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How many 14th century poets does it take to screw in a light bulb?
The journey from London to Canterbury takes ninety minutes, which is a lifetime if you’re ten years old. I’d managed to get a seat by myself near the back of the coach and spent the time staring out of the window. It’d rained constantly since the beginning of the month, or so it seemed, and you could really see spring coming through. This meant two things. One, we’d soon be allowed on the field at lunchtimes and two, school trips. After a whole winter of being shut up in either under or over-heated classrooms it was time for a well earned break. Of course these trips are meant to be educational but we all know it’s just an excuse for a day off school, even for the teachers. So, today we’re off on our way to Canterbury for a Humanities field trip, with a bit of shopping and a picnic in the park thrown in for good measure. We hadn’t been going for long when someone called out my name. “Yo! Chaucer?” Being a relatively new boy I hadn’t made many friends yet and was still a little nervous so I stuck my head slowly around the seat. At the back of the coach sat a large lad, whom I knew as Robin Miller, it was obviously him who had called and now, from either side of him curious faces stared back at me. “I think his name’s Geoff,” a plump girl beside him said. He frowned at her in annoyance and I remembered that the latest fad in school is to call everyone by their surname only. It won’t last of course, it never does. Last week you had to call people by a vegetable their personality resembled. I got called GM because I was new and untested. Miller motioned for me to come and sit with them. Not wanting to cause offence or get my head kicked in - Miller had a somewhat fearsome reputation - I relented and sat in
an empty seat. I could see now that there was quite a group of them, eight altogether. They took up the entire back seat and one of the two-seaters in front of it, I was sat on the spare one of these. Those not on the back seat were kneeling up, facing backwards so they could chat with the others but I sat sideways, dangling my skinny legs in the aisle, a little unsure of who to look at. I knew them all by reputation of course, just not personally. It’s so hard to make new friends. Anyway I shall describe them for you briefly. Ben Knightly’s sat opposite me. I like Ben, he’s pretty cool. He’s one of those people who are great at everything but aren’t big headed about it. He looked after me on my first day at school. He wears the hip kind of clothes that only black people can get away with and his hair is trendy but practical. The girl sat beside him is Nicola Nunn. All the teachers love her. She has long flowing locks straight out of a shampoo advert and wears long skirts with flowers embroided on them. She’s really into horses, has her own I believe, and has got really horrid pictures of fluffy puppies all over her pencil case. Along the back seat is Francis Fryer. A sociable chap. He’s a school monitor, supposed to tell teachers when you do naughty stuff but I hear if you let him have your pudding at lunch he’ll look the other way. This means he’s rather tubby and wears knackered old, baggy sweatshirts to cover it up. His hair’s a bit greasy too. Then there’s Max Merchant. Max is a prat. He is such a show off and completely full of himself. He has thick black, gelled hair and wears all the latest gear, but word is he ain’t paying for it. Ruby Bath is the big, plump, loud-mouth on the other side of Miller. She is easily the loudest girl I have ever known and she’s always wearing these bright red tights, just to get attention I reckon. She’s really friendly though and good for a laugh. Next to her is Patsy Parsons. She’s the complete opposite of Ruby Bath, neither loud, attention seeking or annoying. She’s not anything at all really. She seems to blend into backgrounds and never breaks a rule. Then of course there’s Miller. You wouldn’t want to cross him. A boy once told him he had a face like the back end of a bus so Miller punched him and broke his nose. He was right though, Miller is uglier than my gran’s bulldog. Last but not least there’s Harry Bailey. Harry’s dad owns a coaching company, Tabard Tours, in Southwark, and it’s one of his coaches we’re travelling on now. It was Harry’s, sorry ‘Bailey’s - gotta remember to call people by their surnames if I’m ever gonna get accepted as ‘cool’ around here. It was Bailey’s idea to have a competition. The
