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.

 

J4: North Trafford to Aberystwyth

College began.  North Trafford College was not like school.  I had friends, of genuine qualities.  These friends would not think of me as someone lower than them.  I was an equal.  I was to enjoy great friendships with Alexis, Becci, Gemma, Danny, Serena, Jill and Darran over the coming years.  Outside of college I had my friendships with Dan and Rob.  Life seemed to be shaping up well.

Mum brought me City’s new laser blue strip for my 17th birthday, and I enjoyed a night out at Laser Quest with Dan and Rob.  I was really enjoying life.

On the 17th of November 1999 my best friend Pup died.  He had been around me for 17 years of my life.  Whenever I needed to hug, he was there.  He would always listen, and he would never judge me.  He was always there for me.  The news was heart-breaking.  I was in shock.  The Kangaroo-like, bounding, mongrel had finally passed away.  His back legs had failed him one day, and the Eccles RSPCA vets (where Rolf Harris was starring in Animal Hospital) had decided the humane thing would be to put him to sleep.  No longer would his floppy-great ears, his clumsy wagging tail, his facial glow, and his super temperament grace my presence.

I ran to my room, a tear shed for every fond memory of Pup.  So many memories of him licking me, chasing after me, fetching branches and sticks that I had thrown for him, playing outside together, and Pup sat on my lap in Dad’s car on long journeys.   Pup will never be forgotten.  He touched so many around Newton Heath and my family.  I even saved him from a fast-flowing stream in Clayton Vale one Saturday afternoon.  Pup was fearless, and so gentle.  You cannot compare him to any dog alive, or that has lived, but if you did then he would rank up there with the Red Dog of the Australian outback.

At college following a Christmas drunken kiss with Becci, things went rather unusual.  Becci was my college tutor, Elaine Lamb’s daughter.  This could have become rather complicated, but after the drunken kiss we both knew to go any further would be bad, especially seeing as Becci had a boyfriend.

The over-hyped Millennium eve came, and went.  In January 2000, I started a two day work placement at Blackpool Zoo.  This would happen every Thursday and Friday eventually curtailed by March’s foot and mouth crisis.  Soon I left my part time job at Co-op to work for Glynwebb DIY store (convenient alongside footballing commitments).

A new child was born into the Acton family in 2000.  Christina Acton was named after my late Nana.  Christina was born on Valentine’s Day, February the 14th 2000.  I now had two sisters.  Christina was born to my Dad’s partner Bernadette McWilliams from Greenock Morton.

Whilst at Blackpool Zoo however I met Caroline Wadsworth, during March 2000.  I travelled to Scarborough for a night out in her hometown.  Caroline was a Restaurant manager at a local hotel.  We met at the station, and went for a drink at a Wetherspoon’s bar.  We walked back to her flat.  We discussed our planned night out.  I would sleep on her sofa when we returned.  Caroline was five foot two tall, long black hair, round, slim build, and aged 28.  I was only 18.  That night we visited a few bars, and a club.  By midnight Caroline was extremely drunk.  We boarded a taxi and went back to hers.  On arrival I put her to bed, removing her leather jacket and covering her up with her duvet.  I could see no spare blankets.  I went to her lounge, and curled up on the sofa, draping my jacket over me.  I fell asleep. I was quite cold.

I made the text below smaller and lighter because I have been a tad graphic. But, flip it. I am not hiding anything. It has to be written.

That morning I was awoken by Caroline.  She lifted my jacket off me, took my hand and said I should have curled up with her.  She led me to her room and lay down in bed, pulling me up alongside her.  She thanked me for not taking advantage of her.  She undressed me down to my boxer shorts, and then undressed and placed a long t-shirt on.  A lengthy kiss followed.  I could feel my boxer shorts being removed.  She grasped my penis, and pulled it back and forward.  I decided to explore her with my hands, softly and carefully.  Within minutes she spoke, “Make love to me.” 
Being a virgin I panicked a little.  Once the trusted condom was on, my penis slid easily into her wetness.  I was inside her.  I could feel so much, tight around me.  She moaned and grasped my hair as I found myself going deeper and harder into her.  Her breasts were bright red with sweat.  She pushed me out of her.  Had I done something wrong?  She put me on my back, and then climbed onto me.  I slid right into her with ease.  She bounced so hard, moaning more and more each time, her breasts bouncing up and down.  She screamed and started to shudder, as I released myself.  I had lost my virginity and cum at the same time she had reached orgasm [I didn’t think that was even possible].  That day I had my breakfast.  Not long after she had elevenses.  In fact she made sure I had lunch, snacks, tea and supper for the two nights I stayed.  My penis was sore with overuse.  It had never been used before this trip to Scarborough!  The sex was amazing, and varied.  She performed oral sex, shown me many ways to make her orgasm, but I was beginning to feel used. 
The next weekend I visited again, all we did was to stay in and had sex.  We never chatted on the phone before my visit, I felt used.  It may seem like a typical blokes dream to be used, but I wanted more emotion.  I’m not just an object and detest being used as one.  She had achieved what she wanted, and boosted the local pharmacy sales of condoms but I wanted more. 

My final work placement for college was at Clayton’s Millstream Animal Sanctuary in 2001.  Here I assisted with cleaning kennels, and catteries.  I would also assist with feeding General the horse, and several goats.  I was also lucky to assist tame an extremely aggressive black rabbit.  The male rabbit had a small white patch under its neck.  It apparently was vicious to people, and had a history of biting people.  I lifted it straight up, sat it on my knee, as I sat on the floor inside the main building.  Bugsy as I affectionately called him responded well.  It never kicked out at me, or bit me once in the few months I was there.  Bugsy eventually responded well to other humans and found a home.  2000 being the year Dad had a second child with his partner Bernadette.  Shaun Paul Acton was born on the 28th of March.  I now had three brothers.

