Deja vu? China’s State visit to Manchester and the Graphene Institute

On the eve of President Xi Jinping’s day trip through Manchester here is a couple of excerpts from Monkey… that, although not premonition or deja vu, do show some of the book’s parallels with this week’s significant Chinese State visit to the UK.

[Excerpt from Feng’s ride from the airport to Manchester]

Feng liked to take a taxi in a new country. To tap its pulse. To live again. When he made private journeys, spent his own time, he avoided lifeless limousines and elite chauffeuring. He wanted to meet everyday people. Salt and pepper people. Folks who reminded him of his youth.

He saw a glint in the cabbie’s eyes as they darted back to the road and up again, to engage Feng, through his rear view mirror. Feng smiled. He had always appreciated confident eye contact.

‘I’m not being funny, mate, but you look just like that bloke.’

Feng frowned a half smile. The driver’s eyes met Feng’s before darting across to Yong.

‘Are you fellers from Japan?’


The fact that the Chinese President is a chemical engineering graduate may explain his interest in popping in to Manchester’s Graphene Institute. Of course, he would not have missed the global fanfare that has tempted fate in promoting Graphene as ‘the next generation wonder material’ for all of humankind (search my previous posts for a more sober view).

Also, he will surely know that it is China which holds the majority of patents related to Graphene. That fact conjures up in my mind the Orwellian Newspeak that holds: ‘Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past’. Yet perhaps now with a fresh twist: ‘Who controls the patent controls the future.’

Meanwhile in my fictionalised world that begins with Monkey… (part one of the Feng trilogy) the life and obsessions of the protagonist are established and steadily built. They include Feng’s interest in materials with potential space applications which leads him to Manchester, to check out Graphene…

[Excerpt from Feng’s visit to the fictional International Institute for Graphene]

Feng looked at Rudy. Was this the man that his most trusted engineer had proposed? Feng had been advised to visit since he had made many such trips over the years leading toward his space exploration projects. If he really wanted to find new materials for his next generation space suits and mining equipment, he had to investigate a special research team in Manchester, UK.

‘You are pioneering the use of Graphene here at the International Institute.’

Feng tilted his head and edged closer to the young looking black man with cropped, red-tipped dreadlocks who sat opposite.

‘So, yes, my PhD was very new work, but, to be frank, it is really a big team effort here at the Institute.’

‘I am very interested in Graphene.’

Feng tried to read the words on Rudy’s t-shirt but the font was too small. He looked at Rudy’s frayed jeans and tatty footwear.

‘Please tell me about your PhD.’


Rudy was quite precious about his time. Mei ribbed him for spending his life at the lab. Yet Rudy sensed the man before him was unique. He was definitely polite and Rudy liked his deadpan expression.

‘So its core topic was the synthesis, fabrication, characterisation and modelling of Graphene.’

Feng nodded once and his eye contact stopped Rudy.

‘My interest lies in application.’

‘So, yes, I have moved to applications during the past two years since my PhD. Indeed that is the area in which I can say we really are pioneering here in our work at Manchester.’

Feng tilted his head to the right and Rudy read the movement as Feng adjusting his head to hear through a better, left ear.


Rudy cleared his throat and spoke up.

‘Applications of Graphene and other 2D materials in electronics, photonics, electrochemistry, composites, filtration and separation.’

Rudy trailed off as Feng had sat back before leaning into Rudy again.

‘Other areas?’

‘Yes, drug delivery, regenerative medicine and other areas.’

Feng nodded.


‘So we have over one hundred and fifty researchers and not all areas of work overlap. It is complex. Not complicated. Manchester is leading the world in this research.’

Feng echoed a key word.


Feng nodded more to himself and out-stared Rudy.


Rudy was momentarily frozen by Feng yet managed to find one further area.


Rudy noticed puzzlement in Feng’s façade.

‘That is a really special area that we are already working on with some industry partners.’

Feng looked to the floor, nodding. Rudy saw the man’s lips protrude. They pushed out and to one side in a pouty sneer. Rudy was quite transfixed yet bolted upright the moment Feng shot his face back up and held Rudy’s gaze.

‘Applications in Space?’


NOTE – A special deal for UK readers to mark the China State visit

UK Amazon account holders can download the ebook of Monkey Steals Plum for just 99p before midnight on Friday 23 October. 



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