Mullings on Fighting: the Mayweather v McGregor Press Conference and a Primal Advantage

Wolves: you know, if properly socialised, they avoid settling disagreements with their kin by way of violence, like humans. So a pack of wolves will seek to resolve disputes within its hierarchy without tearing each other to shreds, of which they are fully capable. Rather, they stand off, stare, snarl and bare their teeth at their rival; more often than not in cohesive packs, the confrontation is resolved without bloodshed: these ritualised stand offs, one might even say ‘bluffs,’ are resolved at the psychological level. One wolf breaks eye contact and submits by lying on its back, revealing its neck to the dominant wolf, whimpering and urinating. The dominant wolf could quite feasibly tear out the submissive wolf’s exposed jugular, killing it on the spot, but it deigns to spare it, sniffing and licking it instead. This way, the pack resolves dominance disputes whilst keeping living and social and healthy wolves in the pack. The alternative is a few individual survivors, limping corpses mustering their energy for that last fight to the death.

Chimpanzees: they are far more psychologically advanced than wolves, so we might infer that their social hierarchies are likewise maintained with an emphasis on bluff rather than brutality, which they are, to an extent; but when they do fight, it’s not pretty. They tear their enemies limb from limb, often as a group, snapping and ripping and eating the bodies of their victim, often conscious during these mutilations.

Humans: being much more advanced psychologically than wolves and somewhat moreso than chimps, we tend to avoid fights, especially those that are fought to the death, though these very fights played determinate socioevolutionary roles in our species history. As our societies became more complex and cohesive, we fight wars not between two persons, but between two tribes, or peoples, religions, colours, states, etcetera. War has been a constant and immanent danger for a long, long, long time; it has threatened to destroy all life on earth with its nuclear capacity for generations. But, like the chimps and wolves, we avoid it, because we know that the ultimate logic of war is an irrational one of absolute suffering.

Humans now: we are almost identical to our savage human forebears in biological terms, but far and away from them in cultural terms. It is not normal in our society to hone one’s skillset to slaughter other human beings the same way it was historically, albeit due to technology as much as ‘civilisation.’ But the socioevolutionary inclination itself—an innate phenomenon evolved in society that is inherent to our psychology—to fight and to do harm does not simply disappear from inside of you as it might outside of you in ‘civilisation.’ You can see such aggression manifesting in wars and feuds and fights as you do, to a very much more civilised and entertaining and interesting degree, in martial arts.

We’ve come a long-ass way since our far-flung ancestors tore at each other’s primal hides in unskilled frenzies; it’s been a long time since gladiators fought to their inevitable deaths for the entertainment of an audience; but really not so long since it was the norm, if offended, to ‘demand satisfaction’ before fighting that person to the death by way of duel, be it by blade or revolver. This is something in us. Across time we’ve developed arts of combat, decided against their employment unless absolutely necessary, and celebrated their art for its own sake, over the combat for dominance sake. Such is boxing.

I disclaim my bias here on out: I love boxing and like MMA; boxing is a passion, MMA an interest.

Boxing is, in my opinion, a privileging of an art over combat, which for the most part, balances excitingly. MMA is, in my opinion, a privileging (or perhaps equality) of combat over art. These aren’t absolute generalisations, but you’ll get the gist: when someone goes down in boxing, the other walks to a neutral corner and awaits their opponent to either rise within ten seconds and continue at the referee’s discretion or be counted out; if someone goes down in MMA, you fall on their face fist-first and pound it until you’re tackled off of them. In boxing, you punch the body and head with padded gloves; in MMA, it’s legal to kick somebody in the stomach and knee them to the jaw—“Shin to dome!” What I am trying to say: kicking somebody in the face, for me, is too close to the, let’s say, chimpish aspect: it tends harder towards the combat than the art.

And, really, I don’t say this to deride MMA fighters; I’ve an overwhelming respect for them that more often than not surpasses that which I have for boxers. I would love to develop that contradiction, and there is a host other considerations that I neglect to hash out in this short piece, but I should do so in a future one.

My point is that we all possess an innate warrior; some more than others; like men moreso than women; like humans welling with testosterone raised in violent environments without a choice but to fight moreso than humans raised in cosy environments without the need or will to fight. Yet inside it resides, and perhaps you won’t know it until somebody twats you around the earhole. But all one needs by way of proof is a look at a group of teenage boys at play. Fighting is play: that’s a play fight. You can of course channel these drives and inclinations outside of martial arts: people climb Everest, swim the channel, jump out of planes and play contact sports.

 

Watch from 11 minutes in to see Floyd’s speech and the verbal confrontation I’m going to be writing about, though this is not completely necessary:

So when I see Floyd Mayweather approach the podium , puffing his chest, swinging his arms (listen out at 11:36), shouting two syllable couplets, I see an Alpha-Fighter surveying a troop. Like a peacock, he feathers brightly; unlike a peacock, he looks like a twat. He says, “I don’t give a fuck if it’s a ring, I don’t give a fuck if it’s an octagon: put me in there and I’m gonna kick ass.” I would say he has articulated his repressed anxiety about giving ‘a fuck if it’s an octagon,’ quickly highlighted by McGregor’s quip—“Don’t be talking shit, you do give a fuck whether it’s in the octagon!”—which is met at first by silence and then by the Alpha-Fighter’s shouts, then a few struts. Mayweather is obviously cognisant of the fact that he is a tiger, he is Alpha-Cat on land but he is afraid of the water, he is equally cognisant of the fact that McGregor is a kung-fu crocodile that would death roll his ass if he ever dared jumped in that water.

Mayweather, credit to him, has McGregor out of the octagon and on to dry land to fight him on his terms; but the psychological damage is done, he knows who the superior Alpha-Fighter really is, were it to be mano a mano. But the fact of the matter is, it isn’t; yet still this is evidently a significant psychological factor with which he’s contending, evident in his overly dominant strutting and the arm-swinging and the ‘HAR-WOR!’ He’s trying too hard, harder than usual.

Mayweather, slightly shaken by the comments, compensates by saying, “I ain’t backing down for no-fucking-body… I’m gonna knock this bitch out, too!” McGregor replies, fast as his hands, “You haven’t knocked nobody out in about twenty years!” So Mayweather starts shadow-boxing, generally Alpha-Fightering about the stage, and then, his mind no doubt whirring over and over, manages, “Hey, gimme that backpack!” He ruffles around awkwardly and produces a little piece of paper. “Now lemme show you motherfuckers what a hundred million dollar fighter look like!”

And, well, he raises that little bit of paper in the air, presumably a cheque, presumably for one hundred million, presumably transported especially for this press conference in case he had occasion for its production as another feather amongst his pathetic plumage. Or perhaps it’s not a feather, there’s a more fitting image: Mayweather is a tiger, just he’s a paper tiger. He is a paper tiger when he says, “I don’t give a fuck if it’s an octagon”, when he knows he would wilt in that water! That cheque won’t mean much come fight night.

