It was coming up to the summer holidays and we'd got together at break to find out what we were going to do over the next six weeks. None of our parents were that well off, mainly thanks to the recession, and they seemed all to be economising on holidays. But the prospect of six weeks' boredom after the first week or so of being able to get up late was a distinct turn-off.
"There's the beach," said Arif. He was the eldest of us, black haired, coffee skinned, tall and thin. Of Indian descent.
"Stones," I said. He looked at me.
"It's all pebbles. They hurt."
"They still hurt."
"Fishing?" asked Joe.
"Boring," said Alex. "Can't be arsed."
"What then?" asked Tom. "Sky diving? Caving? Scuba?"
We all looked at him. Had he come into some money without telling us?
"Who's paying?" I asked uncertainly.
"Not me," he said, "I'm not made of money."
I punched him, but lightly; he was bigger than me. We scuffled, until someone said "Farter's looking this way."
Mr Windebank walked up to us, raised his eyebrows, and walked past.
"He's not bad really," said Alex.
"There are worse," Tom confirmed, "and we're taught by some of them."
"I might be caving later in the holidays," Steve offered.
"Scouts?" Tom asked.
For once no one teased him. We were envious.
"What about camping?" growled Joe. He wasn't really growling as such, it's just that his voice had gone from high thin treble to a deep bass almost overnight, and it still made us laugh a bit. In other respects he was normal: just over fourteen but quite tall, and like me had boring mid-brown hair.
"Where?" I asked.
"Only one place," said Steve. "The forest."
"It's private," said Tom.
"It's big," said Steve. "No one'd find us in there if we were careful. And the Scouts got permission to go in there some time ago."
"No, just for a hike."
"What's it like?"
"But I mean, what's it like?"
"Well… how do you describe a forest that nobody goes in unless they're allowed to? It's wild. Lots of trees. Firewood on the ground…"
"Firewood? Are we going to start fires, then?"
"Don't you want to?" asked Steve.
"Well yes," said Arif, "but I mean - fires."
"Fires," Steve aped him. "What's wrong with fires?"
"Nothing - nothing at all. I just never thought…"
Six in the morning doesn't exist. Half past seven only exists in term time because of breakfast and school, and even then I'm not really awake. So being woken by a father (for a change) at six in the morning was not at all welcome, especially as I'd not slept very well. I'd been too busy worrying about us, my parents being tortured, and having to be careful in camp. Eventually I surfaced, just enough to have a drink and some cereal, then sat with my pre-packed bag watching for a car.
When it appeared, with Mrs Bishop at the wheel, I said farewells to parents and 'hopped' in as requested, to find Tom and Arif there but equally brain-dead.
As we left the outskirts of the town Mrs Bishop said in a voice that would cut through a heavy metal band: "We have to find Mr Hammond. Steve is the one who can recognise where we're going."
As we had no idea whether he was in front of us or behind, we thought this might be a problem, but at last came to a car at the side of the road. We thought it might be the one, as there was no other traffic around. And so it turned out to be. I looked around and could just see the trees which shielded our route over the wall.
"This is the Estate wall," Mrs Bishop said.
We couldn't disagree. No one said anything.
"Are you sure you've got permission to camp here?"
"Mum," said Tom, "our tents are in there, and that's where we were before. It's fine, honest."
"And whatever the case, we can't take them back now," said Mr Hammond. "We have to trust that they know what they're doing. What concerns me is that there's no entrance."
"It's behind those trees, Dad," Joe answered. "Best if you vanish quickly, just in case someone sees you and remembers six boys being dropped off here."
His father looked at him, and said something quietly. Joe grinned and said something back, equally quietly. Mrs Bishop raised her eyes to heaven and started getting bags from the back of the car. With the food and our clean clothes there was going to be quite a haul down to the tents, and although I was starting to wake up I wasn't looking forward to it. Oh, being there would be fine. We had to get there first.
Goodbyes were said and we waved them both out of sight before Tom led us towards the trees. We'd nearly reached them when a bus passed us.
"Damn!" said Alex, echoing the thoughts of us all.
"Did you see how many people there were on it?"Joe asked.
None of us had.
"We'll have to hope no one noticed us, then."
There was nothing we could add to that so we just continued towards the wall, our 'entrance' to the Estate. I was elected top man again, being the lightest, though Alex was once again hoisted up as well. We hoisted the first bag to the top and were about to drop it over when Joe shouted "NO! Eggs!" So just in time I hauled the bag up again.
"Why haven't we got any eggs?" Arif asked.
"Joe said we had no eggs."
Tom gave him The Look. We were obviously waking up at last.
We hauled Tom up; he straddled the wall and carefully let himself down, dropping to the ground so as to receive the bags. Despite some near misses we managed not to spill anything. Finally, everyone else was hauled up, with the quite solid Arif last. We were in.
With no real exploration to do, no camp site to find and decide on, and no particular plan in mind apart from being away from the local problem, it was a very leisurely wander downhill, with frequent stops to rest, towards the camp. Shopping bags, I decided, were more unpleasant to carry than a heavy rucksack. At least a rucksack doesn't cut into your fingers whilst at the same time bashing against your legs. There were quite a few mutterings amongst the rest of the Suspects about them and as before it was as well that no parents or teachers were around to hear.
Or you can experience a large chunk of it, from page 1, courtesy of Amazon and for free, by choosing Preview. That will open a new window or tab. Please return here if you like it, though, and buy your own copy.