DON BENTLEY sat at his desk, trying to piece together the events of the night before. He had no memory of this time and space that had been the previous evening. But something had gone on there. Something had happened, something momentous; so momentous it had stopped his colleagues in their tracks, and they were still talking about it after the event.
Colleagues were visiting his desk at the Star in Johannesburg, seeking him out in the sports department at the end of a long corridor past the newsroom. Some shook him by the hand and muttered words about courage and being brave, and being noble. A women from the newspaper’s library said heroism sprang to mind.
After a night of heavy drinking with his journalist colleagues Bentley usually lapsed into a state of depression, fueled by alcoholic remorse. The remorse and regret, as Bentley would often discover later, was not for an indiscretion actually committed, but one that could have been committed. The remorse had its roots in the unknown, of not being able to remember people and places in that crucial period of starting to drink and waking up the next morning.
Today had been no different. The thumping hangover, the dryness in the mouth and throat, the dread of going to work, of entering the office and perhaps being blamed for events that were beyond recall.
Bentley was fearing the worst. Did he insult anyone, did he fondle a breast, did he expose his buttocks? Such things had happened before.
Bentley could not even remember being in the Elizabeth Hotel over the road from the Star building, where he had spent the entire evening with his best friend and Star sports department colleague, Jon Swift. He only knew the venue because Swift had told him so when he had reached the office and Swift had inquired about Bentley’s hangover. Swift had one himself, describing is sorry state as “bubblearse”. Although an English-speaking South African, Swift spoke fluent Afrikaans and liked to use words from the language of the Afrikaner when English ones were not descriptive enough of condition or mood.
“Bubblearse” was Afrikaans for hangover, and it was the first Afrikaans word Bentley had learned on his arrival in South Africa, which spoke volumes of his relationship with his friend “Swiftie”
“Christ, Don, I got to spend all day at the cricket,” Swiftie had said when he entered the office, his eyes bloodshot and raw from beer and whisky fumes and cigarette smoke, resulting from an evening spent in the crowded Tavern bar of the Elizabeth Hotel.
“But what a fokin’ night, and you? You’re a hero and, I tell you, there’ll be a week’s free drinking over the road, if you can handle it.”
“Don’t talk booze, Swiftie,” said Bentley, as someone else approached to shake him by the hand. Bentley suddenly felt violently ill, and was in danger of throwing up over the next person to seek him out.
“Swiftie,” Bentley started, looking about him to make sure no one else was about. He wanted desperately to know what had gone on over at the Elizabeth Hotel, the cause for celebration that had made Bentley a hero overnight.
“But Swiftie,” he started again.
“Can’t stop, Don, got to get to the cricket match, Catch you later,” said Jon Swift, picking up a notebook and pen from his desk and dashing out of the door.
Bentley took himself off to the men’s lavatory, to make himself sick in the hope that retching might be the cure for the thumping head and the erupting volcano he felt in the stomach. He sat down on a lavatory seat in a cubicle and locked the door. He needed a sanctuary, some peace and quiet from the adulation, the handshakes that had descended on him. He could hear people coming and going to the urinal beyond the cubicle. Perhaps there would be conversation between men stood there about him, some clue in their conservation. Bentley strained to hear, but it appeared only solitary souls were coming and going and all he could hear was whistling, whistling that bounced around his brain, ringing in time with the thumping percussion of his bubblearse.
“Got to get out of here,” Bentley said to himself, the claustrophobia of the cubicle making his condition worse. He barged into the corridor beyond the lavatory, making for the newspaper’s canteen where he would buy a bottle of mineral water.
“You’re so brave,” a secretary shouted as he passed. “Suicidal,” shouted someone else, and Bentley froze in his stride. The word “suicidal” had thrown in another element to the puzzle and mystery surrounding the night before .
Bentley returned to the sports department, and started work on a pile of rewrites the sports editor had tossed at him, contributors’ copy of sporting events the previous day that always needed knocking into shape. The sports editor, Buller Hildebrand, had stood at the edge of Bentley’s desk in silence when the young sports reporter had arrived for work. He had given Bentley a knowing nod of the head, with a wry smile, but what did this all mean? Bentley was no nearer to the truth and as the morning wore on, and the people wanting to shake Bentley by the hand did not dry up, Bentley became too embarrassed, and frightened, to ask.
