Monkey Bars and Rubber Ducks (10 page)

‘That won’t be necessary. I can see he’s a much better colour now. Jonno, may I suggest you make sure staff are aware of your tendency to feel unwell to avoid such a situation in future. Mr Morris was clearly ignorant of your condition.’

‘Absolutely,’ said Jonno, in a loud clear voice. ‘Thank you very much.’

We made for the door, to find Mr Morris coming through it.

‘How’s the patient?’ he said.

‘Fine, thank you,’ said Jonno, who was looking much better.
Go flower potion!

I led them to the tent. Fifty’s suitcase wheels didn’t like the grass so he had to carry it which slowed us down a bit, but we managed to dump all the stuff before the camp horn sounded which meant it was time to assemble outside the mess tent. I just had time to congratulate Fifty on his quick thinking (typing
Jonno Dad
into his phone was a brave move – if the nurse had tried to call it the game would have been up) before we were told to ‘settle down and listen’.

We all sat on a huge plastic sheet. It was the usual safety-respect-rules-good-citizens-representing-the-school type of talk. The interesting bit was the plan for the day. Lunch, then a tour, then duck racing, then chores, supper, quiz, bed. It didn’t sound too bad.

I Love
my Sleeping Bag

Seriously, my sleeping bag felt like the best bed in the world. Camp was tiring. Fifty tried to talk to me but I couldn’t be bothered to answer. Someone was already asleep – I could hear some little piggy snorts. Copper Pie, I reckoned. He had Trumpet at the bottom of his sleeping bag so no one could see it. Question: If no one could see it, how did I know? Answer: Because that’s what Copper Pie always does.

We’d had a good day. The place was basically a field, a few buildings, a river, a big wood (that we only saw from a distance), the assault course (that weaved over the river and back again) and the best bit, the beach. After the tour was over it was time to get into groups – no worries. Tribe stood together. But then the nurse with the short hair and glasses, who obviously wasn’t a nurse at all, announced we needed to be in sixes because there were forty-eight of us in total, not fifty, and that meant eight groups of six, not ten groups of five. Lily was the obvious choice to join us but she was already with Ed and Marco. Callum and Jamie were in a two.
Don’t put one of them with
us, I thought. For a minute it looked like disaster but thankfully Lily started organising everyone and somehow she ended up with us, and Marco and Ed ended up with quite a cool group and Callum and Jamie were put with four kids from the other class. Naming our team was easy. Although Lily insisted it be called ‘Tribe + Lily’ because she’s not a Triber.

(mostly rubbish):

  • Tribe + Lily (us)
  • Mountainboarders (Marco, Ed and others)
  • Missiles (Callum, Jamie etc.)
  • We Hate Spiders (girl I sat next to on the bus and giggly friends)
  • Axemen
  • Flower Power (Alice’s lot)
  • Hogwarts (so lame)
  • Team GB

It was time for duck racing. We had such fun. There were heats and then a semi-final and a final to find the winning team. Between us we set the whole course up. We made a finishing line using sticks as poles to hold the string that ran across the river. The start line was the bridge. Every team had to make something to catch the ducks with so that they didn’t go all the way to the sea. (We criss-crossed some string over the end of a forked stick.)

It sounds a stupid kind of race, but the river was flowing really fast and the ducks (they were rubber, not real – that would be cruel and Bee would have had to go to the san because she’s frightened of flappy birds) went really fast too. There were rocks and weeds and stuff that got in the way, so one minute the Tribe duck was in the lead and the next it was last, and then it would find a nippy bit of current again and overtake.

We ran alongside the river shouting – everyone did. Our duck was green. In the practice run it came last, but after that we got better and better. It was all to do with the angle between your duck’s beak and the flow of the river, and the speed of launch (or it could have been luck). We made it to the semis, beat Callum’s lot (even though they’d called themselves Missiles!), and then it was time for the final -Tribe versus Mountainboarders (Marco, Ed, etc.). It was absolutely brilliant. One of the camp instructors (not the nurse, a man called Max) got everyone to vote for who was going to win, and our supporters stood one side of the river and theirs stood on the other. It was Jonno’s turn to let go of our duck (with the beak pointing just off-centre, slightly to the right) and Marco launched theirs. What a race! Everyone was screaming. We were winning. They were winning. We got stuck. They got stuck. Our duck found a way through a tangle of weeds and was storming ahead when their duck found some engine boosters somehow and shot straight down the middle of the river to win by about three duck lengths. We didn’t mind, well I didn’t, but what happened next was hilarious. Marco was so excited he jumped into the river to fetch his duck and held it up in the air shouting something in Portuguese (the water came up to around his middle) and everyone started clapping, even Max, who you’d have thought should have been dragging him out.

