Under Canvas

“It always rains on tents. Rainstorms will travel thousands of miles, against prevailing winds for the opportunity to rain on a tent.”

Dave Berry

 

“Jesus Christ! Listen to that rain.”

“Don’t touch the side of the tent idiot.”

“Oh god, my sleeping bags wet at the bottom.”

“Wet yourself again, you muppet.”

“Will you shut up and let us get some sleep we’ve got to be up at six in the morning.”

I lay snuggly in my sleeping bag hearing the random exchanges in other tents around me. The rain had set in shortly after we’d eaten tea. I say tea, delicious pasta in cheese sauce was what it said on the packet. Just add hot water and eat were the instructions. The picture on the bright blue pack showed this wonderful plate of pasta that could have been served by the finest Italian restaurant in Greythorpe. The reality had been different, very different.

I blamed Richard for the resulting mess that came out. He’d been so certain he could cook ‘a bit of pasta’ that we’d let him get on with it. We wouldn’t make that mistake again in a hurry. How anyone can mistake fluid ounces for mill litres I don’t know. What should have been a ‘creamy delight’, it said so on the packet right under the ‘simple to prepare’, turned into a watery, tasteless soup with bits of hard pasta floating in it.

We’d raided our breakfast supply after that. Tomorrow, or today as I realised it was two in the morning already, we’d have noting to eat unless we could scrounge something off the girls. They’d been clever and put Anne in charge of the cooking. I knew from past experience, she wouldn’t fail at any task. Fierce and independent, I’d know her for about eight years. We’d been paired together in a task in junior school and hit it off instantly. We were alike and yet we weren’t. She always looked out for me, and I for her. Maybe she’d find something for me to eat, or we’d have to eat our lunch.

Rahul lay in the sleeping bag beside me, gently snoring. He seemed to be able to sleep through anything, as I’d found out over the past few months. We’d been paired together for this challenge by ‘Slugger’ Harris, the head of Physical Education and of the D of E scheme. I guess we were the two most nondescript lads in the class. He knew most of the others, they were all star players in his victorious football team. Rahul and I were the ones who kept off his radar. Neither of us was particularly sporty, but both as it happens enjoyed the outdoors. The other boys left us alone. They were all friendly but had this self confidence that must have come from the sport.

Rahul had arrived from India about a year ago. His family was fleeing from some sort of trouble, although we never did really find out what it was. He wasn’t easy to get to know. Quiet and withdrawn, he pondered on everything. He never spoke unless he’d thought about it for ages. You could see his eyebrows furrow as he thought of an answer. He was highly intelligent though, even knocking Anne off her plinth at the top of the class.

Being quiet was ideal for me. I never liked chatting much, except with very close friends. I was socially awkward. My mother called it being ignorant, when I struggled to chat with people. She was after all the queen of chat, I swear she could keep two conversations going at the same time. Rahul was more like me and that was heartening At least I didn’t get one of the football team, whose only topic of conversation seemed to be ‘did you see the game last night’ or bragging about their conquests with the netball team. I think I’d have given up on the scheme if that had happened.

Gradually I dropped off to sleep, the gentle raindrops falling on the canvas soothing my passage into the void. The next I knew was it was morning. The sun shining through the tent making the sleeping bag like a roasting bag. At leas the rain had stopped. I looked at my phone, five o’clock. Still early and by the sounds of it everyone was still asleep.

Maybe have another hour dozing, I thought. However, the strain on my bladder meant thoughts of going back to sleep were forced away. Slowly and as quietly as possible I tried to find my wash stuff. May as well get an early shower before the others are up while there was plenty of water. Rahul moved beside me. I stopped what I was doing hoping he’d go back to sleep, but it was too late. His eyes squinted against the bright light.

“What time is it Tom,” he asked in his precise way.

“Five, don’t worry you’ve still got an hour before we’ve got to be up. I’m off to the wash block, get done before the mobs arrive.” I replied.

“I’ll come with you if I may?”

“Yeah sure, I’ll wait outside for you” I said unzipping the tent.

My eyes got used to the brightness quickly. It was a gorgeous start to the day, still cool but the sun was already making its presence felt on the day. A thin mist clung to the wet grass like a blanket gently laid on the bed. It was breathtakingly beautiful. I snapped a quick picture off with my phone. I loved early morning on camp when everyone was asleep, it was so peaceful.

“It’s so beautiful, so much green,” Rahul appeared at my side, his hand on his forehead acting as a visor.

We wandered slowly over the wash block. At least it was modern. Some sites that I’d camped in had the basic facilities. The stench would hit you within ten yards, but this one was better. Nice clean and the shower cubicles were self-enclosed giving privacy.

When we reappeared ten minutes later, Anne and Sophie were coming towards us.

“Hope there’s some hot water left and you two haven’t nicked it all.” Anne said stopping.