Mid morning the sports editor approached Bentley’s desk, and said tersely: “Editor wants to see you. Put on your jacket, be quick, he’s squeezing you in between the foreign and the leader writers’ conference.”
Bentley was shown into the editor’s expansive, wood-panelled office by the secretary who had described him as “brave” half an hour earlier. The editor had stripped to shirtsleeves for a busy day at his desk. The sleeves were rolled up to the elbows, in neat folds that indicated the editor, Jon Jordi, had served in the military in World War II, and knew a thing or two about neatness of mind and body and attire, and rolled up shirts, and discipline and behaving with decorum when on public view. He had in fact been an officer in the South African Navy.
Bentley shifted nervously in his seat. Had in fact some indiscretion been committed during the night before that no one had spelled out to him? Bentley’s head was now spinning, as though spinning out of control. He had been in the editor’s office only once before, when he first joined the newspaper. Why now? Panic was overtaking him.
“Coffee?” the editor asked brusquely. Bentley quickly came back to his senses, the headache and the sense of panic subsiding. Bentley nodded, resisting an urge to rise from his seat and run.
“How do you have it?”
“White with one sugar please,” Bentley said nervously, fighting to get the words out of a parched-dry mouth. The order was barked down the phone and within minutes the secretary had come into the editor’s office with a tray for Bentley.
“Well, I must say,” the editor started. “Noble of you, Bentley, noble. And, of course, we’ll meet all medical expenses.”
Bentley remained silent. The sip of the coffee, the kick-start to the brain, told him that this was not part of some wild dream. This was for real. He was sitting in the editor’s office and the editor had said the company would meet all medical expenses. But for what?
Bentley might have been in mild panic but he was determined to keep his cool. He would not ask what this was all about. With luck he would glean it. That’s what he would do, glean it, and soft-shoe shuffle, wing it, no, fly by his pants. No, what was he thinking ....
Editor Jordi then went into a long lecture about the importance of a charity launched by Star earlier in the year called Teach that was designed to improve the quality of African education in the townships surrounding Johannesburg.
“You know Bentley the importance we attach to Teach. We started it, we promote it, it gives everyone unhappy about black education standards, inequality between black and white in our nation, the chance to do something about it. To donate. To get out there. Some people don’t even know what Teach stands for. Obviously you know Bentley and more.
Editor Jordi then spelled out each word. “Teach Every African Child. And that’s what we’ll do, despite the government. Our readers might not be able to change things with their vote, but their own actions everyone can make a difference. You know what I mean, Bentley?”
Bentley said “Yes, Mr Jordi,” looking down at the carpet and not looking into Jordi’s face.
“No need to be modest Bentley,” said Jordi. “No need to be modest at all. Now, we’ll get you some training. As much time as you like. And, as I said, medical bills, if necessary of course, are down to us.
“Well that will be all, Bentley. Paper to get out you know.”
As Bentley left the editor’s office he caught a glimpse of the editor’s secretary, blowing him a kiss.
The sports editor, Hildebrand, was a man of few words and he was not going to break the habit this day. Bentley was hoping on his return from the editor’s office that he might say something to give him a clue to what this was all about, but all Bentley got was a wry smile. A little later Bentley could hear the sports editor chuckling in his office.
Bentley had had all morning to try to reconstruct the events of the night before, but without success. He desperately needed Swift to fill in the details. As luck would have it Swift’s cricket match, Transvaal against Natal, was being played out of town, in Pretoria. Because Pretoria was an hour’s drive from Johannesburg, it would mean that Swiftie would not be returning to well after play had finished, late afternoon or early evening if he had interviews to conduct. Could Bentley wait that long to discover the events of the night before? It would be an agonising wait, with agonising questions to be answered. What was all this about training, and having time off?
Bentley buried his head in his work, but found it difficult to concentrate. He let the contributors’ sporting clichés flow, too preoccupied to tidy them up. His mind kept wandering to what had gone on the night before, and its obvious repercussions. There was a glimmer of hope, however, a path that might lead from the route of depression and anxiety that Bentley was following; a light at the end of the tunnel. The Star had started another campaign to establish a tourist walking trail along the entire length of the country. The trail started in the northern Transvaal where it bordered Rhodesia and then wended its way down the country to Cape Town in the south, mainly following mountain ranges in the east of the country. Reporters on the Star had been invited to put their names down to do various legs of the proposed trail, following a series of maps that were being published each week in the Star so readers could try sections of the walk themselves. Both the reporters and the readers were being invited to accept sponsorship for their walk, on behalf of Teach
The sports journalists had not been invited to take part up until now, because it was an initiative of the newsroom, but Bentley reasoned that perhaps the doors had been thrown open to other departments. Bentley had also written what he thought was a rather fine account of a recent walking holiday in elephant country on the South Africa-Botswana border to the west of the country and perhaps that was the reason for his new status in the company. The feature, however, had been published three weeks’ previously and he now wondered why it should have generated so much interest in the past day.
