I am no stranger to being beaten up. Teenage years in Glenrothes, a Scottish Newtown took care of that. It was the 1970s; flared baggy trousers, Simon shirts, Glam rock and loads of gangs. And although nearly all the boys had long flicky hair it was a time when boys were boys and girls were girls. Beating the crap out of another boy was respected and would earn you a position on the toughest boy league table. Lee, a good friend of mine had such a position and from time to time would be challenged to a square go to keep it. I remember when Jimmy Philip did just that, resulting in a marathon scrap over several school lunch breaks. Each day Lee would bring a change of clothes to school for his dinner time fight. This always began with a flurry of kicks and punches, which quickly settled into a stalemate clutch; straining red faces with hair, mouth and nostril pulling. Surrounded by a crowd of baying pupils on the outer edge of the school playing fields, they were finally pulled apart on the third day by McPhail, the Chemistry teacher. He punished their display of violence by belting them.
I was a useless fighter but because I was one of the bigger boys I would be challenged now and again. I had some stock defensive tricks which only succeeded in making my assailants even madder. I used one of these when a furious McMinn ran towards me at speed across the school yard. I waited until he was almost upon me then ducked down onto my hands and knees. His momentum sent him clattering painfully over my crouching body onto the gravel. When he got up however, boy was he mad. I took a real scratching and thumping before managing to hold things in a stalemate clutch that was thankfully broken up by the janitor. The problem I had was getting angry enough to hit someone back. In every fight or attack on me, and there were many in my teenage years, I can truly say I was never able to enter into the spirit of the thing. It felt too much like the attackers thing and all I could do was let them get on with it. I was strong enough in most cases to protect myself. This I did by curling up in order to cover my head, stomach and genitals. Then it was all about waiting for the other to get bored by punching and kicking themselves out.
When the Punk movement and attitude swept across the country in the late 1970s I was ready to tune into it immediately. Within this refreshing wave of change I found, a more constructive outlet for my own teenage anger which didn’t involve physically thumping my fellow man. The only problem being my fellow men didn’t see it that way. So, much like the effect of my earlier ducking technique it served only to make them more violent towards me. It was like I was betraying some old and noble tradition of kicking the shit out of people and the reprisals I received for my heresy from some of the most psychopathic upholders of that code were truly horrific. In getting my hair cut short and wearing different clothes I had also broken my cover. The attacks increased. On one particular night out with friends, I was attacked on 3 separate occasions each time by a different set of assailants, earning myself a dislocated jaw and putting one of my friends into hospital. By the time I left the Newtown at the age of 19, I had had my nose broken as many times as my age.
After Glenrothes, studying in Aberdeen in the mid 1980’s was relatively nonviolent. This may have been in part to the extra pair of eyes in the back of my head I’d acquired. However, the Aberdeen Casuals were riding high at that time and walking home from the pub one Saturday night with two friends we encountered a couple of them. We had stopped off at the all night Bakery in George Street. While being served the two sports-casual clad loons came in, one thin, wiry and nervous the other, just big. We left with our rolls and juice and continued our journey towards Kittybrewster. Shortly after we heard them close behind; a bit pissed, chanting and singing. Soon they were directing their venom towards us, which we ignored and kept walking. Still they kept snapping ever closer and louder from behind like yappy dogs at our ankles. Inevitably a skirmish broke out, but then ended just as quickly as it began. One of the friends, a gentle giant from Govern, suddenly brought a full bottle of Iron Bru smashing down onto the big ones head. For a couple of seconds there was complete silence then blood began flowing down over his face. We were all completely stunned, not least the one who was now standing with just the top and jagged glass remains of his Iron Bru. After that an odd peace ensued, we helped patch up the big ones head to stop the bleeding and began walking up the road together, with only the occasional outburst from the wiry one, threatening retributions.
I experienced a whole new aspect of violence or certainly the threat of it some ten years later in Edinburgh. Of all things I had agreed to go and play a game of Cricket for the Maccabi club. Over the phone a very charming elderly man had told me to just come along to the Murrayfield playing fields on a particular night and join in. I didn’t really know that part of town but had passed the Murrayfield Rugby Stadium many times on the train and had remembered a huge playing field outside which I took to be the one. On the evening of the game I gave myself plenty of time and walked up through the sparsely filled stadium car park. There was no one around apart from a tiny parking attendants hut in the distance so I continued on in the direction the playing fields. On reaching the large open field I found it deserted. Confused and getting slightly edgy about being late I headed over to the hut to see if they had any Idea where the cricket might be being played. As I asked through the window of the hut the benign looking man inside suddenly began shaking his head slowly and saying;
No, no, you don’t understand, you’re in big trouble for coming over the security fence. You’re going to prison.
This statement betrayed his character somewhat and thinking he may have gone a little mad in there I repeated my former question hoping normal service may resume. This time however, he just repeated his lines louder and with a lot more expletives. I was getting annoyed but thought it better to diffuse the situation by explaining that I had jumped no security fence and had simply walked through the car park towards the playing fields to see if the game of cricket that I was supposed to be playing that evening was being played there. And as it was not and as he was unable or unwilling to help me find it I’d better go off and do so.
You’re going nowhere. We have you on CCTV Jumping the security fence at the far end of the fields. Security is on its way. You’re going to prison.
Before I had a chance to say another word a younger man wearing a black security jacket and a large scar on his left cheek came striding towards me. He was shouting into a crackling walkie talkie and pointing and shouting at me.
