To celebrate the summer holidays, for this month only, you can exclusively read the first four chapters of the IAN 2018 Children’s Book of the Year Finalist – It’s A Kid’s Life – Double Digits here!
“Wake up Ben! WAKE UP!”
My bleary eyes tried to open as I heard a squeaky voice booming in my ear. Unable to prise my eyelids apart, I chose to ignore whoever it was and pulled the duvet over my head. My cosy retreat was rapidly disturbed though when a whoosh of cool air rushed over me as a little hand whipped the duvet off not just my head, but my entire body.
“Go back to bed Little Spud,” I mumbled to my youngest brother as he jumped up and down on my bed, resembling a small earthquake.
“But Ben, it’s your birthday!” shouted Little Spud not giving up.
I sat bolt upright in my bed. My birthday! Of course! It was the 23rd July, and I was ten. That’s right, TEN. Double digits!
I looked over at my clock and groaned as the illuminous numbers glared out at me saying 04:03.
“Little Spud,” I moaned. “It is four o’ clock in the morning. It’s still night time!”
“No it’s not,” said Little Spud, looking at me like I was mad. “Look, it’s not dark anymore.” He whipped open one of my curtains, nearly pulling the whole rail down. “See!”
In the world of a three year old, it was simple. If it was dark outside then it was night time and time for bed. If it was light outside then there was no time to waste. It was time to get up and play. If you got tired later, then you could just lay down for a nap on the sofa. What an easy life my little brother had! Even Obi, who was lying at the end of my bed, knew that it was ridiculous o’ clock as he moaned and pushed one of his floppy ears over his eyes.
“Ok,” I huffed as I accepted that there was no way in the world my little brother was going to let me go back to sleep.
Little Spud then catapulted himself off the top of my bed, landing head first on the squidgy bean bag on the floor. “I’m ok,” came his muffled little voice from the soft material. Despite my tired state, I couldn’t help but chuckle at my crazy little brother. He was the most fearless three year old I knew, and we often joked that he would probably be a stunt man when he was older. His favourite toy was a ride on motorbike. It looked just like a real motorbike, but smaller, and Little Spud seemed to think he genuinely was speeding along a race track at top speed. He insisted on going everywhere on it… school… the supermarket… the park. He even whizzed around the local hospital on it once after sneaking past Mum whilst she was asking directions to the children’s ward.
It wouldn’t be so bad, but he insisted on dressing up in a spaceman fancy dress outfit every time he rode it. As if that wasn’t embarrassing enough, he also had to wear a fireman helmet, complemented by a pair of swimming goggles, to perfect the look. And if for some reason Mum couldn’t find this essential outfit for him whenever they left the house, then my cute little brother became the devil himself. We are talking a full blown scream your head off, throw yourself on the floor toddler tantrum. After a few weeks of this happening, Mum bought a spare pair of swimming goggles and hid them in the kitchen cupboard for emergencies. I told her it was a waste of money, but she said that she would pay a hundred pounds to avoid one of Little Spud’s tantrums when trying to get somewhere on time. I would have to remember that one! Maybe next time Little Spud ‘spudded out’ as Dad put it, I could whisper to him that I would give him some sweets if he stopped, and then charge Mum £100 for my services as she sees me expertly calming him down (whilst sneaking him some tasty haribo!).
I grabbed my dressing gown and clambered down the steps at the end of my bed, rubbing my sleepy eyes.
“Hurry up Ben!” shouted Little Spud. “Shhh,” I hissed. “You’re going to wake up Mum and Dad.”
“Ok, just hurry up,” he said in a poor attempt at whispering. He needed to work on his whispering as much as he needed to practise his whistling!
The two of us crept down the stairs to the lounge. I knew what to expect but after ten years of doing it I still felt a knot of
excitement in my tummy. Every year Mum did us a ‘birthday table’ after we had gone to bed. She covered the lounge table with presents and cards, and decorated the back of the sofa with balloons. Dad always moaned at her about over doing it and spent the next few days bursting the balloons when he thought we weren’t looking.
We all loved it though. You were meant to feel special on your birthday and what better way to say it than with presents and balloons! Mum always put candles on our breakfast too, even if it was a bowl of shreddies!
As I opened the lounge door I wasn’t disappointed. There were ten balloons across the back of the sofa, each with the number 10 on them. There were blues ones, green ones and yellow ones. No pink ones thank goodness! My eyes then dropped to the lounge table which now had about five presents sitting on it surrounded by cards. I picked up the one that said “Love from Mum and Dad, xxxxx,” and gave it a little shake. Little Spud grabbed at the wrapping paper on it and ripped it as hard as he could.
