Earlier this year, I rebuked a chimpanzee for wearing a Manchester United football shirt.
“You silly chimp!” I exclaimed. “Have you ever been to Manchester? The place is cold and grey and full of sour-faced humans.”
“But I’ve seen them play on the satellite sports channel!” he protested. “Their best player is the spitting image of our band’s alpha male.”
“Looks aren’t everything,” I replied. “I assure you he’d be useless in a fight with marauding baboons.”
I was reminded of this exchange on hearing news of a 19-year-old Mancunian who is patrolling the mean streets of his city in a costume that might have been designed for Spiderman’s bumbling sidekick. His aim is to dissuade rowdy men from brawling and encourage them to settle their differences amicably.
“All I want to do is try and get people to like each other," he explained to a journalist.
Remarkably, none of the ruffians he has attempted to mollify has responded to his message of goodwill by using his masked head as a football. Perhaps that’s because he judiciously calls the police if he senses his intervention will provoke antagonism rather than reconciliation. Even Batman and Robin used to bring in the fuzz to sort things out in the final stages.
Before you get the wrong idea, let me emphasize that I have no scorn for this idealistic young simpleton. When I was a young gorilla, living among humans, I also tried to pacify men engaged in fisticuffs. I then discovered a remarkable paradox – the only effective method of putting an end to their violence was to threaten (and often deliver) more brutal violence. This led me to revise my tactics. When I see men fighting nowadays, I pull up a chair, order a tub of popcorn and watch the action like a film buff at the cinema. If this alone doesn’t bring about a truce, shouting “I’ll fight the winner” usually has a calming effect.
A very different approach is required when I encounter an affray between women. Obviously I can’t just watch them, which would be the behaviour of a roguish voyeur. Fortunately, my years of experience with female circus acrobats taught me what to do in these situations. Rather than intervening to settle the dispute, one must impose oneself as the referee.
The main rules to enforce in a catfight are as follows – no scratching, hair-pulling or pinching of the bosom flesh. Blows must be delivered cleanly to the fleshy parts of the body and biting is only acceptable if the face is being pummelled. Wrestling and slapping of the posterior are encouraged as forms of aggression less likely to cause injury or disfigurement. Coarse swearing or mean remarks are strongly censured.
A danger of refereeing such bouts, of course, is getting caught up in the melee yourself. Enraged women don’t like being chided by a gorilla and are apt to question his neutrality. My immediate response to such an impropriety is to hoist the combatants off the ground, holding one under each arm. I have always found that women are much calmer when their feet are airborne.
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