Some teams helped with tea – it was stew and we had it in the canteen – and then we all sat on the groundsheet again for the quiz. Mr Morris was the quizmaster. He was funny – he kept using different accents and giving us hints that weren’t hints. Miss Walsh was in charge of scoring. Every round was about something different and at the end of it each team took up their sheet for marking. We were OK on history (thank you Fifty for paying attention in class), good on sport (well done Copper Pie for paying attention to the Premier League), and music (Lily’s speciality), OK on geography (Jonno and Bee) and literature (me, and it means books), but hopeless at entertainment (loads of questions about film stars), and brilliant at science and nature (Jonno got the lot).

At the end there was a joke-telling contest while they added up the scores. Fifty stood up and reeled off about twenty jokes one after the other like he was a stand-up comedian so no one else got a look in. He was awesome. There were prizes for the top three teams. We scraped second, one point ahead of the team with the friendly girl from the bus in it (called We Hate Spiders), but then we went way ahead when Max awarded three bonus points for Fifty’s one-man show. Our prize was a box of Maltesers, which we ate outside tents 2 and 3. Then Bee and Lily disappeared into their tent and I went to the shower block to do my teeth. I’m pretty sure Copper Pie didn’t bother to do his. I didn’t care. All I wanted was to have the longest sleep ever. I turned over in my sleeping bag. I thought I heard a beep, like something being turned on or off, but that was the last thing I remember so maybe it was me being turned off for the night.


Mr Morris poked his head into our tent and said, ‘Wakey wakey.’ It was a horrible shock – being fast asleep and then a second later being face to face with a teacher.

‘Where’s Fifty?’ he said.

The answer was pretty obvious – in his sleeping bag. I looked across.
Ah! Perhaps it wasn’t so obvious.
Fifty had either wriggled down to the bottom, or gone for an early morning jog. I kicked his bag to see which was true.

‘Get off me,’ said a muffled voice.

‘Fifty,’ said Mr Morris again.

A head of black curly hair crept out of the opening. Followed by an eye.

‘Yes, Mr Morris.’

‘I gather you have brought a mobile phone with you, spotted by a member of the activity centre staff when you visited Jonno in the san.’

Fifty nodded.

‘Hand it over. You can have it back on Thursday, when we hand you back to your parents. You know the rule.’ The rule is no phones allowed – it’s meant to stop people ringing their mums begging to go home.

Fifty disappeared down into his sleeping bag and came up with his phone. Mr Morris retreated out of the flap.

‘You brought your phone,’ I said. That’s called ‘stating the obvious’.

‘You know I did. I pretended to have Jonno’s dad’s number, didn’t I?’

Me, Jonno and Copper Pie all went ‘Oh yeah’ at the same time.

There was silence and then Copper Pie said, ‘Why’d you do that?’

And Fifty said, ‘Same reason you bought Trumpet,’ and threw himself at Copper Pie’s sleeping bag. He tried to burrow in and find C. P.’ s elephant. Me and Jonno sat up in our bags and enjoyed the show.

I had no idea what a phone had to do with a cuddly elephant but the wrestling was good fun.

Eventually Copper Pie gave in and fished Trumpet out himself.

‘There. All right, so I brought him. What are you gonna do?’

Trumpet looked a lot older than the last time I saw him properly (which was probably in Reception). His trunk was hanging by a thin bit of grey string.

Fifty shrugged.

‘Actually, I brought something in case I was homesick too,’ said Jonno. (That’s when it clicked – Trumpet and the phone were both homesickness cures. The mysterious bedtime beeping was Fifty checking in.)

‘What?’ we all said. We were getting good at speaking at the same time, like a chorus or backing vocals.

Jonno put his hand inside his pillowcase and pulled out a bullet-shaped piece of stone. Odd thing to choose. He turned it round, looking at it from different angles.

‘It’s my favourite fossil.’

I made a mmmmm noise, which was the best I could muster. It was a stone, that’s all.

‘Where did you buy it?’ asked Fifty.