“Oi Little Spud, it’s my birthday, not yours,” I said, swatting his hand away.
“Open it then!” he squealed.
I carefully pulled off the wrapping paper and held my breath. I had been asking Mum and Dad for an iPad for months, but they told me they were too expensive. I couldn’t help but hope they had got me one though. I opened up the box that was underneath the wrapping paper and there it was. I couldn’t believe it. They had actually got me one!
“It’s an iPad!” I shrieked in a voice that was probably a bit shrill for the very mature ten year old boy I had now become.
“It certainly is,” came a voice from the doorway. Mum was standing there in her onesie and slippers. “Happy birthday!” She came over and gave me a big birthday hug. I hugged her back, saying thank you about twenty times.
“This is boring,” said Little Spud throwing my new iPad on the sofa. “It doesn’t do anything.”
“It’s just not switched on yet pea brain,” I said, “and keep your hands off. This is not for little kids.”
Little Spud stuck his tongue out at me but quickly stopped sulking as he remembered the other presents, hoping there would be something for him to play with.
“It’s one of those refurbished ones you can get,” said Mum. “The new ones are ridiculously expensive as you know, but this one is just as good and half the price.”
“I love it Mum,” I said.
“Good, and on that note, get your backsides back to bed you two. Do you know that it is only 4am? You’re going to be too tired to enjoy your party later Ben if you don’t get some more sleep. You can open the rest of these presents later.”
Little Spud and I reluctantly traipsed back up the stairs. It was actually quite nice to snuggle back under my warm duvet. Obi wriggled to the top of my bed and licked my nose. I wondered if he knew it was my birthday. I snuck him under the duvet and cuddled into his warm fur as I fell back to sleep knowing this was going to be the best birthday ever!
From 4.03am until 9.29am, today was the best birthday ever. At 9.30am however, it just turned into yet another boring day as I sat listening to Mrs Ramsbottom rambling on in class. It was so unfair that Mum wouldn’t let me take the day off. If I was in charge of the country, I would declare an official rule where you never had to go to school on your birthday. How awesome would that be?
When I first arrived at school things were still pretty good. Everyone seemed to know that it was my birthday – probably due to the fact that I had mentioned it about fifty times yesterday. Or it could have been the enormous badge saying ‘10 Today’ that I had clipped on to my school shirt.
I had momentarily wondered if perhaps I was too old for badges now that I was in double digits. I decided that it was essential attire for a birthday though, at least until everyone in the entire school noticed that today I was the most important person there because it was MY BIRTHDAY!
After what seemed like an eternity Mrs Ramsbottom dismissed the class for lunch. Tommy and I grabbed our lunch boxes and headed to the school dining hall. I was just opening up my lunch box when I felt a tap on my shoulder. “Happy birthday Ben,” said Lottie.
For a moment I swear she was bending down to give me a birthday kiss on the cheek. But then she stopped just inches from me and exclaimed, “Oh that is so sweet.” I looked at her puzzled. I had no idea what she was talking about. I hoped she wasn’t talking about me. No boy wanted to be called sweet. Not even Little Spud, and he’s only three. I was a tough, rugged ten year old. I wasn’t SWEET! Tommy tried to muffle his mouth with his hand as he tried to hide his laughter. I followed his and Lottie’s gaze to my lunch box. There, sitting on top of my sandwich was a note from my mum.
“Happy Birthday Ben Darling! I hope you are enjoying your day at school. I have packed a little treat for you because it’s your birthday. It’s your favourite. Lots of love Mum.
Lying next to the note was a pink fondant fancy cake with a candle stuck in it.
What had Mum done? This was the most cringeworthy thing to ever happen to me… and Lottie had seen it! Not only that, but Nosy Natalie had turned up out of nowhere and sat down on the seat right next to me.
“Aw Ben,” she exclaimed in a voice so loud that they could have heard her in Australia. “That is just the cutest thing ever! Hey Chloe,” she shouted to a girl two tables down. “Ben has got the sweetest birthday message from his mum in his lunch box!”
I slid lower and lower down in my seat, until my chin was practically resting on the table, as the most embarrassing mum moment of the year travelled round the lunch hall.
The best birthday ever had just turned into the worst birthday ever. The only saving grace was that we were finishing school at 1pm today as we were breaking up for the summer holidays. Six whole weeks of no school – it was going to be epic!
