Idyllic Wild

新年快乐!Happy New Year!

The road from Feilaisi (飞来寺) is long and winding, with concrete under foot or wheel. Towering on the opposite side of the valley is Kawagarbo (6740m) and Yunnan province’s highest point. The roads bend and wind up and down to a checkpoint. At this point, one must surrender 27.5RMB. This gains you access to the Yubeng village scenic area (雨崩村). Starting an ascent at Xidang Spring (西当温泉), my colleagues Javier and Carmen headed up alongside me. We were to follow a trail marked by green bins. The spring of the village was rather an anti-climax.

Javier surveys the spring.

Those green litter bins and new saplings littered the pathway upwards. The path would zigzag across numerous dirt tracks and one under construction concrete road. For the entire ascent, I stopped only once for hot milk and some water in a tiny rickety-old-shack. The pleasure cost me a staggering 130RMB. The man had seen me coming. Each half litre bottle of water was 10RMB and the milk was 110RMB. The man charged 200RMB for noodles to a group calling by. In the future, always enquire about prices before accepting goods. I did wonder how at least 500 noodle pots stacked up at the wooden lodge’s side hadn’t improved the roughness of the building.

The route up had a positive gain of over 1100 metres. At its highest point, my lower legs enjoyed some much needed respite. At which point, a Snickers chocolate bar, not my favoured choice, tasted marvelous. I’d passed through some great panoramic viewing points before reaching Yubeng Upper Village (雨崩上村). Nazongla Yakou (那宗拉垭口) wasn’t too dramatic, but the views on entering Yubeng certainly brought a beaming smile to my face. A good 6 hours from Xidang to YuBeng was needed. On arriving, I checked into the Yak Butter Inn.

The Yak Butter Inn has a flowery name. It should be renamed to something feline like a cattery. The lodge has numerous large moggies strutting around. Young long-haired fuzz balls can be seen curled up in various baskets and cushions. A lone dog limps around, evidently resigned to being shy of any further pack members. The pleasant warmth of a wood stove heats one corner of the room, as the sun licks through windows at another. A busy kitchen emits fragrances of common Chinese cuisine and piping hot teas. A young cat thwacks my leg with its paws seeking attention.

Yak Butter Inn cattery

I elect to stay at the Yak Butter Inn for one night. A night in a shared dormitory reminds me that I no longer want that kind of experience. Farting, belching, snoring and a roundabout of lights-on, lights-off motions are one thing. Hearing Douyin/TikTok at every hour is another. With my colleague Oliver and his entourage arriving the following evening, I changed lodges. Two nights later, we changed lodges again. No rooms at the second inn, due to New Year bookings. The kind Tibetan owner had served us great Pu’er teas (普洱茶) and good hearty hiking food.

Before Oliver arrived, Carmen, Javier and I wandered upwards to the Sacred Waterfall (神瀑). A gain of 600 metres altitude. It being winter, the waterfall was mostly frozen and receding. The valley walk up from Yubeng Lower Village (雨崩下村) was gentle with a solid pathway built to guide tourists slowly in one direction and back again. CCTV and Chinese good luck shapes marked the route making it impossible to go off the beaten track. Walking poles needed a soft base and were generally of little use. The five hour round trip was pleasant enough with sweeping chains of prayer flags coating the latter stage of the route. Overflowing green rubbish bins and hundreds of scattered Red Bull drinks cans added shame to such a holy route. Chipmunks, adventurous and cute, sought treats amongst furry green moss-coated ancient trees. The cool fresh air a certain reward for stretching your legs out.

Sacred waterfall valley

Prior to walking up the valley, our trio had a few jumps and twists around the flowing streams that sit just above Lower YuBeng. The great boulders and pebbles are home to a logging camp which causes the water channels to splinter like roots from a tree. The transition into the old woodland beyond is chilling and in the shadow of the mountain. Like many places, frozen snow regulates the ambient temperature, giving a dark murky cool feel. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Master Yoda lived here. An icy world in opposition to the sun dried bank over the gentle flow of the stream. Perfect for Jedis in hiding.

A six to seven hour walk from Yubeng Upper Village (雨崩上村) via Xiaonong Base Camp (笑农大本营) gets you to the cold dry icy landscape of the Ice Lake (冰湖) at 3900m, nestled beneath Kawagarbo. The great overhanging peak condensed with snow from seasons of snowfall and heavy wind looms overhead. The wind reminds you of nature’s power, driving in, swirling and biting sharply. Remnants of receding glacier shelves and loose looking snow shelves linger menacingly. They will fall one day. The Ice Lake lived up to its name. Some of the ascent (around 800m gain) that day necessitated crampons. My tough boots bore the brunt of careful footwork and one walking pole, as I climbed the challenging route. No crampons for some. The donkey tracks and frozen soil pathways before it zig-zagged up and down various forestry climates battering my boots into disrepair on the return journey. Rhododendrons, pines, cypress trees and other green species reflected various browns, reds and greys. It was a real rainbow of a route.

Great place to lay down and look up

Mother Nature has been busy here. The valleys around YuBeng are dramatic. They’re microclimates with epic visual proportions. Each has a mysterious feel to which evidently religion has become attached. They’re places of stories and tales, entwined to folklore and legend. As a devout daydreamer, they’re a place to let the mind go and wonder as you wander. Every twisted tree, shadowy rock or distant sound could start a new story. Farming, the traditional Tibetan ways, mixes with a blend of the modern and the local wooden builds make way for tourism-aimed metal and concrete lodges. Glamping has arrived, but the Tibetan pilgrimage routes remain. New stories will yet be told.

Abandoned cabin

Beyond the idyllic setting of managed walking routes, it’s possible to trek along an ancient Buddhist pathways. That pathway leads to a glacier, snuggled beneath Kawagarbo. Remembering that climbing the mountain is banned and ill advised, it’s possible to follow an ancient trail through woodland, across a grass plain into a kind of Alpine tundra. The evident altitude cools much of the area and ice watetfalls, streams and ponds are frequently found higher up. The thickness of mosses, lichens and bearded trees drape on wilder routes. The mountain hinterland maintains a natural ecological state, and away from the beaten track, it’s the best place to witness it. Leave only footprints. Certainly don’t attempt the long walk to Myanmar. But enjoy the diversity of fungi and lichens.

The Northwest of Yunnan has quickly become my favourite place in China. YuBeng is itself a piece of heaven on Earth. Perhaps the nearby city of Shangri La should hand over its adopted name to the village of YuBeng. This growing tourist hotspot will see many pilgrimages, changes and challenges in the coming years. Will it sustain its beauty? Only time and UNESCO status will tell. I was told around twenty households made up YuBeng in the last decade. Now, there’s a Guangdong restaurant, Hong Kong style guesthouses, plenty of Sichuan options and even a family from Shandong (Eastern China). It will be tough to retain the Tibetan charm and character. Like much of the world, this corner of Dêqên is becoming quite samey-samey. The same old KTV can be heard by a shattered water prayer wheel. Up the way, steamed Cantonese food can be ate, with an ancient Stupa baked under a solar powered streetlight. Mani stones hide behind new hotel signage. The old ways are slipping from sight.

I’ve experienced a little altitude sickness, for most of the region is over 3200m. Discomfort in sleeping for the first few days, some muscle exhaustion, breathlessness at times and minor headaches resolved mostly yesterday. Enough so to enjoy a light Shangri La Beers lager or two, with delicious fresh yak meat, at the insistence of our lodge owner.

Hung out to dry

This morning when I walked into dining area of the lodge, I thought the weather-beaten looking Tibetan men had all had an argument. The dozen men, that seem to be ever present within the lodge (under renovation and expansion), were sat one per table at various parts of the room. On getting my door key, I spied that they were all head down and deep into Mandarin Chinese writing and reading textbooks. I left them to study in peace, passed the hanging yak meat, locked my door and joined Oliver, Piotr and Benedict for breakfast at another lodge.

Piotr works for shell. Oliver had met him and others on the way up from Xidang. Sociable Oliver teaches to travel and travels well, making friends as he goes. Knowledgeable as he is, he can be a little loud, as is the Australian way for many. He’s a sound lad with a keen eye to see more, do more and learn more. It’s a pleasure to have him as a colleague at Tungwah Wenzel International School. He met Piotr and you’d think they were best friends. It’s pleasing to see. The two entered the ice cave, skidded on the ice lake and galloped up the glacier together. Some people are more astronaut than astronomer. I’m happy flirting between active and observer. The mountains are familiar and here I feel relaxed. Wandering around watching jays feeding in the undergrowth satisfies me just as much as ascending ridge lines. We did enjoy a little camp fire and tea though.

Somewhere like this

Sat reading Roald Dahl’s Someone Like You, on a moss covered rock, shaded from the bright sun, as it dropped below the mountains overhead will no doubt remain my favourite place to read for many years. The gentle stream underneath that feeds into either of the three great rivers makes me feel dreamy and sleepy. The Jinsha (later Yangtze), Lancang (later Mekong), and Nujiang (soon to be known as Salween) rivers come from the Qinghai-Tibetan plateau. People from roughly 22 ethnic groups (Naxi, Lisu, Tibetan, Bai, Yi, Pumi, Nu, Dulong etc) live in and around the starting areas of these great rivers. One drop of rain water into this relatively narrow area of basins could end up in the Andaman sea by Myanmar, or flow by Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City, or slip through Tiger Leaping Gorge towards Jiangsu and Shanghai. I look up from my book, watching a clump of ice break up and drift downstream. What a pleasant little journey.

Until next time…

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

Pokhara footsteps.

Sawasdeekhap / Namaste / Welcome!

Kathmandu to Pokhara is a long and winding road. The Beatles didn’t sing about it though. The final stop of the 700NPR bus journey was on the edge of Pokhara (827-1740m) by the sports stadium. We checked in at 0100 on the 21st of January 2020, in the Obey Guesthouse, where Srirang had arranged to meet Livia, the angry hungry Hungarian from last year’s trek. I said hello, looked at the rooftop view and fell into a deep sleep. I slept like a baby. In the morning, a bit later, around 9am, I awoke. I stretched my legs, had a cold shower and dressed. I walked up the three floors to the rooftop. I looked south, trees and rooftops, east, a building obscured my view of more trees and rooftops. I walked up some steps to the next layer of the building. Standing on top of the building, my jaw dropped. I looked north, a little west and east. What a panorama! The prominent views of the tourism capital of Nepal are striking.

