Black or White? More grey…

100_2063How do! / 你好 (nĭ hăo) / Namaste / Welcome!

Today marks the memorial of the terrible fire and Grenfell Tower disaster that claimed 72 lives. The enquiry goes on. The battle against protected imperialist privilege remains. The racism of yesteryear hasn’t faded at all. These days a man born on November the 30th in 1874 at a palace (Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire) is gaining rather a bit of attention. This, a man who, somehow appears (on camera) to have been meddling in Police affairs in 1911. This is long before you look at Sir Winston Churchill’s cash for influence…

“…ought to be lain bound hand and foot at the gates of Delhi and then trampled on by an enormous elephant with the new viceroy seated on its back” – Winston Churchill, on Gandhi, “a half-naked fakir”

Hussein Onyango Obama is better known to many as former US president Barack Obama’s grandfather. He was one of thousands held in British detention camps during Kenya’s Mau Mau Uprising of the 1950s. Winston Churchill served as leader there from 1951–1955. Not many people know about that. Even the Imperial War Museum’s web link skirts over the wartime leader’s involvement.

“Many of our friends in Muslim countries all over the East have already expressed great appreciation of this gift.” – Winston Churchill addressed the cabinet in 1940, They set aside £100,000 for a London mosque to honour the Indian Muslims who fought for the British Empire.

At the weekend thugs and far right fascists waved Hitler-style right arm salutes in front of the Sir Winston Churchill statue. The very character who helped Britain and her allies to overcome Nazi Germany, fascist-state Italy and a hugely militarist Japan hellbent on expanding their Empire. In April 2014, Labour candidate Benjamin Whittingham tweeted on Twitter that Sir Winston Churchill was “a racist and white supremacist”. The Labour Party removed the post and apologised to Churchill’s grandson Sir Nicholas Soames – and the world. In February 2019, before COVID-19 ravaged Europe, Labour’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell called Sir Winston Churchill a villain. Newspapers often dig up some rusty pieces of Churchill-bashing and The Guardian’s Gary Younge’s piece from 2002 is hugely relevant today.

“I think my grandfather’s reputation can withstand a publicity-seeking assault from a third-rate, Poundland Lenin. I don’t think it will shake the world.” – Sir Nicholas Soames (Grandson of Sir Winston Churchill, The Daily Telegraph, February 2019.

Groomed by class, and shaped by his headstrong opinion, Sir Winston Churchill helped deliver Britain through its darkest hours. Strong leadership and action needed to prevail – and it did. People gave their all for freedom and choice. Without such actions, Britain and Europe surely would have fell to Nazi ideals. To freely discuss Sir Winston Churchill and his party’s feelings of other races is easy now. Back then, in another lifetime and era, many were obsessed with master races and strong genes over others. There are even religions, cults and countries now pushing and plugging that notion, but that is another story, for another day.

Sir Winston Churchill was not a stranger to eugenics and controversy. The man himself adorns countless history books, five-pound notes and was and is celebrated by many. Many British-Indians see Sir Winston Churchill as a figure of division. They have a just case, and rightly so they are free to argue their cause, after all the defeat and prevention of Nazi rule on British soil was all about that. Freedom of speech belongs in the U.K. Even during Sir Winston Churchill’s time pre-war and after World War II many argues his faults and his seemingly eugenic views as far more than just class division. His speeches were often tinged with venom and fear-mongering: watch out for those pesky East Asians

I’ve always found Sir Winston Churchill’s books – of which there are volumes to be fascinating and idiosyncratic. They’re outlandishly eccentric pieces from a time of Empire and fear of Communism and Fascism. They’re contradictive deep pieces of opinion and words twist and turn hither and dither to form a kind of blog or diary or history bibliography. Many have deep direction. Most have one-sided takes. The more that people can read into Sir Winston Churchill’s works the better. They’re illuminating and showcase an often-troubled mind full of intellect and discovery. One moments they pour with respect, the next they stand over their quarry and stamp their feet down. Like all heroes, he’s a troubled kind. To question his legacy is natural. There is no alternative narrative from his dealings in World War II. But there are other stories, lesser told and lesser written about. Sir Winston Churchill’s A History of the English-Speaking Peoples is by and large referred to as social Darwinism in a manuscript.

