THE URBANATHLETIC MEDALION

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Found in my documents, on the archives of my old computer, here’s some writing from July 14th in 2008:

GREENBLUE AND THE URBANATHLETIC MEDALION

The morning of Sunday July the 13th 2008 marked something rather different for me.  I woke up, had three Shreddies breakfast bars, a bowl of muesli and a banana.  I decided to skip having a bath or shower.  I affixed the bog standard shop’s own roll-on to my armpits.  I then walked my family’s dog Bailey around Highfield Country Park (Levenshulme) in glorious shimmering summer sunshine.  The bus journey into town and out towards Sportscity filled me with nerves.  Prior to today, I had only ever ran around chasing a football or on Aberystwyth Town reserve team runs with Richie Jones barking his orders at decibels only heard near commercial aeroplanes.

The full three months of training were about to come into fruition.  Had running like a Monty Python sketch artist up stairs in Plymouth’s Hoe before diving to the ground to do a transverse abdominal stretch on the grass made a difference?  Had cycling insane distances and mentally challenging hills improved my stamina?  Did laying off the real ale and whiskey make one iota of a difference?  Only today would tell all.

Watching The Gladiators since I was younger and occasionally catching great Olympians like Linford Christie and Sir Steve Redgrave on television should have been a big influence.  I should have done more sport back in my University days at Aberystwyth.  However, the Latin Superbia in proelia stuck to mind.  Having gotten sponsors that combined a total of over £700 between them, I had to do this as best possible for my chosen cause the Genesis Appeal.  I had chosen the Genesis Appeal for several reasons.  I like boobs.  One in ten women develop breast cancer (and even 1 in a 1000 men develop this too).  That’s shocking!  Imagine the days back at your secondary school, I went to Reddish Vale where we had around 1400 students at the time.  Just pin-balling figures around to say half the students were female to give us 700 and then dividing that by ten to give us 70 possible breast cancer sufferers.  Astoundingly large numbers.  Scary.  The other factors for choosing The Genesis Appeal included someone within the family undergoing treatment for breast cancer and my football club, MCFC (okay) choosing to nominate a cause I had up until then never heard of.  I perused the matchday programmes and visited their excellent website, www.genesisuk.org, to find they are a national charity based in my homeland of Mancunia.

Preparing for the run did not just involve physical preparations, but I had to bug people, kneecap them, and scrape for pennies towards my chosen charity.  The medium of Facebook proved easiest, setting up a group called the, “John Acton’s Urbanathlon Run In Aid Of The Genesis Appeal Charity” which could also have been named, “Oi, gimme cash for a bloody good cause, and I’ll do something stupid.”  Then there was the T-shirt… having emailed many custom-made t-shirt providers and got no response, I contacted a firm in Plymouth who took my order, then lost it, then re-took my order before eventually deciding a week before they could not find the order again.  I still await a refund.  So, off to the shops I go, I grasp the blue dye and apply liberally to a cheap polo shirt from a high street sports shop (the night before the run).

So, to the task in hand, the Original Source 2008 Urbanathlon in Sportscity, East Manchester… the warm-up was bloody hard work.  Diane Modahl launched the race, the first of its kind in Europe, and then on the day started us off.  And off I jogged.  Ouch, why do you always need a piddle after only a few minutes running?  The race started on the Regional Athletics Stadium, looped around the City of Manchester Stadium forecourts, over some concrete blocks, looped around beneath the F of The Fart (I mean B of The Bang), up the spiral staircases into the City of Manchester Stadium (I stopped enroute to use the men’s toilets), back out of the stadium and past the City Social café, over another wall, through a man-made lake of water, lemons and oranges, back out feet drenched before tumbling over a few logs, following the course below, alongside the canal, then up into Phillips Park, through towards the bridge, under the bridge, up a hill, over a pyramid of hay bails, down a dip, up a slope, over some trees, through stinging nettles, up a muddy embankment, down a hill, up a steep winding path, slid down a huge waterslide aided by Fireman Sam’s hosepipes (no pun intended), up a grassy slope, across more green fields, down a path, banking left, following the pathway alongside the river Medlock, through the river Medlock and up a steep bank of mud, following the river pathway yet again but on the opposing bank, back through the river, this time over more slippery pebbles, up onto the dry land in drenched trainers (will they ever wash clean?)…

