I’m choking. Kendo Nagasaki, the most frightening wrestler this country ever produced, has got me in a three-quarter nelson: my head is in the crook of his elbow; his forearm is tight against my throat and he’s lifting it. I can’t breathe. I’m seeing stars, hearing popping sounds in my neck and trying not to pass out. So I bang my palm against his leg, which feels like steel cable under his red leggings, but he won’t stop. When he does let me go I am in agony. And it’s all my fault. You’ve got to expect pain if you’re stupid enough to climb into a ring with a masked man so vicious he was kept off the television early in his career, before becoming a superstar of Saturday afternoon wrestling in its heyday. Nagasaki was voted the Wrestler of the Millennium. His ritual unmasking was watched on television by 12 million people in 1977, and shown again last Tuesday as the climax of a show about the best of World of Sport. He wore lenses that turned his eyes a scary red. They sent a chill into the camera and forward down the years into my living room. And here he is, hurting me. “Can’t say it’s fake now, can you?” crows his manager, the motormouth Lloyd Ryan. “Nothing fake about that.” Read on
The Sistine Chapel Choir is launching the first album in its 500 year history. I went to hear it perform in a private concert under the frescoes of Michelangelo, and found that for the first time there is a British man among the Pope’s full time personal singers. The Vatican provokes complicated reactions in me, as this piece for the Independent on Sunday probably shows.
The new heavyweight champion Tyson Fury is said to be related to a legendary figure called Bartley Gorman who was for decades the bare-knuckle champion of the world. I was at Gorman’s funeral in 2002, a day that lives long in the memory. This is what I wrote at the time. Continue reading “Saying goodbye to Bartley Gorman, bareknuckle boxing champion of the world”
Nowhere in England looks more like the perfect English village than Firle in East Sussex. It has an ancient church, with bells that ring out across beautiful countryside. There is a fine old pub with a roaring fire. The cottages, made of brick and flint, have roses growing in their gardens. Children are playing in the lane, pretending to be on the village cricket pitch — which is one of the oldest in the country, and a model of its kind. And to add to the feeling of fantasy, Firle even has a working post office.
The little shop looks as it did nearly a century ago, when Virginia Woolf strolled up from her rented cottage to post letters. Outside is a classic red Gilbert Scott phone box. Inside, a woman smiles as she hands over bread and milk, writing down the cost in a till book to be forgotten about until the end of the month. “I know everyone by name,” says the postmistress, Ami Reece. “I trust my customers. They are my friends.” Can it be for real? Continue reading “Firle: In An English Country Melting Pot”