XinJiang: Itinerary

你好 / nǐ hǎo / How do, here we go again…

“Hey, are you coming to Ürümqi with me?”, an Aussie called Oliver clamoured. By clamoured, I mean kind of yelled, bawled, wailed or yawped but not in a negative kind of way. You see, Oliver is one of those nice Australian folk who happen to be part human, part megaphone. I don’t think I have heard him whisper. Not once. It may be the only way to get heard over his 21 grade 5 students. I’m not sure. But, anyway, he definitely said it in a voice where people in the far of Dongguan could have heard, or perhaps even the people of Ürümqi heard a little.

We were sat eating ‘shāokǎo (燒烤)‘ and not because barbecue is an Australian’s go-to meal. We’re not reinforcing stereotypes here! It was Friday evening, after school. Laura’s fella was having his birthday and it felt like a good thing to do. A mixture of Chinese, Spanish, French, Moroccan and Venezuelan, American, Australian and British people outside a Xinjiang-family’s restaurant eating great lamb, livery bits and other wonderful breads on a Friday after a long hot week seemed like a good idea. The Wusu beer and Nángbĭng (新疆烤馕 flat bread) went down a treat, following spicy peppers, mushrooms and okra. the chäyza (茄子, qiézi) was a little spicy but pealed away on my chopsticks delightfully. With Oliver’s words in my ears, I told him how I planned to go see my mate Waits up in Gansu province, but it would be a little rushed and not easy to get there and back again.

Having tried to order a rice dish polu (抓飯, zhuāfàn) containing raisins and carrots, I gnawed on meaty lamb skewers (新疆羊肉串) covered in red pepper flakes, cumin seeds and various peppers. The salty taste complimented the juicy flesh well.Oliver growled on, “Come see the Jiaohe ruins, mate.” The Jiāohé Gùchéng (交河故城) ruins have been on my radar for some time.The word mate has been echoing since the day I met Oliver in August, “Would you like an orange juice, mate?” He swiftly blended an orange or two with ice and has been ever-present at school in positive form.And now, after a recent December wander in Yunnan, he’s telling me Piotr and I are being called upon. He’s putting the band back together.

Elwood: “It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark… and we’re wearing sunglasses.” Jake: “Hit it.” – The Blues Brothers starring John Belushi & Dan Ackroyd

Flights were booked hastily and probably without due diligence. Hand me the international baccalaureate risk-taker profile certificate please, Now, it’s time to book a swab test for the old COVID-19 proof that freedom of travel is okay. Then, there’s the weather. It could be a sandstorm, blizzard, snow, or sunny. Depends on the zone. And because China has one timezone, sun rises later and earlier than here in Dongguan. Next Sunday, sun rises around 07:46hrs over Ürümqi and sets at 20:39hrs. More than an hour later in difference than here in Dongguan! So, I am sat here with about a week to go making a loose itinerary. One that sadly won’t take in the songs of Dilraba Dilmurat. All this information research has happened inside a day. Pages 502-515 of the DK Eyewitness Travel China edition have been read. All this because of Oliver! Not Lionel Bart’s Oliver! Our very own colleague, Áleifr (the name meaning ancestor’s descendent) has set about a trip to a region of Uyghurs 维吾尔/Wéiwú’ěr) people one of China’s 55 officially recognized ethnic minorities. The region itself is a hotbed of multiculturalism and history.

On arriving, as I land in Ürümqi a day before Oliver, because I believe in maximum holiday time, the Xinjiang Silk Road Museum (新疆丝绸之路博物馆) next to the Grand Bazaar at No. 160 Shengli Road should be visited. Here I hope to find more information before Oliver lands on the Sunday, and hopefully catch Piotr up, who will already be there. The lay of the land and a good map may be helpful. My friend Ty, of Murray’s FC. has already said he will put us in contact with a driver and a guide from his home town area. Maybe I’ll look up sand therapy. Sadly, far east of there is Hāmì (哈密), famous for sweet melons of the same name, although the area and its fascinating ‘Devil City’ moniker intrigues. As does the ‘Ghost City‘ around Karamay and Wuerhe.

