Monday, August 18, 2003


When I was about five or six years old, we lived in Canada for a bit while Professor Scaryduck took a job teaching medical students in Vancouver. In retrospect, these were the most carefree days of my life, but the fact that I missed Arsenal’s legendary double year in 1971 by being in the wrong country has caused me no end of mental strife in later years. Parents are forgiven, however, they knew not what they were doing. Grey London was left miles behind as the mountainous backdrop of the Canadian Rockies became our new home.

It was at this time that my parents decided that I should stand up for myself. I had been put in a class at school with kids the same age as me. However, they start school a year later in Canada than they do in England, so I was put back into kindergarten instead of into the first grade where I’d already spent several months in my school back in London. After about three hours of this I had had enough, and I was moved up a year into a class with kids a year older than me.

Like all Canadian kids who apparantly spent weekends ripping out trees with their bare hands, they were huge. Even the girls. I was tiny, and the only kid that understood the offside law in football. I needed to be able to defend myself, or I would return from school the consistancy of chicken paste every afternoon. They played rough, those Canucks. It wasn't that I was bullied - it was just that I was pint-sized compared to the Canadian kids, who came quart-sized. I needed building up a bit.

I would go to Judo.

Killarney Gardens was one of those brand new housing estates, centrally planned around courtyards, walkways, special places to park your car, and nary a shop to be seen. In other words, it was fucking hideous. There was a community centre right in the middle, right by my huge friend Kenneth Njou’s house, and that was where I would learn the arcane rites of Judo.

So, one evening after school, I was abandoned at the community centre, where I watched huge Canadian kids in bathrobes beating the seven shades of shit out of each other. After observing their technique for a while, I was invited forward to try for myself. I was pitched in with the other New Kid who had turned up that evening, a veritable Boy Mountain who appeared no stranger to the ancient art of Pie Eating. Like me, he was so new that neither of us had judo outfits. We were going for it in our street clothes while the rest of the group tumble round the mats in expensive-looking night clothes.

This made total sense. If I was attacked in the street by knife-wielding madmen and was forced to use my deadly martial arts skills, I wouldn’t have time to go home and get changed into a baggy bathrobe. It would be wideglide-collared shirt and flared corduroys or nothing.

We squared up to each other.

We bowed.

We circled each other round the mat, looking for an opening.

A hush fell over the hall. The new boys were going for their first ever judo throw.

I took a handful of his shirt, turned into him in the way that I had been shown, and heaved. An heaved.

Judo, I have been told, is all about exploiting subtle changes in balance and weight distribution. Use your body as a lever, they said, and your opponent will be flipped onto his back in no time at all. To which I reply “What a load of hairy-arsed bollocks”.

This guy was so big that I would have needed a crane to get him off the floor. It wasn’t without my trying, however, and I decided to go for it, with or without heavy lifting gear. I gave one final, gut-wrenching, adrenaline-pumped heave.

There was a terrible tearing sound as I ripped his shirt clean off his shoulders. Boy Mountain stood there in tears, hands covering his meaty man-breasts, while I stared uncomprehendingly at a handful of rags, the rest of the class whooping with laughter.

“I’m gonna get my pop onto you!” he wailed.

If this kid was anything to go by, his pop was going to resemble King Kong in a checked shirt who was going to rip me limb from limb and use my severed arse to pan for gold. I fled, never to return, deciding to take my chances with a swift kick in the crown jewels should I ever need to defend myself. The martial arts looked just too rough for a sensitive kid like me. I took up the far more sedate sport of ice hockey instead.

Postscript: Scaryduck Jr recently had his first and last karate lesson.

“How did it go?” we asked on his return.

“I kicked him in the bullseyes.”

We put him in the Cub Scouts

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