“The editor must have come late to it,” Bentley said to himself again, desperately grasping for answers and he decided to leave it at that, at least until Swiftie arrived. Swiftie would fill him in on what had gone on the night before, without Bentley suffering the humiliation of confessing to anyone else that he could not remember a thing, after accepting all this hero-worship and congratulations for a whole day. Swiftie could be trusted.
Bentley sat at his desk, quietly going through the rewrites that seemed never to end. He worked more slowly than usual, a little too slowly because the deadline was approaching quickly for the first edition of the evening newspaper, for the country districts. Much of the rewrites concerned country sports teams, little leagues of basketball, in Villiers, Ventersdorp and Vereeniging, junior leagues of cricket in Potchefstroom, Potgietersrust and Piet Retief.
By late morning, Bentley felt a little better. The pounding in his head was almost gone and, before attempting the last of the rewrites, he rose slowly from his desk and walked to the office window, not to get fresh air but to compose his thoughts before tackling a report on bowls, a sport he knew little about. The windows of the sports office were never opened because they overlooked the railway yards and the abattoir and fruit and vegetable market to the north-west of the city, whereas the front of the Star building containing the newsroom and the editor’s office looked over the city centre to the east, with its gleaming glass skyscrapers and elegant Victorian granite buildings built with mining money.
Bentley preferred the western view, though. This was a window on a working city without gloss and pretence. A side street alongside the Star building led into an African quarter of town, dissected by the appropriately named Diagonal Street that, among other things, was lined with African “muti” ( tribal medicine) shops and record emporiums that broadcast township jazz out onto the busy street.
Diagonal Street ended at the abattoir and then the railway yards serving it, with steam engines shutting lines of trucks, bringing moaning and mewing and mooing cattle to their fate in the slaughter years; potatoes from the platteland farms for the table that night; and flowers for the flower stalls on the main streets of the eastern end of the city. The closed windows not only shut out the jazz, the clanking of railway wagons and the whistle of steam engines; the tightly shut windows also blocked the smell from the abattoir that on some days, when the wind blew from the north, could be overpowering, an assault to the nostrils that sent office workers scurrying back to their air-condition and air-filtered offices.
As he looked back along the side street towards the city centre, Bentley could see two figures on one of the balconies of the Elizabeth Hotel.
The hotel was one of those seedy establishments you always find on the fringe of city centres, providing a cheap overnight stay for travelling salesman and perhaps travelling journalists whose expense accounts did not quite stretch to three or four stars, let alone five. The Elizabeth Hotel was listed as a two-star establishment and the joke in the office, Swiftie’s joke, was that it was actually a one-star hotel, you could see the star through the ceiling of your room.
The “Liz” provided three bars for the Star journalists to drink in, just a short hop over the road from the office. No one worried about decor or ambiance. The beer was cold, the spirits cheap and it was a convenient meeting place for not just the Star journalists but the other journalist “hacks” from about town. The hotel owners recognised that their main business was providing drink and sustenance to journalists and so the accommodation part was provided rather begrudgingly but at an impossibly cheap rate. The hope was that it would be mainly journalists, and their contacts, who stayed there and they would spend big at the bars.
Bentley strained to see who might be out on the balcony of one of the hotel’s upstairs rooms at mid-morning, a balcony looking directly north-west and so over the abattoir. Approaching noon, stench was at its worst, when the air was still in summer and had not been disturbed by the daily afternoon thunder storm and downpour that arrived always on time, at 4pm. Bentely reasoned the guests must be out-of-towners, foreigners, recruits to the gold mines who did not know yet about the parts of the city whose air you dare not breathe during the day.
