Scunthorpe Beauty Queen

Heavy white breath swirled around the heads of four or five young men in the February afternoon air. I thought they were with the old lady in front, maybe even her grandchildren, until I noticed they were taking it in turns to hock huge globs of spit onto the back of her coat and down the long grey/blonde tresses  of what was once a golden sea of curls back when Elvis rocked Las Vegas the first time.

She didn’t notice it at first, what they were doing, or even that they were following her, but when she stopped outside the Off Licence near McDonalds to look furtively into a bin her head turned just in time for something liquid and warm to hit her full in the face.

They laughed, then ran, calling “Tramp, tramp, tramp,” over their shoulders until they rounded the corner.

She stood for a minute stock still, head slightly up, put one hand on her hip, and smiled. She had shaken that morning when she put the red lipstick on and it showed, making her mouth look like a gaping wound, but she didn’t care for neatness anymore and she didn’t care for spit. Turning on her heels she walked slowly towards the bus station down the dirty rubbish-strewn catwalk of the High Street; parading once more in the past. Still beautiful.

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Mental Illness at the Boxing Show

Last year at a Boxing Show. Paid gig. I turned up promptly, did the schmooze, then took a ringside seat and began to scribble bullet-point notes in awful handwriting that I would copy up the next morning then file for publication. I was feeling a bit unwell, but I’ve been at these Shows and done these tasks before. It would be easy….yeah?

Here are those notes word for word, no omissions:

– Under jilted badly-swung lights.

– Quiet, expectant fighters mosey in in dribs and drabs.

– Sitting far too early for anything useful except for watching the mismatched champagne glasses. There aren’t enough.

-In the end there are not enough…..

-A fighter from Kent arrives smartly dressed and quiet, his huge misshaped nose the only giveaway as to his occupation. Last time I saw him he was playing to the crowd, face covered in his own blood, losing heavily.

-I’m not likeable enough for this gig. Bad interpersonal skills. I’m not a do’er. Not nice enough. Full Stop.

-Don’t stress about the weigh-in. Everyone is skinny. Checked again to make sure there is no cheating; it’s small potatoes.

-For all the obvious details: my clothes, my sitting here writing in this notepad, phone on to the stats, it’s never been any clearer to me that this is not my calling. I’m out of my depth

-I’m not in the ‘in’ crowd. Never was. I don’t get it at all. I want to be alone. There are too many subtle pieces to like. I hate writing. Hate it. No good at it. The End.

  • BREAK

-Lots of productivity everywhere.

-All I know is I want out.

-Sick of me. Sick of my bullshit.

-Nerds everywhere: covered in cables for the TV cameras and head torches and ear pieces.

-I’m a weak man.

-A thousand toothless cats. Feels like being at school: pointless

-Upwards of a million…

-Stats, man, that’s where I should be at. My mind isn’t capable of stats, or bats, or fucking anything.

-Enter Spit Buckets, stage left. Yellow.

-Nervous Ring Girls.

Capacity to write dwindling. Fucking brain dead. Press Pass Moron, that’s me. This is NOT good. Smells of Sandlewood and piss in here.

-Ultra professional security in here. ON time.

-Promoter garbling conversations into his mobile: calling in favours and giving out vicious tirades at somebody.

-Security: a real high-on-the-agenda topic tonight. Ironic all this fighting at the fighting.

-I’m suddenly asked to run the Twitter account for the promoters: making it all up as I go along. Will anyone notice?

-I’m hungry, but I’m overweight and still hungover.

-More Codeine?

-‘Viktor’, he’s the key to this evening. ‘Fifth best super-welterweight in Latvia’. Was it him I saw puzzling at the pay machine in the car park?

-Heated instructions – Security PARAMOUNT. What is expected tonight? What kind of madness and violence is going to happen outside of the ring?

-Grappling with the lightbulbs…..point?

-Eyeballed by the other Press: blackballed too. Good. Better alone anyway. It’s the only way.