Nature needs to be seen and the receding faster than my hairline Urumqi No. 1 Glacier (乌鲁木齐1号冰川; wū lǔ mù qí 1 hào bīng chuān) seems to be a good start. Half of China’s 20,000 glaciers are all located in Xinjiang, and its proximity to the peak of Kyrgyzstan-Chinese Jengish Chokusu (托木尔峰) makes sense. That towering peak (7,439 m/24,406 ft) forms the roof of the poetically-named Mountains of Heaven (Tiān Shān 天山) mountain range heavily influences the geology and geography of the whole region. They’re part of the Himalayan orogenic belt so there’s certainly diverse terrain near to Ürümqi. Time spent in one of the world’s most remote and distal (to any seas) shall be a new experience.

At 6000-year old Turpan (tǔlǔfān/吐鲁番), there’s Huǒyàn (火州 place as hot as fire), the Flaming Mountain (火焰山 Huǒyànshān) to the north, an irrigation exploration at Kariz (meaning well) Well (吐魯番坎儿井乐园) and the Sugong Minaret(苏公塔) to the east. The Bezeklik Grottoes could be possible. Then there’s the Apandi people and their Grape Valley (葡萄沟), the Bezeklik Grottoes (Bózīkèlǐ Qiānfódòng 柏孜克里千佛洞), Gāochāng Ancient City (高昌古城), and the Astana cemetry (阿斯塔那古墓 Āsītǎnà Gǔmù). There’s certainly the oasis-village Turoq valley (吐峪沟 tǔyùgōu) 70km away. Travel around the region may be difficult but the lure of rail travel hold strong. Two railway lines pass through the region: 南疆铁路; Nánjiāng tiělù; and one from Lanzhou (兰新铁路第二双线). Seems Turpan will need a few days. And that’s before finding information on Biratar Bulak. I hear this region is often nicknamed as China’s Death Valley. Earth’s second-lowest depression is an incredible 155 metres (509 feet) below sea level! The world’s largest Naan stove sounds more at home in the U.S.A. but can be found at Darwaz. I’ll try and convince Oliver and Piotr to go.

The journey to the west will hopefully meet with less difficulty than the Monkey King met. In Journey to the West, by Ming dynasty writer, Wu Cheng’en, the protagonist met a wall of flames, which was likely at Xinjiang’s Flaming Mountain. Uighur (the people of the region) legend has it that a dragon lived in the Tianshan mountains (south of Ürümqi) but was slew by a hero who had grown annoyed at the dragon’s diets of children. That spawned the dragon blood to form a scarlet clot: eight valleys of the Flaming Mountain. One for each piece of the chopped dragon.

I told Waits that I’d go to Gansu in summer (because the UK is not a viable option) and from there I’d probably head to Xi’an to see the Terracotta Warriors. The armies of Qin Shi Huang really should be marketed to the basketball crowd here. I’d buy a basketball shirt with Terracotta Warriors Basketball Club on it. Maybe I should suggest to T.W.I.S. that Terracotta Warriors International Society would make a good history club. Or perhaps, in summer, I will enjoy the humidity and heat of Dongguan. Nothing is certain, but optimism and positivity being made by our souls. Scatter!

To quote Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, “That’s all folks!” That reminds me, I have still never watched Space Jam, and I heard there is a sequel this year!

yǒu kōng zài jù / 有空再聚 / See you soon


Some possible places to stay include the below, just in case somebody needs to see where we can stay. Or not. It seems camping is ill-advised.

