Civic Duty

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

“It is your civic duty, so you avoid unknowingly spreading the virus and you help to break the chain of transmission.” – Matt Hancock, Health Secretary, BBC News.

Boris Johnson has urged you to move on. In a rare boiling of the blood, Boris told his peers to “move on” five times. In fact, it almost mirrored Kasabian’s Fire track, ‘move on, you got to move on. You got to get to the hip, get your shake on (I’m on fire)’. How dare his peers and opposition party politicians stoke the fire of a political ding-dong-the-witch-is-dead. It seems to be a running problem, that when the elitist leaders and their aides do something, others should do something else. You’re in this together, right? Not us. Not everyone. Not everybody. Them and us?

“Stop indulging in irrelevant debates about sharing the pie between manufacturing and services, the north and the south, women and men” – Dominic Raab et al, Britannia Unchained

Well, what better way to idle away time than watch a good cop show? Between writing, reading books and teaching, I did however find an electronic copy of the book Britannia Unchained:Global Lessons for Growth and Prosperity and sped through the material with consummate ease. Authored by Priti Patel, Elizabeth Truss, Dominic Raab, Kwasi Kwarteng, and Chris Skidmore in 2012, it is a treatise (a long essay) on politics and business. It argues that Great Britain should take more risk and engage a radical approach in economics and business. Its writers are all elitist Thatcherite-leaning Free Enterprise Group members and it shows across the 152 pages of content. They’re all part of Boris Johnson’s inner sanctum and the cabinet in some shape or form now. It advises that Great Britain should slacken employment laws and abandon fairness for the worker, in favour of global profits.  

“The British are among the worst idlers in the world. We work among the lowest hours, we retire early and our productivity is poor.” – Dominic Raab et al, Britannia Unchained

The book Britannia Unchainedargues that 85% of Japanese kids learn A-level standard mathematics to just 15% in the U.K. It fails to indicate how few students study these subjects and go on to work in a relevant area. It snubs any notion that arts and creativity are good for community and transferable skills. It doesn’t mention the outcome of Japan’s 15% of mathematical unqualified. It takes joy at the U.S.A.’s risk-taking but barely mentions the outcomes of flops and failures and the social or economic gambles gone wrong.

Arguably, as noted by General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress Brendan Barber, there aren’t enough jobs knocking around and slackness may be a result of not being motivated to go pick lettuce in a slurry field on a wealthy conglomerate’s estate in Surrey. Not everyone needs to have the motivations or grafting spirits of Asia, but it does seem those who haven’t are being pushed to do so by those who have. Easily done when all is on a plate. What I love about British culture most, is when someone from a working class background steps up and becomes the hero of their people – the boy or girl who did good. The Billy Connolly or Danny Boyle types who defy, are few and far between. The rest of us scrap out for what’s left. The book proved who to watch and highlighted a class divide. It rang alarm bells at the time and now all the writers are in top government positions. The New Statesmen wrote of them, “They have joined the political version of celebrity culture – the same culture that they argue, to some extent compellingly, makes Britons believe they can get on without doing any hard work.”

“I didn’t float up the Lagan in a bubble” – character Ted Hastings, Line of Duty

That’s Line of Duty done with. I really enjoyed series 1-3, but the 4th season was much of the same. The fifth was strong and rightfully so has claimed good plaudits but the flow was a little slower. I understand that original director and writer Jed Mercurio announced two more series will follow. It is gripping and engaging as thrillers go, but surely co much corruption in the fictious Central Constabulary and East Midlands Constabulary must have been found by now. Oh, wait, maybe it is like real lifeTM. The latter four series were filmed in Northern Ireland by the BBC. The range of accents throughout all five series creates an almost perfect fictional city. It is so generic that you forget where you are. All the series feature big gun screen stars such as Keeley Hawes (Spooks, Ashes to Ashes), Thandie Newton OBE (Crash, Westworld), Kirkby-born Stephen Graham (Snatch, Boardwalk Empire’s Al Capone), and Nottingham’s Lennie James (The Walking Dead, ShakespeaRe-Told). Stephen Graham joined main star Vicky McClure in the movie This Is England and its spinoff TV series. It took me a awhile to realise that Nottingham-born McClure was Frances Lorraine “Lol” Jenkins from This is England. They’ve also starred in BBC’s The Secret Agent together too. There’s a tram named after her in Nottingham – one in which she was asked to leave for not paying her fare. Detective Inspector Kate Fleming and former footballer (Greenock Morton) Martin Compston’s Anti-Corruption Unit Detective Sergeant Steve Arnott with Superintendent Ted Hastings played by Adrian Dunbar make for a thrilling series, way better than the movie of the same name.

“Some little girls grow up wanting ponies. I always wanted to be a widow.” – character Alice Morgan, Luther.

Jed Mercurio was responsible for a TV series with Noddy Holder from 1997 to 2001 called The Grimleys. That was comedy gold-dust, set in and around Dudley, with some wonderful cameos throughout. He also created and wrote the thriller Bodyguard with Richard Madden and Keeley Hawes. His creation Line of Duty has fast become a favourite. It doesn’t hold back and a few surprise turns have kept countless viewers on their seat-edges. Each finale always seems to leave the viewer wanting more That’s what you want, especially from a cop show. I’d rank it #6 in my top thirteen cop shows. My choice for #13 is Inspector Morse. I’ve never disliked Inspector Morse and I can’t say it was amazing but it was always gritty (despite my lack of bias towards John Thaw being a Gorton-born Manchester City fan) and I think Jimmy McGovern’s Cracker (Robbie Coltrane) is much more than a cop show and deserves to be remembered for being very complex and about psychological motivations – plus it is Mancunian, so that’s why it is my #10 choice. David Jason’s A Touch of Frost just makes the #12 slot.

“I drink too much, I smoke too much, I gamble too much. I am too much.” – character Dr Edward ‘Fitz’ Fitzgerald, Cracker.

#11 Rebus (penned by Ian Rankin), #9  Life on Mars (nostalgic 70s drama), #8 The Shield (with rogue bald bad cop Vic Mackey), #7 The Wire (set in Baltimore), #5 Denmark’s The Killing, #4 Helen Mirren in Prime Suspect, #3 The Bridge (Nordic noir), and #2 Neil Cross’s Luther (Idris Elba) are all great cop shows. #1 But for me the king of all has to be Homicide: Life on the Street (Baltimore’s finest foray into the criminal world on a TV set). I would rate them all highly and recommend them even more so. If you have some COVID-19 lockdown time spare or wish to stay clear until a vaccination is found, then bang on a blues and twos box set.

Maybe by the time I have reviewed my top 13 cop TV shows, I will stumble on the reason Boris Johnson’s aide committed murder in Durham…

Title image: https://b3ta.com/users/profile.php?id=80591

Vivid moments on the Earth’s crust.

好 (nĭ hăo) / Namaste / Welcome!


Eddie, Eddie give us a wave!

