Fighting for Fighting’s Sake: Ogden on Street Violence


It’s a sad fact that street violence in England is almost completely out of control. For a few years, my family lived in a historical riverside tourist town famous for its old buildings and the little steam train that trundled up the valley; the kind of place that Americans wander around saying “Oh my God, Hogwarts!” before asking if anyone knows where the Queen is. You’d never guess that such a place would witness almost nightly brawls between drunken louts and car vandals, interspersed with the occasional stabbing. You might expect that sort of thing in the worst parts of a big city – why, I believe it’s almost a pastime in Glasgow – but not in a small scenic town like that. Having travelled the length and breadth of our island, it didn’t seem to be too different anywhere else.

Calling the police never solved anything, as I recall the dispatcher telling me in an apologetic voice that there simply weren’t enough police officers to send; they were too busy in neighboring towns, where the violence was even worse. Why, just this week police in Somerset told a man who was attempting to apprehend a would-be drunk driver that they were ‘too busy’ to help.

Violence is an even more frightening prospect in Britain since defending yourself invariably leads to trouble whatever the result. I was raised by two criminal lawyers who filled me with true horror stories of upstanding young men who were picked on in the street, assaulted, but then turned the tables on their attackers…and were then arrested for assault or manslaughter. I started boxing when I was 12 - I still put the gloves on and get in the ring a few times a week – so the prospect of being punched in the face isn’t a new thing for me, but the idea that my future could be ruined by getting into a fight and earning a criminal record terrified me. Private school? Expulsion. University? Forget it. A decent job? No chance.

When I left England years ago, the government were trumpeting the fact that crime rates had decreased, but their claim didn’t stack up to what I saw around me. My parents and their lawyer friends explained that their figures are taken from reported crimes, meaning those that the police actually respond to and record. Unless it results in a fatality, street fights aren’t considered crimes anymore.

I was surprised to find that things couldn’t be more different in Georgia, a country run by moronic politicians and constantly under threat from Russia; hardly the sort of place one might consider a good deal safer than England.

To hear Georgians talk about Georgian fighting spirit and their confrontational way of speaking, you’d be forgiven for thinking that they’re a violent people. Groups of young men stand (or squat – even after all these years, it’s a sight I’ve never got used to) on street corners, muttering to each other and swigging from two liter bottles of beer, staring at passers-by through half-closed lids; it’s enough to think they’re looking for trouble, but it isn’t often the case. If things do become hostile, it’s mostly a bit of shouting and swearing. Things rarely get physical until someone mentions someone else’s mother. The Georgian Oedipus Complex is something I still don’t understand.

I’m not sure if that’s because they know just how good the Georgian police are (if I was in power in Downing Street I’d populate every British town and city with Georgian cops; street violence would be a thing of the past in a week), or if they only feel the need to attack for what they deem to be good reasons, or when they know they’re not likely to get hurt in return. My brother-in-law is a lovely chap, but he’s small and was undoubtedly an easy target for the four men who beat him to within an inch of his life for seemingly no reason a few years ago. I can’t help but wonder if they’d have been so ready to attack my friend Robert, a giant boxing Texan who looks as though he might burst out with ‘fee-fi-fo-fum’ at any moment. Likewise with the attacks on the International Day against Homophobia activists a few years ago; I doubt the priests would have been quite so ready to lead their congregations into battle if every man there had been the size of a Marine. However, I would like to think that Georgians just recognize that fighting for the sake of fighting is pointless.

Whatever the reason, violence in Georgia is not especially common; it certainly isn’t as mindless as it is in England. However, as ever I have firmly mounted my hobbyhorse and am riding dangerously close to my word count. Still, I’m damn glad I live where I do.

Tim Ogden

19 May 2016 20:40