The thing about Guangzhou in spring is it’s wet. The city, particularly around green Tianhe, is drenched. The trees appear to be sweating. Their long branches and hanging roots drip and drop with water. The concrete floors, tiles, and soils all looked soaked. The air smells damp. Humidity dominates this domain.
People who walk, aim for shelter as fine misty rains drip and drape over you. They swallow all who pass. The grey clouds that shroud towers move swiftly bringing hot, soggy downpours and misty conditions. Rain isn’t always around, but almost all clothes give an effect of walking in a swimming pool. Wet. Wet. Wet. And hot. Tropical heat cooks and dehydrates you. Your lungs are a prisoner to damp.
The walk from Guangzhou East railway station towards the Canton Tower and the British Consulate office felt like an upright swim through a cloud. Little dryness was left to the respiratory tract. Even less fresh air. The putrid stink of soggy sodden drains arose over nature’s handful of flowers.
Following a successful appointment, having arrived early and been sent back to the dank air outside only to return later, I emerged back into muggy breezes. The thesaurus would support my use of oppressive terms for stifling terminology. The steamy weather certainly did. With the necessary documents to hand, I steamed back to Guangzhou East railway station and fumbled my way through train ticket booking. The clammy phone in my hand, a tool to close the deal.
The air-conditioning on the 15:49 C7045 train merited the first class seat. It was the only available seat. The last chair from irriguous Guangzhou, bound for Dongguan’s Changping. At Changping, close clammy air circled and crept beneath my shirts buttoned front. The mucky dusty air was exchanged for a private taxi to meet Gerry for dinner.
The latest in a long line of Kings Bars and Restaurants, at the Virgin Hotel 4th floor, made for frosty respite to the lack of chill outdoors.
Trapped, twisted and descending; landing seemed so far; never ending. Flushed from on high; plummeting from cold beginnings to the warm decks below.
When it rains, it pours. The heavy hard rain begins as a gentle drop here. And a small drop there. Booming on the surface. Shattering outwards. Explosive force on almost microscopic scale. The end of the flow.
Drifting by influence; winds pull and push; tugging at the deluge and its wild rush; and unending battle of elemental force; tectonics in the sky; ending the moment of dry. Neither fast nor slow.
What started out condensed; freezing and crushed together; slid out and fell; spiraling like a dog fight; drifting and shifting; catching every light; warmer now. Hot snow?
The mind’s eye. Cry. Cry. Cry. Bellow out the yell. Roar in pain. Not now. another again. Victor slain. End of the game. Ended flow.
Lately it has been a manic period of hustle and bustle at Tungwah Wenzel International School (TWIS). Also, in my free time, I’ve been heavily hard at work procrastinating and doing the things I enjoy doing, whenever I feel they’re necessary. Whoever said a lack of responsibility was easy, lied. Cappuccino has been close to hand. Almost as luxury as the pair of Ravemen CR900 cycling lights. An upgrade from the N900 models. Remote controls and battery level monitors were too tempting.
The Diploma Programme team have been working solidly under great leadership. The application and candidate status has become approved. Not bad for a school without any current high school students! Now we’re gunning, pedal to the metal, for the completion of MYP’s International Bachelorette status.
The uncertainty of when travel to the U.K. hangs over my head like a Titanic-sized Goliath of scrapped metal. At times it feels like it may drop and make my noggin more squishy than nature intended. At other times, the optimism factory is producing positive vibes and sending them out in Olympic-sized swimming pool proportions. With every passing news article, input by experts, advice of Olympians going to Beijing 2022 and chilling in quarantine for twenty-one days prior to the Winter Olympics. Nothing is certain.
For two of our Language and Literature class groups, students selected Lord of The Flies and It’s Kind of a Funny Story. Exams have been prepared for the former and the latter shall be assessed by essay. In the meantime, the second units are in full preparation. As are units three to five. The school year map is freshly under way. And that’s before looking at Science classes with grades 6 to 8. Hopefully the weather will drop below thirty degrees Celsius to allow some extra evening preparation motivation.
I recently caught up with Shenzhen Blues, Katherine and Stephen in Shenzhen. A fantastic Turkish meal at Mevlana (#154 Zhenxing Road, Huaqiangbei, Futian) with a witty Pakistani waitress made for a fun afternoon. Shenzhen is a city with great food and a fantastic place to recover after hiking. And matter about City’s impressive draw at Anfield.
The relentless and ferocious Guangdong heat has tested my mind and body, and ruined my balcony garden. The grape vines perished in the inexorable sunlight and the numerous passion fruit plants became single digits. The uncompromising sunshine has dried my daisies and ruthlessly culled my apparently less than shaded herb garden. The harsh weather has seldom given way to rain, typhoons or monsoons this summer. It’s dogged single-minded unyielding approach to the environment has been cooking and drying for too long. Today hit 34 degrees Celsius and that was a cool part of this last week!
The trek today was bloody tough. Tougher than it ought to have been. I’d had a big breakfast, two trekking bars, two bread rolls stuffed with optimism and sustaining properties. Three litres of liquid and two well-packed ice-lollies. Yet, something was missing. A double dose of electrolytes in tablet form on two occasions was also deployed. Yet, it was a tough slog at the final furlong. The 30 degree heat and the lack of opportunity to hide from the sun were unkind on my delicate physique.
The trek started somewhere between relentlessly hot and smouldering heat more befitting the devil’s home. A jolly group of wandering enthusiasts gathered having been dropped from a convoy of cars at the foot of a hilltop road. Here a few stretches and introductions were made. The local security guard took a few details for the Dapeng trekking pathway requirements. Here on, we wouldn’t see a shop or house for hours.
The last leg of the meandering pathways into Xi Chong (西冲) village was under the cover of darkness. After using my eyesight for as long as physically possible, I switched to 900 lumens of torchlight. The results were splendid. I spied various toads, geckos and even a praying mantis. Also, it helped in avoiding the bloody big orb spider webs.
Armed with a Snickers chocolate and nut bar, at least two extra litres of water (thanks to kind and caring people) the latter stage of up a bit, down a bit and up some more before down was possible. Cramp in both legs and dehydration had been a real stumbling block since our stop at a waterfall and stream. The sit down took my lagging stride but it didn’t ruin the views.
Throughout the walk, people were people. Stripped away of the hustle and bustle of life, and the majority of people I have met in China are warmhearted and friendly. Rehmy the ‘Chinese Lara Croft’, Sophia and two very kind students shared fruits and words. That’s exactly the reason I joined the Global Hikers walking group in Shenzhen today.
The route takes in mostly coastal pathways, scrambling over rocks hot enough to fry eggs on and scrubs of coastal forestry. Expecting bugs, I was armed with citronella. Expecting sun, I was armed with factor fifty sunblock. Expecting scree and slippery bits, I wore my trekking trainers. They fitted the job perfectly. The up, down and around the bays overlooking the distant Hong Kong under bright sunshine certainly feels like a walk. It’s delightful at stages and testing at others. I have no regrets.
Anticipation surrounded the morning. We after off for a selection of steamed, boiled and grilled breakfast mainstays of Chinese breakfasts (across this huge nation). With that, those without raincoats purchased those disposable rain jackets designed to be worn for an hour or so. The kind that would make Mr Macintosh roll in his grave with tears. Not to mention environmentalists. Sorry Greta!
Abuji Cuo (阿布吉措) sounds Japanese. It certainly seems unlike Mandarin Chinese. It’s surrounded by the Ajiagang Mountains and stands high over meadows and scattered pasture houses. It’s well off the beaten track and fairly clean of trail litter. The name comes from one of the many local Yunnan languages and people but I couldn’t find a true translation or meaning. It is apparently very holy. The China National Highway 214 and Xiangli Expressway (toll road) are to the west. Here a dirt track leads under two bridges (the new Shangri-la railway line).
The car journey led us to a gate. It had a weight on one end and two barriers across the path ahead. Here began the wander. The base camp was labelled just that. The pathway was an old track, now used by loggers as well as the original farming people of these steep damp foothills.
Rounding a bend, the footpath exited the road, passing between free-range pigs and towards a slim yet fast-rushing stream. Our group of six with a local man tagging along crossed the stream over felled logs now doubling as a bridge. Here the path gently led to an open plain standing below the face of the mountains. The phone signal had soon disappeared – something good for the quiet ahead, but unusual on mainland China.
After passing through the deep lush green meadow, the path banked left over several bubbling streams complete with stepping stones and bridging points. Here the path zig-zagged up and across gaining altitude fast. It’s steep sections were marred by slippy sticky clay interspersed by sharp shards of rock. The sides of the path displayed vivid biodiversity with wild gooseberries, something like rhubarb and wild strawberry plants amongst the plethora of greenery.
A local Yunnan man Qī Lín(七林), a girl from Anhui, a student from Guangzhou, a girl from Heyuan, a girl from Hubei, and another girl (from somewhere in China) walked up in light to heavy rain. The thick cloud thinned and grew in almost pulsating slow motion. At times the valley behind seemed hidden. At others it became a tapestry of various green hues.
The imposing mountain to our right shoulder (mostly) could have been Skull Island from the King Kong movies. It’s ferocious face looked brittle and completely impervious to those intrepid climbers who like such nooks and crannies. The artistry of nature had created such a detailed spectacle. The top range of peaks could have been a crown, or a bed of thorns. It truly sets the imagination running as wild as the fight ravines within.
The stream accompanied the walk up, and at times became the pathway giving clear flow to passersby in need of a quenching swig of freshness. After one small lake the path hugs a slope covered in knife-sharp vicious broken rocks. Blue flowers emerge where the rocks allow soil to gather. The rug of land is unforgiving and not a place to stand in awe of the view ahead.
What lies ahead is possibly the greatest lake view I have ever seen. The cauldron of clear green and blue water appears impossibly deep. Local legend has it that there is no bottom to the icy water. It’s entirely believable. The edges look crystal clear but beyond that, well diving would be the only way to know what lies beneath. The surrounding slopes are mixed in terms of harsh angles but most are barren. Life is not easy. We were stood around 4300m and the highest point is about 500m above here.
The caldera-shape of the valley spreads wide and long. From numerous vantage points it’s hard to tell what started this paradise on high. The geological features and lay of the land are mesmerising. It grips your heart whilst choking your throat of air. You can suddenly become breathtakingly awestruck. You look. It stares back blankly. Rumour has it, if you speak to loud then rain will come. Here at the top, for the most part, rain eluded our group. The feeling of healing as you look around you at the majestic landscape is overwhelming. I couldn’t help but feel my heartstrings being tugged and a tear in my eye. There are few places left that are this pristine.
Shangri-la (香格里拉县/Xiānggélǐlāxiàn) is a county and a city that draws it’s English and Chinese names from James Hilton’s Lost Horizon. It influenced China to rename the Yunnan city of Zhōngdiàn (中甸) in 2001 to Shangri-la. The Shangri-la of Hilton’s writing could have been Kashmir, Tibet or anywhere else along the Kunlun Mountains of the author’s description. But, if James Hilton had have travelled to Yunnan and Abuji Cuo to see the steep cliffs, loose and rocky earth scattered with flora and colour, he may have set his chapters here.
Abuji Cuo is about 4 to 5 hours (around 17-20km) up and only accessible from May to October. The gate (near a temple) is manned and access denied at other times to allow ecological balance. Non-slip shoes are essential, although I spied a few people in sport shoes. One unlucky soul was sporting a sprained wrist, leg injury and looked sheepish. Her local guide was guiding her down ever so slowly. The muddy pathways demand good grips. The steep falls are lethal in appearance. And there are yaks. Yaks can surprise from above, and they did on our walk once or twice. Death by yaks would be rather a bad day at the office. The road starts between to Bixiang and XiaoZhongDianZhen.
