Monkey Bars and Rubber Ducks (9 page)

‘Class 6W, line up in twos, please.’

I took a step forwards to be next to Fifty. Copper Pie took a step backwards to be next to Bee. Jonno stood on his own. That’s the trouble with five, it doesn’t go into pairs. Luckily Marco was near us and so he filled in the gap. Ed and Lily were behind. We started to troop on to the bus. We had to put our bags in a pile, all except for the day sacks. That took ages. Loads of bags weren’t done up properly, wellies kept appearing from nowhere, some kids tried to take their bags on board and got sent back to the pile, Alice wanted to sit at the front in case she was sick so she caused a blockage at the front of the bus. We were at the back of the queue, with only Callum and Jamie behind us.

‘Hey, Fifty, have you packed your suit and tie?’ shouted Callum. He’d spotted the executive luggage. We ignored him. But he was obviously bored, and wanted to annoy us.

‘Fifty, have you packed a ladder? No way will you get over the wall on the assault course without one.’ Jamie and Callum started laughing. I looked at Fifty. He looked a bit white. I thought I should say something, defend my friend, but my mind was a blank computer screen.

Bee leant forwards. ‘Ignore him, Fifty.’

‘Have you packed a compass, Callum?’ said Jonno.’ We wouldn’t want to lose such a helpful member of the class.’

Jonno does it again! The friendly voice as though he’s being nice. Callum never knows what to say back.

The queue in front of us gradually disappeared up the steps of the bus and it was our turn. We dumped our stuff in the pile and just as I was about to step on the bus Callum and Jamie pushed in front. They grabbed a double seat. There didn’t seem to be any more.
Great! We’ll have to split up, I
thought. I scanned the seats again for a Tribe-size gap. There wasn’t one. Fifty found a seat by Roddy, and there was one in front of him by a girl in the other class, so I sat down there without looking at her, or at Callum, who I’m sure was enjoying the fact that Tribe was scattered all over the bus. Bee sat diagonally opposite me, but poor Jonno had to sit by Miss Walsh and Copper Pie was left with Alice. We were going to have to get our act together. There was no point making camp worse by being separated. We needed to be at the front of the queues, ready at all times. It was the first camp rule. I decided to think of a few more on the way to wherever we were going.

I only remember getting to 8 – I must have fallen asleep.


  1. Be prepared (stolen from the Scouts).
  2. Avoid the team Callum’s in.
  3. Help each other. (I was thinking of Fifty and the wall on the assault course.)
  4. Beat Callum’s team at everything.
  5. Be the advance party to bagsy the best (food, seats, whatever) for Tribe.
  6. Share snacks (Copper Pie probably had nice biscuits in his day sack).
  7. Keep the Tribers’ secrets (I was pretty sure C. P. would have Trumpet* in his bag).
  8. Stick together.

* Copper Pie’s cuddly elephant

I always do that on journeys. In Reception I fell asleep on the way back from the museum and everyone laughed at me because I was sucking my thumb. After that I started sitting on my right hand (the side I sucked) on trips to stop it happening again. I don’t have to worry about that any more because I gave up thumb sucking when the dentist said if I didn’t stop I’d need braces to fill the thumb-shape gap. Braces mean pain and I don’t do pain. Full stop.

I wiped my chin. (Why do you dribble when you sleep sitting up?)

‘Where are we?’ I turned round and asked Fifty.

‘Nearly there,’ he said. ‘We just passed a sign that said
Highwoods Activity Centre, 4 miles.’

I looked out of the window, which meant I had to look at the girl next to me.

‘Hello,’ she said.

That’s all I needed, a friendly girl. My face went pink so I quickly looked over towards Bee in case the girl noticed.

‘Your face is all red, Keener.’
Thanks, Bee.
Are you hot?’

‘Bit,’ I said. I looked down and tried to use willpower to make my face skin colour. Willpower takes a while, the next time I looked up it was because there were shouts of’ We’re here.’

The bus turned up by a big green sign into a leafy drive that looked like it went on forever. I thought the driver was going a bit fast but he’d obviously passed his driving test or he wouldn’t be a driver so I tried not to worry about all the lurching. There was one final turn where everyone on my side had to hold on to stop being catapulted over to the other side of the bus and then the brakes were slammed on and we were all thrown forwards and then tossed back again. I hoped we’d have a different driver on the way home.