“I do not admit for instance, that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America or the black people of Australia. I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race, a more worldly wise race to put it that way, has come in and taken their place.” – Part of Winston Churchill’s address the Palestine Royal Commission in 1937.

If given a school report for his handling of World War II, Sir Winston Churchill would be awarded an A* with all possible distinctions and awards.  For his relationships to the Suffragettes, well, how can you offer bail one day and then imprison many just a few years later? That’s the mark of a poor Home Secretary. Sorry, Sir Winston Churchill that’s a U mark on your report card: unclassified, as in terrible. Historians and defenders of the recently desecrated statue of Sir Winston Churchill are now doing battle in the foreground of society. Was Sir Winston Churchill a racist? Hmmm, these knights, there must have been a few over the years that have fell foul of the race cards. How about his treatment to the working classes and liberals he once represented? Scribe another U on the report card please. How about using the Army (Lancashire Fusiliers) against Welsh miners in 1910? That Tonypandy and Rhonda Valley matter deserves another U. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, superfan (in the girl group sense of things) denounces any such things.

Without looking over the Atlantic at the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, we have a few of our own in Britain, in recent years. Racism has never gone away. I recall the Stephen Lawrence enquiry in 1999 said that the killing of young black teenager was “institutionally racist”. Disparity in races has been around all my lifetime and I don’t believe anyone who thinks otherwise. Social-economic constraints act as shackles and supress. I always wondered how shows like Little Britain and Bo’ Selecta could get away with playing black characters. But, me being white, I didn’t question them, I just assumed somebody somewhere in the ages of political correctness had said these shows were portrayals on not to mock anyone. Now it seems actors, comedians, writers and more are apologising for fun. Others like Ricky Gervais are making video blogs.

#BlackLivesMatter and other protests, as well as raves in Daisy Nook (near Oldham, Lancashire), and seem to cast a shadow over the COVID-19 coronavirus problem that is filling our lives right now. The bug is back in Beijing, China and should serve as a warning that suppression of the virus globally is far from achievable – right now. Just as the establishment presented Sir Winston Churchill as a hero and awarded him a state funeral, I can’t help but think that the powers that be will paint all the protestors with one dirty paintbrush and dishonestly claim that they’re the problem. Sir Winston Churchill was made to look like he won World War II with speeches and dogged determination alone. As the Red Army of Russia rolled over Nazi Germany and into Europe, Sir Winston Churchill campaigned so fiercely to take out the Communist threat that he was swiftly shuffled aside. The coalition with the supportive Labour Party sent him packing. It was his ousting that paved the way for Dominion of India to gain independence from Great Britain/the U.K. on 15th August 1947 ( a day after the Dominion of Pakistan). That led to the Republic of India.

Indian history is complex – and British intervention, colonialism there only makes things more complicated. Hindus and their belief, have been around far longer than second testament Christian values and have experienced more fusions, branches away. Nobody has the right to say their religion is better than any other religion. But, as history tells us, our species is pretty damn good at enforcing and passing the message of the latest Messiah, God or entity to pray to at some temple, home or prayer mat. Sir Winston Churchill was raised a time when 24% of Earth’s lands sat under the British Empire’s flag. He knew that “the empire on which the sun never sets” was fragile. The ruins of European nations and the balance of global power now swung between the U.S.A. and U.S.S.R. Anti- European colonialism and anti-imperialism thoughts. Peaceful disengagement led to a British Empire of 700 million becoming just 5 million.

Our modern multicultural society is really privileged. We have the freedom and the questions to tear apart pop idols, song lyrics, scientific facts and history. We can have discussions that our parents and forefathers could not. Well, some of us. Don’t deny the good things from history and hide the sculptures and portraits away. Dig out the dirt and add it. Let people make their decisions and choices about how to remember people from key historic times. Nobody is perfect. I wasted a punnet of blueberries this weekend. They went mouldy. I feel ashamed. I hate wasting food.