Pokhara is in the top left corner of the Seti Gandaki valley, if you look at the valley as football goalpost set. The mountains can rise over 6,500 metres across just 30 kilometres. You can see Dhaulagiri (8167m), Annapurna (6000m to over 8000m over several peaks), Manaslu (8163m), Machhapuchchhre A.K.A. Fishtail (6993m). Meanwhile Phew Tal lake sits at just 827m at the Lakeside area of the city. The moderate humid subtropical climate was just hovering around the low teens of 11°C, which made it feel very comfortable. At night, it fell into single figures. Very comfortable indeed. The World peace pagoda stands to the south, a cave full of bats lies to the north. Resorts, climbing shops, massage houses, spars, restaurants and lakeside boating are everywhere. Temples, shrines, gumbas, and forestry – serve the population that sits under half a million. The sprawling metropolitan city is far bigger than Kathmandu, and it feels far greener. This is a city that has survived much hardship losing the great India to Tibet trading route, following the Indo-China war in 1962. However, tourism has grown since. The British Gurkha Camp and Indian Gorkha (Gurka) camps are here. Many education sites are here. Some major businesses are based here.  The airport (soon to be replaced) and roads have regular and easy to find transport links across the country. Oh, and yoga is everywhere.

For dinner, I ate a masala curry, with roti bread. For lunch, I skipped it. For breakfast I tucked into omlette and a peanut dish with spices. Alu patthar was needed alongside the breakfast – a lovely potato bread. Just like the city of Pokhara, every area and every meal was geared for every kind and every taste. Pokhara’s lakeside area was akin to Blackpool lights in England, but smaller, and much quieter. By now the news of the coronavirus Covid-19 was emerging into Pokhara. Sellers on the streets offered a selection of fruits, “Sir, pineapple? Bananas? Ganga?” I declined all, before later watching City beat Sheffield Utd on my phone, as the temperature hit 2°C.

On the 22nd, we set out to the TIMS office, which doubles up as ACAP (Annapurna Circuit) entry – and the Nepal Tourism Board (all flanked by the ill-fated Visit Nepal 2020). TIMS and the ACAP are essential for trekking the region. The national park has strict control. On the day we visited, we were told that the highest we could trek, was Manang due to heavy snowfall – and missing trekkers on the Annapurna Base Camp trail. Under clear blue skies, and an air temperature of 20°C, we entered the doorway to news crews, cameras and stressed looking trekkers complaining that they were airlifted out of Annapurnas region without choice. They would have to pay once again, if they went in. And, they had to get their insurance companies to pay the helicopter rescue fees. The perils of trekking in full motion. Many trekkers seemed oblivious to the lost reported guides and trekkers. We answered questions with the ACAP and TIMS before passing over 2000NPR and 3000NPR respectively. We’d essentially agreed to take zero risks, and trek only as far as Manang. To me, I was fine. I just wanted to get onto the trail and see the sights, meet the people and enjoy a safe walk with good views. I decided there and then that not reaching the pass or completing the Annapurna Circuit was fine. It is what it is, as my older brother Asa, always says.

Pokhara is a very spaced out city. It’s relaxed and very green. There is so much to see and do. It is at the top of the league in terms of watching people go by, and enjoying the sounds of birdcalls. Nature is all around you, whether it is kites swooping overhead, tropical birds chirping in the morning or the croak of frogs. Then, there are many friendly and cute dogs, cats and the occasional free-roaming cow ambling along the roadsides.

With the terrible news coming out of Wuhan, of a pneumonia-causing virus, I became hyper-aware of people around me. Every sneeze and cough triggered a twinge of worry. The spate of deaths in China may have been a long way away, but in my mind, it could have been much closer. The spread of such trouble, just like heavy snowfall could easily have remained an ongoing worry for our trek.

On the 23rd, we checked out from the Obey Guesthouse (1000NPR per night), had breakfast and caught a taxi to the bus station in Pokhara. We departed Pokhara at 1135 for Besi Shahar at 1700hrs. Besi Shahar is only 760m in elevation. On arrival we stayed at Manange Chautara – Hotel Kailash. 200NPR a night, plus food and drink, we went to bed and readied ourselves for the walk. We were in no hurry, because we could only go as far as Manang. I had to leave Nepal by February the 15th, so that was settled. Take it all in, enjoy the walk. Rather than break the camel’s back, the next day, we walked just 7km to Khudi, staying at the Maya hotel, alongside the river and bridge. On the short 3 hour trek, we’d had brews at the ACAP check point, watched Himalayan Grey Langur monkeys for a while and not rushed at all.

 

The journey had started. How about your journey?

Thai Pride.

Sawasdeekhap / Namaste / Welcome!

The fan on the external wall of the bathroom rattled in the wind. Its guards occasionally lifted an dropped with each passing breath outside. The inactive power let the blades of the fan spin around silently. Beyond the cubicle-shaped bathroom an air conditioner whined gently through the thin plastic doors. The shower unit to the left of the toilet pulsated hot water into the mostly cold feeling tiled room. Steam rose and applied condensation to the mirror over the cumbersome ceramic sink. Two towels, used in a rotation of beach bathing, swimming outside and showers within the room hung lifelessly from two polished metal pegs. They faced the sink, a sink surrounded by soaps, cheap bottles of fragrance and shampoos. Not the worst place to have a pooh on a toilet.

“Good times, bad times, give me some of that” –  (Edie Brickell – Good Times)

I’m in a land where music, dance, the arts (I watched a bizarre Hua Hin 2: The Musical at the Cicada market last night), and creativity really flow. There are more things that could be classed as unique, than that of most places that I have travelled. People here really embrace their nation with real love and care. No chewing gum on the streets and little litter. This is a place that really takes pride in itself. The fact that the market is named after an unglamourous insect is a sense of greatness too.

The people of Thailand are visibly in love with their nation. There’s a soft heartfelt passion for flag and monarchy. There’s not a touch of aggression towards it.  Pictures of the Royal hierarchy are throughout the land. Vajiralongkorn AKA Rama X has been on the throne since October 2016 by crowned only as of May 2019. His pictures and that of former flight attendant and now Queen Suthida are everywhere. The apartment we have has one, and one of the previous King and his Queen. Chakra, the weapon of Rama or Vishnu comes from an old Sanskrit word Chakri. It belongs to the Thai King. The monarchy therefore hold the position as the guardian of civilization. Lord Rama co-exists with Ayutthaya (the light of Thai civilization). The respect for the royal family here is tremendous. King Bhumibol Adulyadej composed around 48 pieces of jazz music. Now that’s a contribution to culture! Throughout the lands of Thailand there are countless places funded by the Royal House to improve agriculture, health, and the environment. Unlike many other Monarchs around the globe, here was a King dedicated to improving the lives of the poorest and most vulnerable. Thailand take their monarchy very serious and some of the laws reinforce this. I have no reason to insult these welcoming lands that I have landed upon, so I am unworried about the Articles 490 and 491 of the criminal code govern lèse-majesté. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. Their gaff, their rules, as Al Murray’s Pub Landlord would say.

Actually, finding that it is illegal to leave the house without underwear, was my biggest worry! No commando today. Up there with shirtless drivers and vaping (electronic cigarettes). Totally illegal. I’ll just concentrate on showing my Wai greeting – and not my lack of underwear.  On top of this, my shorts must sit below the knee for visiting sacred sites. That’s not a problem. I carry spare trousers (winter ones) for such occasions. Putting your hands together and bowing slightly in the form of Wai, is similar to the hand greeting of Namaste in Nepal. This is great, because I prefer both over shaking hands and not knowing what germs or bogies are now on my hand from the person who shook my hands. The handshake was started to show vulnerability in that no swords could be grabbed easier. With the Wai, there is no chance a sword will appear and eye contact allows you to feel the genuine warmth of a greeter.

Unlike Nepal, the form of Buddhism is a little different. Theravada Buddhism is everywhere and clearly the dominant religion without being practical. A few million Thai Muslims help keep the meat industry rolling.  There’s an odd balance between meat and two veg here. That isn’t a comment on the nightlife, which is globally known for its liberal attitudes. Thailand, so far, is a swirl of saffron-clad monks and neon signs.  Very colourful indeed.  You cant kill. Yet you can eat that of something which was killed by others.  At shrines, fizzy drinks can often be seen alongside other offerings. All very different from the rocks, papers and carvings found within Nepal’s Buddhism. Very interesting contrasts, in my opinion. Here there is a real tolerance to people and their sexuality, choices and lifestyles. It seems very laid back and relaxed. People are people and that’s great. The world is a better place in the land of smiles.

Until next time.

An impulsive and egotistical dictator?

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

Is Boris Johnson closer to Churchill or that of Adolf Hitler?

One was an impulsive and egotistical dictator who would not allow anyone to stand against him. The other is Adolf Hitler. There are endless reasons (my own post) to oust Boris Johnson. I explained a few before. Now is as good time as any to carry on… let’s use the time-honoured bulletpoint format, because my time is limited – or I am lazy.

  • ATOS
  • 120,000 preventable deaths since 2010
  • Pensioners pushed into poverty – and unable to stay warm in winter.
  • A rise in children growing up in abject poverty conditions. Tax credits have been chopped.
  • Schools have had their budgets tightened.
  • Surge in hate crime.
  • NHS hospitals at breaking point – including a child sleeping on a hospital floor.
  • Flying on a private jet domestically despite a declared climate crisis.
  • Homelessness on the rise – and many are ex-forces or children!
  • A widening of an already large gulf allowing people onto the housing market. Just rent – or look for one of their 200,000 promised houses under construction, of which zero were built following their 2015 manifesto.
  • Forcing a customs border in the Irish Sea.Worker and consumer rights are being depleted.
  • What mental health care did this government boost? It has receded faster than my hair.
  • Postal voter? Not this time. Expat? Vote by proxy. Tax-paying EU citizen in the UK? Sorry, we can’t accept your vote.

Boris Johnson has been writing lies for year in the Telegraph. He has always feared a federal superstate in the E.U. This bastard lambasted single mothers. This absolute crook landed Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, likely to be fully innocent in jail, in Iran, on spy charges. This fool has avoided question and answer sessions and cancelled on numerous appearances. He is selectively bending information and feeding the public disinformation and lies. He closed down parliament and is trying to impose new laws to ebb away our constitutional principle of parliamentary sovereignty. Isn’t that something that happened to a certain Weimar Republic in the 1930s?

Boris Johnson leads a party up against the wall with numerous accusations of Islamophobia. Is that what we really need right now? As Britain’s communities tussle and struggle against extremism and lack of opportunity, the vulnerable and lost souls of almost every religion will find someone with time to hate. The EHRC equalities watchdog have a job to do now. In fact his position of authority and his party tried to oust the Windrush generation. His party to intend to update the Human Rights Act – something that means exiting it, with just Belarus to accompany us outside that European club.

One of his own party members, and past Prime Minister John Major has unified with former Labour PM Tony Blair to sling Johnson out. As Johnson campaigns on ensuring Brexit goes ahead, he’s increasingly sounding more and more like someone possessed by the dark side in Star Wars. He blames Jeremy Corbyn and co for laughing at the public’s choice to vote a marginal referendum win in favour of an exit. Mussolini would be proud. He preaches to those who criticise Donald Trump for building a wall on the Mexican border. Yet, he is looking to divide the UK from Europe on a similar scale. The age old far of us and them is here and now.

