Human Race.

Wasted energy just fizzled away. Wasted thoughts upped, up and away. Gone. Entropy, all said and done? Faded light in the thick darkness, a laser pen without power. No battery cell to zap outwards. Protons and neutrons inactive.

Plastic shreds, humanity on meds, ducks strangled by packaging. Gone. Waste management, and no fun? Carrier bags drifting in murky waters, a container without a rubbish bin. No recycling scheme to expand areas. Wrappers and sheaths defective.

Rubber tyres, telephone wires, headaches caused by noise. Gone. Bikes of thunder, and not one gun? Airplanes thunder overhead in shrouded skies, a siren without an emergency call. No laws to control the sounds. Banging fireworks completely reactive.

Grimy air, murky vision, stuffy noses full of dust. Gone. Smells of flowers, not by the sun? Machines clatter earth on stripped land, skies fill with ashes. No rule visited this land. This is all productive.

Do you remember trees?

What happened to the bees?

Rainbows and clouds vanished. Elephants and rhinos banished. Trees and grass diminished. Lakes and rivers finished.

Do you recall the smells of spring?

When did the birds last sing?

Dust filled the sky with pain. To see the horizon is a strain. No animals left with a mane. People struggling to stay sane.

How often did it snow back then?

Seasons. When?

The Human race. Who’ll be the winner?

Their gaff, their rules?

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

“If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.” – George Washington

Before I write any more, firstly, I need to clarify that I hate the idea of animals suffering. Actually, it forms one of the reasons why right now I do not have a pet. If I cannot be certain where I will live within twelve months, how can I look after a cat, dog or hamster? I’ve been lucky enough in my life to be raised around animals. My Dad and Mum gave me Pup, who was with me for about 17 years of my life as man’s best friend, a wonderful dog. There were cats along the way, Basil (think of a detective that was a rodent), Sparky and Tigger (original, right?). I had umpteen hamsters: Bright Eyes, Stripe, Gizmo and Gremlin to name but a few. Astrid, my sister, will tell you of her hamster Doris, and how she selected it on the basis that it bit her bigger brother (me) in the pet store. There were mice, bred and rehoused, with responsible intentions. I had fleeting dreams of being a vet – but for a huge dislike of blood. Then, it was time to study a BTEC National Diploma at North Trafford College and eventually study a BSc Behavioural Biology. Since then, my wildlife and animal passion has evolved into a pastime, set of interests and hobbies. The professional world was oversubscribed, underpaid and hard to escape clicks. It wasn’t for me. Instead I find myself softly influencing future generations and making people think twice.

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”- S.G. Tallentyre, The Friends of Voltaire.

Stumbling into education with transferable skills just meant I swapped elephant dung in the morning for a whole raft of new pooh. I’m in China, their gaff their rules. But I can talk freely about some topical issues. What is a wet market? Well, it’s just a marketplace that sells fish, meats, vegetables, and fruits. The produce is not dry (like fabric or electronics). The goods at wet markets are perishable. Not all wet markets slaughter animals or have a fishmongers. Across the Indian subcontinent (e.g. Thailand), China, Japan, Korea and the island countries northwest of Australia, wet markets can be found and are a common feature of daily life. Foods can be fresh, cheaper than supermarkets, and going to these markets themselves can be a huge part of your social life. It is tantamount to culture and traditions for many people. To close many wet markets may be seen as xenophobic and cause more problems. But, will these same wet markets yield the next outbreak?

Wang Mengyun’s video of a bat being eaten in Palau has become infamous. It is disgusting in my opinion. What adds further disgust is that RT and the Daily Mail, amongst many, posted this via news outlets and social media claiming it was from Wuhan. I was even sent it on the Chinese app Wechat. I’m not justifying or defending her, or any other fools eating weird crap. Data and images can easily fit any story, without, erm, actual information. Of course, if China is involved, then there’s always an element of menace and worry from a social point of view. What exactly are they up to over there?

The wet market here hasn’t reopened (and many will never reopen, as many are rumpured as marked for demolition, to be replaced by more sanitized versions) which is great. I’m actually excited for when it does because they have limited the list of edible species right down. You wouldn’t believe the list before. There was no list. It could have been likened to taking a walk in a zoo. Except, that zoo was closer to The Green Mile, and all the inmates were destined for the grimmest of chops. Owls, giant salamanders and frogs may not appear on the menu in Beijing, but across this large nation of China, there are huge differences in diets. Here in Guangdong, it is said that the Cantonese eat everything with four legs, excluding chairs and desks.

Afterall the list isn’t far off what is approved as meat in the U.K. The most exotic things are to be found all over Britain such as ostrich, deer, reindeer, alpaca etc. Sadly, the list still includes fur species: mink, foxes and raccoons. BUT activism and conservation are growing here. Thoughts are changing. Many influential and middle-class people really believe that bigger changes are coming. Conservation and animal welfare are some of the few things people can protest here. The WHO advised China to “sell safe food with better hygiene”. That seems to be triggering a huge revolution in hygiene. There’s revulsion at the rich who can afford palm civet soup, braised bear paws and deep-fried cobra. These rarities are not farmed or caught for everyone. There’s status and face to show off, and keeping up with the Joneses is on the menu. Rebecca Wong explains in her book about the illegal wildlife trade that things are far from simple.

The China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation is pushing for an end to meats from wild sources. Many cities such as Shenzhen and several provinces are banning the sale of wild-sourced meats – yet China only has a temporary ban in place (and that excludes use for Traditional Chinese Medicines – T.C.M.). Is the ban effective? Well, The Daily Mail, managed to get images and a journalist into Guilin, Guangxi province and show dogs alongside cats, with T.C.M. posters showing bats. The W.H.O., the U.N.’s Convention on Biological Diversity, have called on China to do more.

China’s Wildlife Protection Law to permanently make catching and eating wildlife as a food into a criminal law will follow. The decision’s first real steps had been made on February 24th 2020. It is expected the list of 54 wild species bred on farms will be further reduced. Do people really need to eat hamsters and bird of prey? Do these horrific farms need abolishing? Does the farm license from The State Forestry and Grassland Administration conflict with their interest in wildlife protection? Places like Guangzhou and this province of Guangdong will need to seriously rearrange their eating habits. Chinese news sources, backed and owned by the state, have decried the practice of eating wildlife. One such piece, China Daily, went further than most with an English opinion piece by author Wu Yong. He correctly pointed to the Institute of Virology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (home base: Wuhan) and their publications warning of the next big outbreak, following SARS in 2012. There are voices from within China banging a drum to the same beat: stop eating wildlife (50% of people surveyed in 2014 said wild animals should not be eaten). And should the laws come how vague will they be? How will provinces, cities and local areas enforce the laws? Who will steady the balance books of those who need the income?

“Without freedom of thought, there can be no such thing as wisdom – and no such thing as public liberty without freedom of speech.” – Benjamin Franklin

It is easy to say that wild animals carry viruses, and should they not be eaten by people, then there is little to no chance of these zoonotic viruses affecting human lives. If we do, then the viruses are with us. But, how many viruses start on farms from long-term domestic animals? Think Pandemic H1N1/09 virus and its outbreak from Mexico/U.S.A. in 2009 that killed about 151,700-575,400 people globally, according to the CDC. The problem is that for some their eyes are bigger than their bellies. They don’t want you and I, or others telling them what is right or wrong. For some status and entitlement is paramount. Why can a rich U.S. hunter go and shoot a lion in Africa, when a poor villager can’t catch pangolin in Vietnam to support their family? Will bans work? Will the trade go from loosely regulated to completely underground shady dealings? “Psst, wanna but a civet?” What is a civet anyway? I imagine many having seen a pangolin too. Look them both up. They’re wonderful little critters. Just don’t grill them!

“It is clear that not in one thing alone, but in many ways equality and freedom of speech are a good thing.” – Herodotus

China has endured food safety scandals, unusual additives being included in food, a distrust of food regulation, corruption and countless public health appeals and campaigns seeking to improve standards. If you live here long enough, you’ll know having diarrhea tablets to be most useful. Food poisoning happens and at public ad even private restaurants, finding hand soap can be a miracle. Everyone carries hand sanitiser and tissues, but few look forwards to visiting an outside toilet. To get to the modern regulation systems of the U.K. standards, the U.K. under the name of Great Britain and its Empire had many flaws and faults. Many want change but it will take time. Not every country is perfect, some wash their chicken in chlorine, don’t you America? Tradition and odd ingredients need talking about, at least. Without conversation and debate, how can we as people strike a balance between nature and need?

This pandemic is always going to throw up many questions. Should all wet markets adapt and abandon tradition in favour of hygiene and high standards? Yes, for the sake of humanity, surely! Should we be searching for the next big pandemic? Should we be vaccinating our pets and our zoo animals when the cure to COVID-19 arrives? Will the virus replicate and mutate in other domestic animals? Have we ignored the warnings (2017 and so on) for too long? Will wildlife poaching rise in the shadow of little eco-tourism? How many more lies will the internet spread about handwashing?

“We have to go see Bill Gates and a lot of different people that really understand what’s happening. We have to talk to them, maybe in certain areas, closing that Internet up in some way. Somebody will say, ‘Oh, freedom of speech, freedom of speech.’ These are foolish people. We have a lot of foolish people.” – Donald Trump, Twitter user.

Keep talking. It’s the only way to progress.

 

The cover image: chicken anus on a stick. From a Taiwanese takeaway store, in China.

 

Thanksgiving Day.

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

“And I was taught to feel, perhaps too much, the self-sufficing power of solitude.” – William Wordsworth, The Prelude.

