“The society which has abolished every kind of adventure makes its own abolition the only possible adventure.” Paris, May 1968

Monday, 28 July 2008

From Shoot to Show.

We will never know for sure when it was that pro wrestling changed from being a genuine competitive sport to today's highly skilled but totally non- competitive exhibition. Truth is, a sport with roots in the English music hall and American carnivals rather than the playing fields of Eton, is unlikely to ever have been entirely straight. No one expects the magician to REALLY cut the lady in half after all. The money in wrestling was always in getting bums on seats rather than gambling on the result as in prize fighting. When the "Russian Lion" Georges Hackenschmidt joined forces with showbiz impresario C B Cochran in 1904 the result was that wrestling took London by storm. Box office records were broken and the West End experienced its first traffic jam the night that the "Russian Lion" squared off with the "Terrible Turk" at Olympia. Hackenschmidt was the real deal all right, but there is no reason to suppose that he was averse to a little gentle choreography to keep the punters happy.
All good things come to an end. The public started to lose interest and when Hackenschmidt split from Cochran and decamped to the States only to lose to Frank Gotch, the end of the golden age of wrestling was in sight.
America was to be the scene of the next major innovation with the transformation of the old corrupt and brutal business of carnival wrestling into something just as corrupt but with only the appearance of brutality. The so called " Goldust Trio" of Toots Mondt, Ed "Strangler" Lewis and Billy Sandow more or less invented the form of pro wrestling that has been around for the last ninety years.By introducing aerial acrobatics, unlikely submission holds and fast moving matches, public interest was restored. By 1920 the business was well established and with Lewis as a World Champion more than happy to drop (and win back) the title on demand, their fortune seemed assured. By 1925 it was felt that the game required a new hero to keep the punters happy, and to this end the trio recruited ex football star Wayne Munn, taught him a few moves and put him on the roster. Lo and behold, in no time at all the hapless footballer is deemed ready for a championship match and, who would have thought it, beats Lewis for the title.
Even the gullible and long suffering wrestling fans found this difficult to swallow. What was needed for the new champion was a convincing win over a really reputable challenger. Enter Stanislaus Zbyszko.
Now approaching middle age, Zbyszko was a tough old bird who had really been around the block. From the Greco-Roman tournaments of the Austro Hungarian Empire, he had graduated to working for Cochran during the golden age and was now a key player in the slam-bang world of the new style. The deal was done. Zbyszko would roll over for Munn and credibility would be returned to the title. Ah! the frailty of human nature. The wily old Pole had changed horses in mid stream. Had signed with rival promoter and title claimant Joe Stecher. Did the screw job. Beat the crap out of Munn and pinned him so many times that even the house referee had no choice but to declare Stan the winner and new World Champion. Later that year Zbyszko dropped the title to Stecher. Mission accomplished.
Stanislaus Zbyszko retired from wrestling a few years later but was to tread the boards one last time. In 1950 aged 70 he secured a major role alongside Richard Widmark and Googie Withers in Jules Dassin's film noir classic, Night and the City. In one final touch of irony, the old trouper played the part of formerly great Greco-Roman wrestler appalled at the shenanigans of the modern game.

Saturday, 26 July 2008

Lest We Forget

I don't know how long we will have to wait for the big day, but I for one am looking forward to the Thatcher Funeral bash in Trafalgar Square. I am also aware of the fact that many people, especially those who did not live through the Thatcher years, feel that the idea is petty and small minded. It is all getting to be a long time ago. Major, Blair, Brown and Cameron are all fitting heirs to the Thatcher legacy. They have served the project well. Soon, very soon I fear, Thatcherism will seem the norm. It will appear absurd to talk of anything but neocon reality. And that Margeret Thatcher, wasn't she, all in all, a force for good?
Well just for the record this is why I will be in Trafalgar Square. Thatcher not only pauperised whole working class communities,
not only sacrificed hard won social benefits on the altar of market forces and reduced the idea of social housing and comprehensive education to second rate safety nets for the underprivileged (read underachievers). Worse, much worse, all of this could be turned around but for her (their) master stroke, the destruction of the last vestiges of collectivism in this country and the seeming triumph of middle class individualist values. Fucks sake, I know that the post-war settlement was not Catalonia 1936 but looking around now at the increasing social polarisation, its beginning to look like some kind of Golden Age.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Shocking increase in bike crime.