Back at Millstream, a cat named Aurora, a beautiful tortoiseshell cat, had to be kept close to the veterinary room.  Aurora suffered from a liver disease and needed regular medicine doses.  Her history was from a background of being mistreated.  She was not an ideal cat for homing, because she was so aggressive to human contact.  Within days of working up her trust, she clambered from her pen, and walked over my shoulders.  She rubbed my head with her body.  She would not allow me to touch her by hand.  This usually responded with a prompt scratch to my arm or head.  Aurora took weeks to allow me to pick her up, and stroke.  She was a beautiful cat, and I would have loved to given her a home.  Mum would not allow another cat because we already had Tigger and Sparky (Tigger’s mother).  I also had Sarah my tarantula (named after a girl I had a crush on, even if she was out of my league); Gizmo and Stripe my Russian Hamsters (who would often try to kill one another, thus resulting in me pulling them apart).  Gizmo and Stripe were adopted from an animal sanctuary.

After completing work placements at Heaton Park with college, Holland’s Exotic Pets in the Coliseum, Manchester Pets and Aquatics, and Blackpool Zoo I felt ready to take on a career.  I decided to apply for the Fire and Rescue Service.  The last few weeks of college loomed and Gemma hosted a sleepover at her house in Sale.  Becci, Danny, Alexis, Darran and I stayed.  We watched Lake Placid (Crap film) and numerous other films and gabbed whilst eating and drinking in Gem’s lounge.  Later on Gemma went upstairs to bed, Alexis fell asleep, Danny and Darran fell asleep minutes later.  I curled up in my blanket.  Becci lay behind me.  Becci kissed me.  I kissed her back.  My hands strayed, beneath her blanket, and below her jeans.  Becci was very quiet for the first five minutes.  All of a sudden she screamed and the others awoke.  She told them she had had a nightmare.  The flustered bright red face clearly lying but that beat admitting to what was really going on.  She lay back down, turned away and fell asleep.  Becci was always the selfish member of the group, insecure, and confident she could win any man’s heart over.  She would never win my heart. I am glad to have heard since then that she has grown up well.

In May I had my mobile stolen; in July I’d seen the band Wheatus again with Danny; and at this stage I had been forced to make career choices.  After passing several fire-fighters exams and tests I had a contract arrive in the post from Greater Manchester Fire Services.   On the same day I received an offer for a place in Aberystwyth University.  I had to decide between university and a career.  The decision was not easy but a few years at University would not prevent me reapplying for the Fire and Rescue Service.

During August I also returned to Barmouth for a holiday with Mum, Paul, Paul junior, and Astrid.  We stayed in Tudor House holiday flat overlooking the harbour.

On the 22nd of September 2001, 11 days after the atrocious attacks by terrorists on the U.S.A., I had departed for Aberystwyth.  Manchester City F.C. had beaten Sheffield Wednesday 6-2 at Hillsborough under the helm of Kevin Keegan. Dad’s packed Citroen headed east, packed full to the rim. Having been lost in Shrewsbury (possibly the only town populated by more roundabouts than people), we set across Eastern Wales and its many shades of grey clouds.  Many urination stops later in several bleak farm tractor entrances, and we arrived in Aberystwyth.  I and Dad unpacked all my gear into Cwrt Mawr Block B, room 15 – my home to be for an entire academic year.

Post-unpacking my Dad took me to Cwrt Mawr bar located next door to Block B.  Dad brought me my first pint in Aberystwyth.  Guinness, naturally, and served by a rather busty bar lady.  Talent spotting looked to be a good idea in this town.  Time was soon called, and we returned to my room.  Dad kipped on my bed, and I curled up under a blanket on the rock cold tiled floor.  Ah, luxury!

For Sunday morning we searched for a café or breakfast bar in the town at the foot of Penglais hill, no such luck.  We made do with Spar’s finest sausage roll and breakfast barm.  No sarcasm intended.  Dad drove me back to my highly institutional-influenced room, before he headed off for Manchester.

As I slowly unpacked, my new flatmates passed by my room.  Feelings came over me, pure shyness and unsure whether my flatmates would take to me.  I was feeling alone.  The day seemed to last forever, as I customised my imperial-institutional cell.  I fell asleep, tired and alone, wanting to escape, far from home.  Tears ran from my eyes.

The first Monday of the University term brought brighter light.  I met Mike, a fellow resident of Institution Block B, or Cwrt Mawr (if you like a more romantic tone).  We went to the students union and entered a Headways Group treasure hunt.  We started late on, overtook many teams, and still managed to finish first.  The secret clues were difficult, but we made it through to the Outback bar on the Llanbadarn campus.  I could see Mike doubted my navigational skills, but he could tell I doubted his knowledge of biology as we discussed our similar study schemes.  At the Outback, a free barbeque was provided, and we also won a £5 student union shop voucher.  This sweetened the burning sensation on my aching feet.

Many hours later I had returned to my room.  My head plummeted into my pillow.  I slept like I had not slept for a long, long, long time.  My day’s explorations with Mike, the square headed, spectacle-wearing Midlander had been fun.  To imagine what Mike looks like, simply watch the film Ghostbusters and look at Egon Spengler.  Mike was however around five-foot ten.

A night passed before Mike had arranged for a night out with several girls from Cwrt Mawr Block A (the other block next door).  Our other flatmates Dan, and Yaz joined us for a few drinks at The Glengower on Aber’s North seafront.  The girls from next door were Jen (a Southerner), Jenny (an American International Politics student), Lynette (a Brummie) and her room mate Kim (also a Brummie).  I wasn’t really interested in any of the girls (even if the theme night was Pimps and Whores night).  Naturally I wore my favourite purple shiny-top and silver dragon trousers.

