5. The Wrong Changing Room

Derelicts 0 London Irish Vets 24

 “Stay there and don’t move.”

He did as he was told and stood, self-consciously, between the racks of towels and bathroom mirrors, laden with an unfeasible variety of shopping bags that had grown heavier as the long, long afternoon had worn on. It had been dark for hours.

All he wanted now was a sherbet and a sitdown, but there had been a slight disgrace outside the ladies changing room in John Lewis earlier and “Management” had gone ballistic in that clenched-jaw, hissed notification of untold miseries ahead way that only a woman of a certain age can deliver with proper purpose of intent.

His original folly – and he winced now at the sheer stupidity of it – had been to let slip in the morning that the Derelicts had suffered a cry-off. Before he could assert his right to “pop down anyway and catch the Ones in action”, he’d been proper turned over. Wrong footed. Handcuffed.

“Oh, bad luck hun, but good for us. I need a few things in Kingston and I need your opinion. We also need to kit out the observatory. Be good to have the company.”

He omitted a faint high-pitched noise. The expense of the observatory had given him anxiety dreams and he wished he’d never agreed to the damn thing, but now it was just getting worse. Shopping. Kingston. Dictionary definitions of untold boredom and pain.

He knew there’d be distractions and sure enough she’d spotted a skirt as they wound through John Lewis and he’d been made, not for the first time that day, to sit outside the changing rooms while she tried on said skirt in several different shades and sizes. As he sat there in the warmth, with the afternoon sun piercing the high windows, he started to feel weary and had begun lazily to grade each filly venturing in or out of the changing rooms. Would. Wouldn’t. Would. As any chap might do in an idle moment. His mood lifted temporarily.

It might have been the plump Indian-looking young mum that did it or the coquettish middle-aged blonde, or even, strangely, the bad tempered brunette with blotchy skin. Or, as his mind wandered some more, just the thought of what a few Brownie points from shopping might encourage in the boudoir ce soir. But suddenly he realised that the old chap had been unexpectedly, ever-so-slightly, well, called into life.

Dear Christ, a bloody semi! In the middle of bloody John Lewis! He shuffled in the chair with a start, then permitted himself a wry smile. “What would merciless Mr Oddjob and the boys make of that, heh, heh!”. The fabulous incongruity and naughtiness of the situation was not wasted on him and he stifled a small snort of appreciation.

 And then he realised, to his horror, that a floor manager must have been clocking his not so discreet smile.

Said employee was in mid rebuke as “Management” arrived to hear the end of the conversation “…and we would like sir to leave the shop immediately”.

She hadn’t even stopped for an explanation, but hot footed it with him scurrying apologetically behind and proceeded to shop without mercy.

The whole unfortunate incident had come back to The Challice and preyed upon his mind as he tried to slide the cup of sweet coffee shakily to his parched lips on Saturday morning while endeavouring to shrug off the effects of the sodden night before, which, he now bitterly regretted, had ended rather too recently.

As he reached for the mobile to text a cry-off to Skip on compassionate grounds, his fingers hovvered about the keys as he remembered his options. This time of year the High Street Quickstep was always a possibility … and he shuddered. “No, not making that mistake again,” he thought. He’d soldier on and besides, London Irish Vets would be a breeze.

Dear Lord, how wrong can you be, he thought as his head span following an agricultural challenge from a wily old goat in green. The clanging in his battered old lug holes had only just stopped when in came another and the wind escaped his chest cavity with alarming force and for a moment he saw stars. A few rucks later, still fuddled, he seized his chance and marched straight over a couple of prone green shirts to collect – amid squeals of pain inflicted by his studs and threats of retribution – a yellow card and a much-needed 10-minute breather in the bin. “Some things you just can’t coach,” he thought to himself.

The Irish had looked a ragtag mob. Arriving late, ranging in age from mid teens to mid sixties and wearing a mixture of attire that conveyed an utterly misleading impression to the Derelicts in their bespoke, if battle-worn, matching shirts.

Irish had drawn 5-5 with Cobham, whom we had already beaten. And the omens looked even better for a few minutes as the Derelicts pack did what the Derelicts pack does, and moved the ball from phase to phase to phase. And then suddenly the ball got turned over and the Irish cleverly capitalised on their nine-man overlap to run in their first. Cue scratching of heads.

And soon, despite some feeble Irish hands, there was a second and a third try taken in breakaway fashion from loose play followed by some “after you Claude” Derelicts defending. Cue finger pointing and gnashing of teeth.

In the tight we put up a show once again, with Reigate Mike, arguably the world’s largest scrum half, answering the emergency call to grace the No3 shirt and keep the scrums contested. Indeed Tighthead Mike made a fine job of it against the best oppo front 3 we’ve faced this season. All tough as teak and ex London Irish 1st XV, they cheerfully informed us later. But, tellingly, they never took a ball off us. So, strictly speaking, that’s a draw. 

If the first half was forgettable, the second was magnificent. True, the Irish got another breakaway try and some of their ball ripping skills in the rucks were superb. But the rest of the story is a heroic tale of how we 16 muddied oafs toiled in their 22 for what must have been 25 minutes. We had a certain try by The Juggler and Tap wrongly identified as not grounded and another went begging when a mystery hand interfered with a sweet pass to the loosehead for a knock-on with the line begging. (Trust me, those are the facts.)

Not a day for the purists perhaps, but a canny forward effort and honourable mentions to the frantic Gerbil for some fine waltzing early on, as well as Rodders, Lord Greed and The Count for taking the game to the oppo. And, of course, to The Challice for perseverence against appalling odds.

No game this weekend, but hopefully time to slip one in, so to speak, before the festive break. But if not, do remember that shopping (should it come to that) can be hazardous.

Let’s take care out there.

Squad: Mozza, Scud, Reigate Mike, Tap, Ginge, The Count, The Challice, Mavis The Matador, Buzz, Rodders, The Juggler, Margaret The Matador, Lord Greed, Gerbil, Fishfingers, Raymondo, Skip.

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