'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
'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
'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
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
'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
'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,
'Weighing im up,' said the suede bloke. 'Yerss, Weighing im up,
'Ar. Weighing im up in order to wear im down.' The other
conversationalist nodded freely as he spoke, nid, then nod, thus: nid-nod
'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
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
'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
'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
'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
'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
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
'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
'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
'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
To be continued... probably... if
anyone asks for it..