The next day I met Kez (Environmental Scientist) and Mel (Drama student!), two more flatmates.  There was also Victor (computer scientist) and Lorenzo (an Italian International Politics PHD student).  That morning Mike and myself went to Block A to meet Kim and Jenny.  Lynette had been feeling unwell, and wanted to return to the Midlands and her parents’ house.  By the end of the day Kim’s double room was more spacious, as Lynette headed home from the University for the first and final time that year.  Really, I think Dan scared her off the night before at The Glengower.

Pretty soon lectures had began, and before long I and Kim were seeing each other.  Before long October popped up. POP!  On return to Manchester, I and Rob met up to watch Scary Movie 2 at the cinema.  At this stage I realised that most of my friends had moved on, William was in New Zealand, Dan was in the army with the Scots Dragoon Guards, Becci at Leeds University, and Alexis at Chester College.  It was a pleasant return to Manchester, and easy to get news.  I bloody well didn’t get much news in Ceredigion!  I rarely watched television.  I had to go on the net to discover most things or return home to watch the football (by football I mean the great Manchester City F.C.) My Manchester City FC were doing excellent and well on course to a return to the top flight where I was sure they would stay up this time.  At the time City were the best goal scorers in the U.K. football leagues too!  There was ONLY one pub in Aber which screened ITV Sports!  The Mill public house was tiny and packed solid if any game was on. 

By the end of the month, as is a tradition on my birthday I had added another year to my age.  I thought celebrating my birthday away from home would be awful as I turned 19.  Mel and Kez treated me to Profitero’s and presents.  That was very kind of them.  I was not used to surprises, so it was different and thoroughly enjoyable.  Kim returned from the Midlands with a cuddly Tigger and some chocolates.  Yummy.

During the month of October I also became involved with Aberystwyth Town F.C., a team from the then League of Wales (now Welsh Premier).

Everything seems to take 15 minutes:  getting ready to go out, cycling to work, an evening jog, having a quickie etc.  Yet getting to lectures from Block B took at the most 5 minutes.  This was convenient and had no excuse to be late.  The first year of University life wasn’t so academically productive.  I fucked up big time.  I did however enjoy University life, football, and the region so much that I would retake my year.  If I was to relive life in Cwrt Mawr Block B, there would be some brilliant or strange memories.

For a start my room was right by the kitchen, so every Tom, Dick and Harry who fancied a late night snack would likely disturb me.  We did not have a Tom, Dick or Harry living in our flat as I am aware.  Worse still, the toilet was located adjacent to my room.  An ancient proverb, probably would go as “he who sleeps lightly, be disturbed by the loo flushing.”

Our estranged flatmate Victor was proving to be rather unusual.  Several knocks on my door at 7a.m. revealed why.  Victor was revealed to be a campus stalker, who was eventually expelled from University.  This wasn’t the only trouble in Cwrt Mawr, bats in my wardrobe, and the Police calling at all hours, and this e-mail from a warden says it all: 


The University has a very strict Rule that forbids the possession of any form of weapon on its premises and grounds. Of course, this includes any form of gun or imitation weapon. Yet, I have been handed and have confiscated 3 “pistols” this term already! At least one is a BB-gun that potentially is very dangerous.  These disregards of a University Rule came to a head in the early hours of Friday, 1st February, when a student in a balaclava brandished a “gun” at another student “as a drunken lark”!
The man was arrested and may be prosecuted! Even if not, he will be subject to University discipline; as will any others caught in possession of a weapon! BE WARNED: Anyone in possession of weapon must dispose of it immediately or face the certainty of at least University discipline if caught!
Dr.R.B.Kemp, Warden.


Around Christmas time our flat shared a Christmas dinner.  Kez, Mel and Mike cooked, whilst muggings here had to wash up with Kim and Yaz.  That night I and Kim set a cuddly-musical toy, namely Frosty the Snowman, off outside Kez’s room, much to our amusement and Kez’s dismay.  Practical jokes dried up soon after Christmas.  There was only so much blown-dry cling film under toilet seats, washing up liquid down toilets, and booby traps that could be taken in one semester at University.

At the time, my attitude to life had changed, and I settled into the University life with ease.  I tell you what when I left University it was a shock to the system.  I had to get up at 6am, rather than go to sleep then.  Having sex in a single bed was absurd.  There was more food than beer in my fridge.  My fantasies of having sex with three women with lesbian tendencies was soon replaced by fantasies of having sex with anyone at all.  I no longer sought to volunteer for clinical trials at the local hospital.  I then knew all of the people sleeping in my house.  The bank manager didn’t be threaten as in previous years.  My friends soon would marry and divorce instead of getting together and breaking-up.  I went from 130 days of holidays to around 20.  Jeans and a jumpers no longer qualified as ‘dressed up’.  I didn’t spend half my day strategically planning pub crawls.  I even joined the campaign to “hate scrounging students”.  I no longer had a strange attraction to road signs when I was under the influence of alcohol. I no longer took naps from noon to 6 p.m.  A £3 bottle of wine was no longer ‘pretty good stuff’.  I remembered the name of the person I’ll wake up next to.  I actually ate breakfast foods at breakfast time.  Either Way University was easier to understand than most things – okay the work was extremely hard and often led to bouts of depression, and insomnia.  It is not as cheap as I thought it would be, survival of the fittest, or Darwinian Theory is thrown full blown into contention. Not that any of this paragraph is accurate. University was different to life afterwards.

