The Kingshead Public House
, deepest Suffolk
SLAP! This is the sound it makes when the Doorman's meaty palms strike my chest, double axe-handle style. The force of the blow knocks me backwards and I have to scuttle hard just to keep upright. Despite my best efforts most of my sweet Belgian lager sloshes over the carpet. As I regain some semblance of poise, I realise I‘ve been displaced 6 feet away from my original location. Six feet away from my friends, and six feet away from their illusion of safety. I drunkenly stare at the bouncer, then at my pint, then back at the bouncer again. He’s not the tallest of the species, but he's definitely been working out. I observe the way his white shirt shrinkwraps over his barrel chest. As per usual in these moments of public confrontation a big line is drawn clearly defining the bystanders from the participants. Its immediately clear to me that I am very much alone in this little combat zone. Nobody moves, not even this suited ape. He just stands there, head tilted back, eyes theatrically wide, eye-balling me like an overdressed Hulk Hogan.
This steroid enhanced slap, this 21st century glove across my cheek, this is my reality wake-up call. This is the real world knocking. Knocking loud and clear, in quadraphonic sound. I remind myself that this isn’t some Manga tribute, arcade beat ‘em up where we fight until our energy bars disappear, where reincarnation is only a handful of lose change away. This isn’t about Arcade immortality. No, this is a whole different game. This is the game of snapped incisors, and sovereign ring facial lacerations. This is the game of consequence, and now is the time to decide if I want to keep on pretending that life is a Tekken tournament or not.
The truth is, I could have nipped this whole developing ruckus in the bud. I had a chance, but I didn’t take it. Instead I decided to throw out flippant, self-destructive fighting talk at this Neanderthal for no good reason. In fact this whole course of action is a direct result of that ludicrous notion that afflicts me from time-to-time, that dumb state of mind that eclipses the logical part of my brain, and lets me believe I’m invincible.
I know I’m not alone in this. Most folks have felt its influence. It’s like when you’re driving in the dark, and it’s raining: You put the pedal to the floor and take that rolling steel death-box up to a body breaking 90 mph, barely aware of the possible dangers as you unconsciously tailgate that articulated truck. In a highway code diagram your crimson red, ‘projected breaking distance’ danger zone would have just stretched up, through and past that 30 tonne juggernaut. And you don’t bat an eyelid. The mentality is always consistent: It will never happen to me; I’ll swerve; I’ll brake; I always survive these things. Accidents happen to other people.
I seem particularly susceptible to this scrambled cerebral frequency. I’ve slalomed my Midnight Blue Nova down a 1 in 3 ice rink and lived. I’ve played wrong-side-of-the-road-roulette on a blind corner and hit nothing but fresh air. I even took a motorway slip road’s premature corner at 104 mph, and felt the radio quieten and my hairs porcupine, as the right side of my hatchback lifted almost imperceptibly from the tarmac as I rounded the curve, and afterwards thought that it was my skillful driving and fast reactions that kept me alive, when in reality it was just lady luck breathing down the back of my neck.
And so, over the years this attitude, this moony in the face of death, this denial of disaster develops and thickens until you are steeped in it. And without knowing it you have already halfway accepted your immortality. And you attain a kind of blissful nirvana of pig-shit-ignorance from the coal black hands of fate.
Prior to this ensuing combat situation I remembered thinking to myself that this was how nights out should be. Populated by Engaging people and calorific lager. The conversation was good, so comfortable you could just lie back and recline in it, makefists with your toes in it. The Kingshead was the only place for 10 miles that you could get served after 11 o’clock, so naturally the venue was crammed to the hilt with revellers. Luckily ‘we’ (myself, my brother and a friend) had found some space away from the throng in the front bar, putting distance between ourselves and the dance floor’s vibrating speakers, preferring to work up a good conversation than a good sweat.
From my vantage point I had spotted a girl I knew from my A level classes, strutting her stuff on the dance floor. She was completely absorbed in an ironic 60's hand-jive routine. We’d never really spoken. She was the kind of girl you could possibly overlook in the hormonal spider's web that is secondary education, in that nightmare matrix of ever-morphing crushes, dates and snogs, but here, in the post-ed real world, and its ever shrinking gene pool potential, you would have to be crazy to.