Rest in peace Eddie Large. The comedian born in Scotland came to Manchester as a kid and adopted City. Well City adopted him as a mascot later on in the years and one thing about him and Syd Little, they really were a sweet comedy pair. On his heart problem: “He said, “What stresses you out?”, I said, “football”, he said, “What team do you support?”, I said, “Manchester City”. He said, “That’s it.”” Later he ends the brief video story as, “I don’t blame it on City, but he did.” Rest in peace big man – and condolences to your family. The likes of Matt Lucas saying that Eddie Large offered him support when he started out says a lot. Eddie Large has a large legacy.


Words and actions are being thrown around in these tough times. I love reading and can’t focus because the information that is out there is too much. There’s great and good. There’s sad and devastating. For example, the BBC News footage of the news presenter Jane Hill saying the government expected 30,000 ventilators. Before that, she sounded so bleak, and she shows all the pain in her face, “…and we have been double-checking this, but it does seem to say thirty.” So, so worrying. Even the media are struggling to comprehend this all now. Shandong province, of China, have sent support to the U.K.

“This virus is a disaster. Footballers can live without receiving a single paycheck for a few years, but I feel sorry for the person who wakes up at 6 in the morning and comes back at 9 at night just to feed his family. Us footballers can make a difference.” – Carlos Tevez, footballer

Someone, somewhere, wrote to me, ‘How’s the bat soup going down. & the puppy blamange desert?’At first I wan’t going t reply. There’s so much hate and pain going around. There’s so many xenophobic lines just bashed out on keyboards. I know, because all I want to do is exercise my right to reply or write something. Usually, I hold back. Spread peace and love. I try. I hate hate. But away, I went as per below:

This is obviously linked to wet markets and wildlife trade. China is pushing through some serious laws. They’ve lost so much face, and many lives, many. The world is suffering too. If it wasn’t here, it could have started in Vietnam, Korea, a whole list of countries. The thing is, it is too late to laugh at it all, because it’s on our doorsteps, everywhere, knocking and pushing its way through. We’ll all suffer for this. It is too sad for me to laugh at. Especially, seeing as bear bile is classed as a TCM (traditional Chinese med)… and is sanctioned to treat COVID19.

Sorry, I can’t joke anymore about this. Over here, in China, foreigners are experiencing xenphobia for importing cases into the country, jobs are going for fellow teachers and workers who were needed here. Gallow’s humour is all well and good but there is a time and place. The blancmange is to die for.

This virus and spread of disease may be hell for many. Some will go into lockdown and may never come out. Elliot Dallen imagined spending his last few weeks with friends. Now his final time is slipping away. I can’t imagine the dread he is going through and there are no words that I, or many others can offer for him. I hope he gets the tangible bonds of friendship and family time, he like many, are missing. Life must carry on, right to the end.


 

The journey goes on.

Leaving Chame (2710m) town, we clambered up a wide pathway, below a very steep cliff of a mountain. The rattle and whistle of prayer flags could be heard overhead. The path led out, upwards gently, hugging the valley. Eventually in reached a small village and then another smaller village. Bhratang (2850m) was quite a small village. Not so much a village, more of a hamlet. A small number of houses before modern signs for The Farmhouse. The Farmhouse is an eco-resort, and many note it as being a heaven for apples. I was excited. I wanted to try an apple from here, despite knowing that the orchard much be closed. Maybe, just maybe they’d have one or two apples knocking around in a cold room. I clung to hope. The Farmhouse has a link to both Bhratang Apple Farm and Agro Manang. This is Nepal’s biggest and most famous source of apples. Maybe, they’d have some apple sauce? Some ciders? Apple vinegar? The apples that the bus in Swayambhu, Kathmandu had carried (to Pokhara) had come from here. I’m not a huge apple fan (I could have said big apple, right?) but the smell of those apples on that bus journey was scrumptious.

Soon after I would pass a huge apple orchard with discernible damage from storms. Power lines, trees and fencing didn’t just lean over, it littered the scattered exposed earth. The acres of apple trees leaned towards the south in a way a rugby team would crouch in a scrum. The naked branches of each tree were bound together with reinforced ropes and supports, giving it the view of a kind of wooden graveyard. The towering rockface to the right of the path sparkled in the sunlight, with occasional ledges much like the whole mountain had been carved away by an immense force. The eco-park beneath it and The Farmhouse were closed. There was no chance of an apple tart or an apple flapjack. I refilled my water bottle from one of three gushing springs set in a wall.

The orchard was hidden by fences that could have belonged in Jurassic Park. Warnings about keeping out were everywhere. Every now and then a tree had fell out of the in, and into the road. Bits of electrical pylons dotted the pathways and the odd electrical wiring slung here and there. An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but this pile of ruins wasn’t inviting me to look for the scattered rotten apples on the floor. Quite the opposite. I trotted on.

Rounded a sharp-rising pathway from Bhratang, the huge western face of Pagunda Danda became visible. The mountain could easily have doubled as a slate of hill, or a hill of slate. It is so smooth-looking that you wonder if it has been moisturising for millennia. Many people trek the Annapurna Circuit for the biggies, the large peaks but views such as Pagunda Danda alone made my trip well worth doing. I can see the appeal of a scramble and ice-climb up the face, but with melting and sunlight upon it, the risks of avalanches were high.

Avalanches had been noted from just before Chame village onwards. One avalanche field had swept trees, boulders and all in its path down across the pathway. The pathway had been sliced open again and cleared. Either side of the road potato-shaped but basketball-sized balls of frozen snow piled high, with twigs, branches and stumps jutting outwards. On the lower levels of the pathway, fallen electric pylons and rocks the sizes of cars had crashed downwards. The avalanche was not fresh, but it wasn’t particularly old. Looking upwards into the steep valley to a mountain ridge, I deliberated about where all this material had actually come from. It was frighteningly too much for mind to compute.

The second avalanche field I encountered was on the opposite bank of the gushing Marshyangdi River. It was so big that it covered over the river and arrived at the steep base far below my footing. The river had tunnelled through the frozen snow overhead. It was an eerie sight to behold. Just before that field a few tonnes had piled on the sharply-carved Bhratang to Chame road making the area impassable, and causing a huge landslide to make the footpath as wide as a human could walk safely. Just. Below in the river, a carcass of a Toyota jeep sat well-below the narrow road overhead. Later, Livia had found out that back in October, several people were on board as the jeep slipped off the road. Thankfully all had managed to jump clear. A real miracle in the mountains.

The sharp road is but only wide enough for one car. The rock above is barely two metres high. It’s a ledge that commands real respect and no hanging around. A long horizontal slat has ice caps and blastholes in equal scatterings. Walking far from the edge, I could peek at the drop below. Ravine of the week was alongside me for several hundred metres. I felt I needed to be roped to the wall behind me.

The largest path of avalanche destruction lay soon after the perils of the cliff track. A huge sweeping sheath of snow and debris had swept from the southern flank of Pagunda Danda. This casing of ice and power had ripped over the pathway into the river below. A clearly demarked pathway was cut through and lined with pines from nearby trees. The crevices and nooks around which were not safe to linger for too long.

