JUST ANOTHER SATURDAY NIGHT: Fight or flight, tough thugs and tough love

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JUST ANOTHER SATURDAY NIGHT: Fight or flight, tough thugs and tough love

I never saw it coming, but I knew where it came from.

The guy was to my right and just in my peripheral vision, so all I saw was a sudden blur as he spun a roundhouse punch right into my bread-basket.

As the breathe blew out of me and I doubled over he brought a heavy work boot full force into my face. I fell backwards over a small wall of sharp volcanic rock and onto the grass.

The blood from my shattered nose filled my eyes and mouth and I began to choke on it because I couldn't get my breath from the punch.

And as I lay there I remember thinking, “this is ridiculous, Elton John's Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting isn't coming out for another five years so . . . ?”

Actually I didn't think that at all.

I lay there coughing up lumps of blood but was aware that if I got up this thug looking down at me would hit me again, so I dramatically wheezed and gasped, “can't breathe. Help, can't breathe”.

The thug and his mate looked worried and after a couple of second thoughts, took off down the road the city.

I lay there bleeding and breathing through the pain in my nose. But the night wasn't over yet.

That Saturday evening had begun much like any other: a few us were going to a dance at a church hall on Dominion Rd to maybe see a band and meet girls.

It was 1968 and at that time Auckland bands – some well-known, others just fine local upstarts, my favourite being Lika Street Choir who did a great version of Gloria – would play in church and suburban halls.

Tickets would be sold at schools in the week before (10/- maybe) and the surprising thing was the lack of security at the events, often just a couple of older folk from the church checking for obvious drunkenness and in bags for booze.

There's a little guesswork and memory trawling going on here but there were five of us: Barry and Bryan certainly, and maybe Neil and Bruce as well as me. We were packed in Neil's car.

But at the Dominion Rd church we were eyeballed by some big Tongan guys who seemed spoiling for some action, so we bailed fast and decided to go into town to the 1480 Village (where bands like Larry's Rebels played).

We parked on Bowen Avenue beside Albert Park.

Neil and Barry got out from the front and we three others must have taken our time because when we were on the dark street Barry and Neil were at the front of the car talking to two tough longhair guys who were leaning against the back of the car in front.

They looked as menacing as the Tongans.

I can't remember what passed for conversation but at one point it was clear these guys were determined to fight.

“If you fight us we can be friends,” said one of them.

I remember how stupid and strange this seemed. But also telegraphing the inevitable.

Then suddenly Barry leapt forward and hammered into the one who had just spoken and because Thug One was on the back-foot they fought down the pavement. At that point Bryan, Neil and Bruce took off up the road chased by Thug Two.

This all happened in seconds, I looked behind and saw Thug Two in pursuit. I moved towards Barry and Thug One bashing around on the footpath but before I could do anything – and what to do anyway, I'd never been in a fight outside of a rugby paddock – some money spilled from one of the pugilists' pockets.

At the same time I was vaguely aware that Thug Two had returned and -- this is inexplicable and stupid -- I said, “your mate's dropped his money”.

Then there was a flurry of movement, the roundhouse to my stomach, the boot flat in my face, blood, wheezing, panic on the part of the Thugs, flight . . .

Barry helped me up and I got my breath back, I think he'd had a tooth chipped. My jaw ached and my face was numb. We stood there breathless and I remember thinking if I'd fallen slightly differently those volcanic rocks would have gone through the back of my head.

I recall that Neil and Bruce came back but said Bryan had taken off.

And so we decided to go the club.

Of course we would.

We stopped at a toilet and I washed my face – there was no mirror so I had no idea what I looked like – and we went to the 1480 Village in Durham Lane.

We hung around, smoked a bit (Barry never did, to his credit) and chatted with a couple of girls. They said we'd never get in with me looking like I did, and it was then I realised my shirt and jacket were covered in blood.

We left and Neil dropped me off at home. I snuck up the back steps and went to bed.

On Sunday morning my Dad, as he always did, came in with a cup of tea.

I rolled over and he just said, “Jesus Christ” angrily and walked out. My Mum came rushing in, took one look and almost burst into tears.

My Dad just abused me a bit – didn't ask what happened, I suppose he could guess – and when I got up I saw the pillow was soaked in blood.

In the bathroom I saw the damage: my nose was splattered and shapeless across my face, eyes were bloodshot but not blackened and . . .

I wondered what those people outside the club thought but hadn't said.

My nose was broken so of course I had to go to hospital.

But I didn't.

My Dad and I had been painting the ceiling in the lounge and so I spent the day up the ladder, my head swimming and my face aching.

I guess they call that tough love.

On Monday I went to school and there was a bit of talk but what I remember was that Barry had been lightning fast and stayed, and although I'd been inept the other guys had run away.

When Bryan turned up to class his arm was bandaged. He said after he'd run off he was so angry he'd got in a fight with some other guys.

No one believed him.

He didn't have the bandage the next day.


These entries are of little consequence to anyone other than me Graham Reid, the author of this site, and maybe my family, researchers and those with too much time on their hands.

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Patrick Smith - Aug 22, 2023

I always fancied having the broken nose look but too chicken to actually invite one!

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