…up a hill of hell, no car could ever climb this hill, it is far too steep and long, through more green pastures, descend some steps, crawl through the pipelines, grab some water where a lady informs me I’m halfway (is there no end to this hell?), a lad shouts to me, “well done Genesis Appeal, its horrible what happens in a Genocide.”  I slow my pace and inform him of what The Genesis Appeal is, I clamber through ropes aplenty in a horrible sapping rope course, waddle along the pathway, transcend a hill banking up towards Newton Heath, a silver car passes me by on the pathway with its hazard lights flashing to reflect my feelings, over an assault course (similar to that seen on parks), through some tyres one foot at a time, then run over the bridge, towards Ravensbury in Clayton, down a cobbled alley way, over a platter of car tyres, over the road back into Phillips Park.  Under the old bridge, onto the straights towards the finishing line which is now in sight…

over a sadistic climbing wall, I decide to leap two footed onto the cars just before the finish line before jogging over to glory, collecting my medal and goody bag before grabbing a drink and striding away in sheer agony.  Who’s idea was this?!  One milkshake later, a warm down and some water I decide to go and collect my time.  I was assaulted on the way by a Gazebo and promptly St. John’s ambulances called into action.  One superficial cut to the noggin cleaned up later and then a whiz round the Party In The Park before watching hundreds more cross the finish line. I had finished the 10k Urbanathlon in around an hour.  Not bad for a non-distance runner!

And even today my muscles twinge, my feet burn and my body demands energy.  If you sponsored me, thank you kindly.

John Acton,

www.justgiving.com/greenblue (open until September 2014  for sponsorship)

From my archives.

“OK, mum’s the word!”

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

“Let’s sing it and rhyme; Let’s give it one more time; Let’s show the kids how to do it fine, fine, fine, fine” – All The Best, R.E.M.

Happy birthday to my dearest Mum. Much can be said for my Mum. I want to write it though. Maybe the video says a little, but I think some words are best and need jotting down. Call it reinforcement. Call it a child of a mother without means to display emotion through a hug. Afterall geography and COVID-19 keep us apart. Mothering Sunday and Mother’s Day celebrate mums and mothers (or moms) around the world. A birthday is much more personal than that but by no means less important. Every day I live and breathe on this here Earth is because of my Mum. Dad too. But, deep down we all know mums are more important.

Mums are your first true friend. They’re the best friend we should all have from day one of our lives. They are a forever friend. Mums stick by you no matter what, or they should. There are always exceptions. If a mum disowns you for liking Man Utd, then that’s your own fault. Thankfully, my mum, Mum, as I call her, because she is my mum and Mum to two others: my dreaded siblings Astrid and Paul; yes, thankfully my Mum is brilliant. She’s always listened to great music like Pulp, R.E.M., James, Finley Quaye, and Led Zeppelin. Mum has encouraged me from an early age to read. I was deep into the worlds of Tolkien long before they were fashionable. Armed with knowledge of The Lord of The Rings. Mum made sure I was presented with a stage show version long before a live action version hit the silver screen. The Tameside Hippodrome remains a fond memory with orcs and lasers casting haunting imagery from the central stage. To receive books was always wonderful. Mum and Dad provided great volumes from an early age. Collecting Weetabix tokens sometimes led to great books. Some I still have today and share amongst my classroom. These were the books that set me on my way.

Mum has grafted and strived to make each of us better. Likewise, Mum has set a prime of example of improving herself. Mum has studied at the Open University in Sociology. Mum has always tried to reason her socialist values and community spirit. She has imparted her knowledge on me and always allowed me to make my own judgements and find my own way. As Mum has shared so many great things, I always want to show her my world. I have loved being able to see Mum at Manchester City, or go to a music gig like The Levellers with me. Mum may have heard of and witnessed the Waterboys when they first came around, but my musical world is constantly expanding. As I was experiencing James singing Sit Down at an Air Cadet Christmas party, Mum was being attending their live gigs. Over the years I have grew to love James, and their song Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) is an emotional track. It reminds me of me as a nuisance and a liability towards my mum, as I stuttered and faulted my way through secondary school. Mum has been great for me. My rock. My believer.