On approach to the well-named Marshyangdi River Bridge, Pagunda Danda’s splendour was there for all to see. This 1500m (4,900ft) elevation is striking. Almost like a vivid piece of the Earth’s crust curved outwards and upwards in a kind of skateboard park half-pipe shape. It isn’t beyond the imagination to picture people skiing down the snow covered silky-looking solid surface or perhaps cycling up the shiny and extraordinary rockface itself. I was reliably informed by a passing guide that once upon a time it once was a lakebed. My imagination could barely see that. Now, local legends believe that mass of rock, known as Swarga (heaven) Dwar (gates) is the route to the afterlife. After leaving your mortal remains behind, you must clamber up this wall to reach the beyond. Few cracks and very little green grew along this gargantuan surface. Its various tones glimmered in the sunlight. Swarga Dwar is heavenly.

I decided I’d walk over the wider bridge. Bad idea. Not so soon after, I had to double back in deep-unbroken snow to the pathway that connected from the smaller chain suspension bridge. Still, the views were worth it, or that’s what I kept telling myself. On crossing the bridge, I noticed that not one, but of my walking boots had worn splits in them. They would remain watertight for that day, but worry set in. How easy is it to buy a pair of UK size-14 boots in the mountains? Was there much demand for European-sized 50 boots in that neck of the woods? Would a repair shop be open in Manang?

The slog up to Dhukur Pokhari (3240m) involved a little bit of that famous Nepali flat (little bit up, little bit down) on the last section. Ordinarily, I’d have enjoyed that, but waist-deep snow and a heavy frame meant I spent a fair bit of time digging myself out and starting up and over again, only to have to dig myself out again. Occasionally, for the sake of variety I flumped over like a dropped teddy bear and rolled around in the snow. These are the moments we hike for – to get in touch with nature, even if gravity is fully in charge. This also gave me time to really appreciate the incredible views. Snow-capped peaks are in every direction and the lower hills around me give glimpses of the fuller Annapurna range. The path had been a zigzagging tour of the under-canopy of pines and firs. The trees had nestled so closely at times that sunlight had failed to melt much of the deep snow beneath the natural green sunshade.

At Dhukur Pokhari, a brightly coloured lodge offering a fruit juice and sun-bathed benches caught my attention. Several trekkers were tucking into what looked like proper potato chips. Would they also have gravy and a nice piece of haddock too? I decided that lunch was needed. Well, actually my belly was rumbling like hell having ran on a trekker’s fuel bar, porridge and omelette for far too long. I greeted the lodges family, “Tashi delek” and took the menu from them. The crisp air, with sunshine beating down on me, reminded me of a winter’s sunny day on Morecambe Bay. I was warm despite the now sub-zero temperatures.

After a lunch of vegetable momos, chips, and allu paratha (potato in a bread), I didn’t enjoy the dal bhat later that evening, but I did have plenty in the tank for the final part of the walk. The steep upwards pathway through to Dhukur Pokhari had burned a fair bit of energy but on leaving the village, the trail was quite smooth, with only a few upward rises, and most of them in the finale of the path.Livia, Srirang and I set out once more and remained together for the final push of the day. The air was much thinner than earlier than day, and a huge radio mast amongst the crumbling old and proud new buildings marked out the final stop for the day. It grew ever closer.

After crossing a footbridge, alongside two twisted bridge remains, the pathway snaked in and out of small bushes and a very hidden abandoned settlement. To the left the river moved away, and fields spread outwards. To the right a new peak became clearer. Pisang takes its name from Pisang Peak (locally called Jong Ri – 6091m high), of which Paungda Danda is its south-eastern subsidiary peak. The so-called ‘Great Wall of Pisang’ was easily visible in the fading sunlight. Pisang Youth Club’s football fields could be made out amongst the snow on our right, as the goalposts gave it away. To our left, a huge sweeping curing avalanched seemed to have completely lost momentum at a stonewall. It was stonewalled just a metre from our footpath. The jagged windswept icy tufts of the avalanche stood in contrast to intact wheat shoots to the avalanche’s left.

Upper Pisang (3300m) is part of the Pisang village. Lower Pisang (3200m) is its slightly lower down and over the valley other half. About 307 live across 105 houses, according to a census in 2011. It seemed on my visit, that far fewer people were here. Arriving at our guesthouse, the lucidly turquoise Marshyangdi River could be seen a hundred metres or so below. If life it what you make it, then right there and then, life was wonderful. To reach Lower Pisang, you don’t cross the bridges, you follow the river and cross a different bridge. The Lower Pisang plains and the buildings looked cold and uninviting because the mountains above cast such a large shadow below.

Upper Pisang has sweeping great views of Annapurna II and ample opportunity to take endless snaps on your camera. The lodge’s family feel is completed by a young girl singing from YouTube videos on a phone. Mother and father, busy cooking occasionally pop out to check on her, and she looked up every time, with full respect and listened to all instructions, in the Tibetan language.

After gaining 600m in elevation and trekking about 14.5km that day, we’d all earned a good night’s sleep. I tucked under my extra blanket and crept into my sleeping bag. I sat up suddenly and took one last look outside at the valley beneath and the few twinkles of electric light. The dark sky and stars made me realise how cold it was, so I slipped back into the sleeping bag and soon fell asleep, deep into a dream…

“Listen as the wind blows, from across the great divide, voices traoped in yearning, memories trapped in time. The night is my companion, and solitude is my guide…” – Possession by Sarah McLachlan

 

Cover image by the angry hungry Hungarian and great trekker Livia (Srirang and I passing an avalanche field the day after arriving at Upper Pisang):

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I’m not gonna give up.

Sawasdeekhap / Namaste / Welcome!

Before the climb, we’d stopped in Danagyu, at a lodge on the right-hand side. It was busy. A family were playing cards. Kids were running around and one managed to hit both Livia and I with first her walking stick and second a snotty finger. I was fully aware of the coronavirus outbreak by now. It was by now February. Hygiene was on my conscience but this terrible toddler was not sharing my concern. Bogies smeared down my leg. I used soap and water to clean it away. Eventually a teenage girl came over and shuffled the toddler away. We’d already ordered pumpkin soup and momos now. Having seen the soon to be altogether contour lines on the map, our engines for walking needed some much needed fuel. One trekker’s bar wasn’t going to be adequate.

After reaching a waterfall tucked in a tight ravine, Livia went right along the road, and I went left up some steep steps. Srirang was just behind Livia, with his sore leg, yet he soldiered on and never gave in. Tough lad. After only a few steps, I started to see speedy little Himalayan squirrels and the view backwards of the peaks nearby to Manaslu was marvellous. Upwards was very much that. Up, up and away. After some crumbly steps, that could have been made of Lancashire cheese of apple crumble topping, I managed to reach the road, and cross straight over back onto the pathway. Here the green trees folded outwards ever so slightly, to show stacks of natural compost on the forest floor. The air had a damp natural earthy smell and occasional felled logs rotted alongside the trail. The track would mostly rise and do little of a fall. Soon enough the mud and dirt track became covered in frozen snow. Not the fluffy soft and easy to trudge through kind, but the solid mostly with a metre drop inwards should I find the bit unable to tolerate my weight, kind. And it seemed I was in for many steps up, and a few deep into the partially frozen snow. Heave. Heave. Heave.

