For Fandango’s Story Starter #12, where we build something around the following phrase:

At a time when most people were struggling…

This phrase had obvious financial connotations for me, so I deliberately veered in another direction.

He hated this time of year. As if the incessant bullying at school wasn’t bad enough, in late July, after school had finished, the pea-sized Brian had once again been coerced by his parents into attending the annual Scout jamboree, a week spent camping at the distant Burley Marsh camp site. A chance for the scouts to hone their outdoor skills.

And Brian hated it. In fact, Brian hated anything “outdoors”. With not an adventurous bone in his body, his idea of bliss was not a week spent nursing stings and bites from malevolent insects, but rather in the Fiction aisles at the library, in the company of Roald Dahl, Jacqueline Wilson or even, at a push, by J K Rowling.

But Brian’s parents had had other ideas. At the age of eight, they had decided that the introverted, weedy Brian needed to improve his social skills, and what better way to achieve this than to involve him in the Scouting movement? Which, unfortunately for Brian, just extended school by giving the bullies greater opportunity to pick on him.

Now, aged ten, and having not yet found his voice, Brian endured this hot, sticky six-mile nature ramble in grudging silence, as the sun beat down on the back of his tee.

It did not help that Baloo was such a poor orienteer. A map-reading blunder had already added a mile to their expedition. As Brian lagged at the rear of the pack, Baloo called the children into a huddle.

“Come along now, Brian Whittaker. Hurry up and join us, please.”

Baloo always spoke as though he was pinching his nose, thought Brian, as he at last caught up with the group.

“Gather round, children, and listen up”, continued the confident Baloo, beads of sweat forming on his dark beard in the afternoon heat. “While we have been rambling, I have been studying the map.”

Oh dear, thought Brian. This is ominous.

“After our wrong turn earlier, I have been looking for a way to shorten the route.” Raising the map in his right hand, he prodded it with his left index finger. “From here, if we cut across here…”, another jerk of his hand, “…then we should be able to cut about two miles off the route. That will have us easily back at camp in time for tea.” With the afternoon sun beating down on them, there was a murmur of cautious approval from the group.

Baloo led the way. They were clearly not on any marked path. The scrub was denser here, the going slower, and Brian soon found himself at the rear once more.

Resigned, Brian plodded laboriously through the undergrowth when, a short while later, he heard a commotion ahead. He quickened his pace, to pinpoint the source. As he emerged into a small clearing, he spotted Baloo, waist-deep in mud, and fumbling in his shirt pocket for his mobile phone. He was not alone. At least half of the troupe had followed him into the marsh, ranging now from knee- to waist-deep in goo.

At a time when most people were struggling, the scene barely registered on Brian’s face, but his day was unmistakably improving!


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