Bentley could see bare flesh, prostrate bodies behind the rusted and dirty bars of the railings surrounding the balcony. It was clear the hotel guests were sunbathing and, as Bentley turned to return to his desk, one of the figures lifted his body to reach for a beer bottle on a table. Bentley could now see clearly it was a wrestler who had arrived in town a month previously, proudly trumpeted by the local wrestling promoter Bull Heffer.
Something at that moment stirred in Bentley’s memory. The sight of the wrestler held a link to the night before.
It must have been all the cricket reports he had done that morning, but Bentley was locked in cricket metaphor mode. He likened his mental recall to a long arm stretching to retrieve a cricket ball from tangled and thick matted grass at the edge of a cricket pitch. But Bentley could not quite grasp the ball from the field of consciousness and memory. Shiny in red leather, the ball’s seams white and stitched, it cried out to be found, cried out to be rescued from his dank, tangled lost world where it had been trapped. If Bentley’s memory could find that ball, and grab it, it would solve the mystery of the night before and put his mind at rest.
Was the wrestler, one of two touring together, somehow a part of that evening? Did the two men sun-bathing under a hazy Johannesburg sun - its sharp rays blunted by the dust from the mines and the fumes from the abattoir and the steam engines shunting in the yards - hold the secret of what had gone on the night before. Swiftie would know.
Bentley, still looking out of the window, caught sight of Buller Hildebrand eyeing him through the glass panels of the sports editor’s office.
“Haven’t you got work to do?” Hildebrand shouted out. “Foking wrestlers, this whole town is obsessed with foking wrestlers, as if that is sport?”
Hildebrand, a rugby man who had once played for Western Province in the national Currie Cup competition, each year fought a battle to keep wrestling out of the sports pages, a battle that each year he lost. Wrestling, Hildebrand would say, was entertainment and he and his staff dealt in sport. The argument over the years had become tedious and boring for the staff. Bentley, however, was new to the department and this was his first year exposed to the politics and foibles of the sports section.
Hildebrand might tolerate jukskei, a sport played among the Afrikaner community that involved throwing horseshoe-like weights at a stake to determine which player could get the closest, but he could not tolerate wrestling. He might have had a point. Bentley knew from experience that wrestling bouts were fixed in that the local champion was always expected to win, if against the odds, even if after losing preliminary bouts to build public interest, and build gate receipts for the promoters.
Although each year Hildebrand was overruled by the editor about the merits of covering wrestling on the sports pages, his staff were expected to show a reluctance to interview and photograph wrestlers, and attend the bouts. The staff loved wrestling, however. It proved a counterpoint to how sport was usually regarded in South Africa. Sport was like a religion, especially rugby union and cricket. Sport in South Africa was a serious business in which laughter and eccentricity had no part to play.
The South African champion, Jan Watkins, was an Afrikaner, a huge man who wore sensible black trunks as if to broadcast his was a no-nonsense approach to this ancient, noble sport that in more recent times had been invaded by the showmen. He was a sportsman in the South African tradition.
Did Jan Watkins, bending to enter the ring as the cheers rang out from his fans, know that he was now in the business of showbusiness. Did he know that bouts were increasingly fixed by the promoters? The sports reporters of the Star who seized upon their free tickets from Bull Heffer laughed at Watkins’ apparent innocence and naiveté, his belief that everything was above board and his victories were honest ones. No one, though, was prepared to tell this to the huge heavyweight who was in the habit of crushing the skulls of assorted touring Britons with his nutcracker thighs.
The members of the Star’s sports department always looked forward to the visit of an odd assortment of wrestlers who trooped into their office each year, before making their way to the photographic department for their promotional shots. For these pictures, the wrestlers were taken to various locations to pose against the statues of gold miners that dotted the city, with a backdrop of mine dumps of fine sand.
Usually English wrestlers arrived each year with names like the “Furness Funeral Director,” the “Tonbridge Torturer” , the “Solihull Scorcerer” or the “Crewe Cruncher”, but this year had been unusual because the touring wrestler had been not an Englishman, but a Scot called Jock Cameron, the “Tartan Terror”. It was the Tartan Terror that Bentley had seen on the Elizabeth Hotel balcony along with another wrestler brought out to South Africa by Bull Heffer, this one of the typical English stock, who went by the name of the “Mad Miner”.