“Did you both sleep well?” She said brushing hair away from her eyes, “at least the rains gone. Todays going to be a scorcher”

“How do you know?” Rahul asked.

“Well my clever little friend, you just have to be as one with nature and look at the signs in the countryside. The way that bark glistens? See the way the flies are just flying above the ground? It all means it’s going to be a scorcher.”

Rahul looked baffled as if she was a mystic who could tell the future.

“Well there’s that and the weather app on your phone” I said gently, knowing she was just winding him up.

“Well there is that…” Anne said laughing, “sorry Rahul, couldn’t help it.”

“Anne…” I said tentatively.

“Yes, Tom…” she said still laughing.

“Well, it’s kind of important…”

“Come on, don’t be a jerk, spit it out.”

Rahul looked puzzled. I didn’t have time to explain at this moment.

“Could you get us some breakfast, we had to eat ours last night,” I pleaded.

She laughed and turned to Sophie.

“What do you reckon, do we help these poor boys out or do we leave them to starve?” Anne asked Sophie.

“Maybe if they got us a cup of coffee ready, we’ll think about it,” Sophie said laughing.

“Message received and understood,” I said, “come on Rahul, lets get the kettle on.”

“What did Anne mean with ‘spit it out’”?

“It’s just a saying, like meaning tell me, get the message out” I explained to Rahul.

“I’ll never get used to your language,” he said shaking his head.

“Good god Rahul, you speak better English than me, and can write better. Don’t have a downer on yourself.”

He looked at me, the brain obviously trying to fathom out whether I was telling the truth, or I was lying. In the end he smiled so I figured he was satisfied I wasn’t.

By the time Sophie and Anne returned, the kettle was boiling. I made four mugs of instant coffee and we all went and sat on the dry-stone wall that separated the camping field from the moors. Anne shared the cereal between us. We sat quietly munching and drinking looking out to the fells and moors that we would be trudging over for the next few days.

“Who do you think the groups will be?” Anne asked.

“Hope we don’t get Richard,” Sophie said decisively and with feeling.

Silence fell between them which was strangely broken by Rahul.

“Why?” he asked pushing his spectacles back onto the bridge of his nose.

“Because he’s…” Sophie began.

“A dickhead”, Anne finished.

We all burst out laughing. Even Rahul didn’t have a problem translating that.

“Ah yes a gaandu,” Rahul said though his giggles.

“I have no idea what that means, but I think it sums Richard up very well…” Sophie replied.

“He’s essentially harmless though,” Anne said.

“Well you would say that, he fancies you. The way his tongue hangs of his mouth and he drools when you are around.” Sophie interjected.

“You make him sound like a dog” I said laughing, although a little jealous that Richard had a crush on her.

“What time is it?” a voice behind us said.

We all turned to see Richard coming out of his tent scratching his backside.

“Nearly six” I said trying to control my laughter.

“What’s up with you four? You woke me up laughing in the middle of the night.” Richard said.

“Rough night was it?” Anne aid.

At that we all broke down with laughter, unable to restrain ourselves.

“Too cheerful for this time in the morning. Dan come on, we need to start getting up.” Richard said as he set off for the wash block.

Dan followed his friend out of the tent.

“Here, Ric, lets take the ball” he shouted kicking a stray football across the field in the direction of Richard.

“Fetch” said Sophie quietly.

At that point the laughing got uncontrollable.

“Why the hell are you four so cheerful this morning?”

‘Slugger’ Harris stood outside his tent with his arms folded. The look on his face revealed his anger at being waken up by a bunch of kids. I guess that when you ran a football team you expected people not to be spontaneous.

“If you’re so cheerful, go and make me a cup of coffee whilst I wake up the rest of these lazy bugger”

We got up from the wall and walked towards the tent still chatting.

“AND BLOODY KEEP YOUR CHEERFULNES TO YOURSELF”

“Guess he’s not a morning person…” Anne said quietly.

As we put the hot water on, the female leader of our school arrived. Miss Hayfield must have been in her mid-thirties but was a lot more compassionate in her ways than ‘Slugger’. She was head of geography, and the reason that most of the girls along with Rahul and I had signed up for the good old Dee of Eee. If it had been the total physical education department, I think we’d be at home right now, asleep in a warm, comfy bed.

“Ah Mr Harris has you on punishment? What did you do? Smile?” she said smiling, “go and get ready for the day, I’ll sort out a drink for Brian. Don’t forget you need to be at the mess tent for ten to plan the routes.”

“Thanks Miss” Anne said for us and we quickly headed back towards our tents. Most people were up by now. The boys were playing football down the other end of the field watched by some of the girls. Another group of girls hung around a tree near the toilet block trying to find that stray wi-fi signal that sometimes wafted over from the owner’s cottage.

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