“On a macro level, look at government behaviour,” says Whitehead. “The US government has been sanctioning torture. There’s a confused hierarchy of violence. You go and see an film and as long as the hero’s wife and are murdered, he can do whatever he wants. It doesn’t matter about his violence because victimhood somehow wipes out the moral equation.”
At this point I feel compelled to put myself in the frame. I box and I’ve been doing so for nine months. What started as a lark has become something of a preoccupation. Similarly to the men described above, I find the ritual invigorating and confidence-boosting. But like the r spectators, I have become intoxicated by the brutal spectacle, dallying away hours at work soaking up rounds of vintage Muhammad Ali on YouTube.
Was I becoming violent? I wanted to know. At the back of my mind I clung to the words of Professor Whitehead: “Boxing may actually be an antidote to violence in its basest form. The experience of violence can lessen our urge to exercise it because you realise far better what violence entails than in the abstract. Martial arts are another good example of this. Boxing is violent, but it is through measured violence that we learn the parameters of aggressive confrontations and how to avoid them.”
Deep down I knew I needed to face up to what was niggling at my core. I wanted to understand the feeling of putting myself in the fray and nullifying the feelings of aggression and blood lust out of it. I needed a fight. What’s more, I knew where to get one.
Peter Mc Donagh stands a good foot shorter than me, and at around 66kg gives away almost half of that again in weight. Boxing trainers often use the phrase ‘speed kills’ and Peter, a grin splitting his face, tells me he’s going to kill me with speed. He is the UK’s Southern Area Light Welterweight champion but looks more like a jockey. He’s the first to admit a chequered history, but like many boxers he counts the sweet science as his saviour. His gloves look cartoonishly big on his slender far me, but I’m not laughing. I’ve challenged him to as many three-minute rounds as I can manage because I want the experience of being on the receiving end of a pro.
Ash Sharma, both my trainer and Peter’s mentor, has arranged the card. My aim is not to get the upper hand (I’m not stupid) but rather to hold my own and learn a bit about myself in the process. Our photographer, here to record the event, peers over the ropes as Ash smears Vaseline over Peter’s gloves. “What’s that for? ” he asks innocently. “So I don’t cut him,” comes the deadpan reply.