-Tiny dresses on the Ring Girls before they even get changed into the small stuff designed to whip up the punters when the lights are on.

-Is there food?

-Rumours about food only being available for the Top Tables.

-18.50: First punters are in. The smell of food might drive them to riot when they realise they can’t get any. I understand the heavy security presence now. Nothing can promote ugly feelings like alcohol and the denial of access to a basic human right.

-The attraction of Boxing to young women: Not at first as obvious as it appears. Some good old fashioned simple support for a guy they know outside of the ring. They are dressed like Ring Girls…. They are not as drunk as the guys they are with. Weird nights entertainment for anyone, coming here.

-19.18: Bad attitude young guy. Talking shit to the security, trying to get ring-side. He tries to punch the security guard….leaves quickly, but that walk was the motion of a guy coming back…maybe not alone next time…

-The Music volume has increased. I caught myself nodding along to the beat…. You idiot.

Fighting now. Punching. Bleeding. Three feet from my face. Sweat flies off and sprinkles me. One of the ring doctors sits beside me – right here and now – playing pool on his phone. Noise….shouting….. Vicious crowd, this one. Testosterone and Adrenaline flowing like the Zambezi down the aisles and across the ether.

-Someone lost. They helped him up off the canvas. Who was he?

-Disaster for the local boy. Crowd like baying dogs.

-Fight after fight. Blood and punching and grunting and sweat and all up close and personal. Can’t recall who’s doing what. Noise.

-Got to get out.

Rite of Passage

 

That summer school finished for good. All I needed to do was to wait for my exam results, kick back, and look forward to sixth form in the local town. But my father had other ideas. See, he thought I’d done ok (he didn’t know for certain) and was expecting some decent grades before I started on my A-levels. He thought I needed a reward; a sort of rite of passage holiday where I stopped being a child and became a man. I didn’t refuse. He booked me and a friend on a hovercraft passage to France. We’d taken a couple of trains to Paris and checked into a small hotel near the Moulin Rouge. Two Kids. Sixteen. On our own.

 

It was ten o’clock at night in the Gare de l’est – the Paris station serving the eastern side of the country up to Strasbourg. We were walking with two German women we’d met in the hotel. They were taking us out for the night to some famous nightclub neither of us had ever heard of. The blonde one was wearing a skin-tight electric blue mini-dress and high heels. The red-head was wearing a dress with a longer skirt, and smaller heels. Both in their early twenties, they were on holiday. We’d spotted them at breakfast and thought they were attractive – which they were – and found out what room they were in, before putting a note under the door telling them our room number. Sitting in a Chinese restaurant afterwards, we saw them walk by and it hit us that they were much older than we were; that we had made a dreadful, sexually-charged youthful mistake. We finished the meal and ran out excitedly into the Paris rain, getting lost between Pigalle and the Sacre Coeur. We’d stood together in a doorway, lost and soaked, laughing until we cried.

When we arrived back at the hotel we found the two women had replied to our note by pushing their own under our door – “HI HI Come up to room 12 tonight at seven. XX”

When seven rolled around my friend was too scared to go up to their room, so I went on my own while he locked himself in our bathroom and built up some momentum with a furious bout of masturbation. They were ok. He appeared half an hour later. We drank beer and spoke in fractured English. Now it was ten, and we were in the vast, empty marble floored station with them.

The high ceiling and sheer size of the space clacked the stiletto sounds of the women as they walked straight across the hall towards the information boards. Around the walls a hundred homeless Parisians settling in for the night watched and whistled and leered, some clapped. Great, grey brown hoards of rags and beards and dirt and despair watched the floor show: two sixteen year old boys with long hair walking uncertainly across the glaring lights of the station hall with two young women who were turning every head in the place and knew it.

They got the information they needed. We turned and paraded back across the hall. Outside, they had a taxi waiting. Over the next hour  we’d find ourselves whizzing through the backstreets of the Red Light district, stopping to buy beer, watching a man being stabbed near Blanche, and drinking in what it meant to be Men.

I failed my exams.