Saturday 10 December 2011

The Power of One

I am the skinnny bastard in red

It occurred to me this morning that we spend an appreciable part of our lives sleeping. Teenagers need loads of sleep, much to the irritation of parents who assume the issue of their loins are indolent. But the wee tykes do benefit from hours of slumber. After all, their bodies and brains are still growing while ours, OK, mine at least, are shrinking.

I woke up at ten this morning.

Can’t say I felt any better for it. Someone is playing a piano in my head. Fortissimo. No, it is Guns and Roses at full volume and my skull is the base drum, the smacked-out-of-his-head adolescent on the end of the sticks thrashing the skins of my cerebral cortex singing lyrics along the lines of, ‘now you know what it feels like to be alive you old bastard’. Undoubtedly witty but not what I needed with a headful of swallowed pillow while I tried to peel sweaty sheets off me and head urgently to the bathroom to decide which end of me required the most immediate attention. I’ve had a bit of a thrashing again.

Dominic would make an excellent paramedic. He is bright so with a bit of further training I am sure he has the aptitude to be a skilful surgeon but it isn’t normally the remit of a twelve year old to admit to having stitched his Dad’s wounds on so many occasions or to having witnessed his Dad collecting his duelling scars against invariably impossible odds. In other words, getting a good kicking.

Dominic has a safe in his bedroom. I could bust into it with a paper clip but to him it is Fort Knox, the repository of anything that is precious. In it he has his special books, lenses for his microscope, the silver coins he collected in Germany, various photographs and other stuff to ask about which would be an intrusion into his privacy. He also has my military medals (awarded for being first in the dinner queue every day for a week), as well as my boxing, shooting and skiing medals. I know he likes to hold the medals but it is the photographs that get him going.

“Look, look, Daddy! Look at the gorilla you are fighting there. The last time he was a middleweight he was in Kindergarten!”, repeating almost verbatim some remark I must have made the first time we went through the albums together and reminding me of when I climbed through the ropes, catching sight of a muscular inverted pyramid in the opposite corner and saying to my coach and seconds that the only way that bastard could have scaled in was with one foot on the ground. Bearing in mind I just made light middleweight if I drank shitloads of water so a good punch in the guts would really hurt, these fuckers fought me two classes above my weight. It was amateur boxing so just three rounds a bout which always pissed me off. I was never a slugger but I had both stamina and the legs so could have gone further, wearing the bastards down. They could punch the shit out of me but I would stay on my feet. Sure, I took a few counts when I walked onto the end of some big bugger's fist but they were standing counts and when the referee held up a bunch of digits in front of my face and asked me how many fingers he was holding up I would spit,“Pffflooor!” and hold my gloves up high and punch the air, after all, it is hard to articulate with a gob full of gumshield while sniffling blood. They always let me box on, bless them, and those valuable seconds of interrogation were all I needed. You don’t need a knock out every time. It is scoring hits that count. In boxing there are rules. That’s what differentiates it between a mere pub brawl and the honourable sport during which a swift and invariably decisive kick in the balls, the sort of quick reposte to percieved insult usually delivered in the agreeable and pleasantly seedy surroundings of somewhere with a name like the 'Crown and Anchor' or better still, 'The Queen's Head', is deemed illegal.

Marcia has a brother in his forties. He is a geologist or geoscientist or something brainy like that and works for the Angolan State owned oil company Sonangol. For the last decade or so he has served his time in Canada, has his residency and, not surprisingly, seems reluctant to come back to Angola. He had to fight for basic education, fight to get to university, fight to get the results that would make him stand out from the crowd, fight to get a job, fight to get on and, ultimately, fight to get out of Angola. I had everything, education, opportunity and I came to Angola by choice with a record of only winning on points while this guy won with one knock out after another. Which of us two is the prat, I ask you?

At the same age Dominic is now my parents must have had some sort of bust up because I found myself standing alone in Stuttgart airport in front of an immaculately dressed German immigration officer.

’Kannnst Du noch Berlinerer sprechen?‘ He said, noticing from my passport that I was born in Berlin.

“Naklaar Mensch, Ich war mit Spree wasser getaucht.“ I heard myself say.

My mother is one thing. If I had snapped back at her like that she would have hauled out her bamboo cane and given me one of the countless thrashings I had endured so far. I was used to these and as part of my camouflage, would squeal gustily while wriggling away from the worst of the blows but, unlike my Mother in her damp pinny, this was an enormous Southern German in a terribly smart uniform and even at the tender age of twelve I knew that Schwabs and Bavarians hated Berliners and my passport and snappy response marked me as part of this evil brood. Ask a Boer about the English and you’ll get the idea. Thinking about it, you can ask the Irish, Welsh and Scots as well.

