split upper lip was kissing the canvas. Everything had been going so well until my mother intervened. She had distracted him, and he had momentarily dropped his defence in face of The Brown Bomber From Boston/Brooklyn/Baltimore (tick where applicable). My father figured he could do something about the apparent certainty of my boxing career being ended by the common cold. He was not a drinker, but he knew that spirits were medicinal. He would buy a miniature of Haig and stir it into a beaten egg, sweetened with sugar. It seemed a bit slimy, like many of life’s pleasures; we all have to start somehow. The taste for whisky was imprinted on my palate, to be rediscovered a decade later.Another decade and I was getting my eggs fried at three in the morning, in the canteen at the newspaper where I did shifts rewriting news agency reports. I was bylined as a “ringside reporter” when I smacked smarts into lifeless accounts of title fights 3,000 miles away. Steiger and Mailer appreciated the breakfast, but the kippers gave us the hell of a thirst, something which tended to afflict the guys who unloaded trucks in Covent Garden produce market. The pubs there opened at 5am. “Are you gentlemen bona fide market porters?” demanded the publican. “Yes,” I said, ordering whisky with hot milk for the three of us. I knew what bona fide porters drank – and it was a cold night. “Yes,” said Mailer. “See my cauliflower ear?” The publican hesitated. Never mind Mailer’s ear; he didn’t like his lip. A fast-talking American in a suit was clearly not a market porter, but etiquette was to pretend, straight-faced. The publican had not recognised either Mailer or Steiger. Steiger broke the impasse. He impatiently reached for the drink that had been poured and downed it in one, like a man who had worked all night for it. Then he murmured, in a London accent worthy of Michael Caine, that he could really use another drink. He had presence; I now understood the meaning of the word. The publican looked at Steiger but saw a market porter. Hypnotised, he dispensed drinks for Mailer and I, and started to refresh Steiger’s glass. In a big city, you can get a drink at any hour if you know where and how. Steiger used The Method.