“I’m really sorry Ben, I thought you would like it,” said Mum for about the fifth time since we had got in the car. We were on our way to Battle Zone where ten boys were about to go into battle with the most elite nerf guns you could get. Well, nine boys plus one girl actually. I couldn’t not invite my girlfriend to my party now could I? I know she wasn’t technically my girlfriend, but we had walked our dogs together about a hundred times by now. Surely that made her like my girlfriend… even though she had a habit of grabbing my hand and saying how great it was to have a boy as one of her best friends.
“I would have liked it when I was four Mum, but I am ten now, TEN! I’m not a little kid anymore Mum so don’t treat me like one.”
“Ok, ok I get the message,” said Mum.“No more cakes with candles in your lunch box, I get it.”
“And no more little notes from you in my lunch box,” I quickly added.
“Ok misery, I’ll save my little notes for Pocket Rocket and Big Spud in future,” she said.
“Noooo!” shouted Pocket Rocket. “Don’t you dare embarrass me with one of those cheesy notes Mum.”
Mum looked like she was about to cry when Big Spud piped up, “You can write me a note for my lunch box Mum.”
“Thank you Big Spud,” said Mum, “at least one of my sons appreciates me.”
Big Spud stuck his tongue out at Pocket Rocket and I, knowing that he was Mum’s favourite at that moment in time.
Mum always told us that she loved us all the same and didn’t have favourites. She didn’t look too impressed with Pocket Rocket and me at the moment though. She shouted at Pocket Rocket to be quiet as he told Big Spud that he needed to learn to read first if he wanted Mum to write him notes.
“Can you lot stop bickering for long enough to see that we have arrived?” asked Dad.
I looked out of the window. He was right. We had been too busy arguing to realise that we had pulled into the coolest party venue ever. We raced to get our seatbelts undone so that we could jump out of the car. Pocket Rocket was frantically pulling on his door handle trying to be the first out.
“Why do you always put the child locks on Mum?” he shouted in frustration. “We’re not babies.”
“Then stop acting like one,” came Mum’s reply as Dad opened my door first.
“Ha, get wrecked Pocket Rocket!” I shouted as I climbed out of the car before him and ran to the entrance gate. It was covered in army netting and had the most awesome nerf guns I had ever seen hanging around it.
“These are amazing,” exclaimed Tommy as he stood next to me. Tommy had come with us in our car to the party. Mum said he was like her fifth son as he was with us so much these days. She had even said he could come back for a sleepover after the party.
“Right, you take Ben, Tommy, and Pocket Rocket, and I’ll take Big Spud and Little Spud,” Mum said to Dad.
“But we want to play with the nerf guns too,” said my little brothers in unison looking sulky.
“Sorry boys but you’re not old enough,” said Mum. “You need to be seven. There is no way we can sneak a five year old and a three year old in. Come on, I’ll take you to the café for a milkshake.”
“And a doughnut?” asked Big Spud looking hopeful.
“Yes, and a doughnut,” laughed Mum.
Big Spud and Little Spud high fived each other at the thought of gooey jam dripping out of doughnuts down their chins.
Kids are so easily pleased at that age. No way would Mum distract me from the nerf guns with the thought of some tasty treats.
Mum wandered off with my little brothers as I led Pocket Rocket and Tommy down the path with Dad. Up ahead of us we saw a big hut with bales of hay lined up inside in a long row. It smelt musty in there with a faint hint of horse manure.
“Take a seat there soldiers,” boomed a voice up ahead. A tall man dressed in army clothes walked out of the hut and shook Dad’s hand. Dad winced as the man squeezed his hand a little too tightly. As we walked over to the hay bales a younger man who looked about eighteen came over to us with some army jackets and face paint.
“Hi, I’m Josh,” he said with a smile. “Let’s get you boys ready for battle.” He was a lot less scary than the tall man in charge. He handed me an army jacket. “Birthday boy first,” he said. He then smeared brown and green face paint over my cheeks and on my forehead. “And not forgetting these,” he said as he handed me a pair of safety goggles. “Every good soldier needs to keep safe.”
Pocket Rocket rolled his eyes. Safety never was number one on my crazy brother’s list of priorities. I gladly took the goggles though. No way did I want to get a nerf bullet in the eye.
It suddenly got noisy in the hut as my friends from school all seemed to arrive at once. Mum and Dad said I could invite no more than ten people including myself as it was so expensive. That was fine by me though. I was obviously going to invite Pocket Rocket, Tommy and Lottie so that left me with six others. I always played man hunt at lunch times with Jacob, Charlie, Sean, and Noah, so that was an easy decision. Mum kind of made the decision for me with the remaining two spaces when she reminded me that Lucas and Zayan had both invited me to their parties when I first joined the school earlier in the year.