Mum treated me once to a birthday trip, with Neil Fanning, to Blackpool and it rained heavily. We were drenched. Mum took me to the Roxy Cinema to see Ghostbusters II and it was flooded. Mum showed me the V.E. celebrations at Manchester Town hall and we had fireworks rain down on us. At Woodford Airshow, Mum calmed me down after seeing a Spitfire crash. As the Supermarine Spitfire Mk XIV struck the ground at the bottom of a low level loop during an air display, Mum must have felt as sick as everyone around them. Pilot David Moore didn’t survive. Bizarrely the aircraft did and was moved to Rolls Royce in Derby for restoration to flying condition. Mum explained everything to me, a young boy, a bit upset by the huge explosion on 27/6/92 at 15:08. I’ve just seen the video again, and it made my eyes water with tears. That’s what mums do, they put their kids ahead of them. They’re the strongest people on Earth. They sacrifice their own time, space and energy to look after and protect us. That’s why Mum spotted me crying when Bambi’s mother died. I can’t explain the tears shed at E.T. or Thomas the Tank Engine. Perhaps those days were dusty.

Eating fresh bread at the observation area (not medical) of Manchester Airport and watching planes land made a few different days. Trips to museums in and around Greater Manchester gave me an appreciation of British heritage early on. Big steam wheels at Wigan Pier and seeing Gran and Ernie at the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry. You can’t fault Mum’s ability to keep our young brains active. Ernie gave me an Engine Driver hat that day.

I wanted to get Mum an experience day, or a stay at a hotel somewhere nice, but the climate around COVID-19/coronavirus isn’t so ideal. Besides, it is safer to remain indoors, stay at home and stay alert. You have to look after your mother because you can only have one. Unless you were adopted. Some of those foster mothers are brave lots, aren’t they?! Anyway, with the world being as it is, vouchers aren’t ideal. I remember Mum gave me a Borders bookstore voucher for Christmas but the company went into administration and closed, so I never used it. Well, I kind of did, but I can’t explain how or where. Those Stephen King horror-thrillers have since move on. I have an idea what to gift Mum, but I need to wait for this COVID-19/coronavirus to all blow over…

My passion for camping came from budget holidays as a kid, usually in the north of England or Wales. The fiscally challenged as those who suffer from political correctness would recognise that times were hard. Money was scarce but we had good food, holidays, and a roof over our head always. There were treats and Fridays used to be the day that maybe a Mars bar or another chocolate treat was waiting. Mum allowed me treats like staying up late on a Sunday to watch London’s Burning or other days to watch comedy shows like Have I Got News For You. On the whole early nights were encouraged and bed would be around 9 o’clock and often with a book under the duvet. Walking was encouraged and as Mum didn’t have a car, walking became normal. The Levenshulme to Reddish Vale and back, via Houldsworth Mill was a favourite trot. Zipping around Disley and Lyme Park was a bigger treat.

Whenever there has been a challenge and times have been tough, Mum has been there to support me and has very much been the 12th player that many football clubs claim to have. That knowledge that my Mum has been around the corner or a quick phone call away, has always made me feel stronger. Usually it takes very little conversation to wipe away any doubt or reduce a huge worry to little more than a niggling ache. I always think Marlon Brando’s farewell to his son speech in Superman: The Movie could easily fit my Mum, obviously with some gender realignments and name changes.

“You will travel far, my little Kal-El. But we will never leave you… even in the face of our death. The richness of our lives shall be yours. All that I have, all that I’ve learned, everything I feel… all this, and more, I… I bequeath you, my son. You will carry me inside you, all the days of your life. You will make my strength your own, and see my life through your eyes, as your life will be seen through mine. The son becomes the father, and the father the son. This is all I… all I can send you, Kal-El.” – Marlon Brando as Jor-El, Superman: The Movie

Mum’s the word

(a popular English idiom)

Used by William Shakespeare, in Henry VI, Part 2.