Bentley could remember meeting the wrestlers in one of the hotel’s bars the previous evening, before his memory of the night had gone blank. The Tartan Terror and the Mad Miner had just returned from a side-tour of Rhodesia, travelling up and down to the capital, Salisbury, and Rhodesia’s second city, Bulawayo, in an old Volkswagon supplied by the promoter. Swiftie and Bentley had wondered how such large men, along with a trainer supplied for the trip, could have fitted into such a small car, but they survived the five-day return journey. It had been quite an adventure, the Volkswagon narrowly missing a collision with an elephant somewhere north of Bulawayo. This had kept the wrestlers talking for days, helping to relieve the tedium of what had been about 40 hours spent in the car during the trip.
The wrestlers were celebrating their return. They had been plied with cheap Rhodesian beer for their entire trip and now they were looking to drink something different. What did South Africans drink when they were not throwing down Castle or Lion lager, they inquired of Swiftie. Bentley hoped Swiftie would mention cane spirit, a potent drink born of the sugarcane fields of Natal: the only alcohol that had ever made Bentley aggressive. If the wrestlers started drinking cane spirit with Swiftie, Bentley would be expected to join in.
Bentley now had a vague recollection of the choice of drink going that way. The rest remained a blank.
As wrestlers go, the Tartan Terror did quite live up to his name outside the ring. He was friendly enough but one always felt that it was best to stay on his friendly side. He explained that he had been a railways booking office clerk before a railway guard had pointed out that he could make a better living in the ring with his fine physique and his skill at amateur wrestling, for which he had won the amateur heavyweight championship in his native Glasgow.
It was Swiftie who had pointed out, in a bout with the sports editor about the merits of wrestling which he was bound to lose, that to be crowned a wrestling champion in the city of Glasgow, a city with a reputation as Europe’s most violent, was no mean achievement. All that from being a ticket office clerk. Swiftie had been writing for weeks that it was clear it was better not to punch the Tartan Terror’s ticket, and the Tartan Terror had had a ticket to ride to bigger things.
As Swiftie pointed out to his sports editor, determined to score points if not win, the Tartan Terror might appear a gentle giant but underneath there was a man of steel and, quite possibly because of the environment of Glasgow and the toughness of its people, the sport editor Mr Hildebrand might do well to keep his opinions about wrestling to himself while the wrestlers were in town and over at the Liz .
When he had first arrived in Johannesburg, the Tartan Terror turned up at the Star wearing his main props, a kilt and a sporran decorated with silver artwork , which on this occasion held the key to his room at the Elizabeth Hotel. For the first time, as an indication of growing interest in the sport, two wrestlers were touring South Africa. The second, “The Mad Miner”, was in reality Bob Minter from Leeds and before entering the ring he could be seen in a miner’s helmet with light affixed to it, something the promoter Bull Heffer thought would go down very well in the mining city of Johannesburg.
It was clear from his appearance that Bob Minter was not quite the class act that the Tartan Terror represented. Mr Minter carried a pronounced beer gut and made no secret of the fact that he was not a full-time wrestler like his Scottish colleague. Out of the wrestling season in Britain, Bob Minter found employment as a bouncer at some of the tougher working men’s clubs in his native North Yorkshire.
“Aye, lad, I can fight with our without broken bottles,” he said one night when someone in the Tavern bar at the Elizabeth Hotel had inquired of his off-season employment.
Those brave enough to inquire about the integrity and honesty of wrestling, usually after a few too many drinks, would be met with a silent, angry stare. Then the Mad Miner would push back the hair from his forehead and reveal a line of fine, pencil-thin scars, the result of not fights in bars and clubs, but the scars of battle in the wrestling ring.
The Tartan Terror, however, was not into showing scars or other injuries. He would maintain a silence when the Mad Miner was provoked into defending his craft, perhaps in the knowledge that the Mad Miner carried a razor blade among his boxing gear of black boots, trunks and miner’s helmet with light. It was slipped to the person acting as his trainer before the fight and then slipped to the Mad Miner when he was in his corner between rounds. Holding a towel to his head with one hand, the Mad Miner would swiftly but lightly slash his forehead with the other, so blood flowed with his sweat when the bell sounded and he took the centre of the ring again.
The Tartan Terror was not above his own trickery, however. He would say gamesmanship went with, if not the turf, the canvas of his sport, although the Scotsman would never reveal any of his own tricks of the trade. Swiftie and Bentley assumed these involved rehearsing certain moves with his opponent before the fight, or at least uttering a code word for certain manoeuvres from which one or the other would merge victorious in a specific round. There were doubts, however, that anyone in or outside the ring would have the courage to mention such a secret strategy to Jan Watkins.
