The Fat Challenger. By John Atkins and J.B. Pick.
'God save our gracious Queen,' sang Picklewit lustily, waving away the smoke from Jake Copperstein's missile-sized cigar.
'Send her victorious,' croaked Jake Copperstein, glowering at Al Cuff of West Ham, who had just lost him fifty pounds, and was wandering off in a bath-robe looking dazed and cloudy.
'Glappy and horius' quavered Charlatan, glawping idealistically up at the biting silence of the stars.
'Long to reign over us,' yelled everyone with meaningless intensity.
'Ditto and so forth,' said Picklewit, who only knew one note and so found singing a strain.
The vile uproar dribbled away down the drain of night and a great slumping of bums began, some onto comfy cosy fifty-guinea cushions, others, like those of Charlatan and Picklewit, rattling down onto bony benches.
The crowd, jovial as seals on a raft, clamoured beneath the enormous darkness. It was May 1966 and a fight for the Heavyweight Boxing Championship of the World was about to materialise. Everyone knew who was going to win but some pretended not to. Charlatan was one of these. Picklewit was not. Neither was Jake Copperstein.
'Georges Carpentier', bellowed the M.C. and added a few ill- chosen words about the famous Froggy fighter, in a voice like that of a gravel-dispenser, 'Tommy Farr, Rocky Stucco, Kid 'the Kidder' Kidd.'
One after another the half-forgotten bruisers groped hopefully into the ring and bobbed and grinned in the arc-lights, raising their battered paws to the indifferent mob.
Terry Downs! yelled the M.C. in a frenzy of boredom. 'Larry Gains! Slug Blunder! Kicker Buckett.'
'Oh no, not Leaky Buckett,' groaned Picklewit, the nature of man nipping sharply at his vitals.
'Picklewit, you are a monster of ingratitude,' Charlatan remonstrated, stealing a sweet from a nearby hand. 'Don't you remember the noble Buckett's stirling challenge when he nearly captured the middleweight Crown?'
'Yes, I ruddy well do,' Picklewit said. 'He would have captured it, too, if the police hadn't caught up with him in Whitechapel High Street.'
'An unfortunate incident, best forgotten,' Charlatan said severely. 'Your cynicism sometimes worries me, Picklewit. You would cast a slur upon Lord Nelson himself, so you would, or even Gladstone's bag, or the Duke of Wellington's immortal boot, or Winston's wall, or Dr Who's box, or Dexter's bat, I shouldn't wonder.'
'But you do wonder, that's just the perishing trouble,' Picklewit grumbled. 'You wonder at everything and forget the liver-fluke and the waiting worms, Charlie, my lad.' He winked at the blonde companion of a wealthy fish salesman, who wunk not back, but with a hardly perceptible lift of the neb consigned him to a refrigerated limbo. He took her measurements with morose appreciation.
Charlatan directed his more guileless gaze at the honest, homely mug of the heavyweight contender from Great Britain, whose inevitable fate it was to be boosted by the Press and bashed by the champ. Large-faced men and well-bosomed ladies cheered and leered and waved beer and shouted things like 'Good old Enry' and 'Knock his bleedin conk off!'
When the heavyweight champion of this poor old prune-stone of a world began jigging blithely about the ring in a purple dressing-gown with a gold cord they all jeered and booed and hullooed and waved food.
The M.C.boomed and bellowed a good deal. The referee toddled to and fro a lot. The crowd roared under the illimitable tent of night, Picklewit yawned and Charlatan gasped intently, like an intelligent fish on a dish.
After four rounds Picklewit attracted Charlatan's attention by pulling at his ethereal nose.
'Let's go,' he suggested.
Charlatan became mildewed with dismay. 'But we paid for our seats! Really, Pickle, you're insane. Henry has the champ on the run. Hooray! Come on Henry! It would be desertion in the face of the enemy. This is a historical moment of glory. Look, Henry has missed brilliantly with his left! Oh, bash him! Demolish him! Biff him with enormous vigour! Knock his ear about!'
'Have it your own way,' said Picklewit, staring gloomily at the blonde's left breast, which was effectively displayed as she leaned forward advising the challenger to butt his opponent immediately.
