To Dad.

How do,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you kindly for your time.

J7: 2007-2011 Diary notes.

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

I joined Facebook on the 15th of December 2006. That was much later than everyone else. I had enjoyed a reasonably sheltered life in Aberystwyth before that. There was little real need for the internet. I’d never had a MySpace, Twitter or such account prior to this. I’d established www.atfc.org.uk in 2004. That was my internet exposure. It kept me busy!


In the year of 2007 things became somewhat more confusing.  I decided to sacrifice life in Manchester to follow Nikki to university in Plymouth. I dropped off the Army Intelligence recruitment list (be it very late on) in favour of maintaining our relationship. I had no qualms with that decision, I would make it again in the flash of a synapse. However, I moved from a place with good friends and a relaxed homely feel to a place unfamiliar. My Granddad George Acton had arrived in Plymouth during the 1940s before setting sail for a global conflict. My conflict was closer to home. My nomadic life had seen me return to Manchester in 2006 for a brief stint at home. Work was proving hell to find. I had left Aberystwyth for similar reasons. Opportunity wasn’t knocking on my door and I was turning over every stone to find it! E-mails and text messaging made me feel close to friends but sadly these texts trimmed down.

 

A January saunter to Berlin helped things nicely. Oh yes, back to Berlin in January.  I arrived at Berlin Tegel on the 3rd of January 2007 (the day after Nikki had arrived at Schönenfeld Airport).  I clambered off the lime green DBA aircraft (despite flying with Air Berlin) and within minutes of arriving at the baggage carousel my ruck-sack was to hand.  I walked out of the arrivals doorway and to my surprise little Miss Brown was waiting for me.  After exchanging Great British Pounds for the Euro, Nikki introduced me to the public transport ticket machine.  The machine-printed ticket was very good value for money (even if the money resembled Monopoly currency).  So off we go onto a bus into the centre of Berlin to S-Bahn und U-Bahn Zoological Gardens.  We get an over-ground train and arrive at Waschauer Straße.  A short walk later and we were in the Sunflower Hostel.

 

On the 7th Nikki flew away from Schönenfeld airport and as she took off my eyes filled with tears.  This wasn’t right, I shouldn’t have been here alone.  I wanted to be with someone.  I couldn’t.  A city full of millions surrounded me, but I was alone.  I trundled, dawdled, plodded, feet dragging towards the S-Bahn station for my journey back into a more central Berlin.  My head torn about by thoughts of loneliness, when would I be back, and why I had booked those extra days.  The strength of mind I usually had, had deserted me, left me feeling vulnerable.  I opened the train door and stepped on board, taking a seat.  An irate German couple shouted something abusive about not closing the door on my way in.  It was icy cold.  I did not notice.  I could not see a button to close the door.  I ignored them.  My peril was worse than theirs.  My heart was lacking companionship.  It needed to feel camaraderie to gain warmth.  I sat in a seat far from any other.  The slow trickles of tears seeped down my cheeks.  I held my head down and dreamed of being somewhere else.  I could imagine Nikki sat on her flight home, listening to music, smiling, and comfortable. Here I was though, cold and lonely and far from home. Still, worse things had happened in this city.  Eventually, I relaxed as the journey took my North back towards the East of Berlin.

 

That next day, I visited Sachsenhausen.  It was a place that made me feel no hunger for food that night. Alone with my reflective thoughts I plodded the streets of Berlin and walked through the monumental Treptower Park (visiting a Russian Memorial). How could a human do those things to other humans? It was truly eye-opening and scarily funereal. The next day, I lightened the mood. I spent time sitting alone in a big park with red squirrels etc, following a visit to the Topography of Terror museum. Talk about bleak. As morbid and disturbing as the days had been, I believe to appreciate how lucky you are, and the losses of yesteryear, or for lessons to be learnt, all should learn about atrocities. We can’t go on this way.

 

My cold mood returned to Manchester in a mood of winter. I had spent the night sleeping in an airport because my budget was short by one day and I didn’t ask for help. My employers in Aberystwyth had failed to pay me – and they had conned me previously. Still, the paperback at the time made a whole night pass quickly. In that night, I had decided life in Aberystwyth must come to an end. Life in Manchester was not for me. I needed something new. Nikki was in Plymouth, and had been there since September. It made sense.