So he struts and he bowls and he jibes, physically compensating, psychologically wilting. Back to the mic, he doubles down on his Money obsessed persona: “He look good for a seven figure fighter, he look good for a eight figure fighter, but motherfucker I’m a nine figure fighter.” Recommence the bowling, the strutting, the arms swinging. Yes, ‘Money,’ you are obscenely rich, but I think Mr. McGregor’s point was that, were you ever to be so silly as to jump in the water, he would be there, jaws agape, ready to death roll your sorry paper ass. “And y’all know what, this bitch made three million dollars his last fight!” Hooray for Money, the verbal-financial smack-down!—But, yeah, death roll.

Mayweather remembered a sore spot, one he could exploit: “We all know Mr Tap-Out likes to quit!” McGregor’s microphone was cut, so we were unable to hear his replies, but after some to-and-fro, he managed to shout loud enough for Money’s mix to pick up, “I’m here right now!”

Mayweather: “You can get it right now!” Etcetera. Anyway, Mayweather concluded with some dubious biblical scholarship: “God don’t make mistakes, and God only made one thing perfect, and that’s my boxing record.” Christ.

So I’m going to sketch my ideas out on four things regarding the fight itself, and we’ll start off the back of Mayweather’s jibe, which was the only thing to noticeably unsettle McGregor in the conference: the ‘quit’ in him.

 

“Fighting Floyd Mayweather is a Dose of Cold Reality.”

            I remember these words so clearly, spoken by HBO commentator Jim Lampley, in the latter rounds of De La Hoya v Mayweather. And it fucking is: he demotivates and obstructs and confounds and, frankly, disenchants his opponent. Now I’m not going to say that he made De La Hoya or Pacquiao or Cotto quit, none of them did and all performed among the best of his adversaries, but throughout their fights they all at one point palpably… changed. It would be going too far to say that they had quit in them, for they all reckoned with the ‘dose of cold reality’ and performed exceptionally, but it eventually deflated them, noticeably. Mayweather v Maidana II and Mayweather v Canelo are other great examples. Mayweather Alpha-Fightered them.

Mayweather makes a jab at McGregor tapping, which he construes as quitting. Okay, sounds fair. Who did he tap against, when and how? He tapped against Nate Diaz last year, a granite-skulled superhuman with a black belt in Brazilian jujitsu who had him in a rear naked choke after he blew out. Okay, sounds different. McGregor proved himself in the rematch just five months later, in which he dropped his opponent four or five times (from memory). That’s an adjustment and a half. Can the kung-fu Celtic crocodile make such an adjustment out of water, for three quarters of an hour in a big boxing ring against the sports finest artist without feeling that same deflation? It’s a good question. Mayweather’s cold reality is not being able to hit him when he’s at distance, not being able to hit him in close with added elbows, and being punched or countered then evaded before one can react effectively. That’s not going to muster much quit in McGregor, I don’t think: if the man can take twenty five minutes of a Diaz twatting him with fist and foot across the legs and body and head without quitting, he can take Mayweather’s blows without wilting.

 

“McGregor Won’t Touch Floyd”

Well, it’s unlikely, but it will eventually happen, which gives him a puncher’s chance at least. He’s looked a bigger man to me at this press conference, and he has great timing and intuition of distance regardless of what a few minutes of grainy gym footage might show (watch the HD ones in the octagon), so why not a few punches a round? If Mayweather’s nervous enough to make mistakes…

For Mayweather’s part, he needs to feint, draw counters, counter himself, and just (sorry for overlapping the analogies here) take him into the deep water. If he’s not sparked by the middle rounds, he’s bound to win, isn’t he?

 

“Floyd Won’t Hurt McGregor”

You won’t find anybody who’s fought Floyd say that he punches softly, or at least I haven’t. Floyd is an supremely accurate puncher; he is the accurate pot-shotter par excellence, and his timing in this regard is that which his opponents find most confounding. BAM. He’s gone. BAM. I’m being held uncomfortably. BAM! Followed up with elbows. Floyd’s no knockout boxer, but he hits the spot and he times it well; and he exploits boxing’s refereeing conventions to smother his opponents counter-offence. He’s unlikely to knock out McGregor, but be damn sure he’s going to tire his body and use his head for target practice, just not follow up his attack with a spinning kick and guillotine choke.

 

McGregor Will Hurt Floyd

I do so genuinely and emphatically hope so. But, much as Magic Mac’s hands seem special, Mayweather’s experienced and has a chin. He took shots from Cotto, Maidana, Pacquiao, Mosely, big punchers, but he never wilted, nor looked like he was going to. Gloves might make some small difference, but I doubt one which will matter. McGregor, if he wants to hurt Floyd, needs to go flat-out Maidana on his ass, stay awkward and leave out the Floydy pull-back and counter—that’s his opponent’s job.

 

Prediction

I feel obliged after all that I’ve said to predict a winner, and this template might seem familiar: Floyd will win a unanimous decision over 12 rounds after a tough first few. McGregor might well have the psychological advantage but unless he can capitalise on it early and fluster Floyd enough to land something heavy, I don’t see him doing much else.

 

Tips for University by a Reformed Homeworkaphobe

I left school at seventeen. I never did so much as a shred of homework that wasn’t punitively extracted of me in ‘detention.’ The education at school was, to me, useless and boring; the thought of taking more of it home with me, after spending a thirty-hour week in small rooms stuffy with hormones and tedium, was out of the question.

But I would bring home with me, always and to varying degrees, guilt and fear at knowing that I had homework: that I wasn’t doing it, I wasn’t going to do it, and I would again be subject to a bollocking for having not done it. It’s not a nice feeling, knowing that you’re due a telling-off, deservedly and constantly.

One can clear this cloud of guilt feeling at university, but there is a right way and a wrong to do it: you overcome it, or avoid it. I went for the latter at school, but it was terrible tactics, attempting to avoid all of one’s teachers when you see them every weekday. But at university, one doesn’t have this problem. Lecturers and seminar tutors don’t have a bollocking-spiel at the ready: if you don’t go, you don’t go; if you don’t read, you don’t read; if you don’t learn, that’s your own fecking problem. You are, formally at least, a ‘responsible adult’ and ‘independent learner.’

These words, independence, responsibility and learning, are foreign until further education. Until then, your responsibility is to learn, whereas ‘learning’ means actually retaining masses of information so that your capacity for regurgitating it may be examined in a series of stressful and stupid examinations—you don’t attain knowledge for yourself, you remember stuff for exams. Your independence is naught, you are given the lessons, the timetables, the teachers; you are told what to do and what to think, where to be and when, and you’re punished for any transgressions.

So university is as much unlearning primary and secondary ‘education’ for examination as (newly) learning how to learn for knowledge, for development, for you; this is difficult, involving a change in the objective sphere of education. But this task is tough on multiple levels, moreso on the subjective, as you tackle for the first time living independently, learning and researching independently, prioritising independently; in short, tackling university independently, without a teacher or a parent to kick your ass into gear or provide that cloud of guilt which spurs some to study.