So, my trek in Nepal was over. I’d passed through up to 28 ethnic groups of people, notably Thakali, Gurung, Magar, Chhetri, Bhotia and some Tibetans. I’d seen Annapurna II, Manaslu, my favourite haunt of this trek, Pagunda Danda and other great mountains. I’d passed through areas housing maybe just 45,000 or so people in a short distance and across great swathes of area. The river Marshyangdi had been by my side from beginning to the end, and never more than a few kilometres away from my wanderings. I’d tread along a world-renowned trekking destination that needs great care, for peril lurks at every ridge. Remarkable waterfalls, dense forests, and other climatic wonders had lined the sub-tropical, temperate, sub-alpine and alpine bio-climatic zones. These imposing regions offered diversity in both mammal and bird species, and plants that I’ve never seen anywhere else before, and no doubt will never see somewhere else. The barks of musk deer, the swoosh of vultures, the tweets of life from tree to tree, and flashes of Himalayan Langur will stay in my memories.

I’ve met people connected with agriculture, animal husbandry, tourism, the military, conservation, Buddhist monks and other labouring forces. These stirring moments reminded me why I love to visit Nepal. There have been moments when I’ve looked in shame at crumbling mountain sides, ripped open by new roads, and power lines draping over great scenery. The price of a modern world has cut open a blend of people in need of the new age, with as many in fear of what will arrive. Can these ethnic groups survive the new ways in, and the new exposure to the outside world? Will everything change too fast for some to understand? Will education and investment bring new opportunity? Can the high pressure on natural resources be reduced? Will an unequal distribution of tourism wealth and benefits leave some people behind? Poverty is there, but can it seriously be eradicated? Will Chinese hydroelectric dam projects benefit anyone if they have mostly Chinese workforces? Will Indian investment be reduced as Nepal juggles the money of China over India?

With hunting, poaching, pollution, loss of habitat and humans getting ever closer to wildlife, can the Annapurna or Manaslu parks be improved to reduce these problems? Will climate change, flooding and increased tourism add greater strain to the region? I read that 18% of the world’s plant species can be found in the Annapurna Conservation Area. The project there highlights that 58% of Earth’s birds are present. A staggering 33% of Earth’s reptiles have refuge in the region. Amphibians (20%), butterflies (53%), and flowering plants (18%) represent significant proportions of Earth’s species too. There’s much more to Annapurna than snow leopards and possible yeti sightings…

To have walked through the largest protected park of Nepal was a privilege. I sat down to a cold coffee in Pokhara and stroked my sore head. I decided I would fly from Pokhara to Kathmandu. My friend Jodie was to visit Kathmandu a day or so later. I decided the long arduous coach journey was too much for me. Besides I like to fly and the price wasn’t too bad (732RMB) – and bookable via my Wechat money and Trip.com application. After a few wanders from the now ghostly quiet Pokhara, I was ready to fly.

Before doing so I took in the sights of Pokhara, a bat cave and the Gurkha Memorial Trust. Since joining the British Army in 1815, after showing valour in the battlefield against the British, the Gurkhas have enjoyed great connection with Britain and India. The museum itself was alike almost every museum and trust collection, with cabinets of medals, regalia and factsheets. Photos of hundreds of faces, stories and campaign information could be found throughout the large building. I was welcomed by two former Gurkha soldiers in full uniform and shown to the ticket desk, then set free to enjoy the words of regimental life, the sounds and read about Victoria Cross winners. A history sheet was handed to me and I spent a good couple of hours perusing the displays. I had passed the museum by chance, and prior to walking to Bat Cave in the direction of Mahendra Cave not even know there to be such a museum. I did not expect to be so detailed and well-constructed. The passion of many had created their space to inform, educate and celebrate. Here I learned the name Gurkha comes from the hill of Gorkha, and not from a specific race of people. Better to die than be a coward, is the Gurkha motto. Their history attains to that. Long may they have the welfare and care of those who respect them.

Now, Bat Cave is called that on every sign. I could see signs for the religious Mahendra Cave frequently. Those signs had Nepali Sanskrit and English on. The Bat Cave just had English. Bruce Wayne had no chance of hiding a Batmobile and Batwing in there. Green foothills surround the cave, but before you get there, a gate, with a kind of turnstile not out of place at a 1980’s football ground and a pay booth await. Here they try talking you into hiring a guide. I resisted that. I wanted tranquillity. He handed me a large lamp. I handed that back and shown him my simpler headtorch set. In I went. After a few steep steps, a dip and a ducked head I was in the main cavern. Alongside me were around 70-100,000 horseshoe bats. I dipped my torch and gazed on enjoying the cold humid chamber underground. The floor is slippery, the air is whiffy (it is a home to nature, after all), and my good footwear helped me a great deal. I reminded one small group to stay quiet, and they respected my wishes – and that of the bloody great big sign saying to be silent. There was a tiny passage for an exit, but I doubled back without trouble. I wanted to avoid a bump on the head.

After the 20km round-trip walk, I headed back to Obey Guest House. The family were really very nice. Sushil’s place had been recommended to Srirang and I by Livia on our first brief stop in Pokhara. Each time I’d stayed, I ended up the same room: up the stairs, first right turn, first room. The big clean room had a double bed, coffee table, hat stand, two small chairs, a bathroom with a steaming hot shower and a sink for a proper scrub down. There was a tiny balcony and the door would open to allow me to put my stinking walking boots outside. On the top floor, there are several levels to appreciate the panoramic views and a place to sit with a garden table. The family were really welcoming, warm and friendly. They check on you and make you feel at home. Sushil had washed some of my laundry before the trek, and it was waiting in a bag for me, alongside some trainers I’d left behind. The lodge is a tall pink building up a road from Lakeside. It’s easy to find. There’s Wi-Fi and the family pointed us to a simple and tasty breakfast place at the top of the road. Every morning I awoke to beautiful bird call, and at night I enjoyed peaceful ambience. I had several good sleeps there. Sushil pointed us to the nearby TIMS office, other amenities and gave great advice throughout. If you want to stay somewhere peaceful without hassle and worry, then obey me and look up Obey Guest House.

I do have to apologise to Obey Guest House because I stupidly left my smelly walking boots on the balcony when I left… I hope that they turned them into a plant pot! They probably couldn’t be repaired, and they certainly won’t be now! Sorry Sushil and family!

So, with the wheels lifting off the Pokhara runway, flight YT676, operated by Yeti Airlines departed, I assume. I’d been shuffled onto an earlier departure that eventually departed later. Not to worry. It was a good flight. The flight comfortably descended into the Kathmandu valley and once again I was in the cradle of rapid urbanisation. Here I enjoyed more days at Northfield Café and hotel, met a good man to embroider my travelling shirt, and enjoyed a haircut. With room in my bag, eight Lee Child novels filled my bag and that was that. I was ready to go. Goodbye Nepal. Thanks to Srirang and Livia for great company. Thank you to all of those people I met. See you again.

 


 

Almost 54 days later, I am writing this piece. I should have been in Hong Kong and heading over to Dongguan, China on the 15th of April. Here, I am in Dongguan, preparing to end my time in quarantine. If my PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) test comes back as negative tomorrow, I will be allowed to go to Dongguan’s Changping town, to fill in more forms and scan a QR code to show that I am virus-free. I’ve penned a letter to the management and local government officials here. Maria and Waits translated it for me. It’s as per below:

 

二零二零年四月八日
8th April 2020

 

给相关人士 To whom it may concern.

 

诚 挚 地 感 谢 

T H A N K   Y O U   K I N D L Y !

我从心底里感谢你。谢谢你对我的帮助。就像一名优秀的曼城足球运动员一样,我会敞开心扉。我在这里的日子很艰难,但你们更加辛苦。Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Thank you kindly for helping me. Like a good Manchester City football player, I wear my heart on my sleeve. My time here has been tough, but you have been tougher.

当你路过西湖的时候,不管是东莞的这家酒店,还是那片著名的杭州的湖,还是惠州的那座城市,你都一定能够感受到你所做的这一切带给你的荣耀,是你肩负起了这份重任。When you pass West Lake, whether the hotel in Dongguan, the famous lakes of Hangzhou or the city of Huizhou, you’ll be able to think of the pride that you made a difference. You answered the call.

是你让所有人一起团聚;是你给予了爱人、朋友和亲人们一起纵享新时刻的机会;是你,在保护我们,你在照看我们,是你放弃了你们自己的时间,而把精力全部投入到了我们身上。You brought people back together. You gave loved ones, friend and family the chance to enjoy new moments together. You protected us. You looked after us. You gave up your time and gave us all your energy.

你为我打扫卫生,检查我的健康,为我尽心尽力。你让我的肚子饱饱的,并激发了我不知道我能做的锻炼。每当我口渴的时候,你就在那里。You have cleaned up after me, checked my health and waited on hand and foot for me. You have kept my belly full, and inspired exercises I didn’t know I was capable of. Every time I have been thirsty, you have been there.

我是东莞的客人。广东的客人。来中国的客人。你让我很受欢迎。我非常喜欢东莞。这是一座充满希望、想象力和雄心的城市。就像我的家乡曼彻斯特一样,这里也有工业路线,但这里的工业路线也越来越多。I’m a guest in Dongguan. A guest of Guangdong. A guest to China. You’ve made me welcome. I like Dongguan greatly. It is a city of hope, imagination and ambition. Like my hometown of Manchester, it has industrial routes but here too has grown to be so much more.

我们是如此的幸运,生活虽有不便但我们还是在这儿。那些倒下的人、那些逝去的人和那些殉职的人——正是因为他们,我们才能好好地活着。让我们一起为他们默哀片刻吧。We are the lucky ones. We are inconvenienced but we are here. Those who fell, those who died, those who died – it is because of them, we can live well. Let’s observe a moment of silence for them.

 

 

Mr John R. Acton

 


 

TO THE HEROES.

To the NHS staff in the U.K.; and to those health workers, care assistants, doctors, nurses, specialists and all going about in essential jobs right now. I salute you. Keep fighting on. Never give in. You are true heroes. The world needs you. I wish you well. Good luck! This is your hour to shine. Inspire the next generation and those who can and should support you. Look after your neighbours and we’ll find a brighter day. Peace and love!

 

I’m not gonna give up.

Sawasdeekhap / Namaste / Welcome!

