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I wrote this some time ago for a project about cricket that didn't make it off the ground. It seemed relevant following José Tomás's recent goring in Aguascalientes, Mexico. (More Laughing Fish from the same project are likely to follow)


You walk down to the bar at about six-thirty to get a good seat to watch the bullfight. It’s the beginning of San Isidro, the patron saint of Madrid, and the most important sequence of bullfights in the world. Every day for four weeks. When you were eleven years old, your Dad took you to Trent Bridge to see England against the West Indies. Gary (then still Garfield) Sobers, Rohan Kanhai, Wes Hall, Charlie Griffith, Lance Gibbs – Ken Barrington, Colin Cowdrey, Tom Graveney, John Snow, Ken Higgs (with that silly movement of his bottom before he began his run up). Like today, Sunday 19th May, 2002, it was a sunny day. England were soundly beaten and you returned home chastened, to have nightmares about having to face Wes Hall. Nightmares are different now. They’re more like thinking you still look like Bob Dylan on the cover of The Times They Are A-Changiin’ when you really look like the cover of Time Out Of Mind. So, you look through the window of the bar, Palentino, and think that it’s a long way from Trent Bridge to Madrid, the smell of freshly cut grass to the smell of sand and cigars, the whites to the brilliant colours, the slow playing out of the day to an instant of black, storming power and adrenaline. And the dreams are different too…

“When you’re gored by a bull, it’s not like they tell you it is – a feeling of heat, like you’re burning, on fire. The pain is never the same when you’re gored. Each time is different. I remember, once, in Mexico: I was gored by a bull. Right between the legs. It hurt so much I thought the horn had gone all the way up into my stomach. My whole body was in pain at the same time. I thought it was the end. My eyes clouded over, I couldn’t see, and all I could think was that I wanted to die, just to make the pain stop. Sometimes, though, you don’t feel anything, It’s like nothing’s happened. You carry on fighting. You hear the crowd cheering and they sort of bear you up. Then, when they take you to the infirmary, there’s this fucking great hole in your leg, the blood sucking and bubbling out as your heart beats. But you’ve got to be prepared to let the bull kill you…..

“Of course, you’re frightened. Sometimes, when you wake up in the hotel room on the day of a big fight. And it suddenly comes back to you. You realise where you are and why you are there. And you just want to disappear. Come back to life the next day, when it’s all over. You lie in bed, looking through the window as the tops of the trees are blown in the wind, the undersides of the leaves shimmering almost silver, and you hear the birds singing. You can hear some kids out in the park playing football, their feet scuffing across the ground, the ball scudding and bouncing. That’s when you start to cling to life. When it’s all so simple. You want to see, to smell and to listen to everything… all at the same time. You cling to life because you know you might lose it in a few hours time. But you need to feel bad. It’s all part of it. It’s like a drug which changes your whole personality and leaves you silent for hours. You’re not hungry, you’re not thirsty. But your stomach’s empty and your mouth is dry….”

A quarter to seven and the bar is filling up. You look round, and they’re all there: Beef Tea, Machote, Father Christmas, Casto and then you look up at the television. The camera is focussing on the weather-vane at Las Ventas, the Madrid bullring. Instead of a cock it is a bull and you think that it would be good if that was where “cock and bull story” came from. 


11 May 2010
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