Though, Boris Johnson, is the face amongst many MPs that are buffoonery on show, there is probably a very dark room with someone pulling strings. The enjoyable face of Boris bumbling and breaking all in his path is there to get the job done. Deep in the pits of the Conservative chambers and overlords will be where jeopardy and malice sit. That’s where the decisions to fire at will, or grind and slam people downwards, ever down, will come from. This would explain why keeping Johnson off air, saves him doing more damage – because as we have seen increasingly, a camera and a microphone allow Boris ample chance to ridicule himself. Banter he tries, lies and contradictions he shows. He pushes Brexit to be done. Game over. Move on. He can’t even justify any benefits of doing so, such is the lost cause that he promotes.

Boris Johnson and his Tory cronies even ripped off Dr Rosena Allin-Khan’s #ElectionActually video. I wouldn’t be surprised by anything that happens betwen now and the General Election on the 12th of December. It won’t be a happy Christmas for many…

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

The Red Blue (or is it a Blue Red?)

78531392_582334829206983_7948421672325873664_n你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do / S’mae / Namaste

I’ve never interviewed and election candidate before. I’ve never really given any questions to any political representative unless you count pinging a tweet at President Trump in anger.

Being located in China and taking into account the eight-hour difference, I finally pinned down Brahma Mohanty. Had I have been clever enough, we could have discussed politics during summer in depth over ice cream at Ginger’s Emporium in Affleck’s Palace, Manchester. Back then the world was a different landscape and Brahma wasn’t due to stand as a Labour party representative. Bizarrely, I did feel and tell him that’s where his future will be if he so wants it. So, here we are at the last broadcast (of the day).


 

Isn’t politics boring?

Brahma shakes his head. He knows my question is tongue in cheek, yet he comes back with a dismissive answer like a knife to my jugular, “In many ways football and politics can be the same. Both can be complex and dramatic. We can be perplexed. When things work, we can be exhilarated, and I think it something that we can all be passionate about. If we don’t have a say it affects us all in our everyday lives. Whether it is accessing the best healthcare or public transport – or the economy affecting pricing on everyday things and even the cost of a football game ticket.”

davI need a bit of an education. Is Brexit worth worrying about?

“Just as how these are turbulent times for Manchester City on the pitch, it is the same within British politics,” Brahma has tailored his answer to catch my interest. Off he goes again, “Now is the time to get involved and the stakes couldn’t be any higher, in terms of this election. The results will determine how Brexit is resolved. There could be a crash out of the EU with a hard Brexit. There could be a gentle yet painful Brexit with a deal that is favourable to few. Perhaps, a renegotiation that protects our workers and our rights – with a final say on the matter can be agreed. I believe Labour can offer this.”

Brahma is blue City fan. He’s also red (for Labour). I’ve heard City fans say that the vote the Conservative party because they’re blue. Politics is a contentious domain. Was choosing to represent the Labour party a difficult choice?

“Not at all,” Brahma confidently swats the question a swift reply. He continues, “Since my parents came here in the 1970s, they have voted in every election that they have been able to vote in. Now my parents weren’t necessarily politicos but they always identified more with Labour. Labour’s position on inclusivity, respecting and advocating a multicultural society gave my parents, as Indian immigrants, a voice. Britain back then wasn’t always a great place to be in but they felt that the Labour party were for them, more so then other party groups.”

So, it came as a natural selection to stand with Labour?

BManchester city centre 12th July 2017 (78)rahma beams with pride, “My family have had a longstanding involvement with the NHS, which as you know was created by Labour. Commitment to values of equality for all, whether within education, housing or healthcare were followed by my family. That has been influenced upon me deeply by my family. Supporting the Labour party when I was first eligible to vote allowed me to be in touch with society in a very inclusive way. I grew up in a region of the world where the Labour party has always been very well represented. Manchester has a great history tied to Labour’s roots and the left-wing side of politics.”

How confident are you right now?

“I’m confident that I am going out there now,” Brahma replies, “giving a positive message about that I and the Labour Party have to offer, and offering the people of my potential constituency and also across the country in marginal seats a positive progressive vision in contrast to what we’ve had to put up with in terms of austerity and the Conservative Party for almost a decade. I’m confident that this message is getting out there to our people. Obviously, we won’t know until the final polling results next week.”

What difference can you make?

wx_camera_1533826817200“In terms of difference of what I can make,” Brahma’s eyes lock on mine, deeply showing his passion in his words, “I will advocate for the policies I’ve mentioned before. We need a much more strongly and robustly supported NHS – to ensure that everyone has the best access at the point of need. Further investment into public transport, will enhance connectivity, and improve logistics whilst assisting to combat climate change. Less cars will mean less fuel and less carbon emissions – but for that we must have an efficient public transport system that isn’t seen as grimy, unreliable and aged.”

Why did you choose to set a course into the world of politics?

“Drawing on all my personal experiences,” Brahma shuffles in his seat, dropping words from his soul with confidence, “whether, it was growing up in and around Greater Manchester, my involvement within Labour and in terms of overcoming barriers and obstacles, which I’ve had to encounter quite a lot. Not just in terms as a person of a different ethnicity, but also with regards to my disability and mental health issues. TV shows such as The Last Leg and London 2012’s great Paralympic games have really swayed people’s opinions and moved us away from the term disability to realise that everyone with a disability have real genuine abilities to shine. Whilst these things may have prevented certain times of my education and career, I want to draw on my personal experience to lead and set an example by applying it to my role within the Labour party team. I want to demonstrate that anything is possible. People don’t need to be held back. Nothing is impossible with our own powerful minds.”

What are your beliefs in terms of the NHS?

P70821-144016“As I have mentioned about the NHS, it obviously needs more than a lick of paint,” Brahma states. He pauses before carrying on, “It needs a greater level of funding to ensure that we can maintain a high standard of care and assistance. Despite a decade of under this awful austerity-driven government, the NHS is still regarded as great institution domestically and overseas. It is often cited as one of the best systems in the world – if not the best healthcare system on Earth. As a Labour candidate and the Labour movement, we want to ensure that this is always the case. It cannot be privatised and sold off, to make needless profits. We’re proud of the NHS legacy – and want future generations to have the support and fallback of the NHS with them from birth to death. It makes Britain great.”

And how do you feel about the hotbed that is the railways?

hdr“Railway networks need improving to allow people to get from A to B. Our commitment to combating climate change, means we need less cars on the road and with that less carbon emissions from fossil fuels. An improved transit system such as national railways or tramlines within cities, gives people the chance to make use of an efficient system of transport. That’s the bedrock of what we believe in, in terms of improving public transport.”

For the current and potential students out there, may I ask your views on tuition fees?

Brahma’s educated answer follows, “Scrapping tuition fees stops people from being put off by further education. You shouldn’t be stopped from learning because you can’t afford to attend university. Let our people in Britain pursue their degrees and careers that they wish to. Do we want an enhanced talent pool in our country?”

Can a Mancunian truly represent people from a completely different region?

olympic celebration 2012 (26)“As a Mancunian, I can bring the spirit of never say die, hardworking determination and grit, and I suppose politics is like the current Man City team, international, diverse and going out there each week wearing the badge and colours in pride. The last decade has been the most successful period for City. I can take example from that. You don’t necessarily have to have been born in a place or from the area to advocate the best for the people there. We’re all people at the end of the day. Manchester has the People’s History Museum – a kind of de facto unofficial museum of the Labour party and the Labour movement. Not far up the road in Rochdale, we have the birthplace of the Cooperative movement. I believe that there is a museum there too. Manchester and the industrial past have been a hotbed of socialism. That naturally influenced upon me. Like the industrial revolution, Manchester’s reach has been global – and doesn’t seek to impose itself unfairly.

There are 650 seats in the House of Commons. That’s 650 possible MP positions. Why Surrey Heath?

“Coming into an area like Surrey Heath, with a fresh pair of eyes can be very beneficial, “Braham affirms. “Being able to draw on my own experiences from my time working and living away from Manchester, I can apply this to the role. Just like in a sports team, each woman, man or youth player brings a different set of skills and talents – whether international or locally-born, they all sit under one banner representing their team with pride. And I’m not just talking Manchester City! This could easily be that of England – in rugby or football terms, amongst a whole host of teams.

326 seats are needed for a majority party to assume a government. With the last few elections leading to coalition governments, do Labour have a chance for a majority party government? How do you view the opposition?

“In terms of the opposition, I’m unhappy with what I see in terms of a decade of austerity that has really affected British society. Homelessness is on the rise, armed force members – past and present, lack real support, young people can’t afford to get onto the property ladder, more people are renting than ever before, or even still living at home with parents. There’s an increased use of foodbanks. This climate of austerity has led us to where we are. Do we want to be here?

The ill-feeling created by austerity is, I believe, what drove people to vote for Brexit. This conception that it was immigrants from within the EU and beyond were to blame for issues domestically, when in fact, it was as a result of Conservative-led austerity, in coalition with the Liberal Democrats. The terrible thing with the Brexit is not only has it impacted on the U.K.’s economy, the value of the pound sliding, but it has created an uncertain job market. Businesses are feeling the instability. It has created divisions and tensions. In the last three and half years, hate crime has increased, whether racist, anti-Semitism, homophobic, transphobia, Islamophobia, or other abuses. Brexit has unleashed a lot of bad characters, looking to put their views upon the majority of us – giving a footing for the far right. Do we really want to lose our neighbourhoods to hate?

I feel that the opposition should be held accountable for these divides and the rise of hate. I hold them responsible for what we have right now. An era of tension and division that has now led us to have a General Election, at this time when most of Britain could be better suited to enjoying Christmas – but under such circumstances, we’re hopping outside in the cold weather to cast votes. Simply put, the country is at a crossroads. We are in a period of uncertainty. ”

In what is a safe seat (historically) do you feel you have that extra sparkle to really challenge the established MP?

“Do I have that extra sparkle? I’m under no illusions that this is and always been a very safe and stable Conservative seat since its creation,” Brahma straightens up his body. He is now looking very serious. “I focus on the best possible message that I can provide, which is a positive progressive message as an alternative to the austerity-driven policies like those offered by the Conservative party, like figures such as Michael Gove have been at the foreground promoting – and indeed Surrey Heath, like much of the country was divided upon Brexit, so I’m offering a progressive view on that. I want to avoid a focus on appeasing those who voted for Brexit, or those who seek to revoke Article 50 whilst ignoring the concerns of those who voted for Brexit. The Labour party is committed to supporting the 100%. What we’re saying is, that we’re unhappy with the deal that has been carried back by Boris Johnson from the EU, which offers no assurances on the economy, business, workers’ rights, or job protection. What we’re saying, if we get into power, we want to renegotiate the deal with the EU. Once that has been done, we want to do what we believe, the most democratic thing of all – and put that information and ultimately the decision to the British people. Some may say that we have already voted on this matter, and that was the end of that. In some respects, yes, I can understand people feeling that way but at the same time, none of us could put our hands on our hearts and say that even now, we knew exactly what Brexit will or has meant. The referendum needed clarity and clear discussion. In 2016, did we have the right information? Given that the picture and the landscape of the Brexit decision has changed many, many times. Many of those who have backed a no deal have flipped sides. Many of those who voted for Brexit have changed their minds. The processes have been complex and unclear to many. I don’t think that it is unfair or irrational to say that the British people should have the final say upon our future following our negotiations because this is something that is going to affect our people in the here and now – and for future generations.