Before the climb, we’d stopped in Danagyu, at a lodge on the right-hand side. It was busy. A family were playing cards. Kids were running around and one managed to hit both Livia and I with first her walking stick and second a snotty finger. I was fully aware of the coronavirus outbreak by now. It was by now February. Hygiene was on my conscience but this terrible toddler was not sharing my concern. Bogies smeared down my leg. I used soap and water to clean it away. Eventually a teenage girl came over and shuffled the toddler away. We’d already ordered pumpkin soup and momos now. Having seen the soon to be altogether contour lines on the map, our engines for walking needed some much needed fuel. One trekker’s bar wasn’t going to be adequate.

After reaching a waterfall tucked in a tight ravine, Livia went right along the road, and I went left up some steep steps. Srirang was just behind Livia, with his sore leg, yet he soldiered on and never gave in. Tough lad. After only a few steps, I started to see speedy little Himalayan squirrels and the view backwards of the peaks nearby to Manaslu was marvellous. Upwards was very much that. Up, up and away. After some crumbly steps, that could have been made of Lancashire cheese of apple crumble topping, I managed to reach the road, and cross straight over back onto the pathway. Here the green trees folded outwards ever so slightly, to show stacks of natural compost on the forest floor. The air had a damp natural earthy smell and occasional felled logs rotted alongside the trail. The track would mostly rise and do little of a fall. Soon enough the mud and dirt track became covered in frozen snow. Not the fluffy soft and easy to trudge through kind, but the solid mostly with a metre drop inwards should I find the bit unable to tolerate my weight, kind. And it seemed I was in for many steps up, and a few deep into the partially frozen snow. Heave. Heave. Heave.

The snow pretty much didn’t want to convey me and with every drop my boots, and the best part of my legs disappeared. Out came the crampons. Out came the determination. Onwards I went. My imagination enjoyed the peculiar eerie silence. I imagined packs of wolves, snow leopards and bears watching me go by. Not your ideal range of animals to picture you pass by, especially if one of them was very hungry, but here I was in the territory of nature, and damned if I was going to imagine Minecraft or a rock concert.

The pine trees shed patches of snow and melt water dripped all around me. Glorious rays of sunshine broke the canopy and occasionally I caught glimpses of mountain tops here and there. Then, a sudden crashing sound in the trees ahead, had me at full alertness. I froze solid as the iced floor around me. Silence resumed. Then a larger and louder thump and crunch. Something was in the trees ahead. I heard a racket and a commotion. Voices yelled from the canopy to my immediate left. The thuds and thumps were accompanied by a disturbance in the snow maybe a few hundred metres away. Then I spotted a monkey, Himalayan langur, springing up and down in the snow, swiftly from tree to tree across a small clearing. They didn’t seem too perturbed by the snow, but didn’t hang around either way. I tried to shoot them. My camera wasn’t quick enough though.

Throughout this journey, I had seen many mammals. These included Himalayan langurs, Assam macaques, Rhesus macaques, Irrawaddy squirrels, orange-bellied Himalayan squirrels, Himalayan striped squirrels, voles, Himalayan field mice, Himalayan pika, shrews, a variety of bats, and some wild boar, I’d never seen many animals in the snow. It was a privilege to enjoy the monkeys and hear them move over the forest. It was a welcome break from the constant in and out walking motions of the snow. I also had chance to reflect about the fall onto my walking stick which had gave the stick a slight bend, or three.

After crossing many streams carefully, over tiny little snow-covered bridges, and occasionally playing find the rock over the odd crossing point, I reached a stretched out chain bridge. Snowfall and heavy damage had ripped one end of the supports from its foundations. The two guard rails fanned out, practically useless. It wasn’t quite and Indiana Jones movie, but it looked far more precarious than comfort. The river flow was about five metres wide, pummeling steeply down to the River Marsyangdi many metres below in altiiude. I decided to chance my luck at a bridge further upstream. After 200 metres, I realised that this was the only bridge. I hadn’t seen one downstream either. Whilst I could hear the river nearby, I couldn’t see it and no alternative route evident. The flayed and flawed bridge was to be my point of movement. A way like no other.

So, off came the crampons, and then I positioned my rucksack tighter to my back. I stowed my walking sticks. I pulled out my thin winter gloves with extra grips (thanks Black Diamond) and I stepped through the first pocket of snow on the bridge. I tested the bridge for movement. First with a little weight and then applying all slowly, readied to dive into the snow to the side of the bridge. Then, I did a kind of half-hop. The bridge was surprisingly sturdy – a real testament to the Gurkha builders who had provided so many bridges across the country. From that, I leant and tested the sideways cable to my left, uphill and in appearance the least damage of the handrails. I turned square onto it. I placed my left hand over my right hand and never left any motion rightwards without one very firm hand on the rail. By the time I’d reached the centre of the bridge, the rail tilted upwards, almost as it should have been and all the snow had melted in the sunlight. I gently walked up to the other side and looked backwards. Stepping off the bridge was a relief. Then I peered left at the small landslips dotted along the river bank.

The fallen ground and occasional uprooted tree didn’t prove too much of a challenge. The trail banked left and into an open field, which led onto a rock-cobbled road. Each rock was jagged and unwelcoming. It had a Lord of The Rings feel to it. Wild, and otherworldly. Onwards, I plugged until reaching the Hotel Royal Garden, where I met Livia aftera few minutes. Here, I also met Shadow. Shadow wasn’t his name but for that day he would be my little shadow and follow us throughout the village of Timang. After a great lunch, Srirang joined us, and we checked in for the night, just 100 metres down the road. Ahead of us the weather looked bleak and unsettled. So, a Sherpa family welcomed us, and we dropped our bags into a room each. The Hotel Manaslu View Point had a view of Manalsu in the distance and the panoramic view in all directions was a clear sign that we were now in the Himalayas, proper. Timang (2630m) was about 400 metres higher than Danagyu (2200m). The air temperature was much more-icy here. Clouds floated over the mountains behind us, disguising hidden peaks and over the River Marsyangdi to the opposite side, occasional matchstick-looking pine trees, empty of leaves and needles, stood like wooden stakes in a cemetery. There looked to have been a nuclear blast over the valley. Even the ground appeared clear of life.

This village was both sinister and beautiful. Firstly, the crows, those often billed in horror movie birds, were everywhere. They made themselves known with sharp piercing cries and occasionally softer sounds. The Kāga (काग Nepali for crow or craven) here were not Carrion crows. These were bigger ravens, Corvus corax tibetanus, with long grey neck feathers. Light on their feathers gave a beautiful purple-blue iridescence. Amongst the pairs of ravens, Carrion crows moved and foraging by jackdaws, and other smaller birds like sparrows could be seen through the village. Now, the sinister, I described wasn’t too much about the crows…

One single storey building with a shop front on the right of the road gave me new heebie-jeebies. Outside the front a man swapped tyres on a jeep. At the side of this passengers from the jeep waited patiently. At the rear of the building in the garden, an animal pelt hung from a washing line. From a distance I couldn’t work out if it was red panda, a dog or something of similar size. I know that the rules in Nepal are extremely strict regarding hunting, but I could not for the life of me understand what it was. It was, in all probability, a goat – and certainly unwelcoming. And, not far from that pelt on the washing line, a dead crow was tied up by its neck, flying in the wind like a grim version of a child’s kite. I expected haunted hillbilly music and a narrative from an Alfred Hitchcock movie.

After a great dal baht, in front of a warm fireplace, we all departed for bed. The matchstick looking cluster of spiders in the toilets gave an appearance of buffalo pubic hair [you know what I mean!] – and they seemed to detect the cold too, nestling together like brush hair in the corners of the long cold toilet room.

After a good night’s sleep, a great omelette and some defrosted ice-water, we three departed, bidding our farewell to Shadow the dog and a variety of goat kids in the nursery nearby. The road headed out, skirting around the brow of the hills beside us, never quite leaving the river below. At Tanchok village it doubled back inwards, crossing a frozen stream before lurching back into the river valley below. It slid gently up to the crossroads at Koto before nestling its way into Chame (2700m), complete with signs for yet more hot springs. Monkeys had been sighted in the forest’s brow by the village of Tanchok, by Livia and I stood watching them for some time. Here the valley started to tighten up and appear much steeper than previous days.

Chame is a colourful place, but in February, the sun sets early, shrouded by mountainous ridges to the west. Here a dozen municipal buildings and hospitals can be found. Derelict military barracks stand to the village’s north. It is a town of about 1200 people. In winter it is quiet with many people heading to Kathmandu and Pokhara. There are signs of the April 2015 earthquake having struck here. There were also some very good small supply shops and chances to get some much needed fruit into our diet. We checked into the cosy New Tibet Hotel and Restaurant sandwiched between a brittle looking cliff face and the river’s east bank. We then had a wander around the village which seemed to be many scattered lodges along a kilometre of two. An upper level village to the west looked more modern and functional, but less touristic. There were the usual array of schools and public facilities with prayer flags visible all across the high points.

After the walk Livia tucked into her billionth bowl of rice pudding, and probably ordered one for the morning too. Seeing Livia eat rice pudding in a wolf/koala/bear hat was quite a frequent sight on the journey. I often had scrambled eggs, porridge and buckwheat bread of chapatti. Always with a milky coffee or tea. Several bank machines were available in the village but there was no internet and sporadic power cuts for the two nights that we stayed. There was even a roadblock on alert for any walkers from China! By now fear and panic about COVID-19 had spread up the road. I kept news that I had left China over two weeks before arriving there to myself. I’d heard Chame described as an often crowded place. We met only two other trekkers, both French and both walking solo (with a guide).

