Fighting Part 3
Handsworth To Oxford
Handsworth was a dangerous place in general in the 80s. There were race riots in 1981 and again in 1985. In the latter, an Asian family lost their lives. They were burnt alive above the Post Office they managed.
During the first race riot, I had to be “evacuated” from school. It was a Sunday and we had been playing cricket and had just returned to school in the mini-bus. Normally I would have made my way home by bus. But, on this hot, Sunday evening the riot was kicking off, prompted by the arrest of a local drug dealer. The school, being predominantly white, became a target. We had to be escorted out of school under police guard. It was quite exciting. It was quite frightening.
When we returned to school on Monday, Handsworth was a mess. The Soho and Lozells roads were littered with burnt out cars. School had most of its windows smashed. It was quite exciting swapping stories with the other kids, especially those who lived in the area. The Weir twins had been arrested and subsequently released. They claimed they had just gone to watch but got caught up in a police baton charge. They got a beating, but not from the police. They got their beating from their mom – five foot nothing of old-fashioned Jamaican maternal discipline. They were good lads and should have known better than to get involved.
Things were always a bit more tense in the area after that. I remember once bunking off with a mate and going to the local snooker club. It smelled of weed. Dope. Ganja. We were in there for just 30 seconds. We were the only white faces. Everything stopped. It was like a movie. It was like the pub scene in American Werewolf (Jenny Agutter. Since the Railway Children, I’ve never seen a film where she kept her clothes on. And, I’m not sure I want to. Sigh….). Nothing was said, but the look in their collective eyes shouted. We were not welcome there. We went back to school.
Suffice to say that at Grammar School I learnt to fight. I learnt to stand my ground. Actually, by building a certain reputation and by developing a certain stern look I managed, mostly, to avoid an actual fight. Normally the other guy would back down. Indeed I can still conjure that “stern look” today. I t is very effective when dealing with noisy teenagers in cinemas, or, when kids try to push into queues.
Fortunately, there has not been much cause for fighting since Handsworth. True my nickname at Oxford, at least within the public school circles of the “Iffley Yahs” was “The Inner City Lad”. It could have been worse though. They referred to one of my best mates from Birmingham as the “Neanderthal” (but if you had met him then you would have understood why)……I did get a bit “feisty” when captaining the so-called “Animals” football team. And, there was a time when I did terrorise one of the “Iffley Yahs” by pinning him against the college wall by the throat. Sorry Simon. I hope this does not explain your absence from the Friendsreunited website.Otherwise, Oxford was pretty fight free. One of my duties as Social Secretary seemed to be to “intimidate” certain rowdy types to leave the Beer Cellar on “Sweaty Bop” disco nights. It was my experience that your average Oxford student was pretty easily intimidated. Your public school types are not so streetwise and tend to rely on their wits more than their fists. And, they are generally lacking in wits. Certain more direct pressure was brought to bear on one MD when he refused to leave my girlfriend alone.
Indeed, I only have few recollections of real violence while at Oxford. One was when I was back at college a year after leaving. We were there as part of the Old Members Football team playing the annual fixture against the current college team. I had to intervene between my mate (the Neanderthal) and a “Townie” who had insulted his fiancée. My mate knocked the “Townie” clean into the middle of the street (and next week) even though the “Townie” was wearing a motorcycle helmet. I stepped in, with the two other mates we were with, when he came back with a tyre lever. It was the night that Frank Bruno was fighting (and losing) against Mike Tyson in the World Heavyweight Championship. …Frank lost. The “Town v Gown” fight had been much more impressive.