What follows are the thoughts of a reformed homeworkaphobe approaching his third-year of studying something which interests him at university; points on living, learning and prioritising independently; additionally some personal points which don’t constitute universally applicable advice.

 

LIVING INDEPENDENTLY

Do different things with different people.

Having heard and seen some of the states to which houses and student accommodation can deteriorate, my first advice regarding independent living is to make friends. Don’t stick with your clique from back home or pair off with that dude you met on the open day, meet and speak with as many people as possible. Don’t allow your living situation to regress such that everybody bitches about everybody else, complaining, fighting, stealing and poisoning the food of others, all of which can be nauseatingly commonplace if a balance isn’t struck. And if it can’t be, for it may well go sour with or without your input, do not involve yourself, do not ally yourself and make enemies, rise above the bollocks and work around it. Worse come worse: move. But bear in mind, you may move but you still bring your own attitude with you, make sure it’s one that makes you tolerable to live with.

Avoid inscribing bad habits.

Yes, it can initially be an exhilarating novelty to drink in a bar full of fellow students on a weeknight, to have fast-food and weed delivered to your door, to avoid exercise and sports because, well, nobody is there to tell you otherwise. I’m not for a moment saying don’t do any of these things ever, just know that there is more to be gained from the first-year university experience than savings on Jäger-bombs at the SU and pizza at Dominoes; indeed, there’s much to be lost in habituating the consumption of junk-food, drugs and alcohol.

University life teems with other opportunities; you can join just about any society you can think of, like the Kung-Fu Society, the Beard Society, the Surfing Society, and the Philosophy and Literature Society (examples from my uni). Join a band, start a club, get a training partner or a study buddy—this support can be invaluable in routinising your life and motivating healthy habit formations. (Disclaimer: British university societies are much like British society at large: they revolve around alcohol and you’re likely to have more ‘socials’ than society meetings, beware…)

Help is always at hand.

There are government and university and student organisations dedicated to student welfare, for people struggling financially, academically, personally, etcetera. There are plenty of genuine people about who have the experience to help you—don’t be shy, they’ve seen worse situations.

 

PRIORITISING INDEPENDENTLY

Get your priorities straight.

If your top priorities are beer and the opposite (or whatever) sex, at least make university your number three, because one, two, ten years down the line, you’re going to be prioritising differently: don’t make future-you despise current-you. At university, enjoying yourself should be secondary, or at most equal, to enhancing yourself. What does this mean? That lecture and seminar attendance and reading should not repeatedly fall victim to hangovers and munchies and sheer lack of will.

You are in a superlatively privileged position, able to access the pinnacle of our culture’s knowledge in an institutional tradition the likes of which people around the world would and do quite literally die trying to reach. You could come out the other end a podgy, pot-smoking piss-artist with a few funny stories; or you could emerge an enhanced, humbled and learned human endowed with indispensable knowledge and experience, and yet still have a few funny stories to boot. In a nutshell: you will have to make the jump from doing what you want to do, to what you ought to be doing; if those align, which they seldom do without a mature work ethic, so much the better.

 

Your first year is about winning knowledge, not arguments.

You will go to university with your conceptions of and ideas about how the world is and ought to work, but, if you are fully surrendering to what education is, prepare for them to be shattered into a thousand insignificant pieces. Think of your little brother or niece and how they say things with total conviction—‘I’m running away!’ and ‘They’re disgusting, I’m never having a boyfriend!’—but we know, even if they don’t, that they will grow out of such silly opinions. What makes an eighteen-year-old different? Coming of age seems to me to be a period in which one should challenge oneself rather than others; especially if you don’t know what you are talking about, which you don’t.

What I am saying here is this, that you will invariably laugh at how stupid you were last year, and if you don’t you are either totally perfect or doing something wrong; if you sort yourself out and attempt authentically to learn without politically predisposing yourself to any outcome, it’s wholly likely that you will look back and laugh at your stupidity several times a year, and that’s a good thing.

So, one should go into a lecture ready to be immersed in the viewpoint professed by the professor; one should enter the seminar room not as a political gauntlet, but a philosophical roundtable, around which blossoming critical thinkers can bounce ideas off of one another without fear of consequence. Fellow students aren’t your competitors and still less your enemies—chill, be proud to be willing to learn and be open about what you’re struggling with, if somebody’s immature enough to scoff at your intellectual courage, fuck ‘em!

 

STUDYING INDEPENDENTLY

Again, know that you are stupid.

Socrates said, “I know one thing; that I know nothing.” Your first year should be spent revelling in and remedying this stupidity, but knowing that there is no endpoint to knowledge, you will never know everything and indeed will still border on knowing nothing when you’re done. The point is a little more profound than ‘you are destined for dumbness’: it’s about an attitude, a perspective: humility is prerequisite to learning that which you don’t yet know. Christ knows it is awkward and annoying to have somebody in a seminar, who has for some reason deigned to descend to university education, who knows everything already and need not be told anything by anyone. The thing is, one can see through it. If your outlook is ‘I know nothing’ rather than ‘I already know everything,’ you’ll go further than those for whom lectures are tertiary, lecturers are clueless and seminars are for deploying one’s intellectual smack-downs.

DO SOME FECKING READING.

This is key advice, sacred for those who give more than a toss about learning at university, so I implore you to heed it if you would like a challenging experience as opposed to a debilitatingly stressful one. First week, no excuses; as soon as your fall one week behind, you’re buggered. Playing catch-up might’ve worked for GCSE and A-Level, but say you’re knee-deep in Descartes then balls-deep in Hegel, you can’t feasibly race through and cram an understanding of both in a week. Readings, for my course at least, are usually extracts of several works, sometimes with a primary text with secondary materials supporting it. If you read but one of these, enough so that you can explain what you think they are saying to somebody, then that’s enough to ‘wing’ a seminar. If you want to ‘boss’ a seminar: read it through, no notes or underlining, then read it through again, noting and underlining key or difficult passages, then write on a separate sheet of paper what you thought it was on about, what you had difficulty with and what you would like to discuss further.

 

Read widely.

After historic sociopolitical upheavals, the likes of which are unimaginable to our most recent generations, society decided to carve years out of production time so that those who wish to pursue professionalised modes of education can do so. In the past seven years the cost of this time has been raised, in financial and the corollary personal terms, to a degree that precludes many potential students or leaves them and their parents shouldering unmanageable debts—is it even worth it? Well the answer is in your action, the proof in the pudding. Again, it can be a hazy, hedonistic blur of beer and bifters and late-night cramming on Sparknotes; or you could read. It’s hard to sell, and I’m not going to try, just merely say that these three years could be precious, priceless, if you can spend it wisely, reading some of the richest wisdom that has been retained in word form. It might not seem it at first, but is infinitely more rewarding than Twitter, and tequila.

 

PERSONAL POINTS

Write essays that you want to write.