“Seal up your lips and give no words but mum.” – Henry VI, Part 2, Act 1, Scene 2

“Mum” is slang for momme. Momme means: be silent (or do not reveal). Old English: “mīma“. Latin: mimus (meaning silent actor/imitator).

It was used between 1350-1400 in Middle English.

“Thou mightest beter meten the myst on Malverne hulles; Then geten a mom of heore mouth til moneye weore schewed!” – Piers Plowman, William Langland

So, on this 20th of June, it is Mum’s birthday, the day before Bermuda’s Shaun Goater Day. Both should be in your calendar. And if not, why not? My Mum is ace. Shaun Goater was an ace player. Perhaps I can get Shaun Goater to say happy birthday to my Mum. That’d be fitting seeing as my Mum asked ‘The Goat’ to write me a Christmas card once. Mums are ace, right!?

goater


P.S. Mum, let’s go to Blackpool Tower and recreate this photograph in 2021. Good idea?

mumjohntowerblackpool

I’d also like to invite you to write some Blog posts for me too. Thanks in advance Mum!

Your loving son, John, aged 37.5-ish.

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?

Now Help Some(more)

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

Tuesday the 28th of April 2020 will be a sad day. It is still almost a week away. At 11am, on that morning the U.K. will engage in a minute’s silence to mourn key workers who have died during this pandemic. Backed by UNISON, the Royal College of Nursing and the Royal College of Midwives all should join the tribute at 11am. So, on International Workers’ Memorial Day, I will bow my head at 11am local time and 11am U.K. time.

At least 112 health care and key workers have died from COVID-19.

Social care workers.

Doctors.

Nurses.

Surgeons.

Specialists.

Porters.

Care home workers.

Others linked to key jobs.

#YouClapForMeNow is and was all over Twitter and other social media. I always will clap and cheer for the NHS. I was born because of the NHS and I have seen a few NHS heroes over the years. You have laid some of my family to rest. You’ve helped them too. You’ve helped my friends. Always loved you all. Even if, doctors do have sh!t handwriting…

The Guardian has been posting notes about the deaths of NHS workers, volunteers and other health workers. There are many entrants on its news page amongst its 91 recorded deaths. The official government figure is that there have been 27 recorded deaths in the NHS. Newcastle Royal Victoria Infirmary Nurse Rebecca Mack was only 29 years old. Watford general hospital Nurse John Alagos was just 23 years old. Essex GP Dr Habib Zaidi was 76 years old. Andy Howe, 48, was a bus driver in Nottingham, simply ensuring that NHS workers and patients could get to and from hospital. 33-year-old Pooja Sharma, a hospital pharmacist died the day after her father had passed away from the same illness. Retired gynaecologist, Hamza Pacheeri was 80 years old. He’d answered the call and returned to treat those with Coronavirus in Birmingham. Born in Kerala, India, he passed away in Birmingham. Grant Maganga in Tameside, Greater Manchester, should be doing his job as mental health nurse. Now he can no longer treat those at Hurst Place. Those who have died in service to healthcare shouldn’t be losing their lives. They’re our protectors. They’re our carers.  

I don’t have too many experiences with Doctors and Nurses, thankfully. I was born in 1982 in Crumpsall Hospital, had a hernia operation at an early age in Booth Hall Children’s Hospital, and visited Manchester Royal Infirmary with a cracked leg after doing a cross country run – much to the delight for Dan and Peter Ridyard (I was walking and then I disappeared from view, having fell down an open manhole in a field). Then there was the time I had my nose and eye rearranged by rock, in Scotland Hall Road Park, Newton Heath, but I can’t remember much. I just know it ruined City’s white and maroon away shirt from 1996/97. Oh, and some tick bites… and erm… dentistry… and vaccinations and continuous support as a child. Oh, I do love the NHS – they’ve always been there for me and so many others! The NHS is one institution that I’d love every nation to copy, model and shape as their own. Caring and sharing for the community, at that level needs money and support – and that’s why we pay National Insurance from our wages. I’d pay more for the NHS. Would you?