Rather than a bit of bamboo, this monster, this walking advert for everything good about southern Germany, the food, the wine, the hiking up and down mountains in all that fresh air singing about hats with three corners which had nurtured him to the peak of physical fitness as well as the biblical size that delighted his tailor, it was his Macht that was now about to be unleashed on me and since my Mother had discovered God, I knew all about His Mighty Will and not so mysterious ways. As far as I was concerned, those that accepted God into their hearts spent most of their time beating the shit out of offspring who innocently asked which of the two boys, Cain or Abel, impregnated their mother in order to continue the race and if it was OK to bang your sister, wherever she suddenly sprang from, since women were so bloody thin on the ground. It was all good training. In the ring you could close my eye but I was still good for another couple of rounds and in amateur boxing, that was all you needed.

I had just flown British European Airways, a now worthily defunct airline, from UK to Germany on an aircraft which, had it been painted the colour of cow turds, would have borne a striking resemblance to those which frantically bombed the city of my birth to oblivion. I was deaf from the screaming of engines, some of the passengers and all of the crew, my ears were still popping, I was dying to go to the loo and now I had some big bastard in a fancy uniform taking the piss out of a four and a half foot Prussian. My mother, with that unshakeable respect for authority that all Germans have would have killed me on the spot for such insolence and, let’s face it, I was standing there in front of Hermann the German because I had in some way transgressed so probably deserved a good beating anyway, my Mother’s arm being all thrashed out . Instead, I couldn’t give a shit and was ready to take him on. My soon to be blackened eyes didn’t even come up to the level of the counter on which my passport now rested so I looked down and prepared myself for the inevitable thump that would allow me another first, this time for crossing a national border unconscious. I had pissed myself aged seven and my Mother had thrashed me for that too so this time I wasn’t so much bracing my head for impact as the very bored flight attendant had so recently taught me to do in an emergency, instead I was hanging desperately on to my willie, begging it not to perform what at that age I still believed was its only function.

The monster roared. It started below the belt on which his pistol was suspended, gurgled up to his chest and then exploded. With an almighty thump, he stamped my passport. Everyone who had been within earshot grinned from ear to ear. Someone clopped me across the back and said, ‘Mensch ker, du bist ‘ne witziger kerl’

‘Wilkommen in Ihre Heimatsland’ said Goliath to David as he handed me back my passport.

‘I need to piss’, I said to my Opa when I met him outside, ‘I really need to piss’.

I had just been welcomed to my home country and I thanked the gorilla who let me in without a hiding by pouring a long stream of English urine over the wheel of a Mercedes Benz in Stuttgart International Airport’s car park. Sometimes you just feel invincible.

Marcia brokered a land sale about a year ago for which she received a commission. Nothing wrong with that. So unremarkable, in fact, that I had no recollection of it so was bloody surprised when Dominic burst into the sitting room and said, ‘Daddy, there are some men outside trying to kidnap Marcia’.

Now I defy any of you, under similar circumstances, to comprehend what the boy was saying or connect it with a year old land deal. Besides, Dominic seems to be pretty Prussian too and delivered his report in almost bored monotones so it took a few seconds for the full import of his message to register. Clearly impatient with me he politely suggested that I might like to hurry and that he would go and collect my sword.

My generator is pretty old and knackered. A couple of the doors have fallen off and the exhaust is blowing so it makes a hell of a racket. Nevertheless, as I burst out of the back door, above the mechanical cacophony, I could hear Marcia cursing beyond the fence. I hurtled through the back gate closely followed by Dominic and saw only her legs frantically kicking at the door of a 4x4 as some oik was trying to close it on her. 'No, Daddy!' Dominic called out, 'One punch in the heart and you will die!' This delivered with urgency and a conviction that accurately reflected the appalling state of the major arteries serving one of my most vital organs. I hoped these blokes didn't speak English.

I only remember four guys but Dominic swears there were six or seven. Anyway, I clocked the guy at the door and got Marcia out and then Dominic shouted ‘Gun Daddy’ so I had to move a bit faster and clocked the other three I remember before getting the family back into the garden. Dominic handed me the sword and I went back out.

I could see the guy with the pistol was young and real nervous and I was scared as shit but I was pleased to see that the first guy I had hit was still on the dirt. The others were hanging around out of range. I walked up to the fatter, older guy and pointed the sword at him.

‘What the fuck is this all about?’ I am barefoot, clad only in khaki shorts and very, very pissed off. One of them must have got a lucky one in with something heavy because I was bleeding bad from the head.