My second semester lectures started in early February and already the lectures were engaged on revision and exams.  I tried my hardest but felt a little unconfident the moment any chemistry or mathematics was thrown at me.  It was not easy being a John, but someone had to do it.  I had already signed up with 5 friends (Mike, Kez, Mel, Yaz, and my new friend Tom) for a building in the next year in town (on Baker Street), it worked out about 15% more expensive (plus electricity bills) than my first University accommodation, but second year students did not get any priority in accommodation next year.  The Baker Street maisonette was located in farting-distance of the station, town, and seafront.  It was, however, a mile from my lecture rooms on the Penglais campus.  This University has the fittest University students in the U.K.  No surprises!  It also boasted one of the U.K.’s highest suicidal rates, not really that nice a prospect.  For the second semester I had more practical work scheduled, more hours of learning (about 24 in 5 days ) and several trips to Borth Animalarium (8 miles North).

One Wednesday in February I had a football match at 2.30pm (at Blaendolau) which I seemed to dread for the fact that the team I played for (Officers’ Training Corp FC) appeared to be the most unorganised club ever.  They were 12-0 down when I came on for the second half against Gents’ Society UWA FC, we lost 12-1!  It was awful.  However, when it came to playing for University teams over the years I’d find more disorganized units as time flew by.  However the next match we won 4-0 in the league against the Beerkeepers’ FC.  I got 90 minutes to run around and chase the ball.  We played a friendly against the American Welsh FC and we were winning 5-0 when I was badly tackled.  The two players sandwiched me as I ran though on goal.  The ball left my feet and hit the net, I was crushed.  I had a bruised rib, dislocated knee, and several bruises.  They both received straight reds, we won 10-0.  I never got to play in the league or cup matches until just before Christmas where I made a start.  My knee was still troubling me a little, but seeing as only 11 people turned up, I had to fill in at Left-back position…. Well for 15 minutes until my legs were taken.  The player was only yellow carded.  I hopped around for the remainder of the game, made the odd challenge, no subs were available so I did my best – we lost 6-1 against a side we beat 4-0 (Beerkeepers’ FC).  Luckily it was only a cup game.  I managed another few games that season for the Officers’ Training Corp F.C. as we progressed to the quarter final of the Dig’s League.

Me, Mike and many other students regularly went down to Park Avenue and watch our adopted local football side Aberystwyth Town F.C. in the League of Wales; it was fun and Rhodri Giggs (brother of Ryan Giggs) played for them, and he was surprisingly good.  It was a youthful side, some old City players have been here with other League of Wales squads and Malcolm Allen played there too!  This seemed pretty amazing for a club I had never heard of, let alone seen until I came to Aberystwyth.  Aberystwyth finished 9th in season 2001/02 having beaten Connah’s Quay on the final day of the season.  Connah’s Quay had a postponed game the week later to move above Aberystwyth Town and qualify for the Football Association of Wales Premier Cup. Aberystwyth Town didn’t, but they put on a good end of season.

The Aberystwyth Arts Centre had an excellent exhibition programme and was one of the few venues in Wales acknowledged by the Arts Council as a Centre of Excellence.  It also offered you an excellent programme of exhibitions and many courses in art, drama, dance and music.  But for those who enjoy the outdoors, a bracing breeze and horizontal rain, with a football between your feet naturally.

The University playing fields represent the jewel in the crown of U.W.A.’s sporting facilities and are located on two sites.  The nationally renowned Vicarage Playing Fields, some 16 acres, are home to the U.W.A’s. first football, rugby, tennis and cricket teams.  The immaculately maintained facilities are the flagship of excellence and have been the envy of visiting teams for years, plus they were bloody good to score upon. Such was the quality, that the University was able to attract prestigious external user groups such as the Ian Rush Soccer Tournament, and even professional football teams.  The other, and larger, site is at Blaendolau where equally impressive pitches occupy some 34 acres.  Here, in addition to the many UWA team fixtures, was the venue for the Digs’ League football.  A further asset of both sites is their close proximity to the main campus, the town and student accommodation, thus making for easy accessibility.  Also, many goals were to be scored on this field.

Kim finally visited Manchester in May 2002, and we went to watch ET re-released at the cinema, and Kim met some of my family.  I had shown her the local Highfield Country Park, where somehow I managed to get splinters in my bottom-cheeks.

There was one particular walk which began like any other ordinary walk during May 2003.  Kez, Kim, Alana, Mike, and I were all walking along the south beach of Aberystwyth.  At the time I was wearing a T-shirt and shorts.  The sun was beating down keeping me very warm.  I had my sunglasses around my neck and a baseball cap on.  Tethered around my back was a small bag with a juice bottle, my mobile phone and other small keep-sakes in it.  Mike and I decided to speed up a little and explore this newly acquainted area.  We then went around the most southern point of the cove.  There before us lay rocks and crags at the foot of tall cliffs.  The cliffs looked strong.  Mike and I looked around the rocks finding the lower left mandible of a sheep and a few strange shells.  I then started to ascend my way up a sloping cliff (elevated around a 150-degree drop).  The bottom ten metres proved to be easy to climb.  The mid-section was not as easy but at the same time not too difficult.  I reached a point about five metres from the summit of the cliff face.  The ledge I was stood on became un-easy as if ready to collapse.  I turned around ready to descend slowly to the foot of the cliff.  The ledge collapsed.  Rocks tumbled beneath me.  The rocks bounced off crags in the cliffs, spiralling into the air dramatically before impacting the pebbles and crags below.  There and then I felt I could get myself back to safety.  I gasped hold of the protruding rocks to my right (southerly direction).  They crumbled.  The sea below hitting the pebble beach viciously became drowned out.  Panic had hit me.  To my left (just north) I could see Kim, Kez, Mike and Alana chatting and relaxing on flat area of rocks at the base of the cliffs.  The loneliness set in.  I thought fast what I should do next.  I waved with both hands as if needing help.  No response from the happy people below.  I signalled with nine fingers flashing them repeatedly.  Still there was no response.  I then took the extreme of launching my bag high into the sky and letting it drop half-way up the cliff.

