John Nichols: You Know His Name

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

/vɪm/

noun

informal
noun: vim
  1. energy; enthusiasm.
    “in his youth he was full of vim and vigour
    Origin: mid 19th century (originally US): perhaps from Latin, accusative of vis ‘energy’.

Today I am mostly going to talk about Vimto. Well, maybe not talk, but write. Yes, today, I’ll write about Manchester’s John Nichols and Vimto. When I was at RAC Inspection Services in Cheadle, Stockport, we used to have a fizzy Vimto option on the drink vending machine. It’d pump out gassy and sugar-free purple liquid into a disposable cup, or mug if you remembered to place one down quick enough.

I have always enjoyed Vimto. My Gran and my Nana used to give me steaming warm cups of it when I was too young to touch the top of door frames. Not that the height of doorframes was a prerequisite for drinking the purple-golden cordial. I can even remember having it pumped on draught at the Working Man’s Club in Newton Heath and Morrison’s supermarket in Failsworth. Since those days, I have supped this drink at the Etihad Stadium, in Abu Dhabi’s airport and on Hua Hin beach in Thailand.

Vimto was originally a health tonic. It contains about 3% fruit juice concentration. The key fruits are possibly from Lancashire: raspberries and blackcurrants. There are grapes too. Don’t ask me which valley of Lancashire they came from – I can only assume Bowker Vale. It sounds plausible. Herbs and spices are bunged in too. Preston’s Ellis Wilkinson Mineral Water Manufacturer produced the water early on. It was really a health business on a healthy path of growth.

“My father used to go into work on Saturdays in those days, back in the mid-to-late ’60s, and so there was a fascination. And in those days my grandfather, who invented the product in the beginning, was still around.” – Grandson John Nichols

(John) Noel Nichols came from Shortridge, Scotland to 19 Granby Row, Manchester. By 1908 he had invented his new drink, just off Sackville Street, and around the corner from Back Acton Street. After 4 years his vim tonic was shortened in name to Vimto. The wholesaler of herbs, spices and medicines had found something quite popular amongst local people – especially in the shadow of the temperance movement and the new 1908 Licensing Act. Soft drinks were a new and exciting market. It changed from health tonic to cordial by 1913 and the rest they say is history.

It is not clear if John Nichols would have approved of the Purple Ronnie character or the slightly rude Giles Andreae poems (friend of screenwriter Richard Curtis). These highly marketable poems and colourful animations appeared in the 1990s and set a tone for a trendy drink – as an almost indie alternative to the giants of Pepsi and Coca-Cola. Nowadays the family link is retained within Nichols plc. Grandson John Nichols is the Non-Executive Chairman. His two sons also work within Nichols plc.

“We have a very open, friendly approach and encourage any member of staff to talk to the management team about their ideas for the business. Innovation has been key to our success in developing the iconic Vimto brand and identifying new brands, products and market opportunities.” – John Nichols, interview with Warren Partners.

Vimto Cordial has diversified from its original form, to sugar-free varieties, fizzy carbonated cans and bottles, cherry and strawberry editions. Then there is Vimto Remix. And sweets. Ice-lollies too. With new space needed, Vimto moved to the edge of Manchester into Salford’s Chapel Street, now home to the luxury Vimto Gardens apartment complex. By the year 1927, they then scattered to Old Trafford (then home to the teenage-aged Manchester Utd. F.C. who had by then picked up five senior domestic trophies) before heading back onto Mancunian soil in Wythenshawe by 1971. Nowadays the multi-billion dollar American-Canadian beverage and food service provider Cott Corporation produces Vimto in Leicestershire and Yorkshire. Presumably both exotic locations have better access to grapes. Traditional bottled soft drink manufacturer A.G. Barr in Forfar and Cumbernauld still make the pop too.

Vimto Soft Drinks and Newton-le-Willows based Nichols plc retain the license alongside other favourites like Panda Pops. Under their Cabana name they manufacture a fair range of soft drinks and post-mix solutions – both at home and overseas to around 80 plus countries. Outside of the traditional market, Vimto enjoys huge presence in the middle-east and Arabian countries. It is made in Yemen, The Gambia and the Saudi Arabian city of Dammam City. It is apparently produced under license (since 1979 by Aujan & Brothers) in order for demand around Ramadan and other occasions that demand fasting. Vimto is so international that it is even made by Mehran Bottlers in Pakistan, is once again back in India, and Nepal’s Himganga Beverage Pvt Ltd. There are currently no products available in China or Taiwan or Hong Kong. Macau? No.

Granby Row has a park now, called Vimto Park with a statue to the drink. It’s a very Mancunian statue erected in 1992. Most cities celebrate iconic politicians and movements, but Manchester being Manchester, we celebrate the birth of a soft drink. The artist Kerry Morrison carved wood from a sustainable forest. Again, forward-thinking and considerate!

12th July 2015 Manchester centre and City campus (15)

Anyway, I’m sat in Dongguan, China, parched and thinking, maybe, I need a meeting. Who wants to invest? Drop me a line. During these COVID-19 outbreak time, we need more sunshine. Let’s bring the purple to the red land of China.

“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” – Was it Mohandas Gandhi who said that? Arleen Lorrance?

Before quarantine.

你好 (nĭ hăo) / Namaste / Welcome!

“In general what I tell people I have learnt is that it’s far better to make a friend out of a possible enemy than an enemy out of a possible friend. You can’t go far wrong.” – Bob Weighton, aged 112 – interview on Good Morning Britain.