News round-up: The effects of the virus pandemic are long and wide, with cases of depression up globally, deaths in quarantine, possible surges in case numbers around travelling football fans, former footballers importing masks via crowdfunding, debate over how long to quarantine yourself, and newspapers rewriting modern day history. At least some writers will look to support those who care, invent and make more.

Of course, nothing lasts forever, and much like Man Utd being unable to afford Harry Kane, the world around us will take shape in a new form, if we’re bright and breezy about it. Common sense and recent experience highlight how much the NHS is needed – and costs being cut over the years and closures alike, shows how much it needs a massive future-proofing boost. Things will change. Those who die on the frontline now deserve to be remembered. They should be part of the very fabric of the new era of community healthcare throughout the U.K. Will it happen that way? Only time will tell.

Boris Johnson, applauded nurses and namechecked several immigrant nurses recently. That’s the same cheerer of the Conservatives blocking pay rises of nurses in a Commons vote during 2017. Wouldn’t be nice to have that same vote tomorrow?

“Three hundred thousand, thirty four, nine hundred and seventy four thousand” – Home Secretary Priti Patel reports the number of COVID-19 tests completed, at the Downing Street briefing on the 11th April 2020. She was eleventy-four percent right in the year twenty-twelvety.

These deaths in the NHS and care industries put my own personal problems into perspective. I’m lucky enough to have such small hinderances compared with what the brave frontline of COVID-19 are facing. I just have the small matter (that could affect my future) of not being able to renew my passport.


The British Consulate General Guangzhou do not handle passport matters. All passports are dealt with by HMPO, who have an office in Guangzhou too. Neither are open to the public during this global pandemic. The consular sent an automatic reply as: ‘We will try to get back to you as soon as possible regarding your enquiry. However, if your email relates to consular assistance, passports or visas please see the below information.’ It pointed me to a link that I’d already tried: UK Visa Application Centre. A passport replacement does not count as an emergency situation – and should I get an Emergency Passport it must have the stated journey, dates, booked flights and final destination. However, my passport is water damaged and the ID page is falling out, so maybe it does count towards that… But, it does cost more than a regular passport, and technically I am alright here until July the 31st 2020. However, I have one passport page and before then I will need to review my visa to remain within China…

I could wait for the passport renewal site to come online again. That’d be £95.50 (34 pages) or £105.50 (50 pages) £23.01 for courier fee. Or, I could try to blag an Emergency Passport (and double my costs!). The passport renewal site advises for those in China: “We are currently unable to accept applications from this country. Due to coronavirus (COVID-19), UK visa application centres are closed. We will update this page when the service becomes available.”

My future in teaching now hangs on a tiny thread. It has caused me to really reflect upon the past six years. Why do I like teaching? To see the reward that you can make a young learner jump up their steps of learning at the end is an amazing feeling. I believe with energy, passion and drive, you can infect a child’s ability and will to learn more smoothly and refine their desire to find their chosen interests. You can open so many doors and light a flame for learning. You’re not just a lighthouse for help, you can be a rock and a foundation for a student to develop. You are part friend, part parent and fully a guardian.

I’ve had six years here in China, teaching withing Dongguan’s Houjie and Changping townships. At the end of each semester in Houjie, I’d be sent to cover for teachers in Guangzhou at high school and college levels. One summertime, I had experience teaching a small kindergarten class. Like some schools, my ambition is big. With access to continued learning and opportunity, I feel I can give much more to education and bring something new to a team. Whilst I’ll be a team player, I hope to add my own unique blend of culture and experience to give all a slightly different output. I desperately want to progress as a teacher. If it all goes wrong, I just have to accept it. People are in far worse places.


