Seconds Out

Dad hung the wet and muddy duck by one leg from a hook in the kitchen. He would pluck the bird later, dexterously using his thumb and index finger to tug the feathers upwards, before pinning it down in a clinical manner that would’ve troubled the average wrestler. After that, he’d remove the heart, lungs, windpipe, liver and kidneys.

I caught a bit of Rugby League on Grandstand or the half-time scores with Dickie Davies. Then Dad came through at four on the dot to watch the wrestling on World of Sport. It was the only sport he avidly watched, if you can call it that; it was more like pantomime. Then again, almost any sport is a spectacle of sorts.

An old women in the front row was shaking her brolley at Mick McManus. British wrestling had a gritty reality about it thanks to the ringside crowd, who looked like everyday folk. Most of the bouts came from town halls or theatres in northern English seaside towns like Clacton or Scarborough. It was a smoky but intimate atmosphere, unlike the vast stadiums you see in American wrestling. The fact that there was even any debate about whether the fights were fixed showed that some people, including Dad, took it quite seriously.

Mick McManus reminded me of a cross between Captain Spock and an ageing Elvis, with his jug ears and jet black hair.
“Mick’s a dirty brute,” said Mam, before returning to her crossword.
“He’s not a patch on Jackie Pallo,” said Granda, referring to some old wrestler.

For me, it was like Crossroads or Emmerdale Farm: programmes I only watched because they were on. We were still years away from having a spare black and white telly in the bedroom. If my parents were watching something, I had no alternative viewing. Although I would rather have watched the Rugby League, I could see the appeal and became quite familiar with some of the wrestlers and their moves: cross presses, slams, submissions, piledrivers and so on. Most popular with the kids were the heavyweights like Big Daddy, with his Union Jack leotard (not a pretty sight on a 26 stone man in his mid-forties). Big Daddy’s speciality was the ‘splash’, a straightforward manoeuvre that involved belly flopping on top of a decked opponent. His nemesis was Giant Haystacks. The name said it all: a giant of a man with long unruly hair and brown sacking; he looked as if he might actually live in a haystack. The wrestlers broke the rules all the time, and were always getting public warnings, especially in tag contests. Dad preferred more agile wrestlers because their bouts “wurna fixed”. I liked Catweazle, a scruffy long blond haired wrestler who wore outrageously tight leotards and got the crowd laughing with his antics. Even Dad relaxed a bit during Catweazle bouts, but his blood pressure would soon rise again when Marc ‘Rollerball’ Rocco took on Kendo Nagasaki.

From the novel Countries of the World, available in paperback £5.99 and only £1.86 on Kindle.

The Wrestling by Simon Garfield


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