“I cannot understand this squeamishness about the use of gas. I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes” – Winston Churchill, Minister for War and Air, 1919. Was it teargas or mustard gas? Academics are still debating

Sir Winston Churchill had read about the Irish Famine and knew of its bleak effect on humanity. This knowledge was useless to him. The man who sacrificed Coventry, would let down Bengal to an even greater effect. The Japanese occupation of Burma and its affect on Bengal led to Sir Winston Churchill having to do something. He didn’t. He actively refused to send aid – and perhaps as Britain was engaged in austerity it was a justified lack of aid, or not. There is great debate. Some estimates say 2-3 million people died. British Empire colonial policies did not come to the rescue. Sir Winston Churchill had served in the Boer War he had seen concentration camps, he deployed the infamous Black and Tans (Irish War of Independence, 1919). If you think Saddam Hussein was bad or ISIS (Daesh), look up Mesopotamia and a certain Winston Churchill, Colonial Secretary. Perhaps there is reason as to why some memorials keep getting targeted with paint. Maybe the Indians shouldn’t as Churchill called it, bred “like rabbits”?

“Churchill was very much on the far right of British politics over India. Even to most Conservatives, let alone Liberals and Labour, Churchill’s views on India between 1929 and 1939 were quite abhorrent.” – John Charmley, Churchill: The End of Glory

Voted as Britain’s Greatest Ever Briton in 2002, today’s society is understanding this complicated man in ways less fitting for a late Sunday night TV drama. In 2007, Sir Winston Churchill’s legendary statue on Parliament Square was splattered with red paint. The once mighty Churchill grew up in and around an era where racial hierarchies and eugenics were plentiful. We, on the other hand, have the chance to fight and discuss equality. The man who sent tanks and troops to Glasgow in 1919 should not be spared our discussions – and he should not be met with hate, for it is too late. Now, more than ever, we must embrace the past and educate – or learn.

You choose.

The Mancunian Way, Dongguan

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

“I feel so extraordinary; Something’s got a hold on me; I get this feeling I’m in motion; A sudden sense of liberty.” – New Order’s song True Faith.

I’m patriotic towards the U.K. in a way. I sing praise and fly the flag for great people, wonderful history and fantastic places. I know that the story of the U.K.’s history has often been brutal, cruel and deserves little love. Even within the 21st century the U.K., as it moves away from a colonial and European past, and becomes less connected, yet more dependent on overseas trading and manufacture is and always will be a wonderful country. It’s my home. I was born in Manchester, England. I don’t call myself English. I’m British, when I choose to be. I’m Mancunian always. I have Celtic blood in me from my Irish and Welsh great grandparents. My roots are clear and free. But this tree doesn’t cling to the past and history. This tree wants to expand and be watered by different skies. For me tradition and culture are important but understanding and freedom to choose your own pathway are far more intrinsic to living. This tree is currently sat on its arse in Changping, Dongguan. Today’s and yesterday’s rugby and football have been washed out by Dragon Boat rains. I have some free time.


Today, I want to show a gallery and write a little about the culture of Dongguan and China. I’ve been here for the vast majority of the 2308 days now (11th February 2014). I believe many great days have passed and many more will follow. That’s why I am right here, right now. I arrived and didn’t feel too much way of culture shock. Around me a reasonably established cultured expat community threaded amongst the fabric of the local workforces and people of Guangdong.

“Because we need each other; We believe in one another; And I know we’re going to uncover; What’s sleepin’ in our soul” – Acquiesce by Oasis.

Since, I arrived I have seen Dongguan grow and grow. It is now classed as a Megacity. It seemingly will never stop growing. There are skyscrapers and apartment blocks skimming the sky in every single district of Dongguan. Whereas in 2014, I’d notice dozens of these mammoth constructions and many more sprouting buildings, now I am seeing hundreds and hundreds of established communities and hubs here, there and everywhere. I used to consider Nancheng and Dongcheng as the central axis of Dongguan. Now the townships of Chang’an (home of Oppo), Changping and the ever-growing former fields of Songshan Lake (home of Huawei), and the sprawls of Liaobu town could easily be seen as central areas. The arrival of the Huizhou to now West Dongguan Railway Station (soon to be Guangzhou East) or 莞惠城际轨道交通  /莞惠线 Guanhui intercity railway has added to rapid growth. As it joins the short-named Pearl River Delta Metropolitan Region Intercity Railway System (珠江三角洲地区城际轨道交通). That’s more than 65 railway stations in close proximity to Dongguan. Like all of the Pearl River Delta, this city is growing fast – and going places.