Our lodge was less than two minutes of walking from a lovely spot. The hot springs doubled up as an open air launderette. Livia and I washed our clothing in the warm flow of water, as local soldiers soaked up the minerals in the neighbouring swimming pool. The spring itself was a dull green bubbling hole with pipes jutting from it. Nothing exciting to the naked eye. The miracle of life and fresh water was surrounded by man-made concrete and exploitation. Still, it was a good place to wash my underpants. Bloody warm too. Later I scattered my clothes on the balcony and added some socks to a warm chimney to speed dry them in the fading sunshine. Night was soon rolling in, complete with starry skies and ice-inducing temperatures. To be continued…


 

On the I’d booked a flight between Bangkok Don Mueang International Airport and Shenzhen for April the 1st. April Fool’s Day. Appropriately Thai Air Asia cancelled it yesterday. As I had used Trip.com to book it, I have to use Trip’s customer services. Flight FD596 is no more. On top of that, my visa expires here on April the 14th. I have been told that to stay here, I need to have a letter from the UK Embassy to say that travel to my country of residence is not possible. The UK Embassy won’t give such a letter for British citizens traveling to China. Thailand’s Immigration won’t allow me to stay because I can currently fly to the U.K. There are flights to Guangzhou at drastically hyper-inflated prices but even they could be pulled. Trip.com’s phone numbers ring a little and then hang up, all three of them! Their email reply reads as follows:

“Due to the huge backlog of emails caused by Corona Virus pandemic, we are sincerely sorry that your email won’t be able to get reply as usual. It will be delayed but no later than 30 days. Kindly recommend to manage your ticket online or though APP.” – modern day example of a crappy auto-response from a customer disservice centre, March 2020.

I get that we’re in a global catastrophe and the world is going mad buying excessive amount of bog rolls and shutting borders, but when you haven’t got much cash, or hope to get around, and your head feels like it is going to explode if it doesn’t release the bubbling rage and worry inside. I even paid for new cycle lights to allow me to break out of my body, and fly away, like a bat out of hell… or at least peddle fast from stray dogs and monkeys now coming out from the temples and sanctuaries in search of food. Next I expect to see chameleons on sun loungers, well maybe not see them, but at least know they’re there when the fly numbers drop down. That’d be more amazing because as I am aware, there aren’t chameleons in Thailand, but with current world problems, maybe they’ll bounce back like other wildlife – especially now people are talking more about wildlife trade ending. Or, will this COVID-19 world hide a debate about climate change?

Still, worries aside, it could be worse. It could be much, much worse. I worry for others. I’ll survive and money I haven’t got will add to other money that I never had. You can’t repossess from a hobo, right? Especially one trapped in Thailand… trapped, with just two bottles of Vimto and two frozen portions of black pudding. Nope, it ain’t all that bad! Stay strong. Survive. Beyonce and her mates told you to.

“I’m a survivor (what), I’m not gon’ give up (what); I’m not gon’ stop (what), I’m gon’ work harder (what); I’m a survivor (what), I’m gonna make it (what); I will survive (what), keep on survivin’ (what)” Destiny’s Child’s song was covered by 2WEI.

 

Add Vim or Gin & Tonic?

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do / S’mae / Namaste

WHO AM I?

“Everything in life is difficult: Being young, being old.” – Dag, TV series 3, episode 4 opening credits.

What is the meaning of life? Such a common question. I wonder why that is always the big question. Is the answer really 42? Many in religion argue that a scientific mind is a major cause of an individual’s crisis in meaning. Is it that there is almost a denial that an interplay of gases, chemicals, genetics and biology can lead to a meaning? Our amoeba cousins are prime examples of life. The humble farmed hogs being hunted the leopards of Mumbai too. Look outside and see a butterfly flutter by, and there is the answer. Survival. Google the wrong term without a safe search and you’ll no doubt stumble on the other answer: propagation.

Without completely telling religion where to scatter, I won’t force my beliefs on those who believe. Rag’n’Boneman will back me up. I’m only human, after all. I do however favour a logical and scientific approach to life, and higher beings don’t exist in it. No prophets, Gods, Goddesses, Deities, immortals, idols, or divine beings for me. I do believe in nature as a force. Holy beings are a no. Caterpillars changing to butterflies are a yes. The bible is young. God, the one Him and He that is mentioned in the new and old testament is quite modern, which I find strange and a little questionable.

Depressingly life is quite simple, and it seems us numpty humanoids complicate things. Is the glass half full? No. Is the glass half empty? No. The glass exists, with something neither incomplete nor complete inside it. It can house more or less than the state it was in before two simple questions were presented. Is the glass full of water and air in an unbalanced state? Is the water warm, cold or hot? Who put the question into a glass? Why not a whiskey tumbler? Are tumblers a glass? How many other glasses are stood full nearby? Can the question apply to tins of Costa Coffee x Coca Cola? Will that make it into a Costa Express machine to be delivered free one day?

Books, movies and songs have always been good companions. I fear that I will let others down, or myself down. I need a ray of sunshine to pick me up. Other people’s wonderful creations give me hope. They are my sunshine on a dark day. I’m in a foreign land where not everyone speaks my tongue. Few do. Even then if I can speak with someone, no matter how close they are, I cannot be sure that they truly understand me. Linguistic and cultural barriers exist in regions, countries, political beliefs and thoughts too. My humour is not Andy Warhol, and not Billy Connolly. It is just me, plain old and simple me. To have fingers put upon emotions, by others, and shared before eventually reaching you is simply delightful.

“Almost everything will work again of you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.” – Anne Lamott, novelist

The trick of life is surviving it by feeling achievement. Somewhere in our DNA is an answer to a problem. Perhaps we don’t know of it. Perhaps we never will. Perhaps our species will have evolved time and time again rendering that answer obsolete. Relationships in our lives may dip, ebb or fade away. That’s life. Kick it in the dick and move on or engage in conversation. Have a natter with a good friend – or help your significant other to understand you using words. If that fails, there are alternative lifestyles like nudist camps, swinging, or cycling around the world jobless. Not every mould of lifestyle choice will fit everyone. Find that extra vim. If something feels dead end and meaningless, change the goalposts and seek the verve and vigour that you need. Too many people die with regrets. To quote William Wallace in Braveheart, “Every man dies, but not every man really lives” or something similar to that. Goodbye triviality, hello exuberance.

“Animals, poor things, eat in order to survive: we, lucky things, do that too, but we also have Abbey Crunch biscuits, Armagnac, selle d’agneau, tortilla chips, sauce béarnaise, Vimto, hot buttered crumpets, Chateau Margaux, ginger-snaps, risotto nero and peanut-butter sandwiches — these things have nothing to do with survival and everything to do with pleasure.” – Stephen Fry, Moab Is My Washpot

For me, I think people around the world would love a bit more understanding and togetherness. There are all too many bullets to chests, too many factories billowing crap into the air and too little respect being shown by leaders to their people. More empathy, less greed and a dab of extra worth wouldn’t harm anyone. No need to power up a supercomputer for 7.5 million years. However, we can still dream and look to the stars for hope or worship our chosen beliefs.

When I was at university and failed my first year, I felt lost. Why was I suddenly studying Behavioural Biology, far from home, running up a debt that clouded my hunger to study? I didn’t have a clue if it would get a me a career or a pathway into “the real world” (as students would often say). I did know one thing. Here I was far from home. Independent. Going solo. The reading of books and the routine of lectures wasn’t for me. I stumbled through years of studying and almost zero revision. Did I feel that I had failed? No. It was a challenge and I was out of my comfort zone. I learnt about myself in more ways than I thought possible. The wisdom of hindsight has taught me that.

THE EMPIRE ON WHICH THE SUN NEVER SETS

With more opportunity people are free to find their purpose. As it stands Braveheart is being remade on the streets of Hong Kong, in a historically flipped up situation made by Great Britain. The British Empire, at its peak in 1920, covered almost a quarter of the Earth’s surface area. After losing 13 colonies to the U.S.A.’s birth in 1783, Britain headed east and towards Africa. The Pacific was ripe for picking. For 99 years, starting in 1815, Britain became the Team America: World Police of the day. As Britain became challenged by Germany and the U.S.A.’s rise, the cracks that allowed the outbreak of the Great War were laid. In 1922 Ireland became free of British rule. Other territories would soon follow. Britain’s eastern empire fell with Japan sweeping over the supposedly impregnable Singapore, sewing the foundations for New Zealand and Australis to go alone, eventually.

Decolonisation, a decline in the nation’s strength and crisis after crisis (India, Palestine, Suez, the Malayan emergency, the Cold War, the Falklands…) haunted Britain – and the scars are visible today. Ireland and Northern Ireland remain divided and with Brexit impending the real threat of further trouble threatens the U.K. like a dark cloud. And if anything is to go by, the troubles will be back, because Rambo, Charlies Angels, the Terminator and Top Gun are still in the cinemas. Do we keep making the same mistakes in order to sell movies?

By 1983, Britain held 13 or 14 overseas territories. Penguins, Indian Ocean post boxes, a rock in Spain and a place near a triangle make for a nice holiday. Three islands have no residents but retain some scientific or military presence. Perhaps, Area 52 is located on one of these islands. Five of the territories are claimed by other nations. Interestingly, 52 former colonies protectorates are still party to the archaic Commonwealth of Nations. That Commonwealth is non-political, apparently. The U.K.’s royal family still head 16 states too, making their divorce from the U.K. most bizarre.

In the U.K., I worked for Aviva Insurance, for about 5 years. It didn’t feel meaningless and they were an okay employer. The corporate machine offers comfort for a not-so-amazing salary. Internal transfers are plentiful, but promotion in an age of very few people retiring, or moving on, didn’t help me. The work wasn’t too significant to me and my enthusiasm dropped, but to Joe Public and my colleagues, I kept plugging away, not like a robot, and not with any ambition. At this stage I’d lost ambition completely. Communication with other people and understanding were concepts that I was enjoying. This would start me on a pathway to teaching in China. A place where I would miss my favourite drink Vimto.

