My mother wouldn’t watch the boxing,
Though my father liked to box…¹
He learned his skills in childhood²
Knew how to take the knocks.
This noble, nimble sport of kings
A fast and entertaining thing,
Quite balletic in its way
And packing quite a sting.
He’d air-punch round the kitchen,
Telling boyhood fighting stories,
Followed through with further tales
Of adult fairground glories:
Wondering gamely with his mate
On weekend nights from fair to fete
Taking on those sideshow stars
Who boasted just how good they are…
And turning up with Sunday lunch
To compensate for every punch,
The prizes for his boxing feats
A fiver or a joint of meat(!)
My mother, meanwhile, stayed behind,
Thoughts of damage on her mind:
Although I’m sure proud in the end
She could not, would not, dare attend.
Over later years conceding
Father’s interest not receding,
She knitted quietly in the lounge
While watching Ali take his crowns.
Now, with the passing of The Greatest
I find myself wondering if dad and his mate
Will finally meet the man they admired
Whose will, faith and skills had so inspired.
Three old fellows with much to share,
In faith and challenge
Together up there.
¹ The opening lines of Jeanette Winterson’s novel, ‘Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit’
² At boarding school in India. I remember as a child stumbling across battered, tarnished trophies in the garage.