I can’t say that there was anything special about Grimsby—no trait or feature that I hadn’t already seen countless times in countless others—except that, no matter how many times I met the specimen, I was always a surprised to see what one of them would do next. It was predictable, but, in its very uninhibited excess, it was more than I could ever get used to. I was never able to become entirely accustomed to the lad character in its expressive mode.
Grimsby entered that mode the moment we got into the taxi. The driver, a woman, was reluctant to accept the fare and before setting out she turned to Grimsby and, in English, established the rules that would govern our journey if we were to reach our destination: there would be no smoking, no open windows, no bad behaviour. My companion promptly lit a cigarette, opened the window and let fly a string of abuse—‘cow’, ‘cunt’, ‘Nazi whore’—that stopped only when the taxi finally stopped and we were ordered out.
The exchange established a pattern for the rest of the evening. We didn’t stay long at the bar we found—a working man’s place filled with what I judged to be a pretty rough crowd—because Grimsby had taken to chanting ‘Heil Hitler’. I ushered him out. There were similar encounters later, including one in a restaurant with a Dutch supporter in his mid-fifties who was eating dinner with his three sons. As he was the only Dutch supporter there, Grimsby took it upon himself to walk across the room, interrupt the family’s meal, lean over and call the father a wanker, while jerking his hand up and down in his face, as though masturbating into it. He made a fizzy foaming sound with his mouth. Then he called the father a fuckface; a fucking fuckface wanker; and finally a Dutch shitbag cunt of a coward.
Grimsby believed that he needed to prove his cultural superiority to every foreigner he met; I had forgotten just how violent the violent nationalism of the English football supporter could be, and being in Germany had made him vigorously nationalistic. There was also the war: the one ‘we’ won. Although he was only twenty years old—Grimsby worked as a lorry driver, making deliveries for a local brewery—his talk was almost exclusively about World War Two: it provided him with the images and the history to attach his nationalism to. He wanted to fight the war all over again. The viciousness of the Germans, the spinelessness of the Dutch, the bulldog bravery of the English: these were tenets of a fundamental belief, and Grimsby would be an unhappy man if he couldn’t go into a battle of some kind to illustrate that they were more—that they were in fact incontestable verities of national character.