Vimto & Maine Road (Manchester City’s former home ground) have an unusual connection: Vimto. In 1851, the U.S. state of Maine was the first to outlaw alcoholic beverages. Manchester City Football Club’s then owners named the new ground’s road after this U.S. state. Temperance was quite a popular social campaign, much like Twitter campaigns like Jake Parker’s Inktober. That temperance movement made Vimto popular in the U.K. and gave Vimto a gateway to the world. The Middle East embraced Vimto long before Manchester City were heard of. The Saudi company, Abdulla Aujan & Brothers, had the sole rights in 1920s – and in a place with no letter V in their alphabet. A strong movement of division that brought about togetherness in a way…

Casting aside an ego, or stoning to death a worry, over time, my mind has finally understood that worries help nothing. Yet, I still worry from time to time. On buffering my soul and a kind of system reboot, I synch in time with my interests – and then look at the challenge freshly, dealing with it at a suitable pace. My pace. Not the pace of anyone else. You can only be yourself. With that, you can find yourself. And in Wales, I had the chance at Aberystwyth to discover and uncover myself.

EUROPEAN BENEFITS vs. EUROPEAN

The EU objective one funding was the best thing to happen to Wales. Without those projects being continually supported and the preservation funds for other cultural projects then central UK government will not listen so easily… division is a big problem and a stupid democratic vote, based on lies and bull pooh has done nothing but destabilise the UK – and division is everywhere. The people are too busy to notice the profits made by those who really benefit from this joke of a situation. If people need to campaign and protest against a silly democratic moment, so be it. An ill-informed minority of victorious voters will determine the future of the people? No. Is that remotely fair? No. Is it a fair to cancel Brexit? No. Remember, if you have been mis-sold PPI, you were entitled to claim the money back. So, the chance to force a legal process and decision into being over-turned is also democratic. Good luck with your 14 days money back refunds on trousers at Asda in the future. So many knock-on effects will happen.

Map it out. Our heads endured puzzlement and the pro-Brexit campaigners did not give clear reason to leave. The remain campaign dug a web of truth and lies to battle back. The leavers and the remain side argued until the cows came home. Then, someone bet on this, that and the other, standing to make a lot from the destructive nature of a messy divorce. The media twisted, turned, repeated, replayed and shot out word after word of noise. A campaign of vilifying and anti-heroism ran head on into a white-headed knight with a weaker than broken past record. That’s where we are now. Britain is no longer great. It is heading for isolation and absolute irrelevance as politically respectable nations go.

Isolation is not good for me. I am a loner when I choose to be. I am an outsider in my mind, but part of the team when I am welcomed or when I am welcoming others to the team. I like the natural flip on and out of things that some call being a social butterfly. I share an intimate and open friendship with my best friend Dan. I won’t hold back from telling him anything. With past, present and if-it-happens-it-happens possible future relationships, I hold back. I fear being hurt; I fear giving too much. My past experiences, and I know I have never been perfect – and Lord knows how many mistakes that have been made, have been made, but deep down I have never wanted to hurt anyone. I can be selfish and distant. Concealing my head in the sands, as the world goes by, is proof that I am part Ostrich. If I feel too constricted and less free, I tend to hide away or feel anxious. There is an itch where there should be calm. My eagerness to cycle off forever in the style of Forrest Gump running away, becomes a serious thought. At least I understand me. Well, most of the time.

The human brain is complex. It can handle algorithms, algebra and aardvarks. Confusion can reign supreme over absolutely anything and it can be caused by the weather, girls, boys, life and money – amongst a larger list of factors. There are poems, songs and crossword answers stuck inside our head. We just have to find the time to let it all out. Dripping it out like a slow roasted coffee works for some. Blurting it out like a Slipknot machine gun lyric for others. The same two options may work for one or the other at any given time.

The unfamiliar and strange don’t scare me. I worry more about monotony and uniformity. I don’t want to be a rebel outcast, but I do want to do my own thing. I enjoy being a service and teaching. I enjoy writing, even if it is to no-one in particular. This writing serves me well, it is the warm-up, the cool-down and the practice for work in progress. When work in progress becomes actual work, then I will feel that I have made an actual progress. There is method to my madness. In the meantime, I want to be like those who have left a mark on me. The influences I felt as a child. Mr Jones who encouraged me at primary school in Chapel Street; strict Mr Meheran at Reddish Vale Secondary School; Mr Tony Mack at the same school; the very warm and wonderful Miss Roe, and Mr Kershaw at Chapel Street. I can’t be a lifeboatman or a laser eye surgeon, but I do hope that I can be a good memory.

A good memory of someone can help you spring out of bed in the morning. To take that memory and magnify it, tell it, share it and hope that it will improve someone. If a 16-year old Skye Terrier called Greyfriars Bobby can have his story told for over one a half centuries, there has to be good reason. Warm memories of our grandparents help them to live on through ourselves. As child becomes parent, the parent becomes the grandparent and a cheesy way of saying the circle of life continues. Otherwise, we’d be cold, lost at sea, and trapped in eternal darkness with monsters snapping at the end of our bed, waiting for a foot to lower into their bleak and unwelcoming mouths. Our harmony is in life. Life is wonderful and whilst the meanings may be simple and the answers to our daily grind may seem far away, we are NOT alone.

I like to focus my students upon being honest. I try to stress teamwork and community over finances and ability. We’ll build a city map with castles and dreamscapes, rather than focus on calculus and repetition of words. We’ll build a city map with castles and dreamscapes, rather than focus on calculus and repetition of words. I want the minds that I encounter not to be afraid of introspection and going it alone. Let each student show their talents step by step and here we go. Goodbye dreariness and hello variety. With Tip the Dog’s story in our hearts, we’re ready to jump out of bed tomorrow…

 

再见/ Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Ta’ra / Goodbye / Hwyl Fawr / Dhanyabaad / Alavidā

…I’m getting off?

“Time spent among trees is never time wasted.” – Anonymous

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do / S’mae / Namaste

Carbon emissions are one thing. The ozone layer and its depletion seemed to be the theme of the 1990s. But what about the other crap that we fling upwards into our atmosphere? As a species we have used our intelligence to create and combine a wealth of chemical knowledge to form so many new things. Earth had the basics and we adapted everything from nature into manmade conceptions. Our creativity spawned new fabrications and handiworks and we didn’t know their effects upon the natural world. Or, did we turn a blind eye?

So, where did this all begin? Manchester, of course. Well, not just my hometown, but pretty much all of Great Britain. Steam power, textiles, iron making and the inventors having a field day making new tools kicked off the Industrial Revolution. As fast as the spinning mule could spin, the revolution spread across Europe and to North America. As long as the cotton made on a loom could stretch, the methods of fast industry shout outwards across the world. Waters in rivers ran with colours and toxins unregulated. Skies turned black. Farming fields and forestry secumbed to the Cottonopolis that was Manchester. Coal demand shot up. Steam billowed upwards into the sky alongside toxic soot. The raw materials needed moving. Bridges such as Iron Bridge in England’s Shropshire set a new level of industrial infrastructure. Sir Richard Arkwright, Robert Peel, John Rylands and a  whole host of blokes became rich, powerful and industrial very fast.

“One of the first conditions of happiness is that the link between man and nature shall not be broken.” – Leo Tolstoy, Russian writer

Yorkshire, Lancashire, Salford, Cheshire and Manchester became central to many movements. Even today, Quarry Bank Mill, in Styal operates to show visitors of life back then. Alongside this, there are UNESCO sites in Derbyshire dedicated to Arkwright’s work and so on. The effect of the Industrial Revolution demanded true innovation and architects met the call willingly. Up popped Bradshaw Gass & Hope, David Bellhouse, Philip Sidney Stott, and others to build for the new era. With that power needed generating and John Musgrave & Sons, amongst other stepped up to the glorious age of steam and engine power. One such company, Mather & Platt still exist today in South Africa. Their 1817 origin by Peter Mather in Salford to John Platt taking over Salfird Iron Works in 1837 has been a diverse ride. They did their bit to enhance safety in cotton mills, distributing an automatic sprinkler; they expanded rapidly; they shipped the Machinery Annexe of the Paris Exhibition from France, up the Manchester Ship Canal and rebuilt it in Newton Heath by 1900. They expanded into Pune (India) before an Australian company purchased the company in 1978. After this Thailand, a German-takeover and still operate to this day. How many other companies from the Industrial Revolution era have gone on to become industrial powerhouses?

As a teenager I’d pass Houldsworth Mill, built by a design of Stott and Sons. The red brick mill had seen many cleaning jobs and now is housing accommodation fit for the rich and wealthy of today. Little did I know that at the time of passing that mill, I was passing a sister mill of ones found in Oldham’s Chadderton – not far from my Gran’s house. The factory system had given capitalism a huge kick up the backside. Like modern day China factory bosses, many factory owners back then in Britain became very rich, very fast. Some invested heavily in urbanisation for their workers. Healthcare, education and opportunity developed suddenly. A demand for better quality and fresher food followed. The standard of living improved. Did the working classes still feel the exploitation of heavy industry? Did each technological enhancement drown shances of a good swim the employment pool? Did they notice the smog building up?

“Environmentally friendly cars will soon cease to be an option … they will become a necessity.” – Fujio Cho, Honorary Chairman of Toyota Motors

Soon enough people got wise. Socialism and Marxism were born. People like Welshman Robert Owen influenced social care and reformation of working practices. Owenism became a movement, long before England centre-forward Michael Owen became a young mover of the footballing game. People were starting to see that the skies weren’t perfect. Something that has maintained to this day in the like of Greenpeace and others who don’t like too many airplanes in the sky.

“Eight hours labour, Eight hours recreation, Eight hours rest.” – Robert Owen, philanthropic capitalist and social reformer.

Convicted terrorist and former University of Michigan mathematics Professor, Theodore Kaczynski was quoted as saying, and writing,“The Industrial Revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race.” In many ways, this is an agreeable statement. The western world gained considerable wealth and dominated the globe. Pollution, such as the legendary London smogs, the discolouration of tree barks, and the deaths of many aquatic species became general knowledge. The world’s population started a huge upwards trend. Natural resource depletion had begun. Chemical warfare on nature was now in full swing, battling against fresh air, clean seas and green habitats. The fossil fuels were now unlocked and ready to go.

