Five a Day

Only twice have I seen large amounts of blood. Both times it was mine, both times from being hit on the right side of my nose. The first time I had a door kicked open in my face. The second time I was beaten up by a greengrocer.

The first is as it sounds: could happen to anyone. The second is more complicated.

It was a bitingly cold day in North London in that bitingly cold winter of 1982. Everyone’s nerves were on edge and nobody’s more so than the guy on the fruit and veg stall in Caledonian Road. He wasn’t the usual bloke with whom I would chat about football when he was weighing my potatoes but a tough-looking character with a twitchy expression that, had I been older and wiser, I would have known spelled trouble.

My turn came. I asked for eight oranges. The sign, apostrophe and all, said ‘8 orange’s – 80p’. He charged me £1.60. I complained. He said ‘you what?’ I said ‘it’s 80p.’ Then his fist slammed into my nose. I fell over. Sprawled would be a better word.

Some years later, the boxer  Mike Tyson made his famous remark that ‘everyone has a plan until they’re hit in the face.’ I can assure you that this observation is spot on. After a few seconds you recover but the world is a darker and more confusing place. Without any clear idea of what was going to happen next, I started to stand up.

The trader wasn’t having any of that and kicked me on my shoulder. I fell over again.

I wish I could remember the reaction of the people around me. This was a violent time but not a particularly violent neighbourhood. I certainly got no support.

Again I tried to stand up and again he hit me. This was no brief red mist: I was dealing with a border-line psycho probably intent on finishing me off. Even so, I couldn’t spend the rest of the day on the pavement. I raised myself onto all fours and slowly got to my feet while backing away from him. It was a shambling, abject performance, like a slave abasing himself in front of Nero.


• The rest of this story is now available in a paperback book (as are 25 others) – Unaccustomed as I Am (RRP £9.95).

It is stocked by the Hungerford Bookshop and you can place your order here.

Copies are also available at the White Horse Bookshop in Marlborough, the Mad Hatter Bookshop in Wantage and through an increasing number of other retailers.

You can order it from any bookshop: they will need to know that the ISBN is 978-1-8382580-0-9 and that it can be ordered from Gardners or Central Books.


Brian Quinn
• For further articles, please click here
• For rants and musings set to music, please click here

PS: A couple of people have asked why I didn’t go to the police. The short answer is that I did. However, I decided, as much out of cowardice as anything else, not to proceed. I convinced myself that I distrusted the police in general, which I didn’t, and that one of the officers was a bit of a psycho himself, which he was. I convinced myself that there would be a lot of boring forms and interviews, which there probably would have been. I convinced myself of all kind of things. The real reason was that I was afraid I’d get beaten senseless by my attacker or some of his mates. I would urge anyone in that situation to see that justice is done though I concede that my advice carries little weight considering my behaviour. You do have to be brave enough to do this. I wasn’t. 

Five a day


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