 

So, Plymouth it was. Being a Northern Man don’t mind the South that much. It was pricier, the water is shit but it ain’t all that bad. After all you could get Warburton’s bread in some of the supermarkets and there was the odd branch of Morrison’s down here.  The Northern invasion had begun. Beware! Life would never be the same again.  The monster was loose, and he was just starting to settle in. Making good friends in John Petrie, Andy, and Paul helped. They were originally Nikki’s friends but a few ales in James Street Vaults swayed them my way. Not that I was looking to usurp her friend group, even if Nikki would tell me so! Working with another Paul, Darren and Steve at Royal Mail in Plympton. Meeting friendly colleagues and playing football for Royal Mail F.C. helped. That and walks into Plymptom and the surrounding parks. Here was a good place to cycle but not a place I wanted to call home.

 

2008 – oddly, in this year, I kept a diary. On Friday the 12th of January 2008, I left Plymouth at 1435. I arrived at 0235 on Saturday. Long journeys between Manchester and Plymouth were the norm. It was only on the 17th of January, that I discovered blue cheese, and slapped a load of it with garlic on a homemade pizza. It was delicious. On the 11th of February, at Old Trafford, City ended a cursed run of defeats and draws stretching over several decades. “There’s only one Benjani, only one Benjani, he got lost on the way, so we don’t have to pay, walking in a Benji wonderland.” He only signed for City a little earlier that year. On March the 7th Astrid, (who had been struggling from late-2007 with mental health problems) ran away. She fled to London from the family home in Manchester. It was only the beginning of Astrid’s problems. One day, I will dig in, and try to write how much mental health problems affect us all. One day. By the 12th of March, my shooting boots found the net twice in a 4-2 win for Royal Mail F.C. since I had moved from striker to defender. On April the 9th, I caught a mouse whilst I was washing the dishes. I packed it in a Tupperware box and released it far away from the house christened the House of Wang, named after its strange-looking cacti. On the 19th of April I headed to The North once again enjoying a wander on Middleton Sands with Dad, Shaun and Christina. Two days later, and Astrid and I walked Bailey the dog on Highfield Country Park, Levenshulme. On June the 27th I watched Meat Loaf rock at Home Park, Plymouth with Mark from Royal Mail. The soggy weather didn’t dampen the Casa de Carne tour night. I would also see the same gig on the 23rd of July in Hamburg’s beautiful Stadtpark. The trip to Hamburg also featured City’s game at HSV, as well as a tour of the city taking in Miniatureworld, a submarine, museums, funfairs and great fish and chips. What a great city!

 

Whilst I’d been in Plymouth Nikki had left for around 6 months, to South Africa. Once again, I was left waiting. On the 5th of July she had returned. The day after, we caught a ferry and ate at The Bridge by Mount Batten, Plymouth. Two days later we visited Bedruthland Steps and Holywell Bay – enjoying great jam scones at the former, and crazy golf at the latter. Back to the North, I headed for my first ever running challenge, the Urbanathlon, a 10K assault course sponsored by Original Source shower gel. I completed it in a sluggish 1 hour and 7 minutes. I was never cut out or interested in such running challenges. By August Nikki and I had moved in together, in a house, in Heaton Chapel. On August the 2nd, I watched City at Stockport County and four days later I had completed my TEFL in Plymouth, before heading back to Manchester on the 19th to watch City versus Portsmouth. On the 29th of September I went to Wigan Athletic versus Manchester City with Sean and Tom, neighbours of my Mum. On October the 7th, someone stole my bicycle. I was in tears and shreds because bicycles have always been part of my life. On the 18th of October, I watched Jason Manford, a comedian before two days later three bands (Cure the Disaster, These Eyes Are Cameras and Wheatus) at Manchester’s Roadhouse. On the 1st day of November I walked around Lyme Park, eventually reaching the Lantern, witnessing many deer in the vast wilderness. On the 16th of November, I watched Irish comedian Ed Byrne at The Lowry in Salford. The weekend of the 22nd saw City face Arsenal and then the next day a comedy night with Paddy McGuinness. On Saturday December the 6th, I headed to London’s Craven Cottage to watch City at Fulham. My love for 6am bus journeys not present, as always. The following weekend involved winter bulb planting at Highfield Country Park and watching City, as always. Somehow, I managed to get to work on the 19th December 2008, having departed a bar the previous evening, and arriving back very, very late. I was full of blisters and had dehydration.