The hamlets of Nigeria, where we drank milk, and the Niguqe (尼古个) hamlet are sparsely populated so expect to see few people. The nearby hamlet of Gangzhemu (岗者木) is close to a scenic spot called Bitahai (碧塔海景区) but that could easily be a different world. However, it would make a tasty multi-day hike with camping. Scope to return? Head to Bengla (崩拉)?
The walk back down was every bit as unforgettable as the ascent. Ancient woodlands caked in drapes of moss and lichens, the sound of a chorus of different birds and the smell of flowers give your senses a tasty day. After reaching the pasture at the cliff face, a local woman gave us hot potatoes, and well wishes. After that we walked to the road and were greeted by a drift (or drove) of pigs. The curious tail-wagging group led us to discover some local fruits, to which nobody knows the name. QiéZi gave me one that looks like it is shaped like a bottom. Rather cheeky!
Soon after Qī Lín (七林) introduced us to an elderly farming couple. Here we had hot milk, sour homemade yogurt and delicious cheese. The wooden cabin was a good end to a day’s hike and we bid the farmers goodbye before jumping in a car back to Shangri-la. The unique and diverse holy Abuji pasture would occupy our minds for the evening and I’m sure that visiting there, we gained something more.
Grid reference: 27.666254378118495, 99.90886934422305 (Abuji Cuo) to Bixiang village (27.604282621386876, 99.78759058373961). 14km distance as a local chough would fly.
“Rain, rain, rain, a wicked rain Falling from the sky Down, down, down, pouring down Upon the night Well there’s just one chance in a million That someday we’ll make it out alive” – Wicked Rain, Los Lobos
Pluviophile means a lover of rain. I heard that people who identify as lovers of rain are generally down to earth and calm. I’ve even been told that daydreamers and those inclined to imagine are usually associated with that of rain. I’ve never fact checked these matters as I was too busy dreaming.
The beat of the rain droplets finding their way from way up high to land and join their countless companions. Some land on trees. Some impact puddles. Many land and immediately get swept away.
Many days without rain make my heart feel dry and untouched. Rain is my pacemaker. I’m from Manchester, a city with a heart of regular rainfall. I now in Dongguan, a city that gets a fair amount of showers throughout monsoon season. Every drop of life that falls from the sky brings
The energy of the downpour fills me. The damp smell opens my nostrils. It fills my lungs and soaks into my blood. I’m drawn to puddles and want to stamp in them, no matter the cost to my sodden shoes. That’s when I know that running is needed. Not in sun. Not in cold. Not on a dry hot evening blazing with colourful light. No. I choose rain.
Mr Ben caught my ear a few moon ago. He mentioned that the movieUnbreakable, with Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson was part of a trilogy. I did not know that. So, last week Mr Ben pointed me in the direction of the movies again. So, after an abandoned cycle ride after 45km, in torrential rain, I chomped on pizza, swigged good coffee and sank into the sofa.
Split and Mr Glass were most enjoyable. I found the intensity of Split closer to that of a truly well mastered horror movie. Mr Glass was closer to X-Men and Batman Begins without being over-glossed. Coupled with great menacing soundtracks, a well cast ensemble and gritty camera work, all were as digestible as my Lauren’s Pizza order.
As someone who appreciates graphic novels and their genre, I enjoyed the pull of both movies. I must confess to having not seen Unbreakable since 2000 when it came out, so now I’ll look back on that as a prequel. This trilogy was thankfully not just made for sales. Writer and director M. Night Shyamalan has come far since his 1999 hit The Sixth Sense. I see dead people? Signs remains one of my favourite flicks for its pointers back to classic thrillers and sci-fi. It did much for a revision of classic cinema in modern times. Manoj Nelliyattu (Night?) Shyamalan penned and directed The Happening which I enjoyed, despite the bleak feel. I’m now looking forward to the Indian-American director’s movie Old, due out in July of 2021.
Split stars one of my favourite actors in James Mcavoy. In this movie his tortured role doesn’t endear him quite the way he did whilst playing Rory O’Shea in Inside I’m Dancing. To many Mancunians, James Mcavoy will always be Liam from pub comedy Early Doors or Steve from Shameless. Scatter. Since those days though, Mcavoy has gone far and wide, scoring awards, landing big roles and doing proud for his native Scotland. Proof that Glaswegian talent can go anywhere, even if he does follow Celtic.
So following two good movies, I’m lay down listening to the music of Katherine Jenkins, Weezer, Foo Fighters, Ellie Goulding, Barry Gibb, Sia, and The Killers. A selection of 2021’s album releases isn’t a bad way to unwind. Weezer and Foo Fighters would definitely sound better live. The Killers have visit very familiar territory, whilst Barry Gibb, of famous band The Bee Gees, plays a few gentle collaboration hits. All very good for riding a bicycle casually. And The Bee Gees were formed in Manchester, so it’s good to visit one’s local music from time to time.
The air conditioner light is on. It’s seventeen above zero and the power still feeds it. I should stand up and disconnect it. I should. But I don’t. I’m worried if I stand up that the machine will win. Tomorrow it could be warmer. Then I plug it back in like a faithful servant. It shouldn’t be warmer tomorrow. The machine knows better.
That air conditioning unit of mine has seen much. It’s wise. It’s witnessed heat and coped with far worse than I can handle. Storms. Lashing winds. Torrential rainfall. Zipping daggers of lightning. Hailstones as big as marbles. It’s felt me hitting it as I pursue a bloodsucker of a mosquito. It’s been deadened by lightning and my operatic singing. It still clings the wall resolutely.
I say clings. It perches. No. It hugs. Hugs tightly like a giant curved fat bat with huge jaws. It just watches and waits, lifeless and cold. It’s heat setting is hidden away, unneeded. It knows that I don’t like warmth and I like the air to move. It waits for my moment of weakness. Patience is key. It’ll get me. It senses my needs.
But, after all that thought, I change my mind. Out pops the plug. Socket empty. It’ll be hot tomorrow. Just you see. It knows. Oh, how it knows. See you tomorrow.
“Let’s sing it and rhyme; Let’s give it one more time; Let’s show the kids how to do it fine, fine, fine, fine” – All The Best, R.E.M.
Happy birthday to my dearest Mum. Much can be said for my Mum. I want to write it though. Maybe the video says a little, but I think some words are best and need jotting down. Call it reinforcement. Call it a child of a mother without means to display emotion through a hug. Afterall geography and COVID-19 keep us apart. Mothering Sunday and Mother’s Day celebrate mums and mothers (or moms) around the world. A birthday is much more personal than that but by no means less important. Every day I live and breathe on this here Earth is because of my Mum. Dad too. But, deep down we all know mums are more important.
Mums are your first true friend. They’re the best friend we should all have from day one of our lives. They are a forever friend. Mums stick by you no matter what, or they should. There are always exceptions. If a mum disowns you for liking Man Utd, then that’s your own fault. Thankfully, my mum, Mum, as I call her, because she is my mum and Mum to two others: my dreaded siblings Astrid and Paul; yes, thankfully my Mum is brilliant. She’s always listened to great music like Pulp, R.E.M., James, Finley Quaye, and Led Zeppelin. Mum has encouraged me from an early age to read. I was deep into the worlds of Tolkien long before they were fashionable. Armed with knowledge of The Lord of The Rings. Mum made sure I was presented with a stage show version long before a live action version hit the silver screen. The Tameside Hippodrome remains a fond memory with orcs and lasers casting haunting imagery from the central stage. To receive books was always wonderful. Mum and Dad provided great volumes from an early age. Collecting Weetabix tokens sometimes led to great books. Some I still have today and share amongst my classroom. These were the books that set me on my way.
Mum has grafted and strived to make each of us better. Likewise, Mum has set a prime of example of improving herself. Mum has studied at the Open University in Sociology. Mum has always tried to reason her socialist values and community spirit. She has imparted her knowledge on me and always allowed me to make my own judgements and find my own way. As Mum has shared so many great things, I always want to show her my world. I have loved being able to see Mum at Manchester City, or go to a music gig like The Levellers with me. Mum may have heard of and witnessed the Waterboys when they first came around, but my musical world is constantly expanding. As I was experiencing James singing Sit Down at an Air Cadet Christmas party, Mum was being attending their live gigs. Over the years I have grew to love James, and their song Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) is an emotional track. It reminds me of me as a nuisance and a liability towards my mum, as I stuttered and faulted my way through secondary school. Mum has been great for me. My rock. My believer.
Mum treated me once to a birthday trip, with Neil Fanning, to Blackpool and it rained heavily. We were drenched. Mum took me to the Roxy Cinema to see Ghostbusters II and it was flooded. Mum showed me the V.E. celebrations at Manchester Town hall and we had fireworks rain down on us. At Woodford Airshow, Mum calmed me down after seeing a Spitfire crash. As the Supermarine Spitfire Mk XIV struck the ground at the bottom of a low level loop during an air display, Mum must have felt as sick as everyone around them. Pilot David Moore didn’t survive. Bizarrely the aircraft did and was moved to Rolls Royce in Derby for restoration to flying condition. Mum explained everything to me, a young boy, a bit upset by the huge explosion on 27/6/92 at 15:08. I’ve just seen the video again, and it made my eyes water with tears. That’s what mums do, they put their kids ahead of them. They’re the strongest people on Earth. They sacrifice their own time, space and energy to look after and protect us. That’s why Mum spotted me crying when Bambi’s mother died. I can’t explain the tears shed at E.T. or Thomas the Tank Engine. Perhaps those days were dusty.
Eating fresh bread at the observation area (not medical) of Manchester Airport and watching planes land made a few different days. Trips to museums in and around Greater Manchester gave me an appreciation of British heritage early on. Big steam wheels at Wigan Pier and seeing Gran and Ernie at the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry. You can’t fault Mum’s ability to keep our young brains active. Ernie gave me an Engine Driver hat that day.
I wanted to get Mum an experience day, or a stay at a hotel somewhere nice, but the climate around COVID-19/coronavirus isn’t so ideal. Besides, it is safer to remain indoors, stay at home and stay alert. You have to look after your mother because you can only have one. Unless you were adopted. Some of those foster mothers are brave lots, aren’t they?! Anyway, with the world being as it is, vouchers aren’t ideal. I remember Mum gave me a Borders bookstore voucher for Christmas but the company went into administration and closed, so I never used it. Well, I kind of did, but I can’t explain how or where. Those Stephen King horror-thrillers have since move on. I have an idea what to gift Mum, but I need to wait for this COVID-19/coronavirus to all blow over…
My passion for camping came from budget holidays as a kid, usually in the north of England or Wales. The fiscally challenged as those who suffer from political correctness would recognise that times were hard. Money was scarce but we had good food, holidays, and a roof over our head always. There were treats and Fridays used to be the day that maybe a Mars bar or another chocolate treat was waiting. Mum allowed me treats like staying up late on a Sunday to watch London’s Burning or other days to watch comedy shows like Have I Got News For You. On the whole early nights were encouraged and bed would be around 9 o’clock and often with a book under the duvet. Walking was encouraged and as Mum didn’t have a car, walking became normal. The Levenshulme to Reddish Vale and back, via Houldsworth Mill was a favourite trot. Zipping around Disley and Lyme Park was a bigger treat.
Whenever there has been a challenge and times have been tough, Mum has been there to support me and has very much been the 12th player that many football clubs claim to have. That knowledge that my Mum has been around the corner or a quick phone call away, has always made me feel stronger. Usually it takes very little conversation to wipe away any doubt or reduce a huge worry to little more than a niggling ache. I always think Marlon Brando’s farewell to his son speech in Superman: The Movie could easily fit my Mum, obviously with some gender realignments and name changes.