Again, these are subjectively informed suggestions, some might be seeking the highest score possible for their degree; some the easiest essay for, well, their ease; a few others the hardest essay for a challenge. I find picking an essay question that I am interested in, rather than one I already know a lot about and can answer well, was most rewarding in terms of both satisfaction and marks. And sanity.

Get the whack hair-do’s over and done with.

 

Read philosophy and history.

I came to university to learn about politics. I ended up being immersed in a study of philosophy that eclipsed my interest in bollotics and precipitated a total disengagement with its vulgar and distractive manifestations in news media. At university you will be given fragments, tasters, essays and chapters to read; but it’s up to you to pursue a school of philosophy or particular philosopher as if you’re interested; if you keep doing so, you will inevitably find philosophy that interests and suits you—remember beer didn’t taste nice before you started drinking it all the time?

This study will allow you to don the philosophical-historical goggles worn by preeminent human beings: you see the world through the eyes of Saint Paul in the Bible, through those of Plato in Athens; Marcus Aurelius and Cicero of the Roman Empire; you see through Hobbes’ during the English Civil War, Jefferson’s during the American Revolution, Burke’s during the French; through CLR James’ on history’s only successful slave revolt; through Hegel’s during the Napoleonic Wars, Trotsky’s on the Russian Revolution, the list is as exhaustive as it is fascinating.

Which leads me to history: one can discern how ideas influence events, how philosophy affects history. Our ideas bring reality into being at least as much as reality stimulates our ideality; reading the philosophies alongside the histories of an epoch will elucidate this mutual transactivity.

One more suggestion, philosophy needn’t be going balls deep and, for your first year, may be totally out of the question. For example, Hegel, the philosopher on whom I will write my dissertation, has not the knack for pedagogical clarity:

“The infinite is in this way burdened with the opposition to the finite which, as an other, remains at the same time a determinate reality although in its in-itself, in the infinite, it is at the same time posited as sublated; this infinite is the non-finite – a being in the determinateness of negation. Contrasted with the finite, with the sphere of affirmative determinatenesses, of realities, the infinite is the indeterminate void, the beyond of the finite, whose being-in-itself is not present in its determinate reality.”—Hegel, Science of Logic

Balls deep is too deep, one will go into shock. So start by dipping a toe, read a Wikipedia article, watch a video on Youtube; advance to ankle-depth by reading an entry-level introduction; go up to your knees and attend a lecture, then attend another, then find some on Youtube; raise the level gently past the knee by advancing to secondary literature, then perhaps get back to ball-depth by reading it alongside a key passage or two by the author himself.

Meditate.

I bear in mind whilst writing this that not so long ago I would’ve scoffed at this suggestion.

Say, if you spent three years working on a building site, you’d make time in which you stopped physically working completely. It’s a little more difficult on the academic side of things, because your mind doesn’t stop whirring quite like your muscles stop working. But such is meditation: thoughtlessness. Without meditation, I would have burned out so much quicker than I did on days waking up to reading before attending four lectures on different subjects and then sitting down to write an essay; by which time I could either be too frazzled to concentrate, or, because I’ve meditatively calmed my mind, ready to read and write some more. Try just ten minutes, first thing in the morning before breakfast and coffee and phone, focusing on and slowing your breathing, do nothing else. There are plenty of meditation tips and guides about the interweb; Alan Watts is my recommendation.

Make a routine, make it sacred.

Make time by routinising it. I know I have lectures on these days, I’ll do reading at these times on these days, ready for seminars on these days; I’m going to exercise at this time on these days, go to these societies on these days, etcetera. Stick to it like it’s a job, which it is: it’s your job to become a conscientious and competent human being, not one forever ready to shirk the smallest of responsibilities. Keep a diary, keep a calendar, keep one or both handy.

Be wary of political organisations

I’ve come to find it amusing, that an education costing £28,000 can still churn out morons who go about sticking these stickers on university property. I mocked them in a seminar last year, because ‘ALL COPS ARE BASTARDS’ was stuck outside the building, and I had somebody defend it on the basis that “you can’t sacrifice a good slogan” to explain that, in fact, not every cop is a bastard, just the overwhelming majority. Another confronted me outside, rather less compromising, saying that all cops are bastards, to which I replied, “My friends and family are not bastards, actually.”

An apt aphoristic peach from Hegel will make my point: “Mark this well, you proud men of action! You are, after all, nothing but unconscious instruments of the men of thought.” And indeed you can become an instrument if your ‘enemies,’ be they UKIP supporters or the police, are assigned to you as part of whatever prepackaged political ideology you were sold by such nutjobs.

 

Education is outside the lecture hall and library.

Learn to cook. Which also means: learn to buy food. If you have a market, shop there, for they’re invariably cheaper than cornerstores and supermarkets. Then learn to cook the food: it can start easy and it’s fun. Then do the dishes afterwards. Then feel exhilarated at becoming a bog-standard adult; it’s really quite something.

Sort your bills now, or pay for it later. You will have to confront these kinds of responsibilities at some point, avoiding them and hoping somebody else will sort it is dishonest—because you know you should do something—and immature.

Learn to self motivate (read philosophy and history). Historical heroes and philosophical giants like Solzhenitsyn and Nietzsche, CLR James and Hegel, will change the lens through which you interpret the world. There will no longer be insurmountable but avoidable obstacles, there will rather lie challenges, out of which you will emerge a better human; eventually you will compare your pathetic excuses for not attending a lecture or writing an essay to the inconceivable feats of humanity’s toughest, and they will inspire and motivate you.

 


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Moroccan Chirps

Morocco. All it conjured when my partner booked flights for a surprise birthday present last November was hash: ‘Moroccan black’ was a term bandied about officiously by shits who’d never been there. That, and mountains. A mate of mine thought it was in South America. So there was much to discover in eleven days there—hash and mountains included.

On our first evening in Marrakech, my partner Seila and I are lost down some side-alley, and by chance meet an exceedingly friendly fellow, like so many in Morocco. Neither standing behind a stall nor wielding Ralph Lauren counterfeits, I judge his eager sociability to be genuine, and accept his invitation to his place for tea. His name is Abdul. Notwithstanding Abdul’s niceness, I’m slightly on guard, being led down a pitch-black alleyway by the first man on the street that hasn’t harried to sell me something. This suspicion melts the instant we enter his home, to the sound of young chirping children and sight of his charming wife, Nahla, in the kitchenette at the far end of the room. The walls are geometrically mosaicked, as is the Islamic style, and two bank sofas frame a small table in the middle of the room. We chat choppily with my third-rate French, Abdul’s English (taught him by an American posted with the Moroccan Army for which Abdul served) and lots of silly-looking but helpful hand gestures. Long story short: after spending a wonderful evening together complete with Moroccan tea, tagine and tokes, we take a liking to each other and Abdul kindly offers to take us to “les montagnes!”—the mountains east of Marrakech, to meet Nahla’s side of the family in a small village. We gladly accept.