Hotels in Urumqi
Bestay Hotel Express Urumqi Hongshan:No.49 Yangzijiang Road, Shayibake District, Urumqi
Bayinhe Hotel Zhongshan:No.71 Wenhua Road, Tianshan District, Urumqi
Sheraton Urumqi Hotel:No.669 Youhao North Road, Sayibake District, Urumqi
Bogeda Hotel: 253 Guangming Road (光明路253号), Urumqi Tel: 0991-8863910
Xinjiang Metian International Youth Hostel: 726 Youhao South Road (友好路726号), Urumqi Tel: 0991-4591488
Pea Fowl Mansions: 489 Youhao South Road (友好南路489), Urumqi Tel: 0991-4522988
Yema International Business Clubhouse: 158 Kunming Road (昆明路158),Urumqi Tel:0991-7688888
Suba Hotel: 140 Gongyuan North Street (公园北街), Urumqi Tel: 0991-5590666
Siver Birches International Youth Hostel: 186 South Lake Road (南湖路), Urumqi Tel: 0991-4811428

Hotels in Turpan
Huozhou Hotel:Shuiyun Square, Donghuan Road, Turpan
Silk Road Lodges – The Vines:Muna’er Road, Muna’er Village, Turpan
Tuha Petroleum Hotel:No.230 Wenhua Road, Turpan
Jiaotong Hotel: 125 Laocheng Road (老城路), Turpan Tel: 0995-8531320
Turpan Hotel: Qingnian South Road, Turpan Tel: 0995-8568888
Xizhou Grand Hotel: 882 Qingnian South Road, Turpan Tel: 0995-8554000
Dongfang Hotel: 324 Laocheng Road, Turpan Tel: 0995-6268228

© Google Earth

To Dad.

How do,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you kindly for your time.

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

 

Definitely Maybe Almighty

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

Chinese New Year had reached Manchester and the great city delivered a colourful display of culture. It has done so for many a year and shall forever more do so. This year a giant dragon filled St Ann’s Square and activities spread over the city. The Almighty Sometimes provided an afternoon’s entertainment. The Royal Exchange Theatre have always been a bold and open-minded kind of theatre. They are open to all and test waters that others wouldn’t even think about it.


The Almighty Sometimes, as penned by Kendall Feaver, had been converted from though to words to a stageplay excellently. Katy Rudd, as director, and her team dropped a monster of a show into the arms of the watching. Tackling both language and the use of medication to chemically castrate those who battle their imaginations and thoughts, this production had sharp-edged teeth. Norah Lopez Holden is a beautiful actress, and her character Anna has a mind more wide and dreamy than most. The actress sucks you into her head and the character is someone you attach to, instantly. A Mancunian spin and by local actress Julie Hesmondhalgh (who you soon forget as playing Hayley from Coronation Street) and Mike Noble’s nasal tones as Oliver support a cast with actress Sharon Duncan-Brewster portraying Vivienne – the child psychiatrist.

Lucy Carter’s lighting, the simple set design by Rosanna Vise and striking sounds by Giles Thomas enhance Vicki Manderson’s movement directions. The dialogue, much as the original script, is gripping. It plucks strings on the heart if the banjo and jabs away drumbeats using smashing drumstick movements. Every ounce of sweat was bled dry from the cloth of the ensemble and towards the interval I felt tears run. They ran again, at least twice. The labelled main character Anna draws you in and tortures you in a way as bipolar as beauty and the beast could only be. It hurts. It makes you love. It kicks out. It embraces you. Such torture and cuh pleasure. I f**king hate this show. I love it equally. Ever imagined being someone desperate for independence? And I mean painfully desperate. The spot by wit’s end identified as critical and inconsolable. That bursting recklessly easger point of extreme anxiety? Anna will take you there. Not only that but the complexities of mother, friends and lovers – even the so-called experts of mental health will all be sliced apart and left to questions. There is a spectrum that is so diverse – so broad – it will leave you without words, and just raw emotions. It will not leave you cold. Julie Hesmondhalgh has leapt from Accrington to the electronic screens, but on stage she is hypnotizingly charismatic and soon has you forgetting the New Order t-shirt. Her young daughter on stage, Norah Lopez Holden, is eloquent, powerful and engaging. She radiates passion in every line and action. Her Hispanic looks, with a Mancunian twang fade away as each line jabs out like a boxer’s right hook. She is exactly the reason I never attempted drama at secondary school, because I could never do what she does. Living overseas, in a reasonably western-free area, means I may not see another theatre production, of that calibre, in a while but I am more than inspired to hunt them down on that showing. Thank you for such a distressing yet astonishing experience. It was part-ballet, part walking on broken glass. It was close to home. Very.


