Hi there!Mark Whitworth I am Mark Whitworth -
writer, educator, traveller
and all round good guy.
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March 2010

Mark Whitworth, Suzhou, China, Christopher PollardThe Return of Suzhou’s Prodigal Sun

Part 19 – “This Ain't Rock'n'Roll!”

An important note: There was an immediate reaction to the piece below, from someone close to me, who believed it was a little too weird and was concerned for Andrea and myself. Please may I state that there is absolutely no need for concern and if the first page is a little odd then that's just a by-product of my spending too long in the sixth century B.C. Pages two and three should confirm that I haven't lost it!

And a return to insanity! It is thirty-four years since I spent the summer working at Butlins; an interesting summer, of that there’s no doubt. Pete and I were working as stagehands on the second biggest stage in the UK; it was a gig that brought the shallow world we had evolved from into sharp contrast with that inhabited by most rational human beings. I arrived there fairly raw and left fairly raw but something in my head had changed.


Towards the end of our stay, having been poisoned one too many times by the free, but generally salmonella laden breakfasts, I’d taken to having a burger each morning in a little cafe on the way to work. They were old style English burgers, basically sausage meat beaten flat, which came accompanied by a cheese slice that that had been griddled for a moment or two.  I guess it took them three minutes to prepare the meal, because in the intervening moments I was able to sup my glass of milk and find a ten pence piece to fire up the juke box. Every morning, and I mean every morning, I’d play David Bowie’s Rock’n’Roll Suicide. It wasn’t that I was suicidal, it’s just that I had a longing to be that way; in a rock’n’roll sense rather than a suicidal one.

Reginald Whitworth, Birmingham, EnglandIt seemed to be hard growing up and, to a large extent it still is. My father, I believe on the occasion of his sixty-fifth birthday, found time for a few words with me. It has to be pointed out here that me and Dad don’t chat a great deal; he is becoming better, from a low starting point, but I am becoming worse, also from a low starting point. It’s not that we don’t get on, we do; we just don’t chat much. However, on this particular evening he chose to share the following with me,

“You know, son (he has rarely remembered my name!)...you know, son...each morning when I look in the mirror to shave I’m a bit shocked.”

“Why’s that, Dad?”

“Well...you know...I still expect this seventeen year old to be looking back at me.”

It’s a great line and one I had etched on my heart last week when my fifty-second birthday came and went; it really seems people don’t expect you to do birthdays after your third decade, but as far as I’m concerned  they’re extremely important. You have to remember, I don’t do Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, Eid (either one), Hannukah, Divali, Yatra, moon festivals or whatever, even the traditional western new year leaves me a bit cold these days, because I’m a ground in the dirt, new age, born again, suffragette, anarcho-atheist. So that leaves birthdays!

The atheist thing will surprise no one, but the new year thing might. It was the dawn of 2000 that blew it for me; completely. We had got rid of the Conservative government, everything was on a high, people smiled at each other in the street, the world rocked...for precisely three days. Then it had gone. On the 4th January 2000 I lost my faith in humankind and it’s not really come back.

Of course, you look around for someone to blame, including yourself, but I could only identify one individual clearly; Margaret Thatcher. Sometimes individuals do impact on the short-term, but the short-term can be a huge slice of a person’s life and her impact has hung around a while longer than that; Mrs. Thatcher is the reason I will never return to live in Britain.

And you all thought it was the weather!

Mark Whitworth, Suzhou, China, Leeds University, England So...returning to Butlins....I’d sit there with my acne and my cheeseburger, as time took another cigarette, put it in my mouth, pulled on a finger and then another finger then finally my cigarette. All the while this was going on there was obviously a milk float somewhere around; I mean...it makes sense doesn’t it.

Since then I guess it hasn’t really made sense; not much anyway. I’m not going to get all religious or anything, but you do your best, work hard, play fair...and what?

On the cover of the Ziggy Stardust LP is an excellent photo/graphic/painting with the sign K.WEST hanging centrally in a darkened street. K.WEST was, and I believe still is, a furriers; not a retailer that anyone would have taken to in the naughty nineties, but as pelts now seem to adorn supermodels from Somalia to Suomi, I would suppose no one will get too upset these days. But then there’s fame and there’s Fame. I’d not realised that John Lennon was co-credited on the song, but apparently the nasally restricted Liverpudlian did get to do harmonies; not a minor achievement for the man who was responsible for writing the single note introduction to Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.

At this point it becomes very obvious that I’m deviating from the well worn script of what is going on in the lives of Andrea, Mark and Suzhou. OK. Let’s sort it out.

I am now a hermit; almost verifiably monkish in my behaviour.  Andrea is fine, but needs to eat raw meat every second day. Suzhou is Suzhou and there are some very interesting tales to relate but I’m just not sure where to start.

I guess that if you’ve got this far you will have latched on to the fact that I’m writing a novel. It’s no surprise really, if an idiot like me is put in front of a keyboard for too long there are infinite possibilities of complete garbage coming out. So far I’ve got sex, incest, murder, violence (although no wars yet...I’m about to have one), romance and metal-working; I’m having a complete ball...nine hours a day of writing and researching...boy! It does get to you eventually. Andrea says she’s lost me to the project, which is a bit harsh, as I’ve got this deep before on unit plans for grade seven Humanities, but it is completely absorbing. I’m allowed to play out my geographical and historical fantasies to an extent that only the Venerable Bede could have contemplated when toying with olde worlde English history, except he wrote in Latin, which I’d find a mite tricky.

Mark Whitworth, Suzhou Museum, China, Han figurines, Tiger hillWhilst writing the story I can get taken away by the tale and have to bring myself back down to earth with the very limited facts that are available. At the moment it’s the early production of steel implements that is holding my attention; never mind the weird changes to the Yangtze delta. Do you realise, all you sceptics who became so distressed when FIFA announced that China was the original home of football, it’s also extremely likely that the blast furnace was invented in Jiangsu, sometime in the sixth century. I guess you hadn’t; bit of a shocker really!

Anyhow, my mind is completely turned inside out at present; trying to fit a believable story of genetic manipulation around these scanty nuggets of possible truth and attempting to make it entertaining is quite hard. I don’t think I’ve had a waking moment in the last few weeks when the project wasn’t in the fore front of my mind. I’m even carrying a notebook around to keep a record of people’s faces and characteristics so I can apply them to individuals within the tale; it’s proving quite a boon. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, depending on your point of view, there are quite a lot of females in the story; this means I get to spend a lot of time ogling girls without feeling as guilty as perhaps I should! I’m not sure Andrea is so impressed with this aspect of my research!