Nothing Like a Dane

9781472136466‘I had that Danish karate team in the back of my cab once,’ says the driver. He uses the cabbies’ definite article, as if I am supposed to know which Danish karate team he is talking about.

‘They were over for that tournament, and they went out on the town afterwards. They drink a lot, you know? I was surprised. I didn’t think kung fu people liked beer or whatever. But I picked them up at like two in the morning, in their red tracksuits, and I was driving them back to their hotel, and we was all south of the river. In Brixton. And one of them says: “You know what, I want some orange juice. Pull over a second.” And I says: no mate, you don’t want to stop the car in bloody Brixton, not now, not at kicking-out time round all the clubs. And he laughs and says just pull over. So I do. I stops the cab, and all three of them hop out and go into a Seven-Eleven.

‘I just know there’s going to be trouble, and sure enough, there’s three big blokes go in. And one of them is like: give me your money. Give me your money, he says, to this ginger Dane in a tracksuit. Give me your phone and all. And the Danish guy is like: no, leave me alone. And the bloke is like (and he’s a big feller, right?) and he’s like give it to me now or I will eff you up. And the Dane is like: “No. Step away, sir, please.” Polite as you like.

‘So the bloke pulls back to punch him, and POOF! He’s on the ground clutching his head. And the Dane says: really, I am warning you. But he’s like: “GET THE LADS!” And the other two run off to the club, and they are back in flash with half a dozen mates, and they all charge at these Danes.

‘And these are tired, right, but they train for this every day. They don’t even have to think. It’s like BOFF! BOFF! BOFF! Kung fu fighting and they knock them all down. A couple of berks try to get up again, and then it’s BOFF! Stay down. Then they go to pay for their orange juice, and the police turn up.

‘And what do the police see? They see eight or nine big thugs just lying on the ground moaning and hanging on to their arms and that. And these three little Danes having a packet of Wotsits. And the policeman says to me: “Did you see what happened here, sir?”

‘And I says: “Them three blokes are the Danish karate team. And them others just found out what that means!”’

I’ll save you the trouble, dear reader. I Googled this one. I Googled every possible permutation of Brixton and Denmark and karate. When I came up blank, I tried every other Scandinavian country, as well as the Netherlands, on a hunch. I switched the martial arts, just in case it was kung fu or aikido or judo. But despite such an epic account from my story-teller, despite a midnight riot that was sure to have entered the folklore of south London, despite the implied eye-witness experience of the narrator himself, down to the tracksuit colours and omnipotent view of what was said and done a hundred feet away while he was still in his car, there is not a scrap of evidence online of this supposed event. No court hearing, no police report, not even a snickering comment in the local newspaper.

I Googled it in Danish, too, just to be sure.

Nothing.

But that’s the story I heard, word for word. Straight up.

Excerpted from A Brief History of the Martial Arts, by Jonathan Clements.

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Copper Handles

On to Vancouver, where I have spent several days amassing an insane amount of material on the First Nations, particularly the Inuit, Kwakwaka’wakw and Haida. Still not totally sure what I am doing with it, but I’ve already written about Native Americans a couple of times, both as part of the history of Vinland, and in my Doctor Who short story “Nonsense Songs of the MicMac Indians.” I can feel a new story beginning to form on a similar topic. It has been bubbling away for several years, but this trip has finally allowed the pieces to fall into place.

At the University of British Columbia’s Museum of Anthropology, I listened to Kwakwaka’wakw expert Jennifer Kramer talking about the politics of repatriation, and the pains taken by the museum to treat First Nations artefacts with respect. The textile drawers in the museum’s new gallery all have copper handles, because copper is a precious, sacred metal to the peoples of the North-West coast. Such a weird, hypnotic detail to the ruminating author…

Metal is so scarce in the frozen north. Nails from European ships have severely muddied the waters of scholarship when it comes to estimates about early explorers. Ripped from wrecks or traded at the periphery for furs and food, they have travelled far to the south and west, a much greater distance than the ships on which they arrived.

And the words… oh, the words. So few languages are alien enough for me these days. But here in Canada, I get to hear words like Nunavut. Nuu-cha-nulth. Kwakwaka’wakw. Nuxalk. I am lost in arcane euphonies, and loving it.