Read Chapter One

Queen of Clubs

♣ Chapter 1 ♣

Simon plays rugbyDai Williams stopped walking as soon as he saw the Glanddu village rugby clubhouse. He and his wife, Marilyn, had just been watching a TV series called, ‘The ugliest buildings in Britain.’ The eyesores displayed each week had fascinated them for the last six Wednesdays, and they were saddened that tonight’s episode was the last. What puzzled Dai was why the clubhouse before him had not been included in the TV series.

Built on the cheap in the early 1960’s, the building had been designed by an architect who had fled Hungary in 1956 following that country’s abortive anti-Russian uprising. The clubhouse clearly reflected his training in the Stalinist school of the all-concrete, bombproof, anti-tank, blockhouse design.

At the time they commissioned him the architect told the Glanddu Rugby Club’s Committee that concrete did not weather well in rain. Then he asked, ‘Does Carmarthenshire get much precipitation?’ Dai looked at the squat blob with its multitudinous, variously-sized, coloured stained patches and started to laugh.

He said loudly as he continued on his path, ‘Does it rain much in Carmarthenshire? We have hard and soft rain, heavy and light rain, continuous and intermittent rain, solid and fine rain, blustery and driving rain; it drizzles, it pours, it rains cats and dogs, it rains stair rods, it buckets down; we get cloud bursts, we get thunder storms, we get deluges, we get downpours, we get squalls.’

He stopped and thought for a moment. Perhaps squalls only occurred at sea. ‘Can’t use that, then,’ he muttered and decided to avoid any of the coarser expressions for rain just as a wasp flew at him at ankle height.

Dai aimed a kick at the wasp that the latter easily sidestepped. He stood poised, ready to battle the insect if it counterattacked. The wasp hung mid-air, thinking. The local season for wasps to annoy and sting humans was not due to open until September first — several weeks hence. The wasp knew that if he broke the start date rule, a hideous punishment would ensue. The rumour in the nest was that errant wasps would be forced to attend all Glanddu’s Rugby Club’s home games.

As a knowledgeable wasp explained, ‘Only queens survive the arrival of frost. Frosts might not occur here ’til November. If one of us worker wasps is punished, that means seeing as many as six of Glanddu’s games. What right-minded wasp wants that to happen in the twilight of his life?’

‘Can’t they be stung into action?’

‘No, not the team,’ replied the knowledgeable wasp, ‘but get in amongst the game’s spectators and who knows?’

The wasp had watched the team’s pre-season training as it foraged for food. Those few minutes had been enough to establish there was no way it wanted to see the team actually play. Keeping its sting firmly sheathed, the wasp abruptly flew off in search of early blackberries. Dai watched the wasp disappear and as he recommenced his walk, he broke into song: ‘When August showers, they come to Wales, they bring the rain clouds that pour for hours.’

‘Very musical, Dai, but the words could do with some work, a lot of work.’

A voice sounded through the open window of the shed that stood at the end of the rugby pitch.

‘There’s something else. Stay there,’ commanded the voice.

Dai stopped and waited for the voice’s owner, Tom Moses, to appear around the side of the shed, holding his dentures. When Tom emerged Dai was pleased that the man did not wipe his dentures on the oily rag he was carrying in his left hand.

Tom just popped them in with his right before he sidled up to Dai and whispered, ‘I was watching on the driveway before you started singing.’ He raised his eyebrows. ‘You were talking to yourself nineteen to the dozen. You know what they say.’ He tapped his temple with an index finger that left a black mark.

Dai shrugged. ‘When people who lived in Glanddu worked at its coalmine, I saw my customers regularly. Nowadays everyone who has a job commutes to Cardiff, Swansea or Llanelli, so they all leave at the crack of dawn. Now if I want a chat I’ve got to provide both sides of the conversation.’ He sighed. ‘Commuting every day all the way to Cardiff — can you imagine doing that in your day, Tom?’

‘No. In the old days, to go to Cardiff took over two hours by bus and train.’

Tom paused to spit, a habit from his days as a collier. That done, he remembered, ‘It was a big occasion to go there so we took sandwiches. Egg was always my favourite with great dollops of Welsh butter, none of this bloody margarine rubbish the wife tries to get me to eat. I tell her the dust will get me long before the cholesterol does.’ He spat again then grinned, ‘I’d usually eaten the lot before the train had left Swansea Station.’ He laughed, bringing on another coughing fit and a mouth wipe with the rag.