Now they noticed me!  Then I realised that I had thrown my phone downwards inside the bag.  Luckily, Mike clambered up the cliff within four metres of me.  I could smell his aftershave.  I told him about the situation I was in.  A messy situation I was in.  He tried to tell me his situation but I exaggerated the situation I was in.  He phoned the emergency services.  As he was phoning my right foot slipped from beneath me.  The ledge had crumbled further.  I had only one place to put my left foot and use my right hand now to prop me up.  Below me loomed a fateful place to land.   I could do nothing but hold on.  Keep holding on.  Nothing else could be done, I had to hold on.  Mike chatted to me (upwind) although little of what he said registered.  My right arm was numb.  It had to support over ninety kilograms.  My left leg seemed to be slipping continually.

I constantly had to find a new footing.  Slate and stones were crumbling around me.  Rocks were tumbling down below.  I tried not to watch them.  Mike told me how the emergency services were on the way.  Kez, Kim, and Alana were sat there on the smooth rocks safely.  Even as I held onto my life I had to direct somebody to stand on the road around the side of the cliffs to wave down the emergency services.  Looking at my watch it was 1700.  I had been there around 15 minutes already.   Mike laughed, “at least it’s sunny!”  Then I looked out to see.  The sunlight became covered by clouds.  Briefly a beam of light shone through.  I pictured it as a stairway to heaven.  It felt so surreal.  I imagined a voice beckon aloud, “this way John”.  Then I imagined the Earth below tear apart to the sound of Take That singing “Relight My Fire”.  Should I choose Heaven or hell?  I’ll choose… life!  It was becoming cold; I shivered, petrified of the fall below, nervous twitches rocked my left leg repeatedly.  The leg I needed to hold myself up was numb and shivering rapidly.  It slipped off several times.  Only my quick instinct recaptured my stance of security on the cliff.

The emergency services came at 1740.  A police car led three fire engines, an ambulance (to reassure me – they told me it was a precaution), and a mountain rescue jeep.  The sound of sirens will always remind me how warm I felt as they came down the seaside road.  Within minutes, two firemen were below to my right unable to reach me.  One was above (also, unable to reach me).  The Mountain rescue team had set their winching equipment up and an abseiling man descended downwards to me.  He stood in front of me.  They than fastened a belt around me.  He hooked the belt onto the abseil line.  We both slowly walked upwards with my legs spread apart painfully to balance the weight.  I looked down at my extremely pale legs, cold.  It was very cold.  A few scratches displayed blue tints around them.  My skin was icy.  At last I reached the summit.  It was better late than never.

An RAF Air Sea Rescue Sea King thundered around above me and the rescue workers.  The noise drowned out the sea below.  Air thumped downwards causing me to collapse.  A paramedic greeted me.  He wrapped shiny tinfoil over me. The down-thrust from the helicopter above unwrapped the shiny tinfoil.  The helicopter moved into position.  A winch man manoeuvred downwards.  He hooked the paramedic onto the winch and sent him up alone first.  The winch man comforted me as we waited.  Then the winch came down empty.  He hooked himself on.  He strapped me in with two harnesses.  I loosely lay (almost floppy) as we winched up slowly.  A down thrust of air hit us, the cable span around causing me to hit my head on the helicopter.  My mouth caught on the winch man’s jacket.  Blood ran out of my mouth as I pulled forwards to avoid further injury.  They placed my on a seat in the helicopter and we thundered off to Blaendolau fields where we touched down.  They carried me to the ambulance and placed me on a stretcher.  The ambulance raced off to the hospital.  I was in a hypothermic state and tachycardia.  I had a sore head but nothing too serious.  By 1920 hours I was in hospital and being warmed up.  I was lucky.  I owe my life to my friends, the fire brigade, the RAF helicopter rescue service (coastguard), the paramedics, and the mountain rescue teams.

The 6th of June was the date that everyone looked forward to at the Student Union.  Wheatus’ tour passed the seaside town, my Wheatus album overplayed, and the atmosphere heated up.  Me, Kim, Kez and Mel were first in the queue, and the over-enthusiastic I was right at the front.  The band did not disappoint.  The disappointment came when Kez, Kim and Mel left straight after the concert.  I wasn’t confident enough to stick around asking for autographs on my own!  At times like these I wanted to escape University and join the Amy.  That was not a spelling mistake; just I’d rather have met an Amy than been with Kim.

In summer, I wanted to return home.  Home is where the heart is, and at that time my heart must have been in Sesame Street.  And then, when I did return home, I ended up returning back to Aberystwyth for the summer period. In June 2002 Mike, Yaz, Kez, Mel, Tom and I moved into a new maisonette on Baker Street.  This would be our accommodation for 2002/2003 during term.  Mike immediately started work in Clarach alongside me.  His irritating jokes, easily wound up and over competitiveness got too me.  I left work within days.

I started a job at Spar on Terrace Road, and Mike would eventually leave the Showboat in Clarach opting for work at Caffi Morgan in town.  My friend Em visited from Oldham in summer, she left having been freaked out by Mike.  She told me how he tried it on with her after she had left Aber.  This surprised me, knowing Mike and Alana had been going out for a few months.  September soon arrived, and Mike set about making me feel small.  Our new flat mate Tom steered clear of Mike.  I tried my best to avoid competition with Mike, but he insisted on reminding me how I had failed my first year and he was now a successful second year.  He was in charge of the Biological Society and was even a player for the new UWA Greens F.C.(which I had invited him to play for us).

Tom and I became good friends, and we often walked to Clarach on our free afternoons.  Tom was originally from southern England but had been living in Newport (West Wales) with his mum.  Tom studied Computer Science, enjoyed movies, liked to talk, and was ambitious.  He was also a good person to have around in order to build my confidence up.  Tom was planning on moving to Canada once he left university in 2004.