Turns out that they had left it a year before applying for planning permission on the land Marcia had brokered during which time the authorities banned any further development. Hardly Marcia’s fault and given they had just been manhandling my missus I was deeply unsympathetic to their view that Marcia should force the original owner to buy back the land. The kid with the pistol, an old Makarov, a Russian copy of James Bond's famous Walther PPK but firing 9mm short was holding it sideways like all Gangstas do on TV and yelling over his shoulder at the others how he was going to 'Matar esta branco' so I took it off him in order to avoid a really nasty incident. After all, I STILL do not have my residency and now that I am divorced, my legal status here is a bit tenuous so the last thing I wanted was to stab one of these bastards and then have to explain why to partisan police looking for any excuse to bang me up in Bentiaba prison or at least see my sorry arse on the next British Airways flight out of here. Now tooled up better than they were, I had a chat with the fat man.

‘Pay them back the commission’, I told Marcia when I came back inside. She went nuts.

The courts do work here but they take ages so sometimes people try to sort things out themselves. As I pointed out to Marcia, these bastards were quite happy to try and kidnap her and were only thwarted by a lunatic white man backed up by a twelve year old kid so what would they do next time? Run Alex over in the street? For fuck’s sake, Darling, you win some and you lose some.

Dominic got the first aid kit out and started to patch me up.

‘Jesus Daddy that was seven guys’

‘I only remember four Son, but thanks for calling the gun, you did good but next time I tell you to get in the fucking garden, get in the fucking garden. Thanks for fetching the sword’

‘But how did you do it Daddy?’

How do you explain the Power of One to a kid?

Canada, as far as I am concerned is the very best country in the world. On one side of the Great Lakes they are stabbing and shooting each other to death but on the other side they say ‘please’ and ‘thankyou’ and have mounted police. Royal ones. Dominic could play that game which seems to consist of a massive punch up during which an occasional bit of ice hockey breaks out. He could go camping and shooting and skiing in the winter. Instead of talking ‘about’ something he would refer to ‘A Boot’. He may even add French to his already fluent Portuguese and English. I am mad as hell with Marcia for the thumping I got but if Dominic could be sponsored by Marcia’s brother in Canada I’d accept a nightly beating. At least I would get a bloody good lie in.

But if Dominic is to end up in a boarding school a quarter of the way around the world with a bunch of Canucks all built like brick shithouses, he will need to know the secret of the Power of One.

So I told him in the only way I knew how.

When I was on my Ammunition Technical Officer's course at Kineton, we used to go to RAF Upper Heyford for a drink at weekends. It was an RAF station in name only, I think it had a token Flight Lieutenant but it was a Base, not a Station. The whole place might as well have been lifted out of the American Midwest and dropped into its rural English setting. It had Starred Generals, shitloads of Full Bird Colonels, Malls, burger bars, monster cars and trucks with steering wheels on the wrong side, even a bowling alley and the bars and discos were outstanding.

I was standing in the lobby of one nightclub waiting to be signed in when this really cool dude walked in followed by a bevvie of beauties one of which took my breath away. He was swapping skin with the other dudes and was clearly very popular but all I could see was this girl. She was gorgeous and the closest I had ever been to a black girl in all my life. So I stepped up to her and the place went deadly quiet, my mates trying to look all small and insignificant.

In my plummiest English voice I said, 'There is a very good chance that tomorrow morning I may be found face down in a ditch with a load of American bayonets in my back but at least I will have died knowing that I have told you that you are the most beautiful girl I have ever seen'.

The place was still real quiet and I think my mates were now half way out the toilet window. The girl was stunned and not being one to settle for a boring death, I lifted her hand, kissed it and said, 'I shall now go out to the carpark and die'.

Sadly, I did not get the girl, she was with the Dude but I never paid for a single drink that evening and they even all clapped politely when I did my version of Springstein's 'Hey little girl is your Daddy home, or did he go away and leave you all alone' accompanied by the club's live band. I may not have been on fire but I was pretty fucking hot.

The first rule of The Power Of One is to believe in yourself. Especially if you want to get laid but since Dominic is only twelve I left that bit out and went on to fighting.

‘If you have to fight, boy’, I told him, ‘I mean if you really can’t avoid it, first you use your brain and make a plan. Then you use your heart to win. Remember, the brain makes the plan, the heart pushes it through’

I guess that holds for pretty much everything in life.

Dominic said, ‘Oh I get it, it’s like the Glasgow kiss you taught me?’

I suppose that is one way you can use your brain, especially if you put your heart into it but not quite what I meant.

'But what about the rules, Daddy?' He is a persistent bugger, I'll give him that.