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“We need to call Mr Lam back in 20 minutes,” Gerry said, explaining that we had little time to make a decision or get out of Thailand. Monday had started heavily, with worries about an impending closure of the whole of Thailand. Royal mandates and decrees were in position and martial law was on the horizon. A state of emergency was teetering into play, threatening one to three months of lockdowns. Flights were being cancelled and the prospect of all international flights being suspending was approaching fast. We’d been supplying our Principal, Mr Lam with regular requests for assistance for many days, as it was. And, both Gerry and I had had flights cancelled in the run up to that Monday. My Thai Air Asia flight could be rebooked, as long as it was before the scheduled flight on April the 1st, April Fool’s Day. Trip.com, the agent that I booked with has yet to provide any customer assistance. That’s understandable considering the world’s population of humans have big, big, big problems now.

The British Embassy and UK Foreign Office were essentially telling all British citizens to fly home to the motherland – a green land heavily infected with COVID-19. The Thai people said I could remain there and all I needed was a British embassy letter. The UK Foreign Office had previously said don’t go to China – and had yet to retract that statement, despite China being one of the few places seriously controlling the spread of COVID-19…

Mr Lam, and the school could not confirm of the school would be responsible for flight costs or any potential quarantine costs. At that stage, flight tickets had jumped from about 900RMB one way to 4660RMB – and quarantine could be anywhere between 200-400RMB a day. We were pretty much assured that we would be allowed home quarantine as many others had experienced this. Another colleague Nick, was trapped in Sri Lanka, with fast-diminishing flights outbound, but was due to fly on April the 3rd. Two colleagues, Garth and Jason had been in Dongguan during their lockdown and were finally enjoying restaurants and fresh air after lengthy periods tucked in their homes.

So, I agreed with Gerry, that we had to go. With that Mr Lam booked us on a China Southern Airlines flight to Guangzhou. So from an evening playing four-in-a-row and checkers with science teacher Sirimook, I was frantically packing my bags and cramming bottles of Vimto into spaces that weren’t actually there. Around midnight, I was lay on the bed, everything packed and ready to go. It seemed to fast. This was an urgent few hours.

IMG_20200325_091650I awoke at 7.30am, I jumped onto the hire bicycle and returned it to Mr Wichai, who was very kind throughout the hiring period of said mountain bike. As I jumped on a tuk-tuk back, I told Gerry to fry up some of the Wiltshire bacon and the black pudding that we had ordered for a future treat. He complied, and as the kind woman driver of the tuk-tuk waited outside, we tucked into the quick breakfast, doused in HP brown sauce and then bid Amy and Eddi good luck and goodbye. They were to remain there indefinitely and would probably not emerge until Liverpool lifted the 2019/20 Premier League title, and the world was a safer place.

Back onto the friendly tuk-tuk driver’s tuk-tuk, we zipped out Chanta village gates, waving goodbye to the security guard and gatekeeper (in a mask, just like us), and turned right, then left at the roundabout, across the really quiet main road. We stopped so that I could pick up my City hat, it blew off due to turbulence and a gust. I ran to grab it. A snake darted off the near empty roads. I jumped back onto the tuk-tuk. The driver floored it. We reached the modern Hua Hin Airport to Bangkok Airport bus station. We paid her 600 baht for her driving, way above the usual rate – but she certainly wasn’t getting many customers that day. Hua Hin was desolate. Everyone who could fly away, had gone, or were at the airports desperately finding a way to their native lands. About a tenth of the average million visitors to Thailand were at that time stranded or clutching at straws to get out. We grabbed our bags and went to the counter. Almost all the buses that day had sold out. Our luck was in. We paid 294 baht. Within an hour we boarded the full 11:30am service, which left 30 minutes. The usual journey time was anticipated to be three to five hours dependent on traffic. We arrived before 2pm. Way too early check-in. Even with roadworks, our coach had practically flown into Bangkok uninhibited.

At Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport, our temperature was checked on the way in and we were each labelled with a green sticker. We were in. After being told that we were far too early to check in, we skipped past many returning Chinese nationals in hazardous materials suits. Some had full facial gas masks on. Some wore visors. Many sported full body rain ponchos that could be found in theme parks across the world. Others had kits resembling a kind of pale Ghostbusters. We wandered downstairs, well travellators, for lunch passing sets of four seats with two red exes closing off the central seats. A green tick meant that you could sit down. Posters, banners, hand gels, sanitizers, signs, announcements and swarms of temperature gun-toting airport staff. The pandemic response was clear to see.

Next was some queuing on red dots and trying to occupy one red dot on the floor per person, without being close to the person in front or behind. After dropping our bags in, scanning a QR code which gave us a National Health Commission of China health declaration, in Chinese, we proceeded to customs and passed several LED screens full of cancellations. Very little was due to fly that day. We were lucky. I showed Gerry that the Spring Airlines flight to Guangzhou that evening was cancelled. That was our other possible way out. There still was a chance that we would not lift off the ground. Flights were also known to face diversions and returns to their departure airports. We kept hope.

wx_camera_1585137521122After a goodbye beer in the airport, we grabbed sandwiches to go, quickly, as our flight’s departure had moved forwards a little. We boarded the flight and at the rear of the plane we were able to move from row 57 to 61 and enjoy lots of empty seats. They’re here, they’re there, they’re every slipping where, empty seats, empty seats… No headphones in flight and all the staff had latex hands, and half-hidden faces. After the usual health and safety video, the China Southern Airlines, flight CZ364 taxied and then rocketed down the runway. The wheels lifted and the plane went skywards. Up, up and away.

After an inflight sandwich or two, and a pre-packed inflight snack pack, our flight descended. We had no real idea of when we would eat next or how the reported quarantine and testing processes would be. We’d filled in the health declaration form – the first of four paper sheets that night and following early hours. Another QR code later, and we’d replicated the paper form on an electronic giving us a further QR barcode to provide to the epidemiological investigations team, after two temperature checks. Here a translator copied my English form to a Chinese form. Gerry was led away to another room. Eventually I was also directed to that room. The cast of Outbreak, in their sky-blue and white uniform hazmat suits wandered in and out. Gerry was led away to a smaller room and came out soon after saying the swab test was uncomfortable.