I helped Josh hand out the army jackets and goggles to everyone, and he even let me put the camouflage face paint on Tommy and Pocket Rocket.
“Can I put my own on?” asked Lottie dipping her fingers into the pot of green face paint I was holding. She smeared the paint literally over her entire face including her eye lids!
“How do I look?” she asked giggling.
“Like a proper army man,” I replied.
“Army lady you mean,” she corrected me.
Lottie wasn’t like the other girls. I couldn’t imagine any of them coming to a nerf gun party and smearing paint all over their faces. They would worry about getting their nails and hair dirty. Lottie was so much more fun than the other girls I knew. She wasn’t at all fazed about being with a load of boys.
“Right soldiers, listen up!” boomed the tall man in charge, interrupting my thoughts. “We are going to split up into two teams, the reds and the blues. You need to steal each other’s flags from your base camps and put them on the branch over there.” He pointed to a big fir tree with a long branch sticking out. “If you get hit by a nerf bullet, you have to stand still until one of your team comes to tag you. You MUST NOT shoot people in the face or the head. If you do you will be sent back to base camp. Are we all clear?”
Nobody said a word as we all stood there feeling intimidated by the big shouty army man. “I’m off to build the camp fire. Josh, you are in charge,” he bellowed.
We all relaxed a little as the big man disappeared and Josh took over, quickly splitting us up into teams. I was in the blue team with Tommy, Lottie, Noah and Jacob. Pocket Rocket was in the red team with Dad, Charlie, Lucas, Zayan and Sean.
“Hey, wait for me!” shouted a voice. Rob came running into the hut just as we were leaving for battle. “Sorry I’m late son,” he said patting me on the back. “The traffic was a nightmare. Happy birthday by the way.”
Josh rushed to grab Rob an adult sized army jacket and some face paint. Rob looked like an excited child. All his time spent playing shooting games in the arcade was about to pay off.
“Who’s that?” asked Noah as Rob joined our blue team.
I knew this moment was coming, but in all the excitement about my party I had forgotten that I would have to explain my ‘other dad’ to my friends.
“Oh, that’s Rob,” I said matter-of-factly. “He’s my biological dad who I see every other Saturday.” I don’t know why but I felt really awkward saying this.
Noah nodded and said “that’s like my family. I have six brothers and two sisters. They see their dad’s at weekends too. My Mum had my two eldest brothers when she was married to Dave. Then when she and Dave split up she met my dad. He already had a daughter and three sons with his ex-wife. Oh, and he had a son from a wife I think he had before her. And then when he married my Mum, they had me and my younger sister.”
My brain felt frazzled just listening to Noah. I suddenly felt like my family were pretty uncomplicated. Any awkwardness I felt about explaining my two dads disappeared after that. I was about to ask Noah to explain it again when Josh shouted “three, two, one go,” and we all ran to our base camps to start Mission : Get Their Flag!
“Ben, get over here… QUICK!” a voice yelled at me from behind an old tractor tyre. We were already on our fourth nerf battle. The time had flown by, and the score was currently two – one to the blue team. One more win and we were the champions.
Tommy was lying on his side behind the tyre with his legs curled up tightly so that they were hidden. I could just about make out his face behind the goggles he was wearing. I glanced behind me to make sure no-one was looking and then ran for my life. There were trees everywhere, standing tall and daunting in the evening light. The sun would be setting soon and this entire area would be plunged into darkness. I shuddered at the thought of being out here at night with the sound of wild animals surrounding me. It would be even worse than the camping trip I took with Dad a few months back!
“What are you waiting for?” shouted Tommy impatiently.
I couldn’t leave it any longer. I was trapped out in the open and had to decide between the tyre where Tommy was and the battered old car door that Noah was crouched next to. The car door would provide more cover but the tractor tyre was much closer. I heard footsteps coming up behind me and knew there was no more time to deliberate. I ran as fast as I could in the direction of Tommy. I felt the mud kicking up the back of my legs as I darted through the sludgy ground. Maybe Mum was right when she told me I shouldn’t have worn shorts! I slid in next to Tommy like I was slide tackling Germany’s best striker in the world cup.
Pocket Rocket would have been proud.
“What took you so long?” demanded Tommy as I crouched down next to him. Before I had time to answer, we heard shouting from behind the trees.