The backdrop out of Marrakech affords snowcapped mountainscape, the immediate scenery just desert, sand and rock. Driving to the village, a couple hours east of the city, we pass unfinished projects, similarly morose to those at home, but all shades of the same colour; pale wooden scaffolds wrapped around dusty bricks set in sand, not a high-vis in sight.

We stop off in a small market en route to nab some meat and veg for the lunchtime tagine. The heat’s blistering, but the locals are sporting black bomber jackets and jeans. I feel like it must just be me. My Celtic ancestry would have a week’s worth of sunshine per person per year, from which they’d probably flee to save their reddening hides. My skin scorches; the Moroccans’ are wrapped in the warmest of my winter wears.

The butcher’s bare hands wrestle down a skinned pig, which are hooked upturned and gutted, before heaving a cleaver through a limb. Butchers are (relatively) sterile affairs back home, much less blood and far fewer flies—the smell here is offputtingly rancid. We nab that, then some vegetables at a stall; a few handfuls each of snap peas, potatoes and carrots, amounting to twenty-odd dirham, or about €2. Feeding your guests and family for less than two quid. I can’t buy a cuppa for that in Brighton.

A lonely eeyore just outside the village

Making our way to the village, a stone track leads us around and away from small mountains, large hills, some of which look like heaps of refuse, with the jagged rocks jutting out of red sand, sparse shoots of green interspersed. The odd lonely cactus sits about. On our approach to the monochromic village, the cacti multiply. They’ve seemingly fig-shaped fruit growing amongst their spikes. Spotting more the far side of a fence, made from a thicket of dry thorns, I ask if and why they’re being farmed; our friend Abdul’s surprised that I haven’t tried any, it’s supposedly sweet, despite the spiteful spikes.

We visit his in-laws. We’re greeted at the door by a thin man—Pa-in-law—wearing a brown kufi hat over his bald head, a thin brown djellaba over a loose beige shirt and brown trousers, with beaten leather sandals on his feet. He greets us warmly, shaking my hand gently, patting his heart thereafter. The two huts inside the modest compound are windowless and inside neatly maintained. The Ma-in-law emerges from one, looking a little bewildered at me, and then at Abdul, as if to say, ‘whom are you bowling up into my home with now, Abdul?’ She wears thick trousers and socks underneath her thin, purple djellaba and sandals; her headscarf she wears loosely over her thick, black hair. Sweating profusely in my thin shirt and loose trouser, I wipe my hand before she shakes it gently. Abdul speaks in his harsh and hasty Arabic, shaking the plastic bag full of veg and (also sweaty) meat. She speaks to him in a much softer Arabic, which makes me feel at ease; though attempting to discern the content of a conversation from its foreign form of enunciation is always dodgy; Latvians can sound like they’re angry when happy, Norwegians dismissive when interested. Ma-in-law takes the bag and turns to enter one hut, whilst Seila, Abdul and I enter another—the living room/hut.

Pa-in-law slides off his sandals at the door, quickly drapes a rug over the concrete floor, bare as the walls and ceiling, and places small pillows thereon for each of us. He nabs a tiny wooden table from the corner of the room, placing it before us. I can’t for the life of me cross my legs in comfort; primary school assemblies were for me what SERE training is to the SEALS. I prop myself awkwardly up against the wall, whilst Abdul immediately gets about rolling another spliff, perhaps the fifth of the morning. Despite it being windowless and the day’s heat without breeze, the living-hut was surprisingly cool and well illuminated.

Ma-in-law returns, sliding off her sandals at the door, with the Moroccan rite and staple—tea—before slipping them back on to rush off again. Moroccan tea is as gratefully drunk as it is incessantly served. Moroccans are competitively eager to cram hospitality into each conceivable momentary crevice, the primary means by which they do this is heating water in a teapot, straining green tea and spearmint leaves therein, adding a fistful of sugar and serving it with and without food. Pa-in-law pours a pale tea into my glass, opens the pot and pours the glassful back into it, repeating a couple of times as the tea darkens. It’s undeniably delicious but, for some palates at least, sickeningly sweet by the half-dozenth of the day.

Abdul crumbles some blonde hash from Chefchaouen into his palm, mixing it with the tobacco teased from a cigarette, before putting a smoking paper on top; he places his other palm on top of that and expertly flips over the mix into the paper. He rolls up ‘un joint,’ pronounced in his raspy French, ‘uh joowah.’ French spoke in Maghrebi dialect sounds so cool. Moroccan tea drank with un joint tastes so good.

Ma-in-law, sandals off, comes bearing two loaves of freshly baked flatbread, olive oil and black honey—sandles on and she’s off again. Pa breaks bread on my behalf, passing me a chunk; Seila declines, for she’s gluten intolerant. This he can’t, and no Moroccan did, understand. I embellish her attempt at explaining that she can’t eat it with some graphic gesticulation—it’ll go straight through her!—sometimes the language barrier’s a blessing. The bread is crusty and warm. The olive oil is by far and away the best I’m yet to try, made from the olives picked off the trees out back. The black honey, thick, rich and smoky, vies for my attention.

Ma-in-law, sandals off and in, returns with two freshly boiled eggs and some seasalt; she looks a little concernedly at Seila, sitting still besides Abdul and I ravenously indulging our munchies, placing them before her; sandals on and out. The eggs are abnormally delicious and healthy looking, never have I seen or tasted an egg like it: a thin skin of egg-white covering a deep orangey-yellow yolk, which forms the majority of the egg. The one bite wasn’t enough, despite the loaf of bread at my lap and tagine en route.

Pa-in-law, Abdul tells me, is a farmer and has been tending his ‘animaux.’ I ask about his animals. The conversation is necessarily mediated between Abdul and I, in his broken English and my scrappy French. He is at least as stoned as I am, sometimes plainly neglecting his translational duties, so one must persist. Pa keeps chickens and goats, tending the latter out in the searing sun, I notice without a bead of sweat upon his bony brow, making me aware of how mine perspires so freely in the coolest shade he has to offer.

Pa-in-law, Abdul and Yours Truly eating some tagine.

Ma-in-law, sandals off, comes bearing a decanter and a bowl. She places the pot underneath our hands, pouring the water over so we can clean them before our meal. I feel a little uncomfortable, I feel it pretends to deferral. She clears the table of the teapot. Sandles on: she’s off again.

She’s back in a heartbeat with a tagine. For those who are ignorant as I was, a tagine is actually the Maghrebi name for the dish in which the meal is cooked, like a balti. She places the searing dish on the table, lifts off the cone-shaped lid allowing the steam to billow out invitingly from underneath, revealing and reacquainting us with the spruced and sizzling meat and veg. Ma doesn’t sit to eat with us, she slips on her sandals and makes off again. Waiting for Pa or Abdul to dig in, for how to do so without cutlery was, at least in my frame of mind, a little perplexing. I don’t have to wait long, as Abdul tears a strip of bread, dips one side of it amongst the vegetables, cooked and steamed in and by their juices, pinches an amount, upturns the bread and eats it. I don’t wait a moment longer myself, but Pa still somehow manages to enthuse me to eat. The duty of the guest to oblige being fussed over is as pressing as the duty of the host. Seila asks for and is fetched a small plate and spoon with which to eat the tagine, it not occurring to Ma or Pa that it might prove inedible without bread. I’m continuously proffered meat by Pa, nudging it toward my corner of the tagine with his bread; not eating meat at all often, and having gorged on bread beforehand, it’s a struggle to eat much (more), as tasty as it is. Delicious simplicity; meat, veg, spice, tagine, fire, serve. When I indicate that I can’t eat a bite more—again, one must persist—Pa and Abdul make for the meat that, I now realise, they were abstaining from eating on my account. I realise I may’ve indulged my obligation qua guest too eagerly, but no matter.