 

Many teachers influenced me over the years. I could never choose one great teacher over another, so I’m afraid I will give several key teachers who really influenced me. At Primary School, Mr Andrew Jones stood out. He knew that I’d had it hard in previous years from bullying and I’d been at three primary schools due to my mother moving houses and locations within Manchester. Mr Jones helped other students to include me more and fuelled my growing appetite for reading. As a parting gift before the summer holidays, he gifted me three huge thesaurus books. That was the summer sorted! After he left Chapel Street Primary School, I never did find out where he went. I still want to say, “Thank you kindly!” Miss Roe in primary school was level-headed and offered great support at helping me to self-study, often far ahead of other students and sometimes with books from advanced years ahead. She gifted me an A-Level biology book and I studied it ferociously. Mrs Clegg took my Lego and Micro Machines. The primary school years had seen three schools: New Moston, Clayton Brook and finally Chapel Street Primary School. The dinnerladies of Chapel Street and other teachers along the way guided me.

“If I had my whole life to live over again, I’d make all the same mistakes, only sooner.” – Eric Morecambe, one half of Morecambe and Wise, a famous comedy duo from England.

In my secondary school, the late Mr Tony Mack, really engaged my interest in his English classes. Whilst science and geography firmly held my intended ambitions, words and wordplay were always my passion. Mr Mack gave me added confidence at belief to really play with sentences, structures and be creative. Reddish Vale Secondary School must have seen countless students flow through their doors over many years, I wonder how many students he really pushed on? Further to Mr Mack, in secondary school, Mr Robert Oxley was typical Yorkshire coolness and relaxed attitude, and I think he kind of made me more independent by setting an example at times. I can recall Frau Hodges in my German class having to battle unruly students but being a mighty fine teacher. If only I had focused more. Mr Meheran in later English classes was wonderful and Mr Walker in history was a great teller of stories, but few respected him, because he had a beard. Teenagers are bastards.

But throughout life, my Mum has and always will be my greatest teacher. I haven’t always learned the easy way, but I have always had the support and love of my mother. Cheers Mum!


One for the road – who would I take on board a return train journey along the Cambrian Coast to Aberystwyth from Pwllheli?

One. Marvin Aday (AKA Meat Loaf), singer, songwriter and artist. Any wordsmith and singer could provide entertainment but more importantly, great conversation and stories. Of course, it would be selfish to ask someone along on a cruise, just to give. I think I’d like to suggest he writes a book of poetry, and I would give good reason for this, to him. Also, how cool would a rock and roll interpretation , fused with the local passing scenery be?

Two. Roald Dahl, the greatest author of many children’s books ever. Like Lewis Carol and JRR Tolkein, Roald Dahl had seen action in war, and came back scarred and with stories to tell. Roald was in many ways different to Carol but also similar to Tolkein. He created new words, new phrases and filled his characters with emotions and zest. I suspect his books have influenced a whole batch of young readers who have since been unable to put books down.

Three. Emmeline Pankhurst, the U.K.’s suffragette movement leader. I am a fiercely passionate Mancunian (people of Manchester, England) and I would love to know how Emmeline Pankhurst would look back on her legacy, her family’s influence on present day society and equality. What could she suggest in order to make the world a brighter place now?

Four & Five & Six. Eric Morecambe, Ernie Wise & Eddie Braben. More on them another time…

“On his gravestone): “I told you I was ill.” – Spike Milligan, comedian

I have ambitions to be a novelist, and I know many others share that dream, but I’ve spent two years writing (and now rewriting) a real novel. On top of this, I like writing shorter warm-up pieces and scribbling ideas down for the next novel(s). I love cycling and can be found on the ‘rupture machine’ quite often – or watching the latest Grand Tour race. Then, there is football, which is the perfect embodiment of teamwork, exercise and the British passion for sports. I’m from the city of Manchester, so I had no choice – nor would I change it anyway!


I’m not one to wish to be a typecast, within the I.B.O. (International Baccalaureate Organization) scheme, but I’d slot somewhere between ‘Inquirers’, ‘Thinkers’ and ‘Open-Minded’. My reasoning is because I feel adaptable, accountable and I am forever curious. I respect tradition but equally I will reject it for progression, if it causes no insult or worry to others. I like to think of the causes and effects that change can bring. I don’t believe in change for the sake of change. We must progress sustainably and carefully. The world is so big and there’s only so much we can know, but I’m certain that there is room for more. That’s why I am here, right?


 

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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).