Apocalypse Neuil L’espoire

The Derelicts’ tour to Poitiers, France

“Saigon, shit. Iʼm still only in Saigon. Every time I think Iʼm going to wake up back in the jungle. When I was home after my first tour, it was worse. Iʼd wake up and thereʼd be nothing…
“I hardly said a word to my wife until I said yes to a divorce. When I was here I wanted to be there. When I was there, all I could think of was getting back to the jungle.”

The voice of Col Willard, Apocalypse Now

WHAT follows now is a journey to the heart of darkness, well Poitiers  in France in fact, and it all began when Rodley had a dream.
Jonah: The mission, see, is to proceed across the Channel via Ryanair. Pick up Colonel Shroud’s path at Poitiers, follow it and learn what we can along the way. When we find Shroud, infiltrate his team by whatever means available and terminate his command.
Broomy: Terminate Shroud? Are you sure?

Jonah: He’s out there operating without any decent restraint, no morals, no trousers… totally beyond the pail of any acceptable human conduct. And he’s still in command of the bloody *Sock.
Lord Greed: Terminate with extreme prejudice.
Wolfie: You do understand that this mission does not exist, nor will it ever exist.
Broomy: A sort of “what goes on tour, stays on tour situation?” Jonah: Exactly.
Ginge: So, just one more… and then we’ll get right on it… Broomy: Tidy.
Ginge: I think you’ll find, Broomy, they say “range” over here. Sounds like Ron Jay.
Broomy: Sorry, Ron Jay.

(*The Sock, also known as the whip. The holder of said sock is known as Sock)

Friday. May 8. Big Field. Breakfast.
The bar has the unmistakeable quality of a lively party where your best mates are gathered. One or two faces appear, unknown yet strangely familiar… mischievous and possibly slightly dangerous. You could cut the air with a knife such is the excitement.
The invitation said ‘Champagne Breakfast’, so we brought bottles and were all soon in the mood to tour. Except fretful Handy Andy who had been charged with arranging 52 gaudy blazers in a range of sizes for the party.

“Blazers arriving Andy?”
“Not sure, Moz. No word from the supplier. It’s been days. We’ve got the shirts though…”
“Waddaya mean, shirts?”
“In sort of club colours and Frenchy colours, half ’n half..
“I am not wearing a fucking nylon Ram shirt in yellow Andy. If I get a flame too near, I’ll go up. I don’t do yellow. I’m too fat to wear yellow”
“It’s a XXL, Moz. We’ve all got them.”
“Oh… right…”

Friday. Airport.
Jonah discovers that the print out of the manifest showing we’ve all got tickets requires us to laboriously punch in ID for all 52 tourists into a computer terminal ill-equipped for purpose, a task beyond all but the brave. The mood deteriorates. Jonah, Raymondo and a harassed Ryanair girl eventually sort the issue.
With the clock ticking, the blazers arrive. They are as smart and dashing as the yellow nylon shirts are unsettling.
The splendid jackets are duly dished out, inevitably some are missing. Chrissie Broom promptly loses her boarding card. Broomy’s eyes fill with tears.
We overwhelm the Stansted bar with drinks orders and yards and yards and yards of striped material. Some young lads nearby on their stag weekend in pink polos with their nicknames emblazoned on their backs – im-a-dick, grim-northerner, lover-boy, cockney-ponce – look a little crestfallen, their thunder stolen.
Sock is busy ordering pints and, very agreeably, several trays of G&T. Now we’re talking. Mainly bollocks, but now we’re talking. Seamlessly we glide onto the runway and into the capsule.
“How quaint,” observes Tap, sliding tightly into his seat. “Little tables that fold out of the back of the seat in front. Normally they pull up from the side… do they do those lovely little pre-lunch canapés on Ryanair?”
“I’ll have three large G&Ts,” orders Hairnet. “And I’ll have the same,” barks Kinger.
“But you’re sitting beside each other…” says the alarmed trolley dolly. “That’s right,” says Kinger, “Good spot. Now make it snappy.” “One more and I’ll get right on it,” says Ginge.
“I haven’t had a drink for a fortnight,” Giggles The Juggler.
“Well make sure you don’t drop that one,” observes Fast Graham.
And soon Ryanair Flight 666 to Poitiers is completely out of G&Ts, beer, nuts and order.
“I don’t suppose you’ve got a proper glass for this?” pleads Tap with a look of distaste, holding out a limp sache of a gin-style beverage.

