Anywhere but here.

My concerns about not getting to return to China have finally been brought to an end ..Albeit in the affirmative. I won’t be going back. (Not for the time being anyway.)

After initially deciding to leave the UK in 2014, settling roots elsewhere was never an intention of mine. I wanted to be a rover. To spend a year here, a year there, and attempt to avoid the feeling of becoming too comfortable in one place, through fear of it all getting whipped away from me once it was established that I was at peace.
(Although this still ended up happening.… twice in fact.)

Not a single day of my 4 years in Zhejiang Province, went past without me gaining a new experience of some sort. That’s a pretty amazing thing don’t you think? Every day I was exposed to something new, and I was hungry for that ubiquitous assimilation to continue. That was when I let my guard slip and started to feel too settled, which led to my Chinese adventure being halted. Getting told that I must leave a country which I considered my home and loved dearly, and then being informed that I wasn’t in a position to contest the ruling, was something that I have struggled with properly processing…but I believe that those who really know me will understand the effect that it has had on me.

Forward 6 months, I find myself having signed a 12-month contract to teach in Indonesia, beginning in January.
Am I feeling apprehensive about starting again at a new school in a whole new country? No, I know that I can deliver pertinent, pellucid lessons and am personable enough to make friends with most people I meet. The location really isn’t an issue either. I just don’t feel comfortable in the UK anymore, so it really is a case of having a place, any place, to go to, in order to avoid being here…Temporarily of course.

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Please prepare to file out of your deranged state in an orderly fashion.

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It odiously creeps its way through nations that previously didn’t acknowledge it, slowly corrupting and disabling existing societal infrastructures with its poisonous little message.

Western countries, however, have no such subtlety with the arrival of Christmas.

The inevitable false starters will begin their nonsense in November. Gordy decorations, 80s Xmas ballads getting played everywhere and whistled by colleagues. (You know the types…Hey, maybe you ARE one of those types.)

This all happens before the official expulsion of shortly lived sentiment begins across the nation in earnest, when the 1st of December rolls around.

Now, If you lose track of your calendar, don’t worry. You’ll know what time of the year it is by the asinine smiles painted on the faces around you, and the apparel getting worn in order to show everybody in the world that they are in the ‘holiday spirit’.

It makes me shudder just writing about it.

There is never any invite to become part of the frivolities. No opportunities to decline participation. (Not without being dubbed one of the many traditional disparaging anti-Xmas names.) All there is is an expectancy to assimilate into the collective thought and behaviour processes that get smashed down everyone’s throat.

Spend, spend…Smile, smile…Be nice, be nice…Why? Because it’s CHRISTMAS! That’s a major bone of contention for me.

I get the commercialism side of this time of year, after all, Its the job of shops and businesses to bleed money from people.

But being nice for the sole reason that its Christmas? Have you ever looked at the message that statement is actually pushing? Of course, you haven’t, because Its no fun to pick apart fun, is it?

Well, I once again publicly decry Xmas in all of its forms. I denounce the whole 2-month saga as being deceptive in intention and incredulous in its derivation.

Now, I’m going to eat half of a mince pie and throw the rest away out of protest.

A whiter shade of black.

I was reminded today of a particular piquant incident from my childhood, when a group of gypsy adolescents led me away aged 3 or 4 years old, and poured white paint over my head in an effort to make me less black. (or more white…I’m not quite sure which.)
As abhorrent of a thing to do as it was, I think that I was lucky that they never also gave me a kicking or bashed my head in with crowbars too, which was a popular occurrence happening in the late 1970s for children of mixed race parentage.

The bad news is that I’m falling…the good news is that there is no ground.

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It would be true to say that I once had a great fall.
All the Kings College Hospital doctors and all the Kings College Hospital nurses, (try as they might) couldn’t put me back together again.
As it turns out, my close friends could, and did. (…well, Kind of.)

You see, as with most things after attempts to repair them, I didn’t turn out quite the same as I previously was.

I never took either of my cancers seriously at the time they arrived. Through diagnosis and treatments to post care check-ups, all thoughts of my condition were blanketed with general apathy.

