I wrote this one as a result of overhearing a group of youth leaders in a Lake District hostel. They were praising an absent colleague for his talented way with the kids – something which could easily spark off envy and competition in a less than stable team. And I thought how perplexing it would be if I was a new staff member caught in the middle of such a feud, where one colleague was doing his best to discredit and eject another. I was also interested in the dilemma of the unwitting dupe – in this case, an easygoing girlfriend who gets more than she bargains for, when she volunteers on her weekend off.
The extract is from the very beginning, where our characters’ ‘bonding’ session gets under way. Throughout the story, we hear the viewpoints of all four main characters and watch how their relationships change; things will never be the same again, although it could be a new start for Ali.
Sometimes, it’s just one thing after another. You don’t realise what’s happening till way down the line, when you look back and wonder: how did I get to this point from there? It doesn’t make sense at first but then it clicks. You’re there because of you. You dug yourself into it, and because everyone else is digging too, they don’t notice and you don’t notice, until it’s too late. You stand there in your separate holes, looking across at each other, across the no-man’s-land you’ve created, wondering what’s gone wrong. And you can’t get out because it’s right there swallowing you up. And you didn’t see it coming. And it’s all your fault.
‘Get it in, Ben!’ That’s what I remember first, Ali yelling at me as I pushed the big squashy bags onto the roof-rack. We were proud of our minibus at the Centre, we’d fundraised for it ourselves – and that’s an awful lot of Fun Runs and Table Top Sales when you think about it. Usual banter. And then they were coming, Stuart wielding his big guitar, the lads running out across the tarmac, and Mike strolling along behind with his hands in his pockets. There in his trackie bottoms and giant fat trainers, all urban weekend sportsman.
Everything started fine. We – that’s me and Stuart and Mike from the Centre – we were taking the kids to a hostel in the Lakes. Just fifteen of them, the ones who wouldn’t kick off or try nicking owt, not the really bad ones. In fact it was a reward session for personal progress during the year. Stuart was doing well, he’d taught them a set of new songs, and when it became boring on the M6 they started yelling these songs like a bunch of lunatics. He was sitting in the back with the kids, the rest of us were up front. Ali was wearing her iPod most of the way, she hates long bus journeys. But we really needed the help and she wanted a weekend away. Mike… now he was different. I thought I knew where I was with Mike. How wrong can you get. I mean, Mike, he was always one of the lads, he liked to throw his weight around but you knew there was nothing serious in it. Like I said, you just don’t see any of it coming, not at the time. And when you think back, you think: God, how could I have been so stupid?
The minibus cruised at speed, northbound on the M6. Inside, it was claustrophobic and with an air of suppressed excitement. Rucksacks lay in a heap down the aisle, and Stuart sat facing the boys, who were struggling hard not to act like corks rising up to the tin roof. The other adults were sitting in the drivers’ compartment, Ali wedged between the two men and appearing both stoic and uncomfortable at the same time. She was almost invisible in her grey cotton jacket, and pale brown hair spread over her narrow shoulders in a thin curtain. Every now and then her head nodded faintly as she joined in with the beat on her iPod.
Ben kept his eyes on the road ahead, looking out for the first sign of anything resembling a real mountain. There was, he knew, this one glorious moment when the first sight of the distant Lake District suddenly gets you, and if the light is perfect, it’s as if you’re heading towards another world where things are larger, brighter, and ten times more exciting. You can break straight through the barrier and you’d be right there, suddenly in it where the real technicolour world is. He couldn’t remember where this revelation took place exactly, and so he had to keep on looking, way up the road beyond the trailers and the heavy duty saloons and the odd double-decker car transporter. And that’s where they were going, to this other world where it was possible to feel freer and maybe even happier, just for a long weekend. It was sad really, he thought. You should be able to feel free and happy anyway, even when you were back at home with Ali and the economy 7 heating and the new bedroom being repainted for the baby.
She was oblivious as usual, on planet Zog. But Mike was intent on his driving, thick arms up at the ten to three position, bullish neck slightly forward on his worked-out torso. Mike liked to keep fit. He was down at the gym twice a week, and it was one of the ways he got respect. You had to have something in this place, he reckoned, get the little bastards looking up to you, no messing. Some of them, they were only one step away from big trouble already, on suspensions from school and all sorts. OK so Stuart was the lead worker, he knew what was what, and being totally hyper was an advantage. But Ben there, he was a streak of piss, he couldn’t win a fight with a vanilla yogurt, let alone a hulking adolescent. Good job it was only the young kids this weekend. What with him and orphan annie there, it was a recipe for trouble. Why had he brought her along, for Christ’s sake.
Hint: it doesn’t end good for two of the staff! Thankfully the kids aren’t so bad, and if you know the Lake District well, you can work out where they are on any particular day. If you’d like to read more, call in at Amazon ebooks for Kindle. The complete text is around 100 pages, and the cost is approx £1.99.
Shortly after finishing this one, I went to work for a charitable trust as an education outreach officer. In a spectacular piece of life imitating art, the staff fell out with each other and the organisation went bankrupt.