When my turn came, a young suited and booted man, who I could only see the eyes of, through steamed goggles, led me into the smaller room. Here I as happy that no needles were involved. That was – until a roughly 12cm swab was tunnelled up my left nostril and then my right one. It seemed to last forever. It was probably closer to a second or two. After that, I felt relief that it was over. Then a second swab appeared. The medic in white said, “Say, ahhhh.” I was closer to saying, “ARGHHHHH!” My gag reflex made me throaty and horrible in sensation. It was a vile feeling. I left the room with a taste of something unrecognisable and utterly vile. I whipped my mask down and swigged a few needed gulps of water. Gerry and I were each handed a stamped certificate to say that we’d had the tests. Out we went, through the next temperature gates and over to customs, after filling in yet another form. After passing customs, we found our bags slowly spinning around the baggage carousel amongst many other suitcases. At least ten baggage carousels filled the great arrivals hall. We were the only two souls within the room. It was now close to 01:30 on Wednesday morning. We’d landed around 23:30 the previous day. After gripping our bags, we passed through the customs declaration channels, gone right up a cordoned pathway, up some escalators and then left over a bridge. A young girl sporting a full hazmat suit directed us the only possible way we could walk, forwards.

The path was a bridge, entirely sealed and led to some stairs on our right. Down we went and turned right. Gerry mentioned that it reminded him of the registration tents of a marathon run. After scanning another QR code, and filling another paper form, we sat down and awaited a bus or coach to Dongguan. All around us, many tables displayed towns within Guangzhou, cities around Guangdong and one sign for provinces beyond. Eventually, around 3am, a dozen or more fellow Dongguan-bounded passengers were marked outside. Considering Gerry had stopped someone taking a bottle of hand-sanitizer by accident, they were all lucky to be boarding. In fairness, it was placed next to the complimentary water bottles. What struck me about ot all, here we were, in a nation at the time, that had suffered thousands of deaths, tens of thousands of infected ill people and yet spirits were high, and nobody seemed worried.

The coach departed with an escort vehicle. For some unknown reason there was a beeping sound for some time. I imagine it was to do with the hazard lights being on. The coach slowed down around Machong Town and a half-sleepy me heard my number (2) and Gerry’s number (3) and went to depart. I managed to get off the coach. In actual fact it was everyone but numbers two and three. So, back onboard I went. Then, the coach started up again and away we went. The bleeping sound never relented. As the coach pulled off the highways to more local roads, we could see recently constructed barriers between gardens and walls of MDF and scaffolding. Eventually, the coach passed the Botanical Gardens, pulled left, and a few hundred metres, left again into West Lake Hotel. The escort car shot up the raise to the hotel at the top of the hill. We followed, slowed and then stopped. The doors opened. We departed. Hazmat suits everywhere. Here they carried our bags, checked us in with yet another form at 05:00. The actual cost was to be an eye-watering 450RMB a night. I was handed my room number. No key. Gerry was allocated a different floor and wing of the hotel. Off we went. At the fourth floor (in the UK, it’d be the third floor), I told Gerry I’ll see him soon, and off I went, a few doors down on the right. I stepped through the door into quarantine.

It begins.

 


 

This week in Manchester, little Britain and the world.

“It’s irresponsible for the Prime Minister and Health Sec to say they’ll only self-isolate for 7 days. The WHO say people can be infectious 14 days after symptoms stop.” – Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, Labour MP for Tooting/NHS hero: A&E Doctor

Mancunian people, whether workers or businesses have always been known for their spirit when faced with the terrible. Mancs, not manky mongrels. Through kindness and solidarity, Manchester, whether blue or red, or other, whether queer, straight, transgender, lesbian, gay and all the wonderful colours of the spectrum of sexuality have and will always show love to hate, love to fear, and togetherness in adversity. Yes, there are exceptions and every village as their idiot, but we don’t look down on that lot, we reason, we educate ‘em and we again show love.

So, NHS, you beautiful creation and wonderful giver of life and provider in strife, here’s the City of Manchester Etihad Stadium, council-owned and City-leased for you to use as you see fit. Do as you need, because you need and they need, more than we need. Cry Sis’? No crisis, the superheroes with their inadequate masks and their gowns weakened by cuts, are here fighting. They’re our front line and with them I feel fine. If anyone can save me, it won’t be Superman, Batman or the Avengers, it’ll be Doctors like Rosena Allin-Khan, in Tooting, or our boys and girls in blue (or whichever nursing colours they choose) in Wythy, and my place of birth Crumpsall and the numerous other trusts up and down these green and pleasant lands. But, they need us. They need our volunteers, they need our support and they need us to stay indoors. The longer we do this, the sooner we’re out. If you anyone out, don’t give them a clout, maintain a distance and shout, “Oi, get inside and don’t be snide.” Feel the rhythm, feel the ride? No time for a sneaky bobsleigh ride. Watch the tele’  instead. Or find yourself lucky with beeping at the bed. Don’t be misled, by Trump and his fools, or Boris and his tools, 14 days here, is better than 14 days under soil, feeding worms and all the bugs. Overhead, thoroughbred might be okay, but in their hospital beds, some won’t live, and that’s the thing that you can give. A chance. One little chance. Stay at home, like I said.

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Returning to China has been eye-opening. What’ve I seen? World class control. Top rate protection. No risks. This is the now, and not the beginning which obviously was a huge Alan Ball’s up. I’d rather be here than Britain, right now. That says a lot. I’d be home in a jiffy, if I felt it was safe enough to protect my family and friends. I feel I can’t offer much more than a mass clap for the NHS.