Individuals must be registered to vote by midnight twelve working days before polling day. That point has now passed. I Does voting really matter?

“I think it is absolutely essential to vote now,” Brahma’s head is full of ice, yet I can sense his belly is full of fire. He resumes, “Those who can vote, must vote. As I have stated before, this General Election is because of Brexit. It has been almost a century since we had an election of this kind in December! Brexit is probably the biggest event to affect this country since the end of the Second World War. The effects will be felt by the British people for years to come and it will have an impact not only British society but on Britain’s standing in the world. It is absolutely imperative that of you have a view on this matter – and you’re eligible to vote, that you cast your vote. Obviously, I’d hope that they would vote for the Labour party, but it is more important to vote on this matter knowing that by not doing so, you’ll be losing your say on Brexit, the NHS, the future of transport within the UK, housing, or the homelessness crisis. Voting is such an important part of the democratic process. It is one that many people have fought for and died over. All around the world people still continue to do so. It is vital to be part of that process – especially now as we reach a very marked point in the road for Britain’s place in the world.”

 Just to be clear, I personally assigned a proxy vote via my mother in Manchester.

 Much is being made of the power held by younger voters. Can younger voters make a difference to their regions?

“This is the first time that those born after 2000 will get a chance to vote. This will affect their futures more than anyone else. Cast your votes. Listen to the debates from all sides. It is so important that younger people embrace politics. Get involved.”

SAMSUNG CSC

Finally, do you have any further comments to make?

“It is vital that people vote. The key issue is Brexit. That’s why we’re having a General Election on a cold winter’s day. Just like the last General Election, people must have their say. Whilst some party groups say that will get Brexit done or conclude the matter, it is worth noting that the Conservatives have had three Prime Ministers since the referendum and are no closer to resolving the impasse one way or another. Only the Labour party is offering a viable proposal to this. At the same time, our policies are far more than the NHS. We have focuses on the NHS, improving public transport, looking after our elderly communities, scrapping tuition fees and so on.”

Brahma can see that my attention needs a kickstart. He glibly closes with a statement, “Politics is just like football. It has highs and lows. It has moments that we will remember for a lifetime and there are times that leave us completely stunned. Just like Vincent Kompany’s goal against Leicester City last season, or Aguero’s last minute winner against QPR in 2011/12, you can feel such highs in politics as well. It only works with involvement and togetherness – making that contribution. People must be involved. I support progressive values with the Labour party. We must fight for the many and not just the few. As I always say, one of our great sayings within the labour movement, by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we do alone. That underlies any team sports, just like at City. Yes, some has come due to investment, but investment alone won’t create a team. Everybody has played an important role in the club, behind the scenes and across the field – and that’s how Labour must be. We need a team for all.”

Andrew Marr, I am not. Thank you kindly for your time Brahma Mohanty – and best of luck for Election Day 2019.

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

 

POP GOES THE #GETGOVEOUT

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

POP goes the weasel! Or, in my case POP went my right calf. As I stumbled to the ground in agony, I knew the night’s game of football was over. I barely played five minutes. Even with a warm-up, a gentle jog to the game and adequate hydration, something went wrong. My foot hit the deck in a way that caused my ankle and calf some shock. The result was the rear of my calf muscle belly was electrically charged with pain. That was around 9pm last night. More than 17 hours have passed – and I still cannot curl my toes or stand properly. There is visible swelling and no amount of hot water [Chinese medicine?] can cure this.

Playing back the moment that it happened, I’d suddenly changed direction in my run and accelerated which felt good until that POP. The grade of muscle tear is ranked as somewhere between a grade one and a grade two. It could mean a few days of being on crutches, or a few weeks. It will mean recovery in around one to six weeks. I won’t be returning to sports too soon and will need some physiotherapist guidance as to how to recover progressively and prevent a further tear.

For now, the tears in my eyes are mostly caused by the application of Wong To Yik. This balm is a Woodlock Oil, although I’m still not entirely sure what that actually is. It has a mild initial heat upon application but that rapidly warms up into something akin to fire. Any evaporated fumes usually burn everywhere they come into contact with. Handwashing is needed to prevent future shock when touching sensitive regions. Don’t apply it and then go and urinate guys! For a few days, I have the Murray’s FC physiotherapy centre’s crutches. No weight-bearing is allowable. Rest is a must.

My body is fixing itself through mature collagen scar formation. This will take around 6 weeks to build up. Soon, I’ll need to do exercises to help lengthen, orientate and stretch my new scar tissues. Neurodynamic mobilisations sound amazing. What are they? I don’t have a clue. Hopefully, the day where I can walk without a limp will arrive sooner rather than later. In the meantime, resistance loaded exercises will remain a thought. There will be little concentric (upwards) or eccentric movement (downwards). One day I’ll be running a high speed (for me), with some power, proprioception and agility (if possible). Only then can I consider a return to football.

Wong To Yik is wonderful. It’s an external analgesic made of Camphor (10%), Turpentine Oil (12%), Menthol (16%) and Methyl Salicylate C8H8O3 (50%). The remaining 12% is a mystery but I read somewhere that there is an inactive ingredient in Lavender Oil and dāngguī (当归; female ginseng). It seems to warm the muscles – but makes Original Mint Source shower gel seem tame when in contact with hypersensitive regions. Wong To Yik strips away skin in those areas, so do take care…


 I started writing the above last Wednesday, then was distracted by mid-term exams, a school trip and a shedload of hopping.


 

Pro Chemnitz neo-Nazis may like Paypal but my recent dealings with eBay and Paypal have been far from idyllic. How any company can accidentally double charge you fees is beyond me. After I made a manual payment, a week later an automatic amount of the same was taken. I complained to one and the other but neither replied with clarity. Timeframes and rules, with lots of small print gets automatically thrown at you, or they hold your money – despite you providing the required information, and hide behind nameless auto-responses time and time again. I’d imagine that Paypal is too busy protecting their Saxony-based right-wing extremists than to deal with little old me. Online shop, eBay Inc. are probably equally busy rigging their system so that you can only use Paypal or finding ever-decreasing ways to talk to their customers. It seems that only automatons are within eBay corp. French-born, Persian-named American Pierre Omidyar had started something amazing and useful for all. A website for selling second-hand goods – almost called Echo Bay sprang onto the world wide web in 1998 and has remained there ever since. With assets now valued at US$22.819 billion, the global corporation has an equally diluted take on customer services – but they don’t allow Nazi paraphernalia, firearms, tobacco, alcohol or uranium – so they aren’t pure evil. Eve Walmart allow some of those items.


 

Concluding this post of randomness, I’d like to say best of luck to my good friend Brahma Mihir Mohanty as he stands for a seat in Surrey Heath – with the Labour Party. H’es up against the quite capable Green Party candidate Sharon Galliford and Alasdair Pinkerton of the Liberal Democrats. There’s also UK Independence Party (UKIP)’s David Roe and the Tory Party are backing Michael Gove.

Labour has never scored more than 21.4% in the General Elections for the seat of Surrey heath. Since 1997, the seat has only had a Conservative holder: Nick Hawkins or Michael Gove. The Liberal Democrats had higher vote numbers than Labour until 2015. The electorate of around 78,453 are likely to turn out in a similar figure to the wards 70% or so houses that are detached or semi-detached (apparently the second highest in the South East, behind the New Forest ward). It is a great logistical ward, well connected to London and the world via Heathrow Airport – and the M3/M4 motorways. Aldershot and Sandhurst, Farnborough and Blackbushe Airport give it a military and a private airfield link or two. It is an area that registered jobseekers are noted as being ‘significantly lower than the national average’. So, who is who in the competition for Surrey Heath’s hot seat?

Councillor Galliford represents the Lightwater ward and is dedicated to her job as a voice for her community. Sharon Galliford’s declaration of interests reveals she works ad-hoc for Dept of Clinical Psychology, Royal Holloway University of London and sits on a few well-intentioned boards within the same field. Sharon Galliford’s twitter (242 followers & 444 following) has a modest self-description advising, “I am a Sound- Healer, Transpersonal Psychologist, Astrologer and Educator.” Nobody can argue that educators are bad, right? Her 2580 tweets can be publicly seen alongside a personal website. Although an update is needed on the website because the next New Moon astrology gathering is Monday 14th May 2018… Never-the-less Sharon Galliford looks like a good representative of the people – with clear beliefs and conscience. In 2017, Sharon did not win the 2017 General Election seat despite gaining the 2017 Surrey County Council local election seat. Her experience will serve her well.

Now, in the Liberal Democrat’s corner we have Alasdair Pinkerton. The surname remains me of a detective agency started by a Scotsman of the same family name. Okay, solid name with more than 15,500 tweets to his name. He is followed by 4621 twitter-folk and follows 2259 so he’s clued up on social media. The academic candidate is clear with his views #GetGoveOut #GetBrexitGone, so no fence sitting a touch of fight about him. I had a brief scoot around and could see many claims and a video that all boast Alasdair is an academic, but it took me a Facebook page about section to reveal smarty-pants Al to be an Associate Professor of Geopolitics, within the Royal Holloway University of London. An educator again. His specialist areas are British Overseas Territories – so should I send a few Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China (HKSAR) questions now or later? Or, he may be busy replacing torn down Liberal Democrat placards (It is really immature to tear down these, but they are unsightly and bright orange). Mr Pinkerton is on a debut stand for a seat at this coming election.

David Roe, well, he has stood on the 2016 and 2019 Woking local elections. In 2017 he was Egham’s candidate for the 2017 Surrey County Council local election. Mohammed Bashir, Lib Dem (1,088) beat both Mohammed Ali and David Roe, UKIP (345) in 2012 for a Woking council seat. Little else is known about Mr Roe. UKIP usually have that feel. All or nothing.

Born in an NHS hospital, and raised in a care home for a short time, having been Graeme Logan, was soon to renamed by his Labour-supporting family, as Michael Gove. Scholarships allowed him to study at the independent Robert Gordon’s College. He even supported Labour. He even took part on strikes over union recognition and representation. Soon after he was licking the bottom of Robert Murdoch, and comparing the Good Friday agreement to “the appeasement of the Nazis in the 1930s. Somewhere in the 1990s the journalist went from raw intelligence writer to history rewriter and political commentator – and here began dangerous comments and public mistakes. The Tories had already told him that he was “insufficiently political” and “insufficiently Conservative” – and journalism seemed to favour him. A wordsmith with a weapon. He backed Tony Blair, when others walked away. He worshiped and continues to worship Thatcher.