The snow pretty much didn’t want to convey me and with every drop my boots, and the best part of my legs disappeared. Out came the crampons. Out came the determination. Onwards I went. My imagination enjoyed the peculiar eerie silence. I imagined packs of wolves, snow leopards and bears watching me go by. Not your ideal range of animals to picture you pass by, especially if one of them was very hungry, but here I was in the territory of nature, and damned if I was going to imagine Minecraft or a rock concert.

The pine trees shed patches of snow and melt water dripped all around me. Glorious rays of sunshine broke the canopy and occasionally I caught glimpses of mountain tops here and there. Then, a sudden crashing sound in the trees ahead, had me at full alertness. I froze solid as the iced floor around me. Silence resumed. Then a larger and louder thump and crunch. Something was in the trees ahead. I heard a racket and a commotion. Voices yelled from the canopy to my immediate left. The thuds and thumps were accompanied by a disturbance in the snow maybe a few hundred metres away. Then I spotted a monkey, Himalayan langur, springing up and down in the snow, swiftly from tree to tree across a small clearing. They didn’t seem too perturbed by the snow, but didn’t hang around either way. I tried to shoot them. My camera wasn’t quick enough though.

Throughout this journey, I had seen many mammals. These included Himalayan langurs, Assam macaques, Rhesus macaques, Irrawaddy squirrels, orange-bellied Himalayan squirrels, Himalayan striped squirrels, voles, Himalayan field mice, Himalayan pika, shrews, a variety of bats, and some wild boar, I’d never seen many animals in the snow. It was a privilege to enjoy the monkeys and hear them move over the forest. It was a welcome break from the constant in and out walking motions of the snow. I also had chance to reflect about the fall onto my walking stick which had gave the stick a slight bend, or three.

After crossing many streams carefully, over tiny little snow-covered bridges, and occasionally playing find the rock over the odd crossing point, I reached a stretched out chain bridge. Snowfall and heavy damage had ripped one end of the supports from its foundations. The two guard rails fanned out, practically useless. It wasn’t quite and Indiana Jones movie, but it looked far more precarious than comfort. The river flow was about five metres wide, pummeling steeply down to the River Marsyangdi many metres below in altiiude. I decided to chance my luck at a bridge further upstream. After 200 metres, I realised that this was the only bridge. I hadn’t seen one downstream either. Whilst I could hear the river nearby, I couldn’t see it and no alternative route evident. The flayed and flawed bridge was to be my point of movement. A way like no other.

So, off came the crampons, and then I positioned my rucksack tighter to my back. I stowed my walking sticks. I pulled out my thin winter gloves with extra grips (thanks Black Diamond) and I stepped through the first pocket of snow on the bridge. I tested the bridge for movement. First with a little weight and then applying all slowly, readied to dive into the snow to the side of the bridge. Then, I did a kind of half-hop. The bridge was surprisingly sturdy – a real testament to the Gurkha builders who had provided so many bridges across the country. From that, I leant and tested the sideways cable to my left, uphill and in appearance the least damage of the handrails. I turned square onto it. I placed my left hand over my right hand and never left any motion rightwards without one very firm hand on the rail. By the time I’d reached the centre of the bridge, the rail tilted upwards, almost as it should have been and all the snow had melted in the sunlight. I gently walked up to the other side and looked backwards. Stepping off the bridge was a relief. Then I peered left at the small landslips dotted along the river bank.

The fallen ground and occasional uprooted tree didn’t prove too much of a challenge. The trail banked left and into an open field, which led onto a rock-cobbled road. Each rock was jagged and unwelcoming. It had a Lord of The Rings feel to it. Wild, and otherworldly. Onwards, I plugged until reaching the Hotel Royal Garden, where I met Livia aftera few minutes. Here, I also met Shadow. Shadow wasn’t his name but for that day he would be my little shadow and follow us throughout the village of Timang. After a great lunch, Srirang joined us, and we checked in for the night, just 100 metres down the road. Ahead of us the weather looked bleak and unsettled. So, a Sherpa family welcomed us, and we dropped our bags into a room each. The Hotel Manaslu View Point had a view of Manalsu in the distance and the panoramic view in all directions was a clear sign that we were now in the Himalayas, proper. Timang (2630m) was about 400 metres higher than Danagyu (2200m). The air temperature was much more-icy here. Clouds floated over the mountains behind us, disguising hidden peaks and over the River Marsyangdi to the opposite side, occasional matchstick-looking pine trees, empty of leaves and needles, stood like wooden stakes in a cemetery. There looked to have been a nuclear blast over the valley. Even the ground appeared clear of life.

This village was both sinister and beautiful. Firstly, the crows, those often billed in horror movie birds, were everywhere. They made themselves known with sharp piercing cries and occasionally softer sounds. The Kāga (काग Nepali for crow or craven) here were not Carrion crows. These were bigger ravens, Corvus corax tibetanus, with long grey neck feathers. Light on their feathers gave a beautiful purple-blue iridescence. Amongst the pairs of ravens, Carrion crows moved and foraging by jackdaws, and other smaller birds like sparrows could be seen through the village. Now, the sinister, I described wasn’t too much about the crows…

One single storey building with a shop front on the right of the road gave me new heebie-jeebies. Outside the front a man swapped tyres on a jeep. At the side of this passengers from the jeep waited patiently. At the rear of the building in the garden, an animal pelt hung from a washing line. From a distance I couldn’t work out if it was red panda, a dog or something of similar size. I know that the rules in Nepal are extremely strict regarding hunting, but I could not for the life of me understand what it was. It was, in all probability, a goat – and certainly unwelcoming. And, not far from that pelt on the washing line, a dead crow was tied up by its neck, flying in the wind like a grim version of a child’s kite. I expected haunted hillbilly music and a narrative from an Alfred Hitchcock movie.

After a great dal baht, in front of a warm fireplace, we all departed for bed. The matchstick looking cluster of spiders in the toilets gave an appearance of buffalo pubic hair [you know what I mean!] – and they seemed to detect the cold too, nestling together like brush hair in the corners of the long cold toilet room.

After a good night’s sleep, a great omelette and some defrosted ice-water, we three departed, bidding our farewell to Shadow the dog and a variety of goat kids in the nursery nearby. The road headed out, skirting around the brow of the hills beside us, never quite leaving the river below. At Tanchok village it doubled back inwards, crossing a frozen stream before lurching back into the river valley below. It slid gently up to the crossroads at Koto before nestling its way into Chame (2700m), complete with signs for yet more hot springs. Monkeys had been sighted in the forest’s brow by the village of Tanchok, by Livia and I stood watching them for some time. Here the valley started to tighten up and appear much steeper than previous days.

Chame is a colourful place, but in February, the sun sets early, shrouded by mountainous ridges to the west. Here a dozen municipal buildings and hospitals can be found. Derelict military barracks stand to the village’s north. It is a town of about 1200 people. In winter it is quiet with many people heading to Kathmandu and Pokhara. There are signs of the April 2015 earthquake having struck here. There were also some very good small supply shops and chances to get some much needed fruit into our diet. We checked into the cosy New Tibet Hotel and Restaurant sandwiched between a brittle looking cliff face and the river’s east bank. We then had a wander around the village which seemed to be many scattered lodges along a kilometre of two. An upper level village to the west looked more modern and functional, but less touristic. There were the usual array of schools and public facilities with prayer flags visible all across the high points.

