Lucha Libre is not just a sport. It’s also theatre. And it’s a kind of ritual violence, acting for its audience like a communal catharsis. Wrestling characters destroy each other in the name of good and evil, often echoing issues of politics or identity in the Mexican psyche…
It was the one-year anniversary of the September 11 attacks. I was studying for my history PhD at home, in my basement flat in Hackney, London, and my partner was at work. After lunch I sat down at my desk and was reading a survivor’s account of 9/11 in The Times, when I heard a clattering coming from the front of my building. Somebody had pinched our garden pots a few days earlier. “Maybe it’s the same person,” I thought. I closed my two black Cocker Spaniels, Jessie and Hal, into my study, so that they wouldn’t bark, and went into the hall to find out what was happening outside.
A man’s face appeared through the windows of my front door. He was peering in. I felt a surge of outrage and thought “how dare you look in my home?” I opened the door to tell this person to eff off, but at first I couldn’t see anyone. Then he appeared from behind the door. He was in his late twenties, hair shaved close to his head, scruffy and wild-eyed, with scabby pale skin like a crackhead. Before I had time to react, he started through the door.
“What the f*** do you think you’re doing?” I shouted.
That’s when he punched me in the chest. So I grabbed him. I knew it wasn’t wise to fight, but I thought he was coming in to steal my stuff, and I absolutely couldn’t just let him. We fought in the narrow hallway, locked in a kind of embrace, me trying to push him out of the door and him trying to push his way in. He was reigning blows on me.
Then I saw the knife and realised that I wasn’t being punched, I was being stabbed – over and over again. I didn’t feel pain, just a tremendous pressure with each blow to my thigh, my back, my chest, my neck, my skull. It seemed to go on for a very long time. I thought, “I wonder when I will die.”
He left me lying on the ground, stepped over my body and had a look around my flat. Then he went, leaving the front door open behind him. I was able to close it and stagger to the phone, which was in the hallway, and dial 999. I was gurgling from the blood in my lungs. After I spoke to someone, I called again, unable to remember what I had just done. I couldn’t think straight, couldn’t put the moments together. When I was convinced someone was on their way, I crawled to the kitchen and lay there on my back. I felt no pain, but it was so hard to breathe that I assumed I wasn’t going to make it.
I am told that the ambulance arrived in a few minutes, though it felt like hours. I thought about what it would be like to die, and cried, not for me but for the people who loved me. I was able to open the door for the paramedics, and then I let go of everything that was happening and they bundled me up and drove me away.
Later, when they were stapling up each of my knife wounds, I found out that I had been stabbed 25 times. One of the wounds had narrowly missed my heart. I was very lucky to be alive and in hospital for only two weeks with a punctured lung. Once it was drained, the function returned, and today I have only short scars on my chest and back.
They found him in the end: a few weeks later, somebody on a train from London to Bristol overheard two men talking about a series of robberies one of them had committed. This person phoned the police straight away, so that when the train arrived at Bristol Temple Meads station, they were waiting to arrest him. One of the things this man had stolen was a decorative, Turkish knife with a short blade which about matched my wounds. I must have inflicted some damage in the fight, because the forensics were able to prove he was my attacker from a spot of his blood on my trousers.
There was also a lot of blood in the study which wasn’t mine or his; it turned out to be from one of my dogs. I didn’t realise at the time, but he stabbed her too. It’s funny, that’s the bit that triggers me getting upset, when I think about my dog Jessie being stabbed.
When I finally saw him again at the Old Bailey, over two years after the attack, he looked much younger than I remembered, and vulnerable. At first it was upsetting to be where he could look at me; that felt like a new violation. But it was better to realise he wasn’t the threatening figure that loomed large in my hallway. It helped me learn to let it go.