“You will travel far, my little Kal-El. But we will never leave you… even in the face of our death. The richness of our lives shall be yours. All that I have, all that I’ve learned, everything I feel… all this, and more, I… I bequeath you, my son. You will carry me inside you, all the days of your life. You will make my strength your own, and see my life through your eyes, as your life will be seen through mine. The son becomes the father, and the father the son. This is all I… all I can send you, Kal-El.” – Marlon Brando as Jor-El, Superman: The Movie
Mum’s the word
(a popular English idiom)
Used by William Shakespeare, in Henry VI, Part 2.
“Seal up your lips and give no words but mum.” – Henry VI, Part 2, Act 1, Scene 2
“Mum” is slang for momme. Momme means: be silent (or do not reveal). Old English: “mīma“. Latin: mimus (meaning silent actor/imitator).
It was used between 1350-1400 in Middle English.
“Thou mightest beter meten the myst on Malverne hulles; Then geten a mom of heore mouth til moneye weore schewed!” – Piers Plowman, William Langland
So, on this 20th of June, it is Mum’s birthday, the day before Bermuda’s Shaun Goater Day. Both should be in your calendar. And if not, why not? My Mum is ace. Shaun Goater was an ace player. Perhaps I can get Shaun Goater to say happy birthday to my Mum. That’d be fitting seeing as my Mum asked ‘The Goat’ to write me a Christmas card once. Mums are ace, right!?
P.S. Mum, let’s go to Blackpool Tower and recreate this photograph in 2021. Good idea?
I’d also like to invite you to write some Blog posts for me too. Thanks in advance Mum!
There’s a global pandemic on. The coronavirus and its related disease COVID-19 has ravaged the planet, taking at least 411,277 (from 7,238,611 infected) lives. Racism is being warred against too. As protestors and police get close and personal, belief and freedom are risks. Standing up against police violence, draws people into a dilemma. End or delay the battle against racism? Contribute to the spread of a potentially fatal disease? If you choose to overwhelm the NHS (National Health service). The virus doesn’t care one iota about your race. You’re ostensibly more likely to die if you are black, Asian or Middle-Eastern, so is it safe to protest? What are your thoughts? For something that disproportionately affects minority communities, that are now coming together in protest, well this could be a huge disaster. Beliefs versus risks. In my mind, I’d want to support the protests, but I’d want to support and protect the NHS too…
“We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
I used to eat at Shirley’s Café or Gregg’s bakery and get a breakfast barmcake with a coffee, when I worked on the corner of Brazennoze Street. Here I could walk down the road and see something odd. Manchester has a statue living down the road from Albert Square. High upon a granite plinth the distinct shape of Abraham Lincoln can be seen standing. That’s right. Abraham Lincoln (February 12, 1809 – April 15, 1865), 16th President of the U.S. of America. He’s been stood on Brazennoze Street since around 1986 eyeing passers-by but casting no judgement. The street runs between Albert Square and Deansgate gaining large footfall around office hours.
“You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.” – Abraham Lincoln
The square opening on Brazennoze Street is known as Lincoln Square. Few know this. There aren’t many signs and up until a recent renovation nearby, the square has largely been overlooked in favour of the more marketable St. Anne’s Square, Albert Square and the Corn Exchange frontage. The pedestrianised pathway uses red bricks so common within northwest England, and on a damp rainy Mancunian day, it isn’t a place to go looking for escape. A few saplings and trees can be seen nearby but it doesn’t feel very green or warm. Manchester, like many port cities (we have a Ship Canal don’t you know!), has links to slavery. Any city with an insurance company or a bank does. Sorry Liverpool.
Our Lincoln, the our kid of that America, used to be stood down Platt Fields Park. The son of William Howard Taft (27th President of the U.S.A.) made it. Charles Phelps Taft’s statue was one of two gifted to England – not Manchester, as a symbol of Anglo-American togetherness. One replica ended up in London, as the capital city. The original was left in Cincinnati, Ohio where Taft Junior was mayor.
The other replica was kind of posted to Liverpool but Manchester Art Gallery put in a sneaky bis in 1918, kind of a precursor to eBay outbidding and snatched it from Scouse hands [see also Demba Ba and Steven Gerrard]. London, then went one better and brought a much larger replica of a different Lincoln statue, in what can only be seen as a pissing competition. London urinated higher. By 1919, Manchester’s Lincoln statue was added to Platt Fields. By 1986, Manchester wanted to give more prominence to Lincoln and the cause. It was moved to Lincoln Square and placed on a new plinth. Beneath it a plague reads, “The support that the working people of Manchester gave in their fight for the abolition of slavery during the American Civil War…….By supporting the union under President Lincoln at a time when there was an economic blockade of the southern states the Lancashire cotton workers were denied access to raw cotton which caused considerable unemployment throughout the cotton industry.”
“Slavery is founded in the selfishness of man’s nature – opposition to it is his love of justice. These principles are an eternal antagonism; and when brought into collision so fiercely, as slavery extension brings them, shocks and throes and convulsions must ceaselessly follow.” – Abraham Lincoln
Manchester’s liberal values and Lincoln’s cause became as one. Britain was an ally. Reportedly even the Confederate Flag flew on some Lancashire mills during the American Civil War. Decades of air pollution and legendary Mancunian weather had left it neat impossible to read the words on the statue of Lincoln’s plaque. His Royal African Company displaced around 80,000 people (men, women and children) to America. Manchester’s statue of Lincoln is seen as a key point for the opposition to slavery. Known often as the ‘Great Emancipator’, Lincoln was part of society’s push towards progression and racial justice. Some argue he was a racist, some don’t. But, what can’t be chalked away from history are the facts. Lincoln made a difference, in far more difficult times for many, especially Africans and African-Americans. What should be taken from Lincoln’s appearance in Manchester, is that Lincoln, like many of his peers was complex character and times, which may explain why he apparently wanted to re-colonize the former-slaves, or send them back to Africa…
“Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves; and under the rule of a just God, cannot long retain it.” – Abraham Lincoln
The Abolition of the Slave Trade Act came in 1807. Almost 213 years later a statue was torn down, toppled and sank in Bristol. The name Colston has long been known. Edward Colston was a 17th Century slave trader. A bastard and a blight on British history, part of the very tapestry that had built an Empire. Around 10,000 people paraded the wreckage before the statue was scuttled in the harbour. Around this time Sir Winston Churchill’s statue is London was sprayed with additional text, ‘was a racist’. Scottish streets were renamed after police brutality victims. Oxford University is a target due to its links to Cecil Rhodes (think white supremacy, colonialism and racism).
Whilst Abraham Lincoln was unsure about what to do with slaves after the end of slavery, now society finds itself at a road where one terrible death has triggered a wave of protest. There is no room in society for racism. Many of yesterday’s heroes or founders of today’s world are not good. Just as many companies has profited from the Nazi persecution of Jewish and other ethnic backgrounds, we have to embrace the atrocities and learn.
“Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.” – Abraham Lincoln
JAB Holdings (Reimann family) that own Krispy Kreme, Panera Bread and Pret a Manger etc have admitted to profiting under the Nazi regime. French cosmetics company L’Oréal have been tied to illegal property seizures. Barclays Bank (established 1690) has already compensated Jewish members who had their assets seized in France. If you have heard of Siemens, Bayer, Nestle, Coca-Cola, Allianz (Bayern Munich’s ground which is weird for a club once taunted as a so-called “Jews’ club” by Hitler’s twonks), Audi, BMW, IBM, Hugo Boss, Mercedes-Benz, and Volkswagen well you may have heard that they are some of the corporations that made some money from forced Jewish labour. These historic crimes were after black slavery (to and in America), yet seem to have been discussed more openly. History cannot afford to hide indifference.
“If there is anything that a man can do well, I say let him do it. Give him a chance.” – Abraham Lincoln
We’re in the 21st century yet a few idiots want to keep us in the past and destroy world relations. The less said about ‘Miss Hitler’ and Trump the better. We can reshape history and move artefacts that our forefathers and mothers saw fit to decorate cities and towns. We don’t have to be proud of all of our heritage. We don’t need to hide it all. We shouldn’t be hiding any of it. I was born a European and next year, I’ll just be British. I’m human and I am Mancunian – and for me being Mancunian is all about embracing people no matter where they come from, what they believe or who they support (even if it is United).
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
“I feel so extraordinary; Something’s got a hold on me; I get this feeling I’m in motion; A sudden sense of liberty.” – New Order’s song True Faith.
I’m patriotic towards the U.K. in a way. I sing praise and fly the flag for great people, wonderful history and fantastic places. I know that the story of the U.K.’s history has often been brutal, cruel and deserves little love. Even within the 21st century the U.K., as it moves away from a colonial and European past, and becomes less connected, yet more dependent on overseas trading and manufacture is and always will be a wonderful country. It’s my home. I was born in Manchester, England. I don’t call myself English. I’m British, when I choose to be. I’m Mancunian always. I have Celtic blood in me from my Irish and Welsh great grandparents. My roots are clear and free. But this tree doesn’t cling to the past and history. This tree wants to expand and be watered by different skies. For me tradition and culture are important but understanding and freedom to choose your own pathway are far more intrinsic to living. This tree is currently sat on its arse in Changping, Dongguan. Today’s and yesterday’s rugby and football have been washed out by Dragon Boat rains. I have some free time.
Today, I want to show a gallery and write a little about the culture of Dongguan and China. I’ve been here for the vast majority of the 2308 days now (11th February 2014). I believe many great days have passed and many more will follow. That’s why I am right here, right now. I arrived and didn’t feel too much way of culture shock. Around me a reasonably established cultured expat community threaded amongst the fabric of the local workforces and people of Guangdong.
“Because we need each other; We believe in one another; And I know we’re going to uncover; What’s sleepin’ in our soul” – Acquiesce by Oasis.
Since, I arrived I have seen Dongguan grow and grow. It is now classed as a Megacity. It seemingly will never stop growing. There are skyscrapers and apartment blocks skimming the sky in every single district of Dongguan. Whereas in 2014, I’d notice dozens of these mammoth constructions and many more sprouting buildings, now I am seeing hundreds and hundreds of established communities and hubs here, there and everywhere. I used to consider Nancheng and Dongcheng as the central axis of Dongguan. Now the townships of Chang’an (home of Oppo), Changping and the ever-growing former fields of Songshan Lake (home of Huawei), and the sprawls of Liaobu town could easily be seen as central areas. The arrival of the Huizhou to now West Dongguan Railway Station (soon to be Guangzhou East) or 莞惠城际轨道交通 /莞惠线 Guanhui intercity railway has added to rapid growth. As it joins the short-named Pearl River Delta Metropolitan Region Intercity Railway System (珠江三角洲地区城际轨道交通). That’s more than 65 railway stations in close proximity to Dongguan. Like all of the Pearl River Delta, this city is growing fast – and going places.
When not hopping on 200 km/h (124 mph) railway systems, I have ample opportunity to meet great people. Dongguan‘s community is largely migrant with people coming from all over China and the world beyond. International jet-setters with lives here, include Serbians, Kiwis, and even Scousers. They can be found in some of the office places, factories, bars and restaurants throughout the city. Playing football with Brazilians or Russians, or cycling with Dongbei people is possible or a spot of chess at Murray’s Irish Pub with Ukranian opposition. Anything goes here. Drinking homebrew at Liberty Brewing Company (曼哈顿餐吧) in Dongcheng after playing tag rugby with Tongans, South Africans, Germans and Malaysians makes me realise how lucky I am. This is a city that is tidying up and beautifying itself at an alarming rate.