“I only feel angry when I see waste. When I see people throwing away things we could use.” – Mother Teresa

As conditions improved generally for people, the speed of growth was unsustainable. Many became left behind. Poor working and living conditions, lack of education and healthcare and low wages alongside child labour amongst a whole host of problems arose. The world around humanity had fundamentally changed from a largely agricultural civilisation to one of machinery and motion. Even now, agriculture advanced with new machinery. Land could be used faster. Railways spread and communities grew ever closer. Dust tracks became lanes that became roads that became highways than became lane after lane of traffic. Sanitation had to catch up. Some countries dug drains and found ways to get those little poohs we do from the bowl to further along the water cycle, like the sea.

“There is a tendency at every important but difficult crossroad to pretend that it’s not really there.” – Bill McKibben, The End of Nature

Disease occurrence escalated. We spotted new illnesses and cancers. Before we’d found the cures or ailments, more came along. And the more. And more. Still more pop up. Some were found to be linked to toxins, metals and exposure to manmade materials or chemicals. And today, our air is saturated with gases that reduce the protective layers of ozone (O3) needed to keep the Earth cool. Big hitters, of the fume world, chlorine and bromine atoms do huge damage. Just once chlorine atom smashes 100,000 ozone molecules out of the park. Wham. Gone! There are other similar ozone-destructive gases. This doesn’t take into account the gases that don’t reach the stratosphere. Some are too heavy to rise and end up in smoggy conditions or absorbed into our waterways.

“If the bee disappeared off the face of the earth, man would only have four years left to live.” – Maurice Maeterlinck, The Life of the Bee

One single rocket launch by NASA or whoever fancies a spot of space exploration, releases enough soot and aluminium oxide to deplete the ozone in a quantity far higher than global CFC emissions (chloroflurocarbon chemicals). So, expect to experience a few more UVB rays… and an added bonus of skin cancer might be swinging your way, unless by the year 2075 we can return the ozone hole to the levels noted before 1980. The 46-state signatories of the Montreal Protocol are likely to help. Especially, seeing as trump card Trump hasn’t exited it – but has yet to ratify the recent Kigali Amendment. Well he needs to concentrate on piping sales first. Trump’s record of science denial is alarming. His expected eradication of P.O.T.U.S.A. Obama’s Clean Power Plan is slowly gathering momentum, turning a nation that was slowly ridding itself of coal into a nation that once again will depend on coal. Please the fossil fuel industry. Fuck the world. The Affordable Clean Energy Rule is weak, at best. One mammoth nation does as a Twitter handle with a wig pleases.

“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” – George Bernard Shaw, Irish Playwright

Another gargantuan and colossal nation ploughs on with sweeping environmental policies. Public image pleasing, a sense of responsibility and a duty to the planet seem to be groing in China. China has undertook the Industrial Revolution and the Information Revolution at a lightning pace. It became the world’s manufacturing base practically overnight and maintained business as usual for a few decades. Since 2014, the Ministry of Ecology and Environment the People’s Republic of China has evolved. Headed by Li Ganjie (李干杰;). Steps have been small and steady but China’s eco-friendly energy generation is increasing. On top of this technology and environmental projects are under way left, right and centre. Qingdao will soon have an Eden Project – one of three in China. Laws, standards and regulations are being felt nationally. Shanghai has implemented strict recycling rules. Dongguan in South China’s Guangdong has many factories closing its doors because they cannot satisfy environmental protection laws. Policing is improving and implementation is going from lax to structured. Mega projects continue and this adds to the huge biodiversity loss of a nation that is suffering from significant environmental sustainability problems. Rapid urbanisation, energy demand and population growth won’t help – but some could debate China is doing more than the developed US of A. Resource demand shows no slowing as of this year… Much like the rest of the world – especially nations still developing.

“The Earth is what we all have in common.” – Wendell Berry, Poet

So, what now?

 

 

再见/ Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Ta’ra / Goodbye / Hwyl Fawr / Dhanyabaad / Alavidā

Ruptured Earth.

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do / S’mae / Namaste

Climate change is a phrase we hear all too often, but do we really listen?

“Our planet, the Earth, is, as far as we know, unique in the universe. It contains life.” David Attenborough –The Living Planet (1984)

Sir David Attenborough is the gentle voice of BBC Wildlife’s successful department. Soon he will present what he terms as an urgent documentary. In spring, BBC will air Climate Change – The Facts. Now facts are often questionable and open to interpretation or accusation of being fake news. I vehemently hate that term: fake news. Bullshit is bullshit and fake news is a tosser denying criticism. The world’s population more than doubled since 1950. Prove me otherwise.

“If we [humans] disappeared overnight, the world would probably be better off.” David Attenborough – The Daily Telegraph (12/11/2005)

Sir David Attenborough is 92 years of age. He could retire. He could kick back and count the letters that follow his name (OM CH CVO CBE FRS FLS FZS FSA FRSGS). He could reflect on his two brothers John and Richard, or sit down and listen to his relative Tom in The Tigger Movie. The Attenborough clan permeate the world of stage and theatre. Sir David’s father had once been the principal of the University College, Leicester. It could be said that his family haven’t done bad. They don’t need to work at Primark or Spar to earn a living. Yet no, Sir David, cracks on. He opens debate, he fuels fires which need dousing. The young Sir David would carry his passion to this day for wildlife and nature. However, in recent years he has become a leading voice for global concern. An unqualified expert. The people’s champion for change.

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“This is the loneliest and coldest place on Earth, the place that is most hostile to life.” David Attenborough – Life in the Freezer (1993)

As a primary school student in the 1980s and warly 1990s, I would always hear about the Greenhouse Effect and Acid Rain. Spray deodorant and cans suddenly became friendlier. Keep Britain Tidy campaigns swept through classrooms and eventually the streets of Manchester. Trees were planted, like what Peter, Dan and I planted with BTCV in Highfield Country Park, Levenshulme. To this day, I take pride in seeing that little difference, everytime I walk there. There was talk of a future with mysterious windpower and cars would all be electricy-powered. As time went on, we’d attend seal clubbing classes, where we learnt that seals had no interest in dance music and nor did we get a technique on how to bash the cute creature’s skulls in, essentially we heard of the horrors people go to to make a jacket and a steak. Almost Everyday Shit™ seemed to be up against things not necessarily in our own paved backywards but effecting man (or woman… or other) around the corner, or further afield. Even as far as Hyde or Belgrade. Suddenly, I found myself in secondary school discussing Not Really Quite Everyday Shit™. Teenage boys had to stop grabbing their flacid cocks and the girls had to stop doing whatever it is that girls do. We were the future generation and hope. It was our responsibility. But, evidentally, we fucked up. Not Really Quite Everyday Shit™ didn’t go away. Now the next generation could be the last generation with a chance to fix it. Sir David Attenborough said so.

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“Ever since we arrived on this planet as a species, we’ve cut them down, dug them up, burnt them and poisoned them.” Sir David Attenborough – The Private Life of Plants (1995)

On present day Earth, we can probably divide people into three camps. Within those camps, there can be further division. Division is important. Camp one is classed as the deniers. They’re useless as a voice and obstructive. They possibly have vested interests in wealth. Camp two are the changers. They need to be heard. They seek to make a difference. Competively they can make a lot of noise against camp one. Camp three are too busy, simply looking after number one, or their families or feel unable to make a different. Camp two often feel that they are too selfish and ignorant. Camp one enjoys their silence. Camp three probably recycle but couldn’t be depended on to ask for recycling bins to be installed. The camps are unclear and people fluctuate from camp to camp, mostly due to discomfort, lack of clarity and by way of reaction to Almost Everyday Shit™ changing to something outlying and worrying.

“It seems sad that on the one hand such exquisite creatures should live out their lives and exhibit their charms only in these wild inhospitable regions. This consideration must surely tell us that all living things were not made for man, many of them have no relation to him, their happiness and enjoyment’s, their loves and hates, their struggles for existence, their vigorous life and early death, would seem to be immediately related to their own well-being and perpetuation alone.” The Malay Archipelago (1869) – Alfred Russel Wallace

We’re aware of plastic bottles as a problem. Everyone is. The bloody things are everywhere. I am guilty too. Sometimes, they’re unavoidable for hygiene reasons. I try my best to deposit them in recycling bins or places that I know someone will take them for recycling. But what if say Theresa May [Insert Prime Minister here], Donald Trump (unlikely) or Xí Jingping [习近平] banned disposable plastic bottles at source. The factories. That’d be the place. Keep them away from people. Permit reusable, and deposit-based larger bottles that must be returned, cleaned and recycled by any means. Take away anything below a certain capacity. Plastic must exit the ecosystem. It needs us to remove it. There are many ways to do so.

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“we can ensure that there is still a place on Earth for birds in all their beauty and variety – if we want to … and surely, we should” The Life of Birds (1998) – Sir David Attenborough

History has led us from the past to the present. It was a simple linear transition, unless you are Tom Cruise and his associates. Is Scientology a religion or cult? [Let’s discuss that one day, hopefully without fear of cyber-attack reprisal] Well, we’re here in the Anthropocene. The age of the human. Homo sapiens. Latin meaning wise man. We’re the only living human species. Things change and species often have a limited time on Earth. One thing we know, is that supersizing a meal at the American Embassy isn’t good for us. But, has that prevented overconsumption and stopped deforestation, because we no longer need a bigger paper bag? Have we learnt that overexploitation of lands leads to deserts and not desserts. How much weight does every fish in the sea have compared with that of the plastic in the seas?

“Instead of controlling the environment for the benefit of the population, perhaps it’s time we control the population to allow the survival of the environment.” The Life of Mammals (2002) – Sir David Attenborough

Opinion matters. I’m with Sir David Attenborough. Individual action is not enough, “real success can only come if there’s a change in our societies and our economics and in our politics”. The world’s temperatures (ask the Mongolians) may be soaring, and we are the likely cause. Planes, cow farts and all that are the debated and often argued origin. We need to think of ways to cut this crap down. Get on Three Seconds by National Geographic. A video with a message that we should think about. It has 287,319 views compared to The Crazy Nastyass Honey Badger’s 90 million plus views. The same honey badger, or one of the 12 subspecies, may be of least concern now on the conservation status but few are seen in Guangdong, and this used to be their ‘hood. Or will we all be another fossilised-brick in the wall, soon enough?