He was cleared of attempted murder but convicted of causing grievous bodily harm with intent, a string of other burglaries and handling stolen goods. He was sentenced to eight years, which, if he behaved himself meant he was probably going to serve half of that – four years. I thought to myself, “that’s not very much, but at least he’s been convicted”. I wasn’t going to let myself go through the pain of being angry about it.
These days I’m embarrassed when it comes up in conversation. I’m a university lecturer now and my students often Google me and ask about “the horrible thing”. I tend to giggle and joke that I’m a have-a-go-hero. That’s the only way I can deal with it. Maybe I did the wrong thing, standing up to him, but the alternative was too awful.
They were fused at the skull, their brains a hair’s breadth apart, connected by a small collection of blood vessels. Will Rodgers was part of a team separating the six-month-old conjoined twins, Rital and Ritag Gaboura, at Great Ormond Street Hospital in 2011. His role was to make the shared area of scalp grow new skin, by inserting an inflatable expander, which is like a balloon, and periodically, over several weeks, injecting a saline solution into it. This gradually stretched the covering skin so it could be drawn across the wounds.
The twins were separated, creating two separate little girls. The chances of survival for twins joined at the skull are one in 10 million. “It was amazing: one day they were lying head to head and the next they were lying side by side,” said Rodgers.
Rodgers had been on the point of giving up medicine. Having completed his degree and two foundation years in regional hospitals, he was still unsure of his place in the medical picture. As a last-ditch attempt to resolve his dilemma, he responded to a call from a charity named Facing Africa. They were looking for doctors to go to Ethiopia to treat Noma, a gangrenous infection that ravages the face and mainly afflicts children.
There he discovered he had the qualities required for the high precision surgery involved in facial reconstruction. Was Rodgers scared, performing surgery for the first time? “No, I was excited. It felt great to be able to make a practical difference with my hands.”
The hands are a constant preoccupation. He avoids coffee because of the infinitesimal tremors it gives him.
It takes about 18 years of training to acquire the necessary skills to be an oral and maxillofacial surgeon, which treats mouth, face and jaws. This specialty is unique in requiring medical and dental degrees as well as an alphabet soup of other qualifications. For all this investment, Rodgers still rides a motorcycle to work every day. “If I smashed up my hands I’d be really pissed off.”
He has a sleepy, laid back smile that belies the huge responsibility he holds at his fingertips. He is an expert at zoning in on the small details – each slice of the scalpel or stitch of needle. This is his secret to remaining undaunted by the vast complexity of the operations he performs. “If you stopped and thought about exactly what you’re doing, you would have a hard time carrying on.”
For Rodgers, one distorted face is no more shocking to confrontthan another. He is in the privileged position to have learnt to see his cases objectively as physical facts; for many of his patients their alarming appearance can effectively remove their ability to participate in society. “We are masters of reading faces. The human brain is unbelievable at understanding or at least thinking it can understand a huge amount about a person by the way that they look. We can tell the most subtle of changes. People can’t help but notice someone walking across the street who looks a bit weird and you can see how that would have a massive impact on you if you were that person.”
Gaining the trust of patients and their families is important. “There is an art to it. You often can’t tell them exactly how they’re going to look, and if you could it still wouldn’t be quite how they imagined it. You try to encourage people to come to terms with the validity of their expectations.” He realised the importance of communication when he faced nearly insurmountable difficulties in Ethiopia, where there are over 77 spoken languages.
Rodgers points out that in those cases where too little of the facial structure remains, current techniques can do little to help. Oral and maxillofacial surgery is evolving. Each case is different and surgeons are constantly expanding the frontier of what is possible. Rodgers is working on improving procedures for a disease called hemifacial microsomia, in which the lower half of one side of the face is underdeveloped and grows abnormally, mostly affecting the jaw. He says: “At the moment there are treatments to make the jaw longer. We’re trying to design a procedure that will give a more normal shape. Instead of moving it in one plane, we will be able to move the jaw around in several planes. That’s the plan anyway.”