She moved like a sylph under the disco lights, amber ringlets cascading off her shoulders. Wow, she'd really blossomed. My ground-to-fox missile targeter attempted a lock-on. But it was a no go. Something was distracting me. A blur at the edge of my beer-vision was vying for my attention. I tried to block out whatever it was and continue my lengthy perving session. Still no luck. I couldn’t shake this feeling. Whatever it was, it was persistent. So I appeased my nagging sixth sense and turned towards the shadowy blip in my peripheral. Its a bouncer. Its the bouncer. ‘Shrinkwrap’. All muscle density and zero body fat. He’s watching me watching her. Our gazes lock momentarily. Weird, I think to myself, normally those guys remain fairly aloof until the shit hits the fan. I wonder what I’ve done to deserve this special attention. Was he seeing her? Could he actually tell from the other side of the room who I was looking at? I break eye contact, not wanting to stir up anything trollish. I forget about the girl and check my watch. Its 10 minutes until the beer stops flowing.
I turn back to my two fellow drinkers and re-absorb back into the conversation. But our ‘worlds best funk bassists’ debate is soon interrupted by a looming shadow. Its the bouncer from the corner standing right next to me.
“Can you finish up now lads.”
Ouch. Those six little words an Englishman dreads.
The three of us Ad lib the standard grunts of compliance. Seemingly Satisfied he re-assumes his sentry position in the corner of the bar. We all check our watches simultaneously this time, navy seal like, and then wonder why we are the only people in the building he has asked to ‘ship out’. There are only two bouncers working tonight and the other one hasn’t made any moves to expel other people yet. In fact the party on the dance floor is going stronger than ever. Regardless, we set to work like good little boys, draining our Stella's.
Approximately 2 minutes pass. We still have half a pint each to go when the bouncer approaches again. Our conversation atrophies and we turn to him slightly bemused by his persistence. Like an automaton he repeats his command. Same tone, same delivery:
“Can you finish up now lads”.
We nod and make the right noises again. But this time he doesn’t leave. He stays, watching, demanding our immediate obedience. My brother taps his watch and informs the bouncer we have 8 minutes till last orders. This doesn't seem to register on him.
My friend then politely points out the 100 plus revellers still enjoying themselves on the dance floor. Nothing. His face is unreadable. Then...
"I've asked you twice now lads". There is menace in his tone.
It’s at this point that we realise that this guy has a very real attitude problem and, at a guess, a temper shorter than your next door neighbour’s firework display.
Now, the correct thing to do here would be to avoid any trouble by putting down your pint glass and leaving without saying a word. After all it’s not worth the possibility of provoking Johnny Bulk-gain here, into knocking seven shades of shite out of you. There lies real physical pain and injury. But this new gonad-tight-silver-jumpsuit-wearing homunculus part of my head doesn't really consider consequences like that. He doesn’t believe in them. He’s the part of me that spent his formative years sat cross legged, face 6 inches from the TV screen, and absorbed the pseudo-violent world of cartoons, of video games, and later of Hollywood. He is a media sponge. A popcorn muncher. A game junkie. Born out of, and slave to, 21st century pop culture pulp. His is the world of the A-team with its horrific Jeep crashes that flung ragdoll passengers stunned but unharmed onto comfortable grassy roadside verges. In his world the lantern jawed hero takes an anvil to the face and keeps on coming. In his world the kinetic impact of a bullet doesn’t send the hero into deep uncontrollable shock it merely hinders his movement during the next scene. This part of me has constructed his own rule set for existence according to the Jerry Bruckheimer physics handbook.
So this Homunculus speaks using my mouth and larynx and a ridiculous regional accent and says:
“Ah come on mate, don’t be a typical bouncer.”
I just cast it out there, into the abyss, and wait to see what bites.
Naturally My words are little red rags to this man-bull. And this is where we came in, where Shrinkwrap axe-handles me across the floor. No warning. No foreplay. He just cuts straight to it and whacks his big meat slabs into my chest. And then he waits. Daring me to ‘take a pop’ in his ‘Come-and-have-a-go-if-you-think-you’re-hard-enough’ stance. So technically, in Chess terms, it’s my move.