After the walk Livia tucked into her billionth bowl of rice pudding, and probably ordered one for the morning too. Seeing Livia eat rice pudding in a wolf/koala/bear hat was quite a frequent sight on the journey. I often had scrambled eggs, porridge and buckwheat bread of chapatti. Always with a milky coffee or tea. Several bank machines were available in the village but there was no internet and sporadic power cuts for the two nights that we stayed. There was even a roadblock on alert for any walkers from China! By now fear and panic about COVID-19 had spread up the road. I kept news that I had left China over two weeks before arriving there to myself. I’d heard Chame described as an often crowded place. We met only two other trekkers, both French and both walking solo (with a guide).

Our lodge was less than two minutes of walking from a lovely spot. The hot springs doubled up as an open air launderette. Livia and I washed our clothing in the warm flow of water, as local soldiers soaked up the minerals in the neighbouring swimming pool. The spring itself was a dull green bubbling hole with pipes jutting from it. Nothing exciting to the naked eye. The miracle of life and fresh water was surrounded by man-made concrete and exploitation. Still, it was a good place to wash my underpants. Bloody warm too. Later I scattered my clothes on the balcony and added some socks to a warm chimney to speed dry them in the fading sunshine. Night was soon rolling in, complete with starry skies and ice-inducing temperatures. To be continued…


 

On the I’d booked a flight between Bangkok Don Mueang International Airport and Shenzhen for April the 1st. April Fool’s Day. Appropriately Thai Air Asia cancelled it yesterday. As I had used Trip.com to book it, I have to use Trip’s customer services. Flight FD596 is no more. On top of that, my visa expires here on April the 14th. I have been told that to stay here, I need to have a letter from the UK Embassy to say that travel to my country of residence is not possible. The UK Embassy won’t give such a letter for British citizens traveling to China. Thailand’s Immigration won’t allow me to stay because I can currently fly to the U.K. There are flights to Guangzhou at drastically hyper-inflated prices but even they could be pulled. Trip.com’s phone numbers ring a little and then hang up, all three of them! Their email reply reads as follows:

“Due to the huge backlog of emails caused by Corona Virus pandemic, we are sincerely sorry that your email won’t be able to get reply as usual. It will be delayed but no later than 30 days. Kindly recommend to manage your ticket online or though APP.” – modern day example of a crappy auto-response from a customer disservice centre, March 2020.

I get that we’re in a global catastrophe and the world is going mad buying excessive amount of bog rolls and shutting borders, but when you haven’t got much cash, or hope to get around, and your head feels like it is going to explode if it doesn’t release the bubbling rage and worry inside. I even paid for new cycle lights to allow me to break out of my body, and fly away, like a bat out of hell… or at least peddle fast from stray dogs and monkeys now coming out from the temples and sanctuaries in search of food. Next I expect to see chameleons on sun loungers, well maybe not see them, but at least know they’re there when the fly numbers drop down. That’d be more amazing because as I am aware, there aren’t chameleons in Thailand, but with current world problems, maybe they’ll bounce back like other wildlife – especially now people are talking more about wildlife trade ending. Or, will this COVID-19 world hide a debate about climate change?

Still, worries aside, it could be worse. It could be much, much worse. I worry for others. I’ll survive and money I haven’t got will add to other money that I never had. You can’t repossess from a hobo, right? Especially one trapped in Thailand… trapped, with just two bottles of Vimto and two frozen portions of black pudding. Nope, it ain’t all that bad! Stay strong. Survive. Beyonce and her mates told you to.

“I’m a survivor (what), I’m not gon’ give up (what); I’m not gon’ stop (what), I’m gon’ work harder (what); I’m a survivor (what), I’m gonna make it (what); I will survive (what), keep on survivin’ (what)” Destiny’s Child’s song was covered by 2WEI.

 

Dear Boris.

Dear Boris Johnson,

Although I did not vote for you or your party, and I have a very dim view of you and your cohorts, I trust you’re not an entirely total buffoon. What others say about you and your actions, will define how you go down in history. Right now, there won’t be a state funeral like your idol Sir Winston Churchill. There won’t be any picture of you on any banknotes and schools won’t recall you well in history classes. You’ll not be remembered by foreign prisoners in Iran as a wonderful person, either.

“It is going to spread further and I must level with you, I must level with the British public: many more families are going to lose loved ones before their time.” – Boris Johnson, Prime Minister (March 2020)

Look across the world and you’ll see China saddling up to Italy in an effort to increase trade reduce the virus. There may or may not be help for China’s potential BRICS partner Iran. If there us, the bias in the western media has certainly silenced that. In fact it seems like the USA is doing its own thing, the UK is going rogue and solo – and all are avoiding a kind of Manhattan Project collaboration of the 21st century. What’s your next move, Boris?

I guess as climate change is on the horizon and pollution is rife, we’ve ignored the needs of smaller and less powerful nations for long enough. Boris, could we be doing better? Could we be a big voice from our small islands and get the job done? Could we lead, equally, alongside others a charge on a white horse into this battle? Or should we sit back, and look after number one? This me, me, me attitude may be alright for panic buying toilet paper and pasta, but that won’t stem the tide. If the first wave comes, and we’re less than ready, how will a second wave or further waves be handled? You must step aside, just like Theresa May, and others before you, you’re not the shiny knife of leadership this once great nation needs. Think on your sins. There are too many of them. We need a wartime leader, and that’s why I believe in digging up the remains of Sir Winston Churchill and doing some work with fictional character Victor Frankenstein, because I have more faith in the dead and imaginary than you dear Boris.

Nations are human abstraction and now is the time for border reduction, sharing, and survival. The elderly and infirm are being placed at great risk – and the population beyond may reap the seeds that you seek to sew. Our common resource is the very earth, water and air we inhabit. As a species we have ploughed and devastated it. Through some togetherness, we could beat the virus and we could understand our fair Earth greater. We could use the momentum of togetherness to protect cultures, nature and water. Or, we could build walls, strip shelves and blame each other. How do you want to be remembered? We all make mistakes and we may all make decisions that aren’t ideal – but those who occupy the top tables, they’re the ones, specifically, you Boris, you’re the chosen elite. You can make the difference.

“ If we’re wrong, then nothing happens. We’ll go to jail. Peacefully. Quietly. We’ll enjoy it. But if we’re right, and we can stop this thing… Lenny… you will have saved the lives of millions of registered voters.” – Dr Peter Venkman, played by Bill Murray, Ghostbusters

So, do you pick up the phone, with COBR (Cabinet Office Briefing Rooms) and call other leaders, trying to get them all together to make a proper international crisis management centre? Or do, you tell everyone to carry on washing their hands and stating the bleeding obvious? Or, do you prove Andy Hayman (author of the non-fiction piece The Terrorist Hunters) right and slow all down? The United Nations System and other intergovernmental organisations need you to really think. Together we can be stronger. Without others, we will be an isolated nation, seen as rogue and inconsiderate to the WHO (World Heath Organisation). Forget arms control, energy and nuclear matters, and even financial trade. We’re no longer talking customs or law enforcement. Now we’re on about a threat so big to humanity. As a leader, this is your hour. As a species this is humanity’s hour to shine. This could be the cultural, educational and religious moment of moments, a once in a billion lifetimes opportunity to be revered globally, smashing political groupings and ideologies – but bringing all humanity together. Or, it could be another League of Nations, weakly fading away. Life will go on. But, will you and I be part of it? Well, as things stand you’re putting voters lives at serious risk, and on what advice? Well, at least we can’t gather too freely now.