The Tartan Terror’s bending of the rules was not confined to the ring. He also enjoyed cheating when it came to the promoters and managers. He constantly devised ways to trick them into giving him more expenses, or wages, than he had been forced to negotiate.
The Tartan Terror, as an example, always fought as a heavyweight which gave him a bigger pay packet even if sometimes he struggled to make the 100 kilogram weight for the division. The crowds demanded to see heavyweights and each country the Tartan Terror toured had a leading heavyweight who was not only at the top of the pecking order of the wrestlers in his own country but was billed as the “world champion”.
South African was no different. Its own global champion, Jan Watkins, weighted in at a cool 122 kilograms and not only carried this massive weight for a sportsman into the ring but also the championship belts of the Transvaal and the Suid-Afrikan Republic, together with the one representing the world
The Tartan Terror was making his fifth trip to South Africa. He boasted now that when he had first been recruited to tour the country in the mid 1960s he had not quite made the weight to be considered a genuine heavyweight, certainly not in the class of Jan Watkins.
The Tartan Terror, desperately needing the fights at the time to stave off having to go back to the railways during the off season, had exaggerated his weight, adding an extra 10 kilograms to take him well over the 100 kilogram mark. When the wrestler had arrived at Jan Smuts Airport in Johannesburg, Bull Heffer had immediately noticed that he was not anything near the mark of Jan Watkins.
“I’ve just had a bit of food poisoning after a tour of Sri Lanka,” he had lied. “I’m well down but I’ll put it on in weeks.”
Heffer’s concern was not just about what impact this lean if mean man would have on audiences. Heffer had been accused in the past of bringing wrestlers to South Africa who had not lived up to their reputations and was under investigation by the South African Wrestling Board which, in the early 1970s, still carried the notion that wrestling was a legitimate sport, with legitimate champions.
The members of the wrestling board were clearly unaware that the sport had been overtaken by the times. Wrestling had become more entertainment than sport, as the Star sports editor suspected, fueled by the medium of television that had yet to come to South Africa.
Heffer, and especially The Terror, was shocked to learn as soon as they had reached the Elizabeth Hotel that the visiting wrestler would be required to fight a bout with not one but three wrestlers, to establish his credentials as a bona fide wrestler. And what’s more, before the bouts the members of the board would weigh him to make sure that he was not only a genuine wrestler, but a genuine heavyweight.
The Tartan Terror, after a lengthy 18-hour fight to South African which had involved first traveling to Brussels from Glasgow to catch a flight with a budget airline based there, was already exhausted, an exhaustion compounded by the fact that he had consumed a large amount of his duty-free Scotch whisky to help relieve the boredom of the flight.
After being driving to a local gym for the weigh-in, the Tartan Terror was shown into an adjoining room to change. On the wall was a photograph of Jan Watkins, the first the Tartan Terror had seen of him. It showed the full extent of his size. The Tartan Terror stripped off his shirt and compared his physique to Watkin’s. There was no doubt the Tartan Terror had the better one, but he certainly lacked something in bulk and height. His ruse would be exposed.
It was then that The Terror noticed a spare set of scales like the one he would soon be standing on in the weighing room. They were of ancient manufacture, of the kind becoming rapidly out of date in the electronic age, with weights that had to be affixed to a bar at the top of the scales to obtain a reading.
The removable weights were stored on the weighing machine itself and the Tartan Terror grabbed several handfuls. He placed three or four down his wrestling boots, making sure the boots remained unlaced, giving the appearance he had hurriedly pulled them on just for the weigh-in. He was wearing his sporran and kilt for effect and immediately placed two more weights in his sporran pouch. He realised he had only put about five kilograms in his boots and sporran and this would not be enough to pump up his weight to well above the heavyweight limit. He then placed another three weights down his trunks. Although he could see in the mirror this created a massive bulge, he was confident this would be hidden by the looseness of his kilt.
When The Terror was called into the weighing room, he was careful to move slowly and deliberately, for fear of dislodging the weights so they fell at his feet. The panel from the board thought it was all part of his routine, the slow walk to the ring in the manner of Western star John Wayne. He slowly stepped onto the scales and weights were added to balance it out. The arrow of the measure settled at 109kg.
