Fergus Finlay: The Magnificent Seven have shown us how to beat the enemy

Fergus Finlay: The Magnificent Seven have shown us how to beat the enemy

A scene from the ‘Magnificent Seven’. Maybe we won’t all make it, but we know if we stick together, if we fight as one, if we refuse to give up, Covid won’t win.

I’m not going to give you my list of all-time favourite movies, because I don’t want you to know how shallow and superficial I am. 

But I will bow to no-one in declaring The Magnificent Seven to be one of the best cowboy films of all time. Believe it or not, the movie is just sixty years old, but it’s as fresh as yesterday. And it’s easily available all over the place if you want to see it again.

Maybe it’s too violent for our times, and I guess you’d have to say it’s an old-fashioned adventure movie in many ways. But I’ll tell you what — actors were actors in those days. They sauntered and drawled, smoked cigars like artists, and really knew how to wear a hat and ride a horse.

So when I’d had my fill of depressing news, when January looked like being the longest and most miserable month in the history of the world, I took refuge one day recently in my favourite western. But the cares of the day took their toll, and almost before Elmer Bernstein’s famous theme tune had died away, I had drifted into a deep sleep.

And then I had a remarkable dream. I jotted it down as quickly as I could, so I could share it with you.

In the spring my village had been devastated. Calvera’s gang — we called him Covid because we’d heard about a disease from the north that was mean and cruel, and didn’t care who it hurt or killed — had raided our village and taken everything we couldn’t hide. It was awful, frightening, and we knew he would be back

Somehow, we had to fight. But how? We were farmers, not fighters. Our elders gathered us together and told us we had to gather up everything we had, and go north to buy some guns.

I was the one who was sent, and in the very first bar I went into in the Northern town, I met Tony. 

Dark, he was, and quiet. He was bald, and always seemed to carry a single folder of papers. But he was willing to talk and seemed to want to help. “Buy men instead of guns,” he said. “Men are cheaper than guns.”

 Although we had almost no money, he agreed that he would try to put a gang together. Paul was his first choice, a tough, taciturn hombre. Not a big guy by any means, but you could see he’d be tough in a fight. He’d just been offered a job, and was unwilling to come south with us at first. But the job was as a clerk in the town store, and even though the store manager had told him he’d be a “crackerjack clerk”, he decided to throw in his lot with us.

So now we had two. Colm was a different proposition. Tony knew he’d be down in the cattle yards, but when we got there he was being provoked into a fight with a local loudmouth. 

He wasn’t going to win, I reckoned. Slow, with a measured drawl and the look of a man who just wanted to sleep. But when it started, I’ve never seen anyone as fast. That man could have been a surgeon. The fight was only going to end one way, and the result meant that Colm too was in need of a trip south of the border.

Our fourth was to be Anne, a sardonic poker player and gambler, equally effective with a gun in each hand. It turned out she too needed to get out of town quick — she had been involved in a duel with the Johnson brothers, and the rest of the Johnsons were looking for her. She agreed to meet us, as she put it, “in a dry wash south of town” and head south with us.

One of the young men in the town really wanted to join us — he looked to me like maybe he came from a village like mine. At first Tony didn’t want Ronan in the gang. The kid, he called him, and kept referring to him as Chico. Too impulsive, Tony said. But Ronan insisted, and eventually Tony relented. He was to be among the bravest of them all

Philip didn’t believe us when we offered him the tiny sum we had available. In his usual line of work he could earn a huge weekly wage. But he looked like the sort of guy we needed — maybe a bit fond of telling long stories about statistics, but always calm and steady. Tony whispered something to him in a corner of the saloon — I discovered afterwards he might have dropped some hints about buried treasure — and Philip too agreed to saddle up.

On the way south, we met Lucky Luke, as the rest of the gang called him. I never met a man with a brighter outlook on life, and he was more than happy to join us on our journey, although he’d never been part of the gang before. Stick together, he said, and we’ll beat this thing for sure.

We got back to the village just in time, before Covid’s second attack. When he and his gang of 40 rode in, he sneered at the seven we had brought to defend us. But that was before he realised how quick and how deadly our gang of seven were. Within minutes, it seemed, we had them on the run

We were triumphant. Although Tony and his men were quick to warn us that Covid and his gang would be back, more than a few didn’t want to listen. They’ll never be back, some of the villagers said. We’re safe now to go about our normal lives. A lot of them wanted the gang I had assembled to go home.

I’m ashamed to say that when the next attack came — as our gang of seven had said it would — we were still busy celebrating our victory. But they came heavily armed, and they devastated our village.

It took all that — many deaths, and many of the villagers hurt — before we realised that we had to listen. Tony and his gang, especially Ronan, spent weeks teaching us how to fight. Anne led us all in building fortifications and traps for the Covid gang.

Paul seemed to work around the clock, encouraging the villagers to put aside their differences and fight as a team. Colm tended the wounded villagers and little by little restored them to strength. Philip kept encouraging us by showing us charts about how we could beat the Covid gang. And Lucky Luke cheered us all up by promising, whenever he was asked, that we would win in the end.

We know there is a long battle to come. Covid is in the mountains, and he’s coming back. But we’ve learned. Next time he will have to fight us all, together. Maybe we won’t all make it, but we know that if we stick together, if we fight as one, if we refuse to give up, Covid won’t win. The Magnificent Seven didn’t just fight our battles for us. They taught us how to beat our enemy.

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