The beginning of the end of my time in Northern England happened after a confrontation with a gang that had bullied Rog throughout his schooldays. Name-calling and the odd schoolboy scrap intensified into something much more sinister in adult life: Threats and violence. It was time to put a stop to it all. One Friday evening in the pub, a heated argument kicked off when one of the Bullyboys spread a rumour that he was sleeping with Rog’s girlfriend. I didn’t know if it was true, but I assumed not. Anyway, Rog was not impressed and a scuffle broke out. There were five of them against Rog, myself and a few of his student friends, but only I backed Rog up. They told us not to drink there again.

‘What’s this? The Wild fucking West?’ I thought. We weren’t going to be ordered about.

The following Friday, we went back to the same pub earlier than usual. Open-bricked walls surrounded a central bar with gleaming beer pumps and the sound of fruit machines subsided as a steady stream of friends arrived. Before long, the pub was packed and I noticed the Bullyboys about ten metres away. Tension hung in the air. After feral stares, they moved our way, scowling. I leant an arm against a pillar to block their path. They swore at us.

One ducked under my arm and hit Rog in the face. They punched lumps out of each other on the floor and blood spurted from someone. I moved so my back was against the bar and asked one of Rog’s student friends to hold my pint. He refused as the other four Bullyboys closed in on me. I let go of my pint and watched it fall in slow motion. It bounced and lager sprayed over the carpet.

I remember some pain. Lights flickered as I was hit again. I could hear breathing. My right fist surged forward and knocked one of them clean off his feet. I looked to the left and saw the other three through a haze.

The next thing I knew, one of the bouncers in the pub lifted me against the bar.

“Callum, stop! It’s over!!”

I was calm. No heart thumping. No adrenaline. Perfectly relaxed. I spread my arms wide to show there wasn’t a problem. The bouncer put me down.

“You’re barred. Get the fuck out now!!”

I thought that was a bit harsh, but was confused because the pub was packed only a moment ago and now it was half empty. People were strewn across the floor like felled trees. I saw the bloke who started the fight. He strutted around the pub without his shirt on. Blood streamed from a cut over his left eye. Walking out, I saw Rog and he nodded. It looked like he’d given a good account of himself.

“Holy shit Callum, that was un-fucking-real,” a friend slurred a few minutes later.

“What’re you talking about?”

“Rog was fighting that twat over there…” We looked at Shirtless. “…and you took a few hits to the face. Then it all kicked off. You knocked those fuckers out one by one, man! Three of them only took a punch each and the last one went down with a left and a right.” He swung his arms about. “I’ve never seen anything like it!!”

I guessed that accounted for people scattered around the place. But it was all a blur.

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