Dai had no desire to go down memory lane any further. He started backing away but Tom grasped his arm and said eagerly, ‘Before you go, what do you think of the ground?’

Dai stood and looked at the rugby pitch. The last time he had paid any attention to the field’s appearance was during the club’s final match of the season in April. At that time of the year, after eight months of non-stop rugby matches, the pitch reminded Dai of Swansea Bay after the tide went out. The difference was that where the rugby pitch had the odd tuft of grass, Swansea Bay had shoes, dead dogs and the occasional supermarket trolley scattered around its expanse.

‘It looks immaculate, Tom. The best I have ever seen it.’ He nodded his head pitch at the green sward before him. ‘It is a real credit to you and the boys of the Ground Committee.’

For a few seconds there was silence as the two men stared at the pitch. Dai then added, ‘No doubt though, Tom, once the team has played a few games on it and we get our usual autumn rain, it will be the customary Flanders’ Fields boggy brown morass.’

‘Maybe not,’ said Tom with a shake of his head. ‘Yesterday the wireless said that because of this global warming we’re predicted to have an exceptionally dry winter. These meteorologists reckon that Wales may soon be a desert just like the Sahara.’

‘Really,’ Dai replied, trying not to smile.

‘Yes. When that happens, we’ll definitely need to have a sprinkler system to get the grass to grow.’

Dai put his arm round the old man. ‘If this place ends up like the Sahara it will be long after you and I have gone. Let us leave it to our grandchildren to decide on the sprinklers. In the meantime I take my hat off to you gardeners because you certainly know how to get the best looking rugby pitch in Wales.’

Tom looked at Dai quizzically. ‘Well, the club owns the pitch so we have a duty to look after it.’

He frowned then after a moment shook his head, ‘Dai, this is not gardening. Gardening is when the wife says, “I want a new border, or I want to move this plant or that plant.” Then gardening is non-stop digging. Then, there are the visits to these mega-sized Gardening Centres that sell never-ending new and costly varieties of plants that the missus wants. Down here,’ his arm swept across the pitch, ‘we don’t have to worry whether this colour flower goes with that colour flower, or this flower contrasts too strongly with the colour on the clubhouse windows.’

He spat again, ‘Admittedly some weeds like plantains grow on the ground. But, unlike at home, we don’t need to bother about them.’

Suddenly, Tom’s voice took on a preacher’s timbre. ‘Being here on the pitch is all about peace, tranquillity and getting away from the wife. Our only problems are to decide whose turn is it to sit on the tractor or whose turn it is to bring the milk for the tea.’ Tom winked, ‘Because I’m the chairman I get to drive the tractor more than most.’

‘What about them?’ Dai thrust a thumb at the pitch. ‘The Ground Sub-committee Chairman’s job is to remove them. Or do you assign one of your minions to do it?’

Without a word, Tom’s face changed to thunder. He placed his hands firmly on his hips, breathed out audibly, spat viciously and without a word to Dai, he strode out onto the pitch and began to clap his hands loudly. The pigeon flock slowly roused itself before it flew off towards the far end of the ground. Then it circled back and deposited its members a few feet from where they had just been grazing. Dai watched Tom walk further onto the pitch and clap his hands for a second time with exactly the same response as before. Tom turned and looked at Dai in exasperation, shaking his fist before beginning a determined march towards the birds, clapping and swearing.

Tom’s dentures were not the best so as Dai continued his walk towards the clubhouse, he was unsure — as were the pigeons, no doubt — whether Tom’s expletives were in English or Welsh or both.

As Dai neared the clubhouse, he heard a car approaching from behind and without looking he waved, knowing it would be someone he knew. The car sounded its horn in acknowledgement, as it overtook him and parked. The driver got out and then retrieved a briefcase from the backseat. Ramrod straight as always, the driver marched towards the clubhouse entrance where Dai stood waiting, holding the door open.

‘Thank you and good evening, David,’ said the driver, who was the only person, other than his wife when she was angry, who ever used his full name.

‘Glad I’ve caught you. Toby is coming down this weekend with his girlfriend, so may I have an extra two pints on Friday and two on Saturday, please.’

Over thirty years in the milk delivery business had honed Dai’s mental filing system and already he had opened his mental order book: G Bowen Thomas, Hillcrest.

‘The usual — skimmed for her and full fat for him?’

‘Yes, thanks. A supermarket wouldn’t remember my requirements, would they, David?’

‘No, they certainly would not,’ barked Dai as he followed Mrs Gloria Bowen Thomas, chairwoman of Glanddu Rugby Club, into the clubhouse. ?

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