The clap for the NHS was wonderful. It gave hope and lifted spirits. It wasn’t the true support that the NHS needed, but it was as a national scale response to the superheroes both in the UK and beyond that are battling for our lives. Some are giving their own lives. The government dissection and eventual evaluation of what could have been done better has begun, and will continue throughout, but I think the time to reflect must be after. Not now. By all means, question now and help to make suggestions. What’s absolutely unforgivable is that this Conservative government do not care about the general population of Britain. They found money with consummate ease to ease the worries and support the masses. It seemed mostly to support the upper echelons and middle tier of society, with so many hidden support packages for business and industry. People, the working class mainly, may not have jobs to go to after all of this blows over or fades away. That’s on the assumption that they make it through this alive.

This government downsized our capacity for dealing with outbreaks. They made devastating cuts and prevented those in medical capacities from having access to adequate personal protection equipment. The matter of Brexit pressed on and the warnings of SARS-CoV-2 barely existed. Not that any rival party politics groups were waving warning flags either. Nor was the WHO. The Conservatives seem, on the surface, to be facing up to their mistakes of old, realising that the chasm-like depth of suffering was on their doorstep – and soon enough it was flooding in and around them, swirling and taking no prisoners.

COVID-19’s arrival comes on the back of decades of reductionism at the NHS. Many aspects of the NHS are under market control. Cash for care. Money for statistics. Insurance by stockpiling medical goods, undermines profit and gain. Why put things in boxes and let them go dusty?

Capitalism protected itself (in June, not now) in unparalleled ways during this exceptional time. Chancellor Rishi Sunak was pushed forwards with his cool and emotional responses. A temporary floatation of cash keeps many people feeding the industries essential to keeping an economy afloat. This impermanent flash of generosity may be short-lived. Does it protect newly self-employed staff? No. Those undertaking redundancy recently? No. Those on a zero-hours contract? No. The unemployed and those on disability? No. They can apply for Universal Credit, which was increased to £94.25, up about twenty quid in these harder than hard times. £377 per month may help you travel far enough to buy the last bag of pasta, or pay a water bill on time. If you’re self-employed you can get up to £2500 a month. Chancellor Rishi Sunak cited fraud as being a huge concern. These are hardly terms to discourage people from going outside looking for a bit of work on the quiet. How long will this go on?

Government grants, from state funds, are bailing out businesses in a period of unknown. Like the idea of herd immunity, it could well be the same as pissing into the wind. Not of much use. The big plus being that the workers of Britain will not experience hunger or poverty, for now.

Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, had already said he couldn’t live on £94.25 a week. Around £330 billion has been set aside for business. The unemployed have a ringfenced figure of £7 billion to enjoy amongst themselves – over time. We’re in this together – some less than others, some more than others, and many doing near nothing – and some doing nothing but getting paid for it. There’s no such thing as equality. None. The rewards seen by businesses aren’t meant for the working classes. In a nation divided by those susceptible by this COVID-19 disease, there are already people plagued by means-testing, heavy taxes, debt, student loans (hell, years ago, I’ve thought about suicide on that subject but never considered it – I couldn’t hurt anyone in my family or my friends), and so many crippling factors. Now a fairer government would say, okay, hey, this is bad, erm, let’s have X amount of the pot divided by the population number. Each payment will be weighted larger towards those with care costs, children, disability, assistance requirements etc. Those who own a house, have less outgoings, no travel or fuel costs, will get less. Those stuck overseas and unable to return will get X, Y and Z provided. What am I talking about? A fairy tale. Stabilise people and their minds, keep them indoors and protect each other. Not with this government…

To highlight the hate directed at the mis-leadership that is this government’s modern day Neville Chamberlain, Boris Johnson (better described by Stewart Lee as…), preoccupied with conserving their social order and trying to escape self-isolation a week early is getting death threats and utter abuse. As his chancellor supports those who earn more (the more you earn, the more you get support), Boris is locked away in Number Ten Downing Street. Health Secretary Matt Hancock and England’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty are also isolating alone. They all tested positive for COVID-19. Each shown symptoms of the viral disease that treats its hosts to universalism, something the Tory hosts may never understand. The Tories don’t care about you. Boris didn’t receive much love either. Just many cheers of joy and a few death wishes too.

A twat is a twat, but nobody truly deserves death or illness for being that. We’re not Gods and we don’t deserve to hang each other on nooses. As disgusting as someone is, isn’t it more human to reason, debate, democratically talk sense to a thickie… if not then, we all deserve the end. That’s bleak. That’s horrible. I imagine somewhere his education and his upbringing wasn’t like yours or mine and that shaped him. By all means don’t feel sorry for him, but don’t default to being Adolf bleeding Hitler on him. Yes, Boris, has years of systemic life-reduction methods and decision in his tank, but does anyone have the right to respond with heinous distasteful emotional attacks on the man? Is anyone entitled to stab a man in the back on his bed of illness? His policies may target groups of people and favour the few, but deep down below that tuft of white mop-hair, he’s a human. Or at least a lizard-humanoid, because he ONLY needs 7 days of self-isolation.

