By Donald Murray
It was my long appreciation of all-in wrestling that used to take me to dances in the local hall.
There was much to be admired, a wide variety of different techniques and approaches. Even when you entered its doors, you were likely to be greeted by an arm-wrench as one of your distant relatives stretched out to shake a hand. They would hold onto your fingers with a vice-like grip as they went on to tell you about some previous encounter they had shared some twenty years ago with your father/uncle/first cousin. Tears might leak before this firm grasp of your digits would come to an end – and not simply for sentimental reasons. Sometimes, if they were a few years older or inches taller than you, other welcomes were in order. You could be met with a claw-hold – this is when the top of your head would be clutched by a massive stretch of fingers, a gesture designed (somehow!) to tell you what a nice, young lad you were.
On the dance-hall floor there were yet more treats on offer. They included couples with their jaws and lips clamped tightly together, attempting to grind one another to submission as they moved to the hypnotic rhythm of Nights In White Satin. (Younger readers should note that this was a song with a slow, sweeping chorus that resembled nothing so much as being swirled through the air, having lost all contact with the ground below your platform soles.) There was, too, the athletic prowess of those engaged in Eightsome Reels, where one partner thought it was their purpose in life to throw loved ones to some distant corner of the room, becoming embroiled with the resident insomniacs who were always attempting to sleep in its shadows. It was at moments like that when male dancers might master such techniques as drop-kicks and body-slams, the ability to cast their opponents out of the wrestling ring and into the crowd below.
Some would, of course, manage such acrobatics all on their own. Jiggling energetically to the frenzied beat of T.Rex’s Get It On (Bang A Gong), these individuals would loosen their limbs as if they were preparing for a major tussle with the Westside equivalent of Kendo Nagasaki or Giant Haystacks . (The latter would always appear at some stage of the evening, his six-pack having cascaded downwards till it became a beer keg lurching over his trousers.) A few would even practise backhand chops and forearm smashes with boxes of matches in their hands, as if they were human fireballs able to spontaneously combust at a moment’s notice like characters in superhero comics or Dickensian novels.
Occasionally there would be combustions of other kinds. Unlike other areas, my native Ness was never too familiar with these. (Generally, we left them to our more fiery neighbours to the south.) However, there were occasions when they occurred. A fight would begin, jackets tossed to the side like champion’s dressing gowns. Pratfalls, body-slams and camel-clutches often ensued. There might even have been diving knee-drops and flying clothes-lines too, but due to the weather that often afflicted the northern tip of Lewis, the latter were barely ever noticed. After all, it was almost a daily sight to see someone’s damp underwear performing twirls and cartwheels in the neighbourhood. Rare were the afternoons when it did not occur.
I’ve been recalling these memories a little more frequently than usual these days. The reason is that I have just discovered that a man with ancestors from my native island, Presidential contender and billionaire, Donald Trump was at one time a major promoter of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) bouts, holding contests regularly at that rather downmarket version of the Ness Hall of my youth, Trump Plaza in Atlantic City, NJ. Some have suggested that ‘the Dolly’s’ love affair with the sport was inspired by the tales of his Lewis mother and her attendance at dance-halls in her past. While this is doubtful, there seems to be less argument about how his experience as a wrestling promoter has led to many of his political performances over the past years.
Wow! There goes a flying forearm smash as he tears into an opponent. Kaboom! He lands an uppercut on Mexicans and ‘illegals’, sending them across the border of the ring. Pow! There’s a tilt-a-whirl crossbody as one of his female critics is snarled within the ropes. As political commentator Jedd Legum has noted, echoing the words of the late French philosopher Roland Barthes, his entire campaign is best understood in terms of a wrestling match – designed as a series of meaningless spectacles in which energy is everything. Reason and logic are left standing outside the ring.
And then there is the outrage. It all reminds me of the only occasion I ever attended a real wrestling match, at the Kelvin Hall in Glasgow. It seemed to me that indignation was about the only point and purpose of every scrap and scuffle. Wrestlers insulted the spectators; the spectators insulted them. An angry female pensioners from Maryhill or Partick rose from their seats to confront and challenge one of the contestants. The combatant would look down at them with a smile of satisfaction, grateful that they had provoked this reaction.
A little bit like Dolly Trump over the last few months.
A little bit like island dances in my past.
Donald S Murray is from Ness in the Isle of Lewis. A former teacher now living in Shetland, he has published a number of books, winning the Robert Louis Stevenson Fellowship, the Jessie Kesson Writing Fellowship and obtaining a Creative Scotland travel bursary for researching a non-fiction book about the herring industry – Herring Tales; How The Silver Darlings Shaped Human Taste And History (Bloomsbury). This received wide-ranging and excellent reviews in a large number of outlets, including the Spectator, Economist, Geographical, Scottish Review of Books and BBC Countryfile and was chosen as one of the best Nature books of 2015 in the Guardian.
His previous books – including ‘The Guga Hunters’, ‘The Guga Stone’, ‘SY StorY’ – have also been generously praised.
The Gaelic drama production, Sequamur was his first full-length play and went on tour through much of Scotland. Produced by Proiseact Nan Ealan, it was also performed in Ireland, London and the In Flanders Museum in Ypres, Belgium.