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Dangerous – why I wrote the sequel to Rope Burns

The birth of Dangerous

I was never close to my father. In fact, to call our relationship ambivalent would be like suggesting that Tom and Jerry had the occasional spat. Indeed, if one single act sums up our relationship it is probably his refusal to see or speak on the phone to me as he lay in bed at home in the months before he died of Motor Neuron Disease. Others may have been able to offer an opinion as to why he didn’t want to see me at the end of his life; but I believe that he and I both knew the reason. It undoubtedly had something to do with his lack of confidence in my ability to keep quiet about a family secret that I’m sure he would have preferred to take to his grave with him.

He died in 2014 and even though I’d only seen him a handful of times in the preceding decades I did my fair share of crying. I didn’t expect to but I did. Initially it was a song entitled Call Me A Rainbow by a relatively obscure Brighton-based band called The Mummers that would set me off. Every time I played this song, which was a lot, I just couldn’t stop the tears from coming. It got to the point where even thinking about it was enough to make the waterworks begin. Eventually I had to just keep away from the song.

I didn’t know why I was crying. I still don’t. Even though it’s no great revelation that the death of a parent is supposed to be an unhappy event I was seriously surprised that it hit me this way. I was even more taken aback when the frequency of my tears began to escalate. Being home alone a lot because of what I do for a living I found that scarcely a day went by when I did not break down. Sometimes I cried on my own, two, three, four times’ a day. Sometimes I would cry in front of family members, sometimes in front of friends.

Being a big hairy bloke, this behavior began to trouble me. Eventually, some six or seven months after his death I went to the doctor. He told me I was probably suffering from depression and immediately put me on something called Citalopram, a commonly prescribed anti-depressant. Unusually for me I actually began ingesting these little white pills without researching their side effects or questioning my GP’s decision. I guess I was desperate.

Amazingly Citalopram made a difference. I no longer felt like crying. In fact, I no longer felt like anything: I couldn’t be happy and I couldn’t be sad. I was just stuck in the middle: a zombie-like hinterland with senses dulled and blunted. Unfortunately, there were also other effects: my arms and legs would periodically tremor to a degree in which I thought I was displaying the early signs of Parkinson’s. I could also no longer have sex. It just wasn’t working for me down there.

So I stopped the pills and paid another visit to the doctor. This time he suggested I see a therapist.

Being a big hairy bloke, the idea of therapy made me uncomfortable; in my mind it seemed like something that other people did. I also saw it as a sign of weakness, which I’m aware makes no logical sense. But I went.

My therapist turned out to be Chinese with, shall we say, not the most fluent grasp of the English language. This meant that speaking to her was a painfully slow exercise. The meaning of every other word had to be explained and she simply refused to laugh at any of my jokes. It was a frustrating experience. However, in the middle of it all something unexpected happened.

One day for no apparent reason I started talking to my Chinese therapist about boxing. More than two decades ago I was a boxing writer for a number of magazines and newspapers. I even edited a boxing trade magazine. I was in my mid-twenties and it was a very exciting time for me. However, I gave it all up, I explained to my therapist, when a friend of mine, the boxer Michael Watson, was almost fatally injured during a world title fight. Before I withdrew from the sport for good, however, I wrote a book entitled ‘Rope Burns’ which sought to explain why I was never going to write about boxing again.

For almost 25 years I had almost nothing to do with boxing. All of the many contacts I had made in the sport, some of them good friends, were forgotten about. I gave up reading about the sport and I gave up watching it. My experience with boxing was, I thought, very much consigned to my past.

However, not long after my father died I had read about the death of Boxing Monthly editor Glyn Leach at only 54. Glyn was only a couple of years older than me and we had worked together on the magazine that he ended up editing for over two decades. Out of respect I had attended his funeral and bumped into dozens of faces from my past, some ex-boxers, some boxing writers whom I had known years earlier. It was a bittersweet experience for someone who was still raw and disturbed by the death of his father. In the pub afterwards, however, people were coming up to me that I had never met and shaking my hand. They seemed to know me even though I didn’t know them. Some of them told me that they were writers and had read and admired ‘Rope Burns’ in their younger days. Needless to say this was good for the ego. Whatever the case I felt a lot of love directed towards me that night.

