Here’s yet another instalment from my long long awaited book “In Complete Circles”. I have written the bloody thing, but I’m just finishing the proof reading. I do hope to get it published soon!
When I talk about class war or class solidarity in this book I’m not referring to the manifestos of Karl Marx or the latest campaign by some left wing socialist workers’ organisation. I’m in fact alluding to the daily rivalry between 1C and 1D or 4A and 4E which formed a major part of my school days. There were the legitimate forms of inter-class competition such as football, debating and quizzes. A quarter of a century later and I still feel gutted at being on the losing 1C side in the final of the first year league which 1B narrowly won by a single point on a very wet and muddy pitch. I wasn’t in the best of shape having had my fingers badly bruised after accidentally getting them crushed by two shot putts during athletics practice a couple of weeks earlier, but still managed to get on the scoresheet.
Being an all boys school of raging hormones there were also the unofficial class conflicts. If a fight broke out between two boys from different classes the unwritten rule was that you supported the one from your own class, a bizarre state of affairs given that we had no say in what class we were put in.
If a brawl didn’t get resolved in the classroom or the yard, if the two combatants were rudely interrupted by the bell or the intervention of a meddlesome teacher it would often be rescheduled for after school with a neutral territory as the venue. One such fight had been arranged to take place in the large public pay-and-display car park beside the school which hundreds of school boys and girls passed through daily on their way home. The two opponents on this occasion were Skins Fallon and Cheese McArdle. At this stage of the book I’ve run out of names given that there were so many Seans, Shanes, Pauls and Michaels (or variations including Mick, Mickey, Micko, Mike or Mikey) during my time at the school, so I’ve had to resort to using fictitious nicknames.
No doubt the school boys of today film fights on their mobile phones and post the footage on Youtube and Facebook, but back in the day we had to rely purely on memory and eyewitness accounts of varying degrees of accuracy and exaggeration. Young people reading this (ie anyone under 30) could be forgiven for thinking we were living in some kind of primitive dark age back then. In many respects we were. This was a world without e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, Spotify, blogs, i-pads, i-pods, Skype or Google. Back then an i-pad was a surgical dressing which you wore if you had an infected iris. Blackberries were still fruits that grew on thorny bushes at the side of the road. Androids were something out of Doctor Who and a wiki was a small metal implement used to open a small door or padlock. An app was what you took when you were tired.
Although I know I’m getting on a bit now that I’m in my very very late 30s, I don’t consider myself to be particularly old. I draw some consolation from the fact that I’m still young enough (in theory at least) to be a goalkeeper at a top Premiere League club. It’s a lonely position to play in at the best times, but I often wonder how ageing goalies must feel being the oldest player on the team and surrounded by young lads half their age. But I’ll leave this discussion for another time.
The fight started in classic style with a bit of pushing and shoving and the odd insult thrown in.
“So do you want a fight, McArdle?”
“That’s what I’m here for, Fallon!”
“Is that right?”
“Oh, you think you’re smart do you?”
“So what are you going to do about it?”
It was as if each party was playing for time by deliberately prolonging the dialogue. A substantial crowd had gathered. Things were about to kick off as the customary pushing and shoving had started, when a traffic warden – or more accurately the council-employed jobsworth with the peaked hat whose task it was to check if the car owners had paid and displayed with those annoying adhesive square stickers you put up on the inside of your windscreen – intervened. He was a small chubby man with a moustache.
“This is a public car park!” he screamed. “You can’t get up to this kind of carry on here!” It was probably safe to assume that he had an MBA (Master of Busybody Administration) from the “Ken Blowtorch School of Management”. Naturally his interference wasn’t exactly welcomed with open arms, especially when a bunch of exuberant schoolboys had been looking forward to a bit of entertainment.
The Fallon-McArdle bout fizzled out and attention instead turned to the developing confrontation between Mr Pay & Display and a big lad from the fourth form called Barry Bennett. Bennett was none too pleased that his rights as a spectator to this feast of gladiatorial action were being curtailed by a small man in a uniform.
He squared up to him eyeball to eyeball and asserted himself, being a few inches taller than this uniformed killjoy.
“And what the fuck are you gonna do about it, mister?”
Pay & Display Man was quite clearly getting very nervous and could only repeat his previous words, but this time in a much higher voice, as if a lobster had somehow crawled down his trousers.
“This is a public car park, you can’t…” he squeaked only to be cut off in mid-sentence.
“So you think you’re the big man do you? This is nothing to do you with you!”
“I’m going to report you, you know. You won’t get away with this!”
Bennett ignored this empty threat and continued his campaign of intimidation.
“Go ahead. Go and put a ticket on some poor bastard’s car while you’re at it!”
The council employee backed down, humiliated at being made to feel small by a schoolboy. The crowds of school boys and girls cheered and continued on their way to the bus station via the town centre. McArdle and Fallon were even seen joking amiably with each other. The car park incident inevitably became the main topic of conversation throughout the whole school over the next few days. Everyone claimed to have witnessed it, even the boys who lived in the opposite direction to the “crime scene” and didn’t take that route home. Not surprisingly the reports became grossly exaggerated and distorted. Even though there had been no actual physical contact there were rumours that Barry Bennett had left Pay & Display Man lying on the ground in a pool of his own blood.
“My sister Sinead’s a nurse up at the hospital and she said he had to be treated for concussion and head injuries and needed 20 stitches. You shoulda heard the roars of him! The doctor said he was this much away (the storyteller at this point – not a medical expert by any stretch of the imagination – demonstrated a tiny gap using his finger and thumb) from getting his jaw broke. Bennett just done it for badness, like.”
Another “roving reporter” expanded on this account:
“Sure the cops came round and cordoned off the area. I seen them doing it. The forensics boys had to take blood samples away with them. There was a big queue of traffic all along the Kevlin Road for two hours. The cops lifted Barry and took him round to the nick for interrogation. They roughed him up a bit just for badness, but he still never told the bastards nothin’. He gave them as good as he got”.
In an alternative narrative the traffic warden had actually attacked Bennett with a taser (or an Uzi sub-machine – or a machete – or a chainsaw – depending on who you chose to believe) and forced him into retaliating with his fists.
Not that I’m condoning thuggish behavior, but as the accounts of that day became more and distorted Barry Bennett became a bit of a legend after that, a Robin Hood character fighting injustice. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Just like a few other (but by no means all) events described in this book….