31 JANUARY 2004, Page 72

Sunday Punch

Jeremy Clarke Johnson's Standard Swahili–English Dictionaty lists a tree called the Gaagaa Paka tree. `Gaagaa' is a verb, meaning 'to roll from side to side, turn restlessly as a man in pain, or in delirium, or as an animal wallowing on the ground'. 'Paka' is Swahili for cat. The tree is so-called, says Johnson, because 'it is said that if a cat sees this tree it rolls about on the ground and cannot get up again!' That exclamation mark, by the way, is notable for being the one touch of levity, as far as I can see, that the great Fred Johnson allowed himself in the eleven hundred pages of his ground-breaking achievement.

Well, I have the same effect on Trevor these days as a Gaagaa Paka tree has on a passing cat. Whenever he sees me he falls down, and starts writhing about on the floor as if he's in agony. I'm not entirely sure what this exaggerated reaction represents, but I'm happy with it. I'm like a wild dog in this respect. An enthusiastic greeting to celebrate one's return to the pack is everything. Never mind the form. Greet me with a torrent of obscenity, and if it's done with feeling and a sense of ritual, I'll immediately feel welcome.

Trevor's dairy-farmer-Paraquat-suicide greeting, automatic, imperative, always fresh, has, I think, something to do with his oft-stated belief that I come from another planet. His collapse and agonised writhing could be the mental confusion, in pantomime, suffered by a simple yeoman when unexpectedly confronted by a creature from outer space. But whatever it represents, it is above all a ritual re-affirmation of my recently acquired place in Trevor's prestigious local pack, and as such sets this yellow-toothed old dog's tail athumping.

Last Friday night I walked into the pub and Trevor fell on the floor and started having convulsions, as usual. Then he got up and told me I was going with him and a few others over to a club in Torquay, where, with any luck, we would have a lovely fight. 'Who with?' I said, don't mind,' he shrugged. 'I'm easy.' If the worst came to the worst, he said, and there were no other takers, we could always take on the club bouncers. They weren't normally up to much, he said, but it would be better than nothing.

The prestige attached to being one of Trevor's crew is mainly due to Trevor's celebrated Sunday punch, which he is liable to use during the week also. Those who have seen it say it is a very beautiful thing indeed. Even those who haven't seen it and only felt it speak well of it. Trevor himself is so proud of it that, if they bandied CVs about in the hod-carrying business, it would feature prominently on his. He proudly attributes the success of it to the arm work involved in the hay and straw carting he did on the farm when he was growing up. To characterise Trevor's Sunday punch as a haymaker, however, would be an insult to it. Like a straw bale being pitched in the air by a pitchfork, a haymaker punch starts from a long way back and travels to the destination in a wild loop, with loads of momentum to follow. The beauty of Trevor's best punch, I've heard, however, is in its timing, directness, accuracy and power.

As we drove over to Torquay in the taxi I was disconcerted to see that there were only three of us making the trip. The other bloke, `Drac', had no front teeth and he was on crutches, having been run over by his own dumper truck just before Christmas, But if Trevor's Sunday punch was everything they said it was, and hopefully it was a repeater as well, our role in the actual fighting, when it happened, could well turn out to be restricted to dialling for an ambulance.

As we walked in, the bouncers of The Hot Box, were exceedingly deferential towards Trevor. He might have been the Duke of Edinburgh, they were so cringing. This alarmed me. I'd assumed all Trevor's talk about fighting was simply a 42-yearold man's reluctance to grow up. If the bouncers' show of respect was anything to go by, however, he was still performing at the top of his game.

At the top of the stairs I went to the Gents. When I came out I had to step over a bloke who was writhing about on the carpet like a cat that had inadvertently strayed into the Great East African Gaagaa Paka Forest. Trevor had his next contestant by the scruff of the throat and was about to start battering him, when he turned to me and said, 'Where were you?' all indignant-like, as if I was late for work or something.