Since the Tory Party have been in power, Michael Gove has bumbled from Secretary of State for Education (2010–2014) – approving Creationist schools and a catalogue of controversies. Then, as Chief Whip of the House of Commons (2014–2015) he was stuck in a toilet. Next, his role was the Secretary of State for Justice (2015–2016) where happenings were criminal. New Prime Minister Theresa May axed him. His journey soon found the role of Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (2017–2019). He introduced a ban on bee-harming pesticides. At last something great! Actually, his animal welfare work was ground-breaking but he refused to declare a climate emergency – which parliament passed soon after. He went head to head with Boris Johnson for leader of the Conservatives and as such the next Prime Minister following Theresa May’s stand-down. Now, Michael Gove is Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, which means he is the Duke of Lancaster – which means he looks after the estates and portfolios of the Royal Family. In a nutshell, a glorified caretaker’s job.

So, as the billionaire-owned press slashes and chops away at the Labour party, Liberal Democrats and all the other runners for seats, remember some clear facts: positive publicity is paid for by the privileged few. They don’t want you sat at their tables or in their bars. Well, if you’re up for some change and you’re down Surrey Heath way, vote Brahma Mihir Mohanty – and if you need a good reason to back my friend, I’ll tell you this. He is genuine. He is true. He is decent and human – and I know that he values the NHS, etc. I’m sure that you can ask him many important questions in person – and from that understand that he will represent you very passionately and openly. Failing that you can talk about a variety of sports.

Good luck to my friend. Have a great campaign – and, erm, talk with your regional committee about an independent interview sometime…

 

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

Add Vim or Gin & Tonic?

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

WHO AM I?

“Everything in life is difficult: Being young, being old.” – Dag, TV series 3, episode 4 opening credits.

What is the meaning of life? Such a common question. I wonder why that is always the big question. Is the answer really 42? Many in religion argue that a scientific mind is a major cause of an individual’s crisis in meaning. Is it that there is almost a denial that an interplay of gases, chemicals, genetics and biology can lead to a meaning? Our amoeba cousins are prime examples of life. The humble farmed hogs being hunted the leopards of Mumbai too. Look outside and see a butterfly flutter by, and there is the answer. Survival. Google the wrong term without a safe search and you’ll no doubt stumble on the other answer: propagation.

Without completely telling religion where to scatter, I won’t force my beliefs on those who believe. Rag’n’Boneman will back me up. I’m only human, after all. I do however favour a logical and scientific approach to life, and higher beings don’t exist in it. No prophets, Gods, Goddesses, Deities, immortals, idols, or divine beings for me. I do believe in nature as a force. Holy beings are a no. Caterpillars changing to butterflies are a yes. The bible is young. God, the one Him and He that is mentioned in the new and old testament is quite modern, which I find strange and a little questionable.

Depressingly life is quite simple, and it seems us numpty humanoids complicate things. Is the glass half full? No. Is the glass half empty? No. The glass exists, with something neither incomplete nor complete inside it. It can house more or less than the state it was in before two simple questions were presented. Is the glass full of water and air in an unbalanced state? Is the water warm, cold or hot? Who put the question into a glass? Why not a whiskey tumbler? Are tumblers a glass? How many other glasses are stood full nearby? Can the question apply to tins of Costa Coffee x Coca Cola? Will that make it into a Costa Express machine to be delivered free one day?

Books, movies and songs have always been good companions. I fear that I will let others down, or myself down. I need a ray of sunshine to pick me up. Other people’s wonderful creations give me hope. They are my sunshine on a dark day. I’m in a foreign land where not everyone speaks my tongue. Few do. Even then if I can speak with someone, no matter how close they are, I cannot be sure that they truly understand me. Linguistic and cultural barriers exist in regions, countries, political beliefs and thoughts too. My humour is not Andy Warhol, and not Billy Connolly. It is just me, plain old and simple me. To have fingers put upon emotions, by others, and shared before eventually reaching you is simply delightful.

“Almost everything will work again of you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.” – Anne Lamott, novelist

The trick of life is surviving it by feeling achievement. Somewhere in our DNA is an answer to a problem. Perhaps we don’t know of it. Perhaps we never will. Perhaps our species will have evolved time and time again rendering that answer obsolete. Relationships in our lives may dip, ebb or fade away. That’s life. Kick it in the dick and move on or engage in conversation. Have a natter with a good friend – or help your significant other to understand you using words. If that fails, there are alternative lifestyles like nudist camps, swinging, or cycling around the world jobless. Not every mould of lifestyle choice will fit everyone. Find that extra vim. If something feels dead end and meaningless, change the goalposts and seek the verve and vigour that you need. Too many people die with regrets. To quote William Wallace in Braveheart, “Every man dies, but not every man really lives” or something similar to that. Goodbye triviality, hello exuberance.

“Animals, poor things, eat in order to survive: we, lucky things, do that too, but we also have Abbey Crunch biscuits, Armagnac, selle d’agneau, tortilla chips, sauce béarnaise, Vimto, hot buttered crumpets, Chateau Margaux, ginger-snaps, risotto nero and peanut-butter sandwiches — these things have nothing to do with survival and everything to do with pleasure.” – Stephen Fry, Moab Is My Washpot

For me, I think people around the world would love a bit more understanding and togetherness. There are all too many bullets to chests, too many factories billowing crap into the air and too little respect being shown by leaders to their people. More empathy, less greed and a dab of extra worth wouldn’t harm anyone. No need to power up a supercomputer for 7.5 million years. However, we can still dream and look to the stars for hope or worship our chosen beliefs.

When I was at university and failed my first year, I felt lost. Why was I suddenly studying Behavioural Biology, far from home, running up a debt that clouded my hunger to study? I didn’t have a clue if it would get a me a career or a pathway into “the real world” (as students would often say). I did know one thing. Here I was far from home. Independent. Going solo. The reading of books and the routine of lectures wasn’t for me. I stumbled through years of studying and almost zero revision. Did I feel that I had failed? No. It was a challenge and I was out of my comfort zone. I learnt about myself in more ways than I thought possible. The wisdom of hindsight has taught me that.

THE EMPIRE ON WHICH THE SUN NEVER SETS

With more opportunity people are free to find their purpose. As it stands Braveheart is being remade on the streets of Hong Kong, in a historically flipped up situation made by Great Britain. The British Empire, at its peak in 1920, covered almost a quarter of the Earth’s surface area. After losing 13 colonies to the U.S.A.’s birth in 1783, Britain headed east and towards Africa. The Pacific was ripe for picking. For 99 years, starting in 1815, Britain became the Team America: World Police of the day. As Britain became challenged by Germany and the U.S.A.’s rise, the cracks that allowed the outbreak of the Great War were laid. In 1922 Ireland became free of British rule. Other territories would soon follow. Britain’s eastern empire fell with Japan sweeping over the supposedly impregnable Singapore, sewing the foundations for New Zealand and Australis to go alone, eventually.

Decolonisation, a decline in the nation’s strength and crisis after crisis (India, Palestine, Suez, the Malayan emergency, the Cold War, the Falklands…) haunted Britain – and the scars are visible today. Ireland and Northern Ireland remain divided and with Brexit impending the real threat of further trouble threatens the U.K. like a dark cloud. And if anything is to go by, the troubles will be back, because Rambo, Charlies Angels, the Terminator and Top Gun are still in the cinemas. Do we keep making the same mistakes in order to sell movies?

By 1983, Britain held 13 or 14 overseas territories. Penguins, Indian Ocean post boxes, a rock in Spain and a place near a triangle make for a nice holiday. Three islands have no residents but retain some scientific or military presence. Perhaps, Area 52 is located on one of these islands. Five of the territories are claimed by other nations. Interestingly, 52 former colonies protectorates are still party to the archaic Commonwealth of Nations. That Commonwealth is non-political, apparently. The U.K.’s royal family still head 16 states too, making their divorce from the U.K. most bizarre.

In the U.K., I worked for Aviva Insurance, for about 5 years. It didn’t feel meaningless and they were an okay employer. The corporate machine offers comfort for a not-so-amazing salary. Internal transfers are plentiful, but promotion in an age of very few people retiring, or moving on, didn’t help me. The work wasn’t too significant to me and my enthusiasm dropped, but to Joe Public and my colleagues, I kept plugging away, not like a robot, and not with any ambition. At this stage I’d lost ambition completely. Communication with other people and understanding were concepts that I was enjoying. This would start me on a pathway to teaching in China. A place where I would miss my favourite drink Vimto.

Vimto & Maine Road (Manchester City’s former home ground) have an unusual connection: Vimto. In 1851, the U.S. state of Maine was the first to outlaw alcoholic beverages. Manchester City Football Club’s then owners named the new ground’s road after this U.S. state. Temperance was quite a popular social campaign, much like Twitter campaigns like Jake Parker’s Inktober. That temperance movement made Vimto popular in the U.K. and gave Vimto a gateway to the world. The Middle East embraced Vimto long before Manchester City were heard of. The Saudi company, Abdulla Aujan & Brothers, had the sole rights in 1920s – and in a place with no letter V in their alphabet. A strong movement of division that brought about togetherness in a way…

Casting aside an ego, or stoning to death a worry, over time, my mind has finally understood that worries help nothing. Yet, I still worry from time to time. On buffering my soul and a kind of system reboot, I synch in time with my interests – and then look at the challenge freshly, dealing with it at a suitable pace. My pace. Not the pace of anyone else. You can only be yourself. With that, you can find yourself. And in Wales, I had the chance at Aberystwyth to discover and uncover myself.

EUROPEAN BENEFITS vs. EUROPEAN

The EU objective one funding was the best thing to happen to Wales. Without those projects being continually supported and the preservation funds for other cultural projects then central UK government will not listen so easily… division is a big problem and a stupid democratic vote, based on lies and bull pooh has done nothing but destabilise the UK – and division is everywhere. The people are too busy to notice the profits made by those who really benefit from this joke of a situation. If people need to campaign and protest against a silly democratic moment, so be it. An ill-informed minority of victorious voters will determine the future of the people? No. Is that remotely fair? No. Is it a fair to cancel Brexit? No. Remember, if you have been mis-sold PPI, you were entitled to claim the money back. So, the chance to force a legal process and decision into being over-turned is also democratic. Good luck with your 14 days money back refunds on trousers at Asda in the future. So many knock-on effects will happen.

Map it out. Our heads endured puzzlement and the pro-Brexit campaigners did not give clear reason to leave. The remain campaign dug a web of truth and lies to battle back. The leavers and the remain side argued until the cows came home. Then, someone bet on this, that and the other, standing to make a lot from the destructive nature of a messy divorce. The media twisted, turned, repeated, replayed and shot out word after word of noise. A campaign of vilifying and anti-heroism ran head on into a white-headed knight with a weaker than broken past record. That’s where we are now. Britain is no longer great. It is heading for isolation and absolute irrelevance as politically respectable nations go.