Ma-in-law, in and out and in and out, clears the table, washes our hands, makes us tea, then finally sits with us. In this time Abdul has, of course, rolled un joint. Pa-in-law needs to shepherd his goats to graze up and about the mountain, in the midday sun, and offers us to sleep in the living-hut. It’s now heating up a little, teeming with flies and unventilated of tobacco smoke. I thank him profusely, and he shuffles out the door. Feeling additionally doped in my food coma, Abdul asks me to lie down, ‘S’allonger! Existe!’ Exiiiste—that’s the spirit.

We chill for a bit, sheltering from the midday heat, chatting with Ma when Abdul’s understanding and effort aligns and allows. He neglects to translate the odd question to Ma, yet nods, smiling his big toothless smile, his brown and bloodshot eyes looking somewhat engaged, lying back on the pillow taking long draws on le joint. Then he jerks his head back into my gaze, saying, ‘Qoui?’, and we try again.

We ‘existe’, blazing to stave away the day’s blaze, before going on a walk around the village. Abdul knows everybody in the village and is wont to introduce us. They are achingly hospitable and the women cannot fuss enough, though the village has seemingly conspired to rot my remaining teeth with their sugar-soup tea, which I can’t stop drinking anyway. We take tea at a cousin of Nahla’s in a very modest hut; inside there are another relative’s children; it’s all very communal. They stare at me as one would an ogre; my smiles and “Salaam’s” seem to scare more than sooth them. His cousin’s a midget who’s unmarried in her late twenties—tardy by their wedding watches. But Abdul has been a’matchmaking and found found her a vertical match back in Marrakech who she’s eager to hear of and will be meeting at some point in the near future. Abdul’s beaming, giving some dosh to keep them going, saying that he’ll have to get them a dish for the TV next time he visits. The tea is giving me a hypo, the bread a baby-belly and le never-ending joints property in Sark. We get up to have more of a mooch about the village.

The village viewed during our ascent of the modest montagne

Save for the cactus, a few planted olive trees and some smatterings of green shrubbery, the place really looks like so many shades of the same colour, and stunning and serene as such. We stomp and sweat through the tilled but unfarmed land toward a small mountain. Abdul wards me off a villager’s land, as I accidentally trespass over a very neat but almost imperceptible border of stones. It doesn’t take long to hike for the tiny village to become unassuming, a darker shade swept by a brush on a monochromic canvass, one of many melting into the deserted distance. The mountain’s barely relieved by a breeze, I want to take my sweat sodden shirt off but I know I’ll flash fry. We reach the modest summit to some beautiful views each side. Abdul perches atop a rock and pulls a much smaller rock of the same colour from, I note to my surprise, his sock, before he crumbles it to make yet un autre joint.

Yours Truly amongst the cacti

The only noise to be heard is the stone beneath our feet and  breeze about our ears. We spot a couple wild mountain goat—wild’s the word!—quite literally clilffhanging in the distance. We see tamer mountain goat being herded about the slope of a neighbouring mountain by two berobed figures in the distance, no doubt known personally to Abdul. I find an unlikely fruit, bright and pale orange, attached to a brittle, dead-looking vine. It looks out of sync, but very edible; Abdul tells me it’s medicine. What I need is shade.

Abdul enjoying un joint bien merité sur le montaigne

We make our way down dodgily aboard the sharp and slipping stones. Abdul insists I take Seila’s hand, which I’m not able to do without unbalancing the both of us, so he chivalrously takes it, but keeps a pace that only makes their descent more dicey. But we make our way down no problem, having a shaded pit-stop beneath a lonely but friendly tree outside the village, building and blazing a last joint, just to ensure I’m sufficiently cross-eyed before meeting more busied and brilliant women, sun-seared shepherds and terrified toddlers.

We visit the family of Nahla’s sister, Munira, who looks about the same age but is notably thinner and browner, wearing a purple djellaba and thin headscarf covering all of her hear. With a baby about a year old saronged to her back, she busily goes about making some bread and brewing some tea, both of which I’ve a voracious appetite for despite eating myself sick of both three hours ago. Munira’s Dad-in-law who owns the property, Hassan, is a quiet, dignified and thoroughly welcoming man who’s hospitable determination to see me pregnant of bread and diabetic by tea I welcome thoroughly. He has many more animals than do Nahla’s parents, which means both more wealth and work, and a bigger compound with more family living in it. There’s a Dalmatian and a couple of chickens knocking about before the sheep and goats are brought to stable in the setting sun, blissfully baaing away. The living-hut in which we eat and drink has plump pillows, high ceilings, a lick of paint, lights and a smaller flock of flies; plus the toilet’s a hole in the ground, rather than the ground itself as at the in-laws. Abdul accepts Hassan’s kind invitation for us to stay the night there, for which we are grateful.

Hassan’s sheep

Munira’s husband Ali returns home while the twilight is bright. Ali’s about thirty, heavily tanned, stubbly, wearing a cap, a jumper and some jeans. He leaves for work at sunrise and arrives home after sunset, spending all day landscaping in the blistering heat. Despite the arduousness of the day behind him, he greets his children and us warmly and goes about preparing some kif. Untying a rope around a wrapped up sack, he reveals three healthy, pungent cannabis stalks and a brown, parched looking leaf the size of a man’s hand. The leaf is a tobacco leaf, much bigger than I imagined they’d be, which he refreshes with water before ripping a piece off to mix with the kif. Ali spends the next hour, in between sipping tea and talking to us via Abdul, patiently pulling the ‘plainer’ parts of the cannabis plant matter from about the buds, then crumbling them atop of a block, expertly knocks the seeds out of the mix with a gnarly knife. He collects the ground buds into a squared strip of sack, taking the now-dried rip of tobacco, crushing it between his fingers, adding it to the mix to make kif. The pipe we use to smoke it is about a foot long, wooden, with a bowl one side a little smaller than a thimble. Abdul teaches me how to pack: holding it with one hand underneath, you nudge kif into the bowl with the forefinger. He makes it look banally simple; I spill my pipe and burn my finger trying to smoke it. Ali looks at me as to an amateur.

