No 5: Sweet Thunder: The Life and Times of Sugar Ray Robinson – By Wil Haygood
Boxing fans of the frozen northerner’s generation will tell that Mohammed Ali is greatest fighter of all time, I would suggest that by time you finish this great book by Wil Haygood you will be thinking a little bit differently. This book explores Robinson’s tough early childhood in Detroit before his mother moved the family to Harlem in New York where, after running with some street gangs he would discover that he had a talent for boxing. Under the guidance of George Gainsford, he quickly developed into a very good amateur fighter, originally called Walker Smith he changed his name to Ray Robinson after a mix up at local event, stuck with Robinson name forever, he would have a fantastic unbeaten amateur career winning two golden gloves titles in 1939 and 40 before turning professional. It would turn out to be career unequalled in boxing and is the stuff that legends are made of, Robinson would fight over 200 times winning 173 bouts including a 91 fight winning streak from 1943 to 1951. One of the best chapters in the book discusses his six epic fights with Jake La Motta which ended in 1951 when Robinson demolished La Motta for last time in a fight known as The St Valentine’s Day Massacre. The incomparable Robinson was suave and sophisticated outside the ring but inside the ring he was a one man wrecking crew, the list of champions he beat is endless and include such luminaries as Galivan, Turpin, Olsen, Basilio, and Fullmer to name but a few. Turpin was probably the only man to beat him at his peak but he would pay a heavy price and would be on the end of a savage beating in their famous rematch at the fabled Polo Grounds in New York. In 1952 Robinson became increasing disenchanted with boxing and after sensationally losing to Joey Maxim, due to heat exhaustion, prompted Sugar Ray to try a career in show business as a song and dance man. But as the book explains America did not want see him on the stage they wanted to see him in the ring, showbuiness, ultimately proved disappointing, he was spending too much time on the road neglecting his enterprises. Robinson watched as his onetime lucrative Harlem businesses started to haemorrhage money and with his earning power dramatically falling he was left with no alternative but to return to ring to stave off his mounting debts. Retuning to ring after a two and a half absence, it took him a while to get back but unlike so many others that have made comebacks, the amazing Robinson would go on to regain the world middleweight title on a another three occasions. His career would last long and he ended up fighting on past his fortieth birthday before retiring in 1965. In terms of longevity no one has ever stayed at the top for as long as he did, therefore it was rather tragic that he ended up with very little money by the time of his death in 1989. But this is not just a book about boxing, this is a book about the most charismatic man ever to step in the ring, it is also about a man who ruled Harlem and made people proud to be black, because you have to remember he lived and fought in a time when black men and women suffered badly from social injustice that was rife at that time. Sugar Ray was no exception to this intolerance and despite his fame and fortune he knew that there were places that were strictly off limits to him because of the colour of his skin. This type of racism upset him greatly, but he knew he was a role model for the black community, a man that was one of their own who could be looked up to and admired, Sugar Ray Robinson the greatest boxer of all time.
As long as I can remember every year in March the frozen northerner has been unable to make any form of intelligent communication with his father on the four afternoons (it used to be three) that the Cheltenham National Hunt Festival takes place. My father has at all times maintained that attending this most prestigious meeting was amazing and he has always regarded this event as his most memorable experience of the turf. Despite the fact that he will only be watching it from the comfort of his living room, as long as the festival lasts, my father will be riveted to the action and any sort of conversation with will be strictly limited to dialogue about owners, trainers, jockeys and the horses taking part in this great occasion. The Racing Post and Newcastle Journal will frequently be flung into the floor as he berates some hapless jockey who in his view, has rode a poor race in a contest that he firmly believes he should have won. Pater’s blood pressure will soar dramatically over these four days, which is not healthy for a man in his 89th year, so thank God it occurs only once a year. Although my father is still an avid racing fan, only Cheltenham manages to get his pulse racing. (Excuse the pun). He has always regarded this feast of racing as the be all and end all event of the year; his passion for this meeting is unsurpassed and for me to suggest that some other fixture is on a par will be met with sneers of disdain for daring to mention anything in the same breath as his beloved Cheltenham. To be fair, this is four days of high class racing with exceptional prize money that is unparalleled in this country or any other country for that matter. This meeting, may not have the style and glamour of the Arc meeting or the pomp of Royal Ascot, but for me like my father, it represents all that is good about horse racing. Although the event takes place in England, it is probably the highlight of the sporting calendar for many Irishmen, who will come to Prestbury Park in their droves to support Irish trainers like Willie Mullins in the hope that he will lower the colours of his English counterparts such as Paul Nicholls, Nicky Henderson and Martin Pipe. The bookmakers will like to think that they have all the angles covered, but here more than anywhere else it is great to see them taking a hiding, especially if it is on the first day when they are at their most vulnerable. This battle between the bookies and the punters is compelling stuff, but rest assured the Guinness will flow like the nectar of gods if one or two of the big Irish gambles come in. Great horses will win and lose and there will be fairy-tale stories to add to those that occur each year and by the time you get to the Gold Cup on the last day the excitement will have reached fever pitch. Like any major sporting event nothing can compare with actually being there, but if can’t get there watch it on the television because it really is something else. You do not have to be a gambler or a punter to enjoy the thrills and excitement that is the Cheltenham Festival you can just sit back and marvel at an unforgettable experience.
When Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) decides that the only way to save Eve Kendall (Eve Marie Saint) is by climbing down Mount Rushmore in the great movie North by NorthWest I am always faced with the same dilemma, I am seriously concerned about the safety of Miss Kendall or am I more worried about the damage that Thornhill is going to do his newly purchased Bass Weejun loafers, while attempting to descend down the face of the monument. Much as I love Cary Grant, The Frozen Northerner cannot believe that Grant would be risk ruining a pair of the greatest loafers of all time just to save Miss Kendall. Bass Weejuns are a timeless classic and are only loafers that are ever worn by your truly, today all high end shoemakers make loafers and in reality you could spend a fortune on expensive loafers such the John Lobb Lopez loafer, but believe me no matter how much you spend on loafers, they are never ever going to look better than a pair of Weejuns. If you must wear something other than Weejuns then please wear Alden, Rancourt or Sebago because loafers are really an American thing (please don’t scream to me about Gucci loafers these are for sleazeballs only).The Frozen Northerner currently has eight pairs in his shoe collection and this Weejun obsession is showing no sign of abating, I have them in all of the colours and I like them with tassel end laces, tassels or tassel free, which ones do I prefer the most, that is a question that is impossible to answer because I love them all. Much has been written about these loafers and I am certainly not going to try and produce another piece of work outlining their history and popularity which might leave the impression that I am expert on Weejuns, I am not, I just love these enduring moccasins. If really want to understand just how good they really are then I suggest that purchase a copy of The Ivy Look by Graham Marsh and JP Gaul and flick to page 24, here on this one page you will find all need to know about Weejuns and why they are great. Let’s be honest you are never going to as sophisticated and stylish as Cary Grant was in a pair of Weejuns, but that doesn’t mean you have to stop trying.