Isolation is not good for me. I am a loner when I choose to be. I am an outsider in my mind, but part of the team when I am welcomed or when I am welcoming others to the team. I like the natural flip on and out of things that some call being a social butterfly. I share an intimate and open friendship with my best friend Dan. I won’t hold back from telling him anything. With past, present and if-it-happens-it-happens possible future relationships, I hold back. I fear being hurt; I fear giving too much. My past experiences, and I know I have never been perfect – and Lord knows how many mistakes that have been made, have been made, but deep down I have never wanted to hurt anyone. I can be selfish and distant. Concealing my head in the sands, as the world goes by, is proof that I am part Ostrich. If I feel too constricted and less free, I tend to hide away or feel anxious. There is an itch where there should be calm. My eagerness to cycle off forever in the style of Forrest Gump running away, becomes a serious thought. At least I understand me. Well, most of the time.

The human brain is complex. It can handle algorithms, algebra and aardvarks. Confusion can reign supreme over absolutely anything and it can be caused by the weather, girls, boys, life and money – amongst a larger list of factors. There are poems, songs and crossword answers stuck inside our head. We just have to find the time to let it all out. Dripping it out like a slow roasted coffee works for some. Blurting it out like a Slipknot machine gun lyric for others. The same two options may work for one or the other at any given time.

The unfamiliar and strange don’t scare me. I worry more about monotony and uniformity. I don’t want to be a rebel outcast, but I do want to do my own thing. I enjoy being a service and teaching. I enjoy writing, even if it is to no-one in particular. This writing serves me well, it is the warm-up, the cool-down and the practice for work in progress. When work in progress becomes actual work, then I will feel that I have made an actual progress. There is method to my madness. In the meantime, I want to be like those who have left a mark on me. The influences I felt as a child. Mr Jones who encouraged me at primary school in Chapel Street; strict Mr Meheran at Reddish Vale Secondary School; Mr Tony Mack at the same school; the very warm and wonderful Miss Roe, and Mr Kershaw at Chapel Street. I can’t be a lifeboatman or a laser eye surgeon, but I do hope that I can be a good memory.

A good memory of someone can help you spring out of bed in the morning. To take that memory and magnify it, tell it, share it and hope that it will improve someone. If a 16-year old Skye Terrier called Greyfriars Bobby can have his story told for over one a half centuries, there has to be good reason. Warm memories of our grandparents help them to live on through ourselves. As child becomes parent, the parent becomes the grandparent and a cheesy way of saying the circle of life continues. Otherwise, we’d be cold, lost at sea, and trapped in eternal darkness with monsters snapping at the end of our bed, waiting for a foot to lower into their bleak and unwelcoming mouths. Our harmony is in life. Life is wonderful and whilst the meanings may be simple and the answers to our daily grind may seem far away, we are NOT alone.

I like to focus my students upon being honest. I try to stress teamwork and community over finances and ability. We’ll build a city map with castles and dreamscapes, rather than focus on calculus and repetition of words. We’ll build a city map with castles and dreamscapes, rather than focus on calculus and repetition of words. I want the minds that I encounter not to be afraid of introspection and going it alone. Let each student show their talents step by step and here we go. Goodbye dreariness and hello variety. With Tip the Dog’s story in our hearts, we’re ready to jump out of bed tomorrow…

 

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

A letter to Bernard Halford (1941-2019)

Dear Bernard,

Or should I call you Mr Manchester City?

Where are you? Where will you sit now to watch City? Up there on a blue-tinted cloud or somewhere on the moon waving a blue flag ever so proud? Is there less of a queue at half-time for a pint? Who will listen to your stories?

Firstly, I envy your position within the club and I am proud that you were one of our own for so long. You deserved the crown of Life President at City. It was only the second one handed out. Gary Cook back then made a great speech about it all. I read it in the programme and the website. I bet your face was beaming with your familiar smile. You could have retired at that time, but no your cracked on!

The Blue Moon Rising video catapulted you to many who had not seen you in person. A few scenes in dusty relic rooms here and a few words there. Wasn’t much but we all knew who you were. Not quite Carlos Tevez or Adebayor and their riches, but you had something more. A genuine belief in your club – from an early age to an this early exit. For me it feels like a defeat against Halifax Town in the cup. You never were given the rounds of life’s cup competition that you deserved.

I think some will appreciate that you’ve been with us in the dark days and here in the days when polish was on the purchase orders. You’ve had budgets in red numbers and abusive shouts thrown your way. It can’t have been easy. Forgive those who did it.

I enjoyed seeing your lift the 2011 F.A. Cup. You know why? Because, anyone who sticks with us and City that long, deserves golden moments. You did it for us. You came from Chadderton, via Ardwick, and managed nearly 40 years between Moss Side and east Manchester’s Sportcity-Etihad Campus-CFA-Bradford. Okay, you had to work at Oldham first, but that’s not a bad thing, if it got you to your dream club. That boyhood dream to lift a cup was earned.

You’ve served our club so well. I always recall working with Rhun Owens, then secretary of Aberystwyth Town F.C. and getting a good understanding of all his day to day tasks. He worked tirelessly and for little reward. He took great pride and made sure many letter i’s had dots and t’s had the appropriate level of crossing.

Rhun Owens and yourself are alike. Long-serving, passionate and devoted agents to each club that you supported. You’d both visit the youth and reserve teams and carry the flag for the teams. Rhun Owens was often seen as Mr Aberystwyth Town and had a stand named in his honour. I hope that Manchester City find a little piece of home to apply your moniker. An advocate needs to be known. If ever someone gets the chance that you or Rhun has, they must take it and bleed the colours of the clubs that they follow. They, like you and Rhun, will be part of the lucky few. The things you have seen!

Your legacy includes shaping the official supporters’ clubs, the then Junior Blues, and many grassroot football projects regionally. You’re known at the Academy for more than just signing contracts and paperwork. The Football Association answered your calls all too often – as did Club Historian, Gary James, to which you’ve shared unparalleled tales and history. The Hall of Fame at City has your name for a reason.

Eddie Sparrow, who suffered a loss of his own recently, the poor soul, describes up there as ‘the stand with no name‘ – well by giving it that name, it has a name – and I guess now you’ll be there, with Eddie’s Linda. Loss is a terrible thing and I pass on my thoughts to all who lose someone special. My support is with you. Football has lost something today. I only hope that your example has created other ready to give their time and efforts, as you did. First, we’ll mourn and then we’ll celebrate. We’ll look for your familiar face, as always but you’ll be absent, or sat up on that very-very-very-top-tier with the likes of Nigel Carr, the eternal seasoncard holders of Let’s Not Forget Past Blues, some of my late family and many others. Keep cheering for us down here please. We need it.

The word irreplaceable springs to mind. My condolences to your family, loved ones, friends and all those associated with Manchester City. We’ve been lucky to be blessed by your loyalty and in that we have been really lucky to know you.

Yours in football, love and peace,

 

John Acton

Ruptured Earth.

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

Climate change is a phrase we hear all too often, but do we really listen?

“Our planet, the Earth, is, as far as we know, unique in the universe. It contains life.” David Attenborough –The Living Planet (1984)

Sir David Attenborough is the gentle voice of BBC Wildlife’s successful department. Soon he will present what he terms as an urgent documentary. In spring, BBC will air Climate Change – The Facts. Now facts are often questionable and open to interpretation or accusation of being fake news. I vehemently hate that term: fake news. Bullshit is bullshit and fake news is a tosser denying criticism. The world’s population more than doubled since 1950. Prove me otherwise.

“If we [humans] disappeared overnight, the world would probably be better off.” David Attenborough – The Daily Telegraph (12/11/2005)

Sir David Attenborough is 92 years of age. He could retire. He could kick back and count the letters that follow his name (OM CH CVO CBE FRS FLS FZS FSA FRSGS). He could reflect on his two brothers John and Richard, or sit down and listen to his relative Tom in The Tigger Movie. The Attenborough clan permeate the world of stage and theatre. Sir David’s father had once been the principal of the University College, Leicester. It could be said that his family haven’t done bad. They don’t need to work at Primark or Spar to earn a living. Yet no, Sir David, cracks on. He opens debate, he fuels fires which need dousing. The young Sir David would carry his passion to this day for wildlife and nature. However, in recent years he has become a leading voice for global concern. An unqualified expert. The people’s champion for change.

SAM_1903.JPG

“This is the loneliest and coldest place on Earth, the place that is most hostile to life.” David Attenborough – Life in the Freezer (1993)

As a primary school student in the 1980s and warly 1990s, I would always hear about the Greenhouse Effect and Acid Rain. Spray deodorant and cans suddenly became friendlier. Keep Britain Tidy campaigns swept through classrooms and eventually the streets of Manchester. Trees were planted, like what Peter, Dan and I planted with BTCV in Highfield Country Park, Levenshulme. To this day, I take pride in seeing that little difference, everytime I walk there. There was talk of a future with mysterious windpower and cars would all be electricy-powered. As time went on, we’d attend seal clubbing classes, where we learnt that seals had no interest in dance music and nor did we get a technique on how to bash the cute creature’s skulls in, essentially we heard of the horrors people go to to make a jacket and a steak. Almost Everyday Shit™ seemed to be up against things not necessarily in our own paved backywards but effecting man (or woman… or other) around the corner, or further afield. Even as far as Hyde or Belgrade. Suddenly, I found myself in secondary school discussing Not Really Quite Everyday Shit™. Teenage boys had to stop grabbing their flacid cocks and the girls had to stop doing whatever it is that girls do. We were the future generation and hope. It was our responsibility. But, evidentally, we fucked up. Not Really Quite Everyday Shit™ didn’t go away. Now the next generation could be the last generation with a chance to fix it. Sir David Attenborough said so.

IMG_2854.JPG

“Ever since we arrived on this planet as a species, we’ve cut them down, dug them up, burnt them and poisoned them.” Sir David Attenborough – The Private Life of Plants (1995)

On present day Earth, we can probably divide people into three camps. Within those camps, there can be further division. Division is important. Camp one is classed as the deniers. They’re useless as a voice and obstructive. They possibly have vested interests in wealth. Camp two are the changers. They need to be heard. They seek to make a difference. Competively they can make a lot of noise against camp one. Camp three are too busy, simply looking after number one, or their families or feel unable to make a different. Camp two often feel that they are too selfish and ignorant. Camp one enjoys their silence. Camp three probably recycle but couldn’t be depended on to ask for recycling bins to be installed. The camps are unclear and people fluctuate from camp to camp, mostly due to discomfort, lack of clarity and by way of reaction to Almost Everyday Shit™ changing to something outlying and worrying.

“It seems sad that on the one hand such exquisite creatures should live out their lives and exhibit their charms only in these wild inhospitable regions. This consideration must surely tell us that all living things were not made for man, many of them have no relation to him, their happiness and enjoyment’s, their loves and hates, their struggles for existence, their vigorous life and early death, would seem to be immediately related to their own well-being and perpetuation alone.” The Malay Archipelago (1869) – Alfred Russel Wallace

We’re aware of plastic bottles as a problem. Everyone is. The bloody things are everywhere. I am guilty too. Sometimes, they’re unavoidable for hygiene reasons. I try my best to deposit them in recycling bins or places that I know someone will take them for recycling. But what if say Theresa May [Insert Prime Minister here], Donald Trump (unlikely) or Xí Jingping [习近平] banned disposable plastic bottles at source. The factories. That’d be the place. Keep them away from people. Permit reusable, and deposit-based larger bottles that must be returned, cleaned and recycled by any means. Take away anything below a certain capacity. Plastic must exit the ecosystem. It needs us to remove it. There are many ways to do so.

