He’d been feeling particularly ordinary this morning after the adrenalin of yesterday’s match and the inevitable evening punch-up. Jonny Cochrane lived for confrontation. To outsiders he was a “bovver boy,” or “British football hooligan,” but to Jonny Cochrane, he was just a tribal warrior. The heady rush of sweat, blood and violence was empowering. Quick to sense provocation, he self-justified his brutal and disproportionate responses. A decent headbutt, then a flurry of steel-capped bovver boots to the skull of someone lying prone was an appropriate response to some tosser wearing the wrong football colours. Was Jonny a hooligan? Yeah, bloody oaf mate!
By mid-morning, he’d staggered into the town square in the village of Pontelais-sur-Ligne in France after having been to the match between his British club and the French team, Rennes. Jonny and his hooligan mates had resiled to a seedy bar in Rennes after their team lost 3-1. An evening of alcohol, noise, rebuke and spite ensued. Past midnight, it had spilled onto the street where a melée erupted between rival groups of fans. In the act of nutting a French fan, he’d split his own forehead. Jonny bled profusely above his eye, and he’d also had a piercing crudely torn from his earlobe. Two missing front teeth, however, had been the legacy of an earlier scrap in London.
In a fog of drunken stupors, Jonny and his bovver mates had missed the TGV train to Paris for their Eurostar connection to London. At 10.03am the bovver boys boarded a slower, local train heading in the general direction of Paris but by 10.30, the conductor had ejected Jonny from the train for urinating in the carriage corridor. Unsure of his whereabouts, he stood on the platform scratching his arse through denim because his pocket was empty. He’d lost his phone in the back street rumble last night. His temples pounded, and blood had congealed on his forehead, shoulder and shirt. The platform sign indicated he was in the village of Pontelais-sur-ligne.
The small, flag-stoned village square, two blocks from the station, housed charming flower beds and an old water pump. In early 1940, the village had witnessed the savagery of war when local resistance leaders had been summarily executed against the walls of the town hall. Today, however, it was tranquil as villagers ambled amongst the farmer’s market stalls in the square. Between the Boulangerie and Boucherie, two buskers were squeezing out Chanson francaise on their piano accordions. At their feet lay a Breton farmer’s cap containing a few Euros and a small sign. The proceeds would go to a local children’s charity. The buskers were contributing to this morning’s joie de vivre. Resting on their shoulders, each wore a papier-mâché horse’s head over their skull. One was a roan colour, the other grey, and local children giggled in delight watching horses perform rural French accordion music. There was an all-round sense of sans souci in this rural scene. Families mingled and chatted amongst cheese carts, flower vendors, egg carts, chocolatiers and nougat sellers. An atmosphere of serenity reigned….. and then Jonny Cochrane slithered in.
He was in foul spirits, staggering, hungover, bleeding, devoid of phone or train ticket. When he reeled into the cheese cart, several wheels of blue-vein and one of raclette tumbled to the pavers. The horrified cheese merchant vented a stream of excitable French towards Jonny who had zero comprehension of French.
“Oi! Shut ya face ya crazy frog. Ged outta me way!” Jonny roared, backing away from the cheese cart and bumping straight into the flower seller’s stand. Several bunches were knocked to the ground.
“Ya shouldna moved ya pissy liddle cart into me path when me back were turned. It looks like a shitty little frog cart anyway… you know… is it a Renault?”
He was sniggering at his attempted humour when, courtesy of Chanson francaise music underpinning the market, he spied the buskers wearing horse heads. Through slits, the buskers observed as Jonny Cochrane approached. There was menace in his face and voice. Screwing up his bleeding features, he tilted his head to one side, and leered at them, mouth agape, teeth missing.
“Oi! You two look like prize tossers…. Are youse mares or stallions …. or geldings? I’ll bet yer both geldings yer garlicky bloody frog gits.”
The roan horse replied gruffly in stilted baritone English, “I am mayor.”
The mayor stamped his right foot several times like an agitated horse, then emitted a loud whinny. Jonny smirked briefly before he was overcome with a building crescendo. He gagged. His stomach heaved and churned, he jammed his mouth shut and his cheeks ballooned. Thirty metres from the buskers stood a row of four portable toilets. He sprinted towards them and kicked out wildly at the closed doors. Three were in use prompting screams from startled French occupants. He tore open the fourth door as a steaming gush of vomit sprayed the interior walls of the cubicle. The lid was down anyway, and the toilet door was wide open to the gaze of incredulous French villagers.
“J’en ai marre!” (“I’m fed up!”) roared Gaston Pétard, the mayor of Pontelais-sur-ligne, through his roan horse head.
“Et moi aussi!” bellowed Laurent Fournier, the currently off-duty local gendarme. Removing his grey head, he gently placed his beloved accordion onto the pavement then darted towards the reeking, open cubicle. He slammed the door shut. Drawing handcuffs from his pocket, Laurent secured the door from the outside. Trapped inside, Jonny emitted a torrent of abusive protest. It was accompanied by further spewing and retching through a gut-churning, vile stench.
Retrieving his phone, gendarme Laurent Fournier arranged for the offensive cubicle to be hoisted onto a truck and driven, in as rough a manner as possible, to the Council depot 8km away. It was not to be opened for a further hour, at which time the interior was to be fire-hosed clean, including the occupant. Replacing his phone in his pocket, Gendarme Fournier nonchalantly donned the roan head and continued his morning’s charitable work with the accordion.