Be strong, Boris. Pull your finger out. Pass on the job, if you’re not fit for purpose. Don’t be the donkey that leads the lambs into Dante’s Inferno.

Yours with absolutely zero respect – or as much respect as The Sun gave to Hillsborough stadium disaster victims,

 

Mr More Than Annoyed.


 

images stolen from B3TA.com – hopefully watermarked by their creators to save me a job…

Millennium Bug 2.0: The First Final Post?

Sawasdeekhap / Namaste / How do,

Where does one begin? It’s been a long old time since I banged my thoughts and feelings out in words. I expected that I’d be writing after the scheduled holiday in mid-February, but hey, here we are. Not exactly in an apocalyptic world or doom and gloom, but certainly, not an ideal world – if such a thing ever exists.

In February 2014, my Gran passed away. From then on I found writing this blog (transferred on a Bosman from Wix) to be the only way to fill the void from writing letters or talking to my Gran. For those of you still with grandparents, treasure them dearly. They’re often wonderful people with experience and a calming nature unlike our parents and the youth of today. Many have endured severe and harsh times, to give our parents and therefore us the lives we have today. Some have lost more than we can possibly imagine. Some have existed quietly and contently, oblivious to the modern consumerist world of the new millennium. Here we are.

I haven’t tapped a single blog post out since the first day of 2020. There’s a multitude of emotions and a bucketful of experiences that I want to share. I need to dig in deep and find the spot to begin. Okay, so, here we go. I’m sat on a white PVC dining room chair, at a desk too short for my cumbersome long body and legs. There’s a desk lamp wedged against two Siamese designed box lamps. A coaster with the name Thailand holds my glass of diluted butterfly pea cordial. Ten parts water to one part syrup. A stack of novels by Lee Child, and various toiletries are scattered over my desk. The air conditioner behind me hums and brings coolness to the air. My double bedroom curtains are drawn. The heat outside is unbearable. I’m typing on a HP Pavilion laptop computer, bought for just 3990 baht (about 99 pounds, in the UK). It is secondhand and has been mostly worrying with some reliability issues. It is far from new. Will it do the job? We’ll see. But, what is the job?

I’m in exile. Kind of. Well, enforced exile. Sort of. I found myself in Kathmandu with a flight to Hong Kong, knowing that I could have arrived with few options to cross into the mainland of China. A mainland plagued by a coronavirus. If you haven’t heard about this virus, you’re in a different time or incredibly good at avoiding it. The virus originated in Wuhan, Hubei province – a city twinned with my hometown Manchester. I’ve never visited there. I have no intentions to go storming in any time soon. The virus was contained but escaped. It had spread across China. At the time of my flight, nearly a month ago, nothing was certain. Now, about three weeks later, less is certain. Certainty is a far off vision. Borders have closed across the world as the virus spread from China and hit Australia, the Middle East, Europe, South America and North America. Deaths have been recorded in their scores. The virus coupled with underlying issues or poor health makes many very susceptible to death. Its fatal outlook and contagious modes have worried many.

The once silenced Dr. Li Wenliang issued warnings, wafted away by authorities. He is very silent now. The virus claimed him, and dozens of other medical staff have followed. After much worry that the virus was nicknamed Wuhan Virus, or China Virus, the World Health Organisation, dubbed the virus severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS coronavirus 2 or SARS-CoV-2) and the disease as Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). SARS-CoV-2 causes the disease and as of today around 3200 people have died globally. Yes, more people have died from seasonal flu, but this virus moves far faster and appears to be far more contagious. The news has been a constant flow of virus cures being worked on, rumours of sufferers being incinerated alive, conspiracy theories, racial tensions and President of the USA, Donald Trump even calling the virus a hoax. There’s nothing worse than a hoax call in the financial and political world. If only, Dr. Li Wenliang had or had not spoken up sooner.

Hand washing to the national anthem, etiquette when coughing, and avoiding close contact with sick people have been determined to be good ways to avoid contracting the virus and avoiding any disease. Numerous countries have shown evidence of community transmission. So, that’s why I did not fly to Hong Kong. Airline advice. That and the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office pretty much flashed the words DON’T GO TO CHINA in big bold letters. You’re on your own if you do. Do I fear the disease? No. It is, what it is. Do I fear being controlled and losing some freedom? Yes. Lock-downs have gathered pace in China and beyond. Okay, I’m prepared to miss Milan Fashion Week or Hua Hin City’s football games, but I’m not prepared to stay in an apartment all day and all night. My mind would rival the virus for ways to kill me. Being stir crazy is not fun.

De facto house arrest star Jiang Yanyong (and possible Big Brother contender), SARS victim Carlo Urbani and Valery Legasov will never be household names. To some they are martyrs, to others they represent hindrance. Li Wenliang joins them on a list of people we should know about, and why, and what the reason they did. The latter for me, I knew little about, but having read that he died 4 years younger than me, and with two children (one unborn at the time of his death), rings in my ears. The truth-loving ophthalmologist even carried on working in the face of danger, silenced by Wuhan Police for making false claims on the internet. So, here I am in Thailand, sat down writing on the internet. Worried more about my conscience than that of a virus. Worried more about friends and family, than this writing being seen as a threat to a nation. Worried more about my job, than my dwindling bank balance. Since initially landing in Nepal, and hearing the early virus spread news – and now, it’s been about 47 days or so. Let’s see where we’re at in a further 28 days. I survived the Millennium Bug and bird flu passed me by. What next? Well, maybe a good writer would write about why he’s touching up the Asian elephant. Not me. 28 days later…

Goodbye for now?

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

 

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

James (and the castles of Scotland)

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do / S’mae / Namaste / A’m gled tae meet ye,

During a recent whistlestop tour of Scotland, it was possible to admire many castles. The thing about some cities in Scotland, like Edinburgh – and Stirling, is that they have imposing castles on rocks high above the ground below.  Another such beauty of a castle is Scotland’s longest recorded stronghold, Dumbarton Castle.

For Stirling, James IV, the sequel James V and James VI built significant parts to the early 12th century rudimental castle. James III was born there, James II sheltered there – and James I gave it to his wife and mother of James II. James, the indie band from Manchester, to my knowledge haven’t played there. Sit down. The early Stewarts and Wars of Scottish Independence have significance at this location. The current commander is James Erskine, 14th Earl of Mar – another bloody James. The castle that could easily be called James (after James from Thomas The Tank Engine?) sits on 350 million year old quartz-dolerite. William Wallace, of Braveheart fame, even resided there briefly after the Battle of Stirling Bridge. Today it is mostly a Renaissance palace from around the times of 1490 to 1600, when the Royal Family pretty much moved to London, as real estate prices were reasonable back then. Since then, military digs, a museum featuring the legendary Balaclava Company and education have dominated the castle’s recent years.