I stretched out on the sofa and prepared myself for a much needed kip.

'Sometimes, Son, you have to make them up as you go along'

I can’t wait to see him on an ice hockey rink.

Got you with the left, big guy, now its beddie byes with the right.


  1. that was a cracking read.....
    and that photo..... it amused me.........NOT hair out of place

  2. I think that photo was taken early in the first round. By the end of that round the big sod had bust my nose and a couple of ribs. By the end of the third I had broken a bone in my hand hitting him. Both of us went to hospital in the same ambulance where the nurses tut-tutted over such a brutal sport and we still had the energy to try and get into their knickers.

  3. hummm
    Ive worked on A & E and no boxer has ever tried to get into my knickers!!!!

  4. Try wiggling yer arse a bit. Worked for me.

  5. It's a long time since I saw these pictures. I remember the crowd, all dressed nice in suits and ties or mess kit for the military.

    That referee was brilliant.

    He knew I was hurt bad after the first round and asked my seconds if they didn't want to throw in the towel.

    He could see I wanted to box on and agreed I could but told my crew that if I took another bad one to my ribs he would stop the fight on a TKO, fucking maddening when I was ahead on points so in the third I had to drop my right allowing the bastard to get a few in on my eye which, as usual, closed up pretty quick. The guy was good and knew what he was doing. If we'd had a few more rounds, it would have been a good fight and he'd have laid me out fair and square. Instead I drilled him with a left right combination and the bell rang.

    I may have won on points but I knew there was more in him than I could take. Thank God for rules and the bell.

  6. That power of one. I remember seeing it up close, on a much smaller scale, outside bar adao many years ago: tom, a little in his cups, vs. three ninjas at about 3am. after a 'eu quero falar com o dono. nao quero falar com o gerente, quero falar com o dono' conversation inside the bar a little earlier. All of which leads to the same old question that has always nagged me: how have you managed to survive for so long?

  7. Don't worry Nick, the odds are getting thinner now.

  8. Clube Adao, now that brings back memories that were probably better left in the murky depths.

    The funniest was with two software vendors in 1998. One South Africa and one aussie, both very tall, very white and very blonde. They were the main attraction but were scared out of their wits with all the attention they were getting.
    They tried to stay close to our driver who was so tanked, his syncopated swaying had nothing to do with the music.

    I could manage a "nao quero mulher hoje o noite" and they seem to leave me alone as they were drawn moth like to the twin brightness of the shiny new meat.

    I think it was their fourvite dream turned nightmare. When ever you go to a pub in Joburg or Sydney, the women treat you like something a warm dog turd if you dare try to talk to them. Wouldn't it be good to go to a pub where the women were all over us instead. Becareful what you wish for...

  9. "Clube Adao, now that brings back memories that were probably better left in the murky depths..."

    Couldn't you just have left it at that, Nigel?

    Both my missus and my boy read this blog so I convinced them that Bar Adao was a Pizzeria.

    Now I shall have to convince them that Bar Adao was a Pizzeria with exceptionally friendly waitresses and then explain why we can't go there, not even for the extra toppings.

    Why the fuck can't you bastards stick to the subject. This post was supposed to be about the Power of One, a post described by a Daily Mail correspondent as 'Sharp and Punchy'. It's not a platform for you to reminisce about Saturday night legovers. Bloody Aussies. All you are is New Zealanders who couldn’t swim.

  10. This comment has been removed by the author.

  11. Sorry maaaate,

    I guess I went off subject because I have never had to use the power of one, the only time it came close was at school when I took a football (yes the round one) from some younger kids at school. We played with it a little and then gave it back. One of the younger kids was from Samoa, taller and more built than I. He walked up to me and swung a round house for my head. I did not expect it and did not see it. His wrist ended up making contact with my neck. I stood stunned (mentally, not physically). Fuck, someone hit me. Fuck, I should do something back, Fuck what should I do? By the time those thoughts speed though my brain, my friends grabbed hold of me to prevent me from... well making a fool of myself but I don't think the Samoan cared and I don’t think my friends realised that I was not preparing to unleash the fury of someone with the surname of Peace.

    Talk about taking procrastination to the limits!

    Turns out he was the younger brother of a friend of mine and later he sheepishly apologised.

  12. Nigel

    It was all tongue in cheek! Obviously the fact that I was just kidding can't have been apparent. Just look at the language I use!

  13. Glasgow kiss, is always, very effective... When applied correctly, by a very large john.

  14. John, I still bear the scars! But he did get me from behind first.

    He could have left out the playing of football with my head bit, though, but I suppose being a pro he was going to make damn sure I did not get up.

    How is Bill?

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