My irst cancer arrived in 2006 and came along with news that my mother was in the early stages of Alzheimers. A healthy dose of denial and vitriol in regards to the seriousness of my own situation, coupled with an unrealistic expectation that there would be a full recovery by my mum, kept me comfortably ignorant as to how much worse life was going to get for us both…Which of course it did.
Unaware at the time, my great fall had started.

The second cancer happened to me in 2012, slightly under 2 weeks after my mother died.
I was left in a state of despondency. Nothing mattered to me. Not my recovery nor my future. It was at that point that I began looking for an impact zone to hopefully end my fall, but saw nothing.
Eventually, a lifeline presented itself in the form of an opportunity to live and work in China. This was a chance for me to forget recent events and possibly restart life. Although being thought of as a highly risky gamble for me to take by many people, it was something that I didn’t really see a downside. I mean, I was falling anyway…I might as well try to do a flip whilst waiting to hit the ground. China was going to be that flip.
In retrospect, that was the healthiest decision I could have made.

There were several times during my 4 years in China that I sat and reflected on the peace that I was feeling. However, those euphoric moments were often followed by a sense of uncertainty about the length of time that remained before things returned to being shit for me.
Waking up in a constant state of contentment each day started to feel like a huge cosmic mistake and it was only a matter of time before things corrected themselves.

Accepting that I was, in fact, beating the odds and managing to thrive month after month in an environment where it was believed that I wouldn’t, turned out to be more challenging than actually thriving itself!
This struggle inevitably triggered the realisation that despite my highs, I, in fact, was still falling.

I’ve been fortunate enough to keep hold of a small, but amazingly supportive group of friends. All of whom fall over themselves in efforts to get me to accept their offers of help. More often than not, it’s met with a refusal, but damn it, they continue to throw their ears, homes and hearts wide open to me. To this day I still fail to understand why they do it, and despite not taking them up on the invites and testing the breaking point of their hospitality, I know that it’s there for me. I know that I don’t need to hit the ground.

To hell and Valhalla

Recently,I’ve spoken several times about when I started amateur wrestling back in 1991, so I thought that I’d finally get around to writing the memory down.

A friend and I had been searching for a wrestling training school for months, and were always laughed at for our troubles. We eventually found a place that was only 10 minutes away from where we lived. We used the library microfiche to find the start times for the club and away we went. On the evening of our first class, we ended up hiding behind a couple of trees that were across the road from where the wrestling was being held, and waited to see who was going inside. I remember us waiting a long time, before a crappy old Luton van pulled up outside and 6 hulking men emerged from the back. It freaked us out so much, that we both ran away.
Having gone through all of the ridicule from friends and family about wanting to learn how to wrestle. All of the hassle of managing to track down a wrestling club. Turning up to it, and then just running away… Pathetic.
We both stopped at the same time and looked at each other ashamed.
Even if we did get beaten up, we owed it to ourselves to take part in at least one class. So we walked back.
It turned out that the 6 hulking men that got out of the van were there to play rugby on the nearby fields. Thinking about it, it might have been a lot easier facing the rugby players rather than what lay ahead of us on the mats upstairs.

The Valhalla Wrestling Club wasn’t a training school. It wasn’t technically even a club come to think of it.
The Valhalla began as an off branch of a far more renowned amateur wrestling club in the South East of London called ‘The Viking Club’. The Valhalla gained its name from the Nordic resting place for old vikings. The name made sense as the originators of the Valhalla were the older grapplers from the Viking club, that had filtered out to form their own little place to train. Unfortunately, it ended up getting itself a reputation as the place folk went to practice beating people up.
The book was made up of vetran amateur wrestlers who were looking to prove that they could still hang with the youngsters and doormen wishing to rehearse ways to restrain club goers with the maximum of effectiveness. Occasionally you’d get a couple of competitive grapplers who would turn up to drill through the same offensive and defensive moves over and over again. These were often the most dangerous people. They were intense. Brutal. Real shark types.
Enter two 15 year old boys… Feeding time.

You must understand that in 1991, wrestling wasn’t the ‘cool’ sport that it is generally regarded as being today. It was very, very niche, and not welcoming at all.