Or, we could argue that illness and hate is deserved. His floundering and dithering government sat back on this COVID-19 outbreak too long before making a huge U-turn to take it on. Dawdling the message of herd immunity fell away for the delaying weaker policy of ‘please stay at home’ and struggling into an eventual negligence and incompetence, aside from the heart-warming handclap. Personally, I don’t respect faltering Boris. He lost my respect long ago as stumbling Mayor of London, and wallowing as other fools since then. I won’t be his fan. Luckily, I won’t be wishing he dies or gets ill. I will be wishing that this government wakes up and gets its act together. Britain, the UK, England, whatever, it cannot go alone. The world must act together. Pool resource. Put aside emotion and concentrate on this global issue. Mother nature has a great new way to make compost – or air pollution via cremations. COVID-19 isn’t to be defeated, but gently turned away and eradicated. Viruses, like governments, and civilisations can fade away. Humanity should not. But, it does need to adapt P.D.Q. (pretty damn quick).

Unluckily, Brazil’s top dog and general knobhead, posing president Jair Bolsonaro has laughed at and almost denied COVID-19 as the world struggles. He even threatened to sack his health minister and any experts critical of his regime handing. Brazil is at high risk.

Luckily, some nations are taking action. The National Health Commission of China will not dismiss a second wave of this disease outbreak. That’s why the borders of China were closed to foreigners, on the 28th of March 2020. Around 10% of China’s so-called imported cases came from returning foreigners. As xenophobia and fear ramps up, China has called for calm. It also imposed a rule that allows one airline to go to one country, once a week. Posing the selfish question, how can I get to the UK in summer, if this carries on?!

“One thing I think the coronavirus crisis has already proved is that there really is such a thing as society.” – Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Twitter.

Luckily, COVID-19 doesn’t discriminate and isn’t corrupt.

Unluckily, the longer this goes on, the more our lives will change because of COVID-19.

Luckily, some nations are seeing drops in infections and deaths.

Unluckily, COVID-19 could be here for a while or mutate…

Luckily, Trump is taking U-turns and allowing states and other proper leaders to do a job.

Unluckily, Trump.

Luckily, Dyson and F1 are making ventilators, Brewdog are making hand gels, Santini (cycling jerseys) switched to making masks, and so many great stories. Trump is using the Korean War-era Defense Production Act to get General Motors producing items of use to the medical profession. Food banks, which shouldn’t exist in the first place, are being supported by major supermarkets.

Unluckily, many on the frontline of healthcare have died or are in isolation.

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The above image was made by SZ Blues member Waits.

Luckily, City & Utd came togetherand supported local foodbanks. #ACityUnited

Unluckily, Bugzy Malone’s boredom led to a crash. Get well soon.

Bastard of the week: McDonald’s asked for help from customers. This was only a week after Ronald McDonald House evicted a ten year old boy. NB: While the fast food company provides funding and organisational support, Ronald McDonald House Charities is an independent charity.

Luckily, many medics returning to fight against the outbreak. The NHS is testing more workers than ever before. #StayHomeSaveLives

As COVID-19 almost doubles every five days or so, it isn’t all doom and gloom. People are recovering. That’s key. Hope.

I’d like to leave you with this:

“There is no such thing as society.” – Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister (U.K.), 1979-1990

Hey, Maggie, we’re about to really find out… look up from Dante’s Inferno and see how we get on.


Personal Protection Equipment
I keep getting asked about how to buy masks from China. I can’t help, I’m in quarantine. If you need any masks, give Maria at Unique Dongguan a shout on Skype (+86)18122819259, 370105612@qq.com, or #wechat for info or help. #covid19UK #covid19 – and take a look at: dgsali.com

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.

 

Rainbow tapestry.

Sawasdeekhap / Namaste / Welcome!

Last Sunday, I went on a run. Yes, I walked occasionally after the 3km mark, and jogged a bit, but the beach was slanted to the right (east), which is not good when you have right ankle and tendon weaknesses. My right ankle has been suffering instability for year but since late autumn it has been recovering. There is no pain but the super over pronation is inwards and makes it easy for me to roll my ankles and my flat feet. Running is not something that I enjoy nor do I want to do. So, last Saturday evening Gerry and I cycled 20km or so to Cha Am. He was joining the Cha Am Bikini Run (10km run). There were other options such as the half-marathon and a 5km run. As he picked up his bib, to go over his USA flag speedos, I asked if you could run without wearing a bikini or speedos. That is to say, I was curious if you could run in regular shorts and shirts, rather than naked. The gentleman said yes. I asked if I could join the 5km run. I parted with 450 baht and was handed the running number 1143. It had space on it for a temperature check, because of COVID-19 and so on. So, just after 6pm on Saturday, I was to run at 6am the following day. Cheers Gerry!

I crossed the line, sweating and knackered. Just below 36 minutes for the heavy bugger on the old 5K beach run in sun-licked Cha Am. Not bad for someone who hates running. When the world stops worrying and this virus, disease and panic goes away, we’ll mourn the lost and seek normality. Until then, keep hope and do as much as you can in these dark hours. Don’t blame and judge. Be the difference and look to inspire. I entered the 5K run because infectious human attitudes made it appealing. It was a challenge and we as a species are always capable of rising to a challenge. Together we’re stronger. Seeing runners with smiles on their faces and their tribal passion for this sport made me escape the worries of the days ahead. The COVID-19 pandemic is shattering lives globally and I may end up trapped in Thailand for some time. It is what it is. We must find the light of positivity wherever we can. Apinterfood (Hua Hin) has made my day in recent weeks. I’m in Thailand enjoying ice cold Vimto. I wish all around the world peace and love at this difficult time. Vimto has and will bring calm. We need more calm. Less sensationalism, more calm. More Vimto too. Don’t panic buy Vimto. Share the purple love juice. As a wise Mancunian saying goes, “Stay safe our kid.”