 

When not hopping on 200 km/h (124 mph) railway systems, I have ample opportunity to meet great people. Dongguan‘s community is largely migrant with people coming from all over China and the world beyond. International jet-setters with lives here, include Serbians, Kiwis, and even Scousers. They can be found in some of the office places, factories, bars and restaurants throughout the city. Playing football with Brazilians or Russians, or cycling with Dongbei people is possible or a spot of chess at Murray’s Irish Pub with Ukranian opposition. Anything goes here. Drinking homebrew at Liberty Brewing Company (曼哈顿餐吧) in Dongcheng after playing tag rugby with Tongans, South Africans, Germans and Malaysians makes me realise how lucky I am. This is a city that is tidying up and beautifying itself at an alarming rate.

Throughout the 6.5 years of life in and around Dongguan, I’ve slipped up and down ginnels, seeking out the new and old. There have been trips to pizza joints in obscure areas, Dragon Boat races watched, Cosplay events attended and English competitions observed. Dongguan, like Manchester, has a heartbeat that shows anything is possible and if it isn’t here, you make it. You can make something new, or your bring something to the party. You can sit and complain about people taking your photo or saying, “wàiguórén” (foreigner/外国人) or you can show the people around you, your worth.

This week I was asked by the Dongguan Foreign Bureau to teach them. Sadly, I cannot fit their demands into my day. I’ve bene lucky to narrate advertisements, wear watches for model shoots, test-drive new bicycles and play with new robotics before they reached their target audience or global factory floors. Daily life has been far from mundane here with oddities and pleasures as varied as can be. What’s around the next corner? Well, visas are quicker and easier to get, despite more rules and demands. It seems far quicker than when I first arrived. Sometimes, I doubt that I have done everything right, yet it seems clear and simple. Just a checklist. This week I received my medical report back. Now, I need just a few other items for the 2020/21 visa… That’s progress.

Bridges have been made and links that could prove lifelong. The west and east have collided in bizarre ways often forming a touch of the unique. There has been colour, rainbows and diversity amongst the traditional and the common. There have been flashes of light and inspiration. There have been days when solitude has been sought and there will be more, no doubt, but one thing I find, and have found throughout my time here, people are just that. Just simple down to earth, regular people going about their days, looking for peace and good opportunities to survive or better themselves. There are more cars and less bicycles, which shows that some people’s bank accounts and credit-ratings have improved. Quality of life needs balance, and with that the subway/underground system of Dongguan is projected to change from one line to seven lines.

Words can say how thankful I am for my time here. I am enjoying life in different ways to others, and being who I want to be, when I want to be. I’m selfish or I’m sharing. I’m open or I am closed. I read or I watch. I write or I dictate. There are times to slip unseen, and times to lead an audience. It is good for the mind to be bored or alone. I truly believe that’s where creativity lies. It sits there waiting to be tapped and delivered to paper, computers or other outputs. I can wander from craft beer breweries to model car clubs to fusion and western food restaurants with ease and all of the time remain connected to modern and old China.

There is plenty of ugly in Dongguan, just like the rest of the world. To quote the 18th century French phrase, “ne saurait faire d’omelette sans casser des œufs“:  You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs. Humans must learn from the stains and damage we have caused to our planet globally, whether disease or pollution. We can’t give in. Our cultures, our pride and our people need to fight on and find solutions. Just as #BlackLivesMatter, all lives matter – whether human or worm or bug or panda. Life must find a way. Dongguan is radically changing its energy consumptions, factory practices and the way its environment is being respected. This is good for all. Maybe, I should really put my words into action and finish studying towards the HSK (汉语水平考试 Hànyǔ Shuǐpíng Kǎoshì) course for the Chinese Proficiency Test.