My friend and I had no idea about amateur wrestling. We grew up on a diet of the WWF and NWA. In truth, at that point in time we considered amateur wrestling to be the stuff that happened at Lewisham theatre and the Fairfield halls. British wrestling.
In the short amount of time that we both had been in the building, we quickly realised from the environment, that it wasn’t the WWF or NWA. Nor was it the British wrestling that we had seen at Lewisham theatre and the Fairfield halls.
This was raw. Scrappy. Intimidating.. but also oddly appealing.

For 10 minutes we anxiously shuffled about at the side of the mats and stared at everyone without being addressed, until a voice shouted over to us questioning if we were going to be doing anything today. We had no idea what we were expected to do, so both stepped into the centre of the mats and just gawped at each other with silly grins on our faces.
We were then screamed at to get onto the coconut mats,(more about those later.) were we were instructed to ‘pull around’. No other direction was given, just ‘pull around’. My friend and I had been mates for 4 years at that point and were always very competitive and would often play fight at school. We gave each other a wry smile and charged at each other.
Neither one of us had a clue, but our efforts and tenaciousness drew acknowledgement from a few curious eyes from around the room, which led to offers to be shown some techniques.

There were 2 matted areas. The main matted area,(5, 8 foot long blue, padded mats placed together, that were twice the thickness of judo mats.) and then there were the coconut mats. This name was given to them because their surface was similar to the shell of a coconut. Nobody liked using the coconut mats, but they were still always brought out every session.

The techniques that we were shown to us, were described as being a physical de-briefing of the principals behind freestyle wrestling. It ended up being a stark reality check for us, that we were entering a new world. I can honestly say looking back at it, that was the day that changed my life.
Over the course of the next 2 hours, Matthew and I were skerffed around the mats. With no real understanding of defensive manoeuvres, we were at the mercy of some true brutish treatment. Precision mat burns being delivered from our foreheads to our chins, across the corners of our eyelids so it was painful to blink, and the most memorable, were the ones that were given to the inside folds of our elbows, so that we couldn’t bend our arms.
As much fight as I still had in me, I quickly learned when to stop resisting certain pin attempts, as this angered the veterans and seemed to just taunt the monstrous doormen. Matthews back was almost snapped because he resisted having his neck bridge broken down for a pin. Every session with each wrestler that night lasted 6 hellish minutes. We were given no rest periods, no water, no tips between bouts.

When the ‘class’ ended, we were told that we had to put all of the mats away by ourselves. Utterly exhausted, with sweat seeping its way into the fresh mat burns across our eyes, and also being unable to bend our arms fully, it took a while to clear things away.
We were then told that our first lesson was free, but next time, we had to pay the grand total of £2 each. That was the signal for us that we were welcome to return.

With the same silly grins back on our faces, we thanked everyone remaining in the hall, and made our way home. Hobbling all the way. The memory still sticks with me how proud I felt for surviving without quitting during my first session, and how focussed I was about improving in my next.

For the next couple of months, for 2 times a week, we endured the same kind of roughhouse treatment. Yet we continued to return.
I can’t recall exactly when it happened, but we eventually became regarded as regulars, and were greeted warmly upon arrival. Thats when we were sparred with instead of at.

The Valhalla never received many new wrestlers coming through the doors after us. When they did, Matthew and I went to great lengths to try to prevent them from receiving the same kind of welcome that we were given. It inevitably still happened to them at some point, and after it did, I don’t remember those people staying the course.

Returning ‘home’

I returned to England 21 days ago, and being ‘back’ has mixed feelings.

I’ve currently been staying with my dad, Which hasn’t been a great experience.
Unsurprisingly,there is a constant tense atmosphere whenever we’re in the same room together.
Most times we avoid saying anything to each other through fear that it will only start one of our famous world smashing arguments. I try to spend as much time out of the house as I can, but of course, I always need to eventually return. I then spend the remaining hours in a cramped spare room thats filled with junk, sleeping on an old bed with rotten sheets that are covered with dust. Its not a nice feeling having to do this. It feels like I’ve failed somewhere in life.