IMG_20200201_124646

Back to the Nepal trek we go, and the many sounds of the Marsyangdi River. Leaving the cute puppy eyes, and Jagat behind, the first thing we witnessed was a sheep or goat completely cut open. It seemed a wedding or some other such festivity demanded it. The one thing about the hugely multicultural Nepali lifestyle is, you’re never more than a day or so from a regional, local, religious or personal holiday. All are fascinating in a mammoth amount of ways, however, stepping around a bath of blood on the muddy pathway was a bit too much for breakfast. In my eyes, anyway. Not long after leaving Jagat (1130m), Chamche (1385m) was a passing point. A stunning waterfall cast a rainbow in the blowing water spray, commanded a great place to stand and enjoy the view. Many more waterfalls followed that day, cutting and jutting from the high valley sides, but the Chamche Waterfall opposite the Boong Waterfall and Dense Fall Restaurant was a fine way to inspire a good walk.

Switching away from the road, I clambered along a trail pathway that faced into the ugly road over the valley. The road was a continual scar among the awe-inspiring mountainsides and colossal rocks. The dribbled blasted rocks and erosion alongside the scar gave the appearance of a weeping mountain.

IMG_20200130_170616Tal (1700m) was over a hill. By over the hill, I mean very far away and plenty of up, up, up. Not a hint of what Tal would look like because ultimately some very large geological features were doing a good job of screening the beyond. After some really emotional digging in we were back on the pathway, Livia and I, walking with Srirang not far behind. The few restaurants and hotels along the way were closed, and water had to be gained from river feeds into pipes, and then straight into the Life Straw bottle. Clean and fresh. The great sinister and prophesying slopes ahead didn’t encourage but we dug in. On reaching the top we had an eagle’s eye view into Tal, with an eagle flying beneath us over a wide valley plain and lake within the Marsyangdi River. The overlooking stone gate faced onto Tal. We toyed with how long before Srirang would arrived but decided the best thing was to find somewhere to eat. A gent introduced himself, and told us that his lodge was sadly under repair. His friend from Jagat, at Mont Blanc Hotel, had recommended his sister’s lodge. We said, not to worry, and carried on. We went all the way to the farthest point of the village, Paradise Lodge on his recommendation. Here we ordered food and fussed a local dog that followed us. The pumpkin soup and momos were brilliant. Well needed after that wander, The widened-valley stretched across the banks of the river beneath with a stone plain giving home to the village of Tal. Behind it the Tal waterfalls plummeted downwards powering a turbine or two.

IMG_20200131_094804After a cup of milky coffee, the weakest coffee ever, but warm and sweet, Srirang walked up the garden path. He did not have his backpack. He said he’d checked into Tashi Delek Lodge (named after a Tibetan greeting). We retreated back there and dropped our bags in. The girl at the lodge had wide Tibetan eyes, wonderfully smooth hair and a figure to die for. I seldom judge someone as breath-taking at first sight. She was. And, without appearing like a debauched foreigner, I politely thanked her for showing me to the wide room, and she slid away quietly. A man I assumed to be her father, and a woman who was clearly her mother shuffled around the garden and lodgings in the start of the Manang district. Before a wander out, we ordered our dinners and dal bhat was on the menu once again.

We set out back towards Jagat, but only as far as the lake and plain area opened out downstream. A golden looking dog joined us. He, Livia and Srirang were having a whale of a time. I wandered along quietly amazed at the litter amongst the river bed and shore. It is always sad to see a natural place covered in plastic and soggy discarded clothing. Some will have no doubt been trekking waste, but much would have been due to a lack of waste management. Plastic is a global menace. Tal sits on the line of Tibetan Nepal and Hindu Nepal. A clearer division of cultures was visible. Today’s dal baht was the best that I had ever had. I thought about how many argue that the road across the valley doesn’t detract from the beauty of the area, triggered by a motorbike ripping the arse out of the valley’s silence.

IMG_20200130_163546Before dinner, Livia, Srirang and our new Kukura (कुकुर – a dog) – abandoned Livia’s impressive learning of Nepali language and we went to see the waterfall, lit up by several bulbs and enjoyed the setting sun over the snow-capped mountain ranges of the west. To our north up the Marsyangdi River, cold clouds gathered and swirled. To the south, similar clouds menacingly eddied and flowed over distant peaks. We looked at pictures of a spider and Livia, with Srirang set about creating a kind of social media profile photo montage. The day had been epic in terms of the scale and ravines witnessed, with such dramatic sweeping scenery accompanying us along the way. Following steep stones and vast drops, a few photos of an eight-legged critter seemed fitting. The big and small, side by side.

IMG_20200131_104942The following morning blue skies greeted us all. I’d woken around 7am but we departed closer to 10.30am. Why rush? Armed with a stodgy breakfast we set off early, having chewed on buckwheat bread, omelettes and porridge. The beautiful girl waved us goodbye. The river bent north-west, and we followed the banks, as the valleys once again enclosed the Marsyangdi River. After only a short distance the river pointed north, and we looked upstream at gaping valleys. But, first we enjoyed a smooth and calm waterfall on our right shoulders. Livia washed her hair and Srirang rested for a while. I plodded up the stairs slowly at first and then having reached a crest, decided I’d trot on a little. The valley below deepened and over the river the road slipped lower below me. The mountains above me cast shadows and sunlight broke through the occasional pockets of bamboo forestry. Here the plants became more deciduous than before, with the air temperature hovering just below teens in centigrade. Sound thundered up from the deep vaIMG_20200131_121925lley beneath. After passing the first yak of the journey I found the small village of Karte. That was an ideal break point after some knee-stress-inducing steps on the route so far. As my lunch of pumpkin soup and momos was readied, I walked over the suspension bridge and back. By 12.50pm, I was at Karte, and now I had met the sister of a certain doggy back in Tal. Her puppies were nearby too. I sat and enjoyed the views and had a quick gander on the internet, via the lodge’s wi-fi. Here I read an excellent account of this trekking region by Tasha Amy (spotting a familiar dog too).