Throughout the 6.5 years of life in and around Dongguan, I’ve slipped up and down ginnels, seeking out the new and old. There have been trips to pizza joints in obscure areas, Dragon Boat races watched, Cosplay events attended and English competitions observed. Dongguan, like Manchester, has a heartbeat that shows anything is possible and if it isn’t here, you make it. You can make something new, or your bring something to the party. You can sit and complain about people taking your photo or saying, “wàiguórén” (foreigner/外国人) or you can show the people around you, your worth.
This week I was asked by the Dongguan Foreign Bureau to teach them. Sadly, I cannot fit their demands into my day. I’ve bene lucky to narrate advertisements, wear watches for model shoots, test-drive new bicycles and play with new robotics before they reached their target audience or global factory floors. Daily life has been far from mundane here with oddities and pleasures as varied as can be. What’s around the next corner? Well, visas are quicker and easier to get, despite more rules and demands. It seems far quicker than when I first arrived. Sometimes, I doubt that I have done everything right, yet it seems clear and simple. Just a checklist. This week I received my medical report back. Now, I need just a few other items for the 2020/21 visa… That’s progress.
Bridges have been made and links that could prove lifelong. The west and east have collided in bizarre ways often forming a touch of the unique. There has been colour, rainbows and diversity amongst the traditional and the common. There have been flashes of light and inspiration. There have been days when solitude has been sought and there will be more, no doubt, but one thing I find, and have found throughout my time here, people are just that. Just simple down to earth, regular people going about their days, looking for peace and good opportunities to survive or better themselves. There are more cars and less bicycles, which shows that some people’s bank accounts and credit-ratings have improved. Quality of life needs balance, and with that the subway/underground system of Dongguan is projected to change from one line to seven lines.
Words can say how thankful I am for my time here. I am enjoying life in different ways to others, and being who I want to be, when I want to be. I’m selfish or I’m sharing. I’m open or I am closed. I read or I watch. I write or I dictate. There are times to slip unseen, and times to lead an audience. It is good for the mind to be bored or alone. I truly believe that’s where creativity lies. It sits there waiting to be tapped and delivered to paper, computers or other outputs. I can wander from craft beer breweries to model car clubs to fusion and western food restaurants with ease and all of the time remain connected to modern and old China.
There is plenty of ugly in Dongguan, just like the rest of the world. To quote the 18th century French phrase, “ne saurait faire d’omelette sans casser des œufs“: You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs. Humans must learn from the stains and damage we have caused to our planet globally, whether disease or pollution. We can’t give in. Our cultures, our pride and our people need to fight on and find solutions. Just as #BlackLivesMatter, all lives matter – whether human or worm or bug or panda. Life must find a way. Dongguan is radically changing its energy consumptions, factory practices and the way its environment is being respected. This is good for all. Maybe, I should really put my words into action and finish studying towards the HSK (汉语水平考试Hànyǔ Shuǐpíng Kǎoshì) course for the Chinese Proficiency Test.
Dongguan has gone from a place with a handful of limited cinemas, to those with the IMAX, vibrating seats, private screens and many of the latest releases from the west. KTV bars make way for baseball batting cages, ten-pin bowling, archery cafes and all the latest crazes. The great thing is that with Wechat (born 2011), Alipay etc, you can leave your wallet behind and pay swiftly with ease using these simple electronic methods. Gone are the days of using equations and haggling to get a taxi a short distance. Piles of services are available via your phone, including electrical bills, water bills and Didi (driver and carshare service) is one such saving grace.
During these COVID-19 pandemic times, your phone provides your health code, advice in travel, guidance on health services and help. Dongguan’s local services for healthcare, private insurance and banking are on your fingertips, rather than a a few hours out of work. Life can be as fast or as slow as you wish. In 2010, Dongguan was named a National Model City for Environmental Protection and greenways, green belts and other greenery followed. There are hundreds of parks now, over 1200… it is easier than ever to stay healthy.
There is culture around us, old temples, modern pagodas, relics of time and shells of history. Dongguan’s landmarks are a tad tough to visit now. The Cwa humid subtropical climate here is far above the reported average annual temperature of 22.7 °C (72.9 °F). The rainfall is typical of the land below the Tropic of Cancer now. It is raining cats, dogs and occasionally elephants. Wellingtons and umbrellas are common sights these days, rather than the Dongguan Yulan Theatre, GuanYinShan (Budda mountain), Hǎizhàn bówùguǎn (海战博物馆 Opium War Museum) or Jin’aozhou Pagoda. Even a trip to my local coffee shop, Her Coffee, is like a swim in a river. It is blooming wet lately. As a Mancunian, I feel at home.
I’m here for education – to both teach and to learn. This city has hundreds of educational institutions, even Cumbria’s St. Bees are opening a school here. I’ve heard there are around 550 primary schools, 480 kindergartens and several universities now. To bump into a teacher amongst the 21,000 plus teachers is not unusual. Although it seems every second teacher works for one of the many Eaton House schools here. I’ve heard Tungwah Wenzel International School (TWIS) in Songshan Lake is one school to really watch. Like its neighbouring Huawei school, it is massive with around 1,000,000 square metres of surface area. I’ve seen the modern sports gyms, performance space and technology labs. It uses the latest gadgets and networking. It really is 21st century over there at Songshan Lake. Although Huawei have a German-style train-tram zipping around, piping back to older days. Dongguan University of Technology(DGUT; 东莞理工学院) is one of universities in the area meaning that you can educate beyond your teenage years here. It really is a place to learn. Watch out Oxford and Cambridge! Maybe that’s why Trump is always bad-mouthing China’s growth?
From eating chicken anus, to two weeks of quarantine in XiHu Hotel, Dongguan has given me more time to turn the contents of my head to words. Now that I am ready to publish a novel, I need a publisher, but how to do this during a pandemic? I haven’t a clue, but I know one thing, the challenge will be tough and worth it. Nobody ever climbed a mountain to sit at the top and look down without seeing another mountain, right? At the end of the day, the sun sets only to rise again. Dongguan faced lockdown impeccably and other challenges, just as the world did and does. Chin up, keep going and let’s crack on.
Last night, I ate Korean barbecue with great people to celebrate a treble-birthday, followed by proof that I am terrible at ten-pin bowling and awoke today feeling optimistic. The world is often reported to be going through a pandemic-sized recession. As the world sailed a wave in 2008 and Dongguan grew from that recession, I will everyone to go on. Manufacture a bucket of optimism. Just like the strings of New Dawn Fades by Joy Division, there is darkness but remember these famous lines: It was me, waiting for me; Hoping for something more; Me, seeing me this time; Hoping for something else. In 2008, low-tech industry switched to the high-tech. Boomtime arrived. Chances are that one in five phones around the globe were made in Dongguan. Is your phone Vivo, Oppo, Honor or Huawei? It was probably made down the road from me. So, Dongguan is closer than you think.
Manchester isn’t any place I will visiting in person for some time, so it has to come to me via playbacks of Oasis gigs at Maine Road and the written word. Over the next few months, I plan to read the following Mancunian-connected books:
I recall Mr Jones at Chapel Street Primary School making a simple poem. It was wordplay on my name John. Jump on, happy now. So simple. So memorable. Like other school events. When I was young, our class went to Mam Tor and the Blue John Cavern in Castleton, Derbyshire. I remember very little other than giggling at the name Blue John. The cavern is named after a semi-precious mineral Blue John. The 250 million years old was and is mined for the purposes of jewellery. The cavern sits beneath Mam Tor, a rather tall hill, a 517-metre (1696ft) peak of the world famous Peak District. I never picked up any fluorite (with bands of a purple-blue or yellowish colour) but I do recall the French name of bleu-jaune (blue-yellow). So, my name went from blue to yellow. In China blue movies are called yellow movies.
Our class had walked the 4.8km up (3 miles) from a car park, where our coach awaited. In misty wet conditions we returned, a little soggy. The views across the Edale Valley and Kinder Scout were wasted on us. It was completely shrouded by clouds. The Derwent Moors were less than visible. We even walked to another cave, Windy Knoll, but the entrance was covered by loose rubble. That was invisible to us too. Still we’d climbed up the peak that means ‘Mother Hill’. The brittle shale and so-called shivering mountain also left us shivering in the damp and cold too. As our teeth chattered a teaching assistant rambled on about Bronze Age and Iron Age forts. To kids in a field, drenched head to toe, he mustered zero enthusiasm. We all had ideas of using the caves (Speedwell Cavern, Peak Cavern A.K.A. ‘The Devil’s Arse’ and Treak Cliff Cavern) as a kind of natural umbrella.
So, that was my first time to see the name John in a strange place. Our primary school used to have three Johns. John O’Neill and John Doherty, with myself. Recently, I played football with John Burns and John Crompton. My surname is Acton. So, here in China, we had John A, B and C at Murray’s F.C. It isn’t an unusual name. John is Jewish, or was. It coms from a word meaning ‘Graced by Yahweh’ – a kind of Samarian God. Jack, Jackie, Johnny and Jonathan all come from the name John. Jackie Chan is a wannabe John. Jô also comes from the name John but Jô as a Manchester City striker, I can’t take responsibility for him, and nor should the name John. Johns can be equally good or bad. Everton, not the football team, but the name also comes from the name John. Being a very biblical name, John has been mutated and transpired into Celtic (Ianto), Germanic, Romance, European, Arabic (يُوحَنّا), Hungarian, Albanian (Xhoni), Slavic (Ján) and other forms. One of the most common names in English-speaking countries is sticking around hard and fast.
Yahweh is or was a storm-and-warrior deity which explains why I like the rain a fair bit. That and being Mancunian – it’s a kind of Stockholm syndrome. Here in China, as the Dongguan rain lashes down, I can write Yuēhàn (约翰) into my phone to produce a local version of my name that sounds more German than Chinese. My Korean student Kim could write my name as Yohan (요한) and my Japanese student Leon could write my name as Yohane (ヨハネ). Then there are countless feminine forms around the world such as Jone, Johanna, Ghjuvanna and Sinéad.
John is mentioned countless times throughout religion, with the Gospel of John, First through to Third Epistles of John and the Book of Revelation by a certain Saint John the Divine scribbling something down. There were no blog pages in his time. Apocalypses have remained popular in fiction and non-fiction ever since. Well, until the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. Gospel of John was the third sequel to the Gospel of Matthew. Mark and Luke were the other members of the Gospel boyband. The Gospel of John has much prattling and something to do with the raising of Lazarus and contrasts Judaism. It’s probably where Christianity broke away, circa AD90-110. Three faith-raising sermon letters (epistles) of John followed much like the Fast & The Furious franchise.
“Who’s that writin’? John the Revelator. Who’s that writin’? John the Revelator. Who’s that writin’? John the Revelator. Wrote the book of the seven seals” – John the Revelator, Blind Willie Johnson
Many kings and queens have taken on the various forms of the name John through time, with prophet John the Baptist (died 30AD-ish), John the Apostle (one of a dozen). John the Evangelist (an author type), John of Patmos (the Revelator/the Divine), John the Presbyter (open to interpretation), another John (father of Saint Peter etc), John of Antioch (a chronicler which is a kind of news reporter of the time), umpteen Pope Johns (at least 21 of them), and several Saint Johns. There are Saint John churches and places as diverse as Cornwall (a parish village with the nearby St John’s Lake SSSI), Malacca in Malaysia, the capital city of Newfoundland and Labrador and even the Church of St John-at-Hackney. Wherever a boat could sail, and a missionary could set up a parish, that’s where the name has reached. If you don’t believe me, take a glance at the maps of Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica and Grenada. Oh, and there are ambulances displaying the saintly name: St. John Ambulance. Mighty Mouse was even a St. John Publications comic character.
