Low life

An orgy of violence at the summer fête

And the kids weren't even impressed

21 June 2014

9:00 AM

21 June 2014

9:00 AM

After three days tête-à-tête (and sometimes tête-à-pied) I walked into town alone to get some air and see what the town was like and the people in it. In one direction, above the hills, the sky was black. Above the town, however, the sun was shining fiercely through a gap in the clouds. Approaching the outskirts, I heard African drumming and a man yelling with demented good humour into a microphone. A single strand of bunting strung between the lamp posts told that the town was celebrating its summer fête.

The first person I encountered was a man of about 30. He was walking towards me carrying a plastic litre bottle of cider horizontally. He was gently agitating the liquid inside and seemed to be talking to it affectionately. As he came near I saw that he’d been beaten up. His nose, eye, forehead, lip and chin were disfigured by bloody lumps and contusions. The blood was no longer flowing, but his wounds still gleamed bright red, and I guessed that he had received his bashing about an hour or two before. I asked him which way to the fête. Unembarrassed by his bloody head, he said that if I kept straight on I couldn’t miss it.

Along the street, I looked into the small gardens as I passed by. In one of these an elderly woman holding a washing basket was regarding the blackness over the hills. As she saw me, she smiled spontaneously and warmly, and at the third time of asking — her accent was almost unintelligible to me — I finally understood that she was asking my opinion as to whether it would rain or not. Being forced to repeat her pleasantry three times didn’t annoy her in the least. In fact, my imperfect grasp of the language seemed to make the light of her kindliness shine all the brighter.


Further down the street two laughing girls dressed as pink fairies asked me to take their picture. They, on the other hand, recoiled when my voice betrayed me as a foreigner. A white Alsatian with a feminine face and a beatific expression was sunbathing in the window of a ground-floor flat. The girls’ gaiety had evaporated, but we went ahead with the photo. They posed stiffly on either side of the dog in the window, formally thanking me when I handed them back their iPhone.

As the wounded man had promised, I had only to keep going straight and soon I arrived at a recreation field on which the town’s summer gala was in full swing with loudspeaker announcements, a country and western band (with slide guitarist), tombola stalls, produce stalls, book stalls, a Welsh Nationalist stall, flags, balloons, ecstatic children darting about in the sunshine. As I walked on to the field, the main attraction in progress was a wrestling bout. A tag wrestling match had descended into the inevitable mayhem. Eight wrestlers were in the ring at once knocking seven bells out of one another with forearm smashes, head butts, body slams, kicks to the groin, and strangulations. At the epicentre of this orgy of violence, a man mountain with a ginger beard wearing a skintight leotard was carrying an opponent high above his head, looking for somewhere to throw him. Unable to decide, he was soliciting advice from the children.

But the kids, I noticed, were bored and unimpressed. Everybody knows that the violence in wrestling is feigned. But surely, I thought, the sight of a roaring giant with a minuscule willy clearly defined by his skintight leotard, apparently smashing another roaring man in the face with his forearm, and repeatedly, and the victim then staggering about the ring as though he doesn’t know what day it is — surely that ought to stir the interest and imagination of any child. My grandfather was a first world war machine gunner until he was shot in the leg at the battle of the Somme. And yet he was utterly taken in by all-in wrestling. When I was a child I can remember him standing in front of the television set on a Saturday afternoon, so angry with Mick McManus’s latest breathtaking insolence he would clutch his heart, fearing another heart attack. These kids were faintly amused at best.

I bought a beer in a squashy plastic cup and strolled around with it, soaking in the carnival atmosphere. Relative calm had returned to the wrestling ring, where now only two contenders fought for supremacy, one pinned on his back, the other spreadeagled sideways across his head and shoulders. I finished my beer, handed the plastic glass to a passing litter picker, who was ever so grateful, and then I wandered back up through the town and headed back to the house.

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