It’s 1997. I’m 10 years old and on the verge of the most exciting thing that’s ever happened!

My school is taking year 6 on a residential to France!

All my friends are going! Phil will be there; Gilbertron; Cobden; Kieran; We’re driving to the channel tunnel, staying overnight in England and spending about… 20… minutes in Calais.

ITV-quality school trips! At least the journey’ll be fun. I’ll make sure I take my slinky toy. I love that little slink.

I’ve been to France before, but not for years. From what I remember France is full of bilingual weddings that last a billion hours, toy dolphins with chef hats and great rolling hordes of Babybel. I remember walking through a park with my grandma, chasing some Babybel when we accidentally unearthed a large metal ‘X’! I turned to Grandma and told her that we needed to dig! “…For ‘X’ marks the spot!

She laughed. And walked on.

I could have been rolling in it. Eating enchiladas for ever! I guess that old French dream has surrendered.

———————————————————————————————

We set out early in the morning for our adventure. It’s meant to be educational, so we visit a WWII museum along the way. It’s noisy, and there’s lots of models firing hoses, by which I mean wax people extinguishing flames – rather than malnourished girls terminating the employment of gardening tools. I’m enjoying myself, but it’s all overshadowed by what’s to come…

The channel tunnel.

The chunnel.

Alisha’s Attic are playing in the coach and Gilbertron and I are singing ‘Indestructible’. It’s the best of times. We find our way to The Chun, but The Head decides to stop at the services for a few minutes first. There have been fires in the tunnel recently and I’ve said a poignant goodbye to Gilbertron on the coach. We prepare to face our doom.

After a spot of loitering.

————————————————————————————————–

I am with Phil looking at toys. In a toy shop. I absolutely love those toys with recording and playback functions! I find one, and show Phil.

Phil presses play.

The toy says something.

Something unexpected. Something unbloggable. Phil and I look at each other. We look back at the brazen and foul-mouthed figurine and decide the good boy thing to do would be to bring this to the attention of the shop steward, who will no doubt reward us for our vigilance and tell Miss Austin and Miss Jones about our valiant efforts to preserve the high standard of clean language in the shop!

“Please miss, this toy’s got swearing on it.”

We are model citizens. Shining pillars of the community! Noble men in ignoble times. We’ll get the Noble prize!

The sales assistant looks at us with an unfamiliar expression. I can’t be sure, but I’m fairly sure she’s about to bestow upon us some ancient wisdom! About to whisper in a virtuous voice “though the noble man makes noble plans; it is by noble deeds that he stands!” To which we will reply “…indeed!”

Then we’ll get free toys. I like how people perform in the presence of such propriety. She opens her mouth to speak.

This is going to be fantastic. My tail is wagging.

“Did you two do it?”

Oh no!

Phil and I look at each other. She clearly thinks we’re the kind of 10 year olds who grass themselves up. We resolutely deny wrongdoing but the assistant has made her mind up.

She leaves to find a teacher.

The situation seems to have taken a downward turn. She didn’t even say anything remotely wise. She didn’t even use the word ‘perchance’! I’m beginning to think there will be no reward at all.

Cobden has walked into the toy shop. We grab him and explain our predicament. He is a good friend, and announces that he has a plan. I trust Cobden, but all the same I decide it would be prudent to scarper.

Phil and I are walking around trying to look natural when we hear a voice over the tannoy, “Would the teachers of St. Michael’s school please come to the manager’s office.”

Oh no!

We are hurriedly herded back onto the coach. The Head stands before us with steam trains in his ears and a redder-than-bolognese face. He’s a scary man, but now we’re really in trouble. I’m scared. And troubled. But there is hope.

I look over at Cobden who smiles and gives me a knowing wink.

A knowing wink that says it all. I’m saved! Everything is going to be ok! I can relax and enjoy myself. I pull my little slinky out of my bag and innocently pass it from hand to hand while The Head begins to bellow.

He explains that he has heard reports of swearing on toys!

In the toy shop!

Cobden’s smiling. He’s a man who gets things done. A man you can rely on. Need someone to get an emergency nosebleed? He’s your man! He could work for the mob! By which I mean the Tories.

I can’t wait to find out what he’s done. All I know is that whatever it is, it’s pure genius.

“And when we came to the shop to hear it…”

This is going to be fantastic!

“We heard a horrible belching sound.”

Oh no!

Cobden winks at me.

I melt.

The Head is equally angry about the belching sound. Cobden clearly didn’t think recording over the sound with silence would suffice. He clearly thought that a trampy-sounding bodily blast would be much more fitting. He’s from Bartley Green, and in moments like these it begins to show.

The Head is a Bunsen burner, and begins to lay down the law for the rest of the trip. He announces that he will be more strict than usual because we’re staying in a hostel and there will be other people around. “We’ll be giving out detentions for anything anybody does wrong, and we’ll start with you! Daniel Mohr! For playing with your slinky toy while I’m speaking!”

OH NO!!!!!

I am in headlights. Frozen. Like a turkey. Only with a head.

My slinky falls from my hand and Gilbertron kindly puts it away. I’ve never had a detention before and am scared witless of the prospect. I expect to be hung by a rope over some crocodiles. Somehow I’ve gone from being rewarded with international recognition to being the public face of evil.

It’s the worst of times.

To be continued…

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