Nicknames involving Johns area round us too. My Dad had a friend who was nicknamed ‘John the Ghost’ because of his pale look and I think had a few near misses with death in hid life. John the Hunchback isn’t as famous Quasimodo. Being a General and Politician in Roman times on the flanks of the Eastern Roman Empire wasn’t quite as romantic as being the protagonist of The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. John “the Savage” features in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. John “OO” Fleming is a trance D.J. and his music could be heard on a portable speaker sat atop your very own Johnboat (an aluminium hunter-fishing boat). My mate John Petrie shares the name of Arbroath F.C.’s striker extraordinaire – he scored a record 13 goals in a 36-0 win. That’s something to mull over as you listen to former Meat Loaf and Marilyn Manson guitarist John 5. There are countless Johns to plug: I mentioned John Rabe and John Nichols before.
Whether in a campaign, a B-side on a Kylie Minogue with Robbie Williams song, a Giant Cave of Gilbratar, the John’s Langur (Semnopithecus johnii), a famous New York pizzeria, archaic phones, or a show about Tourette’s syndrome, the name John can be used for good or bad. Fritz John made an ultrahyperbolic partial differential equation that carries the name John’s equation. It was pretty bad for my eyes to see it and understand very little of it. Not all Johns make sense. I know that I don’t.
“Be thine own palace, or the world’s thy jail.” – ― John Donne, The Poems of John Donne (Volume 1)
The name John is popular in many ways. Master Chief Petty Officer John-117 from the video game Halo wasn’t an ideal role model for me but he did accompany far too many adolescents through early development blasting the hell out of crazy religious Covenant alien radicals. Almost as great as sending a Dear John letter to tell your loved one that they are a former loved one and now you have a new loved one. Writer Philip Jerome Quinn Barry wasn’t a John but in 1927 the New Yorker published his play called, yes, you guessed right, John. That play was unsuccessful. Bad John. Lil’ Wayne (2011) and Desireless (1988) didn’t write their songs of the same name, based on P.J.Q. Barry’s failed play. They sold around 2 million and 313,000 respectively.
“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.” – John Milton, Paradise Lost.
Other odd uses of the name John can mean someone who uses a prostitute, slang for a toilet (cheers America!), tropical storms and hurricanes, and there are about 13,400,137 Johns in the U.S.A. at any one time. That’s about one in every 25 Americans. On the flipside, John the Ripper is a program used to test the strength of a password. In Morse code John looks like this: .——….-. (which may be useless in the digital age). John Lennon and John F. Kennedy didn’t get any Morse code message of their fate. John R. “Johnny” Cash is one of my favourite Johns, in terms of talented Johns. John Paul Henry Daniel Richard Grimes is not.
Bizarrely the names Eoin, Evan, Yohannes, Ifan, Ioane, Hermes, Siôn, Janes, and Núño have origins in the name John. Jhon is also a real name. I guess somebody couldn’t type or spell, and it stuck. John has grace the rich and famous with numerous kings, Elton John, the late huge-nosed Gottfried John, Dame Olivia Newton-John and (was it personal?) R&B singer William Edward “Little Willie” John having a certain name. That 24-bar blues song Leave My Kitten Alone is so underrated. The Beatles and Elvis Costello copied it at some state too.
“Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard, are sweeter” – John Keats, Ode on a Grecian Urn and Other Poems
The name John is classic. It is a natural and wholesome formal name, refined and well at home in history and equally strong for the present day. It can represent the boring aspects of name history and the simple yet serious mature look of a person. Whether the name represents an author or an actor in Downton Abbey, the name John could likewise be a Canadian prime minister or a character in DC comics. John can be legend or literature, musician or theologian. The name John was once consistently popular in one of its many forms. Now newer names and international culture are heavily influencing naming across the globe. The name John, however, will not fade away.
Johnny Marr is from Manchester and spent some of his years in Ardwick. He probably wasn’t far from another famous John in Manchester. All of the above writing could easily have been a huge and tedious introduction to Manchester’s famous John Dalton. Born in Cumberland at a place called Eaglesfield (by Cockermouth), John Dalton headed for Manchester. He would go on to be a hugely influential chemist, physicist, and meteorologist. He made huge contributions to atomic theory research, the study of colour blindness and dissenting educationalists from church-backed establishments. He was radical.
Buried under Ardwick’s playing fields (former cemetery), Dalton’s legacies are far more than a statue-bust in Manchester’s town hall. The John Dalton Building of Manchester Metropolitan University houses the Faculty of Science and Engineering. There’s a statue of John Dalton outside. John Dalton Street connects Deansgate and Albert Square in central Manchester. There’s a bleu plaque at 36 George Street, his former residence. Dalton published many pieces including work on the Law of Multiple Proportions, Dalton’s Law of Partial Pressures, Daltonism (also known as colour blindness). He earned his Royal Medal amongst many plaudits and lived to study and research. Nowadays his name lives on through such terms as Dalton (S.I. unit), Daltonism, and the Dalton Minimum. The latter was a period of low sunspot count, representing low solar activity, possibly much like the City of Manchester’s exposure to sun at the peak of winter, right?
“John Dalton’s records, carefully preserved for a century, were destroyed during the World War II bombing of Manchester. It is not only the living who are killed in war.” – Isaac Asimov, Writer & Biochemistry professor
Kathmandu to Pokhara is a long and winding road. The Beatles didn’t sing about it though. The final stop of the 700NPR bus journey was on the edge of Pokhara (827-1740m) by the sports stadium. We checked in at 0100 on the 21st of January 2020, in the Obey Guesthouse, where Srirang had arranged to meet Livia, the angry hungry Hungarian from last year’s trek. I said hello, looked at the rooftop view and fell into a deep sleep. I slept like a baby. In the morning, a bit later, around 9am, I awoke. I stretched my legs, had a cold shower and dressed. I walked up the three floors to the rooftop. I looked south, trees and rooftops, east, a building obscured my view of more trees and rooftops. I walked up some steps to the next layer of the building. Standing on top of the building, my jaw dropped. I looked north, a little west and east. What a panorama! The prominent views of the tourism capital of Nepal are striking.
Pokhara is in the top left corner of the Seti Gandaki valley, if you look at the valley as football goalpost set. The mountains can rise over 6,500 metres across just 30 kilometres. You can see Dhaulagiri (8167m), Annapurna (6000m to over 8000m over several peaks), Manaslu (8163m), Machhapuchchhre A.K.A. Fishtail (6993m). Meanwhile Phew Tal lake sits at just 827m at the Lakeside area of the city. The moderate humid subtropical climate was just hovering around the low teens of 11°C, which made it feel very comfortable. At night, it fell into single figures. Very comfortable indeed. The World peace pagoda stands to the south, a cave full of bats lies to the north. Resorts, climbing shops, massage houses, spars, restaurants and lakeside boating are everywhere. Temples, shrines, gumbas, and forestry – serve the population that sits under half a million. The sprawling metropolitan city is far bigger than Kathmandu, and it feels far greener. This is a city that has survived much hardship losing the great India to Tibet trading route, following the Indo-China war in 1962. However, tourism has grown since. The British Gurkha Camp and Indian Gorkha (Gurka) camps are here. Many education sites are here. Some major businesses are based here. The airport (soon to be replaced) and roads have regular and easy to find transport links across the country. Oh, and yoga is everywhere.
For dinner, I ate a masala curry, with roti bread. For lunch, I skipped it. For breakfast I tucked into omlette and a peanut dish with spices. Alu patthar was needed alongside the breakfast – a lovely potato bread. Just like the city of Pokhara, every area and every meal was geared for every kind and every taste. Pokhara’s lakeside area was akin to Blackpool lights in England, but smaller, and much quieter. By now the news of the coronavirus Covid-19 was emerging into Pokhara. Sellers on the streets offered a selection of fruits, “Sir, pineapple? Bananas? Ganga?” I declined all, before later watching City beat Sheffield Utd on my phone, as the temperature hit 2°C.
On the 22nd, we set out to the TIMS office, which doubles up as ACAP (Annapurna Circuit) entry – and the Nepal Tourism Board (all flanked by the ill-fated Visit Nepal 2020). TIMS and the ACAP are essential for trekking the region. The national park has strict control. On the day we visited, we were told that the highest we could trek, was Manang due to heavy snowfall – and missing trekkers on the Annapurna Base Camp trail. Under clear blue skies, and an air temperature of 20°C, we entered the doorway to news crews, cameras and stressed looking trekkers complaining that they were airlifted out of Annapurnas region without choice. They would have to pay once again, if they went in. And, they had to get their insurance companies to pay the helicopter rescue fees. The perils of trekking in full motion. Many trekkers seemed oblivious to the lost reported guides and trekkers. We answered questions with the ACAP and TIMS before passing over 2000NPR and 3000NPR respectively. We’d essentially agreed to take zero risks, and trek only as far as Manang. To me, I was fine. I just wanted to get onto the trail and see the sights, meet the people and enjoy a safe walk with good views. I decided there and then that not reaching the pass or completing the Annapurna Circuit was fine. It is what it is, as my older brother Asa, always says.
Pokhara is a very spaced out city. It’s relaxed and very green. There is so much to see and do. It is at the top of the league in terms of watching people go by, and enjoying the sounds of birdcalls. Nature is all around you, whether it is kites swooping overhead, tropical birds chirping in the morning or the croak of frogs. Then, there are many friendly and cute dogs, cats and the occasional free-roaming cow ambling along the roadsides.
With the terrible news coming out of Wuhan, of a pneumonia-causing virus, I became hyper-aware of people around me. Every sneeze and cough triggered a twinge of worry. The spate of deaths in China may have been a long way away, but in my mind, it could have been much closer. The spread of such trouble, just like heavy snowfall could easily have remained an ongoing worry for our trek.
On the 23rd, we checked out from the Obey Guesthouse (1000NPR per night), had breakfast and caught a taxi to the bus station in Pokhara. We departed Pokhara at 1135 for Besi Shahar at 1700hrs. Besi Shahar is only 760m in elevation. On arrival we stayed at Manange Chautara – Hotel Kailash. 200NPR a night, plus food and drink, we went to bed and readied ourselves for the walk. We were in no hurry, because we could only go as far as Manang. I had to leave Nepal by February the 15th, so that was settled. Take it all in, enjoy the walk. Rather than break the camel’s back, the next day, we walked just 7km to Khudi, staying at the Maya hotel, alongside the river and bridge. On the short 3 hour trek, we’d had brews at the ACAP check point, watched Himalayan Grey Langur monkeys for a while and not rushed at all.
你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do / S’mae / Namaste
For every minute that passes, a football pitch is lost in the Amazon. Tick. Tock. Tick. Well, rather an area of trees that could cover a football pitch. Is that why Brazil are so good at football? Are they chopping and sawing away trees in order to beat Argentina and co? Of course, the environment and conservation in general are taking epic beatings. It isn’t all doom and gloom.
Stable ice may be shrinking fast globally. Israel may be ready to start a war with Iran. China may be ignoring sanctions and buying a few fighter jets from Russia. Radioactive magma may erupt from the Yellowstone national park in USA. The Ring of Fire may trigger a huge earthquake and the Phillipines is on high alert.