P60227-123059.jpg

“we can ensure that there is still a place on Earth for birds in all their beauty and variety – if we want to … and surely, we should” The Life of Birds (1998) – Sir David Attenborough

History has led us from the past to the present. It was a simple linear transition, unless you are Tom Cruise and his associates. Is Scientology a religion or cult? [Let’s discuss that one day, hopefully without fear of cyber-attack reprisal] Well, we’re here in the Anthropocene. The age of the human. Homo sapiens. Latin meaning wise man. We’re the only living human species. Things change and species often have a limited time on Earth. One thing we know, is that supersizing a meal at the American Embassy isn’t good for us. But, has that prevented overconsumption and stopped deforestation, because we no longer need a bigger paper bag? Have we learnt that overexploitation of lands leads to deserts and not desserts. How much weight does every fish in the sea have compared with that of the plastic in the seas?

“Instead of controlling the environment for the benefit of the population, perhaps it’s time we control the population to allow the survival of the environment.” The Life of Mammals (2002) – Sir David Attenborough

Opinion matters. I’m with Sir David Attenborough. Individual action is not enough, “real success can only come if there’s a change in our societies and our economics and in our politics”. The world’s temperatures (ask the Mongolians) may be soaring, and we are the likely cause. Planes, cow farts and all that are the debated and often argued origin. We need to think of ways to cut this crap down. Get on Three Seconds by National Geographic. A video with a message that we should think about. It has 287,319 views compared to The Crazy Nastyass Honey Badger’s 90 million plus views. The same honey badger, or one of the 12 subspecies, may be of least concern now on the conservation status but few are seen in Guangdong, and this used to be their ‘hood. Or will we all be another fossilised-brick in the wall, soon enough?

sailing Tenerife 2009 (20).JPG

“The fact that they are solar-powered means that their bodies require only 10% of the energy that mammals of a similar size require.” Life in Cold Blood (2008) – Sir David Attenborough

Perceptions of place matter. If a road is dirty, people and especially lesser-educated people will chuck their crap on it. There’s no snoberry in saying lesser-educated people intended. Some people have never had access to education in the ways that I have – and I for one was never going to go to Harvard or Oxford University, unless they needed a cleaner. This is the way of the world: the haves and have-nots. But, if Billy Billionnaire at Taxbucks Willing Avoidance Trade Specialists Ltd wishes to fund a litter awareness and education programme with the money they denied the state(s) that their Monopoly Conglomerate department sublet, then feel free to do so. Ultimately, your man (woman, transgender or other) on the street will be unaware of that plastic bottle’s effect on the river downstream or the air that they burn it into. We are capable of educating each other.

“If we and the rest of the backboned animals were to disappear overnight, the rest of the world would get on pretty well. But if they were to disappear, the land’s ecosystems would collapse.” Life in the Undergrowth (2005) – Sir David Attenborough

Politics is something we’re told to embrace. The complexity of an electorate and their representatives messing up and not knowing where to go, is seen globally. See, Brexit and the Trump administration’s political circus. So, how do we get those in power to focus on saving us as a species and those other species around the world that we could do with saving? As a British person, I know that writing a strongly worded letter to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), down at the U.N. isn’t a bad idea. But, if we all did that, we’d need a lot of recycled paper or energy to power those emails. Would they mark the emails as junk? Possibly. Do they deserve the Nobel Peace Prize for 2007? No. Okay, they did, but having to share it with Al Gore, hasn’t changed much, or anything. The inconvenient truth is that we need mass action on a global scale. We need laws and directives to stop bad things and create things of use. Taking inspiration from conferences and internal flights etc doesn’t help. Bringing a duster and a shovel to an earthquake doesn’t work. We need the masses for the masses. We need actions.

Hamburg July 2008 (119).JPG

“Every one of these global problems, environmental as well as social becomes more difficult – and ultimately impossible – to solve with ever more people.” How Many People Can Live on Planet Earth? (BBC Horizon, 2009) – Sir David Attenborough

Issues will always be a problem. There aren’t rooms for the 14th Dalai Lama to sit in with the Chinese Administration, or Northern Ireland to talk to the Republic sensibly. Turkey and Syria have beef. Israel needs to open up more. The U.S.A. needs to bring home a few fighter planes. The Church of Croydon may have similar problems with death worshipers from Norway. There’s a can of worms out there when two opposition parties have two ideals or beliefs that can’t flex. For us as a planet, we need to shed our differences and share technologies and ideas. Life is finite or infinite in some religions. I ask, does reincarnation, make you less worried or more? If reincarnation were true, there’d be X amount of total individual lifeforms on Earth, continually coming back as X amount of total individual lifeforms. So, in one generation there may be 6 billion people, but many centuries later there may be 6 billion cockroaches because 6 billion people can no longer inhabit the Earth. Does reincarnation stretch beyond Earth too? Does it include every microbateria or virus?

“I never never want to go home; Because I haven’t got one; Anymore” – There Is a Light That Never Goes Out – The Smiths

Proposed adaptations for humanity cling onto some Buddhist thinkings. We must be fully endowed with higher knowledge and ideal conduct. In other words, stay off Twitter. Get over to Bhutan and let’s learn a thing or two. Would controlling our ever-growing population be a good thing? We humans leapt from needing 200,000 years to hit the 2 billion mark as a species, to 200 years nearly touching 7 billion. Surely, that is far from sustainable. The current growth rate of 1.18% per year is expected to drop. Disease, lack of biodiversity, natural resource exhaustion, ecosystem imbalnces, environmental degradation, ocean acidification, global warming, and ecological crisis are terms that we will hear mre often. Overpopulation will test our mettle. Our resolve will lead to conflicts on a more regular basis as we battle the increasing heat and try our best to survive. If we act now, we can reduce that risk.

 

British scholar Thomas Malthus scribbled down in 1798 that we’d exhaust Earth’s resources for food by the mid-19th century. He was wrong. How wrong? Well he could have been out by a few centuries. Since then, expert after expert have delivered messages and issued warnings. Now with meta-analytics, computer models and sound studies based on huge banks of data, we’re creaking on the abyss. The U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organisation carry the Latin, fiat panis (“let there be bread”) but there are more Fiat cars being turned off a production line than strategies to ensure bread can be produced sustainably. They say that in the next 30 years we need to produce 70% more food.

“Sometimes when this place gets kind of empty, Sound of their breath fades with the light. I think about the loveless fascination,” Under The Milky Way – The Church

Catastrophies are in motion. Pollen distribution is changing. Glaciers are receding faster than my hairline. The beetles are dying. Bees, the great pollinator of all life, are declining in numbers. The buzz is lessening. Fish are filled with plastic parts and we eat them. The fish are also ingesting our drugs and decanted chemicals into the sea. We’re making them infertile or causing gender imbalances. Every continent is under ATTACK. Every sea and ocean are under ATTACK. Even red crabs get attacked by crazy yellow ants introduced by us. ATTACK. We stamp and kick every stone on Earth and leave our mark, whether intentional or not. We don’t just leave footprints. ATTACK. We carve great big trenches and leave areas vulnerable to landslides, forest fires and things that stop us rolling out red carpets for fire-haired Nicole Kidman. The news will focus on Miley Cyrus losing her home more than that of a village in Syria. ATTACK. We’ve abandoned humanity and embraced celebrity and we’re too blind. Blind, blind, blind, blind, blind… as Talking Heads would sing. Still, a monsoon that washes a village of indiginious people who don’t buy Apple iphones counts less than someone from Yorkshire having to replace a flooded shed’s lawnmower. ATTACK. Right?

Italia 2007 Trieste (30).JPG

To again quote Sir David Attenborough, “Surely we have a responsibility to leave for future generations a planet that is healthy, inhabitable by all species”. Will there be a generation born now, that when they reach adulthood, will no longer be able to see elephants or tigers in the wild? Why can’t a kid from Guangdong see a Giant Salamander anymore? Where does the boy born in Dongguan go to see a South China Tiger? Why do we have WWF for Nature, EDGE, and why do these kind of things tend to be charity and independently backed? Shouldn’t we learn from Botswana, Norway, Bhutan, Namibia, and Tanzania? Lonely Planet did.

“Trade is a proper and decent relationship, with dignity and respect on both sides.” A Blank on the Map (1971) – Sir David Attenborough

But, why bother? A nuclear blast, an earthquake or a volcano can cause more damage globally than a generation of people. Well, nature is nature. It happens. We’re the benefactors of our destiny, and we’re the keepers of our fate. Why not tidy up where we live? You don’t shit in your own bed, do you? Okay, that has happened to one or two of us and on old age, it may happen – but surely, we never choose to do so. I apologise to any purveyors of scat. Not the jazz singing kind – and not the word meaning go away, or the Indo-Pacific fish, that likely has plastic inside its system, either. Nor is it the Special Combat Assault Team, or the badly named Shrewsbury College of Arts & Technology. Don’t google it. Scatter! Why not?

“To suggest that God specifically created a worm to torture small African children is blasphemy as far as I can see.” Metro interview with Sir David Attenborough (29th Jan 2013)

We have the technology to do something. The wind turbines, the solar panels, the recycling plants, the nuclear fuels to shut down the fossil fuels immediately. We have the education to understand blue carbon, and models to specialise schools into specific fields. Imagine a super city, dedicated totally to environmental protection and species conservation. Every country needs one. Similarly, every country needs to consider that populations matter. If we don’t control ourselves, then nature will. Great extinctions usually work. An ice age here and there or a huge weather change. We can prevent that, if we really want. Or we can believe an all-powerful, all-merciful God created a parasitic worm that will eat through a kid’s eye? Let’s get over our beliefs and start doing something about the things we know about: the world is changing.

Montenegro 2011 (7).JPG

“If we don’t take action, the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.” Sir David Attenborough (Climate Change Conference 2018)

Potential effects, very much like the warnings on a cigarette packet, include death. Actually, mass extinction and human total extinction are feasible. Extinction means forever. No more. Gone. Hatari and their pink elephant from Iceland will be happy suddenly. Human sacrifice, mass hysteria, or dogs and cats may love each other, as predicted in Ghostbusters. I wonder if in our last days of humanity that we become perfectly self-awakened, and say the words, in the style of Hinx (Thespian’s go-to-man Dave Bautista) from Spectre, “Shit!” The last human may send a Whatsapp message to an otherwise empty group – and with that the power of humanity may fade forever. Or we could start recycling, reusing, reducing and the other bits we usually ignore. As Tommy in Snatch said, “Proper fucked?”

