Some people are born lovers. Some people are born fighters.
I was born a lover.
Wish I was a fighter. Sometimes.
Some combinations in life just work – think Gin and Tonic, Pie and Chips, Jet and Lightning. God, that last one would really work. Jet would climb on top then straddle the buxom blonde as Sade’s mellifluous tones (‘you’re love is kiiiiiiiiing….’) perfume the air, erotically entwining with the scent of a strawberry candle whilst …sorry, I digress…
Others don’t – think John Terry and penalties, Nick Clegg and students, George Bush and peace.
Or, a pissed me and a Manchester night bus. Yep, one fateful night in the early noughties I really wish I was born a fighter.
The delightfully named Satan’s Hollow had been our home for another boozy uni night out. We’d been sucked into this squalor by a cunning advertising ploy; all you can drink for a tenner in. Drinking responsibly was not on the agenda. Getting hammered was. So sadly, a few hours later, were the delights of a trip home on the night bus. Home to various vagabonds, rowdy rapscallions and skint students; the night bus gave birth to the concept of calculated risk. Cheap as chips but full of nutters. Tonight, the risk backfired. Big time.
Growing up in sleepy old Chandler’s Ford with a level of crime and multiculturalism rivalling an early Archers episode, hardly instilled in me the desire or need to beat the bejesus out of another human. Growing up in the shadow of Strangeways, and I might just have felt that need a touch more acutely.
My fight record was not great entering this undeniably uneven encounter, Rushholme’s neon lit curry house facades signalling our destination. In fact, I’d had more shit beaten out of me than Shawshank’s freshest of fish. I’d like to lay the blame at someone else’s door but I just have the kind of face people want to hit.
I’m also lippier than McEnroe in his pomp.
Not a good combination.
Alcohol coursing through my veins I found myself sat next to my flatmate who, having grown up on meaner streets than me, avoided violence in the most conscientious of fashions. Clever lad. Recognising your limitations on the fighting front is more liberating than giving your boss both barrels, trust me.
Somewhat regretfully we’d left another friend at the venue. I say regretfully, as his Brazilian martial art skills would undoubtedly have come in handy when one of the four scallys (collective IQ not a patch on mine, naturally) slouched across the bus’s back seats skulked up to our boozed up selves.
The following ensued (or something a bit like it). It was though a conversation in the loosest of senses. Conversations of course involve such crucial things as hearing what the other person says. And not being a twat.
The toerag leans over our seated selves. I can smell his nicotine infused breath. The cheap booze swishing around in me brings one latent thought to the forefront of my mind…
I am better than him. My schooling, my upbringing, my lexicon (that means vocabulary for the linguistically challenged).
Everything about me is better than him.
Except, as it turns out – my survival instinct.
So, to that chat…
Scally; ‘Have you got a cig?’
A perfectly fair question in the circumstances.
It’s just regretful that my ability to decipher Manc speak was far from fine tuned. For ‘cig’ I hear ‘sick’, prompting much confusion.
And zero hilarity.
Me (confused); ‘You’ve been sick?’
Scally (frustrated by the need to repeat his question); ‘No. Have you been sick?’
The whiff of violence in the air intensifies with my response. We’ve entered a conversational cul de sac. I drove.
Me (perplexed); ‘No mate. I haven’t been sick.’ Note the ironic use of mate. Mate is of course being used to mean dickhead. Although in truth there is only one dickhead in this exchange. Me.
Visibly irate, the scally drifts off to the stairs muttering ‘whatever‘, leaning against them, eyes fixed on me in the kind of aggressive pose that a wimp like me can only dream of striking. My friend’s pulse slows to a healthier rate. Mine too.
Emboldened by the giddy cocktail of lager brewing in me, I say these two words out loud. Idiotically.
That was a mistake. Of epic proportions.
This ain’t no David and Goliath tale.
Next to me, my mate despairs, sensibly shuffling away slightly as Manchester’s next Ricky Hatton approaches…
Sneering, he leans in menacingly close, far too close for comfort. The threat of violence becomes a tad too real. He clenches his fist in front of my pudgy face; the kind of one only a mother could love. Showing a level of alcohol impaired intelligence not reflected by my bulging record of achievement (3 A levels, 8 GCSEs and, if I’m not mistaken, a hard fought three legged race runner up medal, circa 1992), I respond to his ‘do you want some of this in your face?’ with the following zinger, elegantly articulated in the Queen’s English.
‘I’m more mature than that’.
Ooh, yeah, take that. I’m on the moral high ground fucker. And you’re not invited.
Remember the relish you took in whacking the fairground punchball machine with all your force? The desire to rain blows harder and harder until you are more spent than after a night of Sting style sex. Well, as it transpires, you can bottle that feeling.
Picture that fairground scene. It’s about to unfold…
After naively opening this scallywag’s bottle of relish my face is about to become blacker than Joseph Fritzel’s heart and bluer than a Bernard Manning gig. Arms raised pathetically aloft in a desperate attempt to stave off the facial damage (‘NOT THE FACE. NOT THE FACE!’ I yell in true Patrick Bateman style), my defence is more porous than Derby’s 2007/08 one. A dizzying array of punches land; uppercuts, jabs, haymakers send me sprawling across the bus deck like a half cut Anne Widdecombe practising the salsa.
I end up like a dog that’s been beat too much.
Unblemished, our street fighting man returns to his corner and ecstatic entourage like a prize champion who’s deftly dispatched a cocky upstart with consummate ease. Theirs and his blood lust, sated.
Defeated, deflated, dejected, we step from the bus, my pride and baby face dented in equal measure. The sanctuary of our halls awaits as I inexcusably claim an admittedly hollow moral victory.
My mate explains the son of a gun had simply enquired about my possession, or lack, of cancer sticks, before attempting to extinguish me.
Now, ‘cig/sick’ – that’s an unfortunate misunderstanding.
Not least because rocking up to linguistics lectures in Madchester in winter sporting sunglasses, can only really be pulled off if you’re Stevie Wonder.