in Hyde.  She lived in Gee Cross.  We would enjoy many nights at 10-pin bowling, the cinema, Pizza Hut, and Lazer Quest (where Dan and I often went each weekend).  Joanna was a tall lady, brunette, 36DD, and a very sporty lady.  We enjoyed swimming at the Hyde Leisure pools a few times together.  This was a very good relationship, especially as I did not feel anyone would ever like me.  We drifted apart by August, as I had quit Manchester Pets and Aquatics to spend more time with Joanna.  This backfired as Joanna seemed intent on just shopping.  I hated shopping.  We split up, and I started work at Co-op Pioneer in Gorton.  My first kiss and my first taste of foreplay came with Joanna. I was too young though. Young and naive.

In August 1999, Mum and Paul took Astrid, Paul and I to Barmouth (Abermaw).  The Welsh town is located on the west coast of Wales south of the legendary village of Harlech.  We stayed at a holiday village called Sunnysands.  The sandy beaches were clean and white.  The sea was warm and clear.  I would often walk south down the coast six miles into Barmouth.  In the mornings the beach was often undisturbed, and many a Cormorant or Blue-Velvet Swimmer Crab would be observed.  I would leave Barmouth with sunburn and a perfectly relaxed state of mind.

Registration for college was looming, and on the day I received 8 grades Cs, a grade B in Geography, and a grade D in Electronics at GCSE level. Not the best, but by far not the worst. I hadn’t revised at all, ever, not once.  I attended North Trafford College, handed my grades to Elaine Lamb (the potential tutor) and agreed I wanted to be part of this college (even if it was in the shadows of Old Trafford football ground).