The train from Manchester Airport to Barrow-on-Furness was cancelled. Instead it would head off from Manchester Piccadilly. This being an annoyance, an alternative route with delays was found, via Carlisle, instead of via Barrow-on-Furness. After a long while of scenery out of the window, the fourth train of the day rolled into Parton, a village north of Whitehaven. Here I’d catch up with Dan, Vanessa, Alex and Damian.

Catching up Dan, Vanessa, Damian and Alex proved to be a great experience. Between walking the four-year old twins to school, talking, playing and polishing off some rum, exploration of the local area was also called for. The Lake District Coast Aquarium in Maryport offers crazy golf, engaging talks, a variety of British marine tanks, a working conservation lobster hatchery and staff that know their marine biology. The layout is good for a few hours sandwiched around a walk alongside the historic Marport marina, harbour and promenade. This was certainly a place for families to visit! The centre has a café and there are numerous pub grub options in a short walking distance. A walk around Ennerdale Water, far off from Bassenthwaite Lake (the only actual lake in the Lake District) and wanderings around Whitehaven town centre also allowed for relaxation – although climbing mountains in high heels isn’t normally fun.


Abbot’s Hall Hotel is a Christian Guild property. The décor is dated yet classic and relaxing. The furniture and fittings follow a similar mould. The grounds are pleasant and it hosts a wonderful indoor heated pool. The café and restaurant are ample with nearby restaurants in Grange-over-Sands. Kents Bank train station is outside the gate, less than two minutes stride away. Beyond the treelines and up a windy road Kents Tower can be reached, offering wonderful views of Morecambe Bay and the Lake District’s southern mountain range. One night here was not enough. However, it proved a pleasant contrast from a trip to London the next day.


That London was the next stop on the tour of England. A quicker than expected passage across the famous London Underground gave an arrival at Broughton. Crossing just three streets and walking a few hundred yards allowed for safe arrival at Zoly Apartment (23 Tabard Street), as found on Booking.com. London awaited. The simple apartment needed an electronic code for the front door and a different one for the room. The facilities were modern and included an electronic tablet notepad filled with lots of useful bits and bobs. A kitchen and a good bathroom made for probably my favourite place that I have stayed in London, ever, apart from Paul Thomas’ place after an ill-fated journey from Norwich to Manchester, via That London.

Dinner at Nando’s on the banks of the River Thames, gave wonderful archway views from Southwark looking northwards. Underneath Blackfriars Road bridge, tucking into spicy chicken wings, wedges and a host of sides made for a comforting dinner, two nights out of three spent in That London. The Clink Street location is close to the historic Golden Hinde, London Dungeons and many other attractions. The location really is something.

Royal Observatory Greenwich followed by dinner at Nando’s and a speedy passage to Piccadilly Circus to enjoy The Comedy About A Bank Robbery. Firstly, the Criterion Theatre is a gem, sank beneath the streets of the City of Westminster. On entering from Piccadilly Circus, you grab your tickets at a quaint ticket booth before tip-toeing downstairs beyond the top tiers of the theatre seating, and then into the lower circle. Beneath are the stalls and the stage. The horseshoe-shaped theatre seats a little shy of 500 spectators. It opened in March 1874 as a concert hall and soon was converted to a theatre. Long gone are the dangerous gaslights and in their place is a modern interior with occasional hints at the venue’s first usages. Names of composers line the walls on the staircasing. Henry J. Byron, W.S. Gilbert, and other such playwrights who commanded the use of an initial letter have perfomed at this charming venue. In World War II, it was even a BBC safe and recording studio! Secondly, the production of The Comedy About A Bank Robbery is an absolute delight. Packed full of wit, charm, comedy – and a rich dialogue with fine vocals and production of the highest calibre. The Mischief Theatre have won awards – and toured the world for good reason. They are.