Somewhere after Karte, I decided to plonk my bottom down and have a short nap. I positioned my feet on a comfortable rock and slid my head back onto my resting backpack. Why rush? I hadn’t walked too much extra before reaching Dharapani’s first few guesthouses. Here I greeted the owners if the bright pink and green New Tibet Guest House. With a view up at a very high suspension bridge, I decided this would be a good place to stay – especially as Srirang, Livia and I had decided this would be the day’s end. I checked in, explored the waterfall over the river, had a wander within the village and waited not too long for Srirang and Livia to arrive. Dharapani has a few houses, and a population of just over a thousand, throughout about 232 houses. It is the gateway to the Manaslu trekking routes and all climbers who want that scap, head througIMG_20200131_161129h here. The so-called Gandaki Zone of northern Nepal. Just across the river a further 102 houses, house about four times as many people as front doors. The village of Thonje can be reached by a swinging suspension bridge. A river valley to the north-east gives Thonje a headland sandwiching it to the north-west by the Marsyangdi River. The north-easterly direction to Tilche and a village called Goa looked cold and uninviting. The name Thonje means ‘pine trees growing on a flat place’ in Gurung language.

IMG_20200201_131727An hour’s climb up a near vertical cliff-hugging pathway is not the best thing to do for a late breakfast. But, it had to be done. That vertical line of suspension bridge was calling out my name. Eventually I reached the steep-faced village of Nache (2300m) overlooking a sweeping plain and several farming stepped fields. I ducked into the Dona Lake & Restaurant lodge for lunch. With views of Manaslu (8163m) I sank a bowl of pumpkin and onion soup deep into my belly. Lovely vegetable momos joinIMG_20200201_140008ed the soup moments later. After thanking the owner and their family, I swiftly wandered around the bend, shuffled by two bulls blocking the path and skipped on forwards. To walk on a very-raised footbridge was my intention. The pathway descended and Annapurna could be seen across the opposite valley and way off into the distance.

Heights sometimes give me the heebie-jeebies. There’s a touch of anxiety and apprehension. It doesn’t freeze me in panic or fright, but I don’t feel completely comfortable. This bridge, the Nachai Tamrang bridge, was one heebie-jeebies instiller of the highest quality. The valley below is deep (more than 412m). After crossing, I passed some loggers and wandered through the cool pine forest interior. The chilly evening air was refreshing and I spent a long time pondering if the pathway would start to go downhill. It didn’t seem to go that way, until I found a landslip of many tonnes of soil. Just beyond it I could see prayer flags, a large chalky-coloured rock and some white-washed painted bricks and wood.

A Tibetan monastery, just about on the map (Coordinates: 28.526666408038352, 84.36179227677985), more than 55 years old received me. I hadn’t expected it. The monk shouted down to me, after his black dog had alerted him of my presence. I returned the call with a greeting, and asked for advice on how to pass the huge landslip in front of me. He kind of pointed and said, “There isn’t an easy way. Take great care”, followed by a gentle chuckle. I’d fathomed out a pathway to my right, and looped it around but again it had to cross the landslip, over a distance of two metres. Aside from that the landslip was mostly 5 to 15 metres wide. It ran down into a steep pocket of bushes and mud for about ten metres. I couldn’t slip far. I could get buried. It could have been dangerous. So, I did what anyone else faced with a lengthy walk back, I winged it. I jumped over the first metre with consummate ease, and pushed myself into the soft earth, to allow for a steady flick into the solid growth by a tree and then shuffled up to the gate at the top.

I talked with the resident monk, and he told me of the story of his predecessor who had been there for 55 years. He showed me damage on a wall from the terrible earthquake years ago, the huge tree grown from a seed by his predecessor. The steep garden reaching up from two buildings featured diversity in its birdlife. The national bird, the Himalayan Monal (Lophophorus impejanus) foraged amongst the peaceful greenery. Wind battered away at flags, and several thin cats wandered around. I had a guided tour within the small monastery and made a donation. With light fading I bid farewell, and shuffled off downhill for the bridge to Thonje, and then the eventual bridge to Dharapani, back to my lodge across the way from the highest bridge that I had ever seen, just upstream from the skeleton of a sagging bridge and its replacement nearby. The warm cushions and the fireplace alongside hot meals made for a good night of sleep, despite the icy cold temperatures outside. Dharapani will stick in my mind as one of the most pleasant places on this journey.

It had rolling power cuts as during daylight, they turned off the power whilst they fitted new power lines. Several huge boulders, landslides, avalanches and other such damage had created supply instability. Leaning and/or crushed pylons needed replacing for many kilometres. The monsoon seasons, the winter, the dry days, and other erosion factors made life hard for local people. The power and a recently installed internet feed gave a very modern touch, along with the new road creating regular gas deliveries and other luxuries throughout the region. What many take for granted around the world had only just arrived. The old and new. The New Tibet Guest House even had western toilets, complete with fully flushing bits. What wasn’t to like? A warm shower and a sit-down pooh. As many returning trekkers passed me by advising of closed pathways near Manang, I didn’t worry. If I couldn’t go that high, I’d not be too upset. The journey was already wonderful.

 

At Dharapani (1900m), on leaving our permits were checked. It was all very official and the Police here advised that trekking beyond Manang was unlikely for several days. Livia and Srirang looked disappointed but I guessed they’d wait it out. I was on a tight timetable and wouldn’t be rushing up, either way. The journey was magnificent and for me it had no planned end point. Something special always arrives if you let it. Okay, that sounded very Walt Disney, but I truly believe that you can’t force a trek in the Himalayas. Just go with flow. Feel the rhythm, feel the ride, it’s bobsleigh time…So, that day we slipped through Odar ( a village where I was told  a landslide killed a sleeping trekker some years ago) , Bagarchap (2160m – a village once washed away in 1995), Danagyu (2200m – an unappealing lengthy village, with a Buddhist Monastery opposite a Hydro Electric Plant warning about dangers in the workplace and you only having one life…), and spent some considerable time climbing to Timang (2710m). Livia and Srirang took the road, but I was bored of the road and wanted to see more natural settings that dusty rocks and broken lines of earth.

