Next one up is a short story (under 1500 words), which won a prize in a Cheer Reader competition – www.cheerreader.co.uk – and features in my short story collection First Flame
A young man is enjoying (?) his last holiday before the big A level year. In a wet tent in the Lake District.
The Family Gig
I wake from an especially vivid dream, lounging about on the deck of a state of the art pleasure boat, having just been for a refreshing dip in warm continental waters and contemplating another soon. My dream self can’t understand why the surroundings are so idyllic when there’s a distinct patter of rain everywhere and I’m not too warm. My waking discovery is that only the rain and the cold are real. Dreams as wish fulfilment, no doubt about it; I might just have been, with the help of my good friend Matt Dawson, enjoying warm continental waters, not on a luxury yacht exactly, but certainly a decent-sized boat. But no, I did the honourable thing, the family gig, and amtherefore in a tent in the Lake District, not six feet away from my brother Jason, sometimes known, ironically, as Little Treasure. His grandma once called him that, and the rest of us laughed so long that the name has become a legend. He is currently, and thankfully, asleep, about the only time when he’s not being a pest.
It’s a large, spacious tent, admittedly, with three bedrooms, if you can call about eight square feet a bedroom. My sister Laura is next door in the littlest bedroom, and my Mum and Dad in the biggest, all set round a central living room where we can collect, eat and look at the rain.
My decision, my fault. A simple wish to spend my last summer holiday before A levels with my family, anticipating gap years or post-exam flings next year. And, of course, this year we are Economising and watching out for our Carbon Footprints, aren’t we, so here we are in this damp spot having a real ecstatic ecologically sound fun-filled fortnight.
It is raining, yet again, partly because it almost always does around here. I haven’t done Current British Meteorological Area Profiles in Geography for nothing.
‘The clue, Dad, is in the name, Lake District, you know? How they get filled? Above average precipitation?’ Rocket science, I remark, it is not.
‘It only rains some of the time’, Dad says. ‘And a little more practice at roughing it a bit and knowing how to take care of yourself isn’t such a bad idea if you’re going to university. And don’t be a smart-arse’. The concluding sentence he says semi-automatically now, more or less as they all do, notwithstanding that they are actually using a decidedly Anglo-Saxon reference to one’s nether quarters. I thought it would be interesting exercise to count the number of times I’d be told not to be a smart-arse on this trip; we have been here two days, it’s seventeen and counting. A few variations, as in Laura’s, ‘oo, smart-arse B.A.’, and Little Treasure’s ‘eat my shorts, smart-arse’, and even my dear mother’s verb version, ‘smart-arseing again, Mark’, but it all amounts to the same thing, that since I am probably the only member of the family who is going to university (perhaps, check that out this time next year), any time I speak words of more than two syllables, I must be a smart-arse.
I mentioned this grievance once to my good friend Matthew (see above). ‘Perhaps’, he said, ‘you should stop being a smart-arse’.
In any case, I am now so awake, there’s precious little chance of getting back to sleep. I can’t see much chance of anyone stirring for at least two hours. Some way has to be found of occupying this great void of morning time. Certain scenarios concerning me, Helen Wilkinson and a tub of clotted cream could well account for between ten and twenty minutes, though I always say that to truly enjoy an erotic experience, having two siblings within six feet of the centre of operations, as it were, does so dampen the ardour. In any case, Little Treasure, though he might look at the moment as though nothing short of a pre-emptive nuclear strike on Lake Windermere would rouse him, would wake as soon as he heard the merest shuffle in my sleeping bag and announce loudly to the entire tent exactly what I was doing. Little Treasure is now twelve; he might have had a childhood somewhere along the way, though I missed it. The rain intensifies and I wonder how they can sleep through it and how I am ever going to get out of bed now I am dealing with the inevitable consequences of having said ‘Helen Wilkinson’ and ‘clotted cream’ in the same sentence.
It was so not meant to be like this. Matt’s parents, who are loaded, have a boat parked near their place in the Dordogne or some other French place somewhere in France – I’ve still got Geography units to do – and had apparently consented for Matt and three pals to take the thing off down a French river or two on the strength of Matt having been on the boat so often as to know it inside out. Matt’s A list included me, Pete Syerson and Jane Carter, his current girl-friend. This got knocked on the head rapidly; Pete Syerson, I pointed out, while good fun for a few hours, is a maniac and I wouldn’t dare spend a whole day in his company, let alone a boat holiday, especially if he has access to alcohol on said boat. It could be a major international incident or a premature watery demise. Jane Carter also didn’t seem too keen on having her boyfriend’s boyfriends tagging along, a reasonable viewpoint, and she also had to take into account her mother’s crisply expressed intention to block Jane’s boarding a boat with three boys with her own dead body.
Unnecessarily emphatic, but not unreasonable again. Then Syerson solved one problem by announcing he was yomping or orienteering or some equally barking summer pursuit, meaning I’d be French gooseberry to Matt and Jane, which is a downer, quite honestly. Helen, you see, isn’t actually in girlfriend mode just yet; we’ve exchanged a few quite intelligent and cogent remarks concerning the present environmental health of the rain forests, and we’ve had a coffee or two over analysis of this year’s Oscars prospects, but clotted cream extravangazas remain a distant aspiration as yet. Anyway, Matt eventually told me, with this wolf-like look in his eyes, disgusting I call it, that he’d managed to fix it so that he and Jane would have the boat to themselves. How he got that past Jane’s mother I don’t know, but then Jane is – what’s the word, now – assertive, that’s probably it, and I suspect what he has down as a tempestuous summer love cruise might come out more like Jane taking her sunbathing ease on the deck while Matt attends to the boat, the shopping, the cooking etc. etc.. So I told Mum and Dad that this French river cruise simply didn’t hold a candle to the family gig, the Lake District fresh airathon, and they looked a bit suspicious but they bought it and I have been bathed in virtue ever since.
But at what a cost, my suffering soul! I lay back on my pillow, such as it is, and listen to the deluge, reluctantly registering two observations; one, the rain is getting heavier and the top of the tent is sagging just a little and two, Little Treasure has just broken wind with remarkable volume and timbre for a young kid. I lay my head down, thinking expletives and attempting valiantly to banish Helen and/or clotted cream from my mind.
I wake, and it’s lighter, much lighter; not long after half past seven, says my watch. In fact, the sun is shining and the whole tent is bathed in it, warming everything up considerably. Little Treasure is sitting up in bed watching me, and, as far as I’m aware, he has actually allowed me to sleep without attempting violence or some moist prank or other on my recumbent person.
‘Morning, Jase’, I say, unshipping something not unlike a smile.
‘Morning, Mark. Are we going to swim today? Sun’s out. There’s a shallow bit down by this side of the lake -‘
‘God! Can you two not pipe down at this time of the morning, I mean it’s half past seven!’
This from sister Laura, disturbingly close. She’s fifteen. Difficult age.
‘Sister, dear’, I say. ‘Morning has broken. A glad and happy day is with us. Another chance for fun in the sun, another opportunity to parade proudly in life’s rich, full pageant -‘
A rumbling voice joins our conversation, Dad himself, no less.
‘Don’t be a smart-arse’.
Well, I mean, what can you do?