It is when Rodgers contemplates the precision and drama of being in the operating theatre that his excitement is most palpable. “There’s a calmness that you never find elsewhere, because you can’t let anything else in the world bother you. You have to be completely in the moment. It’s relaxing somehow, because you know that all you need to do after that is the next step. ”
Qualifications: It takes about 18 years to fully qualify as an Oral and Maxillofacial surgeon at consultant level. The journey starts with a first degree in either medicine or dentistry, which takes five years. This is followed by two years in foundation training, and then a further degree in medicine or dentistry – whichever has not yet been done – which takes three to five years. Trainees must complete the MFDS (Member of the Faculty of Dental Surgery) and MRCS (Member of the Royal College of Surgeons) diplomas, one of which can be gained during the second undergraduate degree, and the other shortly following. Following this is specialty training, which takes three to four years. This can be followed by one to two years in practice to sub-specialise.
Hours: “Up to 84 hours in a week if I’m on night shifts, but then I might be off for a week.”
Salary: £30,000 – £50,000 as a trainee. £75,000 – 101,000 as a consultant.
Best thing: “The privilege of never being bored.”
Worst thing: “Jumping through hoops and box ticking to get the required training.”
Once upon a time, Britain was covered almost entirely in forest. The population lived in constant contact with nature, where there were wild spaces in which the imagination could run free and mythology emanated from the sheer age of the land.
Nowadays, for Londoners, most of this link has been lost, except for one huge anomaly.
“In a city like this, to have a space like this, it’s close to a miracle,” says graphic novelist Oscar Zarate, who is just one of a multitude of us who are in love with Hampstead Heath.
“It offers the possibility of being connected. If you lean against one of those trees, you feel something – it’s 500 years of life there. It’s a pure gut response to this place.”
This is the fervour and romanticism which colours his new graphic novel – The Park. It tells the stories of four characters whose lives intersect as a result of their common connection to what might be considered the central protagonist, the Heath.
Interplay between characters and the vibrant natural world
The seeds of the book grew out of a conversation Zarate overheard on the Heath, in which a man was being very disagreeable. “There was an incredible clash between the physical environment and what this human was saying.”
Zarate creates an interplay between his characters and that vibrant natural world, sometimes using a frame to zoom in for a bug’s eye view of the battles raging beneath the grass blades, or to soar above with the birds.
Previously he has worked with graphic novelist superstar Alan Moore on the book A Small Killing, but now in this – Zarate’s first solo project – his expert hand has both written and drawn this jubilant homage to the Heath.
Much of the pleasure of The Park comes from any true Heath-lover recognising the geographical accuracy of the routes that the characters take, including one’s favourite locations – be it Kite Hill, Bird Bridge or more secluded spots that only an expert eye will recognise by the curve of a footpath or the shape of a fallen tree trunk.
Here is a video in which the graphic novelist lets us have a sneak peek at the book and his working methods:
Viewers imbued with a sense of responsibility to safeguard Highgate’s Victorian heritage.
Picture your neighbourhood as it was 150 years ago. Many of the buildings might remain unchanged, but transposed onto your regular hangouts would be scenes of Victorian London. Residents of Highgate can now enjoy seeing their well-loved streets playing out an alternative reality in Michael Hammerson’s book Highgate: From Old Photographs.
One photograph shows a flock of sheep being herded down the otherwise familiar North Road. “It was one of the main droving roads to bring cattle from the north down to the London meat markets,” says Hammerson. There are some rather curious discrepancies.
“That letterbox is still there, but it’s on the other side of the road,” he remarks of a photo of North Hill.
Hamerson, former chairman of the Highgate Society, has lived there for 40 years and, for him, the book helps the case for the preservation of Highgate, which until relatively recently was an isolated village, as is shown in the book by photographs of surrounding countryside at the turn of the last century.
“It really emphasises the enormous pressure it’s under at the moment from what, in many cases, is very bad development and planning laws to protect it being weakened by ill-considered new legislation almost every week.”
