No Hugging, Some Learning

Joel Golby

I don’t mean to shatter any illusions here, but it does rather have to be said: I am the softest dude around. I’m rocking A-game wussiness, always. I am a big floppy fish of a man. Besides 6 weeks of judo lessons when I was ten [1] I am not trained in any of the ways of combat besides the ‘blind flail’ and the ‘wheezing on the floor winded tiger-stance.’ Je suis un pansy.

[1] my summer of judo was marked by my complete absence of an actual judo kit, seeing me instead rocking this completely uncool early-90s Reebok tracksuit with blue and orange bands on the arms for six weeks until my lessons were interrupted by a ‘probably life-threatening’ bout of pneumonia whereby I deliriously hallucinated an elephant (it was pretty cool) . I think I might have stuck at it if I had an actual kit but i. I grew up ‘in circumstances’ and ii. my parents probably completely sensed that I would jack it in after a handful of fortnights because: they knew me.

Despite this, I have been punched in my life. It happens. I think everyone I know is mildly surprised it hasn’t happened more. It normally happens after I ‘say something smart-arsed’ or ‘do too many sarcastics at a ham-faced man with fists the size of small dogs,’ or, in most cases, when I pull this one face, cheeks plumped, rapturous smile, hands in a vague approximation of obesity. The face says ‘you are chunky.’ It goes like this:

‘the artist about to get decked,’ joel golby, 2011

That is…I should stop pulling that face.

See, my Mambly knows precisely how much of a dick I can be, and so when I shot up to my now normal height of 6’2” – which happened between the ages of 17 and 18, and foreshadowed a good three years of me clunking my head into cabinet doors and falling over my oafish feet and slamming my gorilla-like arms into errant furniture [2] – she looked at me, worried. She did worried eyebrows. “When you’re walking home at night you are…careful, aren’t you?” she would say, sitting in her seat at the dining room table with at least one fag on the go and an enormous bowl of weak tea [3]. “WHY WOULDN’T I BE MUM UGH,” I would say, because I was 18. “ARE YOU STUPID UGH. FUCKSAKE. UGH.” She figured because I was 6’2” and quite visibly soft that I would make a trophy for the kind of short dudes who like kicking men in their faces as I walked home from my friend’s house after a late night of playing Sonic 2 emulators. I probably would, to be fair, but am yet to.

[2] and basically who in the fuck am I kidding I still do that

[3] I know you are reading this Mum and I am writing you exactly as classy as you fail to be

The first time I got punched in the face, when I was 11, it was by this damaged kid at our school called Jason. Jason was damaged because he was in foster care and had all this impotent rage drumming through him, bless, but basically not enough of it to legitimately intimidate anyone seeing as his foster family were just so nice, so he was just this kid with a pierced ear and black sweatshirts who was just mad as the dickens at nothing in particular and just nngh and rrr and thinking about it, actually, he probably just had a case of early-onset puberty. That was not my problem, though. My problem was that this guy was hogging the basketball. [4]

[4] This legitimately happened, by the way, although reading it back it does sound like the intro to the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

It was activity day, at my primary school, this day when I got punched, which is this like sunny day towards the end of the school year where everyone does circuits of the playgrounds doing ‘activities’ for a bit, like hopscotch or football or like obtuse little games where you throw those small triangular beanbags – the ones that you do not find anywhere but at a primary school, ran-soiled and fatigued – and you throw them, these bags, into a bucket, and it is pretty evident that at some point the brain trust of PE teachers who organised the day ‘ran out of sports.’

Anyway and so I hopped in front of Jason, nabbed the basketball, and although I would like to say I swooshed it through the net because that would be like the coolest steal in history, it actually bounced off the rim and hit him [Jason] in the face. He was pretty mad. He suddenly had an outlet for all that madness, which was ‘railing on me.’

So we fought, limply, for a minute or so, doing those anguished rrrgh! and anngrhg! noises that kids do in lieu of putting force behind a swing, and actually after the initial bewildered shock of being punched I inexplicably managed to flip-reverse the whole affair and it was me who was dragged off him, in the end, after the teacher in charge let me get a couple good suckers in there. It was pretty clear from the perfunctory dressing-down I got in the headmaster’s office later that they were secretly pretty chuffed that someone had actually punched this guy and in the end it was him who had to apologise sheepishly to me. I chalked that up as ‘a win.’ I thought I was King Piss. Cock of the walk. It was absolutely the last fight I ever won.