Mr Morris got up and gave us instructions about getting off – usual stuff like no pushing. I was going to wait till there was a gap but then I remembered the camp rules about being prepared and I elbowed my way into the line of kids in the aisle. Callum was trying to do the same but I got ahead of him.

I grabbed my rucksack from the pile the driver was chucking out of the boot – it was near the top – and followed Miss Walsh’s ridiculous hat towards the tents. We’d already agreed the groups we were in for sleeping but I wanted to make sure nothing went wrong. She stopped at the end of the path to give out more instructions to the ones in front, which included me.

All the tents are the same, but they’re numbered so we know who’s where. When your group has assembled, one of you has to fill in the card inside with your names and bring it to the mess tent.’

‘What’s the mess tent?’ asked Alice, who had somehow got in front of Copper Pie even though she was by the window and he was in the middle.

‘Think of it as headquarters. It’s for meetings, some mealtimes, and if there’s a storm or any other emergency, it can be accommodation.’ Miss Walsh pointed at a massive tent in the middle of the field.

As the only Triber in the lead group I decided to bagsy the best tent.
Start as we mean to go on,
I thought. Only trouble was, I didn’t know which position was best – near the mess tent, or not near the mess tent? But then the answer dawned on me, near the loos was probably best, in case we had to go in the night . . . but hang on, wouldn’t it be smelly?

Callum ran past me and shot into tent number 7. That was the clue I needed – I headed for the one furthest away from Callum, number 3. And then I remembered Bee wasn’t allowed with us because she’s a girl and I bagsied number 2 as well, by standing between 3 and 2 until she arrived.

‘Who are you with, again?’ I asked her.



‘And no one. It was meant to be Rose and Molly but they’re both off sick. Lily says that Molly didn’t want to come and Rose was too scared to come without Molly.’

‘Lily can speak for herself,’ said Lily’s voice very loudly and right by my ear.’ And she thinks they didn’t come because they didn’t want to be in a tent with Bee.’ Bee stuck her tongue out at Lily and then they both started laughing.

‘A tent to ourselves. We’re
lucky.’ Bee grabbed Lily’s arm and they disappeared inside.

Where were the other Tribers? I wondered. I took the card and started to fill in our names, looking up every so often. There were loads of kids wandering about, but none of my friends.

Mr Morris was coming towards me but I assumed he was going to veer off to wherever he was going before he walked straight into me. But he didn’t.

‘Keener, your friends are in what’s called the “san”.’ He could see I didn’t know what the
was. ‘The health centre, Keener. They said you’d be concerned, so I’ve come delivering messages.’

He looked at me. I didn’t know what he wanted me to do. Go. Stay. Tell Bee. I decided on ‘Tell Bee’.

‘I’ll tell Bee.’

‘Good, that was my next job. And if you want to see them, they’re over there, behind the shower block.’ He pointed in the general direction of the brick buildings.

I got Bee and we ran. How bad was it? Who was it? I was pretty sure it would be Fifty. I mean, he is the smallest. I was worried. Very worried.

Sick in
the Sink

It wasn’t Fifty, it was Jonno, and he wasn’t well. He looked awful. He was sitting on the bed in the ‘san’ and his pale face looked even paler than normal and he looked smaller than normal and even his afro looked less bouncy.

‘What’s wrong?’ I asked.

‘He’s car sick,’ said Fifty.

‘Bus sick,’ said Copper Pie.

Jonno leapt up, shoved his head in the sink and made the most disgusting retching noises.

A lady I’d never seen before (glasses, short dark hair) came in. I supposed she was the nurse or something.

‘He’s no better then?’

Fifty shook his head.

She sighed. ‘I doubt very much that this is travel sickness. I think this boy will have to be sent home. We can’t have tummy bugs at camp.’

Jonno lifted his head out of the sink. ‘I promise, it’s travel sickness. I always get it on coaches,’ he pleaded.

‘Now then, there’s no need to get worked up. It’s not your fault and I’m sure you’re very disappointed —’

Jonno looked like he was about to interrupt but instead he started retching again.

‘I’ll come back in a few minutes,’ the lady said.

As soon as she was out of the door we all started talking at once (except Jonno, of course).

‘She can’t send him home.’ (Me.)

‘It’s so unfair.’ (Bee.)

‘She’s probably in league with the Head.’ (Fifty.)

