14 NOVEMBER 1981, Page 26

Low life


Jeffrey Bernard

Po Manchester last week to see the

European Karate Championships and in particular to watch the captain of the Greek team and my personal bodyguard, Taki, give a dreadful Welshman a good kicking. Lovely stuff but a little spoiled bY typical British disorganisation. The first half of the championships Was held in the gymnasium of Salford University in the morning and afternoon, and the individual finals were fought out in the Palace Theatre in the evening. The mayhem was due To start at 10 a.m. and at 11 a.m. they stlitl hadn't finished putting up the seating. Or ficials wandered aimlessly around as thoug" they'd got concussion and I killed time inspecting the building and reading the dactyl fool notice boards. God almighty, the money spent on equipping undergraduates with recreational facilities such as theatres and, would you believe it, a room with space invader machines must be colossal: It is to be hoped these budding sociologist! appreciate just how soft and mollycoddle' a time they have of it. I found it extremelY, irritating but then I'm a sour, 49-year-oloe hack who was more interested in getting tb leg over than getting higher school certificate in 1948.

Right. Having got a little of that off my chest — the karate. My previous ideas about the business were completely wrong. I'd thought of it as something of an exercise or exhibition of fighting skills that didn't actually result in a lot of damage. How wrong. The tension didn't take long to build up among the competitors. There was a queue in the gents most of the time and Taki told me he'd relieved himself four times before the lunch interval, cleansing himself of all that self-indulgence at Annabel's and Aspinall's the week before. Everywhere, even in the corridors, men limbered up screaming, kicking and chipping imaginary opponents. I got a little bored with the hanging about and walked down to the local at midday for a snort. Half way through that, an ambulance passed by and the landlord of the pub shouted down to the cellar, 'They've started, Fred.' Indeed they had. The first thing I saw when I got back to the gym was the German ladies team of three giving an exhibition — they don't actually fight, the ladies — but watching them cut the air with their hard little hands, I reflected how kind and gentle my wives have been.

The Greeks drew the Welsh and beat them by one fight. Taki fought a draw. What was extraordinary for me was to watch a man fight in whose sitting room I had been reclining two days before, having a highly cultured chat. I must get him to teach me how to kick a man's legs from under him with a swipe of the foot. But I saw a lot more damage than that during the course of the afternoon. The doctor got very busy indeed. At least 20 times he was called on to the mat to peer with his little torch into eyes, up noses and down mouths. One man had his nose split open the entire length of it and another crawled around on his hands and knees at the end of his fight searching for three teeth which had been knocked out. I wondered why. Taki exPlained, 'It's the usual thing. Everyone Picks up their teeth. It's instinctive. I've seen footballers do it. You simply pick up What belongs to you.'

Less obvious damage to see, but just as Painful, were some of the back kicks to the body. Not just the rib breaking ones but the Utterly agonising kick to the liver which is a ghastly finale. Anyway, fans of High Life can be proud of Taki who, at the old age of 45, is an extremely sprightly, skilful and dangerous hack. From now on I shall call him Sir. Greece went on to beat Belgium and the Belgians looked really terrifying. Prehistoric psychopaths, and one of them had no back to his head rather like the late Guy of the London zoo. Never in one day have I seen so much sustained violence. In the end I felt so sick I had to pay a return visit to Tommy Ducks, the pub with 3,000 Pairs of women's knickers on the ceiling. I sPotted a few new entries and went to bed s, lightly amazed at how incredibly polite I had been all day. Indian mini-cab drivers? Mere piffle.