Edinburgh Castle towers of Old Town. From Castle Rock, aged 350 million years, the 460’ elevation (140 m), the views from the former volcanic pipe are stunning. The only way into the castle from the east. The other directions have steep falls. Even water struggled to find a way in during the Lang Siege of 1573.

Edinburgh’s connection to a James comes with a siege to free James III of Scotland in 1482. Ten-year-old King James II watched two teenagers get executed in November 1440. James IV built the Great Hall. In fact, Edinburgh castle featured greatly in the great soap opera of Scottish royal history. The castle nowadays reflects a grander tourist feel with the superb Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo taking place in a stadium-parade ground outside the main castle gates.

Dumbarton Castle strikes out from a 334 million year old volcanic basalt plug. Settlements have been noted as far back as Iron Age forts. The 557 steps up are a challenge for today’s visitors and a face of William Wallace’s supposed betrayer is carved: Sir John Menteith of Ruskie and Knapdale.

“Schyre Jhon of Menteith in tha days; Tuk in Glasgow William Walays; And sent hym until Ingland sune, There was he quartayrd and undone.” – Metrical Chronicle, Andrew of Wyntoun (1350-1425), Scottish poet
The castle can be seen looming over the town of Dumbarton and by the River Clyde. The landscape combined with the history makes for a wonderful daydreaming experience on a passing train.

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

The bee’s knees

你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do / S’mae / Namaste / Gled tae meet ye A’m gled tae meet ye,

It’s been dunky’s since a last saw ye…

Loch Awe Dalmally (159)Sometimes, some places really surprise you. Some people are wonderful, and staying in Dalmally Railway Station’s The Posting Room was one such experience. The hosts, as listed on AirBnB were Liz and Graham (Angus too). They’re ace. Graham welcomed us immediately from our train which arrived on the opposite platform. A proffering of tea and coffee, followed by some delicious courgette and tomato soup. The welcoming really was the bee’s knees.

Loch Awe Dalmally (19)Throughout the weekend Liz and Graham offered great destinations and advice about the locality. Following a ramble up to the Duncan Ban Mcintyre monument, the path swooped down to the A819 road caressing the Loch Awe’s bankside. Here a walk to view the beautiful Kilchurn Castle and Loch Awe scenery was essential. Heavy rain and a lift back by a friendly truck driver capped off a good wander. By evening hunger had arrived. Two miles up the road later: One pub meal in Ben Cruachin Inn resulted in rhubarb crumble. I was over the moon. The mains selected on visiting were something similar to the following:

SMOKED HADDOCK KEDGEREE RISOTTO Arborio rice, turmeric, saffron, garlic & boiled egg. £12.95
FILLET OF LOCH FYNE SALMON Saffron beurre blanc, asparagus & new potatoes. £16.95

The food at the Ben Cruachin Inn is hearty and filling. The local Fyne Ales equally tasty and refreshing. After dinner, the feeding of the legendary Scottish midges commenced at Loch Awe railway station, before a short ten minute journey into Dalmally for cups of tea and bed.

Loch Awe Dalmally (164)In the morning Graham delivered us more brews with porridge and some cake. If Mrs Doyle from Father Ted fame has a male Scottish counterpart, then Graham is he. That’s meant with no disrespect whatsoever. I haven’t experienced this nature of hospitality ever. A host who really cares about his guests. His partner Liz was busy with her felt studio, Heartfelt by Liz (located on the platform). Graham could be seen zipping between guest throughout the day and delivering warm pots of tea and coffee at almost every hour. It seemed everyone was invited for a brew, “On your way back, call by and come and have a brew.”

Loch Awe Dalmally (72)They go out of their way for you. Hospitality at its absolute best. I really want to revisit the station. Maybe next time I can try the Ben Cruachin room or the Rambler’s Rest – or ideally The Writer’s Retreat. The Shepherd’s Hut doesn’t look too bad too. All have great West Highland picturesque views, a stone’s throw from lochs, mountains and wildlife like the tawny owls or screeches of buzzards in the daytime. The idyllic village is a little far out from many places but a wonderful location for hiking, cycling and exploring the region. The venison burgers up the road in the Kilchurn Castle car park aren’t too bad an option. Add haggis.

Loch Awe Dalmally (144)Staying in The Posting Room was idyllic. With a great variety of biscuits, porridge, jams and brew options. A rucksack of food provisions was barely needed! The final day of two involved a stroll to St.Conan’s Kirk, a church containing a bone fragment from Robert The Bruce. The architecture is splendid, diverse and varied. The architect Walter Douglas Campbell mixed in Norman, Roman, Celtic and other styles. There are famous ship timbers and it is easy to see why it was added to the Top 10 buildings in Scotland of the last 100 years list. The Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland made that list in 2016. The building was built around 1881 and renovated in 1906. Beyond the church there is a great tea room outside and the author Mary Stewart once resided at the nearby House of Letterawe.

Loch Awe Dalmally (49)


Stonehaven and Dunnotar Castle (35)Before visiting Dalmally, the whistlestop tour of Scotland began much further east in Stonehaven. The castle of Dunnotar has featured in Victor Frankenstein (starring James McAvoy and Daniel Radcliffe), Hamlet (with Mel Gibson) and other productions. For me, it was a castle I had seen in a book. Its clifftop location, on a kind of island of rock has long stuck with me. A walk from the charming Stonehaven Harbour, passing the dramatic (and deliberately unfinished) war memorial, leads to Dunnotar Castle. The memorial on Black Hill is imposing and powerful. A line of poem can be found inside the octagonal towers.

Stonehaven and Dunnotar Castle (21)

“One by one death challenged them, they smiled in his grim visage and refused to be dismayed” – Sankey’s Student in Arms

Stonehaven and Dunnotar Castle (66)Staying with another Graham – and Sam, in Aberdeenshire, an introduction to their master Percy and enjoyed wonderful hosts. Their house at the top of a hill gave the legs some good stretching but the location was peaceful and the room more than luxurious. The monk fish and chips from the sustainability champions at The Bay Fish and Chips was the best I have had in years. They were so good, a shitehawk (a gull) dropped a bomb across the back of my navy-blue shirt with precision. It didn’t get a single chip. Back off shitehawks!


Doune Castle (37)

Following a night in Stonehaven, a night in Stirling was next on the agenda. The famous National Wallace Monument was visible from the room at yet another AirBnB place with Iona and her family. After the quickest breakfast ever we headed to Doune Castle – as seen as Winterfell, Castle Anthrax, and series such as Outlander.

