‘My writing is nothing. My boxing is everything,’ Hemingway

Not me.

Or, out of my comfort zone, yet again.

Last weekend saw me well out of my comfort zone yet again. My new son-in-law invited us up to Manchester to watch him participate in a boxing match for charity. At first we really didn’t want to go, boxing not being anywhere near the top of my bucket list, but then I realised that we were not going for the pleasure of watching the fighting, but to support him and my daughter, and thank goodness we went. 

The anticipation as we travelled out of the motorway, negotiating traffic jams, rain and some appalling driving, was excruciating. My earliest memories include watching boxing at the Radio Rentals shop in the North End Road with my father and scores of men on a Saturday afternoon in the heyday of Cassius Clay. Everyone was glued to the rather large shop window, which protected a few small television screens showing the contestants knocking the daylights out of each other to the glee and rapturous audience participation in the street. The camaraderie in the street was palpable. My father loved it.

I hated it.

Luckily there was a toy shop next door and occasionally I would be allowed to go inside with sixpence to spend. That was 65 years ago.

This weekend the emotions were very different.

My son in law had booked a ringside table. We were invited to arrive elegantly dressed

and so we did our best, wearing the same togs we’d worn to their wedding, (minus the fascinator, I must say). I had been a bit scared that we would be over the top, but when we arrived in the freezing cold I was astonished by the extraordinarily skimpy and glamorous garments that most of the women were parading. They seem totally impervious to the weather past Watford.  I know it’s a cliché, but I have seen it with my own eyes!

All the men were extremely smart in their suits, some of which were very colourful, not to say brash. It felt a bit like being in the midst of a 1950s thriller, as I channelled my inner Diana Dors.

The Exhibition Centre where the fight was held was vast: very cold, very dark, with extremely loud music and persistent strobe lighting so the atmosphere was quite electric and exciting. It pounded through your guts – I felt very much like a teenager at my first party, but I am actually an adult now, so I knew how to deal with it. I wanted a drink, of course, as soon as we arrived.

So we went to the bar, only to discover they do not serve red wine. Apparently, this is a well-known (not by us) northern thing, so I was all right with my half pint of Prosecco. Whereas my husband had to make do with a can of beer. Red Strike, I believe. Never mind. It was very, very cold, not to say extremely, so we sat with our coats on and imbibed the atmosphere.

There was a long wait until the action actually started.

The master of ceremonies had a superb personality and a lot of charm, and managed to keep everyone entertained throughout the evening. He sang, he danced, he cajoled – very much like a ringmaster in the circus. Great fun.

I have to admit I don’t like fighting or the idea of fighting, but I appreciate that there is a skill involved. Great skill in fact and discipline.

Because this was a charity evening there were going to be 20 fights each with three rounds of two minutes, so not too bad perhaps. I just hoped nobody would be knocked out for the count.

I could hardly bring myself to watch the first bout: two rather stocky men, one of whom was quickly injured and out. It was quite horrible.

The second round brought on two girls.

I wasn’t expecting that, but there again I hadn’t known what to expect. One of the girls looked incredible, slight, muscular and very powerful; not an ounce of superfluous flesh. Her opponent was equally strong, and when they fought it was obvious that they were both very skilful and fearless. I was on the edge of my seat the whole time, feeling every blow in my own gut. I could hardly breathe. I was glad when the match was over, and that they didn’t seem to have hurt themselves too much.

It was obvious that they had trained a lot and were keen to be accurate and stylish. I would very much like to have talked to them about their attitude to the sport. It seemed very empowering.  They were supported by a large group of women who sat at the next table, encouraging them noisily and enthusiastically.

The atmosphere throughout the whole evening was very visceral. The adrenalin was pumping through all our bodies all the time, sometimes in time to the music and sometimes not!

After a while. I somehow got used to watching the next six or seven contests and, in my head, I began to rehearse a lot of boxing vocabulary; trying to look out for uppercuts and left hooks et cetera et cetera, which helped to take away the pain – at least for me.

Eventually there was an interval.

The place was very full and getting noisier, but the ambiance was very friendly. There were quite a lot of children, come on dad we kept on hearing from different corners of the arena, and the bar was well provided with beer and prosecco so in a way what more could you want.  The loos were clean, and though we had to wear out privilege gold paper bracelets all the time,

we could come and go as we pleased.  Sometimes it was good to go for a little break away from the noise.

My son in law was first to fight after the interval.  This is what we had come for. My insides were dancing tangos and fandangos – I imagine his were too, but at least he knew what he was letting himself in for. His opponent was about his size, but twenty years younger.  Maybe this shouldn’t make a difference, but maybe it does.

They made their grand entrances in a shower of dry ice. The drums rolled; the music blared. They were introduced. The referee looked very young, but we knew how efficient he was from the previous spars. My daughter and I were peering through our fingers. If we could have crept round to the back of the sofa we would have done.  But the venue did not provide crouching hiding places.  So we were brave. We watched. Terry was very skilful – we could tell, now, with ten bouts of experience behind us. His opponent was a bit of a brute, I think.

And then Terry fell.  Got up and was about to go for it. But the ref said no. He was in fact injured and could not go on.

What a horrible, horrible disappointment.

We were all devastated, but very proud anyway.

Terry did it all for Great Ormond Street Hospital, where his goddaughter is being treated for a rare disease.

There is still time to sponsor him, should you feel the urge.


9 comments on “‘My writing is nothing. My boxing is everything,’ Hemingway

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