Of worms and schoolboys


I recently read this good article from several years back by Scott Locklin about the virtue of toughness. In it he links to this story published at the time of the 2011 London Riots when some blacks went around not only mugging white people but also making them strip before stealing their clothes. The Daily Mail published a photo, apparently taken on a mobile phone, of a lightly-built young white man being made to take his clothes off and give them to a much bigger black man, who waits while his accomplice, presumably, takes a photo of the event.

This put me in mind of something that happened to my brother over 40 years ago. When he was about 19 he lived in a rough, largely black area of Leicester. One night three black men approached him, one of them saying he liked my brother’s leather coat and that he should give him it. My brother quite understandably refused but the man insisted, “Come on, just give me your fucking coat, man”, as though my brother were wasting his time with his unreasonable refusal to comply with his wishes. It was like that scene in Dreadlock Holiday. such an honest video could never be made nowadays: black men threatening a white man? Who’s ever heard of such a thing!*

Anyway, my brother being quite a good cross country runner made a dash for it, slipped and cut his hand quite badly on some broken glass yet managed to get away, still in possession of his coat.

The question for all men in such situations is what to do. Fight against three big strong young blacks? Simply give them what they ask for? Run for it? Try to talk them out of it by appealing to their common decency? Of course the chance that someone robbing you has any decency at all is close to zero.

Probably the safest thing is just to give them what they want and hope that satisfies them. However, this way you end up feeling like a worm. You just know that Humphrey Bogart wouldn’t have done something different. At such moments it becomes very clear to you that you should have spent less time in front of your computer and reading Steven Pinker and more time toughening yourself up, developing a backbone.

Also your school days might come to mind: the boy in the playground who was regularly picked on by a stronger boy but always gamely fought back, even knowing he wouldn’t win. At least that boy had iron in his soul and could walk away bruised yet not feeling like a worm. Could you do the same?

*Dreadlock Holiday is a 10cc song is about a white man on holiday in Jamaica and is accosted by a gang of four black men. The lyrics were inspired by real events that happened to 10cc’s Eric Stewart and Justin Hayward of The Moody Blues when they went on holiday together in Barbados. Stewart recalled, “Justin and I were on a para-sailing raft in the middle of the ocean and I was strapped into this parachute gear. I was towed behind a speedboat at high speed. I took off and waved goodbye to Justin. He was then left on the raft with three black guys, one Jamaican and two from Barbados. The Jamaican guy said to Justin, ‘I like your silver chain, man, I’ll give you a dollar for it.’ Justin replied, ‘Come on, it’s worth a lot more than that and it’s a present from my mother.’ And this guy said, ‘If this was Jamaica, I would cut your hand off for that.’ I came back and asked Justin if he wanted to have a go. He said, ‘No, let’s get off this raft as quick as we can, I have had some problems.’

The lyrics came from several other sources. The expression, “Don’t you walk through my words” came from a report about a radio DJ in Newcastle who was challenged when he walked through a group of black guys talking together. The line, “I don’t like cricket, I love it” came from a conversation Gouldman (co-writer with Stewart) had with a completely different Jamaican guy in a hotel in Jamaica. They ended up talking about sport and when Gouldman asked his new West Indian friend if he liked cricket he replied “I don’t like cricket, I love it.”