Magazine article The Spectator

Fighting Etiquette

Magazine article The Spectator

Fighting Etiquette

Article excerpt

I bought my black market tickets for the eight consecutive bullfights from Shaun, an elderly guy from Bilbao. He was wearing a plastic Viking helmet and his eyes were like slits - the drunkest ticket tout I've ever done business with. We did the deal in sign language in front of the bull-ring, then went for a drink in a bar round the corner that had sawdust on the floor. He was drinking Beefeater gin and lemonade. After the third one he gave me a big emotional hug and handed me back half my money.

The seat was a good one near the front, next to a gangway, and right in amongst a pena, which is a local taurine drinking club. They seemed a little put out at first to find a foreigner in their midst but, such was my spectacular ineptitude with the goatskin when it came round, I was not only given temporary membership but was immediately promoted to team mascot.

'Pass the bota to the Ingles!' they kept saying.

After the first bull had been stabbed to death and towed away, there was a commotion around the entrance, and a man who kept falling down was helped up the steps by two stewards and lowered into an empty seat just behind me. Because he was alone and late I guessed he was another of Shaun's customers. Actually, he wasn't quite as drunk as he looked. His reeling gait was the result of a severe physical disability rather than too much alcohol -- although the latter had clearly exacerbated his difficulties.

But the drinking club members thought he was indecently drunk and shook their heads and tut-tutted at one another. They also resented him because he wasn't wearing the traditional red and white of Saint Fermin, in whose honour the week of bullfights was being held. All the man had on was a filthy, tom, turquoise polo shirt and a pair of mud-covered trousers. He looked like he'd been sleeping rough.

'No respect for San Fermin,' said the man next to me disdainfully. This man was called Pachi. Pachi himself was immaculate in red beret, crisply laundered white shirt, a red neckerchief with Saint Fermin embroidered on it in gold thread, white trousers and bullfighter's slippers with red criss-- crossing laces.

As well as having a physical disability and being drunk, I think the late-comer also had some kind of psychiatric illness that had made him lose all sense of occasion. …

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