Perhaps in retrospect that was why I had brought up the subject of boxing with my therapist. And perhaps that’s why in the weeks that followed my conversation with her I began to take her suggestion that I consider writing about boxing again a little more seriously.

And so I began making contact with people whom I used to know in the boxing world a quarter of a century earlier. I had no idea why I was doing this and I hadn’t a clue where it would take me. All I knew is that I felt an urge inside me to talk. To talk to someone. And it ended up being boxers whom I offloaded on to.

My interviews, if you can call them that, we unconventional to say the least. Most of the time I ended up talking about myself, which must have struck my subjects as being a little peculiar. However, their kindness and patience shone through. Before long I began to understand what it was that had attracted me to the world of boxing in the first place. Almost to a man, these so-called hard men of the ring proved themselves to be sensitive, generous human beings. Somehow they seemed to understand and sympathize with what I was going through.

Then in February after meeting up with a handful of names such as transgender boxing manager Kellie Maloney, former world champions Steve Collins and Colin McMillan, my progress hit a rather substantial bump in the road when my daughter fell gravely ill. I ended up abandoning my little writing project and spending the majority of my time at her bedside as she fought to overcome a hole in her lung and pneumonia. She was in hospital for almost three weeks but just as she was discharged fate played a rather unexpected card.

Literally the day after she left hospital I discovered that the ex-boxer Herol Graham was in the ward next to her, also gravely ill. And for a reason that it took me a long time to work out I ended up spending a lot of time at his bedside. There seemed to me to be an element of fate at play: back in 1991 I had not been there for Michael Watson as he lay gravely ill in hospital. Now, here was I attending to the needs of a boxer from my past who had mysteriously dropped in to my lap.

The period I spent with Herol I would almost describe as life transforming. As he got better so did I. And as I got better it seemed to me as if a dam had burst. For eight months I ended up meeting people from my past and sharing incredibly emotional experiences with them. Tears were shed and laughter was enjoyed with these so-called hard men of the ring. Due to these experiences I also ended up confronting my mother about that secret I shared with my father that I mentioned earlier.

The result of this is ‘Dangerous’, my unlikely sequel to ‘Rope Burns’, due out on 15 September 2016.

I could say a lot about the book but truth be told I’m not sure of its value. I’m hoping that I’ve managed to come up with something emotionally moving, important even. However, a part of me suspects that what I might actually have created is something that takes self-indulgence to a whole new level.

I’d rather leave it to Andrew Fairley, another writer and the only person except myself to have read the book in its entirety. This is what he emailed to me the day after he started it:

Christ, Ian.

You don’t hold back do you? I’ve rarely come across a text that comes straight from the heart as this. You may disagree but I think it’s truly brilliant mate, and I’m not just saying that.

Some of the prose is beautiful – ‘a world where black men fought and white men thought’ – and what you’ve written grabs you by the throat and won’t let go. It has that rare quality of staying in your mind even though you’ve stopped reading.

I’m on page 80 (thanks for that, I’ve barely done a stroke at work!!) and will finish it tonight or tomorrow morning and let you know what I think once I’ve finished.

It’s remarkable. I think you’ve written another classic and if this doesn’t win awards, I don’t know what will.

Blimey mate. Many thanks for the privilege of reading this — you can rely on me for publicity. Average writers like me come along every day of the week , but you really do have a very special talent indeed.

Andrew  

Of course, it’s always nice to get a good review. But I’m sure that others will not be quite so positive. I’m already stealing myself for this statistical certainty.

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Smack – Chapter 31

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Far too many men in this world – myself included – waste far too much of their lives harbouring under the misapprehension that they are in some way responsible for the woman that they find themselves lying next to when they wake up in the morning. I’m not talking about responsible in the handing-over-the-housekeeping-money-keeping-them-in-dresses-and-pedicures sense; I’m talking about responsible in the meeting-a-woman-and-managing-to-get-her-to agree-to-have-sex-with-you sense. This what I’m thinking as a drag my eyes open in the early morning South Devon light to find the curled up naked form of Carol lying asleep next to me on Jez and Flynn’s lifeless mattress. Because now everything is so clear to me: I realise now that the reason I find myself lying here with a beautiful woman who is seventeen years younger than I am is actually nothing to do with me.