Conservation and envioronmental protection needs more. The world needs to pull together. Many great projects need government and world body backing. That’s the hard part. Some governments are petrol-backed and busy building walls, or destroying cultures using cultural genocide…
Meanwhile in China, many characters with their flyers have collared me this week. It is normal. Most cannot speak English as they thrust their gym advertisement leaflet into my chubby hands. This week, an exception, a man with clear English and knowledge about the U.K., “London is a big city” he shouted. He slammed his body in front of my pathway. It impeded me crossing at the green for pedestrian dancing man. The red man appeared. More solid. Less inviting. Cars quickly prevented me dashing over the wall. “You could move into an investment opportunity tomorrow,” he smiled through words that barely left his immobile jaw. His eyes beamed expecting an instant commitment to his probably well-tested sales pitch. He caught my apprehension and carried on, “You can move in tomorrow.” He then delivered many words in English, too fast for me to understand. I interrupted him, and said, “I’ll take two.” His face lit up. He seemed over the moon, and then a thought triggered across his eyes manifesting in one word, “Really?” So, here I stated, “No, thank you. I need to go across the road and have a coffee. Goodbye. Enjoy your day.” Did he lose face? Only to me – his pack of colleagues didn’t understand. He asked for this. The green man flashed after 90 seconds and off I went. Straight to the sanctuary of Starbucks. Well, it was Independence Day.
This weekend I went to Shenzhen (44.5RMB train ticket each way), jumped on the subway (7RMB) and went to watch football at the Xixiang Stadium. Shēnzhèn Péngchéng (深圳鹏城) faced Sìchuān Jiǔniú (四川九牛), City Football Group’s Chinese partnership club. On the day, it appears, UBTECH of Shenzhen have changed the club’s name to Sichuan UBTECH. City’s partnership club had no away tickets available. They had to be ordered in advance, so I went to the home end. On passing through a metal detector security gate, I was handed a ticket for free. Not bad. The stadium was built around a running track, with only one stand in the east (I believe). The southern end displayed the China flag. The north faced onto a hill. The park around the stadium was entirely devoted to sports (basketball, racket sports and swimming) easy to see. A huge netting cast over the western end of the park. Presumably a golf driving range housed the emitting clinks of balls on clubs. There could have been pterodactyls there.
With the sun strong, and the temperature around 32°C, the game kicked off. Sporting a Puma kit in white, the Sichuan team soon turned the shirt translucent with sweat. A water break after 22 minutes gave the visiting team a kind of nudist look. The bench dressed in all-black gave stark contrast. All looked soaked with sweat, as was in the unwelcoming concrete stand. The 3,000 faded seat stadium could have been called the Bird’s Nest, due to all the dried crap on the floor from the birds’ nests overhead. I was trying to figure out if the team had changed name and abandoned their traditional yellow kit for this game, or forever. No-one that I spoke with had a clue. The board displayed the name Sichuan UBTECH in Chinese. The new away shirt was all white with a sky blue sponsor.
Half-time refreshments involved water, or water. The only option was free and served from a hand-pump over a 20L water bottle. In the heat the water was certainly needed. With this I talked with a fan called Luke who was very familiar with Manchester City goalkeeper history. Hart was mentioned, Ederson too, and which was best, which was a Given, according to him. The fans mulled around, smoked a few cigarettes and talked. The teams reemerged and out came the orchestrated beats of a drum and megaphone induced Olé, Olé, Olés – from bullfighting to south China. I sat back and reflected on seeing a goal scored by the Shenzhen team, where the striker went through the defender… and then the net itself gave him a lovely Spider-Man promotion feel.
Before the game there had been red scarfs held up in the home end, to no tune and certainly no hymns like “You’ll never walk alone.” They did have some songs and chants but I couldn’t follow most. Apart from when they were 1-0 up, they’d sing “Èr bǐ líng” [二比零] which means 2 against 0. That is a weird thing to say. Ttally unlike “C’mon City” or “We want seven!” The away end had a fair bit of noise, with the rat-a-tat of inflatable cheering sticks being quite visible. I love going to a football game, and I’ll happily watch the likes of Rhayader Town, Hyde Utd or in this case Sichuan UBTECH. My friend Chris Howells, a super photographer back in Aberystwyth enjoys the passion of the players and the crowd atmosphere. I’ve learnt from him to spend some time watching the people in the stands. It is a wonderful and quite relaxing experience. As summer swallows swooped over the field during yet another waterbreak, I thought to myself, a regular thought that I have, I need to watch more football from the stands.
The Chinese Football Association Division Two League (Simplified Chinese: 中国足球协会乙级联赛) is the third tier of domestic football. It is split into a northern and a southern group. The top 4 clubs from each segment play off for promotion to the Chinese Football Association Division One League. Bottom of the league means play-offs or automatic relegation to the confusingly named 2019中国足球协会会员协会冠军联赛 which translates as the Chinese Champions League. These two teams reflected mid and upper table, with the Sichuan club bidding for promotion at the first chance following their takeover.
Their new signing, number 32 came on in the 32nd minute and Yang Jun Jie seemed like a kind of Jamie Pollock player. The team were 1-0 down – after 26 minutes, and playing calm football, against the opposition and the late-afternoon heat. They soon went 2-0 down before a spirited second half, which sadly for the visitors didn’t result in an equaliser. An official report can be found here. Of the 600 fans in the stadium 200 had entered the away end. 2000km away games, in the third tier demand a bit of respect.
你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do / S’mae / Namaste
“Mr John, what’s your favourite season?”, Billy asked. His tiny frame jiggled around with excitement as he happily danced the question from his chirpy mouth. He looked in anticipation of my answer. In his eyes, I think I sensed he wanted me to answer winter. He could see that I was sweating from the 35°C heat. I have been quite vocal about my dislike of summer and heat since around March when the mercury hit 30°C for the first time this year.
To his surprise, I could see it in his eyes, I did not reply spring, summer nor autumn. The expected word of winter did not disembark my mouth. “Billy, I like the football season best.”
The response was quite international, “Huh?!” One simple sound of confusion with calculators flashing in his young eyes. And smoke billowing from his ears. His thought processes however surprised me. He understood, “You like the start and end of football games in the year but not no games.” Spot on. Grab your A-stars now and go directly to university. How perceptive of you Billy.
Now, flash forwards a day to older-than-eight-year-olds. During a conversation, I was asked which season I like best. I gave the same reply. Nothing. Not a single question or notaion of understanding. The boy in grade 8/junior school 2 was flummoxed. Uterrly mystified and totally foxed. So, rather than let him avoid the subject, I asked if he understood. He replied, “of course.” Very confident. So, I said, “please explain.” I didn’t expect much more information to come. The body language of the boy shown he had been thrown, possibly flabbergasted and bewildered. There was a rabbit in the headlights. He opened his mouth, “In winter it snows, so there is no football. In summer, it is too hot, so there is no football. In spring, it is too wet, so there is no football. In autumn it is windy a dry, so this is when the football season is.” I liked his answer, it had a kind of mathematican’s logic to it. I explained the traditional football seasons of Europe run from August to May. There are variations of course. I said summer football is a huge outlier and probably because the weather is too hot, the fields (pitches) too firm. His reply was, “Well, why is the World Cup in summer?” I said it probably boils down to availability and less interruption to less leagues. I said the winter World Cup of 2022 in Qatar will be an outlier.
My years have never been measured by lunar calendars, Gregorian dates, academic planners or such. No, I opted for cards handed out with the Manchester Evening News’s The Pink years ago, and other wonderful football season date lists. That first date tunnels utter anticipation until the close season becomes pre-season. Pre-season dates are foreplay to the full activity of the football season proper. Waiting for the football season is a time in itself. Here shirts are released, players exchanged, cold, bought and loaned in or out. Words of war are spoke and expectations set, high or low. The battle is far from underway. The Community Shield is looked at as a friendly, unless you’re in and then it is a trophy, unless you lose. There are contradictions in the making from supporters everywhere. Prices of season tickets, games, and all the accessories of the devout football fan are bickered over. “I won’t buy that” becomes an impulse buy. Quarells placed on pause since May (or June) slide to on. Fantasy football teams are prepped. Bookies collect their bets and forms.
TV subscriptions and schedules are juggled around bills and holiday plans. The ripple of every change is mirrored by the frantic actions of a football fan cancelling a wedding in Benidorm in favour of a weekend wedding at Bolton’s Travelodge. Well, Bolton host your team that weekend. Aberystwyth Town’s last season kit is folded away, and you’re pestering Steve Moore at the clubshop on a daily basis. You’re pinging off text message after twitter message after Whatsapp group query, “When is the new Aber Town top out?” You know that by the time your £80 season ticket is printed, you’ll have the famous black and green on your chest but can’t be sure you’ll be wearing it before Gresford Athletic or Llanidloes Town visit. You’ll dig out your oldest kit and call it retro those days. When is the Nathaniel MG Cup Round Two draw? You overlook the first batch of round dates. It matters not to you.
This pre-season I will travel further than before for City’s four preparation games. Taking in the Premier League Trophy in Nanjing and Shanghai, a game at Hong Kong Stadium versus Kitchee SC and then the EuroJapan Cup game in Yokohama against F. Marinos. Taking in a trip to Japan excites me. Time to do some planning.
Former City Manager Manuel Pellegrini returns to China having coached Hebei Fortune. Former sky blue hero, Pablo Zabaleta could face City. I’ve paid 288RMB ticket for each game on mainland China. Not a tenner in the sterling world, but not too expensive considering the tickets can equate to the below:
£71/£122 via ManCity.com. Newcastle Utd or Wolves v Manchester City. Fri, 19 Jul 00:00. Shanghai’s Hongkou Stadium.
£43/£65. West Ham United v Manchester City. Tue, 16 Jul 00:00.Nanjing Olympic Sports Centre.
I’m told my ticket in Yokohama was for a similar price to the 288RMB, although I’ve seen some weird four-figure numbers banded about too. This all makes Aberystwyth Town’s £80 season ticket look good value.
你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do / S’mae / Namaste
The trouble with the internet is us. Us. Them and us. Me. Click of a finger, bubble butts and exposed cultures. One day we’ll all be preserved in the London Museum. Relics, with no use. Everyone wants their piece of celebrity status on the internet or so it seems. Actually, no, they don’t. The people who have too much time to avoid looking for jobs, doing stuff that matters and being useful can be keyboard warriors. Just like me. Some spout off about this, that and the other. Some offer informed views or share their photographic talents. Others slip in their technical skills or artworks. Many view contents not really suitable for children. Don’t lie. Your internet history has been downloaded – the moment you clicked this post. It can be done. I have friends in high places, Huawei… then there are trolls, internet bullies, lies, spies and down right spies. Even Part-Man-Part-Cloth-Part-Stone, Donald Trump is allowed access to the internet.
Reactions to news, events, celebrities falling arse about face on Love Island or some such other lighter-than-light-floating-turdish entertainment can be shared. News and politicians can be slated, viewed and opinions slammed onto an electronic plain of imagination. Today’s thoughts become yesterday’s angst and we get to laugh at our previous electronic Dear Diary entries, when they pop up on Facebook as memories. Only these electronic reminders of something that happened before are flung at us digitally. I like writing. I’m not good at it. It is my ambition. I am writing more and more, because if you pile enough shit in the right place, somebody will notice. Why hasn’t The Guardian called me yet? The conservative government are gaining strenth from social division. Few engage the conversation needed to oust them. Maybe I can write some more crap and engage someone, somewhere. Unlikely.
Maybe I need to frame a crime. I’ve been studying detective shows and novels for years. I will train a wild Western chimpanzee (from Liberia) to murder. The victim will be a captive-bred but escaped stray Eurasian lynx from Iran. The weapon of choice will be supplied by Britain to Saudi Arabia and found in Yemen before being filed down to be used for the evil act. However, is it evil? No, the Western chimpanzee must end the life of the Eurasian lynx in order to prevent the death of an orphaned Muslim kid abandoned in Syria, because the transgender adoptive parents from Liverpool and Manchester were in the gender-neutral toilets of Starbucks – the Sana’a branch.