I actually have had the chance to stay at my brothers house for sporadic days whilst he’s been away. Although we haven’t been the closest of brothers over the years, the offer to stay has been well appreciated by myself. Its much better than my dads place, mostly because an empty house doesn’t tease the inevitability of an argument.

A few months ago, I was talking to friends about having my poor health properly addressed when I get back to England. My diabetes is spiralling out of control and is causing lots of issues. My discipline isn’t strong enough to stop it and the fall out is coming back to bite me.
If I can’t resolve these health problems before September, (which in all likelihood,doesn’t look good.) then I might not be able to return to China.
Readjusting to life in the UK wouldn’t really be as horrible as I pretend. I have friends here, great friends, who I’ve finally come to realise,are massively important to me. It chokes me up just sitting here thinking of how good they have been. I just don’t know how I’d go about starting afresh. A new job, home,stresses. Challenges that life in China never posed.

An act of forgiveness.

Earlier today, I was chatting with a colleague about why I hold such negative feelings towards specific traditional western festivals. My answer involved breaking down the ridiculousness of events such as christmas, (it being deceptive in intention and incredulous in derivation) and how I find it impossible to forgive some of the sour experiences from my childhood during those times. She nodded and seemed content with my reasoning.

Thats when the conversation took us back into the teachers childhood.

I was told that when she was 5 years old, her mother died, and that it was her older sister that raised her and her siblings because their dad was neglectful.
He would often leave his children at home in order to visit his new girlfriend for weeks at a time.
All cooking, cleaning and purchasing of clothing was taken care of by her eldest sister, as were school fees, which were paid secretly. (because her father believed that girls shouldn’t be highly educated. )
“Troublesome times.” the teacher recalled, somewhat understatedly.

The worst thing that she remembers him doing, was splitting the sisters up by sending the two youngest girls to an unknown family far away. Apparently, the younger girls eventually ran away from their new homes and were never seen by their older sisters again.

The teachers father is now 92 years old and in a failing state of health. He is heavily dependant on assistance from others, so she has taken on the responsibility of caring for him.
“Do you ever speak with your dad about the past?” I asked?
The teacher looked at me with a wry smile, before saying, “ No, I imagine that it would only make him mad… and besides, it wouldn’t change what has happened.”

There was a long silence whilst we both walked, before the teacher suddenly stopped and turned to me, adding that on occasion, when she makes a particularly good meal for her father, he cries as if in shame. Almost an acknowledgment of that despite his failures, his daughter is still willing to love him unconditionally.

“He is my father.” She said with a compassionate timbre to her voice.
“I forgive him.”

Should’ve, Could’ve, Would’ve.

I’m not sure what got me thinking along these lines again. (not that a single day really goes past that I don’t think about my mum.) lately,I’ve found myself remembering her when she had past ‘the point’. You know what point I’m referring to right? Not being aware of my presence or even her own. I remember looking into her eyes, trying to make a deep contact, and my mum reflecting back an empty gaze. ‘Please don’t leave me.’ I would think to myself, as I saw each stage of the condition deteriorate.

Of course, the dementia didn’t just spring out of nowhere. I can pretty much trace the start back to its earliest development. Forgetfulness, confusion, questioning if she ‘should’ be doing something.
My mum did actually mention to me about these moments of unclarity. Not in a worried way, more of a voicing of an observation. She would always end up putting it down to ‘old age’. But I never comfortably accepted that.
Yes, she was getting old, but not the type of old that I would associate with the level of memory loss that was occurring. Wearing the odd piece of clothing inside out, forgetting bus stops, confusing which door was hers when returning home from being out somewhere.
These things made me enquire at our local doctors surgery as to what they could suggest was a cause.
I recall the doctor saying that, “Its just old age.” without even leaving a pause after I finished explaining the symptoms to him.
No follow up questions, no theories of alternate diagnosis, no suggestions of helpful treatments. Just that “It was old age.”

If he would have correctly diagnosed the condition sooner, could it have been slowed? Prevented even?
I know. ‘Should’ve, could’ve, would’ve.’ Yet I still find myself wondering about these things from time to time.