Right. It's not big and it's not clever. This is the sort of thing that gets us all a bad name. A few irresponsible people spoiling it for everyone else.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Nice man with beard shock.

The arrest of the odious Radovan Karadzic, while being obvious good news, also contains certain strands that really should come as no surprise to anyone. Being able to remain at large in Belgrade under an assumed identity for one thing and finally having his cover blown just as the EU gravy train appears on the horizon for another.
As for the man who was at least partly responsible for so much human misery reappearing as an alternative therapist - well the arch nationalist simply moved seamlessly from one load of mumbo jumbo to another.

Friday, 18 July 2008

Beano and Dandy Birthday Bash

It was said that Class War owed more to The Beano than Bakunin. Maybe so. Kids of all ages certainly thrilled to the exploits of the unlikely band of neer- do- wells and larger than life ruffians who inhabited the pages of the great comic. The Beano wasn't bad either.
No doubt the pointy heads will long debate the socio-political importance of The Beano and Dandy and ponder how such iconoclastic journals emerged from the anal-retentive environs of DC Thomson.
More to the point, did you know that the Cartoon Museum in Little Russell Street are celebrating 70 years of Beano and Dandy with a special exhibition starting on 30th July? I'll be there.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

The Mighty Sandow

Few people today will have heard of Eugen Sandow but during the last two decades of the 19th century, and for many years after, his was literally a household name. He was the most famous of the old time music hall wrestlers and strength athletes and went on to develop his own system of physical training and lay the foundation of, not only modern bodybuilding, but physical education in general. Rich from the proceeds of all this he could have rested on his laurels, but instead went on to use his fame as a tireless social campaigner. As might be expected, Sandow was a keen on the benefits of exercise, but he went far beyond this and campaigned vigourously for the introduction of free school meals, improved housing, health and safety at work,sanitary inspectors and family allowances. In all of this he was way ahead of his time.
His feats of strength have long been surpassed but to my mind today's sporting heroes,unable in many cases to see beyond a celebrity lifestyle and a colour spread in Hello magazine, they don't compare to the Mighty Sandow.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

The Word on 4?

When I was asked by an old friend if I wanted to go on a Palestinian march a while back, I accepted the offer, as much as anything else, because I thought that a couple of hours in her company would be a nice way to spend an afternoon. And so it proved, but I have to admit to feeling very out of place. "We are all Hezbollah now". Well, no actually. I have always felt that nationalism and religion are twin evils, responsible for much that is wrong in the world. When they combine, as history shows they frequently do, repression is never far away.
However, a dislike for religion has never stopped me taking an interest in it. Being a committed atheist also relieves me of having to make value judgements of one religion over another. It's a matter of regret to me that people are followers of medieval superstition. What particular brand is neither here nor there. So I certainly can't claim to been overburdened with an open mind when I sat down to watch Channel 4's The Qur'an on Monday night. There is ,of course a fascinating tale to tell here. Dessert nomads inspired by the words of a prophet, go forth to conquer vast swathes of the known world and within a couple of hundred years rule over what was, for it's time, a tolerant and progressive empire. The part that the Qur'an had to play in this huge achievement cannot be denied. The trouble with the Qur'an however, is that as with all sacred texts, it is open to interpretation. It can mean all things to all men (and women). Only those who have had direct coms with God know the truth. Trouble with God is, he tends only to speak to those afflicted with mental illness or a lust for power, or both.

