My birthday seems to come around every year. I never get a break. This week, I awoke to my 27th in so many years with some trepidation. There were rumours in the house of some "great" surprise present. I hate surprise presents. The later I get into my twenties, the more I realise that I need to control the choice of present as they more than often disappoint. I went downstairs for breakfast to find a huge parcel, the size of a person, standing in the living room. Had my wife finally cracked and kidnapped somebody for my delectation? I hoped she had chosen well. I ripped open the wrapping paper to find... a punching bag and a pair of boxing gloves. It was a superb present but, for some reason, the manufacturers had forgotten to put a photograph of Louis Walsh on it so I had to do a makeshift one from the newspaper.
Weirdly, there'd been a lot of boxing chat around the house recently. A friend of mine in London, a slightly poncey, male-model type, announced that he had joined a fight club. It was a white-collar fight club, in which City boys fought each other for charity. I was intrigued.
He was training for up to five hours a day and I could see a slight bulking up in his usually willow-like frame. He asked me whether I wanted to come along and watch his fight. I most certainly did and three days later I was off to watch the event. It took place in a hall in the East End and it all seemed to be disappointingly above board. There was a proper ring, medics, and a baying crowd of co-workers. I have to admit to being a little disappointed. I think that, deep down, some primeval bloodlust within me was rather hoping for an illegal, bare-knuckle fight.
Back in the Cotswolds, I'd got chatting to somebody in a pub who told me about a local fight club circuit that was much more along illegal lines. Apparently, workers from different construction firms took each other on in illegal fights that are staged in containers and on which large amounts of money change hands. I tried in vain to get an invite to one but it was a closed shop. Back in London, there was plenty of "respect" and a little too much head protection for my liking. I realised that my disappointment came from a deep-seated desire to see a couple of financiers take a beating as a way of making us all feel a bit better about the credit crunch. Most of the aggression came from the crowd, made up of curious co-workers and friends.
They howled their appreciation of every punch and I found myself swept up by the atmosphere and screaming with the best of them. Unexpectedly, my friend turned out to be quite tasty and beat a slightly porky investment banker. They hugged each other in mutual, sweaty "respect" and everybody headed off to an expensive dinner on expenses.
Back home, the birthday breakfast was over and my punchbag had been hung up in the gym. I put on my gloves, a pair of boxer shorts and a vest and headed off for training session number one. It felt good, I was like Rocky, I was going to get fit and violent at the same time. I took a tip from a friend and put The Who's Greatest Hits on to the gym stereo. Forget "Eye of the Tiger" – The Who is the band of choice for serious boxers. The idea is that you put them on at full blast and pummel away at the bag for a whole song. This simulates a round. On went "My Generation" and off I went. I hooked, upper-cutted, jabbed – all the while dancing like a rather large and ungainly bee.
Halfway through the song I wondered whether I might die before the end of it, let alone before I got old. I managed to keep moving, however, until the very end of the song but only just.
I turned off the music and staggered back to the house. That was probably enough for the first day. Like Rocky, I needed to build up a routine slowly. Unlike Rocky, I awoke the following morning to find that I was totally unable to get out of my bed as every muscle in my back had frozen up. I spent my first day as a 27-year-old professional boxer laid up in bed... Bet this never happened to Marciano...