Five minutes later the referee raised the Champ's bulbous glove and declared him the winner. The honest, homely, heroic British challenger tottered to his corner, blood oozing from a gash over his eye, his nose swollen and his ears vegetable.
'He was robbed!' yelled Charlatan. 'Boo! He butted him! He kneed him with his elbow! He gouged him with his nose! Yah! I demand a return bout! Lout! Scounder! It's not a bit fair, so it isn't. Yootle!'
Picklewit led the raving dunderhead away.
They began elbowing turns at the bar of a pub called 'The Cricketer's Legs', famous for its horrible beer.
Give me a Pimm's No.16,' said Picklewit curtly. He was feeling his age and humanity.
'Er?' said the barman, flapping an ear.
'Pimms,' said Picklewith. 'No 16.'
'There's no such thing as a Pimm's No.16,' said the barman, 'Not as I know to.'
'Of course there isn't,' snapped Picklewit. 'And if there was I wouldn't touch the stuff. Give me a Mackeson's. And a lemon squash for my poor sick friend. And a dish of radishes for my dog. '
'No,' said the barman.
Picklewit had to move down the bar and queue all over again.
Two men stood beside him. One wore a suede coat and a brimless hat he had stolen from a jolly Jamaican. The other had fat hands, a bow tie and eyes set so closely together they seriously threatened the safety of his nose.
'Enry ad im going,' said the first bloke. 'Another round and but for that bleedin cut eye Enry would've worn im down like a plimsoll on a glacier.'
'Worn im down,' agreed the second bloke. 'Like a tyre, I expect. On a dirt road in Siberia.'
'Like lino in a clinic,' contradicted the suede one. 'But you could see what Enry was getting at. You could see it by looking with your perishing orbs, so you bleedin could.'
'Could you now,' said the other bloke, whose perishing orbs were too close together to see much beyond the tip of his nose. 'Wearing im down, you mean?'
'Weighing im up,' said the suede bloke. 'Yerss, Weighing im up, I'd say.'
'Ar. Weighing im up in order to wear im down.' The other conversationalist nodded freely as he spoke, nid, then nod, thus: nid-nod (repeated).
'Getting his measure,' said the suede one. 'Measuring im for is box, as you might say.'
'Boxing im up, as it were.'
'And wearing im down. Like a policeman's pencil in a No Parking zone.'
Both became a touch confused at this point and glugged non-vocally for one minute and a half.
'Were you gentlemen there?' asked Picklewit, with unwonted courtesy.
'Gentlemen? Where?' said the suede bloke.
'At the fight,' explained Picklewit.
'Fight?' They seemed markedly bewildered. 'Course we weren't. That sort of thing costs money. Do you think we're idiots?'
Picklewit refrained from comment. They were bigger than him and there were twice as many of them. He merely gazed at them with compassion, as one would gaze, say, at a drunk crab, and led the melancholy Charlatan to a wobbly table, where they sat glooming into their dark liquid like doomed sheep into sheep-dip.
'Boxing,' said Charlatan suddenly, 'should be banned.'
Picklewit sighed, thus: Foof. He preferred to moral attitude a large plate of haggis..
'It's ungentlemanly. What's more, it's uncharitable. It degrades. It cauliflowers the ears and detaches the brain from its moorings. And from its Doris Lessings too, I shouldn't wonder, It's uncivilised. It excites unwholesome passions.'
'Quite,' said Picklewit. 'Quite, quite, quite. Courtesy and restraint seem to get forgotten. It's no good calling out 'Oh, well stumbled to the floor with a groan. Sir' or 'Come, come, bow before you bash, young man.' Boxing is therefore a bad thing.' He held a finger up as if to test the wind. 'Unless, of course, the British boxer WINS.'
Charlatan relaxed his solemn mien with a mildly hopeful smirk. 'Wins, eh? Ah. Well. Yes. Wins. Biffs some dago senseless, you mean? Batters a Kraut or clobbers a copt? Yes. There is that, of course. You have a point there. Clumps a Chink? Fouls a Froggy? Mm. Mphm. Yerss. I see your reasoning. Very sound. Rather forceful. Cogent. Lucid.' He thunk a bit. 'It may be, you know, Picklewit that we two are the only true patriots tramping the grim streets of this decaying world.'