Fortunately, the ‘living in reality’ part of my head regains control of the wheel now. I suddenly remember the whole weight category schematic in all combat sports. i.e. light guys don’t fight heavy guys because light guys get squashed by heavy guys. I’m no straw-weight, but my after dinner 74 kilo weigh-ins don’t cut the mustard here. This is the main reason I put the glass down and leave. But there’s also a little strut of moral righteousness in my stride as I head for the stairs. I know it’s the right thing to do. The ‘grown-up’ thing. And besides, this guy has pretty much orchestrated this whole mess. He wanted it. He purchased, prepped and mixed the volatile chemicals. I just brought the lighter. He’s obviously aching for some action to pep up his night, but I refuse to be his next weight-room anecdote.
The Kingshead's staircase is ‘so’ Buckingham palace. Or at least trying to be. It’s long and winding and grand, with generous steps and royal red carpeting that has somehow avoided getting tacky from beer slops. I’m deliberately pacing myself as I walk down, fast enough to appear determined, slow enough not to look completely chicken shit. I resist the urge to look back. Appearance is everything in these situations. Think Antonio Banderas in Desperado striding away from that fiery explosion. Only not.
Five or six steps into my descent, an arm with the girth of thick industrial piping coils itself around my neck. I’m taken totally by surprise. The forearm nestles across my wind pipe with all the power of an upset python. I instinctively suck in air, anticipating the strangle hold. I’m completely blindsided and for a second my mind just treads water trying to take it all in. Then as the cognitive part of my brain kickstarts again I some what dumbly deduce that the limb belongs to Shrinkwrap. I can’t believe this double Y-chromosome psycho has followed me down the stairs to escort me out of a building I was already willingly leaving. Jesus. He must have ran to catch up with me.
Shrinkwrap says nothing. Not a word. Which in itself feels kind of scary. No patronising, “Settle down and it will all be over soon, Son”. No Macho chit-chat. Nothing. The silence feels unprofessional, personal. I feel him push me in the small of my back as he begins frog-marching me awkwardly, step-by-step, down the stairs.
I can sense my little homunculus yanking at his chain. But to let him out now could be disastrous. I know he wants to fight this guy Errol Flynn style right here on the stairs. Fuck that. Bad idea. No doubt about it. I wrestle my little schizoid embellism back under again. I’m not getting my neck broken for him. Besides there’s not a lot of potential for escape here anyway. No chandeliers to leap to. No conveniently discarded broadswords within reach.
My hands come up to try and loosen his grip manually but he’s really locked his hold vice-tight. I can’t get a single bit of leverage to even start trying to pull his paws off me. He reacts to my pathetic struggling by squeezing a little tighter. My throat makes the glug-glug noise of a toddler drinking milk. I want to protest, and ask him what the fuck he thinks he’s doing, but I know that if I speak now, with his forearm compressing my larynx, I am going to sound like a munchkin on helium. I refuse to degrade myself and give him any such satisfaction.
We move slowly downwards, with pantomime horse caution, passing numerous faded Constable prints. We’re halfway down the steps when a sudden feeling of helplessness washes over me. The realisation that I can’t out-strength this man. I’m having my freewill bent and forged by another and I just have to stand up and take it. From this position, If this guy really wanted to kill me he probably could. Just keep applying pressure until I go to sleep. Nice and quiet like. No fuss. I look ahead at the lobby but there’s no one there. Just empty high backed chairs clustered at little round tables. This is most defiantly our own private little duel. Not that anyone seeing this would care enough to intervene anyway. Bystander impartiality is a universal constant. Like at traffic accidents. 95% of the public prefer to trundle past in second gear getting an eyeful of gore rather than doing something useful, like watching where they’re going. In my case It’s probably for the best anyhow. An audience of random teenage girls is something I want right now about as much as a screaming dose of syphilis. I have no idea if my comrades are following me either.
Its as we near the bottom, and I desperately try to suck in a bag full of O2 and nothing happens, that I begin to get pretty pissed about this whole scenario. Pretty mad that No oxygen is getting past this noose of beef around my throat and pretty mad that my vision is darkening at the edges. How dare this human meatloaf dictate how much air I get? What gives him the right to starve my system of its essentials like some 16 stone parasite? I was just enjoying a beer with my friends and now I’m being strangled by some Charles Atlas freak. I don’t want to take this shit anymore. I want out. And 3 steps from ground level, with my sight seriously fish-eyeing, I see my window of opportunity opening.