As a flat we had our Christmas lunch together.  Kim and Alana were both invited.  I was called immature by Mel for wearing my Christmas Hat on my ear.  I was pretty much told to grow up.  For some unknown reason the entire flat was turning against me.  I would walk into the lounge and a conversation descended into silence.  An argument with Mel, about a CD that had gone missing (and I said Mike had it) resulted in Mel telling me to drop my grudges against Mike, and grow up.  I said some pretty harsh words at her.  We both slammed doors, I smashed a glass.  Later Mike returned the CD to Mel.  The grudge was now in full flow.  The grudge was against Kez, Mel and Mike.

In January 2003 when there was only me and Mike at the house we cycled to Devil’s Bridge.  This took our mind off revision and allowed us to keep our friendship intact as there were many heated moments prior to this.

In May 2003 I went to the May Ball.  It was supposed to be just me and Kim, but Kez, and Mel joined us for most of the night.  Mike shown off on the bungee jump, and anywhere he could when he was with Alana or any of the girls.  The only thing I enjoyed was seeing the Blues Brothers Tribute Band, and Kim did not seem too keen.  I was made to follow her around all evening.  Kim and I were hitting rocky waters.  I was tired of being ignored when she came round, and tired of having to go to Kim’s for quality time together.  At Kim’s house on Prospect Street she would go off to talk to Jenny and leave me alone in the room.  I felt ignored.

I turned to football and watching DVDs with Tom.  At which stage Kim accused me of not wanting to spend time with her.  I wanted to escape the relationship.  I would not however as her best mates Mike, Kez, and Mel lived in my flat.  I did not want a potential split to cause repercussions in the flat – it was difficult enough already!

Kim told me how Mike, Kez, Alana, and Yaz were going to share 2 Pentre Jane Morgan together for their final year.  I was invited but did not want to join the others.  They had not liked me turning down their offer, over the fact I wanted to meet new friends being a year behind them.

For summer I went home to work, and relax.  I hoped the break apart would do me and Kim good.  It seemed to work.  We met up to go to Birmingham’s Sea Life Centre and Chester Zoo whilst taking it easy.  Kim even came to Llandudno with me for a pre-season friendly.  We stayed in a hotel, had a meal and went up the Great Orme.

Kim invited me to her cousin Emma’s wedding in Preston.  A wedding should bring people closer but it only made me feel more distant.  We arranged to go to Cardiff to see Manchester City play TNS in a UEFA Cup game next.  We stayed by the university and watched the football.  Kim finally met my brother Ace and my Dad.  She was very shy acting.  I could not work out why.  Kim had nothing to be shy about usually.

The end of September arrived and I moved from Manchester to Aber once again.  This time I was going to return to university halls.  I was to move into Ty Caron, room 3, flat 1.  I met Jon Hughes and Simon who lived in the room opposite my own.  Gemma and Rachael lived behind the door to my right.  Vicky and Sarah lived in the room to my left, by the bathroom and opposite the kitchen.

Jon Hughes was originally born in Northern Ireland in 1984.  Jon Hughes, nicknamed Buzza had lived in Liverpool from an early age.  Naturally he had no connection with Manchester.  Like many others in the World who are not connected with Manchester, he supports Manchester United.  Buzza was a student of English.  Jon shared his room with Simon, and International Politics post-graduate student.  Simon was from Poland, and interesting to talk to about world affairs.

As part of my 21st birthday present Kim brought me tickets for Dave Gorman’s Googlewhack Adventure show (at the Aber Arts Centre on December the 7th).  Kim did not come out for my 21st as she was ill.  I started my celebrations at noon in Yr Hen Gorsaf (the Wetherspoon’s in Aber).  Steve Lynno, Tom Foster, the twins and Stew Spink departed with me for Caersws.  In Caersws we started at The Red Lion public house.  We were met by Matt Hemsley, Sonny and Cher (real names unknown), Matt Cooling, Mark Cornock, Nige Carr Evans, Mike Watts, and many others.  I did not need to buy a drink that night!  Everybody seemed to buy me a drink.  We then staggered to watch Aberystwyth lose 3-1 to Caersws in a FAW Premier Cup game.  After the game we went to the Caersws F.C. Social Club, and departed by train to Aber. We spent a few hours in The Bay, where Claire Robbins joined up with us.  Afterwards we went back to Claire’s house to indulge into American Pie 2 and a few drinks.

I spent my third New Year with Kim after Christmas 2003.  This one was not as fun.  We did not really do much.  This boat was certainly going to hit the rocks soon.

By February and as a means of escapism I and my friend Matt Cooling decided to go for a day out up the Cambrian coast.  We visited Llanaber, Barmouth, and Harlech.

A small group of Behaviour Biology students was invited to Chester Zoo for a conference on Environmental Enrichment in mid-January 2004.  This was an ideal day out, and also a good way of reducing the travel time spent alone from Manchester.

Dad, Ace, and I watched and FA Cup game, in which City drew one apiece with Tottenham Hotspurs in late January.  City had already beaten Leicester City in the FA Cup.  The replay was screened live on Sky Sports in the Snooker Club.  Nige (City season ticket holder and university porter), Wattsy (season ticket holder at City, and a university porter), Tom (from my flat in second year), and Adriano (co-owner of Evola hairdressers in Aber, and a keen City fan) watched the replay in which City was three nil down at half time.  Joey Barton had been sent off.  City came out in the second half scoring through Distin, Bosvelt and Wright-Phillips.  City’s keeper Arni Arason (the Icelandic number one) made some superb saves to keep City in with a slim chance of reaching extra time and penalties.  Jon Macken produced a fourth goal in the dying minutes sending City through to a FA Cup at Old Trafford.  The game versus Spurs was amazing, and they did eventually bring a DVD out!