Pa-in-law pops in looking for us in the later evening; Abdul explains we’re to stay here; no offence is taken or seemingly appropriate. He sits and chirps with the famalam. Nahla, Hassan’s wife and another lovely lady of some relation come to the living-hut with us after we’re finished eating (our third tagine of the day) and being fussed over, drinking tea, washing hands and all. The division of labour is rigid: women domestic, men agricultural; both work their asses off. It’s nice to see them sit and socialise, albeit still fussing over Seila, who I forget is oftentimes the only woman keeping company with us men whilst we eat and smoke. Nahla offers to do some henna on Seila’s hands and asks whether we are married. I don’t see what that’s got to do with the price of fish, but I fib the fib I’d been advised to fib and say that we are. Abdul conveys that this traditionally allows Nahla to also tattoo Seila’s feet. So Nahla, baby still strapped across her slender shoulders, retrieves some henna; Seila’s understandably ambivalent having had some forcefully applied to her hand by an overzealous Marrakechian a couple of days ago which burned, so asks what’s in it. We understand it to be the henna plant and oranges. It isn’t erosive but looks excremental. Nahla kneels at Seila’s side, smiling gently, the baby on her back staring me out, as she applies the henna around her foot tattoos. I tell Nahla that she looks so much like her sister, stopping short of saying both are beautiful. We show her some pictures of her likewise beautiful niece, sixteen and an excellent English speaker, from the other day at Nahla and Abdul’s place in Marrakech; she beams at them.

Abdul packs one, two, three, four pipes of kif for himself, I think perhaps in a daze. He realises, and plies me with pipe after pipe to compensate. I note that no women smoke and the older men I ask smoke no longer, Abdul is the only man I know who does, but says only on occasion. I get the feeling that this is a hash-holiday for him, too. Hassan retires, then the ladies put the kids and themselves to bed. Seila’s knackered too, and settles down. Abdul, Ali and I squat in the opposite end of the room, puffing away, and call it an hour later. I bid a hazy farewell to Ali, who, replete with kisses for each of my cheeks, surprises me a little. Abdul settles himself at the foot of Seila and I, persistently passing me packed pipes as I lie back in a contented, dozy daze.

Seila and I both awake intermittently throughout the night to Abdul popping more pipes of kif.

We leave the next afternoon, after a breakfast of bread, eggs and kif. Our trip back to Marrakech is helpfully organised by Ali’s young brother, who’s sixteen year’s old, sharp and handsome, sporting a black jacket, tight blue jeans and black hair curling in a particular way with a neatly kempt goatee. He looks greaser 2.0. He returns on his rackety moped with transport sorted. He isn’t schooled and asks Abdul to teach him some English. So they sit together for the spontaneous language lesson, with a piece of paper, on which Abdul writes ‘Hello’ in old Arabic, what I assume to be modern Arabic, and English. “How are you?” is next. Then, “Are you fine?” which Abdul recites with a comic gusto that the young lad repeats earnestly, concentrating and repeating again. I wonder if this is the English that the Yank taught Abdul or if he’s just as high as I am? He writes the Arabic for the next phrase, then the English, which he recites whilst waving his hands dramatically from his chest: “I don’t care anymore!” I pack up laughing. Abdul smiles nonchalantly, innocently. I try not to laugh, but, hell, it still tickles me to this day.

Hassan and Yours Truly

We say goodbye to everybody, I even manage a handshake from a nipper, though the baby saronged to Munira continues to bore into my soul with her sweet, scared stare. Hassan insists that we visit with our family, several times. He says he’ll slaughter two animals, with gory gesticulation, when we next visit with them. I don’t say yes or no, just chuckle at the thought of my Dad being in this weird and wonderful place, as Hassan kisses my right cheek, then left, then right again, and the left again.

Skyping my parents after our trip, I tell them this and much else about our trip. My Dad reminisces of when, as a child, in the ‘wild country’ of County Mayo, they visited a family: they hospitably slaughtered a sheep for their arrival. I guess the cultural gap is not as wide as we would be led to believe.

 


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War God by Graham Hancock: Book Review

Graham Hancock’s epic novelisation of the Spanish invasion and conquest of Mexico is a masterwork in all respects: it melds historical factuality and levelled appraisals of its real personalities with an enveloping fictional narrative, bolstered by an informed nod to the supernatural, which is never to the deficit of the non-fictional event story.

The historical setting of the story is half a millennia ago, when a cavalier captain, Hernán Cortés, set off to the ‘New Lands’ of South America from recently Spanish-conquered Cuba, against the will of his Governor. Cortés is driven by fame and fortune in this life and the next. He has a close communion with his patron saint and sees the attempt to conquer newer lands as destined to succeed for it is deigned by, and in the name of, God.

The empire dominating the New Lands are known to us as the Aztecs, to themselves the Mexica: a grand and ghastly, proud and excessive empire—as all tend—which exerts its power well beyond its own borders, extracting tribute from many other much weaker peoples. The leader of the Mexica, its ‘Great Speaker’, is Moctezuma, essentially a king whose privilege it is to commune with the War God, Hummingbird, and who commands total respect and subservience from his subjects.

The point of view characters caught in between this haughty historical war are, on the side of the indigenous, Tozi, a stubborn and remarkable teenage witch, Malinal, a beautiful Mayan polyglottal sex-slave, Moctezuma, the psychotic and (seemingly) omnipotent leader of the Mexican empire aforementioned, and Shikotentka, the noble, savage and fiercely independent battle-king of the neighbouring Tlascalan people. On the side of the Spanish, Cortés, the brilliant, fearsome and complex Machiavellian operator behind each diplomatic and military masterstroke attributed to the Spanish, Pepillo, the aspirant and honest teenage page of the ghastly paedophile, Father Muñoz, who is also a point of view character in the first novel.

The Spanish are set on finding the fabled city of gold in Tenochtitlan, modern-day Mexico City. They must conquer or cajole or bargain with the indigenous to secure a path there, facilitated by Malinal’s translation and the godly aura clouding the Mexica and Maya’s view of the Spanish’ arrival, which they play along with to their advantage. The military encounters between them are as savage as are the diplomatic encounters courteous; both sides learn of the capacity of the other to be both unsparingly vicious and surprisingly civil.

Nevertheless, Hancock is unsparing in his characterising the brutality of both, which makes for perfectly feasible accounting of what is an often too simplified or valorised epoch. On the Spanish account, whole villages were burned to fiery ruin, women raped, children unspared. The Mexica found its infamy and renown in human sacrifice, which was as regular as it was rife, but otherwise was much like the archetypal empire, overzealous and overstretched, meeting a fate which was not due to their being undermanned, but outmanned and overwhelmed by better tactics and technology. This latter point is something about which Hancock writes brilliantly: the fear felt by the indigenous when first encountering cannon (“fire serpents”), men on horseback, first described as half-man-half-beast, and boats which “move without paddles.”