 

Dongguan has gone from a place with a handful of limited cinemas, to those with the IMAX, vibrating seats, private screens and many of the latest releases from the west. KTV bars make way for baseball batting cages, ten-pin bowling, archery cafes and all the latest crazes. The great thing is that with Wechat (born 2011), Alipay etc, you can leave your wallet behind and pay swiftly with ease using these simple electronic methods. Gone are the days of using equations and haggling to get a taxi a short distance. Piles of services are available via your phone, including electrical bills, water bills and Didi (driver and carshare service) is one such saving grace.

During these COVID-19 pandemic times, your phone provides your health code, advice in travel, guidance on health services and help. Dongguan’s local services for healthcare, private insurance and banking are on your fingertips, rather than a a few hours out of work. Life can be as fast or as slow as you wish. In 2010, Dongguan was named a National Model City for Environmental Protection and greenways, green belts and other greenery followed. There are hundreds of parks now, over 1200… it is easier than ever to stay healthy.

There is culture around us, old temples, modern pagodas, relics of time and shells of history. Dongguan’s landmarks are a tad tough to visit now. The Cwa humid subtropical climate here is far above the reported average annual temperature of 22.7 °C (72.9 °F). The rainfall is typical of the land below the Tropic of Cancer now. It is raining cats, dogs and occasionally elephants. Wellingtons and umbrellas are common sights these days, rather than the Dongguan Yulan Theatre, GuanYinShan (Budda mountain), Hǎizhàn bówùguǎn (海战博物馆 Opium War Museum) or Jin’aozhou Pagoda. Even a trip to my local coffee shop, Her Coffee, is like a swim in a river. It is blooming wet lately. As a Mancunian, I feel at home.

I’m here for education – to both teach and to learn. This city has hundreds of educational institutions, even Cumbria’s St. Bees are opening a school here. I’ve heard there are around 550 primary schools, 480 kindergartens and several universities now. To bump into a teacher amongst the 21,000 plus teachers is not unusual. Although it seems every second teacher works for one of the many Eaton House schools here. I’ve heard Tungwah Wenzel International School (TWIS) in Songshan Lake is one school to really watch. Like its neighbouring Huawei school, it is massive with around 1,000,000 square metres of surface area. I’ve seen the modern sports gyms, performance space and technology labs. It uses the latest gadgets and networking. It really is 21st century over there at Songshan Lake. Although Huawei have a German-style train-tram zipping around, piping back to older days. Dongguan University of Technology(DGUT; 东莞理工学院) is one of universities in the area meaning that you can educate beyond your teenage years here. It really is a place to learn. Watch out Oxford and Cambridge! Maybe that’s why Trump is always bad-mouthing China’s growth?

From eating chicken anus, to two weeks of quarantine in XiHu Hotel, Dongguan has given me more time to turn the contents of my head to words. Now that I am ready to publish a novel, I need a publisher, but how to do this during a pandemic? I haven’t a clue, but I know one thing, the challenge will be tough and worth it. Nobody ever climbed a mountain to sit at the top and look down without seeing another mountain, right? At the end of the day, the sun sets only to rise again. Dongguan faced lockdown impeccably and other challenges, just as the world did and does. Chin up, keep going and let’s crack on.

Last night, I ate Korean barbecue with great people to celebrate a treble-birthday, followed by proof that I am terrible at ten-pin bowling and awoke today feeling optimistic. The world is often reported to be going through a pandemic-sized recession. As the world sailed a wave in 2008 and Dongguan grew from that recession, I will everyone to go on. Manufacture a bucket of optimism. Just like the strings of New Dawn Fades by Joy Division, there is darkness but remember these famous lines: It was me, waiting for me; Hoping for something more; Me, seeing me this time; Hoping for something else. In 2008, low-tech industry switched to the high-tech. Boomtime arrived. Chances are that one in five phones around the globe were made in Dongguan. Is your phone Vivo, Oppo, Honor or Huawei? It was probably made down the road from me. So, Dongguan is closer than you think.


Manchester isn’t any place I will visiting in person for some time, so it has to come to me via playbacks of Oasis gigs at Maine Road and the written word. Over the next few months, I plan to read the following Mancunian-connected books:

Hell is a City – Maurice Proctor; The Manchester ManIsabella Varley Banks; Passing Time – Michel Butor; Magnolia Street – Louis Golding; Fame is the Spur – Howard Spring; Lord Horror – David Britton; The Emigrants – WG Sebald; Cold Water – Gwendolyne Riley; The Mighty Walzer Howard Jacobson; Manchester Slingback – Nicolas Blincoe; Vurt – Jeff Noon; A Man’s Game: The Origins of Manchester City Football ClubAndrew Keenan; Mary Barton – Elizabeth Gaskell; Cranford – Elizabeth Gaskell; North and South – Elizabeth Gaskell.

