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13

It had always been a matter for heated debate amongst scholars of human behaviour. 'What makes for a really classic punch-up?'

Certainly the ingredients have to be exactly correct. The margin of error is paper-dart slim. Too much of this, too little of that, and the whole thing goes to pot.

Hugo Rune, that scholar amongst scholars of human behaviour, that lecturer to the Royal Academy on subjects ranging from aquatics and teapot construction to the plea for the six-bar gate and the four-sided triangle, that four times WWF World Heavyweight Champ and no mean manipulator of the stout stick, stated in his famous monograph Come over'ere if you fink yor 'ard enough or: What makes for a really classic punch-up? that four important factors play their equal parts.

These are,

One: Location.

Two: Even sidings of participants.

Three: A really good reason for having a punch-up.

Four: A safe vantage point for the scholar of human behaviour to view and study the ensuing melee.

Rune, according to his arch-detractor Koestler, was a vicious psychotic, who loved violence for the sake of violence and was responsible for starting numerous unseemly brawls during the 1920s and 30s, merely because it 'turned him on, sexually'. Notably the infamous Cafe Royal bash-about of 1927, where Rune incited a group of surrealists, including Salvador Dali and Max Ernst, to set about the waiters of that noble establishment, claiming that they were 'looking at him in a funny way'. And the scandalous Vatican canteen cardinal knee-kicking incident which ended with Pope Leo XVII receiving a black eye and Hugo Rune being excommunicated by the Church of Rome.

Rune claimed that Koestler had as usual got the wrong end of the stick, but would be receiving the heavy end of his famous stout one at their very next meeting.

It was Rune's conviction that a punch-up was a work of kinetic art, a martial art form. In fact a concerto for knuckles and things of that nature generally. To be enjoyed for its spontaneous anarchic brilliance, for its adrenalin excitation and not necessarily for the fact that it 'got him off’ when he went back to his girlfriend. 'The punch-up is a thing of beauty,' claimed Rune. 'It springs out of nowhere, rising like the rainbow's arc to add that extra touch of colour to our otherwise greyly-hued existences. Especially after a meal.' And it is certainly well recorded, by those he invited to dine, that once Rune had concluded his repast, drained his brandy balloon of fifty-year-old cognac and stubbed out the dying butt of his Napoleon, he would invariably yawn, gaze about the restaurant with a curious gleam in his eye, before suddenly leaping from his chair to shout something like, 'How dare you speak to me in that fashion, sir,' before striking some innocent diner about the head with his stick. The resultant melee, often bloody and oft-times resulting in numerous arrests, was inevitably notable for two things, the absence of Hugo Rune at its conclusion and his invited dinner guest, usually injured, being forced to pay the bill.

Rune claimed that he performed these acts not only in the cause of scientific and sociological enlightenment but also 'For Art', which made them acceptable, because he was the leading artist of his day. And when asked why, specifically, he had started off the knee-kicking incident in the Vatican canteen, he explained that he had already spent a month in Rome and was finding it hard to locate a restaurant that would accept a booking in his name.

It is now agreed, by those who have studied the life and works of Hugo Rune, that he was a man born before his time and that only now is science and sociology beginning to catch up with him. It is also quite interesting to note that the south-coast artist Matt Humphrey was recently shortlisted to win the Turner Prize with his piece punching people, a video film of him beating up Big Issue sellers who were attempting to ply their trade outside the Body Shop in Brighton. At his trial, Humphrey claimed that he was not the 'vicious psychotic who loved violence for the sake of violence' as the counsel for the prosecution claimed, but an Artist, with a capital A, paying homage to Hugo Rune. Humphrey walked free from the court, but an independent tribunal indicted Mr Justice Thumbs, who tried the case, claiming that as a practising Runie his judgement had been biased. Mr Justice Thumbs is currently serving a two-year sentence for setting about members of the tribunal with his stout stick.

So, in summing up the matter for the heated debate amongst scholars of human behaviour regarding what makes for a really classic punch-up, and bearing in mind Rune's four important factors, location, even sidings of participants, a really good reason for having a punch-up and the possibly questionable fourth, how might these be applied to the rip-roaring riot currently on the go in the bar of the Waterman's Arts Centre?

Good question.

Well, we certainly have a good location. Time and time again, the bar room has proved itself to be an excellent spot for a really decent bout of fisticuffs. There are chairs to break over people's heads, bottles, glasses and ashtrays to throw, and there are always folk ready and willing to participate, many eager and anxious, as if anticipating the arrival of such an event.