Of course, I’m no expert. It could all turn out swimmingly.

Mallorca May 2013 Anniversary (238).JPG

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

Johnny Marr is in Sete.

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

A2809404.JPG

16th February 2019

Boarding the Yeti Airlines flight, under the colours of Tara Airlines, I lifted my feet onto the steps. The DHC-6 Twin Otter at Tenzing–Hillary Airport stared vacantly and without emotion at the asphalt. The 11.7% gradient didn’t faze the lifeless tincan with wings. Nor did the altitude of 2,845m (9,334ft). Many surprised and excited voices could be heard. Some had landed here on the journey. None of my accompanying 11 passengers had made this take-off. The pilots, with their minimum of 100 short-takeoff-and-landing (STOL) had. Thankfully. The excitement of my first flight from here came back. I sat back, looked out the window and enjoyed the moment. In less than the full length of the 527m (1729ft) of runway, it was over too soon. It had begun what seemed like only yesterday.


A2808558.JPG
22nd January 2019

Returning to Kathmandu gave me an oddly warm feel. It was familiar territory and a place that has acted as a gate for many journeys. Early expeditions to map the region started in the 1850s and continued as such until 1953, when a beekeeper called Edmund Hilary arrived with Tenzing Norgay, and around 400 men – including porters, guides and mountaineers. Anyway, here I was, once again, at the brickwork of Tribhuvan International Airport (1,388m/4,390ft) and passing the cremation grounds of the Pashupatinath Temple. The holy (to Buddhists and Hindus) Bagmati river flowed under a severe-angled concrete bridge as the hotel pick-up car drifted over it. Many bodies have had a triple-dip into that river prior to cremation. The chief mourner also takes a quick dip before setting his or her lost relative on fire. Relatives also bathe. If the Bagmati river purifies them the source in the Letter Himalayas must be the reasoning. Somewhere downstream of the source, inside Kathmandu itself is the Tukucha Khola tributary. The sewage levels are unbelievable. The city’s eight rivers are sad sights in many places.

As the Hotel Horizon car rumbled into Thamel, over less-than-smooth tarmac, I noted that the central entertainment and shopping area was now closed to cars other than taxis or those with right of way. A wise move. The streetworks that had been taking place when I left in January 2017 had been completed and smoother tarmac took hold on two or three streets. The rest was a tad muddy. New Road (another shopping district) and a road approaching Thamel looked almost new or refurbished since my last visit. My initial thoughts were surprise and pleasure in seeing Kathmandu’s partial regeneration.

At Hotel Horizon, Deveraj, the manager, that I had met on my last trip and since kept in touch informed me of a possible jeep to Shivalaya village or even as far up the trek as Phaplu. I didn’t fancy going so far up the route. Villages such as Sete and Kinja, not to mention the challenge of Lamjura La (a pass at over 3500m high) were great memories. So, I agreed to a jeep to Shivalaya, missing Jiri out completely. The bus journey last time was uncomfortable and numerous accounts show that some dangerous rides have been had. Part of me didn’t want that. How bad could a jeep journey be?


A2808567
24th January 2019

Departing at 7am, following a day of last-minute provision buying, our car departed. The backseats of the jeep, covered in a carpet, had no seatbelts. The driver was jolly but not a huge conversationalist, however, the journey was pleasant enough. By pleasant, I mean, he steered away from sheer drops and perpendicular plunges. He gave us a break here and there, about 30 minutes in total throughout nine hours of driving. The intense and terrifying journey comes with 100-metre or so vertical gravity-testing points here and declines that I for one decline to experience. Burned out wreckages of buses, cars and flat-packed former vans can be seen like rare leaf-litter. Not rare enough to ignore. Frequent enough to add as landmarks. Without a crowd of people, animals and baggage, the jeep was mildly more comofortable than the bus journey.

At least we weren’t taking our morning exercise running along the dusty Kathmandu smog-filled roads, like many groups of school students and the ever-numerous morning traffic. Over time the Kathmandu valley fell-away and we went up and down the Lower Himalayas on the Tibet-bound highway. The double-laned road occasionally filtered into a narrow single-laned road. Often our pathways went above cloud levels and passed signs of roadway expansions with Nepal advancing new bridges between communities previously cut off. Wide gorges, huge valleys, glacial stonebeds, and tree-lined foothills baked in sunshine could be seenm throughout. Clouds broke away to reveal sunshine and the traffic lessened with every kilometre covered. Soon, the odd bike and very odd car was noticed. In the final few hours as we neared Jiri, new concreted roads, patched in places broke away into muddy tracks and back to smooth concrete lanes. At Jiri we stopped, to check the road to Shivalaya was open. It was – despite very heavy rain the day before.

On arriving at Shivalaya (1770m), sunset was fast approaching. Knuckling down at the Kala Patthar lodge, enjoying the second dal bhat of the journey, the excitement set in. I stood outside for a moment by that first blue bridge of my previous Nepal trek. It felt good to be back. Eating in the lounge, with doors wide open, and cool fresh air drifting in, Maria and I met Srirang and his porter-guide-friend Ishwor. At that time, we didn’t know that we’d share parts of the journey, but here we were, an Indian, a Nepali Sherpa, a Chinese and a Mancunian. Talking with the lodge proprietor Padam Jirel, we were introduced to his son and daughter, their local schoollife and the family home. A warm night’s sleep followed a few chapters of Jonny Marr’s Set the Boy Free.


A2808576.JPG
25th January 2019

In the morning breakfast consisted of chapati, eggs and porridge. Waking up to a misty valley around the quaint village of Shivalaya (27°36’25.7″N 86°17’53.4″E) added extra emotion to the air. The feelings in my mind weren’t far off those that swpt over me in January 2017. Registering for the Gaurishankar Conservation Area & National Park and handing over NPRs, the trek began in Dolakha District, Province Number 3. Longleaf Indian pine trees, rhododendrons, alien-looking Woolly-leaved oak trees and other temperate forest species lined the mountain climbs. Within only a few hundred metres of walking and an elevation gain of not much, a few breathers were needed. The respites were quite often. My knees ached. My feet strained. The pauses and rests weighed on my mind. Had two years aged me so much that I could no loger climb or walk in the Himalayas? I tried to focus on seeing Himalayan Thars, red pandas and part of me would have welcomed a Himalayn black bear. It could have made a comfortable seat with a cuddle.

A2808586.JPG

After a wee while, a brew was needed. At this point, we’d hooked up with Srirang and Ishwor, and as we went to stop, a striding brunette with large eyes strode up, sporting two natural trekking poles of bamboo. Introductions were had, and now Linda (U.S.A.) joined us for a brief while. Soon after meeting Linda, just before Deurali Bazar (2800m), we met Livia (carrying a house or two worth of weight on her back) and at this snow-threatened top we ate lunch. The snow-dusted rooftops of a dozen closed buildings faced a lovely modern and bright façade on the chosen lodge for lunch. The cat and dog in a state of stalemate over territory and positioning were both equally cute. Srirang gave both some noodles. The lunch hour was a more than welcome hiatus. That reduced the amount of meowing and sniffing for food greatly. On full bellies, we headed downwards towards the village of Bhandar (2100m) under the cover of thick heavy grey clouds.

#1: SHIVALAYA 0830 – BHANDAR 1730: ~12km.

In the evening, at my second stay in Shobha Lodge, the great owner and her family cooked us a delicious dal bhat (#3 of the journey) and Maria roasted some small potatoes on a fire outside. A jolly evening was had and lots of conversation with Linda, Livia and Srirang revealed their reasons for hiking this trail. I stood looking at the buildings around this lodge. Two years ago, most were serious ruins. Now many appeared rejuvenated. Against one such building a red rose stood in shadows against a dark wintry sky.


A2808602.JPG
26th January 2019

The next morning gave bright light and some showered upon footing, but the weather wasn’t bad all day. We set out as a band of six, downwards with the destination aim being Sete. After crossing a delightful vale with a wooden bridge, here the old pathway faded and became swept over or completely consumed by a new carved out road, unpaved and muddy as hell. Every now and then you’d resume the old pathways, but quite often the new road zigzagged the old meandering ways. Soon after passing a small waterfall, I slipped on loose earth where the old met the new path. The devris flung over rocks and coating the unclar pathway made me twist my left knee, striking it on a rock and bending my leg in a way that my right hamstring brought my other leg under my back and bag. I tentatively stood up. I suspected in that moment that the rambling was over. After the shock, I carried on, carefully and slowly. Warning taken. As the path neared Kinja, it broke into a fork. The right fork headed to the muddy and dusty new road. The left fork appeared a tad overgrown. Linda, Maria and I carried on left. After 400 metres, the path disappeared. A chasm with the new road was presented before us. In the end we doubled back and scrambled down the right fork onto the road but the latter section was pretty messy and difficult to get over.

 

The walk into Kinja, was terrible compared with the route two years ago. The road has dismembered too many houses, farms and forested areas. A new hydro-electric plant in a mine has added to the dichotomised region. Many of the crumbling earthquake buildings have vanished. The two new bridges are seldom used. The old wooden bridge is sealed off. The new road dam-cum-bridge allows easy footing into Kinja but feels like a building site. Work in progress may mean new logistical advantages and easier access but it will probably deter hikers. It was now 1300hrs, so at Kinja we stopped for lunch over an hour’s break. The Riverside guest house and restaurant had a sky blue and white sign. What’s not to like about Manchester City colours? Oh, and it had a western toilet, of sorts. It was a ceramic squat hole.

With lunch in our bellies, the climb up from Kinja (1630m) was long and hard but easier than the previous day. The aches of yesterday faded and early conditioning of muscles was felt. Rays of sunshine, refurbished ruins and new settlements lined the upward pathway. The rise steadied and fields of green, shaped like steps leapt out from the hillsides. If enough coins could be found, it’d resemble a penny-arcade machine of the greatest scale. As light faded, we arrived in Sete. Dal Bhat (#4) was served. The Sunrise Lodge was once again my place to stay, in the Sete (2900m).

BHANDAR 0930 – SETE 1800: ~15km.

In the village of Sete, I left my Johnny Marr autobiography copy. I Set the Boy Free. So, if you haead to the Sunrise lodge, expect to find the illuminous green cover. And like me, you’ll find it hard to put it down. The former Talking Heads, Black Grape, Kirsty MacColl, Brian Ferry and Billy Bragg collaborator worked with Pet Shop Boys, Beck, Modest Mouse, andmovir composer Hans Zimmer. Not bad for a Mancunian born and raised in the supposed rougher parts of our fair city. Actually, the boy did good, working with Hulme-born Billy Duffy, having a great connection to Portland throughout his expansive and colourful music life – and being not far from where we both witnessed City’s 3-2 win over QPR on that day. Playland is one of my favourite albums ever. The marathon man was also in a lesser-known band called The Smiths. Anyway, just beyond the multi-layered poster on the wall, featuring Barmouth Bridge, that’s where Johnny’s book is.

 

To be continued…

 


 

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