I pretty much carried my undefeated record through until the end of the second year of University, which was just a hoot and a carry-on all the way through [5], until some guy I lived with somewhat lost it with me seeing as I had spent the last 18 months or so mocking his Scottish accent. Well, hmm. I mean yes, I did that, but the reason he was so mondo TO’d with me was because I did the face (Ibid).

[5] ha! No, I’m lying. I am lying here. That was a lie. Within around 7 hours of moving into Halls a guy broke out an acoustic guitar and sat outside the Uni bar singing Eagle-Eye Cherry’s Save Tonight and I thought “No. This is not my place. This is not my kind of place.”

I was doing this face to punctuate my opinion that the lady he was so enamoured with as to spend the entire evening – and in fact the preceeding 8 months or so in some just unendurable will-they-won’t-they Ross and Rachel-type affair – plying with beers and gooey eyes was somewhat chunkier than his usual fare. Anyway and so, my point made, I hit the ground like a hodful of chubby bricks and then gently wept LIKE A COOL DUDE.

I went the next couple of years of my life resolutely unpunched apart from being forced into the occasional playfight headlock by some of my more emotionally stunted friends, which did nothing too disprove how uneffective I would be in a legitimate throw-down, even when armed with like a golf club this one time, and went about my way quite oblivious and peacefully until, you know how it is, I went to a nightclub and annoyed some ‘Northern girls.’ You know: big girls. Fat lasses. Ladies with nice personalities. I did this by doing the face, again, basically.

This face, the one I was doing, was not unprompted, and nor was it some spectacularly misguided attempt at seduction. It was because I was in the smoking area of the club, having a slurred chinwag with my headlock happy pal, Chris, when three ladies of gravity barged behind me and cooed over their chunky, dramatic friend. “Man,” I said to my friend, “what’s with these fat birds, dude?”

They: did not go for this.

“The fuckin’ what did you say?”

I mentioned they were Northern birds, yes? Because these birds were mad Northern. That is a direct quote.

“Man what the heck are you barging me for?”

They gesticulated to their friend, huge and wheezing.

“SHE’S HAVING A FUCKIN’ ASTHMA ATTACK.”

[at this point y/h/n might have intimated that she was not having an asthma attack at all, no, just that the strain of not having eaten a sausage roll for some hours had taken it’s toll on her personally]

[also that it wasn’t my damn fault she was too chunky to breathe and perhaps also suggesting that the smoking area of a club is not exactly the best place to gasp fitfully for air while looking directly at your equally sturdy friends to make exactly sure you were the centre of attention]

[I also did the face, again]

They were wearing some pretty chunky rings, these fat girls, so I did wake up with Lizzy Duke imprints on my face, because, even if a bird is three times the width and a hundred times the madness of you, you can’t especially punch them back. So I just kind of stood sarcastically sipping my Irn Bru and vodka [6] while they railed on me a little and until they stopped trying to jump into putting me in a headlock (the laws of physics were not on their side, for this – they kept rising off the ground on tiptoes and then just juddering back down with an audible “WHOOMPH”) and flailing just furiously at me until they got exhausted and instead threw drinks at my trousers to make it look like I’d done an incomprehensibly fatal orange shit.

[6] in the club I was in they have Irn Bru – or at least a cheap approximation – on tap and with a vodka it costs like 70p a unit so if you would like to have an opinion on how terrible that drink sounds like to drink go the hell ahead I had a wild time (besides the decking)

Pretty soon they were winding down, their longevity being that of a warm Greggs pasty, shouting such as “fucking…c-“ and “yuh….bast-…ard” through great lungfuls of air as they their fury petered and wobbled like a spinning top. The whole thing was over within about a minute. That was the last time I was legitimately punched. If they had stamina I might have died.

I don’t want to get all moral or anything – all Rudyard Kipling up ins – but I have always supposed the way to really win these tiny conflicts is just to, like, live an excellent life and not be a terrible person, because ultimately if you cannot figure out a way to make your point without balling your fingers around your thumb and making a fist then you’re are just basically a hulking, idiotic gorilla. And also to stop doing the face. I’ve learned to stop doing the face.

—September 9th, 2011

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