Friday, 17 August 2012

17/08/12 - Fighting

There was one British tradition that, thankfully, was demonstrably absent from the London 2012 Olympic Games: fighting. A common pastime for sports fans when they congregate in large numbers, particularly if they’re from different nations, is to swear, spit and get all punchy, but something rather wonderful happened in London this summer – everyone was really nice to each other. The Games raised our global stock immeasurably, portraying our historic city as welcoming, diverse and downright cheerful. Everyone thinks we’re really nice now. Isn’t that great?

I’ve never really been much of a fighter, so this situation suited me perfectly. When I was at school there was always a reasonable level of playground violence rumbling along in the background, but I was more of the running-away-quite-quickly mindset. I wasn’t really interested in being hit. I don’t think I’ve ever punched anyone, and I’m pretty happy about that too. A lot of other kids seemed to relish the thought of a scrap, organising to meet up after school in a particular place at a certain time to do some fighting, which seemed to me like a tremendously organised way to go about losing some teeth; kind of like that documentary where Paul Kenyon goes undercover with the Chelsea Headhunters, and you see him in the back of a Merc with a ‘top boy’ who’s phoning other hooligans to arrange a pasting. All very odd. Shouldn’t violent reprisals be grounded in a core of spontaneity? If you’re going to organise it in advance, you’d be far better off to draw up a treaty or contract that you can both sign – ‘I admit that I called his mum a slag, I’m therefore not allowed within 500 yards of the main football field for three weeks’, etc. (To be honest, it’s surprising that these sort of notions didn’t get me beaten up on a regular basis, it would have been well deserved.)

As the old saying goes, ‘I’m a lover, not a fighter’. And not that impressive a lover either, really. More a cynical whinger who stands on the periphery making snarky comments and chomping away on a bag of Monster Munch. So I’ve never been one for fights, although I have been beaten up pretty savagely – twice, in fact. You can’t call them fights because on both occasions I was a) hopelessly outnumbered and b) too pissed to fight back. On the assumption that you’re probably in the majority of people that find me a bit annoying, perhaps you’d enjoy hearing the stories? OK, here goes…

The first time happened on the cheap Greek island of Kos. I’d gone on a two-week piss-up with about fifteen friends to celebrate the ending of our A-levels and the fact that, having all recently turned eighteen, we were very grown-up indeed. So we booked some apartments surrounding a pool, along with several thousand other excitable teenagers, and spent a fortnight downing fishbowls, buying cheap Aftershock copies for three euros a litre and generally whisking our livers to pâté. It was ace.
One night we decided to go to a foam party. I’d never been to one before, and wasn’t wholly surprised to discover that the two main consequences of filling a large, dark room with Fairy liquid to shoulder height are that, firstly, everyone is really sticky and secondly, people keep tripping over things and generally slipping in the slime, so the lavatories are full of people staunching some pretty dramatic nasal blood-flow. It was quite an entertaining night, but after overdoing the fishbowls I discovered that I’d lost track of all my mates by about midnight. I was pretty hammered, so I decided just to go home. As I was walking down the long, unlit road to the apartments, I was dimly aware of something that sounded like a swarm of angry wasps. As it got louder, it became apparent that it was in fact about eight-ish kids on scooters, who had spied a British tourist and fancied giving him a bit of a shoeing for a laugh. So they surrounded me with their scooters, pushed me into a rusty barbed wire fence – from which I still have a faint, unimpressive scar – then piled in trainers-first, leaving me bruised, bloodied and more than a little confused.
The same thing happened in the same place the following night to my friend Simon, who received infinitely more sympathy owing to the vibrant black eye he acquired from the fracas. So the night after that, after having (predictably) had quite a lot of ropey vodka, we all decided to hide behind the trees along the road and wait for the scoundrels to come back, convincing one of our number to amble erratically down the street as bait. We were drunkenly keen for an ambush. But after about half an hour we got bored and decided to go to a club, which was a lot more fun. And nothing else happened.

The second kicking occurred, somewhat improbably, in the sleepy rural town of Carmaux in southern France. I’d gone on holiday with the same group of friends (although rather less of them, maybe eight of us in total) to my parents’ house. I know, pretty rock ‘n’ roll. My folks were on holiday elsewhere, so we all drove down through France and spent a couple of weeks basking in the glorious sunshine. This was probably about 2004 or ‘05, I think.
One night we decided to venture out into town, to see what local rural colour Carmaux had to offer. My folks’ house is in a tiny little hamlet in the middle of nowhere, so you have to drive to get anywhere; coupled with the fact that I’d always spent my time there with my family, the concept of going out to the local town with my mates and getting smashed was an entirely alien one. We drove into town and let the shining light of booze take the lead.
After a lovely meal in a restaurant on one of the various market squares, we found a charming little bar that was more than a little reminiscent of the café in ’Allo ’Allo – checked tablecloths, wine bottles as candle-holders, and a friendly bartender who let us pour our own drinks to save him the effort. It was a cracking evening, very French. We all felt thoroughly grown-up. Look at us being civilised on the continent.
After the wine fairies had swished their wands and swirled our comprehension of reality into something rather more psychedelic and twirly than was usual, we stumbled en masse to the local taxi firm to make our way home. And as we approached the place, we were set upon by some eastern Europeans (I couldn’t tell you exactly where they were from, I was too hammered to make distinctions of language, particularly given the circumstances). They were wearing shell-suits, which is always a bad sign.
Our group spread out across the street, largely with the gents gallantly protecting the ladies, although I somehow found myself sitting on the ground with my back against a parked car, being repeatedly kicked in the face by three of the assailants. I’m not really sure how you’re supposed to get out of that situation; if you’re boxed in, surrounded and outnumbered (and really drunk), what are you meant to do? I had no ideas at all. I don’t think aggressively bleeding at them and shouting ‘stop kicking me you fuckers, it really hurts’ did much to frighten them off.
Somewhat heroically, the nonchalant chap from the taxi place came out and beat them all up single-handedly, saving me from serious injury. It remains one of the most impressive and unlikely things I’ve ever seen. We took him a bottle of wine the next day as a thank-you, and he was totally taken aback – presumably it was a pretty regular thing for him to fight off hordes of vicious kids. Rural France, eh?

So there you go. Two quite unimpressive stories. Why not attack me on the way home tonight and really give me something to bitch about?

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