To Dad.

How do,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you kindly for your time.

SAVE PEGGY

Good day/Namaste/S’mae/How do/Hello/Nihao,

“When I stopped working five years ago, I went on vacation, I rested, I traveled. And when I decided to work again, I told myself it would be in decoration, more than fashion.” – Kenzō Takada, fashion designer and founder of brand Kenzo, 27 February 1939 – 4 October 2020

First there was a mixed message about face masks and then there was a law. The UK government has flapped around on this subject and caused derision and disparagement. The UK healthcare system, National Health Service (N.H.S.) is quite clear on the matter. Disrespect of a simple face mask has shrouded the UK. Yet, here in China, people respect the masks on the whole. They understand, it isn’t just about choice, it’s about making sure they don’t become part of a chain of infection that passes to vulnerable and senior citizens. The humble face mask has had its golden year in 2020, having really stepped up following 2003’s SARS outbreak that originated in Guangdong, China. Production following the spread of our time’s infamous COVID-19 pandemic. The socio-economic disaster of the year has been constantly in our eye. Oxford University, England and Duke University, U.S.A. and actual actions taken in China and other Asian nations saw huge and fast reductions in the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes the COVID-19 disease. So, based on science and experience, health officials around the world advise about wearing face masks. A simple request (even if by law) to help stop spread the risk of transmission. Just like handwashing.

“It’s not a law. There’s too many f***ing liberties being taken away from us now … I choose not to wear one. If I get the virus it’s on me, it’s not on anyone else … it’s a piss-take. There’s no need for it … They’re pointless.” – Noel Gallagher, singer, Matt Morgan podcast.

So, populists like well-respected bobbing-head-mascot Donald of the Trump (P.O.T.U.S. for now) and Noel Gallagher banging on about not wearing masks doesn’t help. Just remember that Trump and U.K. Prime Minister didn’t wear masks and both endured hospital care. Maybe, it wasn’t as bad for them, with their super healthcare plans and support, but for Joe Bloggs and Belinda Blogg of Birmingham, furloughed on zero salary, times may be much harder. Much harder if they attend a Noel Gallagher solo night at the Crown and Anchor pub, then spread his germs onwards to their aunty, uncle and widow grandma. Flattening the curve of active transmissions allows hospitals to raise their game. As they increase their capacity, they can deal with their already stretched resources and add a few more World Health Organization (W.H.O.) posters about wearing face masks. Just like the use of condoms, prevention is better than the cure.

Face masks are just a barrier. When we speak, we release microscopic water droplets and other stuff. This stuff carries that stuff that harms. Expiration was learned as part of primary school science in the U.K. I recall quite clearly that when we breath out, we release water. Talking can spread the simple cold virus that comes and goes annually. Doesn’t it make sense to protect each other? If I was in an enclosed shop, say Aldi or Waitrose, with the presence of Peggy Gallagher perusing the frozen mushy peas, then I’d ensure I was wearing a mask. William John Paul Gallagher and Noel Thomas David Gallagher would be a tad annoyed if I passed on something bad to their mam. So, Noel, if you can’t talk proper, perhaps shut your mouth. Bigmouth Strikes Again was The Smiths, but perhaps another cover version needs Noel’s focus.

The world needs less xenophobia, racism, fear and worry. Religion and politics are taking a hit during this pandemic. Cinemas are closing. Movies are being delayed. Concerts are being cancelled and shows moved online. Football is just about making it to television screens, albeit a flatter atmospheric version than what we’ve experienced for decades. As Manchester City ground out a 1-0 win over London club Arsenal, famines rage on (after locust infestations), recessions cripple families, crimes rise and fake treatments slip under the radar globally. There is hope though, with Yiwu, Zhejiang (the manufacturing hub of all hubs) offering vaccine shots. That’s before they have been approved by any medical organization. It hasn’t even completed medical trials. Vaccines can drive pathogens to evolve, so let’s hope this speedy jab in the arm isn’t a driver to a more complicated future. Our immunogenicity, mucosal immunity and reactogenicity are being tested, as much as our patience. These jabs could protect many non-vaccinated by interrupting transmission. The world watches anxiously. Or, in the case of English learners, they keep busy by cracking on and learning the basics of their new language, such as:

English nouns that people really need to know include the words people [plural of person], thing [What is that thing?], time (What time should we meet?), day [Have a good day], man and woman [The man is by the woman], and child/children/son/daughter. Armed with these nouns, how many questions and sentences can you make? I’d argue there to be near-countless varieties. Now throw in the verbs (to) be [I want to be a scientist], have, do, say, go, get, make, know, see, come, look, want, and use. Then put your knowledge to use:

e.g. Noel Gallagher is one of many people who may or may not want to wear the clothing brand Kenzo. Maybe Noel Gallagher will use a Kenzo face mask.

“Life breaks free. Life expands to new territories. Painfully, perhaps even dangerously. But life finds a way.”  – character Ian Malcolm, from Michael Crichton’s novel Jurassic Park

Thank you kindly for your time.

The Land of Make Believe

Sawasdeekhap / Namaste / Welcome!

There are videos and supposed news pieces all over the media. Us and them. Blame and hate.  No need for it. Time for togetherness and understanding. Some videos serve as propaganda for and against something or other. They are wide open to criticism and debate. How do we know the story is real or fake? They come on entertainment channels, news sources and social media. Believe half of what you see and nothing of what you hear. Don’t believe the truth.

