24. The Ferociously Groomed

Derelicts 7  Esher Expendables 20

The morning in Tyrrells Wood, it is fair to say, had not begun well. Tap awoke with a start. The low winter sun had yet again broken through the thinned fabric of the ancient gilt-embroidered blinds and was irritating the big fella by burning into the corner of his eye, rudely awakening him from a disturbed night’s sleep in which dreams of playing hide the sausage with cook were replaced with premonitions of shame, humiliation and anxiety.

He was in a filthy mood. Damn and blast, he thought. “Why did I ever agree to re-site the master bedroom in the sodding east wing?” The sun often woke him too early, rendering him in a foul temper for the rest of the day. Shortly after, the blessed peacocks would start their mournful screaming from the croquet lawn where they’d recently taken to sh*tting.

Tap’s thoughts turned darkly to Mrs Scrubbit, his charmless elderly housekeeper. Hadn’t he asked her politely – and then ordered her – to replace the priceless but useless blinds at the earliest convenience? And had she not been instructed to have the stupid birds quietly throttled? It made him seethe to be ignored and by golly she was going to have to answer to him…

He would have to make his point to Mrs Scrubbit forcefully. Not perhaps as old Uncle Lance might once have done, clad in moist lederhosen, disturbingly aroused and administering a cudgel… but firmly none the less.

Tap was tight-lipped. So incensed, in fact, that he snubbed cook’s lovingly grilled kippers, ripped off his lattice hairnet and strode purposefully for the grooming parlour and his beloved mirror. For this was no ordinary, survey-the-estate, patronise-the-workers-in-the-tied-cottages sort of a day to be conducted from astride the big, wild-eyed hunter with its hooves that sounded like gunshot on the cobbled yards. No, this was to be his glorious return to action with the chaps at Big Field and the small matter of giving the rebuilt barnet a proper road test.

So Tap set to on his bison-sized head with the manicure shears, tweezers and a maniacal expression which soon mellowed first to gladness and then a smug grin of fulfilment. The hours just seemed to fly past when he was mounted upon the satin stool, mahogany-handled brush sweeping majestically along the glossy strands, unguents and lotions spread densely before him upon tiers of mirrored shelves, glistening like his very own magic kingdom.

Screen Shot 2017-03-28 at 08.14.40

Frankly, it had taken his once-lustrous mane months to recover from the mishap with the Braun Ladyshave, administered mistakenly one morning after an especially ferocious assault the previous evening upon the mysterious premier cru Paulliacs he’d uncovered by chance after falling through a faulty drain cover into the culvert by the west wing.

Now, thanks to his intimate affinity with advanced grooming techniques and a timely visit to an eye-wateringly expensive barbers, he felt able to show the oppo once again who was boss.

Glancing at the fob watch, he realised to his horror that hours had passed with the tweezers and it was now early afternoon and he was running late. Tap impatiently waved away cook’s roast partridge on polenta with wood mushrooms and sped off, still quite furious, to Big Field. “F**king blinds, f**king peacocks and f**k that useless housekeeper…” he muttered, regretting that he was about to stride into battle upon an empty tum.

He bounded up the stairs in the clubhouse and was immediately assailed with cheap gags, handshakes and the badinage of old friends adept at sniffing out weakness. But he felt sure neither the imbecile Juggler nor the rotund fool Mozza with their barbs and jibes had detected his unease and soon the Derelicts were all stumbling happily down the stairs to “Vas-up” for the challenge.

Ah the smell of the changing room, he thought, the elixir of youth. And he was soon back in the zone, bantering as he swaddled his bronzed frame in musty old kit before striding purposefully to the pitch.

But the signs were ominous from the outset.

“I’ve reffed you boys before,” sighed Mr Whistle, “and have to say it was one of the lowest days in my career. So can I be left to get on with it without a running commentary or nonsense?”

“Oh yes, Sir,” said Kinger, confident in the knowledge that punchy Mr Oddjob was stuck up a roof somewhere out of harm’s way. “No problems with that at all. You’ll hardly hear a peep.”

And by the interval, leading 7-5, things were looking good and Skip felt emboldened to increase the average age of the front row by 20 years by bringing on Sponge, while upping the average number of hairs per square inch of Derelict skull by at least 50% by bringing on Tap in the engine room.

But Tap’s nightmares really had, it seems, been premonitions all along. For connoisseurs of old style rugby, the sum contribution of the Beautifully Coiffured One consisted of a forearm smash (penalised), a head-hunter’s special (penalised and warned) and a momentary lapse of mind and all reason resulting in cuffings, abuse, claret and, of course, a straight red card.

Scud emerged from the tangle of forwards to announce: “I think it’s bad, I’ve got blood running down me face.”

Which would indeed have been serious, had it been his own rhesus positive instead of the poor addled Esher loosehead.

The form in such situations is normally an all-Hell-breaking-loose free for all, but both packs simply stood aghast, hardly believing what they’d seen.

Tap scratched his chin, shook his head, checked his barnet and trudged off knowing the result would almost certainly go the way of the pear.

Having lost us the match, been warned of his conduct and suffered more or less constant abuse from his own side until early evening, Director of Punishment Jim Evans and Kinger duly arranged for Derelicts justice to be meted out in an ad hoc court session.

“It was all going well,” Kinger explained to a hushed bar, “and we were enjoying seeing some of the older lads on show, pensioner prop Graham Kitchen and of course the elderly gentleman David Giles.”

“Then what?” asked Evans.

“Well I’m sorry to say our big second row lost the plot and got sent off. Straight red.”

“…And would you be able to point him out to us now?”

“Yes, Jim… I think that’s the man over there.”

Tap’s shoulders began to sag.

“And what is the standard Derelicts penalty for such a breach of the law, Kinger?”

“That would have to be the Sauerkraut sandwich followed by a pint of snakebite with a large Clattworthy’s sunk inside.”

“Tap, please step forward…”

The miscreant stood, disgraced, upon the naughty chair, ate Brownie’s disgusting sarnie with a pained expression, desperately trying to hold down the white sliced bread and fetid slaw. With a shudder he then washed it down with his lethal cocktail, the inclusion of a large shot of 98% proof cane spirit in particular quickly numbing the senses to disguise the awful food.

As the bar erupted in mirth, Tap’s mood improved for the first time that day. He called for a pint of Pride to wash down the punishment and he was soon able to look on the bright side through a crooked grin as the Clattworthy’s did its thing and wilted his parting while buckling his knees.

He quickly snuck into the ladies lav, made for the mirror and smiled.

“I’m back,” he dribbled. “A bit w*nkered and disgraced, but back. And you…” he said peering lovingly at his lustrous, dark mane peering back at him… “were sensational”.

Squad remaining on the pitch: Moz, Farmer Dave, Scud, Bouncy, Sponge, Kinger, Ginge, Skip, Pomf, Broomy, The Count, Handy, Rob Newman, Gazza, Raymondo, Big Gav, Lord Greed, Ludders, Gi-lo, The Juggler

Squad banished from pitch: Tap


NEXT: Tap seeks revenge   Previous: 23. Buttering Our Parsnips