A picture tells a thousand words

I have a painting of Rocky Marciano vs jersey Joe Walcott that was painted by Billy Murphy who was my dad’s cousin, strangely his dad was a good boxer who went by the name of Billy Farrell. The story goes that my dad was visiting them and commented on the painting as he liked these boxers so Billy gave it to him (1960’s), every time they met up Billy always asked for it back and my dad would not part with it. The painting now hangs at the bottom of my stairs next to a grandfather clock, two symbols of my life one about the past and the other guiding the future. I have seen the painting of those amazing fighters all of my life through each stage of my life and it will possibly remain somewhere in my family for many generations to come. When I was born, in the 70’s (1970’s not the 1870’s for the cheeky ones) as a toddler I would often ask who they were and I first learned their names from my dad who was a very good amateur boxer with a good record and even had the offer to turn pro but was told that you should get a proper job and ended up a mechanical and marine engineer, amazingly history repeated itself with me and my dad as I did not know what to do with my life after my short stint in the army as a junior ( I damaged my chest muscles on an assault course and was medically discharged due to the time of recovery; It took 6 months rehab to be able to run for a bus .) Now I teach martial arts for a living, I made my own job. The 1970’s was the time of fake stone fire places and sandstone and my house took this to heart with a full length wall of the stuff with a huge TV in one corner on the top of the Formica top with Formica edges with a mantel piece to match and to the far left of the sitting room was a fully operating bar with optics and a fish tank cut into the front with black painted posts and crossbeam to hold glasses of all shapes and sizes and a big brass bell with a rope attached to call last orders. You get the picture, speaking of which, the boxing painting hung over the fireplace in the centre of this 70’s decoration. Our house was a party house some weekends, it was not uncommon to see mam rushing in the house just after last orders as if she was the recon party of a military operation, and sometimes she was not far wrong. She ran around the house tidying and fluffing cushions and seeing if we had not killed the babysitter to be closely followed by a few taxis from the last pub they had been to with the boots full of lager and brown ale by the crate. Nibbles were prepared and arranged on the bright orange tree of plastic fantastic that could hold a fair amount of pickled onions, peanuts and cheese. Being a kid I thought these were great even when the call to get my guns out (no I was not sporting to swan like biceps) It was my collection of blank firing and de-activated western guns. These nights we fun but tiring, nothing like trying to get to sleep when Queen and Elvis was blasting out from the dining room/ dance floor , when your bed room doubled as a coat room ; the good side was your bed was warm and we always found loose change in the morning from people’s pockets; 20 pence mix up! Result! Moving swiftly on to my teen years and the rate of my chest hair coming in I could have doubled for teen wolf. I was given a load of videos (please google the word) about boxing and in the bag was the very fight the painting was taken from. I watched the fight trying to see the moment that had been captured in the painting, jack was throwing his famous right hand into the chin of Jersey Joe, and it was amazing to watch that moment and indeed the fight. I still have the fight and a video recorder in the loft along with my collection of training videos and DVD’s, like an Aladdin’s cave of fighting information and techniques from the masters of their craft. The painting was still in the front room and everyone and their dog seen it and commented on it as we always had groups of teenagers watching films and eating all the food as my dad was on night shift and my mum just went into the kitchen or dining room to sow or knit to keep out of the way (thanks’ mam x) Nights were always fun with good friend’s and lots of laughs and it was too cold to stand in the park or at a bus stop until the lighter nights turned up. Life changed when dad was dying of cancer my sister lived in London and it was just mam and Marty, my younger brother (6 years younger) and it was a dark time of our lives. Watching a man that was so strong with so much fight in him (he would have a straightener outside the pub if you crossed him) disappear to nothing in front of your eyes was and still is heart breaking. When the med’s gave him hallucinations and you had to calm him down as he refused to go to bed, because he said if he goes to bed he would never get out again. Eventually this did happen but some of my best memories was sitting with him in the morning before I got on my bike to pedal to work just talking about anything and everything and he always asked how training was going but never said he was proud of me, but in my dad’s eyes I should get on with it, not for the glory but just to do it! To this day I think that is why I find it hard to take a compliment. But those cold mornings in late December through to early January, with the painting guarding over us, two generation of fighters, taking and fighting their own battles until dad’s final bell. Dad died on the 16th of January 1991, life changed and with it our house. Mam needed to move on and rebuild her home in her style (as she always hated that bar lol). She totally remodelled the house and the painting made it to my bed room wall, which was full of cuttings of girls and posters of page 3 stunner’s on one wall and a great big Nin Sign (Ninjutsu) along with a sword mounted on the centre of the wall. I had a healthy range of interests with boxing being one of them so the painting went on to my boxing wall of fame along with my Ali, Eubank and Tyson posters. This stayed on my wall until I left to move in with Kerry. I did not take it with me but my lovely thoughtful brother knew I loved it and had it re-framed in a dark thick wooden frame to go with the other picture we had in house and it took pride of place in our dining room, and then to the top of the stairs. When Molly was born I would carry her around the house chatting to her and pointing out things, one being the painting and I would say the words like a nursery rhyme “Rocky Marciano… Jersey Joe Walcott” I loved doing it and the more I did it the more she pointed it out every time we passed, then I did it all again with Erin. I would make them show box with their hands while I made the noises, they loved it and so did I (it may explains Erin’s punching skills) A few years after Erin was born we needed to make the little bedroom bigger and needed a downstairs toilet because of Kerry’s walking difficulties and other problems it made good sense to get an extension. After 8 months of work, a lot of painting & decorating with constant mess we finally had our house back and the painting went back on the wall. A couple of yes after this, Due to most of the house having either white or magnolia walls at some point we decided to make it more colourful and we changed most of the walls to bolder colours and we were inspired by old houses and went for a featured old fashion hearth and fire place that we can burn wood or coal on, and then the stair well got the full treatment of runner carpet and dark green feature wall with a giant silver picture framed full of pictures of the family through the generations. The boxing painting then was hung at the bottom of the stairs were it stands guard in all of its glory, Sometimes I wish I could use it to travel back in time to see the things that the painting has seen , what of my history is tucked in its canvas and of that of my family , the highs the lows and the future ….. All I know is the painting has seen thousands of scenes and words in is lifetime and it may see a thousand more. Until next time I hope your life paints a lovely picture John Atkin x

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