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I have never believed in the myth of invincibility, my father in law, who was trapped in occupied Guernsey during the whole of World War Two, always said he thought that Nazi Germany was unbeatable. He came to know, thank God, they were not. I have heard someone close to me argue that the National Union of Mineworkers were an indestructible force, well, they then met an immovable object, and their decline was swift. Similar things were once said about the Soviet Union's immense power, so I pointed out the immense strength of what was once the Roman Empire, it's Iron rule lasted for about five centuries, but in time it fell. I, for one, was not surprised when Soviet Russia collapsed after only seventy years. Hitler's thousand year Reich lasted for just twelve years. People said Sonny Liston was invincible but, zzzzzzzzz, are you asleep yet ?
My dear friend Jan Scott once said that I wrote letters as I spoke in life, and sometimes she wouldn't know in what direction my conversations were heading. Well this one is heading to the USA, and to July, 1963, when boxer Sonny Liston put Floyd Patterson to sleep in just one round. One month after that event I was seated on the bench that nestled under the magnificent Jubilee trees that grow next to Shamley Green's Village Hall. It was an August evening and I was the only one there supporting the young, 'Cassius Clay' in his forthcoming heavyweight boxing match. Everyone else said that if he ever fought Sonny Liston, Clay would be annihilated, beaten in the same way that the heavyweight champion, had destroyed Floyd Patterson the previous month. My friends and all the newspapers said Sonny Liston was invincible, but he wasn't, for nobody ever is. Within six months of that August argument, Cassius Clay was the new Heavyweight Champion of the World, and 'invincible' Sonny Liston was part of boxing's history!
I loved boxing in my younger days and I can remember, way back in 1955, begging my parents to wake me in the middle of the night, so that I could listen to Don Cockell fight Rocky Marciano on what we then called the Wireless'. Don Cockell was English and my big brothers had high hopes for his shot at the Heavyweight title so, therefore, did the nine year old me. I recall crying with disappointment in the morning when my Mum told me he'd been beaten in the ninth round. My interest in boxing continued, and in 1968 I was delighted to see British boxer Chris Finnegan win the Gold Medal at the Mexico Olympic Games. Infamously, at the time, when Chris's wife Cheryl was told, in a live television interview, that her grinning husband had won the the Gold, she said to him, " F*cking hell, you aven't f*cking gone and done it, ave you?" Hearing Chris reply, "Yes ol' lady, I f*cking ave!" amused me and countless other people throughout Britain immensely . Little did I think that within months, this man, with his flamboyant manner that the press so loved would be greeting a vast queue as he opened my companies first ever shop. I watched Chris's fight career with great interest and he proved to be a very tough man, in time he fought a fifteen round contest for the World Light Heavyweight Crown, which he sadly lost on points.
My interest in boxing continued throughout the 1970's and during that period my company attended many Boxing Dinner shows. I would book a table for twelve people and, as my guests and I enjoyed a splendid meal, we'd watch a continuous stream of amateur boxers fight each other. I always pre booked a large selection of various alcoholic beverages to moisten our throats and these were placed under our table for easy access whenever anyone required them. Looking back, those evenings were barbaric affairs for they were simply an excuse for privileged men to steadily get drunk whilst watching others fight. They were like gladiatorial gatherings as we, the Dinner Jacketed mob, gambled on who we fancied to win. Drunkenly we'd cheer and jeer as the fights took place and Im grateful to have experienced such events but I would never do so again.