'I sincerely hope so,' said Picklewit. 'The only time it's interesting to be a British patriot is when Britain's a decrepit wreck. And it is, despite the Beatles.'
'But we patriots are patriots because we are British, dash it.'
'Quite,' said Picklewit. 'Quite, quite, quite. So were dodoes because they were dodoes. And they're extinct. However, we are practical men - or at least, one of us is. What we want is not a symbolic afflatus, but a biffer who biffs.'
'Quite,' said Charlatan. 'Below the belt, if necessary. Without being seen, of course.'
'Life is inscrutable. Charlatan, like a policeman's pencil. We must devote concentrated attention to practical work. We can't rely on Providence, not even in Massachusetts, if that's how you spell it, which I doubt.'
'Work?' said Charlatan. 'That's going a bit far .Pickle, penetrating into unknown country. Tchk. Tut. Tchk.'
'We will find the Challenger. HE will work.'
'Find a Challenger? But that IS work. Where is he? The peering under stones. The leering up chimneys. The spying in gyms. The consulting with witches. The listening at keyholes. The knocking on doorsteps. Besides, we've just seen a challenger. He was honest, homely, hardy, noble, capable, brave, sober and deserving. And he got biffed.'
'Quite,' said Picklewit. 'Quite, quite, quite. So we want one who is dishonest, ignoble, useless, drunk and disreputable. That should be easy. Such people abound.'
'No, no, no! I deplore your attitude. You are in grave danger of succumbing to the fatal lure of logic. You will end by trying to promote a Vacuist non-boxer who fights backwards in the dark.'
'Probably,' said Picklewit.
At this moment, as one would expect in the circumstances, whatever these might have been, the shout of 'Owg!' rang out above the blatherhinq babel.
'Ool!' someone else replied, reeling rapidly rearward with winglike arms aloft as a result of a thump on the chump until he met the stomach of a third party who said 'Eerg!' as people will in such a situation, and sat down on the wobbly table of a fourth party, who shouted 'Gerrout of it!' and thrust him into a fifth party, who etceteraed and so forthed until we forget how many parties have now been inconvenienced before Archie Slogan the paranoid potter became recumbent as a result of an anonymous slog on the leg.
It appeared that the two supporters of Enry, who had been continuing their repartee at the bar, had fallen out of sympathy with a supporter of Dr Enid Wintergrim, Director of the Anti-Box League, who wanted all boxers, boxes, wrestlers, cartons, crates and suitcase salesmen abolished because they were not approved of at Henley on Thames. She also wanted almost everything made illegal, and everyone to have the prints of their boxing gloves entered on Home Office files so that if at any time they became fistic they could be traced infallibly to their lair and locked up until they repented or became demented. She also wanted men to be abolished and replaced by women but her supporter at the bar didn't know this. If he had known he would have been annoyed because he enjoyed hiking in braces.
The anti-boxer had immediately demonstrated his disapproval of boxing by bashing both the supporters of Enry by means of a straight left followed by a neat right cross in the first case and a chop on the neck in the second.
What intrigued Picklewit about the fracas was the behaviour of a man in a raincoat that wouldn't button because he was so preposterously fat that no known article of outerwear would fully encompass him. He received what Picklewit thought a very hefty bop in the Middle East, having offended a stockjobber's assistant by saying something offensive about one of the Queen's ex- nannies. Instead of turning red in the face, gasping like a gaffed flounder and falling heavily to the floor, this fellow let out a powerful footing noise as the fist sank in and then as it was withdrawn with some difficulty by its bewildered owner, he kicked the poor gentleman on the knee and continued drinking his pint of bitter.
'There! See that Charlatan! That's what we want, a challenger who is FAT. Extortionately, unilaterally FAT. I have stumbled on a secret formula as stupefying as a policeman's pencil in a thunderstorm. FATNESS. Forward into the Fat Future. Step forth fatties and present your voluminous credentials. Hooray!'
'But, but, but,' said Charlatan. 'The champ bashes people and dances about. He will delight in a vast and fleshy target who aren't nifty enough to escape They present vast acreage to be belaboured.' He stumbled a bit over that clumsy phrase which came out as be-be-blubbered', but Picklewit wasn't listening anyway.
