On the Ropes
Kingsland Rd. 3 Kings looking out onto Gino’s Barber Shop
Feeling a bit epic, waiting for a friend, got the urge to role my neck like a boxer. Feel like a boxer in the 2nd round, tired, bruised, but sure in the knowledge that I have come here to do something.
Gino stands at the entrance. He must be Gino, because only Gino can stand in Gino’s door like that. A hairless hair expert specialising in making balding men look good. I can’t see any scissors, just razors/clippers as he stands behind a man, discussing.
I watch them talking earnestly about the length of head stubble, as if 1mm more or less would make all the difference. But this is where you are wrong (Gino would say) it does when that’s all you have. I can picture him saying this chewing a plastic bic pen lid, causing its pointed end to twist and twirl mesmerizingly as his clippers purr.
Sun-in splendour, Portobello Monday afternoon
The bar maid said it was OK. She said it was OK to put the clutch in – said that a pint in the afternoon often tastes better because it is forbidden. As she talks she sticks out her chest and leans into the pump, not because she likes me but because, like me, she is tired.
It’s the third round and I am hurting, but nowhere specific, no where I can put my finger on – but still focusing on the task, still hopeful and hungry.
The bar maid cards a boy and as he gets served I notice he kicks the back of his heel. A man next to him shuffles from one foot to the other. A man next to him leans forward tapping his fingers on the bar. We are all men, men with beer ticks, filling in the time till the hand goes up, the beer goes down and the clutch goes in.
If I had more time I would spend it lifting heavy objects to help people upstairs, into cars, out of hotels, onto the tube and over barriers. I would watch them duck under and up the other side as I handed over the pram/suitcase/TV/stereo/parcel/ package. I’d nod like a farmer when they said ‘thank you ‘. Then just disappear into he crowd like a bone joining all the other bones under the ground in a cemetery.
Circle line tube eastbound 8.20 a.m
A business man opposite is free falling into his free newspaper. Its the end of round 4 -the testing time. Small questions that were not hoed out of me in training grow to doubts. Questioning – not my self – but the task. It’s because it’s hard I tell myself. It hurts and I’d do anything not to get up and out of my seat.
The man with the paper closes his eyes, a lady in a short, tight blue skirt gets on and dances in front of him as the train moves off. I stand up and wobble forward into the next round, not because I want to but because there is no where else to go and because it’s what I’m used to.
Terraced house 4.30pm
She said I had no direction, because I’ve got no where to go. She said she could tell by my (new) hairstyle – that I was on my own again. She said I had all the pieces but that I just had to fit them all together, as if I was the victim of a crime. It made me feel, weird and I sat there squeezing the Ketchup bottle, looking down at my plate.
You don’t expect this in the 5th, not when you have just got over the hump – the doubt. Not when you feel you are in the home straight, when you have spotted a hint of weakness in the eyes, seen the body sag, felt your punches mean more. It must have been an upper cut because of its force. I did not see it coming, just felt the floor, the smooth rubber floor, then the fingers counting me out. I am up like a beetle off its back. Angry, (angry), red hot angry, and the colour of fools gold.
St. Mary’s Saturday 8pm
In amongst all of the christians with their brushed – slightly greying hair. I thought I saw you again. You drifted through their rock solid belief with your questions and we held hands and stared the minister down. We stared him down, we looked into his gaze of unbending faith and bent it, with the power of 1000 children dying of cancer, with the help of the woman who feeds the pigeons outside our window at dusk.
Here in the 6th there is no room for faith or doubt. There is only room for survival. We both know we are here for the long haul. Both of us are like brick walls looking at each other, quiet in the knowledge that neither will crumble and fall on our families.
Cafe Gloss Monday 12.15pm. Kensington church street
It had been close down, unacceptable hygiene conditions, the note had said – mice. But now it is open again. It’s pissing down, two smokers are here under the canopy, one big and burly his waist as thick as his accent, the other is wiry and in his fifties (I guess). Time has turned them into smoking machines. A car pulls up with four girls in it, the window comes down a camera pokes out ‘give us a smile’. The guys faces light up because the girl with the camera is someone’s daughter. The car drives off and the smiles fade, celebrity comes easy.
The fat man is smoking as if I were a beehive, wafts of cheep rolley wave over me. But I am a bee hive and will not move. We sit there, him fumigating and me buzzing around.
I have a breakthrough here in the 8th. People think boxing is about anger, but its not, anger tips you of balance, it can throw you awry, it clouds your judgement. As a rule I store my anger up in a reservoir and let it power my turbine, deep down inside. I can’t let it get to my surface I know. But this fight is different. I feel different. For the first time in 30 fights I break the rule. I open up my pain.
It happens in the corner. After exchanging close punches we end up in each others arms. My rising belly beats out my tears and I show my pain. I trust there will be no walking away from this ring. No giving up. I will not see the towel. This time is ours. Forget the outside world, forget the consequences, these last rounds are between us we are all that counts, there will be no stopping because it hurts to much, we have only respect and love. As we go back to our seats I break another rule and look to the opposing corner to check I am right. My tears are there still, laying on the skin as if they were sweat, nothing has changed – we go on – I am glad of it.
Walmer Castle 6pm Thursday
£4.85 a pint. Two youth cycle by, one riding on the handle bars like it was a bull. They shout and laugh, but its not personal.
The penultimate round. I’m glad I can’t see my face, the damage to the nose and my eyes, my eyes are slits. I know what’s coming. Coach wants to cut me. Doesn’t think I can see clear enough. A bit more clarity for a bit more pain. What is it to me? You might as well throw another grain of sand into the desert.
I tell him to cut me.
I thought I had this beat. I thought I had this one – a bad mistake, as here in the 11th I am looking up at a mountain.
The posh arrived on mopeds/Ferraris/ and by £400 shoes, they all come here unworried and richly loose.
So this I how it ends. I come out focused. Knowing I have lost on points, my only chance is a knock out.
But it’s tricky. There is experience opposite me. I swing. I swing out of hope/desperation/I swing because I can’t go on. I have nothing left in the tank but this punch. So I swing honest and plain and I tell it how it is, leaving a wake of truth. And it gets trough, through the disbelief, ignorance and denial. I contact. And in that moment I let out all of my pain and anger. I feel it flowing back to where it came, back to its source. It takes seconds to register what has happened. The source sits on the floor, stunned, looking around, it has no idea where it is. The ref counts out the hope, it takes an eternity, and then I am left, still standing, still in the ring. Something special.
Sophia Augusta Pankenier and Luke Warren