JUNIOR FIGHT CLUB
FOR PUGILISTIC BOYS
– – –
First Rule of Bottling Up: Don’t cut your fingers on the broken glass in the sludge at the skip bottom.
Second Rule of Bottling Up: Always rotate the stock. Remove existing bottles, wipe shelf with warm cloth and place new stock at back, making sure to wipe and face each up.
Third Rule of Bottling Up: Be finished by 11am when the customers start arriving. Nobody wants to see a ten year old busy behind the bar.
– – –
It was such rules as these, not explicitly written as above, but learnt at my father’s knee and the pointing of his pipe, that shaped the weekend mornings of my childhood years.
Life in a medieval Cotswolds pub at the start of the eighties was a harsh existence, made worse by unheated bedrooms and an excessively Victorian dad- who wouldn’t even let us watch Grange Hill– but on we struggled, dragging coal and lighting fires, polishing bottles and chopping wood, my sister and I.
For three pounds a week, and a copy of 2000AD thrown in for good will, I laboured each weekend to ensure the smooth running of the pub. Obviously I shouldered the burden with some grumbling, having friends whose parents gave them twice that just for playing Atic Atac all day, but my folks considered that working for my keep would instil both an awareness of the value of money and a sense of duty in me at an early age. I remain to this day a reckless spendthrift. Such is life.
I was better off than some of my friends however, who if they wanted money at all would have to go round all the bins in the village retrieving empty Cresta bottles for the 5p each was worth. When times were hard it was worth doing, but it seemed to all of us that the bottles that came with a deposit were getting scarcer. The skip I had to empty out at the pub twice a week had seen progressively less of its bottles sorted out and packed into crates ready to be returned to the brewery. More and more, I was just chucking them in the bin.
It was a particularly deposit-less month for my friends who were hanging out ready for me to finish my chores so we could go off to the rec. They were kicking the ball to each other on the car park when a juddering wagon, some relic from the fifties, pulled up onto the front. We knew the truck, just as we knew the driver who waved at us from its cab, gurning and turning his false teeth round for our child-like amusement.
It was Bob Mooney, local dealer of scrap metal and anything dodgy that needed shifting. In earlier days, he would have been classified as a Rag & Bone Man- in fact some of the village elders did call him this- but by Bob’s own admission he was a Scrap Metal Dealer. I suppose nowadays he would be down as a Reclamations Consultant or some such bollocks, but he’s almost certainly dead now so we’ve no way of checking. And in the unlikely event that he still actually is alive, he was totally illiterate when I knew him and firmly held the view that “Reading is for poofs.”
Bob Mooney also had a sideline, something that wasn’t profit making, but appealed to the Irish tinker sheer bloody love of watching a fight that was in him. For many years he had acted as a boxing mentor/coach for dispossessed local lads, giving them the old Rocky Balboa routine before psyching them up to beat seven bells of shit out of some other kid at some village hall or other.
He had made quite a name of himself, too- his gurning grin, false teeth poking out crazily, had adorned many of the sports pages of the local newspaper (it was that, pig wrestling or cheese rolling). he had developed quite a reputation for training up winners, as well as towing cars away. Now he had a problem, which was why he was pulled up on our drive.
“Alan, I won’t beat around the bush,” Bob Mooney began, his face black with soot in his grimy, besmirched boiler-suit, as he stood before my Dad in the pub bar. “I know you’re a busy man. And I also know that your skittle alley is empty on a Sunday morning, am I right?”
“Ye-es,” the Old Man said, not giving much away. “What of it?”
“You see it’s like this, Al- I’ve got a real winner on my hands, this lad I’ve got boxing- a real cracker, but we need somewhere to train. Now, I’m not a rich man, but I can afford something- you know.”
My father was mentally calculating.
“And, what we’ll do is maybe open it up as a club for boys in the village who want to come and spar, train up. It’ll make real fighters of them.”
My father said he’d get back to him.
After that, he asked me if I wanted to box. He assured me it was sporting.
I asked if I could get out of bottling up on Sundays if I did boxing practice. He said he’d have to think about it.
Eventually, he came back to me with an offer. If I did boxing club I didn’t have to do the bottling up on Sundays in the main bar. I’d still have to do the skittle alley, plus skip out in the main bar. My sister, who would pick up my relinquished duties, was insistent.
My friends, who were hyped up by now on account of watching Rocky on VHS, were nagging me, asking when they would get the chance to be boxing tough guys, plus it might be a cool way to impress girls (as far as any of us cared about that sort of thing). I thought about it some more before agreeing.
Junior Fight Club was on.
* * *
I quickly found out that it was at least as boring as bottling up and about fifteen times more effort. Junior Fight Club, far from being a bit of heroic battling to the strains of Eye of the Tiger, was actually a load of skipping, running on the spot and going “Hoosh! Hoosh!” whilst punching the air. All this was while Bob Mooney concentrated on his protege, the wild gypsy boy from Broad Marston.
“That’s it, Champ! Kill the bastard!” screamed Bob Mooney, trails of saliva being ejected from all round his dentures, whilst the wild gypsy boy hit the punch bags with psychopathic hatred in his piggy little eyes, all the while going “Hoosh! Hoosh! HOOSH!”
Bob Mooney would turn from a bout of this, when the Champ went off to skip up a fucking rope for all I cared, and menacingly utter “Now. Which one of you boys wants to spar next with him?”
We would all shake our heads, point at each other, feign sprained wrists; anything to avoid having to spar against the Champ at Bob Mooney’s Junior Fight Club.
For a start, the Champ was about four years older than we were, and when you’re a ten year old squaring up to a fourteen year old you don’t stand much chance. Particularly if the fourteen year old in question is a trained and vicious thug on his one-shot chance of avoiding prison. All of which meant he won a lot of bouts and was now within a hair’s breadth of his first belt. He just needed training, which was where we came in: to act as punch bags and give the Champ a moving target to aim at.
“Hoosh! Hoosh!” he would say in the sparring ring, testing out a couple of jabs as he weaved his way towards you. “Hoosh! Hoosh! HOOSH!”
On the third “Hoosh!” he generally hit you as hard as he could, unless you managed to duck in time. If he hit you it hurt. He concussed all of us at one time or another. Him and Bob Mooney always seemed happy more than concerned at these moments.
In terms of the members of Fight Club, apart from the Champ, I think Bob Mooney thought us a sorry bunch. I much preferred Frogger or Pacman to any sort of physical activity in any case and my friends were similarly underwhelmed by the concentration and dedication that goes with being a boxer.
None of us were thick enough.
We all began to find Fight Club a bad idea, but it was me who got out first. Like so many other activities I tried out, I at last hung up my gloves after a particularly violent battering.
And after I had hung them up, I took a surprise swing at The Champ, knocking him off his seat and drawing blood from his nose.
And yet it was me who got bollocked for being aggressive.