On the day of February the 18th 2004, Wales beat Scotland 4-0.  I went to Cardiff with Sidelights (who does know where the accelerator is).  We watched Wales and then returned to Aber.  Kim had a go at me for preferring football to a Valentine’s meal.  I tried explaining why I do not celebrate Valentine’s Day.  Valentine’s Day gives a neglectful or aggressive husband or boyfriend the opportunity to be romantic by sending a commercialised card or gift to a supposed love one.  That idea to me does not suggest romance or love.  I secretly did not want Kim to think I loved her, in case she loved me.  We were going to split up, but not whilst she was deep into her year three project work.  She did not have time to talk to me, so I was stubborn and would wait until after her work was handed in.

On the 26th I waited for Kim to come and join me at the Football Club.  There was snow knee deep, but Kim decided she would rather sledge with Mike and Alana than see me.  This created major tension. Kim handed her Dissertation work in on the 12th of March.  We split up on the 13th of March.  On the 14th of March Bangor City beat Aberystwyth 2-1 at Park Avenue Stadium.  I had found Kim’s presents for her birthday (31st of March) in my cupboard.

I decided to pass these onto Kim the day after I went to Manchester to City win 4-1 in the home derby game.  Manchester United was turned over thanks to goals from Fowler, Macken, Sinclair and Wright-Phillips.  I was sat two rows from the goal-end where Macken and Fowler had scored.  I was feet away from Macken when he celebrated his goal.  The 15th came and I met Kim on the seafront.  We walked towards the castle, I handed her the presents and some personal possessions.  Kim handed me a bag with a T-shirt and jacket I had left at hers.  We hugged and said goodbye.

Mike Bagnall came around the next night.  He was dressed up for a night out.  He asked if he could go in, I offered him a drink.  I looked outside the window to see Harry (Jenny’s boyfriend stood across the road).  I knew Mike was looking for trouble.  He wanted to know why I had split with Kim.  I said how it was not meant to be.  He started to get personal, saying how “I had to retake first year and had nothing but resentment for him.”  He even accused me of not having a best friend called Dan back home.  Because Dan worked for the Army and the Iraqi crisis was going on, Dan could not visit.  Mike told me I made him up, and he is just in my mind.  He asked to see a photograph of Dan.  I did not have one to hand.  I asked him if he was looking for a fight.  He said, “Yes, let’s go outside.”  I replied with, “If you want a fight, we will have one right here, and I guarantee you will not walk away.”  That reply must have scared him because he was quiet for a few moments.  He then said, “Right mate, I’m going to have to go, as I am going out tonight with friends.”  I liked the way he exaggerated the word friends, it reminded me how I had lots of friends from football, university lectures (e.g. Rob, and Susan), and home!  He offered to shake hands, but I would not.  He was no friend.  I showed him the door.  I had shown great resilience in my room, as he was probably the first person I have ever wanted to hit full force in the face, and then continue beating him to a pulp until he no longer made a sound.  The difference between me and him then was I’m capable yet restrained.  He was incapable yet a loose cannon, looking for a battle he could never have won.

Term passed quickly, lectures with my imaginary friends Laura Baker and Rob Palmer passed quickly.  On May the 22nd Aberystwyth Town Football Club held its annual club dinner awards night.  I received the David Pugh Sportsman of the Year and the Clubman of the year award alongside a Spar Mid Wales Winners cup.  I received these awards for helping the club progress in the previous season.  I had assisted with advertising, managing the Astroturf, helping with the matchday programme, and being available on matchdays etc.  The committee of Glan Davies, Rhun Owens, Jim Edwards, Ian Pugh “Sidelights”, Anne Jones, John Dunn, Alan Cookson, and company had voted for me to be Clubman of the year.

On the 2nd day of June 2004, a good friend, Chris Howells assisted me in moving into 48 Gerddi Rheidol.  Another good friend, Nige Carr Evans was renting a spare room out to me.  My final year in University was to be spent living across the river Rheidol in Trefechan.  48 Gerddi Rheidol housed a recently decorated kitchen, a luxurious lounge with two leather settees, a cool bathroom, and my room located facing North into the town.  The view was of many gardens from a nearby terraced housing street, with a brief glimpse of the Kiln Bridge (opening in 2004, and spanning the river Rheidol).  I returned to Manchester on the 3rd in order to spend a few days relaxing at home before my new job for the University Managed & Leased Properties services as a Porter.

On the 5th of June 2004, I was supposed to watching England F.C. face the Icelandic football association team at the City of Manchester Stadium.  England would win 6-1.  But due to a few drinks the night before with Pete, and his mates this never happened.  We started off rolling dice in the Goose on Piccadilly to decide which public houses we would visit next.  As we could not collectively decide which public house to go to as a group, we decided on six towns in close proximity.  Stockport, Bolton, Bury, Oldham, Blackburn and Blackpool were chosen.  After we had decided many hours later, I ended up rushing home to grab my rucksack.  I packed my clothes and things ready for my return to Aber on the 6th, as I had to start work on the 7th.

By 9pm, we were on a Virgin train heading due south for a village known as London.  We had planned to stay at Pete’s friends’ house that lived in Charlton.  By 11pm we were in a bar, and slightly tipsy (the crate of beer on the train journey not helping).  Midnight passed, and somehow I became separated from Pete and his mates.  My phone battery had died, and my rucksack had disappeared.  Somehow, I ended up lost, lonely, and with only the contents of my wallet to help me get out of this mess.  I was approached by a student called Susan, who studied Engineering at Uxbridge’s Brunel University.  She brought me a few drinks, and eventually asked me if I wanted to go back to hers for a drink (in the Nescafe sense or not, I pondered?).  We headed back to her lodgings at her university.  We seemed to talk the whole night away, and then gently fall asleep, Susan in her bed, and me on her sofa in her room.  It seemed she did not just want to jump on top of me, and given the state I was in, I did not blame her.

