I remember the pressure of the knife against my throat as clearly as if it was yesterday and the sense that in that moment, things might go terribly wrong. Having skedaddled out of a very hairy situation only minutes before, more as a precaution than anything else, being trapped and surrounded by a marauding gang of knife wielding men in a remote part of town late at night, left the three of us feeling less than confident that we might escape unscathed.
That we did, was more down to experience than luck, an element of comradery, balls that were needed and applied at the right moment and a hint of cowardice in one of the gang members that surrounded us, threatening to cut us up and throw us in the river. God it seems like such a long time ago now. I’m not sure if I’d handle it with such disregard as I did back then. Back then you see I knew how to walk the walk.
It started even before I began to smell myself. As a nipper I was carefree and moved like a butterfly. There was no restriction and I floated through my world, oblivious to anything but the moment. But starting school introduced a different element for me. There I discovered disturbing cruelty among my peers. Our neighbourhood was quite tough and while it was a craft in itself to avoid the violence of the teachers in school and worse still the penchant certain members of the so called ‘Christian Brothers’ had for little boys, it was surviving the everyday trials of the school yard that introduced me to ‘the walk.’
I stopped being a butterfly. There was a strut, a certain shoulder swagger and heel kick that I studied with great care. This was nothing to do with vanity. It was not about being a peacock, that walk came later when I got a sense that girls might have some use after all. No, this was about being a gorilla, a lion, a king. My very survival depended on my ability to cross the road towards danger with my head held high, rather than cower in the opposite direction in fear of my life.
Walking the walk was literally a matter of survival. I loved steel caps on heels. The big hard lads with their Wrangler jeans and tight hair, flicked their steel tipped heels on the pavement. You heard them coming. That’s where I figured it out. They weren’t afraid that the wild boys might hear them coming. They announced it with a click of their loud steel heels. With a swagger and a strut, chest out, shoulders back, head held high, they could walk into the mouth of danger and the sea of danger would simply part.
My Ma wouldn’t contemplate allowing me to get Steel tips on my shoes, Lord have mercy she had an opinion on that for sure. No, I knew that wasn’t an option but I also knew that I couldn’t run away from the boys that would have me do so at every turn, or beat me if I didn’t. So I watched and built up the nerve to test my theory. There was always someone hanging around at the newspaper shop on the corner, tapping you up for your ‘odds’ trying to intimidate weaker boys to hand over some cash. I was a small polite boy and I never had any and that was worse.
Finally I decided I had to be brave and test my theory. I watched them from the far side of the road as I walked and they watched me, wondering if they should cross over and swallow me in a swarm of fear, leaving me nowhere to run. So instead I crossed the road towards them, chest out shoulders back, head held high, a skinny little lion cub strutting, listening in my head to the sound of my imaginary steel caps as they clicked on the pavement. The wildlings watched me and I changed my course ever so slightly, aiming straight to the heart of the cloud.
I saw them see me. I knew they sensed something but all I could feel was fear and I hoped they couldn’t smell it like my Da said dogs could do. I kept a steady pace, no slowing from fear or rushing to show weakness, like a missile to the heart of the target.
To my astonishment, they cleared a path. I rounded the corner and importantly, I didn’t look back. I knew they watched me wondering what kind of creature I must be to risk such madness, but it didn’t matter, I had survived.
As time passed, I practiced my walk, put a shimmy in my shoulder, a dip in the turn, a kick in the heel and a flick in the toe. Oh yeah…I was the business. It didn’t take away the fear. I still felt the knot in my stomach every time I encountered a fresh pack of wildlings but they never saw it on me. My walk got me out of many a dangerous situation back in the day, but then it all changed.
For some strange reason I started to get a sniff of girls and they started to get a sniff of me. Unfortunately I was unaware that I might be attractive to girls. All I could see were my failings in that respect. There were bigger boys, more handsome boys, more cocky boys. I noticed that my walk didn’t impress the girls. I watched the other boys, the ones that the girls liked and I realised that I was doing it all wrong. Just when I had my walk sorted, feckin’ puberty kicked in and I had to learn a whole new walk if I was going to ever get a girl to like me.
Then when I was 14 I bunked into Saturday Night Fever in the Adelphi. Sweet mother of God there it was, the walk of walks. Girls had to love that John Travolta strut. A year later it was Grease and I was working during that summer and I bought myself a black t-shirt with cut off shoulders. I had the arms of a six year old girl back then but not in my head. A pair of flairs, boots and that black t-shirt. Sure, I was a blonde haired, skinny little Irish boy…but I had the t-shirt and more importantly I had the strut. By that stage I had almost perfected my walk. I didn’t like John Travolta or Grease, but the strut in Saturday Night Fever stuck with me and I knew he was a hit with the girls. I can still hear the Bee Gees in my head.
All I needed was a disco with a flashing floor and a couple of cool dance moves and I would be a God to all the young ladies for miles around. I didn’t have either, so I settled for perfecting my walk. I stopped hearing steel tips clacking on the pavement as I walked down the street. No, I had a new walk, a John Travolta walk and More than a woman reverberated in my head as I strutted and nodded my way down the street, smiling at the ladies and my fourteen year old self, feeling like a butterfly once more….
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