XL

Lately the glasshouse whiteflies fly all around like shattered and scattered autumnal snowflakes. That’s during daylight. Not at 4.35am on a Monday morning. After just 4 hours of sleep, I departed for and then arrived at Manchester Airport, by bus and then train. I felt sleepy.

Walking through Terminal 3’s Customs they checked my toothpaste and deodorant in some kind of smear test. The need to stay fresh had to rule out that I’d joined Al Qaeda. Post-September 11th, 2001 has really made air travel irritating. My flight from Manchester to Katowice was smooth enough. Landing in Poland, I had to await the check-in desk to open. A walk outside revealed this Polish airport was closer to the Arctic Circle than the city of Katowice.

With two hours to go until take-off, I paid my bargain forty-eight quid boarding pass fee in Zlotys. Later Trip.com refunded this having not shared my data to the airline for the connecting flight. The wait was pleasant enough, at a modern and clean airport devoid of the failings of Manchester International Airport. The flight rumbled down a runway, complete with a toppled-over turboprop aircraft just in view. That positioning of a busted plane surely needs a review on TripAdvisor.

Landing in Dortmund, I walked through a crowd of Manchester City fans with shirts and things to sign. The odd Dortmund fan littered amongst them. I shuffled myself aside and watched as the reigning Premier League Champions dribbled through. Dressed in black sportswear, most of them looked like they were straight out of JD Sports. Waiting for that made me miss the bus to the city centre.

About an hour later I paid for my bus to town, and a fellow Blue who didn’t have cash to hand. European standards about card payments are so inconsistent and often inconvenient. Not that Great Britain is much better. I miss the convenience of the Wechat application in China and its ability to do anything, even issue toilet paper.

German efficiency is a phrase often banded about, with seriousness and wit. I found my apartment in the district of Funkenberg after a quick U-bahn-tram journey. A local dinner at a taverna of mushrooms and schnitzel quickly found its way to my belly before I went back for a good night of shut eye.

Having slept well, I checked out, darted to the Dortmund Haubtbahnhof at Königswall 15. I grabbed a coffee from a generic bakery chain and locked my bag away for 4 euros a day. I returned back to my locker after realising I’d locked my coffee in the locker, before crossing the road to the Deutsches Fußballmuseum. I like football. I like museums. I like Germany. The arrangement could have worked out well.

Sure enough the varied exhibits, mostly bilingual, were diverse, organised and engaging. A 3D holographic show, some nostalgia, loads of World Cup materials and a display on Women’s football feature throughout the museum but the 19 Euro charge in to see Paul the octopus encased and a sweaty Mario Götze World Cup winning boot seems excessive. England’s National Football Museum is suggested donation entry, but Germany has won four trophies to England’s one, so perhaps they’ve earned the right to price their security accordingly.

After the football museum, I had a ponder around the city of Dortmund, Germany’s eighth most populated city and noticed how many concrete and modern buildings there. In 1945, allied troops from the west flattened approximately 98% of homes, factories and other buildings of inner city Dortmund. Dortmund was Germany’s most bombed city in one night and one month. A month later the ground assault rolled through and Dortmund’s Nazi days were over.

Ballspielverein Borussia 09 e. V. Dortmund are one of Germany’s most successful and colourful football clubs. They also have handball, athletics, ice hockey and countless other sports because they’re a sports club with 145,000 active members and not just a footy club. Die Schwarzgelben play in black and yellow, resembling bees and have a fantastic fan base, even if they do sing You’ll Never Walk Alone.

Prior to the game friendly beer drinking, schnitzel and sausage tasting could be found outside the ground in picturesque settings, as well as every pub in town. The concourse in the ground was similar before, during and after City’s frustrated draw. The home team and fans celebrated their progression to the knockout stage. City took it in their stride.

The swift return to collect my bag at the railway station postmatch, followed a brusque walk to the central station. I grabbed it from the locker and went to get a sandwich for the late train at 23:30ish. The train went a whole stop, with everyone aboard experiencing a crush like stampede experience and sweating crazily. At Bochum it stopped and allowed an ambulance crew to attend to an emergency. Then another train arrived, also destined for Dusseldorf, as musical chairs started. Everyone wanted to be on the first train out.

The train arrived on Dusseldorf, close to 3am. I had a hotel booked for the next night, check in from noon. I was lucky and found a scenic spot by the Rhine until then. During my time in Dusseldorf I walked the banks of the Rhine, admired the architecture and increased my step count. Good food, great culture and a pleasant trip ended on a Thursday flight to Manchester.

By Friday, I had added one to thirty-nine and reached forty (XL in Roman numerals). A pleasant Vimto ice cream with Brahma after coffee in The Rascals Cafe (Manchester Royal Exchange Theatre) with my sister Christina took up the afternoon. In the evening I met my Mum, Paul and Kat from Shenzhen Blues for dinner and to see comedian Nick Helm at The Stoller Hall. After getting back, I walked Panda and the pleasant day ended with slumber time. A happy birthday.

Comedy Prescription

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

I Think, You Stink! written and directed by comedian Nick Helm was surprising for many reasons. Not least the warning about strobe lighting and strong language (swearing) but the acting and singing. The dancing too. Amongst the initial audience participation of the B-movie spoof romp, it became clear we the watchers were in for a treat. The 10th anniversary of Helm’s earlier joyous show, was far from dead. The hypno-vision and giggles made the show in Assembly Roxy fly by. The special effects were underwhelmingly overwhelming. Beasts, beauty and great vocals drove the drive-in show far and wide, concluding with a standing ovation. Catchy melodies delivered by great comedy vocalists and teamwork for a simple stage show. Oluwatayo Adewole gave it a 5-star in his review purely because his writing captures the energy that the acting team throw at the performance. Rob Kemp, Jenny Bede, Katie Pritchard and the stunningly seductive Sooz Kempner all can lead a show wonderfully. This wasn’t just a Nick Helm show. This a was a Premier League of talents working together. If only they could be in Parliament – then the tiresome Brexit and poison chalices being banded about may be sorted by a proper organised outfit.

“Dark and twisted, but strangely sweet in the middle” – Mail on Sunday

A few weeks back I watched a Billy Connolly celebration. At first it seemed like a memorial show and I started to panic, thinking The Big Yin was dead. Luckily the 76-year old comedy star, folk rocker and actor has not left the mortal life. The show was simply a festivity of his works – with the feelings experienced by those watching over the years. Billy & Me was touching and sweet but one moment stood out to me. Narrated by Surrane Jones, one viewer said she had been suffering from depression and the doctor prescribed comedy. By watching The Big Yin, for an hour a day, her condition approved. Having not watched as much comedy during the last few years (accessibility and time issues, are my makeshift excuse), I agree. Comedy is a good prescription for a period of time with monsters lurking at the foot of the bed. Nick Helm’s how did just that trick. The world became a brighter place. On that note look up Danny Wallace’s book on rudeness, I Can’t Believe You Just Said That: The truth about why people are SO rude. On reading that you’ll start to think a bit more.

The importance of reading, comedy and thinking for yourself have been amongst civilisations since the dawn of civilization. Anyway, if it makes you think and smile, without making someone else sad, upset or offended, then why not? Our mental health is important. Go on, find a prescription now.

“Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes. After that who cares? He’s a mile away and you’ve got his shoes!” – Billy Connolly

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