“I was thinking about what you said; I was thinking about shame; The funny thing how you said; Cause it’s better not to stay” – The Last Broadcast – Doves

Goodness Gracious Me, Chapel Street!

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

Mother: “Look, I’m a student. I’m balancing a traffic cone on my head.” /     Son: “That’s not a traffic cone; it’s a small aubergine.” / Mother: Aubergine, traffic cone. I’m too drunk to tell the difference! – Goodness Gracious Me, BBC TV comedy series.

I’d had to move because Mum and her partner had to relocate. I was uprooted from New Moston School and sent to a strange foreign land: Clayton. I hated life in Clayton Brook Primary School. Luckily, I would spend just one and a bit years at the school.

“It took John a little while to settle down in class 3. He is a bright boy and is now working very well. Although he is very untidy, he has a good understanding and has been very enthusiastic about some topics we have tackled. He wants to do well and his attitude to work is excellent. Number work is also good, but he does tend to be careless. A very good start at Clayton Brook.” – I. Proudfoot, year 2 teacher, Clayton Brook Primary School, 3rd July 1990.

Chapel Street Primary School made me stronger. It was never an easy time there, but it wasn’t the worst time of my life. To my younger self, bullying and getting into childhood scraps probably readied me emotionally for puberty and the tests of young adult life. It didn’t scar me. In fact, I look back and think of how much of a little terror I was. I made silly mistakes – more than any other kid (probably).

Before Chapel Street, I’d already been at New Moston Primary School and Clayton Brook Primary School. They’d taken our classes to Moston Baths and Ravensbury Primary School’s swimming pools respectively. At Levenshulme Baths, Chapel Street Primary School students had long been making the area into a madhouse. Levenshulme Baths used to be located opposite Levenshulme Library and both were next to the back gate of our school. The Bluebell Pub (at one stage ran by a parent of a classmate) was to the other extreme of the back of the school, and lay across the north-eastern flank of the school was Chapel Street Park. Here I can remember great times playing football with Ben McGreavy and Kevin Fairfax, or climbing (trees?) with Dan and Peter Ridyard, or digging for treasures with Alex Muir.

At Chapel Street, I recall the great dinnerladies being ever so friendly and the dinnertime assistants at lunchtime (yeah, there’s a whole problem of terminology regarding mealtimes going on there). In the morning we’d have a bottle of milk around 10am. To this day, I sup as much milk as the cows can produce. I draw the line at soy milk. It gives men breasts, I read somewhere. The school day had three breaks, all of which involved the playground, running around crazy (pretending I was a velociraptor after seeing Jurassic Park at the Davenport Theatre; or I was one of the Royal Air Force Red Arrows after attending Woodford Airshow). I had my imagination and Micro Machine cars or Lego figures were in or out of my pocket often.  I wasn’t the closest friend to anyone.

“How big is his danda?” – example of a catchphrase from Goodness Gracious Me, BBC TV comedy series

Mrs Clegg’s class during year 4 meant that I would lose many Micro Machines and Lego men. Her big plastic laundry bag must have held hundreds, if not thousands, or possibly millions of them. She was an incredibly strict teacher who like many in her profession drank copious amounts of coffee. I recall her reeking of coffee. At that time, I hated the smell of coffee, but in hindsight, she knew best, coffee is wonderful. Although now, I only drink 1-2 cups a day, if any. I’m in China and there are too many wonderful teas to sample. This week at St. Lorraine Anglo-Chinese Primary School, Miss Zeng gave me Peach Oolong tea and anther oolong tea that tastes like champagne. At primary school, as a kid, all I’d drink was corporation pop (water) and the odd Barr’s Dandelion and Burdock if I had 20p to hand.