MikeyFriday. Arrival in Poitiers.
The Challice, Nosher, Reigate Mike, Broomy and Farmer Dave are in the vanguard as we spill into the terminal and out the other side, gusting into town like a giant red and black striped magic carpet on a giddy cloud of expectation.
Jonah has arranged three hotels on the town square and within five minutes we are unpacked and draping the square in striped material like Christo adorning the Pont Neuf.
The local populace marvel at the sight. “C’est l’art!” Certainly is Marcel. We overwhelm a local barkeep who provides us with a curious-looking pipeline of “Pression” beer which appears to be a heady concoction of light beer and gas, possibly nitrogen, so we are soon giddy and explosive. Un-be-lievably farty.

Friday, Much later.
“One more and I’m getting right on it,” smiles Botty in the Ouest-Est bar in downtown Poitiers.
“One more litre of this Eurogas lager and I’ll have no working colon for the rest of the tour,” burps Kinger.
A collective decision is taken. Rum-based Mojitas from here on in. Industrial quantities are despatched. “Right,” barks a voice from the back. “Ou est le titty bar?”

Friday. The wee small hours.
The latecomers stagger back across the square held together only by the fine fabric of their blazers, buoyed strangely by a surfeit of gas. Dim memories of toppling into flower beds. Others roamed more freely making new and exciting friends.

dsc03252

Saturday. 8am.
Dear Lord, and now we’ve got to play rugby….
Someone nips smartly into the hotel corridor to find Denis has left his door open and is dead to the world. His life-saving juice d’orange is quickly filtched and quaffed, the door quietly closed.
Outside it is raining. Many tourists shelter from the elements outside a café where the owner is delighted to have an early morning run on his stock of Pelforth, the brown mercifully gas-less beer.
Our gentle goading of the locals backfires spectacularly when the town drunk joins our party … for the rest of the day. And night. Like a dog with a clinker, we just can’t shake the bugger off.

Col Kilgore: Smell that? You smell that?
Lance: What?
Col Kilgore: Napalm, son. Nothing else in the world smells like that. I love the smell of napalm in the morning.

Saturday 2pm. Pre-match routine.
“Smell that? You smell that?” asks The Challice
Young Will: “Smell what?”
The Challice: “Linament, son. Nothing else in the world smells like that…
The Challice: “I love the smell of Linament mixed with Vick and musty old boots in the early afternoon. The smell… you know that linamenty farty dressing room smell, smells like… victory.”
There are a lot of us trying to get changed and the badinage is in full swing before the starting XV tumble and groan their way to the field more in hope than expectation.
Not all of us will play today, so there are obviously disappointed tourists.
Most understand. Handy Andy conceals a sulk. Wolfie shows his maturity by disposing of his entire kit, boots and kitbag in the local river. “That’s it,” he whines, “I’m never playing again.”

Saturday 3pm. Kick-off.
Nieuil L’Espoire wheel out Uncle Fester to ref and he gets proceedings off with a Gallic shrug and a wave of his hand.
Things go well. The forwards are immense and the backs do the basics very well. Edwardo at 10 kicks neatly to keep the spirited hosts at bay. The tackles are hard, the locals are dangerous with ball in hand, but under pressure they spill the pill time and again.
The game is played in heat and some begin to wilt. Cliffy is substituted and while recovering on the touchline succumbs to a bout of the vapours and begins to wobble slowly upon his axis before toppling over like a toy soldier.
Next to him Reigate Mike lies prone, Greedy is wincing theatrically and the battlefield scene is completed by the hobbling Challice, tiptoeing about due a tweaked bollock.