My brother Gordon was a guest on one of those evenings but, in the main, they were gatherings for my top employees and for people associated with my company. I recall one gathering when I had invited a pleasant man of Polish descent called Rostek Lepak. To the same gathering I had also invited, Malcolm Scott, whose unique skill supplied me with all the many signs my company required. People who know me well are aware that Malcolm became one of my greatest friends and we both recall that evening with much amusement. It had taken all of my power of persuasion to persuade Malcolm to attend for once he gathered it was a black tie event, it was, "a no way mush," comment from Mr Scott. Never the less, I dragged him in to, 'Moss Bross,' to hire his outfit and, on the night concerned, he left his home a very smart man, although in Malcolm's words, he felt like a pr*ck! I'm told he crept from his house to his car in secretive silence, ensuring the neighbours wouldn't see him. His wife Jan then drove him the ten miles to my home where he and my other guests enjoyed a few pre dinner drinks. I'd insisted that all of them would be getting taxi's home so no cars would be driven by my over the limit friends.
It was a happy crowd of men who walked from my house to Guildford's Civic Hall, where Malcolm found that being dressed in similar attire to everyone else, he no longer felt self conscious. He'd relaxed and found he knew most of my guests, but Rostek Lepak he'd not met before. I quickly realised that the two men didn't gel and would not get on, so I ensured they sat at opposite sides of our large round table. As the evening progressed and more and more alcohol was consumed, the voices of my guests grew louder. It also became apparent that Rostek was very proud of his polish heritage for we were all informed that his father was the son of a Polish Count. I presumed from the conversation he had fled Poland during the troubles that followed World War One. Perhaps it was the affect of the drink, but telling us he was the son of a Polish count once, seemed insufficient for Rostek, and so he repeated the telling several more times. I could tell this was becoming tiresomely amusing to my guests and particularly so to Malcolm Scott. Imagine the scene, the boxers in the ring continually knocking hell out of each other, the roars and shouts coming from the diners as they ate their food at crowded tables. That was the atmosphere that existed throughout the entire building when suddenly, amongst all that noise, a slightly drunken voice from our table said yet again, "My Father was the Son of a Polish Count". I cringed when I heard the familiar voice of my friend Malcolm adding the comment, "More like the Son of a Polish C*nt," which brought roars of laughter from all but one of my guests!
I have often boasted in the various, 'Kens Cosy,' memories I have written, that sometimes events took the full force of my personality to solve a problem. That Boxing Dinner Show evening was no exception and for a while I envisaged the Guildford Civic Hall erupting, 'John Wayne style,' into the equivalent of a western saloon bar fight. At Malcolm's comment, Rostek Lepak, leapt up, showing all the signs of a man willing to throw the first punch in a free for all brawl. Somehow I, and the width of the large round table, kept the two of them apart but even though I managed to calm things slightly, the hostile glares meant a solution had to be quickly found. Malcolm solved the problem by quietly informing me he felt he should leave. I agreed and within minutes the two of us were saying our good nights and Malcolm set off for the Guildford Taxi Rank. Both he and I knew he was a powerful man who could seriously hurt poor Rostek, whose only real offence had been to irritate people because of excessive drink and his pride in his families heritage!
The evening continued for the rest of us but, in truth, it was not the grand night out I had anticipated. I later discovered that Malcolm's evening was far from over for when he left me he decided a taxi wasn't required for it was a wonderful night for a walk. Remember, just a few hours earlier he'd felt such a pr*ck in his Dinner Jacket that he'd crept furtively from his house to his wife's car. This same man, now began a ten mile walk home, cheerfully and openly, for all the world to see. Regrettably, after about six miles, it began to rain, so Malcolm decided a short cut was called for. He energetically hopped over a fence and set off over some fields. The trouble was he lost his sense of direction and much later that night I'm told a man in a Dinner Jacket could be seen, lost and stumbling and miles out of his way, in a wild area of Surrey known as Winterfold!
I do not know what state my friend was in or what time it was as he eventually walked down his home town high street. Wet? yes, Muddied? for certain, Torn trousers? probably. I do know, because his wife Jan told me it was very, very late when she finally heard the door open and her man come home. Sadly, the wonderful Jan is no longer with us, but I know she would love her boys to read and laugh at this memory of a long ago evening. An evening when their father had the honour of sharing some time with a man whose Father was the Son of a Polish Count!
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