Who would you choose to support? The chimpanzee problem has multi-layed problems. An American pet chimpanzee once bit someone in Connecticut. Not everyone likes Travis. The Eurasian aspect gives a kind of cross-culture problem for the Eurasian lynx. Then, you must consider the location, race, and culture differences. What will the journalistic bit-part character Jeremy Corbyn do? Especially, when he finds that his salary is being paid for my MegaCorp based in its new office of Riyadh. What if this was a story inspired by real events? How would you react? Twitter. You know it. Two web browsers open, one for social media, and one watching kittens dance suggestively to the music of Gnarls Barkley. It wouldn’t be an easy scenario for a newspaper to report about.
“We don’t want paedophiles round here! Unless they’ve really worked on their choreography…” – 2009’s version of me, marked the death of Michael Jackson with an immature and tasteless comment on Facebook.
My Aunty Susan rightly put me in my place regarding subsequent jokes copied and pasted from recent messages marked the tenth anniversary of Michael Jackson’s plastic nose being melted down. Even today, it is amazing how much respect Michael Jackson gets, despite the lawsuits and continual abuse allegations. Too much time is spent pandering to the needs of his estate and less talk or attention is given to the victims of abuse. Just like Jimmy Carr and other seemingly heartless comedians, sometimes something controversial needs saying or writing, even if the person doing so completely disagrees with it. Otherwise, we end up with a nation of Love Island watchers, completely devoid of conversation. England is becoming American on that front.
The bitter taste of supposed jokes about Michael Jackson still hangs in the air. It doesn’t mean that I am promoting said topic. I was quite shocked to see my words from a decade ago. Isn’t it time more voices condemned his music to the vaults of history? The talent and contribution to musical arts needs eradication through choice, not through censorship. The voice for promoting and celebrating Michael Jackson needs an airing too. He could have been innocent of historic child sex abuse. To quote MJinnocent.com there could have been “many inconsistencies, contradictions and outright lies being told about Michael Jackson” or not. Just like Operation Yewtree it is a mess, and one that may result in a desire by society to rid the worst types of crimes: child sex abuse. Or, we could do a Spotify and just add a mute button. Either way, the conversation cannot be ignored, because like historic sexual abuse cases, today there are in all probability a huge number of systemic problems likely being ignored by the top brass, globally.
“Of course, snowfall can happen in mountain areas in June. But if global warming exists this shouldn’t happen anymore.” – Dr Marco Poletto, Geologist
If the world is warming, are you seeing flash floods and thunderstorms more frequently? Are these storms much more violent in nature? How many trees do we need to re-plant? Do sewerage works need re-designing? Should roads absorb more water? Do zero emission cities work? Are we thinking about the environment too slowly? Are European glaciers due to be extinct? Is plastiglomerate pretty? So many questions. Too many. Will mushrooms save the day?
“Let’s go to the Winchester, have a nice cold pint, and wait for this all to blow over…” – Shaun of The Dead
你好/ Ní hǎo / Nín hǎo / Hello / How do / S’mae / Namaste,
27th January 2019
In some ways the challenge of Lamjura La made me feel nervous. Last time round, it was not easy (see 2017’s post entitled Toils and rewards). Departing Sete (2900m) with a belly full of breakfast we started the walk at 0640hrs. The murky morning unveiled valleys below us and a clear pathway upwards. Rays of sunshine shit out from dark clouds covering Pikey Peak mountain and snow lay on the higher grounds that we approached. The cardamom plantation and streams by Kinja were long behind us. Chimbu village’s primary school squatted in a small area above the pathway but squeezed so tightly to the mountainside that a playground seemed barely possible.
A steady rhythm of one foot after the other didn’t matter. The most appropriate adjective is relentless. It is a tough, tough day. Moss-lined forests broke away and eventually a small hamlet appeared. By 0840 we arrived in Dakchu and spent half an hour so eating omelette and enjoying the view. After leaving the Sonam Guest House’s quick servce and reasonable prices, we headed off. The steam on the roof of the guesthouse, made way for a few rooftops of snow, and many places coated in the cold white stuff. Here the road reappeared and swept over the pathway time and time again. The snow went from light, to knee-deep quickly. A sudden drop down for twenty or so metres revealed an icy lake. Soon, we were heading uphill again. The mani stones became caked in snow. With the brighter sunshine, it wasn’t too cold. We stopped for another brew and snuggled two cute puppies. Beyond that we had yet another rise to clamber up. The trees became taller, wider and sparse of green leaves. The ancient landscape could have filled a Tolkein-fantasy novel.
Passing a stack of flat-packed wood, it seemed the same browny-grey cat was there exactly two years ago. The dramatic landscape smoothed off and we were at the start of the pass. The first few huts and buildings were crumbling. Spirit levels not included. The new road swallowed the original pass. This was for once, a good thing. The old pathway was narrow. The new pathway didn’t feel like the earth would fall away, despite the near waist-deep snow. Here, I had to add my thick snow gloves. The shadow of the mountain added extra chill to the occasion.
It was 1600hrs and we were in deep snow – and hungry. One single lodge, on Lamjura La, was open, high up at 3530m. We ate fried macaroni with rice and drank piping hot black tea. It was needed. The giddy puppy darting back and forth made it more of a game than a meal. The dog’s owners, a young family with a very young baby in a box, affixed to the head by a rope headband. Soon after we started eating Ishwor, Srirang and Livia arrived. After they drank and we had finished our reunion, we set out into the deep snow. Alongside us was an 80-year old Sherpa woman and her granddaughter.
We trudged slowly through our newly cut snow pathways for an hour or so to the final edge of the pass (3530m). Here a closed house, that I had black tea and a chocolate bar last time round, stood closed. The drift of snow covered one side. We took the odd photo here and eventually began our descent. The warm fire of the last lodge was now a distant memory. Light ws fading fast. Snow and hail began to shower down on us. The moss-covered trees on a rapidly steep descent hid the pathways below. The furrows and tracks resembled that of a toboggan run. Forest firs and rhododendrons cast out little sound and the air felt still despite a roaring blizzard rolling over the treetops. After a lifetime of torch-waving and some twists and turns below forest canopy, the pathway emerged by a few small houses. Many more steps were needed before the glow of the village of Junbesi could be seen in the valley below. I was at the point of utter exhaustion. Thirsty and without a single drop of water from the two litres available.
After some painful final few kilometres in a timeframe that seemed not to end, we arrived at Junbesi (2700m). The Apple Lodge made us dal bhat (#5) immediately after we arrived close to 2100hrs. Food was in the belly and an aborted attempt at a hot shower was had. The water was 60°C or 0°C – and could not be set between. In bed we all went, shattered.
28th January 2019
The following morning, Linda reported her blisters and some minor foot injuries. Livia and Srirang were knackered. Ishwor joined them for a rest day and another British couple, who had attempted Pikey Peak strolled by and said hello. A light lunch and by 1400hrs, Maria and I carried on, but not too far. At the Everest View Hotel, there was a view of clouds and a warm ginger tea to be had. Still we gently walked on, until reaching the Sherpa village of Solung at 1730hrs. Here was stopped for a brew, to be told that the pathway ahead was firmly frozen and a nightmare to pass. We accepted an invitation to stay at a Sherpa family’s home. Nawang and his wife Pupa lived with one of their three daughters. The 31 years old daughter cooked for us. They had attended a Sherpa wedding with Pupa’s older sister. The wedding procession was going on as far as Kharikhola village. Nawang was a former guide and porter. He claimed to be 80 years old but seemed much younger. From their farm came fresh milk, great vegetables and yummy eggs. Dal bhat number 6 was delicious. The best, so far, and in hindsight, the best overall.
Stories of Nawang’s hiking days, Sherpa lifestyle and the village’s culture stretched to quite late. With a frehs glass of hot milk in our bellies, we retired to the bedroom. The house, from the outside looked like a British detached two-up, two down. Downstairs half of the building served as an agricultural place and the other hald as a washroom/tool shed. Upstars the kitchen area had beds for four and the main social area. A second room, without curtains over the window (there is no invasive streetlighting), and a huge poster to the Tibetan flag and Dalai Lama stood. Maria, from China slept under that. I had the cool air drifting on over me from the window frame. Still it was a pleasant enough place to sleep. Very homely.
29th January 2019
The morning light crept through the windows. A cracking chapati with egg breakfast and wonderful milk tea set the day up well. We bid our farewell to the lovely Sherpa family and began the trek down to the villages of Ringmu. The ankle high bench of the previous lodge’s stay was a pleasant memory by now, as aches returned to pleasantly conditioning legs. I didn’t miss the playful grey cat that scratched my left hand as I slid into my sleeping bag though.
On this day the snowy peaks started to appear far closer. Ice lined waterfalls and melted under glorious beams of brightness. Numerous abandoned building ruins stood side by side their replacement housing. The scars of the 2015 earthquakes visible all over. Into a valley we walked, with huge prayer paintings that Google probably took inspiration from for its logo choice. Over a bridge meant one clear thing. The downward trend of the morning’s walk was now going to be an uphill strain. No pain, no gain – as they say. Passing orange-bellied rustic bird foraging in the damp dry ground a plateau revealed a dramatic landscape with fields towered over by nearby Himalyan peaks.
On finishing a brew in Ringmu, we passed by a ruined ghompa and mani stones. It looked dramatic on my last visit – but this visit it was surrounded by patches of scattered snow. Here we began the ascent to Taksindu (3000m) and walked through a monastery gate atop the peak, before a reasonable incline towards Taksindu monastery. The monastery looks shiny, bright and new. It was mostly a building site two years ago. On passing here, after a Mountain Man nutrition bar, the snow set in. Fearing a blizzard we moved down the mountain side at a steady pace, struggling over icy lips and frozen mud. Flocks of birds swept close to the ground, foraging whilst they could. At 1500hrs we arrived in Nunthala (2330m). A lodge was selected, one of two open in the sleepy village. Almost as soon as we dropped our things in the third-floor room, the snow stopped. Soon after a snow-swept Linda joined us with a French guy resembling Floki from the TV series Vikings. Dal bhat number 7 was greatly appreciated. Here we met a Bulgarian man, heading back from Everest Base Camp, who warned of serious levels of snow and struggles ahead. Nothing a warm brew couldn’t fix.
30th January 2019
The day had been intended to be a long one, ending in Bupsa Danda, but why rush things? From Nunthala we left at 0900hrs. A late lunch around 2pm was had in Kharikhola (2040m). Scarcely an hour later and we set down for the night at the Tashi Delek lodge (meaning hello in the Sherpa language), in the same village. We’d spent just under an hour dropping books with the Classrooms in The Clouds-supported Kharikhola Secondary School (with an attached tiny primary school). We’d even ate lunch at the Headmaster’s family home and met his son, and engineer of the mechanical kind. His friend was also an engineer, set to travel to U.S.A. to further his studies. After being shown their school grounds, a library and their new primary school buildings, we took some photos together and bid farewell. We walked a whole 250 metres in the village before meeting Srirang and Livia with Ishwor. We bunkered down for the night.
Classrooms in The Clouds have a short but rich history in Nepal. They prove that donations can make a real difference. £8.00 makes a day’s salary for a teacher. £10.00 will find three Nepali books. £15 will find three reusable menstrual kits for young women in school. Aside from sounding like just a charity appeal, they deliver. Their mouths put money and resource into action. Their expertise works with Nepali parteners, on the ground, focusing on education support, great quality new classrooms, teacher sponsorship and community work. They support their partners and their teachers. They have linked to the Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service. If students can study and leave school with the School Leaving Certificate needed, then Nepal will reinforce from within. At places such as Lukla, Bakhapalam, Majhgaun and Kharikhola. My feeling is that, every kid needs to experience school. How can we inspire without a pathway? The early Everest expeditions gave us the gift of some of the finest Himalayan trail to tread upon. This gift needs repaying. Think global, act local? Ecotourism is more than not bringing food from home. Bring something rewarding and leave a place better. Just like picking litter up at the beach. There’s a classroom in the clouds just waiting to be imagined.