And as to the participants. Even sidings do make for a classic punch-up. This is an ultimate truth. Six onto one isn't a punch-up, it's a massacre. Six onto six and the fight could go either way. As to those presently wading in at Waterman's, there were no specific sides, other than for those of the lately arrived emergency services. But there was no ganging up. The fighting was evenly distributed. Poet fought with poet, muleskinner with muleskinner, and had there been more than one wandering bishop present, it is a certainty that they would have taken the opportunity to settle old but unforgotten scores and kick knees along with the best of them.

As to the really good reason for having the punch-up.

This is a grey area. Rather like whether it's OK to drive through amber lights because you're in a bit of a hurry. Or get off the bus without paying because the conductor failed to notice you crouching at the back. Or applying the finders-keepers charter when passing an unattended van with its rear doors open. Or, well, perhaps not, but it is a grey area. It's subjective. One man's good reason may not be another man's.

Old Vic felt that shooting the pimply youth who was tugging at the" barrel of his service revolver was entirely justified. Because, as he would later state in his defence, 'If he'd got the gun off me, then like as not he might have shot me with it.' The barman felt entirely justified in launching himself over the bar counter and felling the wandering bishop with a soda siphon. Because, as he would later state in his defence, 'The nutter said I was a shirt-lifter with three number sixes on my bell end.'

Big Bob, who would not find himself in court, had reasons of his own. And, although he could rightly claim that the original cause of all the bloodshed and brutality might be traced back to him, it wasn't actually his fault. But he did have a really good reason for putting his knee into the groin of a particularly badly dressed poet who happened to be standing innocently by and not hitting anyone at all.

Because that poet's name was Trevor Alvy.


So let's get back to the fight.

The barman belaboured the bishop, but the bishop, though bloodied, belaboured him back. Moustachioed women, wielding pint pots, struck down all things male that came within their swinging range, and pimply-faced youths, who now found themselves within their element and who enjoyed a good punch-up, not for Art but strictly for the sake of violence, lashed out at their elders and betters in the manner that disenchanted youth has always been noted for.

The fight inevitably carried itself to the rostrum, where Derek, now with only nineteen verses left and fuelled by a determination that the world in general, and Waterman's Arts Centre in particular, would be a better place when thoroughly blessed by his muse, continued to declaim, swinging the mike stand, as Samson had the jawbone of an ass, when faced by a similar hostile bunch of Philistines.

Kelly, now a blur of Dimac moves, iron fists aglow and feet making cracks as they broke the sound barrier, battered folk to left and right as she cleared a path before her to Big Bob.

'Come with me if you want to live,' she said, because that line is classic Hollywood.

'Give me your hand then,' said the big one, then, 'No don't! That wasn't me. Don't touch me, stay away.'

'I saw a wild beast come out of the sea.' The bishop had the barman by the throat with one hand and was pointing once more to Big Bob with the other. 'Thou knowest that The Rapture has come to Brentford. Thou all knowest that.'

Word had got around, regarding The Rapture, and most of the combatants had heard about it. And most were well and truly miffed that their turns hadn't come around yet.

'I sayeth unto you!' The bishop's voice rose to an incredible volume. Became in fact a large and terrible Voice. 'i sayeth unto you. the end times are upon us. the wild beast – to mega therion [10] walks among us. he is here. he is big bob charker. slay the heretic. burn the iconoclast.'

'Trusteth not that bishop. He speaketh not with the voice of man,' shouted Big Bob, kneeing Trevor one more time for luck. 'He has the infection. He is possessed.'

Now here Rune's number two rule came suddenly into the game. Randomness removed itself from the equation, leaving the harmony of pure mathematics in its place.

Which side would you choose to be on?

The side of the raving cleric, calling for the burning of a witch? Or the side of reason (?) whatever that reason might be?

The lines of battle now became evenly drawn.

Poets of a religious bent, keen to be Raptured as quickly as possible, knew exactly where they stood and exactly who should be burned, and when, like now. (You have to make these decisions on the instant, or else mob rule won't work.)

Pimply youths, who favoured a Black Sabbath album and the writings of Anton La Vey, and were always eager to join a coven in the hope of dancing about in their bare scuddies with naked female goths (that a friend of theirs had told them were always 'up for it'), chose their side in a nanosecond. If the Beast 666 was really here in person tonight, they were signing up with him. In blood, if necessary, although they'd prefer to use their biros.

'kill the idolator!' cried the large and terrible voice, issuing from the bishop's mouth. 'send the hell spawn back to the bottomless pit.'