Also, I made the text below smaller and lighter because I have been a tad graphic, again. Like I said, flip it. I am not hiding anything. It has to be written.

The next morning I woke up, crept to her bathroom, and a quick wash, using her towel, and then squeezed some toothpaste into my mouth and swilled it round as intensely as possible.  This seemed to do the trick, it certainly felt fresh.  What about deodorant?  I looked over at her Sure fragrance free roll-on.  It did the job.  I moved stealthily back in to get dressed, and managed so successfully.  At that point her bedroom door opened and in walked Susan, already dressed.  It appeared she had already been up, dressed and been to have breakfast without me knowing.  At this stage I was fully dressed.  She came over and I said thanks, and we hugged.  Hugs led to kisses, kisses led to her feeling my back, my shirt came off, and we ended up naked.  She said she wanted me in her.  She grabbed me close; I pulled away, and said, “I’ll just get a condom from my wallet.”  I said this praying I had one there.  She said, “Don’t worry we don’t need it.”  I reached into my wallet anyway, and tore the condom wrapper open.  I placed it on, better safe than sorry.  The first time we were intimate was kind of rushed, and the second time we both reached orgasm at the same time, but the third time that night lasted hours (kind of burning) but we reached orgasm and managed to finish off the three condoms in my wallet.  That is why they come in packs of three I think.  I stayed that night, and Susan gave me a lift to Heathrow station the next morning, we waved goodbye, agreed it was just fun.  Eight hours later, and three changes I arrived in sunny Aberystwyth. 

On the 7th of June 2004 I started work for the University Managed and Leased Properties as a Porter.  A Porter is just a glorified cleaner.  The boss, a Bernie Virgin was a smarmy camp guy, obsessed with targets.  The targets were always met, but he would insist on going over the targets again even if they were perfectly clean rooms in the first place.  His number two henchman was Jane Morgan, mother of staff member Will.  Jane was equally as irritating as Bernie, but with the added attribute of treating each member of staff like a child.  This did not go down very well (not like a room full of ladies in a Mardi Gras special hotel).  Many rebellions were planned, very little action occurred.  Mike and Lynwen were related to senior management and could slack off as much as possible.  Ron, a very nice American (is that a contradiction?) left in mid-July as he set off on a round the World tour starting from Bristol at his girlfriend’s house, and taking in America and China.  He was the first to leave.  Will left without telling his Mum that he was moving to Ireland to live and work alongside his fiancé.  Will had footballing experience in Carmarthen, Haverfordwest and was a very skilful footballer, but his knee injury in 2003 cut his football ambitions short.  For some unknown reason his mum Jane, and the supervisors, be they Marina or Mrs Jones, seemed to think me and Will worked hard together.  I had been working alongside Kai (Chinese super-worker from Shanghai) for the first week, and we had done more than our quota.  The supervisors mixed me with Will next, and he taught me the key to skiving off from work.  We were supposed to clean the hallways of Aberglasney house, Plynlimon, etc. but we managed to sit on the stairs chatting all day.  One day we even managed to sneak onto the beach and watch the day go by.  Mike left next, after Will.  Jurah (a Kiwi, based in Gloucester) departed next as he wanted more time with his Taiwanese girlfriend for travelling.

Little Andy had worked there in the previous two summers, and had already learnt how to avoid work to a perfection from Will.  He was always twinned with big Andy “Dogs” who soon learnt where to skive, smoke as many roll-ups as possible, and relax away from the superior staff sights.  This was some comparison to doctorate student Julie and Lynwen who seemed to enjoy working hard all day without breaking, yet achieving the same results as the lazy many.  There was also Vicky and Lindsay, who worked slow but steadily as they were always victims of supervision.

Ouday was also working in Aber for yet another summer.  He explained he wanted to achieve his masters in Business Studies so that he would not have to return to India to a pre-arranged marriage.  Ouday may have been the quietest guy in the group but he was a very interesting person to talk to (naturally whilst skiving from work).

I, Kai, little Andy, and Jurah met up with Jon Hughes to watch the Castell Rock outdoor bands perform on the 19th of August 2004.  It was the laziest Saturday on the Aber Castle grounds I’ve ever spent with some of the friendliest co-workers I have known.  We even met up to see the odd film at the cinema, Kai especially enjoying Kill Bill volume two.  He, like me being a big kid at the time, except he was twenty-six years of age!

On the day Aberystwyth Town faced Dinaburg in the UEFA Intertoto Cup, I was selling matchday programmes (as edited by myself, but poorly assembled by the club photocopier), and trying to avoid Mum, Paul, Astrid and Paul who had travelled to Newtown to watch the game.  A parent’s partner in front of team-mates, friends, and colleagues whilst clearly under the affect of a few local bitters was funny, yet a bit irritating when all you want to do is watch the game!  Still it was fun.  Aber drew a goalless game with Dinaburg on the 19th of June 2004, but lost 4-0 away in Latvia.  Sadly, I was working that day and could also not afford the trip.

In 2004/05, I was determined to return to playing regular football one way or another.  On the 17th Of August training at Penparcau F.C.’s Min-y-Ddol began. The first session went well, however in my second session a football hit me on the lower side of my left jaw.  The impact had caused a molar tooth to crack, and had also forced the tooth deep into my jaw.  At first it was not too bad.  Eventually pieces would fall out, and the pain would be agonising beyond belief.  A constant headache was with me for a long time.  I could not find a dentist locally or in Manchester.

On the 7th of August, Matt Cooling drove me and Mike Watts up to see Manchester City F.C. in a home friendly versus Lazio.  City won 3-1.  The journey was hot, the day was hot, and the wasp that landed on my ear causing me to run 100m faster than athlete made me feel hot. A summer worked towards a close, my final year of university was due to begin…

TO BE CONTINUED.

J3: The Secondary School Years

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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