Blimey. That went quickly. There is an English language magazine published in Belgium, The Bulletin, that comes out every Thursday. I know when I’m very busy because I find myself picking up the new edition without having read the old one yet. It’s the same with the European Voice and the Economist; they pile up, mute testament to my, well, being busy.

This morning’s Directors’ meeting (my second) went well, I think. One of the points on the agenda was the development of a proper policy concerning personal printers. The statistics on the additional energy and paper consumption when too many officials have personal printers were clear. Moreover, there is a potential health risk involved with some printers in some circumstances (annoyingly, no more precise information is yet available). At the European Commission they have decided to try and limit personal printers to one per six officials. It’s what you might call a post-environment agenda point. Twenty years ago, the arguments would have been purely economic; if we limit the number of personal printers by X we will save Y. Obviously, savings remain an important aspect, but the most important consideration now is ecological/environmental – that and people’s well-being.

In the evening to my fortnightly writers’ group, always a cultural and social oasis as well as a complete change of scenery. We begin by reading out short exercises, then we launch into critiques of the two people who are ‘up’ (that is, have submitted work in progress). Being able to give and take criticism and get the most out of it is an important part of any writer’s learning process. I suspect I am better at the giving than the taking (surprise, surprise). In the recent past my exercises have consisted of short biographical pieces triggered by visual or aural stimuli. To read last night’s effort, click on ‘read the rest of this entry’.

Barked knuckles


I barked my knuckles whilst trying to repair a broken shutter. It didn’t look too bad, but the next day there were scabs and my knuckles were sore. This petty sight sent me back to the Salvo and the big fight between Jimmy McCann and Jack McGovern.

            Jimmy was a wide boy. He walked with a roll, chest thrust out and fists clenched. He had a loud voice and what my mother would have described as being a ‘common’ accent. There were frequent stories about him getting into trouble of various sorts. One, I recall, involved a drugs deal in the derelict cinema around the corner from the school. To us younger boys, it took courage just to set foot in the cinema – said to be haunted – let alone set about doing deals in there. And to dabble in drugs, in those days, was extraordinarily daring. Discovery meant instant expulsion. So Jimmy was bad but he wasn’t a bully, leaving us younger boys alone, and he was hard (meaning tough in an aggressive sort of way) but he wasn’t evil.

            McGovern, on the other hand, was an evil bully. Indeed, in retrospect, he was psychopathic. A policeman’s son, broad, muscular and tall for his years, he was inherently violent and sadistic and took great delight in bullying anybody younger or smaller or weaker than himself. He had a particular hatred for me and made my life hell from the age of six through till the age of sixteen; a veritable decade of fear.

            It was rare for McGovern to clash with boys of his own age. His evil aura probably acted as a major incentive, since you simply never knew what he might do (in a rugby match he once broke an opposing player’s arm as it stuck out of a scrum). Occasionally there would be skirmishes, but major conflicts were rare. Then, one day in the playground, on the ‘redgra’ (a red gravel pitch), a crowd gathered in time-honoured fashion as a ‘bundle’ (a fight) broke out. It was Jimmy and Jack. I’d guess ninety-nine per cent of the boys in that crowd were delighted to see Jack finally getting what was coming to him, since it was assumed Jimmy would win. The two stood their ground and traded punches for a few minutes, though neither made telling contact. Then Jimmy, avoiding a particularly vicious swipe, tripped backwards and lost his balance, and that was that. Buchanan pounced on him, using his body weight to pin him to the ground, then grabbed both Jimmy’s wrists and held them to the ground, knuckles downwards. Jimmy clearly wasn’t finished, but he simply couldn’t move.

            ‘Do you give up?’ McGovern growled.

            Jimmy struggled.

            ‘Do you give up?’ McGovern growled again.

            Jimmy bucked and humped but couldn’t throw off McGovern, who was by far the heavier of the two. Then Jack did something particularly sadistic. He started to rub Jimmy’s knuckles in the redgra. Jimmy still wouldn’t give up, but after several minutes of this rubbing motion his knuckles and fists were red raw and bleeding, and it was clear he wouldn’t be able to fight even if he managed to get back onto his feet.

            He stopped struggling. McGovern spat in his face, then got to his feet and swaggered away. Jimmy stood up – he clearly still had plenty of fight in him, but the fight was over, and with its end went the hopes, I am sure, of all the boys in that crowd. For weeks afterwards Jimmy wore masses of bandages around his knuckles. He still walked with a roll, with his chest thrust out but, just for a while, his fists remained unclenched.