'The being I envisage,' Picklewit explained, 'will stand enormously motionless and await the inevitable - here he paused while a lady's umbrella flew between them, followed by a handbag, a man's boot with the lace removed, and a whole hairy hoolingan who flew by with wings outstretched and crashed through an ex- door into the lavatory where he reclined on the damp and sloshy floor calling for his mother. Picklewit continued 'the fatty awaits the inevitable in a neutral corner, like a whale in a pail. The opponent pummels away for a bit and wears himself down to the degraded state of a policeman's pencil in a No Parking Zone. Fatty then looms forward and crushes him against the referee like a cosmic manifestation. We want someone not merely fat but rhinocerene, elephantular. hippoid, so that it takes hours for attacks on the periphery to affect the somnolent centre.'
'Rhinocerene?' queried Charlatan, Elephantular?' at which point a pair of trousers fell over his head mollifying his utterances.
'And if we make him fat enough for it take fifteen rounds for a punch in the tum to disturb the wiggly grey stuff that decides whether or not a towel is to be thrown in, then we've won. The champ will simply die of exhaustion.'
'But the fat man won't have scored any points,' protested Charlatan, having thrown off the trouserly encumbrance. 'According to the rules of boxing he will therefore lose.'
'Not if he has suddenly outhrust his turn and driven his victim against the terrified ref, squashing them both insensible.'
'It doesn't sound cricket.' said Charlatan.
'Nor does football, you know, Charlie. That's why we won the World Cup.'
'Mphm. Hmf. But where IS he, this fat gentleman? And why would he wish to be expose himself to violent assault? Such fatness is not British. I know my history, of course, Picklewit, and realise that there was once a man in Leicester called Daniel Lambert, whose trousers would have encompassed the Albert Hall, had the Albert Hall been erected at the time, which I hasten to assure you it was not, but the 18th Century is long gone, Picklewit, and Britain has lost the Empire and a considerable number of Test matches.'
'British fatties shall swell again. I have spoken,' Picklewit folded his arms like the Duke of Wellington used to fold his boots and stared ferociously before him. 'If such a human tub does not at the moment exist, then it will be necessary to invent him. Come along, Charlie.'
A beer mug struck the wall and brought down the photograph of a famous twit as our two heroes made for the door. Everyone continued trying to hit most other people, hitting irrelevant objects instead, which hurt their hands and made them blunder a about losing their sang-froid, phlegm and National Health teeth. One of the irrelevant objects which got hit was Charlatan, who had to be removed by means of the fireman's lift. He hung from Picklewit's shoulders reciting:
Charge, Chester, charge! On, Stanley on Were the last words of Marmion in a faded voice.
Picklewit's remarks were more to the point when he eventually dumped his passenger against a lamp-post which bent its long, elegant neck and peered down at the wretched fellow with blue disdain.
Or at least appeared to do so to a passing fellow named Crowder, who had devoured eight pints of beer and three whiskies. We don't wish to be accused of fantasy.
'Now pull yourself together, Charlie,' said Picklewit. 'We shall need support. Not the support of a lamp-post but financial support. I would suggest a syndicate of millionaires myself, unless you have a better idea. Of course sponsorship by a prominent advertiser of useless tablets would do, but I don't know any prominent advertisers of useless tablets, do you? So to make a start with the millionaires, what about Bilborough?'
'Remember when I was Bilborough's secretary and had to catalogue his library, and found all those pornographic books? Frightful experience, distressing. But it might come in useful, might it not, old fellow?'
'No no no, no blackmail', wailed the semirecumbent idealist.
'Blackmail, rubbish. Whitemail please, in Bilborough's case, Charlie. I insist on strict accuracy. Besides, he needn't put up the money himself. He can just apply pressure to some other rich idiot who has conveniently forgotten certain past activities. Now, quick, to the telephone. Give me a suitable coin.'
'If Bilborough is all that rich you can reverse the charge,' said Charlatan stiffly. 'Besides he's probably in jail. . What's more, all the telephone boxes round here have been vandalised.' He heaved, hove or hoisted himself to his feet and reeled off. Poor fellow. Oh poor fellow. But we are all poor fellows. The nature of the world ensures it. Rich fellows do but bask in illusion. And probably have trouble with their prostate, digestion, wives or all three.
To be continued... probably... if anyone asks for it..
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