Lost gems include what is supposed to be Andrew Marvell’s home, seen in an extremely rare colour photograph dates 1867. Only one other image of it exists, in the Highgate Literary and Scientific Institution.
A photograph of the famous Swearing on the Horns ritual is included, “the main privilege being,” says Hammerson, “that once you’re sworn in as a Freeman of Highgate and you see a pig resting in a ditch, you have the right to move it and sit down in its place. Though if you are three, you can only move the middle one and sleep between the other two.”
“Unfortunately,” he quips “there are few opportunities to exercise these rights in Highgate today.”
Curious rituals aside, Hammerson hopes the book will imbue the viewer with a sense of responsibility: “It gives people a very powerful link with the past and a better understanding of how it all worked, and how the past is serving the present and the present is looking after the past.”
Alexandra Palace Theatre
Alexandra Palace theatre is also noted as worthy of preservation in Hornsey Historical Society’s publication Alexandra Palace Theatre by Marlene McAndrew, which reveals the theatre’s fascinating story up until today.
Included is its remarkable founding philosophy: “to afford the means of intellectual improvement and physical recreation to the masses”, information about the elaborate timber machinery’s trap doors and some amusing details of what it was like to be there: “Heating was provided by radiators through a central coal-fired boiler. Although this was probably not adequate, people were used to being cold in the 19th century.”
A development of the Garden City Movement is covered in The Rookfield Estate by David Frith, which offers the chance to see how this Muswell Hill Garden Suburb came to be through a detailing of its early history, beginning with its enclosure from Muswell Hill Common, its acquisition by W J Collins in 1899, and the history of his family, who were so instructive of the estate’s development.
There is also an exploration of Rookfield’s architectural influences, illustrated with old maps, old views and photographs of the many houses.
Hampstead Garden Suburb
Founded relatively recently, in 1907 by Henrietta Barnett, Hampstead Garden Suburb has nevertheless been home to a huge number of colourful and highly influential residents, now listed in Dr Eva Jacobs’ Notable Residents And Where They Lived. Included are such names as Anthony Gormley, Dame Elizabeth Taylor, Jerry Springer and Will Self
“I’m a musical comic, but don’t put that first because it puts people off.” Ria Lina is not easily pigeonholed: her father is German and her mother is Filipina, she is a trained actor, singer and dancer, has a PhD in viral bioinformatics, was a digital forensic investigator at the Serious Fraud Office, and has written and presented her own documentary for Channel 4 which seeks to dispel the myths surrounding oriental women.
Despite all this, Ria Lina has been criticised in the past for relying upon simplistic stereotypes for her humour, with such classics as It’s Not Easy Being Yellow or The Mail Order Bride Song, in which she purports to describe her own parents’ relationship.
In fact, it is in these common stereotypes that Lina believes good comedy can be found. “You have to find a balance bewteen the truth of your life and what everybody else has enough understanding of or cultural reference points to be able to find funny.”
Most people wouldn’t make such jokes about their parents, or for that matter, their son (have a listen to The Internet Porn Song), but Lina jokes that with her kids there is “an understanding that mummy entertains grownups. But not in that way.”
She suggests that much of her humour, which teeters on the brink of acceptability, might find its origin in her own mother’s lack of social artifice.
In her new set, titled Thpethial, Lina reveals that she was recently diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome – a high functioning form of autism. She decided to air this in response to a complaint from an individual who thought that she picks on people with special needs.
“Before I found out, I had no special needs. Now suddenly, by society’s definition, I have special needs.” Her show will be exploring what these labels mean, and whether one should be upset by them.
“It’s a brain topology, it’s a way of being, it’s a way of thinking, it’s a way of looking at the world and it’s a reason for me and my comedy and what I do. It’s the right fit.”
Ria Lina appears at The Good Ship on Kilburn High Road this Monday. Doors open at 6pm. For more information and tickets, visit http://www.thegoodship.co.uk