Halloween, feeling ill. A kind of self-pitying ill, where you huddle under your duvet, and beg for chocolate from anyone passing. A movie seemed like a top idea, a way of hiding in the darkness of a lounge, whiling away the hours. Maybe a bit of food – some green vegetables for the vitamins and that. Self-pity descended further, the fish and chip shop beckoned, and vitamin grease was to replace vitamin greens. And sod the movie, watching the ghouls pass on Uxbridge road was entertainment enough.
Uxbridge Road – not too shabby an area of London. I’ve only seen one appeal for witnesses to murder this month, and no-one had been shot on Uxbridge Road for several months. And its almost a year since the last shoot-out in a chicken restaurant.
I stroll into the shop, a couple of geezers waiting in front. The bike of one of them partially blocked the door to the shop.
“Sensible not letting such precious vehicles out of sight”, I think to myself. The younger guy gets his chips, the taller guy starts wise cracking. The young guy was starting to ignore the tall guy’s rant about not being able to get change for a twenty pound note. He starts ranting in my direction. As he does this, I notice he’s looking a little frayed around the edges – his jacket has a few rips, and his face bears evidence that it has born a few rips in its past. I figure its wise to make sympathetic noises to his loud, brash, patter. Tall guy seems wired on something – figure it can’t be stimulants or he wouldn’t have been asking for fried potato slices in a paper bag.
I order a spring roll to accompany my larded spud slivers, as a staggeringly drunk man staggers into the wheel of the bike in front of the door.
“Forkin knock yuse bike, up that roard,” is the line he decides to deliver, as he lurches to the counter.
It’s worth taking the time to drink in the look of people like this. He has the seasoned gut of a semi-professional drinker; perhaps he was runner-up in the qualifying rounds of a drink-off. The winner probably got a lucrative sponsorship deal from Guinness, whereas the confused staggerer in this chip shop was doomed to a life as an ‘almost ran’. A ‘might have been’. A man who had to pay for his beer, and was full of malice for the world. At any rate, he’d probably been on a bit of a marathon session, as he came to be beside me, holding onto the counter with both hands at 7:30pm. His face was flushed, and he had dark rings below the reddened eyes that were sunk deep into his face.
The staggerer was mumbling half words and syllables with too many ‘r’s in, as the tall guy, looked round.
The tall guy made it quite clear that he would not appreciate anything happening to his bike.
The staggerer retorted something about the bike being in the way, and that the likely destination for this bike was “up the forkin roard.”
In hindsight, I spotted a bit of a theme to the conversation. Each participant would say something to the other, then fail to listen to the answer he got, and repeat his earlier rota of statements.
To spare you the details of repetition, the chip shop assistant would repeat to me that the staggerer was drunk.
The staggerer would cycle through his phrases of,
“Fork arrf”, “Forkin prick”, “Just a gettin sum grub”.
The tall man, after taking off his torn jacket, would explain,
“You should learn to shut your marf”, “You touch my fackin bike, and Arll put you in the fackin road, mate, and you wont fackin ged up arfter”, “Ahm tired uv people givin me shit awl the fackin time”
I had empathy for the tall guy – no man should mess with another man’s bike, or even threaten to.
At one point during the cycle of phrases, the young guy tried to restrain his partner in imminent crime, as he started towards the staggerer. The two men squared up, and the staggerer turned from the counter, managing to face the man, thrusting his legs to the side like Douglas Bader to steady himself, and thrusting his hips and his chest forward. I assume that he thought this made him look threatening, while still allowing him to stand upright. Even if he did sway slightly.
The tall guy now retreated outside, and his patter now moved to,
“Come artside, and we’ll see who’s smart, then, big-marf”
I paid 1.85 GBP for my tasty meal in greasepaper, and salted and vinegared it. The tall man was outside and had put down both his jacket and his own tasty carbfest. He was looking more wired than ever, and in his t-shirt, you could make his wiry frame. The veins on his arms were bulging out, and his eyes were burning with barely controlled rage. As I passed him, I figure he’s about an inch or two taller than me, not as tall as I’d thought – maybe 6 foot 2 inches. I decided to pass on the movie rental, and persevere with Halloween outside the Fab Fish Bar, deciding to get a ring side stand by the bus stop. I’ve watched a fair bit of violence – Muay Thai, boxing, ultimate fighting – but I’ve never eaten at the same time. So this threatened to push back the boundaries of experience for me.
For some reason, the staggerer emerged outside of the shop empty handed – all the bitterness at having lost the Guinness sponsorship must have been gnawing at his brain for years, he didn’t move or think too quickly.
As the tall guy’s foot connected with the side of his head, his physical presence in the world crashed back to him. He wasn’t down for long, only falling to a squat against the wall of the shop. It had been a graceful and fast move by the tall guy, but he lost several points with the assembled judges at the bus stop, by following the kick by a spectacular fall to his own arse. The noise of foot on head was slightly higher pitched than one would expect – a mighty thocking sound.
Both men shot up, the tall guy faster but with further to get up. They were fully upright at about the right time, and the tall guy went in with a punishing right hook, the staggerer staggering to his own right. A quick left jab, roundhouse right from the tall guy met little resistance from the staggerer. The noise was again quite crisp, and one can only imagine the swelling knuckles of the tall guy with such clean connections.
Sensing that there was no real chance of losing more than the skin of his knuckles to this unworthy opponent, the tall guy started to taunt his foe.
“Not so smart now, ey? Not gonna be fackin abart wiv my bike now, eh? Wots up eh? Nufin to say?”
One can only imagine that the staggerer, now the slumper, had decided at this point to trot out one of his three phrases, as the tall guy suddenly backed up, planted a right foot right in his face, and followed it up with a brief flurry of downward punches.
The tall guy stalked back to his coat and chips, took them in hand and cycled off down the road shouting about people “Givin me fackin grief arl the fackin time.”
Within a few seconds, the staggerer was up again, blinking confused into the middle distance, with blood trickling from his mouth and nose. Not gushing like you’d expect.
He was like a fish pulled out of the water, after the hook is removed, all the fight gone. After you put them back in the water, they float for a while before coming to their senses, and darting back into their comfortable underwater camouflage.
Just like a fish coming to his senses, the staggerer (now slumper) returned to his staggering, and blended into the night. I wondered if he’d get hooked again that night.