But we hold on and just when Nieuil L’Espoire are over the line, up pops Jools to hold up the man and the try is saved.
“Nice one Lewis,” encourages Kinger. Jools is oblivious to the praise. “He’s a cool one,” says Kinger, “didn’t even acknowledge me. “Oy Lewis, nice play mate, nice play.”
In point of fact, there are plenty of performances of note. But as the pulsating encounter crackles towards its climax Uncle Fester awards a harsh penalty to our hosts who eventually spin it down the line for their winger to hit his straps and back himself on the outside.
Nil-nil. The Derelicts’ desperate defence races across field and winger Margaret The Matador, cousin of Mavis, dives to stop his man, only to be cruelly let down by his contact lenses. As he leaps, the special weighted lenses over-balance his pencil-shaped head and send his nose plunging into the turf a foot short of his man who skips over the line for the decisive score.
With the chance of a rare tour draw now gone, Kinger takes it upon himself to put a metaphorical arm around the winger to assuage his terrible guilt. “Margaret,” he bellows, “you wanker.”

Col Kilgore: Outstanding, Red Team, outstanding! Get you a case of beer for that one.

Saturday, 6pm. Je m’appelle L’Oddjob.
Nieuil L’Espoire we decide, translated, means sheep worrier. We see no worried sheep. Nieuil L’Espoire are Lovely people, great little clubhouse and they are delighted to be entertaining their English friend Meeek (Oddjob)and his English teammates from Dorkeeeng.
The beer-gas pipeline re-opens for business and the ententé is most cordial indeed … but suddenly all is not well with Sock. For Sock has lost the sock and decides the best thing to do is to have one more, then he’ll get right on it.
The disgraceful loss of the sock presses his “derange-me-quick” button and his subsequent beverage selection can only be described as “ill advised”.
Oddjob brings the house down by addressing the gathering. In French. His words are well received, his “joke” in particular, is not wasted. There is not a dry trouser in the house.
Tokens of our appreciation are given and appreciated and later we gambol off to the local town hall to be fed by the club and their wonderful families. Critical mass is achieved.
Some Derelicts cadge lifts, others walk the mile through the French countryside to the feast and along the way high spirits are evident, with car horns blaring. Reigate Mike assists a fully-laden 2CV by stepping onto the rear bumper, which proceeds to wheelie down the road. Catching the spirit, Nozza leaps onto the roof of a Renault Clio and leaves a big arse-shaped dent in the roof.
Realising the problem, he asks Fabrice to whom the car belongs, so that he may repair the damage. “No idea,” laughs the French captain, “just a passing motorist.”

Saturday. Late.
We play hop the ornamental stones with the locals and laugh. Then Shaky gets involved and does something inappropriate which scares the children, so we all beat a hasty retreat inside to eat heartily and drink merrily.
Fed, watered and danced, the town hall is awash with blazered fantasists engaged in the time of their life.
Then in a whirl of confusion, states become altered and our old friend Surrealism descends. The CanCan is danced violently… A local proudly displays a treasured collection of white flags… Waiters in little black moustaches appear proferring trays of l’escargot… A bottle of Pastis is missing… Laughter in different languages … A crash of plates… Flashing lights… Fat men running frantically back and forth. Somewhere a duck whistle sounds… A roasted egret… Ne regret rien… Egrets, I’ve had a few… What the fuck is going on… Rene from Allo Allo appears… and then someone presses the hyperspace button.

Much later that night, Rodley had another dream.
Shroud: Did they say why, Willard, why they want to terminate my command?
Broomy: I was sent on a classified mission, sir.
Shroud: It’s no longer classified, is it? Did they tell you?
Broomy: They told me that you had gone totally insane, and that it was because your trousers were suspect.
Shroud: Are my trousers unsound?
Broomy: I don’t see you wearing any trousers at all, sir.
Shroud: I expected someone like you. What did you expect? Are you from Old Bloody Reigatians?
Broomy: Fuck off, I’m from Swansea.
Shroud: Are you bollocks. You’re an errand boy, sent by grocery clerks, to collect a bill.
Broomy: Fair play to you Shroud. Fancy a Pastis?