‘I didn’t buy it,’ said Jonno.’ I found it, on my first fossilhunting trip with my grandad. I’ve got better fossils, you know, ammonites, crinoids, but this belemnite was the first really good one.’

‘Cool,’ said Copper Pie, shoving Trumpet out of sight again.

‘What have you got, Keener? Cuddly toy? Bit of your old baby blanket?’ asked Fifty. I didn’t like the way he said ‘baby’.

‘Nothing,’ I said. And it was true. I may have been the one dreading coming to camp but I hadn’t brought anything, unless they counted keeping Dad’s last sentence in my head, telling me I’d be back home soon. So much for me being the wimp. I smiled at the three of them to make sure they realised that, for once, it wasn’t
who was the baby.

Max told us the day’s activities while we ate breakfast. (The nurse stood by his side and added extra details.) It was all wasted on me. I couldn’t hear a thing because Copper Pie was cramming so much food into his mouth at once that he kept having to do a sucking-up slurp to keep it from falling out. I’d had a bacon sandwich, but he’d taken bacon, eggs, sausages, beans and toast, and lots of it.

I had to ask Bee to repeat everything.

‘Team Tribe are in the lead. There’s an award ceremony at the end of the week.’ (I didn’t realise the whole week was a competition.) ‘But there are points for other things, not just the challenges, like helping, and using common sense.’ She took a mouthful of beans on a square of bread, and carried on. ‘Today is a day of two halves. Four groups are starting the day doing raft building, then they swap with the other four groups and do wood collecting and campfire building.’

I was a bit surprised by how much I was looking forward to it all. Why had I thought camp would be awful? I wasn’t missing home one bit.

‘What are

‘Tribe are raft building first. And so are the Missiles, worst luck. So, we have to clear away, bathroom stop, then meet back at the mess tent in wellies.’

We left Copper Pie troughing and got ready.


Max and Mr Morris seemed to be our raft building instructors, although it didn’t look like Mr Morris was going to be much help in his jacket and tie. Max took us up river, where it was much wider, and gave each team an area to work in – he called it a station. (But no trains in sight.) Each team had four blue plastic barrels, loads of rope and a pile of wooden planks, all different sizes. Callum’s ‘station’ was next to ours.

‘OK, teams. It’s a race. Who’s going to build a raft that floats well enough to carry your whole team across the river? No rules, except no fighting, no cheating, no stealing, and no feet on the riverbed. Off you go!’

Awesome. I couldn’t wait to get started. I had the most fantastic idea, right away.

‘This is easy, we need to make the barrels the four corners and then use the wood to . . . ‘

No one was listening. They were all messing about. I tried again. ‘Listen, if we have a barrel at each corner —’

‘No, let’s see if we can make a snake-shape raft,’ said Bee.

‘Or a star,’ said Lily.

‘Let’s not bother with the barrels and make a totally wooden raft, you know, all strapped together with rope, like we’ve been stranded on a desert island and have to escape before we starve.’ Fifty’s contribution – a bit dramatic as usual.

‘We’ll all end up in the water anyway,’ said Copper Pie. ‘Let’s not bother.’

At least Jonno was taking it seriously.’ Go on with your idea, Keener.’

I waited until all five of them were looking
listening and then I went through my idea. It was obvious really. The raft needed to float, but also it needed to be balanced, symmetrical. I’m not sure why, I just knew that was best. I mapped it out on the grass using bits of wood. Jonno suggested we have diagonals to help the structure. We added some in. It looked good.
All we needed to do was tie a few good knots,
I thought.

‘Shall we get on with it then?’ said Bee, nodding at the plan.

‘Hey! Quit spying, Callum.’ Fifty jumped up and tried to stand in the way of our blueprint for the raft. Pity he wasn’t taller.

‘Go away, Hog,’ said Copper Pie. He gave our number one enemy a shove to make sure the message was clear.

Callum tried to look as though he didn’t care and strolled back to the Missiles.

That was all that Team Tribe needed to get us going -the thought that Callum’s team might beat us with our own design. Even Copper Pie, who thought we were going to sink whatever, was sorting through the woodpile to find the right length planks. Jonno and I were the knotters, and raft management. Fifty and Copper Pie were choosers, fetchers and carriers. Bee and Lily were rope substitutes (they held things in place until they got secured) . . . no, they were scaffolding – sounds better. What a team! It took longer than I thought, and the knots were difficult because plastic barrels are slippy, but we were still the first to tell Max we were ready to launch.

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