“See,” shouted Bull Heffer to the panel, hiding the relief in his voice with bluster, “I told you he’d make the weight. He’s just got such a fine body if disguises how heavy he actually is. Bulk is fat, that’s what they say. This boy is all muscle which is heavier that fat.”
The board nodded in agreement.
The Tartan Terror, dismissed from the scales, slowly and deliberately made his way back to the outer room.
“But where you off to, you’ve got a fight yet,” one of the board members shouted, as The Terror vanished into the room, closing the door behind him.
“I’ve got to take off my kilt and sporran, and lock them away,” The Terror called out from behind the door. “Don’t want them nicked. You don’t know how many people have made off with my sporran.”
The Tartan Terror was angry about having to fight. He was tired and in need of a beer , a soak in a bath and sleep. But he went to it, his professionalism demanded it. The three wrestlers were not without skill but no match for The Terror.
“I was not champion of Glasgow for nothing,” he shouted out as he seized the first of the wrestlers in an arm lock. He made short work of all three South African opponents, giving one a thick lip and a bloody nose, such was his mood.
“I’ll meet up with you again.,” shouted the wrestler with the bloody nose after the fight.
“You and whose army, ” shouted the Tartan Terror back and the press invited to the trial bouts hurriedly scribbled the quotes in their notebooks as Bull Heffer penciled in the belligerent young wrestler for a bout with the Tartan Terror, part of the build-up to the eventual meeting with the South African champion.
In the car on the way back to the Elizabeth Hotel, Bull Heffer carried a puzzled, bewildered expression.
“I could have sworn you’d came in under the weight when I saw you at the airport. Well under. And you said so yourself, food poisoning and all. From where was it? Some place in India?”
“Sri Lanka,” said the Tartan Terror.
“Yeah, that place in India,” Bull Heffer said again. “Just shows you how much muscle weighs.”
The Tartan Terror remained silent, he just wanted a beer and bed.
“And another thing,” said Bull Heffer. “I’ve always wondered what yous Scotsmen wear under your kilt. And know I know….”
It had been a long, drawn-out day in the Star sports department. Bentley had stayed at his desk. He usually went to the Elizabeth Hotel for a beer at lunch time but it would be full of Star staffers, all wanting to congratulate him on his thing that would not speak its name or cause.
A day of rewrites, of looking across to the freight yards, watching the steam engines shunting back and fourth, the Zulu abattoir workers making their way to work for the night shift. The sports editor, and the other sports staff, had left the office long ago, and Bentley sat at his desk waiting for Swiftie to return from his cricket match. They had arranged to meet at the office before going for a beer and Bentley would suggest they go somewhere else besides the Liz for a drink, maybe the pub of the rival Rand Daily Mail where the sports staff of the two newspapers gathered some nights.
Bentley was about to give up on Swiftie, before he finally came marching into the office.
“Foking great day at the cricket, 200 odd runs, seven wickets, all action,” he said enthusiastically, the remnants of his bubblearse long gone.
Bentley already knew of the details because he had read Jon Swift’s copy from the day’s play as it came in. It was now in the later editions of the newspaper.
“Just got to do a quick wrap for the first editions tomorrow. Get over the pub Bentley and get ’em in.’’
Bentley remained at his desk.
“Get ’em in Bentley,” Swift said again, putting paper into this typewriter.
”Big Jon. Got something to ask. Don’t laugh but apparently I’m a hero. Every fucker says so, even the editor.’’
“But you are Bentley, you are.” Swiftie had started typing.
“But Swiftie, hero for what? What did I do?”
“What did you do? Foking nothing, but it’s what you’re going to do.”
“And what’s what?”
“What’s what? Silly foker. You know. Over at the pub last night, with the wrestlers. You’ve volunteered to fight the Tartan Terror, but calling him the Tartan Poofter was taking it a bit far. But he’s up for it now. At the Town Hall. And all the profits are going to Teach…”
Don Knowler A story of journalism … once!
Number 30 in a series of short stories by Don Knowler on his journalistic life and observations told through imaginary newspaper The Chronicle. He explores not only journalism but what Knowler terms the sacred covenant hacks have with their readers to put truth above all else, even if it means leaving the comfort of the bar to do so … His musings appear regularly grouped under the Category Don Knowler