Yeah yeah we’ve got him ######## You’re in big f***ing trouble! #### Yep he’s here in the car park########### You’re going to prison. You jumped the security fence and we’ve got it on CCTV######
I was desperately trying to make some sense of what was happening. Seconds before I was on my way to play an innocent game of cricket on a beautiful summers evening and now suddenly I was in a high security drama with violent undertones. The Scar-man now threatening me was a psychopath, no different from those I’d encountered 20 years before only this one was wearing a uniform. Cautiously I questioned his evidence. Could I see the CCTV film that I was being damned for as I know it would prove me Innocent? No, this would not be necessary, they had all the evidence they needed. Ok then, could I speak to someone in authority? This really annoyed him; everyone was really busy and anyway he was the authority! Quite quickly the prison threat disappeared and he had decided that I must leave the car park the same way I’d entered. I pointed out my route through the car park entrance to which he called me a liar and told me to get moving in the opposite direction. I refused and said I wanted to speak to the police. He started to move towards me. Apart from the man in the hut there was no one else around and I was not carrying a mobile phone. I knew the look in his eyes all too well and I knew what would happen to me if I didn’t do as he said. I was beginning to shake. I told him to keep his hands off me. I would do what he was demanding only because I knew if I didn’t he would assault me. I also let him know that I would be reporting him first thing to the authorities.
Yeah, yeah, do what the f*** you like. Now Move!
I moved in the direction he was pointing staying ahead and to his side so I could keep him in the corner of my eye. Crossing close to the outer end of the stadium building, he blurted out something quite odd, almost to himself; Have you any F***ing idea who is in this building tonight? I didn’t and to this day I have no idea who or what he was talking about. I continued protesting my innocence and telling him that I would make sure he would be made to account for his actions when he suddenly stopped. As I turned to face him he nodded to a darkened back stairway. With a demented smile on his face he suggested that we might want to go there and discuss the matter further. At that point I was scared for my life. There was no point in trying to reason with this Nutter anymore and the stupidity of what he was forcing me to do no longer mattered. I just had to get out of there in one piece. I stepped up the pace over the playing fields that I had never been on before and headed towards the 12 foot high security fence that I’d never been over. With some difficulty I made it to the top but fell badly onto my ankle on the other side. No cricket tonight or any other night after that then! *
Two weeks ago I watch the Peter Watkins film, Punishment Park, made in 1970. I had come across it by chance. In conversation with a friend I remembered an odd film about the crushing of the Jacobite Rebellion ( 1745 – 1746) which I’d seen in secondary school. Looking on line I found the film. Culloden; Made for the BBC by Peter Watkins in 1964. I also discovered it was Peter Watkins who had made The War Game; again, for the BBC in 1965. This film which dared to imagine the possible effects, during an outbreak of war between NATO and the USSR, of a nuclear strike on Britain, was thought to be too horrific for the medium of broadcast by the then BBC Director General, Hugh Carlton Greene and was not shown on TV until 1985. The films of Peter Watkins up to the present day ( he is now 75) have taken the form of docudrama, devised and developed with a majority cast of non actors. Within this structure the director is able to explore politically controversial issues by revisiting historical events or playing-out fictional ones. The dialogue is constructed from both the narrator’s voice, that sets the plot and comments on developments, and the voices of the cast, who often simply state their own opinions.
The Peter Watkins, Film maker/ Media critic website, that I have been working my way through over the past fortnight, charts a life’s work of relentless campaign. I would urge you visit this site – obviously more comprehensive than anything I could hope to supply in this text.
This resource not only catalogues his films, their background, making and reception but also contains a number of statements made by the Peter Watkins. It is a considerable body of writing of heartfelt criticism, from a director with over 50 years experience, exposing the failings of TV, film and in particular the Hollywood Monoform, (MAVM as he terms it). It is also a heartfelt plea for change and invention: that recognises the international status of political debate but argues that new maps through which to engage in communication need to be constructed. (From a BFI biography by Will Fowler.)
The DVD version of Punishment Park which I watched, is introduced by a lengthy statement read straight to the camera by the director in 2004. It is heavy with information and delivered in a slightly stilted and at times, annoyingly earnest manner. After 10 minutes or so I was beginning to wonder if the amount of information given would ruin the film. With this prejudice I watched the entire film with the introduction twice in one day. Set and filmed in America at the height of the anti-Vietnam War demonstrations, the docudrama imagines a training ground for the National Guard that convicted protesters can choose to participate in, in order to avoid a lengthier term in prison. Watching Punishment Park was both unique and extraordinary and at no time would I describe it as Spectacle. During the end scenes, the camera, verbally confronts certain members of the National Guard for their actions. Their blunt and matter of fact responses given straight to camera unexpectedly hurled me right back to the school yard, Glenrothes, Aberdeen and the Murrayfield Stadium car park.
*First thing the following morning I phoned up Murrayfield Stadium. I told the person in the Public relations office what had happened the previous evening. They immediately apologised saying with some exasperation that this had been happening all too often with the security firm they employed and they would be taking my complaint very seriously. In the meantime I was asked to write down everything and they would contact me in a couple of days once they had looked into the matter at their end and also checked the CCTV footage. I was very impressed with their response to my complaint. They had taken my complaint very seriously and I felt confident that the incident would be dealt with properly. I did as they asked and wrote down my report and waited for them to get back to me. Three days passed and I heard nothing. I ended up phoning them back and spoke to the same person. They were almost rude and dismissive of me this time and claimed to have only a vague recollection of the previous conversation. When I brought up the issue of the CCTV footage they almost triumphantly informed me that everything gets scrubbed every two or three days so no footage would exist of the evening I was claiming that the incident took place.