Early on in our training to become diamond mining officials in 1960 we had to endure a couple of weeks of hard physical labour doing various jobs underground normally performed by black labourers.

One morning Roger and I found ourselves trying to wrestle a heavy compressed-air-driven rockdrill into position on a pile of broken rock so that we could drill holes in the roof of a blueground chamber. Roger, a big but rather flabby guy, was doing most of the wrestling, but the foot of the airleg started slipping down the sloping pile of rock, so I helpfully put my foot on it to stop it sliding any further.

Roger thought I was trying to hamper his efforts, so he lifted his balled fist above his head, and brought the underside of it down hard on the top of my miner’s helmet. I don’t know about you, but when somebody suddenly makes my brain go wadda-wadda I am not immediately filled with the milk of human kindness. I am inclined to lash out. And in this case my fist connected with his solar plexus so forcibly that he doubled over and whimpered in pain as he struggled to breathe.

In subsequent years, on two occasions, I saw a large tough miner almost crying in pain after he had fought off a gang of muggers by knocking some of them out with punches to the head. In both cases the miners were nursing suspected broken bones in their right hands. I decided that if I had to hit somebody, the place to aim for was the solar plexus.

The next time my brain went wadda-wadda was early one morning going down the shaft in a cage with a bunch of older miners. On the way down, in the darkness, there was quite a bit of horseplay, and as we reached the station one of them did something to Hans Smal. Now Hans was a tall, well-built rugby player, and he decided that I was the culprit. He brought his fist down very hard on the top of my helmet. I saw red and hit him with all my strength in his stomach. He went down, and I turned away to walk down the tunnel. A moment later I felt a flash of pain as the back of Hans’s right fist connected forcibly with my left ear. I was semi conscious for a few seconds, and when I recovered I saw that that Hans had disappeared with the cage down to the next level. At the end of the shift he apologised for the misunderstanding.

My ear hurt for a few months after that, and I resolved that in any future fights I would make sure that my opponent was properly disabled before leaving the scene.

Two years later mild-mannered, bespectacled Neville and I were at a hop, where he was using his charm to chat up various girls. The beauties belonging to some local hoodlums seemed particularly enchanted by his line of chat. I left him to it while I drove down to the Halfway House for a drink. Not long afterwards a woebegone Neville arrived in his Anglia. “As I was leaving a bunch of thugs hit me and broke my glasses and my pipe.”

Just then Roger arrived in his sports car. He had grown in size and confidence since our first encounter, took one look at Neville, asked him where the attack had happened, and said, “Let’s get them.”

He pushed Neville into the passenger seat of his Anglia, and motioned for me to get into the back seat. The three of us drove back to the hop and prowled around in a menacing fashion, while I prayed silently that we wouldn’t actually encounter Neville’s attackers. Luckily my prayers were answered.

But as we drove away we noticed another car next to us, driving erratically, with bunch of tough-looking characters in it. When we stopped at a robot they glared at us and revved their engine. Roger looked at them in a pitying way and shook his head. This seemed to incense them. They pulled away with screaming tyres and cut us off. The four of them leapt out and stalked towards our car. Roger got out to face them, and tried to push me back into the car as I tipped the front seat forward to get out and join him. As he turned away I got out and stood slightly behind him. The leader of the pack put his face fairly close to Roger’s and said, “Why did you shake your head at us?”

With a voice dripping in contempt Roger waved his finger in front of the hoodlum’s face and said, “You were driving like idiots, and I will shake my head at you whenever I feel like it and as often as I please. Now get back in your car and FUCK OFF.”

And that’s exactly what they did. Fortunately for everybody my deadly fighting skills were not required on this occasion.

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