Your mother was a hamster and your father smells of elderberries” – Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Stirling Castle (11)Later in the day the National Wallace Monument witnessed a 120kg man struggling up the stairs and then being thankful he had no hair to blow away, once at the summit platform of the tower. Taking in each gallery along the way on the steps down, seemed the backwards way to do it, but damned if I was going to take a break on the 246 steep steps upwards. The Guardian of Scotland and influence of legendary stories since (including Mel Gibson’s Braveheart) featured alongside exhibitions on Robbie Burns (the famous poet) and Robert the Bruce. The monument is dramatic and almost like something from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings

From Dalmally the road (well railway) led ot Edinburgh… via Glasgow… and a route of other rained upon soggy places.

See ye efter

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

Unified separatism A.K.A. Almost Everyday Shit™

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

The U.K. or to give it its full title, the U****d Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has batted above its level for many a moon. If the U.K. was a boxer, it would be Mohammed Ali in spirit but physically as tall as a five-year old Sherpa boy. Powerful nations in Russia, U.S. of A., the People’s Republic of China and India may boast population and resource, but the U.K. has one special weapon: Coronation Street.

The U.K.’s empire fell to pieces and global domination by corporations arose around the time Coronation Street actor Bill Roach was born. Something like that, I imagine. Then the U.K. let a few places go, under the old name of Great Britain, or the British Empire. Some places went from strength to strength, some struggled but overall most places opted to drive on the right side of the road, with that being the left side of course. The difference for former Empire countries and released dominions is that their exposure to the pacifying nature of Coronation Street has been undermined by something I like to call, Almost Everyday Shit.™

Almost Everyday Shit™ is something most British people have no exposure to. This is when some radical twonk, or some outlier within the genetic ensemble and base ofd Earth goes against the norm. They may stage a political upheaval, a coup, or an act of knobheadism.

Ever since 1578, the powerful ginger and then Queen Elizabeth I granted a patent to Humphrey Gilbert for discovery and overseas exploration. Britain started to steal lands. By 1913, the British Empire held power over 23% of the Earth’s population. The periods of time involved abandoned expansion plans to North America, Irish Plantations, slavery and numerous shipping companies. Britain invested heavily in sapping the East Indies, which ended up in bitter barneys with the Netherlands. Britain soon sought peace with William of Orange and the Netherlands fell into partnership. By 1720, Britain was doing quite well commercially. France and Spain were pests for many years. The battles with France at the Seven Years’ War and 1763 Treaty of Paris put shackles on the French as a rival. At the 1713-1715 Treaty of Utrecht, Spain took about two years to sign a deal to stop getting in the way. Something like that. Almost Everyday Shit™ swept across the Spanish colonies and French colonies.

By 1783, the Pacific was seen as fair game. So, Britain, having recently backed away from U.S.A. Jr. did just that and slipped a few boats eastwards. Almost Everyday Shit™ got in the way.

Just like those early British conquerers and forcers of learning English, I’m in China now and completely friendly like my forefathers. I bring with me cultural teaching and an attempt at wit, that probably falls closer to the term, Almost Everyday Shit™ – I can’t help it. I look through my goggles (beer not applied) at websites such as The Guardian [born as the Manchester Guardian in 1821], the Independent [founded in 1986 and for 8 years now Russian owned] and the BBC (a VPN is required now for the latter). Mostly all I see is Trump news, but moving away from farts, there is much more gassy news in this thing called Brexit. Firstly, I hate the term Brexit – British Exit from the E.U. because it sounds so childish. And it is. In an international market and a world experiencing division, we need more togetherness. Yet, here we have a divide and conquer move by the near right and central right of left wing. It depends who you believe. Conserve the status quo? Or, pretend it will save the N.H.S. money? Maybe even lie about it reducing immigration and asylum seekers. The whole debate was a farce of misinformation and deception. It was a bitter narrative countered by soft arguments and the British people voted to exit with a huge majority of 52% deciding the fate of all. Article 50 of the E.U. Treaty was invoked and as it stands Britain will go it alone from midnight (Central European Time) on 29 March 2019.

Frexit (where 45% voted to remain and a new vote in France is likely), a Dutch exit (51% votes to remain last time and another vote may follow) and Greenland’s loss in 1982 (where only 53% voted to leave) are all signs that globalisation is not a favoured subject, yet international relations are needed to avoid another Yugoslavia conflict or perhaps the Ukraine misplacing more territory. Almost Everyday Shit™ has been around for a while.

There can be arguments and conversations until the cows come home regarding the age of voters, a love for sovereignty, immigration concerns, those who feel left behind, a lack of integration or order, or perhaps an order that disregards traditional values and crushes innovation. General identity problems seem commonplace. I don’t see myself as English, British or European – I’m a Mancunian. An Academic, Eric Kaufman, observed there to be a strong correlation between a voter’s support for the death penalty and their selection to exit the E.U. Sorry to those who voted leave, but this parallel zealotry doesn’t speak for me. Moderation and debate have ended now, sadly. The ball is set rolling and the path of the ball could be bouncy, like a pinball, or perhaps it’ll take a strike at the end of a skittles alley. More likely it’ll leave the footballer with broken metatarsals and a desire to join a fanatical branch of the Women’s Institute. Almost Everyday Shit™ reigns supreme.

Older generations hark back to, “in my day” and “it was much better back then” – I’m sure it was much more romanticised when Spitfires and Vulcan Bombers were pouring off the production lines. Jobs, optimism and buoyancy had their arses slapped in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. As Great Britain downgraded to Moderate Britain, and manufacturing made way for servitude we all swapped Are You Being Served? for Downton Abbey, and in doing so, we all became servants to Mega Conglomerate – and their primary customer. Almost Everyday Shit™ became Almost Everyday Shit™. Did you question why? No, because you had an Apple iPad 9X-SUV edition with all the trimmings of a fucking all you can eat buffet. Well you made your bed and you can live in it, piss in it and crack on. Our grandparents survived the Blitz and probably spent most of it cursing bad weather. This is Britain and Britain will remain British in the sense, we all need to come together, have a jolly good knees-up and declare March the 29th our Independence Day. Like it or lump it, we are going alone, so why not have a new public holiday? An excuse to have an ale with a dollop of mushy peas on some fish and chips. Besides we can always be friendly to Europe. Spain needs our winter tourism. Germany needs our car demands. Italy needs our love for pizza and Greece isn’t a bad place to enjoy a mezze. Almost Everyday Shit™ had wars to fight.

All throughout the E.U.’s history, Albania has remained pretty much the same. Not unlike many other bitpart European nations, Albania has been largely overlooked. It is a twice rejected full member and labelled as a candidate member only. It doesn’t enjoy all the benefits. Why not? They rank higher than the U.K. and U.S.A. (by more than 60 places) in the Global Peace Index. What more does it need to do? The big club don’t want small members joining with ease. Fair enough but isn’t the union about unity? I’ve always been sceptical of the word united. Is being part of a bigger picture good or bad? Could local resourcing, local jobs and less environmental damage be a good thing for the U.K. going it alone? Will we turn to the great vast nations of India and China for a helping hand? Almost Everyday Shit™ can be strangely normal if we allow it.

I don’t care if the Union of Great Britain lives or dies. Nor do I care if the European Union collapses or strengthens. What I do care for, is togetherness and giving the people of the world a fair shot at life. To do that, to give a chance to all, requires a spot of social care and conscience. Do we have that now? Almost Everyday Shit™ is here and always has been.

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