The final day or so in Manchester involved shopping, a birthday lunch for Dad and packing a stupendous amount of luggage (mostly gifts).


WRITE HERE, WRITE NOW.

More than 250,000 blogged words later… [208 Wix Posts + 77 WordPress posts = 285 posts]


 

再见/ Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Ta’ra / Goodbye

 

Under the fragrant bait you will find a hooked fish. Gǔlái fāng ěr xià, shéi néng bù tūn gōu?

Dance beneath the stars

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

A month or so ago, it was a case of one more sleep. One last head on the pillow and then it was up, up and away. Not like Superman, sadly. More a case of Turkish Airlines doing their remit. The delightful cultural exchange began in Changping, taking a taxi service to Hong Kong International Airport, then checking in before the mandatory waiting time of too long. At impatience o’clock, my flight began to taxy onto a slab of concrete far longer than my tolerance of a Star Trek DVD collection. Whatever the piloting term of putting your foot down is, thankfully the pilot knew of this. There was no room for winging it. Wings were needed for certain. I didn’t want Captain Miracle’s qualifications to have been the winner of Turkey’s Got Talent/Airplane Idol. I’d rather have taken a bus back to the U.K. All my bags were packed, and I was ready to go. I was leaving on a jetplane afterall. Carrying things in your pocket or giant cardboard boxes isn’t such a grand idea. Anyway, the flights back via Istanbul were most pleasant.

 

Anyway, here I am back in Dongguan, a whole 4 years after arriving here for the first time. And jet lag is making the whole return feel just as dizzy as day one of landing in Guangzhou. After departing a snow delay-hit Manchester International Airport, with several hours sat on a plane that wasn’t moving, the pilots lifted the Airbus A321 (32B) Transcon off the U.K.’s frozen terra firma. Around 4 hours later it touched down in Istanbul, before a sprint was needed to make the Hong Kong flight. I’m fairly certain that I left rubbery streaks from my shoes in Ataturk Airport. An uncomfortable 9 hours or so followed, not because of the airline or the seats, or the flight. Just me and my inability to sleep inflight. Alone in Berlin, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Renegades and On Wings of Eagles [终极胜利] (about runner turned Christian Minister Eric Liddell – the “Flying Scotsman”).

 

Eric Liddell [埃里克·利德尔] was born in Tiānjīn天津市 but raced for Great Britain and Scotland – as well as playing rugby union on the international team. He died at Wéixiàn Internment Camp [潍县集中营]. The movie is a tad flat, however, the story is fascinating and the history portayed is riveting. It is certainly one to look out for, and now I must seek John W. Keddie’s book, Running the Race – Eric Liddell, Olympic Champion and Missionary. Sadly, the movie was my final piece of time spent on holiday as the wheels lowered from the Boeing 777-300ER jet. I’d enjoyed the 28th of January to the 28th of February on British soil.


It all started with the British Track Cycling Championships final round on my arrival day. I caught up with my sister Christina and her nephew, then watched City beat Cardiff City in the FA Cup from the comfort of a sofa. Sleep followed not long after.

 

To start February off, I met up with my best friend Dan, on a train bound for Glasgow. After smooth talking the staff at the £30 a night EasyHotel, we had ourselves two single beds and not the accidentally booked double bed. A few ales, some scran and a wander around Glasgow followed before we arrived at the Old Fruitmarket. Here the band, Levellers did an acoustic gig. The Levellers setlist featured old, new and new versions of old songs:

The Levellers are a band I like very much. They are not Coldplay. They are properly political. They are as Mark Thomas (Comedian) is to Lee Evans. The marmite of their industry. The next morning Dan had to pop back for work early. I took in a self-guided walking tour of Glasgow’s Cathedral, Necropolis and the city centre before heading back to Manchester.