So, here began the tough part of the trek… forests of pine and fir…

 


Life will find a way.” – Ian Malcolm, character in the novel Jurassic Park, by Michael Crichton

Back to today’s news. Tragedy. More grimness and COVID-19 panic. More worries. It is making me feel down, actually. I worry. I try to escape.I don’t want to see Chinese people boasting how their great nation beat the virus. It isn’t over. I hope to hell, for many it will be over soon. Yes, great doctors and nurses have done wonderful things. But, leaders and officials have let people down. Still, the late Dr Li Wenliang has been exonerated by his government. Too little, too late? 

A while ago, Boris Johnson said he’d take the virus and disease outbreak – on a Friday. He called a COBR meeting for the Monday. This is the same man who said to sing Happy Birthday twice whilst scrubbing your mitts. USA had a drive-through testing centre made by Google. As foot-tap alternatives to handshakes greeted each other, I couldn’t help wondering how they take their shoes off, which obviously were exposed to things that people touched, and probably, hands earlier in the day… The Ian Duncan Smith virus harms the elderly amongst us and this virus is going all Energizer bunny, on and on, and on. It’s tragic but please stay safe, calm and dish out some Gallow’s Humour. Keep your stuff upper lip. The battle goes on.

“If there’s one thing the history of evolution has taught us, it’s that life will not be contained. Life breaks free, it expands to new territories, and crashes through barriers painfully, maybe even dangerously, but, uh, well, there it is.” –  Ian Malcolm, character in the novel Jurassic Park, by Michael Crichton

Life goes on.

 

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

Winter is coming.

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

I am sat here smugly sat here, with my cup of squeezy no-added sugar Vimto. I have less than two days before I feel myself soaring into the sky…

My flight to Nepal’s Kathmandu (via Mumbai, India) departs Hong Kong S.A.R. International Airport on Saturday the 31st of December 2016, at noon. I arrive local time in Nepal at 23:00hrs. Hopefully, I’ll have my baggage collected and be mobile before the year 2017 A.D. arrives. The 2966 km journey (as the crow flies) will take longer as a budget flight dictates the change in India. Jet Airways, I have heard, aren’t that bad, so here goes a journey into the unknown and unexperienced with an airline I know little about. An adventure awaits.

Just like Father Christmas has done in recent times, I have made a list of things to take, checked it twice, thrice and more times. Am I ready? I don’t know. Did I plan? Yes. Just to prove a point, here is my checklist

Water bottle/1L water pack

Nalgene/

 
Passport photos

Insurance

Additional risk insurance

Notify bank

Flights

 
Trekking poles  
Camera and accessories

Camera bag

 
Pens  
Toilet paper  
SteriPen  
Synthetic or nylon top

Pants. No cotton.

 
Bandanna  
Trail food  
MP3 player  
Sleeping bag  
Sleeping bag liners  
Cotton pillow case  
Wind breaker  
Wind pants  
Long socks  
Day sack
Batteries/bulbs/torch/head lamp
Swiss army knife
Sunglasses/goggles
Lip sun block
Sun lotion
Medical/first aid kit
Sewing kit
Wool socks
Sun hat
Woollen hats
Long Johns

Baselayers

Gloves
Gaiters
T-shirts
Down jacket
Waterproof jacket
Trekking boots
Trainers
Hiking pants
Hiking shirts (full sleeves)
Ruck sack
Towel

After three days in Kathmandu, I will begin my ascent. I will somehow get to a place called Jiri by car, jeep or bus. From there, I will hike from Jiri (1951m) to Deorali (2705m); Deorali to Sete (2575m); Sete to Junbesi (2675m); Junbesi to Numtala 2360m; Numtala to Khari Khola 2100m; Khari Khola to Surkhe 2293m; and Surkhe to Lukla 2810m. Nowadays many people abandon the old ways and fly from Kathmandu to Lukla. Not me, I’m walking as the explorers of old did. I’ve allowed 8 days for this journey. Some say it can be done in 6, but I guess they’re more Superman than I. There are a few alternative routes that bypass Lukla and head on to Namche Bazar (3.440 m) but perhaps the altitude gain is too great. My plan involves Phakding (2.610 m), Mojo’s Sagarmatha National Park Entrance around Larja bridge (2.830 m), and Namche Bazar (3.440 m), hopefully arriving on a Friday to witness the great Saturday morning market. Khumjung (3.780 m) looking over at Ama Dablam (6.856 m), Tengboche (3.860 m) for the great monestaries, Pangboche (3.930 m), Pheriche (4.270 m), Dingboche (4.410 m), Dughla (Thokla) – 4.620 m, Thokla Pass (4.830 m) and my final place for sleeping in Gorak Shep camp (5.140 m). Here I will trek to Kala Patthar (5.545 m) and Everest Base Camp (5.364 m) to gaze upon Everest (8.848 m). After a few hours of that, I head back to Kathmandu as fast as I can. Hopefully I’ll get a day in the city before flying back to Hong Kong S.A.R. with my onward road of China by the 29th of January 2017.

Months, weeks, days and hours of planning is about to begin… I’m both excited and nervous. I’ll miss those I love, dearly, as I do. But, dreams… dreams must be put into action, one by one.

 

 

 

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