When things get confrontational the human mind simplifies things for you. Primitive emotional responses, flood up from the core brain stem and forcibly bludgeon the higher brain functions into righteous submission. Instinct butt-fucks calculation. Its important. If Speed equals survival, then instinct is your fuel injection. And all this process leaves you with are two choices. Fight or flight. Black and white. And suddenly the world seems so simple...
The bouncer is 6 inches taller than me easy, plus he’s walking one step behind me as we descend, which makes him about a foot higher than me in total. Hence his centre of gravity is roughly at my shoulder level. Which kinda makes him a huge reservoir of untapped kinetic energy that gravity is just aching to make it’s bitch. He's virtually halfway into a shoulder throw without knowing it. And 3 steps from the ground floor is perfect because it gives me a stable surface to jump to, and a little forward momentum into the bargain. 4 or 5 steps up could result in me tumbling onto the floor with 16 stones of human gym offal plummeting into my back, so it’s now or never.
I don’t hesitate for a nanosecond. Nerve impulses fire down my brain stem, setting the act in motion. I don’t pause to consider the man’s personal safety. I don’t stall to consider his feelings. I don’t ponder his medical insurance cover premiums. I don’t stop to access the possibility of failure and this guy tearing me limb from limb. Instead I drop onto the solid oak of the ground floor, and as my foot plants I tuck my head between my knees with all the speed and power I can muster and execute a textbook judo shoulder throw on the bouncer.
The big sack of protein flies in a perfect rainbow arc over my shoulder, his feet tracing a nice, correct semi-circle through the smoky atmosphere. Technique conquering weight. Uchi mata style. His rock tight grip breaks automatically as he realises he’ll be needing his arms to break his fall. And Like some pre-fabricated wild west saloon stunt he crash lands onto an awaiting table, only this isn’t a ‘made to fold’ softwood prop so he spins off clumsily onto the floor. A very real landing.
My two way headswitch toggles from ‘fight’ to ‘flight’ and I, quite sensibly, leave the premises in double time. I’m somewhat amazed to make it outside and into the urban darkness without being jumped from behind. The throw obviously stunned this guy for just long enough for me to make a clean getaway. I breath in a big unrestricted lung full of cool night air that unfurls the bottom-most ends of my lungs like a couple of trick balloons. It feels good. My two compatriots appear, whooping with laughter at the spectacle. After a couple more seconds the 2 bouncers appear at the door, but by this time we are across the street and into suburban sanctuary. I watch as Shrinkwrap tears off his jacket and hurls it onto the pavement, international sign language for ‘I want to beat you like an away fan in Rome’. But for some reason they refuse to pursue us and remain within the threshold of the doorway shouting and cursing (obviously observing some doorman’s contractual obligation that ties you to the licensed property). We cut a noisy and somewhat arrogant retreat into the back streets of town.
Afterwards, as the adrenaline disapated, and my body started to shake from a mild dose of shock I began to consider the ‘what ifs’. And I realised just how lucky I was. If I hadn’t stunned the bouncer with my throw I could very well be in casualty right now. Fighting someone bigger and stronger than yourself who is stone-cold sober whilst you are tanked up on ale is pretty much a no-win situation. I picture my throw going wrong and the two of us landing in a heap, him on top. I struggle in vain to get the dominant wrestling position but the beer has made me sluggish. He quickly over-powers me, pinning my arms to the floor with his knees. But now he’s really pissed because I dared to take him on. And The last thing I remember before I black-out is Shrinkwrap guillotining my face with the hard edge of an oak table for the twenty-eighth time.
But that didn’t happen, and my cautionary thoughts are fleeting and temporary. Half an hour later, nursing a mug of tea back at the parental home, my head defaults back to it’s normal state. Back to my furry little psychosis. Yet again I pull off an action stunt and the only consequences I encounter are a hangover from the alcohol and some scratches on my neck where the bouncer dug his fingernails in. I’m beginning to think that only the truly fucked-up, those touched by the hand of fate, really understand what mortality means. For now I’ll just have to wait my turn. Wait for moment when the powersaw to steal a couple of fingers. Wait for the ladder to tip and for the 20 foot fall to concertina both of my legs. But until then I’ll keep pretending I’m Tonka truck tough.
Action Movie Psychosis: 1