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“The fact that they are solar-powered means that their bodies require only 10% of the energy that mammals of a similar size require.” Life in Cold Blood (2008) – Sir David Attenborough

Perceptions of place matter. If a road is dirty, people and especially lesser-educated people will chuck their crap on it. There’s no snoberry in saying lesser-educated people intended. Some people have never had access to education in the ways that I have – and I for one was never going to go to Harvard or Oxford University, unless they needed a cleaner. This is the way of the world: the haves and have-nots. But, if Billy Billionnaire at Taxbucks Willing Avoidance Trade Specialists Ltd wishes to fund a litter awareness and education programme with the money they denied the state(s) that their Monopoly Conglomerate department sublet, then feel free to do so. Ultimately, your man (woman, transgender or other) on the street will be unaware of that plastic bottle’s effect on the river downstream or the air that they burn it into. We are capable of educating each other.

“If we and the rest of the backboned animals were to disappear overnight, the rest of the world would get on pretty well. But if they were to disappear, the land’s ecosystems would collapse.” Life in the Undergrowth (2005) – Sir David Attenborough

Politics is something we’re told to embrace. The complexity of an electorate and their representatives messing up and not knowing where to go, is seen globally. See, Brexit and the Trump administration’s political circus. So, how do we get those in power to focus on saving us as a species and those other species around the world that we could do with saving? As a British person, I know that writing a strongly worded letter to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), down at the U.N. isn’t a bad idea. But, if we all did that, we’d need a lot of recycled paper or energy to power those emails. Would they mark the emails as junk? Possibly. Do they deserve the Nobel Peace Prize for 2007? No. Okay, they did, but having to share it with Al Gore, hasn’t changed much, or anything. The inconvenient truth is that we need mass action on a global scale. We need laws and directives to stop bad things and create things of use. Taking inspiration from conferences and internal flights etc doesn’t help. Bringing a duster and a shovel to an earthquake doesn’t work. We need the masses for the masses. We need actions.

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“Every one of these global problems, environmental as well as social becomes more difficult – and ultimately impossible – to solve with ever more people.” How Many People Can Live on Planet Earth? (BBC Horizon, 2009) – Sir David Attenborough

Issues will always be a problem. There aren’t rooms for the 14th Dalai Lama to sit in with the Chinese Administration, or Northern Ireland to talk to the Republic sensibly. Turkey and Syria have beef. Israel needs to open up more. The U.S.A. needs to bring home a few fighter planes. The Church of Croydon may have similar problems with death worshipers from Norway. There’s a can of worms out there when two opposition parties have two ideals or beliefs that can’t flex. For us as a planet, we need to shed our differences and share technologies and ideas. Life is finite or infinite in some religions. I ask, does reincarnation, make you less worried or more? If reincarnation were true, there’d be X amount of total individual lifeforms on Earth, continually coming back as X amount of total individual lifeforms. So, in one generation there may be 6 billion people, but many centuries later there may be 6 billion cockroaches because 6 billion people can no longer inhabit the Earth. Does reincarnation stretch beyond Earth too? Does it include every microbateria or virus?

“I never never want to go home; Because I haven’t got one; Anymore” – There Is a Light That Never Goes Out – The Smiths

Proposed adaptations for humanity cling onto some Buddhist thinkings. We must be fully endowed with higher knowledge and ideal conduct. In other words, stay off Twitter. Get over to Bhutan and let’s learn a thing or two. Would controlling our ever-growing population be a good thing? We humans leapt from needing 200,000 years to hit the 2 billion mark as a species, to 200 years nearly touching 7 billion. Surely, that is far from sustainable. The current growth rate of 1.18% per year is expected to drop. Disease, lack of biodiversity, natural resource exhaustion, ecosystem imbalnces, environmental degradation, ocean acidification, global warming, and ecological crisis are terms that we will hear mre often. Overpopulation will test our mettle. Our resolve will lead to conflicts on a more regular basis as we battle the increasing heat and try our best to survive. If we act now, we can reduce that risk.

 

British scholar Thomas Malthus scribbled down in 1798 that we’d exhaust Earth’s resources for food by the mid-19th century. He was wrong. How wrong? Well he could have been out by a few centuries. Since then, expert after expert have delivered messages and issued warnings. Now with meta-analytics, computer models and sound studies based on huge banks of data, we’re creaking on the abyss. The U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organisation carry the Latin, fiat panis (“let there be bread”) but there are more Fiat cars being turned off a production line than strategies to ensure bread can be produced sustainably. They say that in the next 30 years we need to produce 70% more food.

“Sometimes when this place gets kind of empty, Sound of their breath fades with the light. I think about the loveless fascination,” Under The Milky Way – The Church

Catastrophies are in motion. Pollen distribution is changing. Glaciers are receding faster than my hairline. The beetles are dying. Bees, the great pollinator of all life, are declining in numbers. The buzz is lessening. Fish are filled with plastic parts and we eat them. The fish are also ingesting our drugs and decanted chemicals into the sea. We’re making them infertile or causing gender imbalances. Every continent is under ATTACK. Every sea and ocean are under ATTACK. Even red crabs get attacked by crazy yellow ants introduced by us. ATTACK. We stamp and kick every stone on Earth and leave our mark, whether intentional or not. We don’t just leave footprints. ATTACK. We carve great big trenches and leave areas vulnerable to landslides, forest fires and things that stop us rolling out red carpets for fire-haired Nicole Kidman. The news will focus on Miley Cyrus losing her home more than that of a village in Syria. ATTACK. We’ve abandoned humanity and embraced celebrity and we’re too blind. Blind, blind, blind, blind, blind… as Talking Heads would sing. Still, a monsoon that washes a village of indiginious people who don’t buy Apple iphones counts less than someone from Yorkshire having to replace a flooded shed’s lawnmower. ATTACK. Right?

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To again quote Sir David Attenborough, “Surely we have a responsibility to leave for future generations a planet that is healthy, inhabitable by all species”. Will there be a generation born now, that when they reach adulthood, will no longer be able to see elephants or tigers in the wild? Why can’t a kid from Guangdong see a Giant Salamander anymore? Where does the boy born in Dongguan go to see a South China Tiger? Why do we have WWF for Nature, EDGE, and why do these kind of things tend to be charity and independently backed? Shouldn’t we learn from Botswana, Norway, Bhutan, Namibia, and Tanzania? Lonely Planet did.

“Trade is a proper and decent relationship, with dignity and respect on both sides.” A Blank on the Map (1971) – Sir David Attenborough

But, why bother? A nuclear blast, an earthquake or a volcano can cause more damage globally than a generation of people. Well, nature is nature. It happens. We’re the benefactors of our destiny, and we’re the keepers of our fate. Why not tidy up where we live? You don’t shit in your own bed, do you? Okay, that has happened to one or two of us and on old age, it may happen – but surely, we never choose to do so. I apologise to any purveyors of scat. Not the jazz singing kind – and not the word meaning go away, or the Indo-Pacific fish, that likely has plastic inside its system, either. Nor is it the Special Combat Assault Team, or the badly named Shrewsbury College of Arts & Technology. Don’t google it. Scatter! Why not?

“To suggest that God specifically created a worm to torture small African children is blasphemy as far as I can see.” Metro interview with Sir David Attenborough (29th Jan 2013)

We have the technology to do something. The wind turbines, the solar panels, the recycling plants, the nuclear fuels to shut down the fossil fuels immediately. We have the education to understand blue carbon, and models to specialise schools into specific fields. Imagine a super city, dedicated totally to environmental protection and species conservation. Every country needs one. Similarly, every country needs to consider that populations matter. If we don’t control ourselves, then nature will. Great extinctions usually work. An ice age here and there or a huge weather change. We can prevent that, if we really want. Or we can believe an all-powerful, all-merciful God created a parasitic worm that will eat through a kid’s eye? Let’s get over our beliefs and start doing something about the things we know about: the world is changing.

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“If we don’t take action, the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.” Sir David Attenborough (Climate Change Conference 2018)

Potential effects, very much like the warnings on a cigarette packet, include death. Actually, mass extinction and human total extinction are feasible. Extinction means forever. No more. Gone. Hatari and their pink elephant from Iceland will be happy suddenly. Human sacrifice, mass hysteria, or dogs and cats may love each other, as predicted in Ghostbusters. I wonder if in our last days of humanity that we become perfectly self-awakened, and say the words, in the style of Hinx (Thespian’s go-to-man Dave Bautista) from Spectre, “Shit!” The last human may send a Whatsapp message to an otherwise empty group – and with that the power of humanity may fade forever. Or we could start recycling, reusing, reducing and the other bits we usually ignore. As Tommy in Snatch said, “Proper fucked?”

Of course, I’m no expert. It could all turn out swimmingly.

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再见/ Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Ta’ra / Goodbye / Hwyl Fawr / Dhanyabaad / Alavidā

Johnny Marr is in Sete.

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do / S’mae / Namaste,

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16th February 2019

Boarding the Yeti Airlines flight, under the colours of Tara Airlines, I lifted my feet onto the steps. The DHC-6 Twin Otter at Tenzing–Hillary Airport stared vacantly and without emotion at the asphalt. The 11.7% gradient didn’t faze the lifeless tincan with wings. Nor did the altitude of 2,845m (9,334ft). Many surprised and excited voices could be heard. Some had landed here on the journey. None of my accompanying 11 passengers had made this take-off. The pilots, with their minimum of 100 short-takeoff-and-landing (STOL) had. Thankfully. The excitement of my first flight from here came back. I sat back, looked out the window and enjoyed the moment. In less than the full length of the 527m (1729ft) of runway, it was over too soon. It had begun what seemed like only yesterday.


