Skip to main content

The Wrestling by Simon Garfield

"So he became a wrestler, like his mum."
I have a vague memory, nestling in there with various tableaux of my grandfather asleep in front of the cricket, the hardened red marbling of raspberry ripple ice-cream, and an insatiable childhood desire for the game Tank Command*, of grey-blue images on the television of fat men in leotards. This was 'The Wrestling', as both my maternal grandmother and paternal grandfather would tell me, and was another television programme that my parents frowned upon but had no power to stop me from watching. Which I didn't. Before the 24-hour news cycle and WWE Superstars, I was only ever interested in cartoons, and later football and Star Trek: The Next Generation. 'The Wrestling' was something weird and quaint and discomforting to watch, so I didn't. 

Turns out that many other people didn't watch it either, and in 1988 it was binned from ITV's World of Sport programme for good. 

However, it seems I've been at best callously indifferent and at worst wilfully disrespectful of what had been, for a time, the most popular entertainment** on TV, and, it also seems, a truly colourful cast of rogues, roustabouts and rapscallions who were left to wither and die in obscurity. 


Mr TV's inside story!
In all honesty, there would have been very little chance that I would have opened the pages of this book in anything other than mild curiosity about the author's surname (in case he was related to a childhood hero, Jim Davis' cat of the same name), but after a drunken conversation in the midst of a pub full of #RWC2015 fever, a colleague insisted I borrow and read this rather idiosyncratic oral history of this much maligned entertainment. So I became immersed in the stories collected by Garfield of the antics and grievances of family favourites like Mick McManus, Kendo Nagasaki, Joe D'Orazio and Jackie Pallo (although in the words of Robbie Brookside, "we won't give any messages to Jackie Pallo other than 'Die you old bastard.'"). Heels and heroes, grapplers and brawlers, they all consistently, if rather cholerically, insist that wrestling was a hard game, a true sport, and the fronts that should have crumbled twenty years before are still propped up with the vim and vigour of youth. It's amazing that this bunch of ageing, crippled 'athletes' could keep up the pretence that wrestling was anything but a sham, a sport on which you weren't even permitted to bet, especially after Pallo's kiss-n-tell behind the scenes exposé blew the covers off. Or not. It's equally likely that after years of treading the same line, telling the same story, that these old geezers are no longer able to differentiate between fact and fiction. But that adds to the charm of it all, and contributes in no small measure to the pathos of Garfield's book. 

Packed with whimsy and nostalgia, old codgers limping and griping, road trips with Giant Haystacks, people mythologising Kendo Nagasaki and Les Kellett (a hard bastard, mean as anything, and rubbish at replying to letters), this is a very British book. with more than one or two particularly cracking lines. I feel disloyal to let Mr TV, Jackie Pallo have the last word, but it is a good 'un:
Mick [McManus] had that know-how: a great performer. Horrible bastard, but a great performer.
Edit: November 2015. I've just realised that the copy I read, borrowed from the aforementioned friend and purchased secondhand, was missing everything after page 196, meaning there's another sixty odd pages I've not read. However, I shall assume that nothing is very different in those last pages and no-one suddenly shoots to British Wrestling stardom and saves the sport. I'm sure I'd have heard about that.

*Which was awesome when I finally got it, but terrible when I realised it was a two-player game and that my brother would relentlessly cheat in order to win, or else refuse to play... 

**According to the wrestlers themselves, but then they are all irredeemable braggarts and liars.

Comments

How's about that then?

The Headmaster's Wife by T. C. Greene

I bought this on the recommendation of someone whose opinion I respect if not always agree with, and also as it was an Amazon daily deal I felt that 99p or whatever it cost was not too much to risk. I have become a little narrow in the field of what I choose to read and welcomed the digression offered. Subsequently, I feel a little hoodwinked. 
T.C. Greene’s previous book, Mirror Lake is one of those books that, as a former bookseller, I knew was there, would expect it to be propping up the centre of a table of multi-buy contemporary fiction, but had absolutely no desire to read whatsoever. They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but I disagree, given the time and effort spent by designers and publishers to ensure that any given book looks as similar as possible to the best-seller in any given genre. Mirror Lake enjoyed my ignorant prejudice for a good many months for this very reason. Of course, until I’d bought The Headmaster’s Wife I had no idea that the two Greenes were o…

Metaliterature - what meaning to have is this for meaning?

Not a review this time, more of a curiosity. It seems I'm receiving lots of hits from Russia (Здравствуйте России!) from people searching for the definition of "metaliterature". As such, it is something of a bespoke word, created to fit a need and probably not yet recognized outside literary theory / criticism circles (Merriam-Webster Online certainly don't like it). I was wondering what they typed in to end up here, so, for fun (it's not fun, sorry) I thought I'd bung it in Google Translate and see what came out. As it turns out, one needs a little hyphen for the rather ponderous machine to understand it, and even then only does half the job (meta seems to be meta in any language). 
Incidentally, below is, ironically, a Google Chrome Thesaurus definition* of "meta":

met·a Adjective/ˈmetə/
(of a creative work) Referring to itself or to the conventions of its genre; self-referentialInterestingly (not interesting, sorry) it says this for the full term, t…

And The Ass Saw the Angel by Nick Cave

Someone told me this novel, now nearly thirty years old (holy crap), Nick Cave's first and, possibly, his best, began life as a screenplay when he was still touring with The Birthday Present. That seems equally plausible and implausible. It is a wildly cinematic novel, narrated in flashback by the hermetic mute boy Euchrid Eucrow, who slithered into the world as one of a pair of damaged twins, the only one who survives the neglect of their first day on earth, and is vividly, viscerally visual. But it's also complicated, wildly imaginative, and at heart, finds a safer and more permanent berth in the gently revered world of literature than in the ever-changing and perfidious zeitgeist of cinema.

The story goes that Euchrid, after throwing himself into a bog into which he slowly sinks as he narrates his tale (to whom? and how?), was born, mute and unloved, into a truly Southern Gothic existence, mother a moonshine drunk, father a mean, bitter animal trapper, his community a severe…

A Rage in Harlem by Chester Himes

Often, intertextual inertia must give way to old promises and the making good thereof. In the case of Chester Himes, who I’d rescued from the clearance bin in Waterstone’s Cardiff before the summer, the paying of deserved respect was long overdue. I have a very soft spot for genre fiction, particularly when the content is framed quite so elegantly as that of Chester Himes’ Harlem cycle. Apologists justifiably present him as the Black American literary complement to white contemporaries and genre luminaries Chandler and Hammett, and from a personal perspective, his marriage of svelte prose and acute observation is as pleasing on the eye as anything from either author or other renowned pulp novelists like John D MacDonald. To my mind, Himes is particularly tasty bubble-gum for the brain. Of the verisimilitude of his characters I cannot comment. Harlem in the forties and fifties is as far removed from Cardiff in the ‘teens as I can possibly imagine (I sell myself short of course, but you g…