 

That New Year’s Eve, Paul, Eastham, John Petie and Abbie Matthews visited Manchester, having headed from Plymouth to The North. We all enjoyed New Year’s Eve together. By the 7th day of 2009, I had to wade to work in snow. On the 10th of January I watched Daniel Draig and Liev Schreiber in Defiance in the cinema. That was a good reward for a day’s winter hike around Lyme Park. On the 17th January, The Wrestler, at the cinema followed City’s 1-0 win over Wigan Athletic.

Following a great Christmas party at RAC Inspection Services, I went to watch Seasick Steve with my colleague Claire on January 23rd. Dessert was a lovely jammy Swiss Roll. The next day featured Valkyrie at the cinema. On the 27th, I watched City Reserves beat Newcastle Utd 3-0, before watching City beat Newcastle Utd 2-1 the next day. A walk and a daydream of a ride on the metal playground train in Phillips Park followed. The final day of the month saw a trip to watch City lose at Stke 1-0. A spell at the cinema watching Slumdog Millionnaire helped cure the pain of defeat. On the weekend of the 6th to 8th of February, I headed to Aberystwyth – and the game in Caersws was called off, due to snow, so a weekend staying at The Glengower and wanderings was had.

Like Claire, and my colleagues we all were told that we would have to relocate offices or take redundancy on Friday the 13th of February. Nightmare. I had only officially been working for RAC Inspection Services for a few months, following a temping job with them. I spent the following Sunday walking around Reddish Vale, worried that I would have no job and doubting the future. On the 17th of that month there was a question and answer session, the 20th a visit to Aviva’s Albert Square office, and on the 27th I had an interview with Jeremy Rouch for a job at Aviva. The last day of February saw Al Murray, Pub Landlord and comedian visit the Manchester Apollo. I watched his show and enjoyed it very much. On the 10th of March, Dave Armitage and Chris from Aviva further interviewed me. I moved offices on March the 23rd. On the 22nd of March, I watch comedian Andy Pasrons at The Lowry. Comedy like music and football was my escape.

On March the 7th, I stood watching lapwings on derlict carparks by the City of Manchester Stadium, before City Youth beat Norwich City 1-0. I was soon transferred to work for Norwich Union (Aviva) at Albert Square. In this month, on the 10th, high school mate Leigh Kenyon and I went to a players’ evening meeting then-City manager Mark Hughes, Pablo Zabaleta and Vincent Kompany.


Other notes from my spacious and almost bare diary.

April 2009

13/4/09 – Easter event, Highfield Country Park

16/4/09 – City 2-1 Hamburg

23/4/09 – Mark Radcliffe book signing

10/4/09: is watching City v Fulham on Sunday, then has an Easter event at Highfield on Monday before the big one: City v Hamburg on Thursday. We will play much better. We can do it.

16/4/09: City v Hamburg

Greenfields to Standedge tunnel to Manchester along the Huddersfield Canal & Ashton Canal, 18/4/09.

25/4/09: Everton v City

30/4/09:  £369 for my 2009/10 seasoncard!

May 2009

Walked with Dad, Christina and Shaun around Hest Bank, 10/5/09

16/5/09: Spurs v City

June 2009

7/6/09:  Heaton Park.  Free Peace, Twisted Wheel, Kasabian, The Enemy and Oasis. I went to the urinals and a girl whipped her knickers down to have a pee next to me. Classy girl.

12/6/09:  The Doves tomorrow, then running the Pants in The Park 5K (28mins) run tomorrow on Sunday followed by Bill Bailey at The Lowry.

July 2009

5/7/09:  CITY OF MANCHESTER 10K (1hr9mins)

13/7/09: is off to Hyde U****d v City Res on Wednesday, training Thursday evening, at Live For City gig featuring Doves/Kid British/Twisted Wheel on Friday then off to Aberystwyth v Leev-urrrr-poooohl on Saturday.

23/7/09: cannot run the Moonraker 10K this Sunday, cannot train for a week more and is generally pissed off with this fecking reaction to one fecking bite!!!!