And, to add a certain air of authority to his words, the bishop now levitated from the floor. It was a pretty neat trick by any account, the secret of which is only known to members of the Magic Circle. And that annoyingly clever American magician [11] who performs in the streets of New York.

At which point the Brentford constabulary, entering by the west door, which they knew to be a short cut to the bar, caught sight of the Brentford fire crew, who were simultaneously entering the bar through the east door, which they knew to be a short cut.

And though neither group had heard the bishop's words, or rather those words which the bishop spoke, for the words, as we know, were not his own, they at least knew which side they were on.

And so all and sundry went at it hammer and tongs.

'Out!' shouted Kelly to Big Bob Charker. 'Run for the exit, I'll protect you.'

'Oh good,' said a pimply youth. 'This woman is obviously the Whore of Babylon. I'm glad she's on our side.'

Kelly struck the pimply youth. 'Prat,' she said, as she struck him.

'The blue fire of her sparkling eyes burns my humble soul. If I were a fireman, I would slide her down my pole,' rhymed Derek. It was verse thirty-seven, or possibly thirty-eight. But a fat poetess with dark mous-tachios had him in a headlock. And Derek could no longer make himself heard above the roar of battle.

Kelly kicked and kata'd, folk fell sprawling to the right and left. Big Bob backed towards the exit. It was the south one and led to the river terrace.

'he flees!' cried the bishop from on high. 'the unholy one flees. pursue him with god’s speed.'

Old Vic, whose eyesight wasn't what it was, fired upon the hovering bishop. 'It's the Red Baron,' he hollered. 'Man the ack-ack. A pint of stout for the gunner who brings the blighter down.'

The pimply youth, who still had a hold of Vic's gun, lost the tip of his nose.

Gunfire often stills a mob. But sometimes it makes matters worse. And as this was one of those sometimes, the gunfire made matters worse.

'Calling FART. Calling FART,' called a constable into his lapel radio (Mute Corp 3000 series). 'Riot in progress at Waterman's Arts Centre, shots fired. Send everyone you have.'

Big Bob was now out on the terrace. Kelly was battling the new recruits to the Christian fundamentalist movement currently in hot pursuit.

'I'll have the balls off the next man who takes a step through this exit door,' she told them in no uncertain tones. Those in hot pursuit considered the trail of fractured bodies that Kelly had left in her wake. And reaching a consensus of opinion, agreed to let the Antichrist make an unharassed retreat.

'We know where you live,' shouted a poet, making the sign of the cross with his fingers. 'We'll be round tomorrow, just you wait.'

'We'll whip your sorry ass,' said a muleskinner. 'Or if you don't have an ass, we'll whip your budgie.'

'Run,' Kelly told Big Bob, but Big Bob was running already.


The gasometer by moonlight is a beautiful thing to see. Many of the Brentford Poets are inspired by it. Many of them write really long poems about it. And several would have been read out tonight, if things hadn't gone as they had.

Within the shadow of the great gasometer, Big Bob coughed and wheezed, doubled over, big hands upon his great big knees. Kelly wasn't even breathless, she looked ready for a marathon run. She reached a hand towards Big Bob, then drew it back instead.

'How are you doing?' she asked.

'I'm in a mess,' said the big one. 'Trevor Alvy stamped upon my fractured toe.'

'But other than for that?'

'Other than for that?' Big Bob coughed and wheezed some more. 'Have you any idea what I've been going through?'

'None,' said Kelly, straightening her hair and selecting a strand to twist back and forwards in the shadows.

'Hell,' said Big Bob. 'I've been through Hell. And I'm not out of it yet. It's still inside my head. I can feel it. But it's weakening.'

'no we're not,' said the voice, resounding in his skull. 'and you just lost level three. you passed us on. that's all your lives gone. you lose. We win.'

'No,' cried Big Bob, clawing at his temples. 'I'm not in your games any more.'

'you are,' said the voice. 'that was it. Level three. you had all the information. but you muffed it up and we win. and now you die.'

'What's happening?' asked Kelly. 'What's going on? I don't understand.'

'They say I've lost the game. That I've lost my final life. They're going to kill me. No, thou demons, no.'

Big Bob's hands left his temples. Kelly could see him there in the darkness beside her. She saw the big hands shaking. The look of fear upon the big man's face. The hands closing upon his own throat.

Gripping, squeezing. Harder and harder.

Tighter and tighter.

'you lose,' said the voice in Big Bob's head. 'we win. you die.'

'game over.'

'No!' and Big Bob gagged and struggled. But the hands, no longer under his control, pressed in upon his windpipe and crushed away his life.


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