Saturday, 12 July 2008

Up the plot

Whether I'm grafting away with the spade and hoe or sitting under the tree with flask of tea and book, the allotment is proving to be an increasingly welcome oasis of calm in these troubled times. The credit crunch. falling house prices, street crime, summer TV schedule, none of this impinges on my consciousness when I'm up the plot. In fact, there are times when I think that I've passed into a completely different space-time continuum and woken up in the middle of a John Major speech. You know, the bit about the sound of leather on willow, old maids cycling back from Holy Communion and all that old tosh. I'm usually brought back to earth by the arrival of the first 4x4 load of the chattering classes.
The days of allotments being the preserve of old geezers and the occasional clueless hippy are long over. Growing your own is now attracting the middle class in droves, all desperate to weave their own bread and grow their own laptop and creating not only a whole new market in designer gardening accessories but also long waiting lists for plots. Hang on! The mists are clearing. I'm not in a John Major speech at all. It's the Palace of Versailles. Marie Antoinette and her chums are in the garden dressed as milkmaid and playing at being peasants. Must remember to get that tumbril out of the barn.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Ken's ring revealed.

According to Will Self his missus reckons that psychogeography is just an excuse to get out of the house and that people like him and Iain Sinclair are, well, wankers really. Not much I can add to that but tramping the metropolis, expecting the unexpected and generally getting a feel for the lie of the land remain a favourite pastime. No doubt the sits over egged the pudding. Ambling around town is not the revolution, but as Rebecca Solnit points out in her excellent Wanderlust, there is a long and honourable connection between walking and radical politics.
Unlike most comrades I don't view the Livingstone years in a completely negative light. There were some useful initiatives from the Mayor's Office, not least the London Strategic Walks Network. Jewel in the LSWN crown is the CAPITAL RING, a 78 mile circumnavigation of the London burbs that takes in parks, disused docks, deprived estates,Hampstead Garden Suburb and the Streatham Pumping Station. Anyway, as part of Ken's efforts to big up the project, certificates were supposed to be issued to people who completed the walk. Needless to say when I finally staggered through the front door last year after doing the final leg my letter was in the post before you could say knife.
Did I get my certificate? Did I fuck! No chance now of course.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Keep the money. Keep the faith.

Chatting to an old mate the other day, he informed me that old copies of Suburban Press are fetching as much as a hundred quid. He went on to tell me that he was approached by a dealer at the recent 1968 And All That book-fair regarding selling his own collection of old radical pamphlets. "I'd rather burn them", was the response, "we were about destroying the market, not feeding it". Nice one mate.
I have managed to hang on to a few bits and pieces from the past myself including a couple of prized copies of the late George Foulser's esteemed organ,"The East London Speed Freak". George was an anarchist militant of the old school, hated almost as much by the National Union of Seamen as he was by the shipowners. I don't know what George would have made of these yellowed duplicated pages being collectors items but I doubt that he would have had much compunction about taking the money. He died without a pot to piss in.
Years ago I sailed with another old shellback who when he had a few pints of Guinness would always reminisce about two major incidents from his past. One was his fighting in the International Brigade at the defence of Madrid and the other concerned him working in Jack Sherrie's corner when the great shooter wrestled Man Mountain Dean. Spending my formative years around blokes like this...Well,it explains a lot I suppose.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Two more Luche Libres here when you've got a minute squire.

News that Mexican Masked Wrestling (Lucha Libre) is in town has concentrated the minds of Boris lackeys at City Hall, nervously looking over their shoulders and asking security to double check stationary cupboards etc. Why? Well, from El Sante to El Super Barrio, there is a long tradition in Mexico of masked grapplers being seen as on the side of the poor in the struggle against the rich and powerful. On top of the Ray Lewis debacle the last thing Boris needs is some 18 stone masked Johnny Foreigner stepping out from behind the filling cabinets and dangling him out of a window by the ankles. It's all a far cry from the old Big Daddy/Thatcher mutual admiration society. Is someone going to tell me that Bert Assirati was at Cable Street? I hope so.