It’s a summer’s day in the early years of the new millennium in Scarborough and I’ve got a look of abject terror on my face. I’m several feet in the air wearing a badly-fitting vest and shorts and I’m being held up there by a wild-looking man in a green leotard. He’s called The Dog and he’s an American Wrestler and he’s a big lad. A very big lad.
The reason I’m airborne is that I’m making a telly programme about the equivalent of the League Two of the American wrestling world, following a minibus full of beefy flesh around the north of England and filming them as they throw each other around and eat vast amounts of tuna. Not at the same time, of course. They’d get tuna down their leotards and that would never do.
I started thinking about The Dog because I recently got the sad news that he’d passed away; his real name was Al Green and when I met him all those years ago he was down on his luck and feeling frustrated at having to wrestle in Scarborough rather than New York, although as we know Scarborough is just like New York except the taxis are a different colour.
In the TV programme I not only accompanied the wrestlers, I had to write poems about wrestling and perform them to the camera, which led to some spectacular booing at Grimsby Auditorium when I went on before the first bout. The director, a cheerful man called Dave, also had the idea that I should do a bit of wrestling myself whilst performing one of the poems. “Just pretend to chuck him about a bit,” Dave said to The Dog, who was picking bits of tuna out of his beard. “I won’t hurt you,” said The Dog, “but you’ve got to trust me. You’ve got to go limp.” I nodded, limply.
He was a bit of a philosopher, The Dog. When I asked him why he did the wrestling he said: “It’s like Shakespeare. You got the good guys and the bad guys…” and here he paused for effect... “and the guys in between.” Of course. It’s obvious. I wish I’d put that when I was writing my essays in sixth form.
The Dog said he’d pick me up, hold me in the air for a few seconds while I said a verse to the camera, and then pretend to hurl me to the ground. “I’ll stop just before you hit the deck and I’ll let you down gently. But you’ve got to trust me.”
We did several takes and each time I just couldn’t trust him enough to go limp and I ended up banging into the ring painfully. The Dog never got ruffled, he just carried on picking me up and almost dropping me. In the end, Dave the Director cheerfully decided it wasn’t working and so we tried Plan B, with The Dog pretending to bend my neck at an acute angle as I squeaked out the poem. After a while, the cameraman, a cheerful chap called John said, cheerfully: “I think Ian’s going to be sick.”
This galvanised me, and I delivered the lines to the lens as the sweat cascaded from my brow. The Dog shook my hand and said: “Good job, kid. That took guts.”I tottered off, wobbling, and sat down on a canvas chair that ripped and I tumbled to the ground.
The Dog, a perfect gentleman, didn’t laugh.