For example, I am in a WeChat social media group called Dongguan Tube (deceptive as it isn’t round or a television channel). It has around 187 members. One member shared a video, shot facing the camera, wearing sunglasses, indoors. My first thought was that he wishes to remain anonymous. Then, I realized he used his DouYin (Tik Tik) account. That’s registered to a phone number and email address, and in turn to a national ID card for Chinese citizens or other. Then facial recognition sprang to mind. I watched his tirade, because right now, there are some interesting and some worrying self-narratives floating around the world. He claimed to be a victim of abuse by a customer from somewhere or other. To stress the point his language was careful, considerate and colourful. Now, was it true or not? I don’t know. I hope he wasn’t as distressed as he made out. There are bigger worries in life. On one hand you have a nationalistic believer in a great nation, as his right, having grown up under a strict ideology only recently influenced by the west. On the other hand, 186 people within the group could debate and argue their own opinions or views. None would be helpful. I use this as a loose example of the footage zipping around cyberspace.

There is hate everywhere. I’ve seen tinfoil takeaway boxes shaped into coffins. Many of us have seen Norwegians posting flags with stars shaped like a certain virus. Opinions, and art are okay, but how far do we go to upset people at a very sensitive time? Well it seems we go a little far, like almost all the way to the right. Hitler would probably like some of the stuff today if he had a Twitter account. I imagine Adolf would be as active on Facebook groups too, sharing some of the posts of the elected few from supposedly developed nations. That and possibly clicking on Youtube videos of dancing Germanic dog breeds.

Politicians and so called experts sling muck into an international emergency situation. Congratulations world, Covid-19 is officially a pandemic – alongside HIV which has been around for a long time on the pandemic list. Many argue that this new beastly virus isn’t the Spanish Flu that killed 50 to 100 million people over the course of three years. Most will agree that this has spread around the world almost with ease inside the space of a quarter of a year. Many fear it may be as bad as another round of the bubonic plague (still available in USA, I believe) and many argue it is just the seasonal flu. Smallpox was eradicated, measles is controlled in many countries, and tuberculosis ravages the developing world but is under great investigation. Research into every known disease and virus has been gradual and continuous since their initial understandings. Covid-19 is just a baby in a petri dish, compared with Hansen’s disease and malaria.

Meanwhile leader of China, President Xi was in Wuhan, as China battens down its hatches on imported virus cases. China reports that the cases have almost dropped away completely. Their methods to defeat the viral outbreak involved intense hand-cleaning propaganda, mobile apps, lockdowns and transport shut-downs. Quarantine in some places has lasted over 45 days. It hasn’t been perfect but it has been swift, aggressive and consumed gargantuan amounts of personal protective equipment. Some of which has been complex, psychological, and utterly heartbreaking – and totally preventable. China is no doubt battling the virus and making inroads into development of a cure – and looking at the cause, in terms of prevention. China, and any other nation battling the bug, will have no time for rumours of failed biological research as the cause – or a biological weapon dropped by a rogue nation. This isn’t time for fans of The Walking Dead or Mary Shelley’s The Last Man. Personally I prefer The Andromeda Strain, by Michael Crichton, over I am Legend (Richard Matheson’s novel was made into a Will Smith movie). Novels, like too many of the things shared in social media can be considered as fiction. It doesn’t help that the news shares lies.

Toxic newspaper and historical database of bullshit that has ruined communities and blamed innocent Liverpool fans for years, The Sun shared satellite images showing raised sulphur dioxide (SO2) levels claiming to be increased cremations (proven as wrong). The Express newspaper also did the same. Some places admit mistakes, and others just lie (5G, really?), or use sensational statistics (more deaths by snakes remember)  to blind people with mindless titles. Even Trump retweets manipulated media. He loves the word hoax so much, yet he was fooled by a hoax. A fitting yarn.

The worst thing for humanity would be a collapse of social systems, a mutation or a reoccurring wave after wave of this new virus. There could be drug resistance or sporadic outbreaks, like Zika virus and the Ebola epidemics. Superbugs are feared by the World Health Organisation (WHO) – the specialised agency of the United Nations set up to bring nations together and improve public health. The world’s economy is crashing but that will be little interest to those experiencing and battling to save lives. Money can wait. It has no use after life.

The current President of the USA (who maybe is hoping he doesn’t have the hoax virus) and many other so-called briefed experts are just like you and me. We’re all learning about this new disease and virus. The problem is there is too much white noise and too much panic. We can’t see the wood for the trees. And in once fire-ravaged Australia, then flooded, they’re panic buying toilet rolls. I should be okay, at present, I have a bum hose. Squirt. Squirt. Clean. However, I do worry, and I worry too much for family, friends and those I hold dear, because right now, we’re in an age when Presidents are unaccountable, and trigger fingers make it feel like the Wild West. There is dirt to be tossed, and someone always gets burned. Should we be more sociable or more selfish? Is it time to grab my football from the field and take it home making it game over for those playing? I think now, more than ever, let’s find a way to bring nations together and work away this mess, and then maybe afterwards look at the environment and other such global concerns. Or we could do a Trump and just look after number one. The choices are not always our own. Stay safe. Stay sane.

I’ll get off my soapbox – and at some stage write about my wonderful trekking experience around part of the Annapurna circuit from January to February.  Peace and love.

P.S. – Don’t buy The Sun