Times of Change and a Time to Change – Review of “Extra Chilli Sauce”

Overview:

“Extra Chilli Sauce” is the autobiography of Loughborough’s most famous doorman, John Skillen. Today Skillen is best known as one of the UK’s top self defence coaches and a pioneering gym owner. Interestingly few in the martial arts community really know that much about his career before he exploded onto their scene. Many were bedazzled by the very obvious presence he exuded as the doyens of the British self defence community, Geoff Thompson and Peter Consterdine brought him to their community with the highest recommendations. To many who lived outside Loughborough and certainly those not involved with the club scenes in the Leceister and Hull area, the name John Skillen would have not meant much. Suddenly this new figure arrived with an awesome reputation and a dark past. This book attempts to reveal that past…

Review:

John Skillen was born to English/Irish parents, into what became a large family. He lived some of his early years in Northern Ireland, in a hostile neighbourhood and saw violence on a regular basis. When the family moved to Loughborough in England the violence didn’t stop. By the time he was 16 he was in a juvenile detention centre, later he went to Borstal and finally he did time in prison – on one occasion he put himself there in order to track down an enemy. The first half of Skillen’s book reads like the confessions of a hardened criminal on his descent into self-destruction. He speaks with little reflection when he recounts these times, putting the reader into the attitude he once had. There is little in the way of remorse or justification, but at the same time there is no attempt to glorify the violence of this particular era. This makes “Extra Chilli Sauce” a rare refreshing read for its subgenre.

Skillen starts the book with a discussion on memories, which helps explain the huge collection of anecdotes that follow in chronological order over a 40 year period. His descriptions are vivid, sometimes giving false names for obvious reasons, but often not and often providing place names and giving an idea of the date too. It is told in a conversational style, as is the norm with most books of this subgenre, and peppered with pitch black humour. The book is also told using post-1990s self defence terms like the “power slap” and it also provides information on the effects of adrenaline and how pre-emptive strikes are lined up.

 

Aside from John Skillen’s apparent honesty, what I found particularly helped to separate this book from much of the “true crime” autobiographies that overfill the shelves of WH Smith or Waterstones, are details on the emerging scenes and trends. Being involved at ground level and then in the nightlife industry, Skillen saw first hand the various subcultures from the mods and rockers revival to football hooliganism to the ecstasy-fuelled dance scene of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.

 

The book is over 400 pages long with no padding in any shape or form. Each chapter is rarely longer than four pages, with several no longer than a page or a two. This works quite well, given the “collection of memories” style of narration and makes it very accessible reading. There is the odd editing error, but these will no doubt be tightened up in future editions.

 

“Extra Chilli Sauce” is a thoughtful, expressive and informative read for anyone interested in the culture of violence and the potential of human beings.  

 

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