Thursday 20 October 2016

Family Guy: Summer camps? Been there, done that, torn the T-shirt...

Jack Black in School of Rock
Jack Black in School of Rock

IT'S the first day of a week-long 'junior journalist' summer camp at our specially adapted kitchen table, a day we've fretted over for what seems like ages, as kids aged between 10 and 13 file in, all smiles and twitches.

We've never done anything quite like this, so we're playing it safe, with doughnut bribes and our daughter planted undercover.

We've sketched out teaching plans. My wife has diligently researched. "Let's hear yours," she says, a few nights earlier. Actually, I do have a plan, I explain: to charm them with humour, like Jack Black in School of Rock.

"Well," she says, patting me on the stomach, "you're halfway there."

Our six summer camp kids now seat themselves on each side of the table. "So, which end," I whisper to my wife, "would you like me to interrupt and correct you from?" She gives me a withering look. "I'll start," I mouth across the hubbub.

'Jack Black, Jack Black,' is what I'm chanting in my head. "Okay, um, welcome. Hah!" is what I actually say. "So, um, I'm David. Hah! And you ..." I wiggle jazz hands, "must be our new editorial team."

They all gape at me. My wife's mouth is open. Our daughter leans forward, clutching her face and pulling down the skin under her eyes, as though this might aid some sort of hasty exit from her body.

This agonising eternity lasts seconds before a lad in a football jersey puts up a hand. "Are you a real journalist?" he says.

"Um," I say. "Yes, well. Yes." I look at my wife. She shrugs.

In fact, I've planned for this and, as a sort of ice breaker, I have slipcases stuffed with articles at the ready. "I've written hundreds," I tell them. "Would you like to see?"

Another boy puts up a hand. I nod. "I've never actually heard of you," he frowns.

"That's alright," I tell him. "You can go get your coat." I get my first smiles at this.

"This is me," I tell them, laboriously leafing through my folder, "um, oh, when they made me join the circus for the day." There's a half-page photo of me peeking out of a big top tent. Everyone chuckles.

"And, eh, let's see," I leaf through more. "This is when I had to..." my heart sinks, "dress up as a woman for the day." There's a huge photo of me in a wig, fur and heels, striding past builders.

"Hahahaha!" laugh the kids.

I'm looking frantically for something a little more helpful now, more serious, and I leaf quickly past myself as lousy comedian; bloodied boxer. . .

"Hahahahaha!" the kids laugh again.

"I once interviewed John Hurt," I finally blurt, snapping the folder closed.

Blank faces all round. "Who?" says our traitorous daughter.

Football-jersey boy puts his hand up again. "Yes," I croak.

"Have you ever interviewed Javier Pastore?" he squints.

"Who?" I say.

The boys in the class seem to lower their heads and frown at each other. Dark clouds pass the window and I feel the mood may turn sinister. 'They know I'm an imposter.'

My mind flashes back to the summer of 1988 when, just out of school, I fancied what I thought was an easy part-time gig, entertaining kids at parties. I was halfway through painting some little gurrier's face as Knight Rider, an almost entirely baffling challenge, when my red nose fell off. 'He's not a real clown' roared someone. 'Get him!'

I remember their mother fishing out an extra tenner at the door to pay for the ragged flap torn in my top, held together awkwardly with one uninjured hand, to hide my exposed nipple.

"That was, um," she told me, "unusual."

"Is that blood?" her husband asked, recoiling a little.

"S'just make-uph," I lied through swollen lips.

"Have you ever thought," said the mother confidentially, "of doing something else, perhaps?"

I nodded slowly and limped off to the bus, still clutching the money. It's a wonder I ever married and had kids at all.

Finding myself back at our table of budding journalists, I ask them: "Has anyone heard of Father Dougal?" Hands fly up. "Well, I interviewed him."

"What was he like?" they yell.

"He was grand, Ted!" I say in my best father Dougal voice and they all cackle.


I look at my wife and tip her an 'over-to-you' nod. "Right," she says, handing out papers. "Your first assignment. . ."

Three hours later, I watch them all file out, skipping, and catch my daughter's eye. "Was that totally embarrassing?" I ask. "Mmm," she says, looking at the ceiling and back. "Not totally."

"Actually," says my wife, coming back in from closing the door, "you were quite good with them. I was surprised."

"I live to surprise," I tell her and I give a little Jack Black jig.

"You'd best quit while you're behind," she deadpans.

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