“We’ve got to move right now or we’ve had it,” said Tommy. He looked genuinely terrified as his forehead glistened with sweat, and his cheeks glowed red. Without a moment’s hesitation we got up and ran towards a stack of hay bales to our right. We nearly made it when I felt a sharp sting in my right bottom cheek.
“Aah!” I cried out in pain. Clutching my butt cheek, I turned around to come face to face with my enemy. Was it a fierce wild dog from the forest coming to eat me for a snack? Was it Mr Growler coming after me, finally turning into a deranged head teacher after years of torment? Was it Evil Emily up to her old tricks again? No, no and no. What I saw when I turned around was four mischievous eyes staring up at me. It was Big Spud and Little Spud! They were meant to be in the café with Mum. What on earth were they doing here? They shrieked with delight as they realised they had shot their big brother in the bum.
I raised my nerf gun to get them back. Their shrieks of laughter turned to terror as they realised I was about to get pay back on their cute little behinds. I would have too if Dad hadn’t shot out of the bushes like Rambo and dived in front of his precious little sons. The bullet I had intended for my brothers bottoms flew straight onto the end of his nose instead!
As Dad squealed, Big Spud and Little Spud forgot their own fear as they crumpled to the ground, laughing hysterically. Not only had they shot their big brother in the butt, their Dad had also taken one on the nose protecting them. This was beyond exciting for them, especially as they technically shouldn’t even be there!
Just then, we heard the sharp shrill noise of a whistle indicating that the nerf war was over. Dad somehow managed to scoop Big Spud and Little Spud up off the ground in amongst their fits of laughter. He had a big bulging red mark on the end of his nose where the nerf bullet had hit him. You could almost see it throbbing as it got bigger by the second.
“Um, sorry about that Dad,” I muttered sheepishly as I limped next to him clutching my bottom cheek. It felt like it was on fire where the close range shot had got me.
“I’ll let you off this time,” he replied, “seeing as it’s your birthday.” He smiled at me to show he really didn’t hold it against me. His smile quickly faded as Rob ran over to join us though.
“Ouch, that got you a treat!” Rob exclaimed to Dad. “Good shot son,” he said laughing.
“You think so hey?” said Dad through gritted teeth. “Maybe we should let Ben take a free shot on you then Rob.”
“He could try,” said Rob, “but I wouldn’t just stand there like a statue. I would dodge it the second I saw it coming. Shame you didn’t think of that hey!”
“You’re asking for it now mate,” said Dad.
Before I knew it, he raised his nerf gun at Rob. Rob, quick as a flash, started running to avoid it.
“You can run Rob, but you can’t hide!” Dad shouted like a mad man.
I watched in wonder with my friends as we all gathered together. The sight of two grown men chasing each other like children was quite something.
“I think we have what’s called a bit of male ego going on boys,” said Mum as she joined us. “Let’s leave the pair of them to it whilst we cook some sausages on the camp fire.”
We wandered over to the roaring fire, leaving Dad to chase Rob into the trees. Big scary tall army man was there twirling a sausage around on a stick in the roaring flames. “This boys, is how a real man cooks,” he announced as he looked down at his burnt sausage with pride. It was charred black all over.
I would take one of Mum’s sausages cooked in the oven any day over a ‘real man’s’ sausage. It looked disgusting!
After about ten minutes, Dad and Rob joined us panting. Rob now had a bulging red left ear where Dad had obviously proved to him that he couldn’t outrun him and dodge the bullet. The pair of them looked ridiculous.
“You two should be ashamed of yourselves,” said Mum. “What must Ben’s friends think of you?”
All of my friends actually seemed to find the whole thing highly entertaining as they smirked at each other, thoroughly enjoying the show my two dads had put on.
Dad and Rob looked uncomfortable as Dad reluctantly offered Rob an apology.
“Maybe I got a little bit carried away Rob. Sorry about your ear.”
“Ah that’s ok,” said Rob. “I guess I shouldn’t have been so quick to tease you. Those nerf bullets do actually really hurt!” he said as he rubbed his swollen ear.
“Everyone get together and say ‘nerf war’,” shouted Josh as he appeared with a camera. I went and stood in the middle of my two dads as my friends gathered round us. Josh clicked the camera as we all shouted “NERF WAR” as loud as we could. I felt proud as I heard someone say this was the best party they had ever been to. The lunch box incident was long forgotten. This was officially the best birthday ever once again.
If you enjoyed these four chapters, you will love the reading about Ben’s summer holiday excitement in the rest of the book. Voted finalist in the 2018 IAN Children’s Book of the Year Awards, you will not be disappointed with this must have read for all children during their summer holidays! Click here to buy your signed copy now!