The Thing Is with Steve Canavan - January 7, 2016

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A friend of mine went out on New Year’s Eve to a quiet village pub and was astounded when, shortly before midnight, a fight broke out involving a dozen or so men, all of whom were left with bloodied faces and noses bent in the wrong direction.

I’ve never understood why people want to fight. I mean it seems to me there’s a distinct risk of getting hurt and, masochists aside, who in their right mind would want that? I’ve had one fight in my life and it was back at primary school, when I was aged 11.

Let me state at this point that I didn’t want to have a fight. Colin Gibblesforth, a big lad with ginger hair and a dry skin complaint on his elbows, said I was rubbish at football and Sharon Battersby – my girlfriend; well, I say girlfriend, I held her hand once during wet play-time – challenged him to a scrap on my behalf.

Before I even knew I was having a fight, the fight had been arranged.

Weirdly, Colin and I were good friends and we had a chat that afternoon.

“Do you really want a fight?” I asked him, scared stiff, for at 4’9” he towered over me.

“No, not at all,” he replied, “But we’ll have to do it now or else it will look bad.”

Had we been a little older and wiser of course, we’d have laughed at the absurdity of it all and told everybody there would be no fight because the whole notion was just plain silly.

But aged 11, and with the school abuzz with anticipation at the forthcoming rumble, there was no way out.

One of the more clued-up lads in our class even opened a book and started taking bets on who would win (interestingly he went on to become a successful businessman, forming his own company selling roller-blinds in Chorley) and I remember being quite perturbed at seeing my best friend put 50p on Colin to win. All afternoon I was petrified. I’ve never been a fighter. When you have muscles like mine – ie, none – engaging in a physical contest isn’t advisable.

(Having no muscles, by the way, continues to this day. When we moved into our house in St Annes, Mrs Canavan asked me to carry her across the threshold. Now Mrs Canavan, though hefty around the hips, isn’t a large lady but, even so, on attempting to pick her up, I ruptured both hamstrings, slipped four discs in my lower back, and required a three-day stay in hospital. Strength, much like decorating, is not my forte).

But back to the story... After school, we walked to a park where all the fights took place (it was a little like the MGM Grand, except with swings and a roundabout) and took off our coats.

Neither of us was quite sure what to do next, so we awkwardly stood around for a while until one of the more experienced lads – who’d had, as his cauliflower ears suggested, several fights before – shouted ‘get a move on’. Then a remarkable thing happened. Despite possessing the power of a vacuum cleaner that hasn’t been plugged in, I won.

How it happened I’m not sure. All I recall is shutting my eyes and swinging my arm, then looking up to see Colin bent double, holding his cheek and crying his eyes out. I’d won in less than two seconds. It was the greatest victory of my career and my only regret is that it wasn’t recorded so I could show my grandchildren, or perhaps release a DVD.

As Sharon looked on admiringly, I went from terrified little boy to Muhammad Ali.

“Yeah, it was no big deal, I just ducked and dived and then used the right hook to finish it,” I said, hoping no one would pick up on the fact that I was still trembling.

And that was it, the sole scrape of my life.

Why some blokes still do it into adulthood baffles me. Surely by the age of 18 we’ve learned that it’s much better to sit down and talk about our differences rather than thump each other in the chops? Then again, when you look at all the conflict and trouble in the world, maybe we haven’t.

This was a REAL storm ....

The storms and floods which ravaged the country over Christmas and new year might have been bad, but it could have been worse.

If you were around in December 1703 – unlikely I grant you, and if you were get on the phone to the Guinness Book of Records immediately – then you’d have lived through what was the worst storm in British history.

It struck central and southern England with such force that the 120mph winds blew down 2,000 chimney stacks in London alone, ripped the roof off Westminster Abbey, and blew a ship moored in the Bristol Channel 15 miles inland.

It was so frightening that Queen Anne (below...a monarch most noteworthy for being extremely obese and getting pregnant 17 times – she only gave birth to five children, none of whom lived beyond the age of 11) had to shelter in the cellar of St James’ Palace because there was debris crashing all around.

When the winds finally subsided, the cost to human life was horrific, between 12 and 15,000 people – depending on which figure you go by – killed.

The church declared the storm was ‘God’s vengeance for the sins of the nation’, which, though I’m no expert here, doesn’t seem to be a particularly helpful comment given the circumstances.

So as terrible as all the recent flooding has been – and it has been terrible for all concerned – it’s not as bad as it could have been.