Meeting Astrid, Mum, and Paul, we all tottled off to see an exhibition called Robots at the Museum of Science & Industry, Manchester. It was a fantastic display but quite limited in size. Seeing Maria from the 1927 movie Metropolis amongst other movie stars and scientific advancements. The Great Western Warehouse first floor space features animatronic babies and useful limbs for those who have lost them or never had them. There is a real insight into the possible and plausible future of society.


Having missed the 0933 train from Manchester to down south by 2 minutes, I had to re-purchase new tickets and board the 1033 down that way. The train operators having zero sympathy for a connecting tram service delay. I guess in future, I must allow extra time for such trivial problems.

After pizza, on meeting Asa and Steph, we wandered around Gloucester Cathedral taking in the filming locations of three Harry Potter films and a memorial to World War One and Severn river poet Ivor Gurney. Edward II and other royal kings are buried there, but Albert Mansbridge is more important I feel. He pioneered adult eduction in Britain. Amongst the carvings and glassworks is an image of a game likened to be football, dated 1350.

Woodchester Park surrounds an unfinished mansion house, dating from 1845. After pulling up in an icy car park, a walk down a trail to the incomplete manor followed. Passing great trees and sweeping fields the view opened-up to a magnificent gargoyle-topped two Victorian Gothic house. A gentle stroll and a cute puppy whilst admiring the bat boxes and conservation efforts surrounding the house, made for a good wander. Next up and kind of just down the road was Newark Park, managed by the National Trust. It holds Newark House. The 750-acre estate has stunning views of the nearby Mendips and Cotswolds. Here you can hold a piece of mammoth tusk, view the WWI exhibition and history of the house. A good coffee outside and beautiful gardens are more than capable of captivating your attention.


Clifton Suspension Bridge has always been somewhere I have dreamed of seeing up close and personal. It didn’t disappoint. Clifton Observatory, on Clifton Down once was a windmill for corn, then snuff. Now it hosts a great camera onscure, one of a handful open to the public around the U.K. I’ve already seen the Aberystwyth Camera Obscura. The staff there that day advised the light level was low and the camera obscura would be obscure, at best. Payment was advised just for the cave, so we saved a few pennies and slipped on down through very tight passages to a concealed cave looking out onto the Avon Gorge, with the Clifton Suspension Bridge. Later crossing the bridge was pleasing and touring the small, yet well-thought out museum added to the joys of seeing somewhere new and all the history that surrounds it. The link to Egypt and the delayed and redesigned projects, before it opened in 1864 and a lengthy history featuring the last flight of BAE Systems’ Concorde. Nando’s the first of four U.K. visits followed. The spice is right?

SUSPENSA VIX VIA FIT

(The road becomes barely suspended)

On the 14th of February, from Cam and Dursley train station, the train hurtled north and east a little, towards Nottingham. Outside driving sleety showers filled the grey skies. Happy Valentine’s Day indeed. On arrival Aunty Carolyn and Phil were waiting. Next was a relaxed evening with enough Cottage Pie to sink a ship and a catch up. Also, seeing my cousin Gary wasn’t a bad surprise. The following day involved a short bus trip to Wollaton Hall (it doubled as Wayne Manor in the The Dark Knight Rises). Gotham village is around five miles south of the park and hall. Soon after touring the wintery deer park and café, a jaunt to Nottingham Castle (some of which has stood since 1067AD, under William the Conqueror) and Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem claiming to have opened in 1189AD. City of Caves added to the itenary but was quite disappointing. The sandstone conurbation of cellars features an Anderson shelter, a few tales and the odd pub cellar. The medieval tannery amongst the pillar cave and Drury Hill slums and a few brief points and Luddite connections, with the questionable origin of the phrase, ‘the penny dropped’. The outbound journey from Nottingham to Manchester on the 16th, involved no changes, only a flowing land of hills, greenery and eventually the arrival of the city of Manchester on the edge of the Cheshire Plain.

再见/ Zài jiàn / Bài bài / Ta’ra / Goodbye