Chapter Eleven – Take a Glance at the Fancy Ants
When I was ten years old, I went on a Cub Scout trip to South Wales for a week. It was probably the most miserable week of my life apart from the dinosaurs. One of my fellow Cubs decided to get his penis out on the mini-bus.
It was as if he had decided to make a special effort to set the tone for the visit, that he was somehow destined to be our king. I’m afraid that he was mistaken.
I remember watching the trees and hills roll past as we sat in our green sweatshirts and our grey and purple neckerchiefs, telling each other stupid jokes and singing dirty songs about Hitler’s testicles. Akela tried to put us off by putting the radio on at quite a volume. We saw it as a challenge and were just getting in to a particularly rousing few choruses of “Beautiful Gay” by U2 when it happened.
Our female leader, a middle-aged woman named “Kaa”, real name Angela Swain was happily singing along, oblivious to our word-changing anarchy when she pulled the mother of all double-takes. One moment she’s all smiles and “Touch me, take me to that other place”. Then she glances down and bang, her neck whips back so fast that I hear it snap. The fire in her eyes shows her suspicions are confirmed. Steam begins to pour from her ears.
As one, we look down. We see it. Justin’s just sat there with it out. We look up. He’s grinning, staring straight at Kaa. She is ticking. There is a second where it seems that all the sound in the van is sucked down into a single point as we all inhale sharply. What does he hope to achieve? She explodes.
“JUSTIN! WHAT IN GOD’S NAME ARE YOU DOING?”
As she shouts, her chubby face red raw with rage, she goes to stand up and strikes her head on the roof of the minibus, knocking her back down in to her seat. It is on. Justin just sits there perfectly still for a moment. It seems strangely as though he is in complete control of the situation, as though he is the Lex Luthor of getting your cock out on a Cub Scout minibus.
Akela has turned the radio down. We are pulling over. Kaa has already undone her seat belt. She does not give a crap about the Highway Code at this point. Justin puts it away in the blink of an eye. She is upon him.
In the nick of time Bagheera is up on his feet between the snake and her prey, watching her hand sail through the air towards Justin’s weird fixed grin. If ever there was an entry in our Yearbook for “Cub Scout Most Likely to Become the Joker”, it would have a picture of Justin, grinning like a serial killer, aged ten.
Baloo is up and catches Kaa’s hand in his great paw. It is like a post-modern version of Rudyard Kipling’s “Jungle Book” staged in the blink of an eye. Mowgli, I mean Justin, dodges out from behind Bagheera and leaps for his life over the edge of the waterfall, I mean on to our laps. As one we push him/punch him in the back and he rolls off onto the floor, wedged in the gap between our legs. Somebody kicks out. I think that we may end up stamping him to death. It’s gone from the “Jungle Book” to “Lord of the Flies” in a split second. Then Akela pulls open the side door and it’s all over.
Nobody spoke to Justin for the whole week after that. He would sometimes sing or attempt to rap at times of group rowdiness, but we would all immediately fall silent until he got the hint. It was definitely psychological bullying. But he did deserve it.
The rest of the week was a soggy blur, with two aborted hike attempts, and a freezing walk in the dark where we got lost and after four hours we stumbled upon a pub called the “Hangman’s Arms” where we called taxis to take us all back to the hall. We did manage to get to the beach one day and, sporting anoraks and sweatshirts it was so unexpectedly hot that we all got sunburnt to a crisp instead. I did get to eat a Magnum but that was a drop in the ocean. It was a washout.
On the day before last we visited a series of caves that had been dressed up with animatronic dinosaurs and mannequins in loin clothes. I have always been “into” dinosaurs, the film “Jurassic Park” is one of my earliest memories, and combined with the network of caverns, it reminded me of the Batcave. We spent a happy afternoon wandering about deep beneath the ground. I only mention this because I don’t want the Welsh tourist board on my back. And this story is not over yet.
On the final day we loaded up the mini bus with all of our bags and set out for home, on the way back to our mothers and beds, away from the land of sleeping bags on polished wooden floors and beans freshly burnt in a mess tin. Justin had been made to sit up front, between Akela and Baloo. I think this was more to protect him from Kaa than to keep an eye on him. The radio remained off. Nobody said a word. We were too tired.
As we drove down the dual carriageway towards the outskirts of town, the back door suddenly opened inexplicably and our bags were sucked out onto the tarmac at thirty miles an hour. We pulled over to the side of the road and watched as Akela and the other leaders ran about collecting our luggage like a live action version of “Frogger”. Somebody punched Justin in the arm and he began to wail hysterically.
Eventually, and with no casualties, our luggage was repacked into the mini bus but into the gap between us this time, burying us beneath an avalanche of canvas and Nike logos. Akela silenced Justin with a stare. We moved off again, the back door tied together with a bungee cord just in case.
We made it to the Severn Bridge, a relatively impressive and scary prospect for a ten year old away from home for the first time. We even made it halfway across. Then the tyre blew up.
We sat there, pulled over onto what passed for the hard shoulder in the middle of the Severn Bridge for over an hour as cars beeped at us and drove past revving their engines. Akela and Bagheera managed to change the tyre for a spare. This spare was the second of two, the first had massive slits in the rubber. The minibus had been hired from a local school and it was clear; they wanted us dead. We were all desperate for the toilet, hungry and feeling a little bit sick by the time we hit the road again.
After a stop for emergency relief and sandwiches, four hours late with light diminishing we were making good time on the motorway when it happened again.
This time, two tyres, both on the left side blew out simultaneously. It was getting old. We pulled over onto the side of the road and all got out of the minibus, scurried down a bank at the side of a ditch and made it over a fence to sit in a field. Akela walked down the road a way and used the orange emergency phone box to phone for a mechanic. Daniel passed out his wrestling magazines to a select view and we made up bouts to pass the time. Stone Cold Steve Austin won every time.
When we made it home, seven hours late, nobody had a bad word to say. Anger had given way to worry hours before and we were just relieved to see our mothers, and they us. Anger would resurface days and weeks later in the form of angry letters written to the council, the local school and the newspaper, but at that moment we were just the saviours and the saved. I fell asleep in the car on the way home while Mum sang along to Abba Gold.