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22nd January 2019

Returning to Kathmandu gave me an oddly warm feel. It was familiar territory and a place that has acted as a gate for many journeys. Early expeditions to map the region started in the 1850s and continued as such until 1953, when a beekeeper called Edmund Hilary arrived with Tenzing Norgay, and around 400 men – including porters, guides and mountaineers. Anyway, here I was, once again, at the brickwork of Tribhuvan International Airport (1,388m/4,390ft) and passing the cremation grounds of the Pashupatinath Temple. The holy (to Buddhists and Hindus) Bagmati river flowed under a severe-angled concrete bridge as the hotel pick-up car drifted over it. Many bodies have had a triple-dip into that river prior to cremation. The chief mourner also takes a quick dip before setting his or her lost relative on fire. Relatives also bathe. If the Bagmati river purifies them the source in the Letter Himalayas must be the reasoning. Somewhere downstream of the source, inside Kathmandu itself is the Tukucha Khola tributary. The sewage levels are unbelievable. The city’s eight rivers are sad sights in many places.

As the Hotel Horizon car rumbled into Thamel, over less-than-smooth tarmac, I noted that the central entertainment and shopping area was now closed to cars other than taxis or those with right of way. A wise move. The streetworks that had been taking place when I left in January 2017 had been completed and smoother tarmac took hold on two or three streets. The rest was a tad muddy. New Road (another shopping district) and a road approaching Thamel looked almost new or refurbished since my last visit. My initial thoughts were surprise and pleasure in seeing Kathmandu’s partial regeneration.

At Hotel Horizon, Deveraj, the manager, that I had met on my last trip and since kept in touch informed me of a possible jeep to Shivalaya village or even as far up the trek as Phaplu. I didn’t fancy going so far up the route. Villages such as Sete and Kinja, not to mention the challenge of Lamjura La (a pass at over 3500m high) were great memories. So, I agreed to a jeep to Shivalaya, missing Jiri out completely. The bus journey last time was uncomfortable and numerous accounts show that some dangerous rides have been had. Part of me didn’t want that. How bad could a jeep journey be?


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24th January 2019

Departing at 7am, following a day of last-minute provision buying, our car departed. The backseats of the jeep, covered in a carpet, had no seatbelts. The driver was jolly but not a huge conversationalist, however, the journey was pleasant enough. By pleasant, I mean, he steered away from sheer drops and perpendicular plunges. He gave us a break here and there, about 30 minutes in total throughout nine hours of driving. The intense and terrifying journey comes with 100-metre or so vertical gravity-testing points here and declines that I for one decline to experience. Burned out wreckages of buses, cars and flat-packed former vans can be seen like rare leaf-litter. Not rare enough to ignore. Frequent enough to add as landmarks. Without a crowd of people, animals and baggage, the jeep was mildly more comofortable than the bus journey.

At least we weren’t taking our morning exercise running along the dusty Kathmandu smog-filled roads, like many groups of school students and the ever-numerous morning traffic. Over time the Kathmandu valley fell-away and we went up and down the Lower Himalayas on the Tibet-bound highway. The double-laned road occasionally filtered into a narrow single-laned road. Often our pathways went above cloud levels and passed signs of roadway expansions with Nepal advancing new bridges between communities previously cut off. Wide gorges, huge valleys, glacial stonebeds, and tree-lined foothills baked in sunshine could be seenm throughout. Clouds broke away to reveal sunshine and the traffic lessened with every kilometre covered. Soon, the odd bike and very odd car was noticed. In the final few hours as we neared Jiri, new concreted roads, patched in places broke away into muddy tracks and back to smooth concrete lanes. At Jiri we stopped, to check the road to Shivalaya was open. It was – despite very heavy rain the day before.

On arriving at Shivalaya (1770m), sunset was fast approaching. Knuckling down at the Kala Patthar lodge, enjoying the second dal bhat of the journey, the excitement set in. I stood outside for a moment by that first blue bridge of my previous Nepal trek. It felt good to be back. Eating in the lounge, with doors wide open, and cool fresh air drifting in, Maria and I met Srirang and his porter-guide-friend Ishwor. At that time, we didn’t know that we’d share parts of the journey, but here we were, an Indian, a Nepali Sherpa, a Chinese and a Mancunian. Talking with the lodge proprietor Padam Jirel, we were introduced to his son and daughter, their local schoollife and the family home. A warm night’s sleep followed a few chapters of Jonny Marr’s Set the Boy Free.


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25th January 2019

In the morning breakfast consisted of chapati, eggs and porridge. Waking up to a misty valley around the quaint village of Shivalaya (27°36’25.7″N 86°17’53.4″E) added extra emotion to the air. The feelings in my mind weren’t far off those that swpt over me in January 2017. Registering for the Gaurishankar Conservation Area & National Park and handing over NPRs, the trek began in Dolakha District, Province Number 3. Longleaf Indian pine trees, rhododendrons, alien-looking Woolly-leaved oak trees and other temperate forest species lined the mountain climbs. Within only a few hundred metres of walking and an elevation gain of not much, a few breathers were needed. The respites were quite often. My knees ached. My feet strained. The pauses and rests weighed on my mind. Had two years aged me so much that I could no loger climb or walk in the Himalayas? I tried to focus on seeing Himalayan Thars, red pandas and part of me would have welcomed a Himalayn black bear. It could have made a comfortable seat with a cuddle.

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After a wee while, a brew was needed. At this point, we’d hooked up with Srirang and Ishwor, and as we went to stop, a striding brunette with large eyes strode up, sporting two natural trekking poles of bamboo. Introductions were had, and now Linda (U.S.A.) joined us for a brief while. Soon after meeting Linda, just before Deurali Bazar (2800m), we met Livia (carrying a house or two worth of weight on her back) and at this snow-threatened top we ate lunch. The snow-dusted rooftops of a dozen closed buildings faced a lovely modern and bright façade on the chosen lodge for lunch. The cat and dog in a state of stalemate over territory and positioning were both equally cute. Srirang gave both some noodles. The lunch hour was a more than welcome hiatus. That reduced the amount of meowing and sniffing for food greatly. On full bellies, we headed downwards towards the village of Bhandar (2100m) under the cover of thick heavy grey clouds.

#1: SHIVALAYA 0830 – BHANDAR 1730: ~12km.

In the evening, at my second stay in Shobha Lodge, the great owner and her family cooked us a delicious dal bhat (#3 of the journey) and Maria roasted some small potatoes on a fire outside. A jolly evening was had and lots of conversation with Linda, Livia and Srirang revealed their reasons for hiking this trail. I stood looking at the buildings around this lodge. Two years ago, most were serious ruins. Now many appeared rejuvenated. Against one such building a red rose stood in shadows against a dark wintry sky.


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26th January 2019

The next morning gave bright light and some showered upon footing, but the weather wasn’t bad all day. We set out as a band of six, downwards with the destination aim being Sete. After crossing a delightful vale with a wooden bridge, here the old pathway faded and became swept over or completely consumed by a new carved out road, unpaved and muddy as hell. Every now and then you’d resume the old pathways, but quite often the new road zigzagged the old meandering ways. Soon after passing a small waterfall, I slipped on loose earth where the old met the new path. The devris flung over rocks and coating the unclar pathway made me twist my left knee, striking it on a rock and bending my leg in a way that my right hamstring brought my other leg under my back and bag. I tentatively stood up. I suspected in that moment that the rambling was over. After the shock, I carried on, carefully and slowly. Warning taken. As the path neared Kinja, it broke into a fork. The right fork headed to the muddy and dusty new road. The left fork appeared a tad overgrown. Linda, Maria and I carried on left. After 400 metres, the path disappeared. A chasm with the new road was presented before us. In the end we doubled back and scrambled down the right fork onto the road but the latter section was pretty messy and difficult to get over.

 

The walk into Kinja, was terrible compared with the route two years ago. The road has dismembered too many houses, farms and forested areas. A new hydro-electric plant in a mine has added to the dichotomised region. Many of the crumbling earthquake buildings have vanished. The two new bridges are seldom used. The old wooden bridge is sealed off. The new road dam-cum-bridge allows easy footing into Kinja but feels like a building site. Work in progress may mean new logistical advantages and easier access but it will probably deter hikers. It was now 1300hrs, so at Kinja we stopped for lunch over an hour’s break. The Riverside guest house and restaurant had a sky blue and white sign. What’s not to like about Manchester City colours? Oh, and it had a western toilet, of sorts. It was a ceramic squat hole.

With lunch in our bellies, the climb up from Kinja (1630m) was long and hard but easier than the previous day. The aches of yesterday faded and early conditioning of muscles was felt. Rays of sunshine, refurbished ruins and new settlements lined the upward pathway. The rise steadied and fields of green, shaped like steps leapt out from the hillsides. If enough coins could be found, it’d resemble a penny-arcade machine of the greatest scale. As light faded, we arrived in Sete. Dal Bhat (#4) was served. The Sunrise Lodge was once again my place to stay, in the Sete (2900m).

BHANDAR 0930 – SETE 1800: ~15km.

In the village of Sete, I left my Johnny Marr autobiography copy. I Set the Boy Free. So, if you haead to the Sunrise lodge, expect to find the illuminous green cover. And like me, you’ll find it hard to put it down. The former Talking Heads, Black Grape, Kirsty MacColl, Brian Ferry and Billy Bragg collaborator worked with Pet Shop Boys, Beck, Modest Mouse, andmovir composer Hans Zimmer. Not bad for a Mancunian born and raised in the supposed rougher parts of our fair city. Actually, the boy did good, working with Hulme-born Billy Duffy, having a great connection to Portland throughout his expansive and colourful music life – and being not far from where we both witnessed City’s 3-2 win over QPR on that day. Playland is one of my favourite albums ever. The marathon man was also in a lesser-known band called The Smiths. Anyway, just beyond the multi-layered poster on the wall, featuring Barmouth Bridge, that’s where Johnny’s book is.

 

To be continued…

 


 

再见/ Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Ta’ra / Goodbye / Hwyl Fawr / Dhanyabaad / Alavidā