May 10. Sunday morning.
On a Sunday morning sidewalk,
Iʼm wishing, Lord, that I was stoned.
ʻCause thereʼs something in a Sunday
That makes a body feel alone.
And thereʼs nothing short aʼ dying
Thatʼs half as lonesome as the sound
Of the sleeping city sidewalk
And Sunday morning coming down.
Johnny Cash, Sunday Morning Coming Down

Sunday. Time has stopped
Col Kilgore: What the hell do you know about surfing? Youʼre from goddamned New Jersey.

We scratched heads and wondered how we were going to get through two more days of ferocious flatulence and night terrors which were rolling into day terrors.
Last night began to come back into the consciousness of the group. What had become of Sock? And The Count for that matter. We feared the worst, but suddenly in the far distance of the square a bearded figure approach wearing a thin white institutional tunic.
“Look,” said Jonah, “it’s the Touring Shroud.”
“Fancy a drink, Sock?… How about a Pastis?”
Sock, as it turned out, had enjoyed a good night’s kip under gentle medical care, scoffed a couple of aspirin and felt, well, better than every other member of the squad. And off we went again.
One of the older hands remembered an anecdote about an old tour prank involving a Regan brother, a bag of poo, a toothbrush and painting moustaches on sleeping victims. The rest of the morning blurs into one continuous laugh. We make mental notes to lock our hotel doors at night.

Sunday. Lunch.
A lunch venue is established and many steaks are ordered to fortify us ahead of the game. Game? Fabulous steaks. Plentiful steaks. “Cow steaks?” enquires Wolfie hopefully.
A couple of androgenous Gok Wan acolytes recognize some of the boys from the night before and become fluttery and animated, flirtatiously introducing themselves to the party. “Enchanté… ooh lala, vere weel you be zis evening?”
“Out,” ventures a thunderously heterosexual voice from somewhere down the table, oblivious to the double entendre and subsequent delight and suspected arousal of Gok Wan and indeed Gok Two.

“I thought you said you went to le titty bar last night?” enquired Raymondo from the end of the table.
And with that we make our excuses and head off to face Nieuil L’Espoire for the second day running.

Sunday, 3pm.
Enthusiasm for the second game in as many days is, understandably muted. The invitational side turn up a few men short, resulting in Oddjob and Tap playing in the oppo pack which in turn results in cuffings, cheatings and general skullduggery.
It rained, Colin blew his whistle a great deal, scrums were again uncontested. Botty got a try, Young Will collected a brace and Mozza in his first outing for a long time touched down for a try which Colin disallowed for supposedly being offside.
The game was tight, we all got a run out. Wolfie borrowed kit and played to the crowd and with a little less tosspottery might even have put Oddjob over for a second try.
The game was somehow won 15-12, a first victory for a touring Derelicts side, according to Skip, since about 1935. Waterloo, Ypres, Agincourt, Traffalgar… Nieuil L’Espoire. Tidy. Ron Jay.
The evening followed a similar pattern. Our hosts fed us again with, it has to be said, a degree of trepidation, and we left mid evening amid pledges of return matches back in Dorking.
“Your Mr Colin,” said one of the French chaps, pursing his lips, “he think he in a, ow you say, brass band. No?”
And with that we sailed back into the night for another beer-gas attack. One more, and I’m gonna get right on it.

May 11. Monday. Breakfast.
Sock: “I watched a snail crawl along the edge of a straight razor. Thatʼs my dream. Thatʼs my nightmare. Crawling, slithering, along the edge of a straight razor, and surviving.”