Carol’s flawless features lie half buried in the pillow; the blankets have settled around her waist, allowing her exposed upper body to melt into the shadows like the chiaroscuro brushwork of a young Caravaggio. In soft-focus, I run my eyes over her fresh, unblemished torso, feeling a little like a fourteen-year-old eyeballing a copy of Mayfair …like Augustus Gloop swimming in a chocolate river. No… I’m not responsible for this… this is nothing to do with me – how could I have ever been so naïve as to presume otherwise?

I know that if I apply the natural laws of physics to my current situation there is simply no possible way on earth that I have any right to be sharing a bed, or even a shabby mattress on the floor, with a woman such as this. I could use subterfuge… or lies… or financial incentives… or blackmail… or pity – I could threaten to kill myself; none of these approaches would be enough to provide sufficient incentive to encourage a woman like Carol to willingly sleep with a man like me. And when you reject all possible explanations, when you throw into the waste basket all the available motives for what has just occurred, there is only one conclusion that remains: I’m lying in bed with one of the most beautiful women I have ever encountered in my life for one reason and one reason alone – because Carol wants me to be here.

She wants me to be here in the same way that Louise wanted me to be there in her bed when our bodies clashed last Thursday night; she wants me to be here in the same way that Marie wanted me all those years ago when she first spotted me in the office and decided that she’d like to have me over the photocopier; and she wants me to be here in the same way that Dawn wanted me to be with her before I dumped that spectacular Baywatch babe body of hers for a woman who looked like a slightly more androgynous version of Julie Andrews. It’s a chemical thing, I think; however clichéd it might sound. because there is certainly no logic that exists to link together the decisions of each of these disparate individuals. And if I think about it, this is probably true of every woman that I have ever had sexual intercourse with. They all wanted me to be in their bed because they wanted me to be in their bed; I didn’t charm them with my dazzling wit and razor-sharp repartee; they weren’t overpowered by my devastating good looks; it wasn’t my money they were after; and it certainly wasn’t – I hope, at least – anything to do with pity. They just chose me: they picked me out of the crowd for a reason I’m not sure that even they understand – and I allowed myself to be chosen.

This is where the male of the species ends up deluding itself; because it’s all part of the tribal ritual that we stand together in groups and try to demonstrate the irresistible drawing power of our pheromones, etc. etc. But deep down I think that we all know the truth: we’re just too busy trying to disprove it to ever get around to admitting it. Do you really believe, for example, that Samson ended up with Delilah just because she just fancied a bit of rough? Or that Cleopatra shared her tiger skin sheets with Mark Anthony because she was partial to a man in a tin helmet? Or that Olive passed up her chances with Bluto because she liked a man with spinach breath? Burton and Taylor… Romeo and Juliet… Maggie and Denis… Olivier and Leigh… John and Yoko… Ian Beale and Cindy: all of these men ended up sharing their lives with these women because they had no choice in the matter. The truth is that when it comes to the mating game we’re the batsmen and they are the bowlers: we’re merely innocent bystanders, and to believe otherwise is to believe that the earth is flat or that six million Jews were not gassed in the Nazi ovens.

While I’m busy with my hackneyed philosophising, Carol snores a little in her sleep and to this innocent bystander even her snoring is inestimably attractive. It’s a contented, self-satisfied sort of snore, like someone belching after a meal to demonstrate their appreciation of it. Then Carol begins to stir and slowly opens her eyes and looks up at me, her supermodel face breaking into the sort of grin that could make grown men cry.

 

We make love again. Except this time there’s no fumbling about in the darkness. We’re a little less coy, and if I did pause to provide details I really would end up going all Black Lace on you. When it’s over we press our sweaty shoulders together and share a cigarette. In the distance I can hear the sound of the waves lapping against the shoreline, which, I guess, is kind of appropriate.