Hancock’s research into the lives lived, thoughts thought and beliefs believed by both the Spanish and indigenous has informed these novels. One can, despite their being opposed in total war, empathise and sympathise with both sides, since Hancock shows the stark similarities between them, despite being balanced by equally stark dissimilarities. For example, when each approach their Gods in altered states of consciousness: Cortés in lucid dreams, Moctezuma by way of magic mushroom, Father Muñoz by flagellating himself into a lurid ecstasy, etcetera. Likewise with the absolute tenacity the fearsome warriors of each side confront the other with; the pride of the victories and the shame of defeats.

What most grasps me about this book, though, is its truth: this shit went down! Hancock’s descriptions of pitched battles, of human sacrifice, of the misery left in their wake rightly leaves some to your imagination, but without letting it get away thinking that these conquests were in any way pretty, or wholly noble, or in any sense humane. You learn much from this book in history and in philosophy—and Hancock doesn’t force either down your throat. The novelist’s task is not to tell, but to show; this Hancock heeds expertly. The novel flows smoothly in a gripping narrative canvassing history, politics, action, love and the supernatural. I assure you, you shan’t be able to wrench yourself from it. I eagerly await the third and final installment.

Schoolyard Scrap

Year 12! The first year of Sixth-Form, in which you are told that you are an adult, now—one obliged to continue wearing a certain uniform, abiding bollockings for untucked shirts and imperfectly knotted ties. For want of any compelling alternative, many wander directionless into this educative, social and sexual gauntlet when at their spottiest, stupidest and angriest, so sparks flew; here’s one.

My friends and I went to play basketball down the courts one lunchtime, and started jamming with some lads in Year 10. They told us that a guy assaulted a friend of theirs the weekend before, twatting him over the head with a skateboard. This I found enraging: the dude is harmless! He and his mates roundly surpassed my skill level on the court; I outplayed them by outshoving them with shoulders bigger than they had to shove with. It’s not fair: exploiting your age and physicality to win, especially so when it comes to violence. I was angry. So, what does an angry seventeen-year-old do?

I took to Facebook, that evening, which back in the day was a wild interwest as yet unpolluted by parents; full of posing and pissy teenage arguments and ‘tag a friend who…’ photos. I went on the culprit’s Facebook page and gave him some jip. The next evening, after having had a beer or five, I saw his understandably jippy replies. So I posted a ‘status’ saying some spectacularly cringe-worthy things to the effect: “Such and Such says he can kick my ass?! He is a pussy c**t t**t etcetera.” The next day or so a plethora of irretrievably embarrassing things were said each way, I cannot recall (only Facebook, the NSA and God have such power), but the gist of his response was: fight me, then.

And so it was. With every Facebook friend of each of ours as witness and soon-to-be audience, we were deigned to dance at 1 o’clock in the Sixth-Form car park. Some friends of his posted on my wall commiserating my loss and friends of mine congratulating my win in advance. I just remember a local and successful boxer’s comment that he would ‘bow down’ in front of my foe before fighting him, that streetfights are his game as boxing is his. I clearly remember thinking: fuck. Equally clearly: too late, now. I had an opportunity to ask my Dad to teach me how to punch, as he had done with my sister when the need urgently arose, but thought that my request would give it away. How so many people had wind of this over so many days in an open domain without a parent or the school being informed is beyond me and doubtlessly wouldn’t happen nowadays.

The day of the scrap was a school day, which started as one usually did. My friends mentioned the fight constantly and my nervousness was unwillingly fed by their excitement. Morning lessons were a blur, until the bell rang. I nabbed by sports bag and went alone to the changing rooms. I put on my Ireland football shirt, blue basketball shorts and trainers. I haven’t prepared, have no clue how to throw a punch and am about to fight with a purported street fighter in front of his and my friends. What the feck am I doing, I thought, making my way to the car park. I am fit and strong and play rugby and basketball, but I’m hardly going to punch him with a jump shot or rugby tackle.

Crossing the road from Sixth-Form, I caught sight of people, loads of people. My stomach dropped. I felt sick. My mind whirred impotently as I turned the hedgerow to enter the car park, seeing a legitimate crowd. People older and younger, some people I recognised from St Sampson, La Mare. I made eye contact with an older guy with tattoos I’d never seen before. I hope that’s not his friend. A mate approached me and passed me a cigarette, which I took and dragged on heartily, still walking, heart pounding sickly in my throat. I spotted my foe, stood with a group of his friends, smoking too. Not the nutter warming up boxing shadows like I’d imagined. Maybe this could be amicable, maybe he’d apologise for his actions, we all make mistakes, maybe—oh, no, he’s turned and is now sprinting dementedly toward me across the car park.

Pivot on my left foot, load it, left check hook in to the right side of his jaw, pivot out of his way as he falls unconscious to the floor. Precisely what didn’t happen. I’m glad I didn’t box then—feck me I’m glad he didn’t either. I was stood square on, didn’t think to set myself and didn’t throw anything as he jumped at pace to head-butt me. Being a head taller and going backward with his momentum, his forehead harmlessly hit the lower part of my chin, and we fell to the floor for a scrappy, gravelly grapple. I think it would look hilarious to watch, now. He managed to pin an arm as I attempt to get up with the other, and he bites the lower part of my neck. I remember yelping, “He’s biting me!” More a cry of ‘foul’ than anything else. A friend of his shouted back, “No rules!” I manage to get to my feet and he goes to rugby tackle me. I set my feet so he can’t get me down, but he continues to try, driving in to my midriff. I stand awkwardly and decide to start punching, throwing one, two, five, ten punches into the side of his head until he gives up the grapple. My turn to rugby tackle: much more successful, lifting and ragdolling him on to his back. He gets up a little slowly and as he goes for me again I swing a couple of punches, loosely and sloppily from the hip, stopping his advance. Christ I don’t like fighting, and I’m shit at it. I offer my hand, as much to end it for me as him. His mates offer more uninspiring slogans, a couple of fuck you’s, and he goes once more. I throw another couple of looping punches, one of which makes a horrible sound on his forehead, whether it’s my knuckle or the sound of impact I’m unsure. He looks dazed, bloodied and tired. I offer my shaking hand again, and he shakes it. Thank feck.

You hear the crowd when you’re fighting, I’ve come to learn through boxing in later years, but you don’t often see them. Looking at the scores of possibly underwhelmed but indubitably entertained students filling the car park, I finish a mate’s cigarette and walk toward the school. It’s all over in less than ten minutes. Walking past a teacher, who has obviously seen the commotion, she asks me what’s going on. “No idea”, I say, rushing off. She thought I should be suspended. Another teacher shook my hand.

The sort of thing I might fantasise about being able to gloat about on Facebook, when it came to being able to, I didn’t want to and decided against it. I felt humbled, and frankly scared by the whole ordeal. The dude and I made up and have chirped since. My girlfriend at the time, as all good women have a tendency to do for men, tended injury but not ego. “Nice camp boxing skills there, Liam”, she says as we watch a grainy video of my undeniably and flamboyantly camp attempts at punching, throwing from my leg in awkward arcs, before extending my hand to shake on a ceasefire. As scrappy and silly as educative and humbling, I haven’t had any car park contests since. Perhaps because I deleted Facebook, though.

 


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