And then Monday dawned, a beautifully clear day in the town square where we came to. Some in the French way with café au lait et Cognac, some quietly fought their demons with soft drinks and some simply wondered how best to blanch the central nervous system before pressing on grimly with the Eurogas that would certainly induce medical complications in the bottom department for some weeks ahead.
The gentle chug of the traffic was then overpowered by the drone of workmen dealing with the planted flower beds.

“You see,” said Tap, “they’ve got an employment policy here so you’ve got half a dozen of them ripping out perfectly decent foliage because of a fucking dictate from Brussels which says everything planted in a municipal flower bed in Europe must be planted in special “euro soil”.
And with that he swivled on his heel and headed off to find a local official to berate. Many glazed faces in distinctive blazers are spotted being aimless. “I’m trying to find a banana,” said Gi-Lo. “I think it was Nosher’s advice”. He looked as you might expect.

Sock: “Itʼs impossible for words to describe what is necessary to those who do not know what horror means. Horror. Horror has a face. And you must make a friend of horror. Horror and moral terror are your friends. If they are not, then they are enemies to be feared. They are truly enemies.”

Monday Lunchtime. Tour Court.
The court dealt swiftly with some minor offences. Nozza and Shaky for leaving the tour early, Lewis for bartering his tour blazer in return for favours not reciprocated, Bushey for having an errant splash, Scud for failing to keep the peace and, lastly, Sock for losing the sock and the circumstances of his acquisition of the Touring Shroud.
His defence having been appointed as the absent Nozza, Sock chose unwisely to mount his own defence, arguing that his use of a local tipple had been to assist his quest to find the sock… concluding a very fine session with the assertion that he almost certainly didn’t exist in the first place, so how could he be fined?
Not withstanding the fact that his crime had been witnessed by 51 others, he won a large degree of sympathy and was only convicted because this being tour, he was most certainly guilty.

Photographer: “The man is clear in his mind, but his soul is mad.”

Monday. Homeward bound.
It would be unfair and indiscreet to report on the condition of the party after four solid days on le razz, but naturally one or two were a shade shabby and it probably wasn’t fair that Farmer Dave slapped Margaret across the head when he nodded off on the plane, but he was after all simply  first in the queue.
The almost final act was the Ryanair trolley dolly taking one look at the bleary-eyed Count of Transylvania and declining his request for a drink.

“Do you know who I am? said Silesia’s largest absentee landlord. “Yes,” said the dolly. “You’re all a big bunch of drink-addled Herberts. And you, matey,” she said stabbing The Count in the chest with her index finger, “Seem to be their spitual leader. You’re bonkers.”
“Not so madam,” said The Count. “Skip is our spiritual leader and Jonah is IC tour party. Sock on the other hand has in fact gone completely insane. I’m not the mad one here.”

Sock: “I watched a snail crawl along the edge of a straight razor. Thatʼs my dream. Thatʼs my nightmare. Crawling…”

Broomy: “Yes, yes, yes… so you’ve bloody told us you mad fuck, and they are not snails, they is called L’escargot. Now the bar’s open back at the club and I’m gonna have one more and then I’m really gonna get on it, see. Fancy another Pastis Sock? … Sock?”

The horror… The horror…

Cast –Tumtum, Handy, Cliff, The Challice, Farmer Dave, Edwardo, The Juggler, Broomy, Glen, Margaret The Matador, Lewis, Ginge, Kinger, Nozza, Skip, Jonah, Reigate Mike, L’Oddjob, Botty, Mozza, Scud, Psycho Pete, Wolfie, The Count, Raymondo, Rodley, Lord Greed, Hairnet, Tap, Young Will, Big Gav
Whistle happy old toad – Colin
Heads or tails – Dennis, Nosher, Terry, Gi-Lo, Ros, Roger, The White Rabbit, Senior Citizen Kane, Kyla, Lou, Graham B, Stuppler, Boosey, Claire, Chrissie, Bad Barry, Fast Graham

NEXT: 101 Damnations    MENU: You may well ask…

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