24/7/09: is recruiting a shovel/spade to did a hole and bury himself. This fecking bite has detroyed my fitness, moral, and left leg. New leg needed.

July 2009: Live from City.

August 2009

Morecambe, sunset. Saturday, 15/08/09. The night before I ran the Cross Bay Challenge half marathon. (2hr 31mins and 54 secs.)

30/8/09: went off to Portsmouth (v City) at 5am-ish. Bit far to travel for a pie, pint and some sea air…

September 2009

4-6/9/09: Bingley Live Festival/Ponden Guest House camp site [4/9/09:  the Undertones; 5/9/09: Doves; 6/9/09: Calvin Harris, Rev And The Makers, Futureheads, VV Brown, The Editors]

Stopgap Dance Company 19/09/09, Stopgap in Piccalilli gardens

24/9/09: has just opened his wardrobe door, grabbed a shirt and realised the wardrobe is purring. That pesky cat!

October 2009

7/10/09: first trip to Clacton-on-sea

19/10/09: has 2 days of work, then a muddle of running, music, cycling, British Track cycling championships and football. Perfect.

25/10/09: is off t’ footy t’ see t’ City v t’ Fulham, c’mon t’ Blues!

28/10/09: lonely birthday meal in Asda, City 5-1 Scunny in League Cup

30/10/09: wonders how Horseflies track him down. 3, That’s three bites this year! At cycling World cup which is awesome’

November 2009

1/11/09: HELLRUNNER. Delamere Forest. OFFICIAL FINISH TIME OF 3HRS, 5MINS AND 12 SECONDS!!!! RESULT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I WAS 1428TH OVERALL OF 1521. – a stress fractured foot, a bruised knee, torn calf muscles, blisters but it was worth the ride

6/11/09: Paracycling, Manchester Velodrome.

December 2009

11/12/09-12/12/09:  work do/haggered bar tour with Anthony and his brother Steve. Great night!

12/12/09: Bolton v City

18/12/09: Tapas (Deansgate), Doves, Manchester Central.

What happened in 2010?

Sunday, 5/9/10: Rider number 45. Manchester 100 cycle ride, left 0730hrs, halfway check in 1230hrs.  Departed 1310hours, arrived 1530hrs finish line. Route: Wythenshawe Park, Knutsford, Northwich, Norley, Tattenhall, Nantwich, Middlewich, Wilmslow, Styal, Wythenshawe Park

January 2011

1/1/11 – City 1-0 Blackpool, went with Dan / Cinema: Gulliver’s Travels

2/1/11 – Day in DVDs

5/1/11 – City v Arsenal

7/1/11-9/1/11 – A trip to Plymouth

15/1/11- Revo Cycling after City v Wolves

February – April 2011

23/2/11-27/2/11 – Nikki up North

24/2/11 – City v Aris, with Dad and Uncle George

15/3/11-18/3/11- Nikki up North

16/3/11 – Manchester Cathedral, Cherry Ghost

9/4/11-10/4/11 – Colchester

14/4/11-18/4/11 – Colchester

23/4/11 – Newtown v Aber

28/4/11 – Court date regarding rent at place in Manchester

May-June 2011

5/5/11 – Reserves v Chelsea

14/5/11 – FAC Final: City v Stoke City

21/5/11 – Blue Square Final, CoMStad

22/5/11 – Bolton v City

4/6/11 – Avenue Q

July-August 2011

1/7/11 – Leaving do, Manchester

2/7/12 – Left for Norwich, departed 0742, arrived 1233, moved in same day

4/7/11 – Willow House, Norwich city centre – interview

7/7/11-16/7/11 – Cornwall

29/7/11 – 1/8/11 – Dublin

5/8/11-7/8/11 – London, Community Shield

15/8/11 – City v Swansea

16/8/11 – NCFC v Blackburn Reserves

27/8/11 – Spurs v City

31/8/11 – MEN, Arcade Fire

September-December 2011

16/9/11 – Holiday

5/11/11 – QPR v City

6/11/11 – Mark Watson, Colchester Arts Centre

8/11/11 – Andy Parsons, UEA Playhouse

8/12/11 – Shapi Khorsandi, UEA Playhouse

11/12/11 – Ross Noble, Colchester Arts Centre

16/12/11-19/12/11 – Dusseldorf