1 OCTOBER 1983, Page 30

High life

Punch drunk


In Hemingway's Snows of Kilimanjaro Harry is a two-fisted, brawling, hard- drinking writer dying of gangrene some- where in the Kenyan bush. His rich wife pampers him while he flashes back, remembering the ghosts of the past, and how he destroyed his talent by not us- ing it, by drinking so much that he blunted the edge of his perceptions, by laziness, sloth and snobbery. Death comes peaceful- ly, anti-climactically.

I've read the Snows more times than should have, because by now Harry is an obsession. The line I like the best is when he's flashing back to Constantinople — a place I know well — and thinks of the whoring he had done having quarrelled with his lost love. 'It had failed to kill his loneliness, but only made it worse . . he had never been able to kill it.' He then goes on about how he would mistake someone else for her and go all faint inside and follow her; well, you know the rest. The whoring didn't help, nor did the drinking, but the gangrene finally brought relief.

It's the kind of stuff the English hate. Too sentimental and explicit. CornY almost. Well, I'm not English and I love it. Who wants to walk around like Harold Nicolson, anyway? Give me that pain in the gut every day of the week. And — back to Kilimanjaro — I like the fight Harry has with a British gunner outside a Constan- tinople dive over an Armenian slut. He hits him hard with two rights but the gunner keeps coming, and then Harry knows he's in for a good one. And all the time he fighting he's thinking about the one who left him back in Paris. Great stuff, none of that Brideshead rubbish with teddy bears and words like jejune.

And the symbolism, ah, the symbolism• Who needs Cyril Connolly to tell him about enemies of talent. Hemingway gives you the rich wife as killer of the gift. Papa never took women very seriously, and perhaps this is why he never wrote corny stuff about them. I guess he was lucky. I'd hate to think how much more I'd love him if he wrote about love the way he wrote about grace under pressure. Which reminds me. I

haven't been very graceful recently. Nor did I fight a gunner. Just a yob. Or were there

two of them? My mind was elsewhere so I don't remember. Temporary loss of memory is a boxer's occupational disease. Loss of memory or not, I should not have re-read about Harry last weekend. I was

recovering from my bruises and then I could suddenly smell the roasted peanuts mingling headily with the kebab and fish

that. I once smelled when in Constantinople,

and thought of the pain in the stomach one always feels before going into a ring to fight, and that I've had that pain for far too long and was likely to have it longer. So I lay around feeling rather like a fool, evok- ing memories of places and girls that I'd been happy at and with, but for some strange reason the pain only got worse. But not to worry. Hemingway liked to use the boxing metaphor the way Jeffrey Bernard does pubs. Often and with reverence. I will too. Let's face it, it's no big deal, just a knockout when 1 walked into a wild right while leading on all three cards, however small the lead. What surprises me is that after more than 1,000 fights I still can get tagged like an amateur. When I got hit the first time l

should have stayed down, cleared my head and come up and got on my bicycle, as they

say, until the round was over. But I over- reacted, started swinging wildly, and went down for the count. I. was', telling, my, story to a friend last Sunday, an 18-year-old landowner-turned-

disc-jockey for Gibsons, Johnson Somerset.

He and I were the only people left in London, everybody else having gone to Dorset' for a t convention. Johnson might know nothing about boxing, but for some extraordinary reason he understands about

women. 'You should have stayed down for a while, and then back-pedalled,' he told me. I wanted to know if he was a disc-

Jockey or a marriage counsellor. `Don't try and have a rematch right away,' he then said. 'Take a holiday and maybe try it again later.' Well, Mr Somerset might be right, but I'm the boxer. I don't want a rematch. In fact I think it's about time to quit the ring once and for all. I was getting a bit punch drunk anyway.