I joined Chapel Street Primary School in year 3 with a short-haired teacher (who I cannot remember the name of) charged to calm me down. I’d entered part way through the school year and was a little unsettled. I soon became friends with the shortest member of the class, Peter Ridyard. He had a few brothers and sisters. His sibling clan of seven weren’t all dwarves. Far from it. I always remember his long-haired taller and older by a year or so sister Amanda with golden-red hair flowing like Rapunzel. I was scared of her instantly. She was a girl and a taller one at that. Then there was Steven, and he was older and much more streetwise. He was the guy with the cool kids and maybe some trouble. Apart from one incident over they years, Steven was fair to me, and never gave me problems. Actually, he stopped a few local knobheads kicking the crap out of me. Dan was Peter’s younger taller brother. Jodie, Adam and Sally made up the younger trio of the Ridyard clan. I used to sing to the theme of a Toys’R’Us advert tune, “Millions of Ridyards all under one roof…” but I did it with affection and jest. One thing about their mother, Margaret, she is a damn strong woman and has raised seven kids over a tight age-range. Dan and Peter would go onto be my best friends. I’d enjoy good friendships with Alex Muir and James Cliff too, but both would drift away in time.

My friends were needed because not long after moving to Levenshulme, my sister Astrid was hit by a car. She would endure many weeks in Booth Hall Children’s Hospital and then years of schooling at a specialist school to help her recuperate and catch up, before she could finally start at Chapel Street Primary School. I love my sister Astrid fiercely and seeing her curled up with traction devices and machines attached to her is a vision that haunts me. When she was finally back out running, I had my sister back. But, around this time, ‘Titch’ was mobile and in the education system. Her and Paul (the youngest of our tribe on my Mum’s side) grew closer. Astrid and Paul were inseparable as I started to outgrow them and their games. It remains a pleasant memory to recall.

5AJ with Mr Andrew Jones was where I switched from maths work lover to someone curious and interested by words. Mr Jones would set us challenges such as write as many words as possible beginning with ‘st’ but we must understand the meaning of every word. I read the dictionary. I started with ‘st’ and then I carried on through all the words starting with S. Then I went to the letter T. I decided I needed to read the prequels A through to R. After that, I decided U to Z needed a look. It wasn’t exciting and I understood very little, but I actually read a dictionary. I recall building Lego models at home and stopping to take in a page, with occasional writing of the word, running downstairs and asking my mum how I could say a particular word. She must have thought I was madness personified.

Around about 1997, I discovered Goodness Gracious Me on BBC Radio 4. Sanjeev Bhaskar, Kulvinder Ghir, Meera Syal and (my first crush on an Asian girl) Nina Wadia. I fell in love with Nina Wadia’s voice on radio and then when I did see the television version of the show, well she didn’t disappoint. Not that I could focus on her physique or voice. The show was far too funny for that. Here was a mould-breaking show, fast, witty and dynamic. It laughed itself, it mocked stereotypes, it ripped apart tradition. It flipped views of the British over to those of South Asia. It parodied and spoofed and after just 3 TV series, it left the world a better place. The best sketch has to be: Going for an English. In this sequence a group of Asian friends go for an English meal after a few lassis (non-alcoholic yogurt drink). They mispronounce and bumble the waiter’s name. They request the “blandest thing on the menu” and request a “stronger” steak and kidney pie. Who can possibly eat 24 plates of chips? The parody of British people, and you know there are some who still do this, getting drunk and going to end the night at an Indian restaurant. Surely, we’ve all met the macho guy who orders the hottest vindaloo. How many papadums can one actually eat?! Cheque, please. I need to go and watch Asian Top Gear again.

“The people here believe the tree to be sacred, so that even if one leaf falls onto the track, the whole line is immediately shut down.” – Goodness Gracious Me, BBC TV comedy series, sketch: Great Train Journeys of the World: Fenchurch Street to Southend

During the final year of primary school Miss Rowe (6RO) and her classroom assistant calmed me down. When the final last day came, I never collected signatures on old schoolbooks or signed my school jersey. I just walked out of the gate saying thank you and goodbye. It didn’t seem to be a big thing. The sterile looking Reddish Vale Secondary School awaited. I would move on a free transfer from Manchester’s educaton authority to that of Stockport. How bad could it be?