concept was that we’d each tell a joke and he’d pick the funniest as the winner. The moment I saw Miller’s eyes light up I knew we were all going to have to join in. Which wasn’t exactly a bad idea, it just meant I had to come up with a really cool, really hip, really funky joke, really quickly and I’m not exactly known for my quick wit. We drew lots and Knightly got to go first. He seemed pretty confident and came straight out with it. “What’s big, green, has six legs, twenty-three balls and would kill you if it fell out of a tree?” he asked grinning. We all looked at him expectantly, the excitement building. “A snooker table,” he declared triumphantly which produced a spatter of laughter, although not from Miller. “Call that a joke!” Miller snapped. Bailey tried to calm him down but Miller just ignored him. “That was not a good joke,” he continued. “‘What’s brown and sticky’ is a good joke.” “But everyone knows that one,” frowned Fryer. “It’s a stick.” Miller then proceeded to gross us all out by claiming the answer was not in fact a stick but rather poo. Needless to say nobody laughed; but Miller, being Miller, demanded he be allowed to tell another joke instead. “What do you call a man with no arms or legs in the sea?” Brief pause. “Bob! Get it? Bob. Cos he’s bobbing up and down.” he beamed eagerly and I have to admit I was grinning, but the girls were outraged. I suppose it could be seen as a little demeaning. “My turn next,” shouted Bath, removing the attention away from Miller who was now sulking because no one had laughed at his joke. Bath proceeded to tell us that she’d been in five joke competitions before, three of which she’d won and the other two were badly judged. She had a lot to say about jokes and Fryer had to ask her if she was ever actually going to get around to telling her joke. Which she did, in the end. “What do you call a blind deer?” she asked. “We don’t know,” we all chorused together. “What do you call a blind deer?” “No idea!” Bath laughed then quickly added. “What do you call a blind deer with no legs?” I turned to see if Miller would say ‘Bob’ but he was still sulking so I turned back to Bath. “Still no idea!” she declared joyfully. That cracked us all up and I started to get a little nervous. I was gonna have to
come up with really good joke if I was gonna get even close to one that good. “I can do better than that!” declared Fryer suddenly. He leant forward, gathering us in and looked really serious for a moment before saying, “Two sausages sizzling in a pan. One says ‘Cor it’s hot in ‘ere’, the other says ‘Flipping ‘eck! A talking sausage!’” There was even clapping for Fryer after this joke it was so good. How on Earth was I supposed to think up a joke as good as that! This was getting really difficult and I started to feel uncomfortable. Merchant was next and he puffed himself up importantly before starting his joke. “Where do fish keep their money?” “In a river bank?” suggested Knightly. Merchant looked devastated. “Don’t worry about it,” shrugged Miller. “It was a naff joke anyway.” Merchant look briefly like he might say something back, but he didn’t, which was probably wise. There was an awkward silence for a bit then. I looked up and noted there were only two more people before me and I still hadn’t come up with a joke. It was really important that I tell a good one so that everyone would like me but I could only half remember one about jelly babies getting their heads bitten off, and half a joke was no good at all. “Well, I suppose it’s my turn now,” said Nunn, breaking the tense silence. She sat upright and took a deep breath, she must have been nervous too. “What’s white, fluffy and swings through the jungle? We waited eagerly. “A meringue-ootang!” she smiled cheerfully and received a round of laugher. Trust Nunn to come up with a cutesy animal joke. It was kinda funny though. Now there was only Parson’s left before it was my turn, and I still hadn’t got a joke. I felt a bit better when shy Parson’s had to be coaxed into telling her joke. I thought if she told a real stinker anything I said afterwards would seem really good by comparison. “Okay,” she practically whispered, blushing furiously, after finally relenting. “What’s long and thin, covered in skin, red in parts and goes in tarts?” There was a gasp, a hush, a stifled giggle as we all exchanged glances. Was shy Parson’s really about to say what we all thought she was going to say! “Rhubarb,” she announced suddenly and everyone burst out laughing; well, everyone except me that is. Sure I was grinning but I was way to nervous to laugh properly. It was my turn now and I still hadn’t got a joke! My brain had gone all fuzzy. I
couldn’t think straight. I just don’t work very well under pressure! My palms grew sweaty as I waited for them to stop laughing and turn expectantly to me. “Your turn, Chaucer,” Miller said cheerfully after finally re-catching his breath. “Erm,” I said panicking. “Erm...My dog has no nose. How does he smell? Not very well.” There was silence, then I realised I’d messed up the punchline. They were all gonna think I was a complete and utter loser. Then Fryer started grinning, Miller began sniggering and soon everyone was rolling around in the aisles with laughter at my joke! “Hilarious!” laughed Bailey. “Nothing funnier!” spat Knightly. Bath even had tears in her eyes. I felt myself grin a little. “Well, you know,” I added more confidently. “It’s like I’ve always said, it’s not the joke, it’s the way you tell it.” ~ End ~
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