‘Yeah, determined to split up Tribe.’ (Bee.)

‘Can’t you stop puking, Jonno?’ (That was Copper Pie.)

‘No, he can’t, idiot.’ (That was Bee.)

‘But he needs to, and double quick.’ (Fifty again.)

‘Are you really coach sick, Jonno?’ (Me.)

Jonno nodded into the sink.

‘He says he always gets sick when he gets off,’ said Fifty.

‘I don’t think there’s a cure for travel sickness,’ I said. I should know. My mum’s the doctor. That shut everyone up. I could feel a sick feeling growing in my stomach too -we couldn’t have camp without Jonno. It would be like having . . . a full English without the bacon.


  • A Spitfire without any bombs
  • A party without cake
  • A day without lunchtime
  • A Cornish pasty without the meat
  • A telly without a remote
  • Surfing with no surf wax
  • Christmas with no Christmas tree
  • Easter with no Easter eggs
  • A fire without Fifty

‘Actually, there might be a cure . . .’ Fifty pulled a little white plastic bottle with a yellow label out of the pocket of his joggers.

‘What’s that?’ I asked.

‘One of Mum’s magic potions. She gave it to me in case I felt stressed.’

Copper Pie snorted. He thinks Fifty’s mum is weird. (She’s not, but she does have kooky ideas. For example, she says if you make a picture of what you want to happen in your mind, it’s more likely to happen for real. So if you see yourself winning the lottery, you’re more likely to get the six balls. Mad, clearly. She also uses flower remedies – they’re like medicines but made from flowers. She gave Mum some to help her give birth to Flo. Mum pretended they’d worked but really she thinks it’s all a pile of nonsense.)

‘Stressed about what?’ asked Bee.

Fifty looked down at his feet. (He has extremely small trainers. Makes sense – he has extremely small feet.) ‘You know, about the wall and all the other “challenges” that are more of a challenge if you’re half the size of everyone else.’ He twisted the lid off the bottle and used the dropper to drop some of the stuff into his mouth.

We all stared as though something dramatic was going to happen, like Fifty was about to grow a moustache or sprout wings or horns. But nothing did. Except that Jonno stood up, wiped his face on a piece of paper towel and said, in a weak un-Jonno voice,’ Bung it here. I’ll try anything. I don’t want to go home.’

Fifty handed him the bottle. ‘Four drops should do it.’

Jonno let out a big sigh and then droppered the squashed flower arrangement into his mouth. He swallowed. We stared. He kept his lips pressed tightly together. We all carried on staring. There were still no horns, wings or beards.

‘It helps if you believe in it,’ said Fifty.

Jonno opened his mouth. ‘I believe in it.’

Bee giggled. It did sound a bit strange, like Jonno was pledging his soul to some witch doctor.


‘She’s coming back,’ said Bee. ‘Come on, Jonno. Last chance. No more retching.’

He nodded. I crossed my fingers behind my back. There was no point, I knew that, but I was so desperate for Jonno to be better. We couldn’t lose a Triber on the first day. Jonno took a couple of breaths, and as she walked in he said, ‘Thanks for looking after me. I feel much better now. Can I go?’

She gave him a suspicious look, over the top of her glasses. He smiled. He was still totally white and a bit floppy but at least he didn’t have his head in the sink.

‘I’m not sure,’ she said.

‘Pleeeaaase,’ said Bee. ‘He’s fine, really.’

The nurse had a good look at him, as though he was a puppy she was thinking of buying.
It could go either way, I

Fifty did an exaggerated yawn, as though we were all boring him, and then stepped in front of the nurse and came out with a load of make-believe.

‘He’ll probably be in the middle of an important meeting, so he won’t be very pleased, but if you call Jonno’s dad he’ll tell you that Jonno is
sick when he gets off a bus. He’s fine on the journey, but every time he sets foot on terra firma,’ he paused for an eye-roll, ‘he vomits. You’re lucky he made the sink. On the trip to London he did it all over the steps of the Natural History Museum. Ask anyone, Jonno’s a puker.’ Fifty took out his phone. The screen said
Jonno Dad.

The nurse hesitated. I knew Fifty was faking, but
didn’t. Fifty didn’t even
Jonno’s dad’s number, we’d
been on a bus with Jonno before, and he definitely hadn’t
been sick on any steps of any museum anywhere near us.
Would it work?

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