Next time you find yourself feeling bewildered, angry and self-righteous over tales of mindless street violence, try asking your well-educated, middle-class friends if they have ever hit someone. You may learn some strange truths.

I tried it because I couldn't quite get out of my mind the story of a man kicked eyeless in a pub carpark a few weeks back. I didn't want to lose MY MEMORY OF? those dreadful, bruised images, that's the truth, and eventually I realised why: they gave me a certain self-righteous pleasure.

The attack seemed so alien, so uncontrolled, so despicable, that I felt almost pleasantly defined?? by its seediness and anger. Violence is not a part of my life - so I told myself - and the urges which inspired that brutality were flaws which receded as you climbed the social scale.

I was being snobbish. Talking to friends, I now find that Violence is not a working-man's club but an institution which many of us would subscribe to if only we dared: and some of us dare.

David (not his real name) is a 41-year-old executive in the travel industry. 'Yes, I've had a fight,' he admitted with more than a touch of pride. 'I found it frightening and liberating and exciting.'

It seemed a curiously damning start, butHe was happy to explain: 'My wife told me she was in love with my best friend. and We were very civilised about it at first. For six months she tried not to see him, but then eventually she said, 'It's no good, I still want to be with him.'

'A lot of tension had built up by this time, and the important thing for me was that but I didn't talk to a single soul about it, I just tried to pretend that everything was all right. But it wasn't all right, and to make it worse my wife said, 'He wants to come and talk to you about it.' I didn't want to talk, I didn't want a serious discussion, but he came round anyway. and I can remember going into the sitting-room, where they were waiting for me in adjacent chairs, holding hands, looking imploringly up at me.

'It was totally unpremeditated. I just delivered this huge kick at their two hands joined together. I remember seeing these two arms symbolically linked, and me sending them flying up into the air.

'I think I shouted, 'Take your hands off my wife.' and He realised then we weren't going to have a cosy English tea and discussion.

'I wanted to hit this bloke again, I couldn't think of anything else to do. I suppose he stood up, I'm actually unclear, but I know So I just swung my right arm as strongly as I possibly could and hit him squarely on the face, and it was just a wonderful feeling. I got such pleasure out of it. I thought, 'God, that feels good, I'll do some more.'

''He wasn't making any attempt to fight back. I hit him two or three times very cleanly on the face. I remember that 'thwack' feeling, and the sense of relief to be using just your my body, not your my mind.'

David was not out of control - far from it. 'I wasn't berserk,' he insisted, 'because'The next thing I remember is picking up this big piece of ornamental quartz and thinking I could smash this against his head. This isn't hindsight: I remember it flashing through my mind that this would make an interesting trial. It might kill him, but there would be a lot of sympathy for me.

'In fact, as soon as I had that thought I put the stone down and thought, 'No, I don't think I want to do that.' A quick explosion of violence was enough.' What I had done had satisfied me enough, this quick explosion of violence." What exactly stopped him going on? 'I think the fear of murder, one's social upbringing, the lessons one learns. The moment I picked up the stone was the moment I came to my senses and stopped enjoying myself.'

The details are reminiscent of Truman Capote's classic dissection of murder, In Cold Blood, in which violence is explained as a series of small steps, each justifying the next. Not that my friend killed anyone - but it was he came close. And He admitted almost as an afterthought: 'I didn't know I was capable of violence. Now I know and it is not a bad feeling at all.' because there will certainly be occasions where it will be relevant."

When I told this story to other friends no one thought that David had done anything wrong: 'In those circumstances I wouldn't condemn him at all,' said one. Others admitted that their own prime reason for keeping the peace - for instance, during motoring rows - was fear: 'I've never hit anyone because I'm too small' was a common response.

The point is, we put limits on violence: that is the point: my friend David 'justifiably' hit out with his bare hands but was 'sensible' enough to put down the rock when violence threatened to escalate beyond a mark point which he and othersWHO? we subconsciously apply to such situations.

Yet those limits are elastic.

John (again, not his real name),is 42 and lives in a pleasant detached house just outside London. 'I used to cycle home from the station,' he explained. 'but I didn't have any lights on the bike. So 'One evening when I got back after dark I decided to wheel it home. I suppose that's ironic, really: I didn't want to risk being told off by a policeman. In fact, I was picked on by a couple of teenage yobs and I quite happily had a fight with them.

'It's wrong to say they 'picked' on me. They were across the other side of the road and one of them looked over and called out something to his friend and they laughed. That was all. I didn't even hear what he said, but I know it made me angry. they were jumping all over the place, swinging on a lamp-post and on a little wall, just being rowdy, and I felt irritated. that they'd brought me into it.

'Common sense suggests that you just keep walking, but I didn't want to. I stopped and said something like 'Sorry?', which was very schoolboyish: daring them to say it again. and They were across the road at once.

'I really can't analyse what happened next. I know they were egging each other on, and I started to recognise that I was going to hit one of them, but there had to be some point at which I felt it was permissible.

'I didn't rationalise it like that, but I'm quite sure now that I needed to be able to argue something past my conscience. And 'Eventually - this really is childish - something very rude was said and I asked them to say it again; and one of them did, so I let go of my bicycle and just hit him. It was just the once. He fell over, but got up at once and that was it. He said it hurt and I picked up my bike and walked away.

'Do I regret it? A part of me says yes, because violence is ugly and it oughtn't to happen. But if I'm being honest I suppose I feel almost proud of what I did. I don't just mean it was justifiable to hit a yob, though I did feel that. The point is, It's also true to say that I'm generally frightened of violence and I felt I had proved something.'

So what is this? In the space of two experiences - which weren't hard to find - violence is not merely excused but slotted into society as if by right. A blokish thing with a function that does not transcend logic (a usual view); instead, it pals up with the mind to command respect.??

In David's story you sense a man expanded by experience; in John's you taste pride. What they share is a strand of self-justification. At exactly this point, both men were saying, brains may bow out and the body is permitted to muscle in.

The point about such stories - which weren't hard to find - is that they make violence less alien; They make a kind of rough sense because we can appreciate the explanations offered, and understand the pride.

In fact, the differences between these two examples and a that of the man kicked unconscious for telling kids to lay off his car seems to be are twofold: one, first, the thresholds are cleverer; different; two, and second, the violent ones are weaker. And that is all.

All names have been changed.