That day had been interspersed by numerous mule trains and lots of inhaled dust. The trail has been battered in the last two years. A quaint lodge at the foot of a hill from Nunthala had made way for a mud-spattered filthy mule resting point. Many plants including various fruits and vegetables could be seen today. The contrast between temperate, arid and mountaineous climates was very clear. The splashings of colour, the blue skies and the icy mountain peaks give a sensual overload to the eyes. Dreams could be seen here and there.
In the evening, we met Srirang, Ishwor and Livia. We ate Dal bhat number 8 and talked the evening away, occasionally pinching a look at the clear sky full if stars outside – and the Milky Way lines. Not a bad way to hit the icy cold pillow, as the walk up Bupsa Danda loomed overhead.
Moving on from a splattering of Almost Everyday Shit™, this piece of writing is more serious. I find the lack of progress in my spoken Chinese not only unsurprising but also annoying. I need to dedicate time to progression. I need to speak more. I don’t. I lack focus. I am distracted by the slightest change of the winds or a cloud shaped like a crocodile. Don’t misinterpret my lack of learning as a lack of passion. The culture is much more interesting to me. The problem is that Chinese can often be cryptic. Having simple words translated is good enough for now. My listening is improving and more often than before, I can understand the conversations around me. Food is a common topic. Really common. Stupidly common.
妈妈骑马马慢妈妈骂马; māma qí mǎ, mǎ màn, māma mà mǎ;
“Mother is riding a horse, the horse is slow, mother scolds the horse”
In recent weeks, I have attended Clockenflap music festival, with Eddy one night – and Martin the next. The latter, all by myself. Alone. That being said, it was a wonderful weekend, if not a tad expensive. Drinks were 75HKD each, so around £8. Water was free. Pizza was 35HKD per slice. Two expensive coffees a day helped. The big acts delivered in Jarvis Cocker’s Jarv.is and Erykah Badu. I enjoyed The Vaccines, with frontman Juston Young seemingly under the weather, put on an energetic set. Friday’s big set from Interpol was quite flat – as was Cigarettes After Sex. Neither act could offer the energy that festivals require. Khalid wasn’t to my taste, too popular but I was pleasantly surprised by Japanese band Cornelius. Wolf Alice, from That London, were on spot and deserve their lengthy list of plaudits. They’ll go on to big things. Canadian band Alvvays are worth a gander and I’m currently listening to their album Antisocialites. The golden performances of the weekend however belong to husband and wife, Amadou Bagayoko and Mariam Doumbia. The couple come from Mali and have over four decades of performances to their name. I couldn’t get enough of those funky Afro-Blues if I tried! Sensi Lion were good, but by far the best reggae and Jamaican sound came from the fusion of I Kong with Jahwahzoo. Chinese-Jamaican Leslie Kong (who launched a certain Bob Marley – also the likes of Jimmy Cliff and Desmond Dekker) had a son. His son followed the reggae producer into the music world. His son, I KONG, is 71 years old. He may have worn the body of an older man, but he had the grace and voice of one in his earl years. My ears feel graced by a reggae god. To cap it off, he fused his music with Chengdu’s Jahwahzoo. The city famous for pandas – has talent! By far the best act of the whole weekend’s art and music festival was that of David Byrne. The former punk-indie-rock-multi-genre spinning member of Talking Heads performed an unusual set, barefoot and with a fully integrated backing troupe. The traditional stage set-up was pushed aside for part opera-part ballet-part whatever it was. It was brilliant. Starting with an almost Hamlet-esque feeling and ending with the audience roaring for more. The disparate festival of Clockenflap had here and artist to fit all the billing. Exuberant and charistmatic, the Scottish born American singer with his support made quite an impression. To be active across five decades and evolve without feeling forced takes talent. To cap it all he is an active cycling advocate.
Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana. It seems like only yesterday that I went to Nepal. Yet here I am, planning a return trip for Spring Festival in 2019. The adventure continues. Now I need to start thinking about what music I will take with me. Johnny Marr and The Smiths will be there. A touch of Happy Mondays and Oasis too. Home always sounds in my ears. I think I’ll need some Meat Loaf. I first listened to Meat Loaf on car journeys from Cleethorpes, back to Manchester and later Morecambe to Manchester. Dad got me into Meat Loaf via The Razor’s Edge and Midnight at The Lost and Found. Some of his songs don’t age or get tiring. Some don’t register – as they’re somewhere below average and some just tide you over to the next number.
On the 30th November 2003, at the Manchester Evening News Arena I watched Meat Loaf’sLast World Tour. I’d last seen him on the 6th May 1999 in The Very Best of World Tour. I’d always wanted to see Meat Loaf and missed the G-Mex gig in 1994 and the two Nynex Arena [now Manchester Arena] gigs in 1996. Fast forward to the 16th of October 2006, I watched Meat Loaf at the Royal Albert Hall. The Three Bats tour gig was awesome. My university friend Lisa Bates accompanied me. I’d enjoyed the Sieze the Night tour in May 2007 at the Manchester Evening News Arena. In 2008, I watched Meat Loaf both at Home Park [27th June 2008] and Hamburg’s Stadtpark [23rd July 2008] as part of his Case de Carne tour. On the 9th of December 2010, at the Manchester MEN Arena, Hang Cool Tour was expected to be Meat Loaf’s final farewell tour. On the 19th of April 2013, I watched Meat Loaf at Sheffield’s Motorpoint Arena. Last at Bat Farewell Tour, featuring the entire Bat Out Of Hell album in the second act. On August the 16th that year, I visited Newmarket Racecourse to watch Meat Loaf on the same tour. I’m now waiting for Meat Loaf’s final, last ever, absolute ultimate closing decisive tour… 2003, 2006, 2007, 2007, 2010, 2013, 2013… we must be due one from the man who has toured almost continuously since 1977 soon?
Music is important to me. Just as great music like Ryuichi Sakamoto’s Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence, travelled via the medium of movies from the silver screen to our ears, sounds from John Barry, John Williams and a plethora of conductors have become synonymous with movies. Their emotive nature has strangled and captured my attention time and time again. Whilst John Barry and David Arnold have given the distinct sound of James Bond, it is Thomas Newman’s scoring for Skyfall that is foremost in my mind. Soundtracks offer the perfect opportunity to combine multiple genres and contrasting blends of music. They are the cocktail to the traditional beer of the album. Fine examples include Chameleon; Weddings; No Smiling Darkness/Snake Charmers Association; Ambulance for the Ambience; Major Label Debut (Fast) – all by Broken Social Scene. Ghostbusters, as a sountrack is multi-layered funky and dynamic. The Blues Brothers cannot be topped for tempo and feel good. Kill Bill’s soundtracks offer an incite into the director’s love of music. Due South, a TV series from the 90’s offers the buddy TV show in sound. Slumdog Millionaire, alongside Sons of Anarchy travel great grounds and make good companions. If that’s how you discover Black47, so be it. Like Lost In Translation, music is everywhere to be discovered, repleated and replayed. There’s nothing better than rediscovering a long-unplayed music track like Diesel Power by Prodigy or first hearing Arcade Fire. For new music I recommend BBC Radio 6 Music or just attending any music festival. To quote Limp Bizket, take a look around!
Recently, I joined Here! Dongguan magazine hiking. Following that I had dinner with several people including questionable-coke supplier Charli In China. Jokes aside, she doesn’t do drugs, or sell them on but her blog is located on WordPress alongside many, including this pile of crap that I keep typing on. I can’t recommend Charlie’s Blog, as I am only now reading it, but travel and culture enthusiasts can take my view and have a gander blindly. What is there to lose?
Last week on one lunch time I had beef and broccoli with rice. I felt hungry still, only an hour later. Increasingly, I feel more and more hungry, sooner and sooner after eating rice. Is this a sign of ill-health or have I become immune to the hunger-busting ability of rice? Answers on a postcard (edible, preferably) please. Last night, I ate hotpot with Obama, Stone, Maria and her mother. The kind of place where they make you cook. I asked for extra onion, expecting a portion but had a full (yet chopped) onion dashed at me. Can’t complain. It fried up well eventually amongst the pig’s stomach and various bits of vegetables. Winter has arrived and with it, the necessity to eat hotpot and devour soup more frequently. I don’t see it, personally, but then I’m not the one wearing five layers or thermals when it is 12°C. Don’t get me started in last week’s sudden ten degree drop in temperature! Dongguan went from summerwear to Baltic state overnight.
In recent weeks, school life has seen the obligatory Sports Days, talent competitions (I Dance Like This, being sang by 6-7 year olds was great fun) and the joys of midterm exams. We’re cracking on for the end of semester and Spring. The relentless pace now includes tonight’s Dance Extragavanza and Christmas activities soon after. Aside from helping to decorate Winners Pub and dress of Father Christmas at last weekend’s Shenzhen Blues’ event for Crimbo, I haven’t thought about the festive season. That way homesickness waits…
Words are great things – and a great song title too. So glad to hear that Doves are regrouping even if I can’t make any of the three announced gigs.
Words, they mean nothing 换句话说，他们的意思是什么
So, you can’t hurt me 所以，你不能伤害我
I said words, they mean nothing 我说的话，他们的意思是什么
So, you can’t stop me 所以，你不能阻止我
Words – Doves
I like wordplay and authors like Roald Dahl or Eric Carle have mastered repartee perfectly. Even influencing society and movies with their jousting words. I also like crazy sentences and riddles. Anything that somehow frazzles the mind and warps perception of simple English. When the meaning clicks, it clicks and if you can get a seven-year old kid to master just one little bit, then the feeling that wit and banter will forever enter their life is quite pleasing.
“Wouldn’t the sentence ‘I want to put a hyphen between the words Fish and And and And and Chips in my Fish-And-Chips sign’ have been clearer if quotation marks had been placed before Fish, and between Fish and and, and and and And, and And and and, and and and And, and And and and, and and and Chips, as well as after Chips?”
Words can be powerful emotive tools to convey actions. They can be linguitic symbols that appear in memes, poems and other semantic forms. They are historical, computational, anthropological and applied in structure and field. Some words reveal lots about our heritage – and many have morphed or transisted cultural boundaries. They can be generative or specific. Our languages globally depend upon them. Each word and its origin can be found. At the very least a theory given to the origin story in ways that Marvel will probably film at some stage. They do everything else. Our words are elements – that give meaning, whether objective or practical.
Now words, as stones make buildings, form phrases, languages, clauses and sentences. I threw this sentence together so that you can put up with reading it and generally feeling that I am terrible at writing. You’re welcome. Below words are the protons and neutrons in morphemes. Oh – and some make words, like erm… oh! Many words have roots, affixes and some are made of compounds. I wonder how many words feature in in affixes or compounds. It must be wonderful to know. That or you’ll be wordless.
Words make good games, not that using pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis as a subject is wise, because it is no laughing matter. The definition being ‘a lung disease caused by inhaling very fine ash and sand dust’. At least the Disney movie Mary Poppins went light-hearted with supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. The word, according to Dictionary.com, which can be found at www.dictionary.com, is ‘used as a nonsense word by children to express approval or to represent the longest word in English’. Most people with a sense of humour note it as something ‘extraordinarily good’ or ‘wonderful’ – with the movie intending it to mean, ‘something to say when you have nothing to say’.