Putting up a tent is not as easy as it looks especially when the tent is almost twenty years old. Mandy scratches her head as she looks down at the lawn where all the bits of the tent are scattered. ‘Dad said it would be easy.’ Bean picks up the corner of one of the three pieces of heavy cloth and pulls it up to his nose. ‘It stinks,’ he says. ‘How long has it been in your attic?’ Mandy shrugs her shoulders and looks disappointed. ‘I really want to sleep out tonight. I’m sure we can do this.’
Bean sits down on the lawn and frowns. ‘I suppose I could ask my dad,’ he says.
It turns out that Bean’s dad is not only a clever inventor and a skilled tractor driver, he’s also great at putting up old tents. ‘I’ve not seen one of these in years,’ he says as he hammers a tent-peg into the lawn. ‘I don’t suppose it’ll be waterproof anymore. These sort of tents need waterproofing regularly. It smells like it’s not seen the light of day for centuries.’ He laughs. ‘Did the last camper die in it,’ he chuckles. He looks up at the sky. ‘No rain forecast for tonight so you’ll be fine.’
Bean and Mandy walk around the lawn to look at the tent from all angles. ‘It still smells,’ says Bean as he collapses onto the warm grass. He looks up at the clear blue sky and smiles. ‘I love summer holidays,’ he says. Mandy lays down next to him. ‘So do I.’ They are soon joined by several buzzing insects that spin around their heads as if they were racing each other. ‘Wouldn’t it be odd to be a fly,’ says Bean, thoughtfully. Mandy nods her head. ‘Flies only live for a few days,’ she says. ‘Birds and lizards eat them, without insects, birds and lizards wouldn’t exist.’
Several minutes pass as Bean and Mandy lay quietly listening to the sounds that fill the garden. A distant tractor is heard chugging through the farm. A blackbird is chirping in the apple tree. Boris is neighing as he waits for more hay. A light aircraft whirrs overhead. ‘My dad’s designing an airship,’ says Bean, after watching the light aircraft disappear from sight. ‘Mum says he’ll never be able to build it because we haven’t got the space, or the material or the money. She’s right I suppose.’ Mandy sits up and looks at Bean. ‘Your dad’s great. He’s a bit mad maybe. My dad just orders people about and reads the newspaper. Mum says he’s got too much money. He could help your dad build his airship if he wasn’t so stingy. He wouldn’t even get me a new tent.’
Bean sits up. ‘But he got you a horse, that must have cost a lot.’ Mandy puts her hand on Bean’s knee. ‘Bean,’ she says, ‘Boris was given to me free because the people who had him said he was vicious and wanted rid of him. My dad paid for all the tack but that was second-hand and cheap. He refuses to buy a horsebox.’ Bean stands up and looks across at the tent. ‘Will your mum make us some crunchy peanut butter sandwiches for the night?’ he asks. Mandy nods her head. ‘I’ll make some,’ she says.
For tea, Bean is given fried fish-fingers with baked beans and a bowl of custard for pudding. His mum is acting odder than her normal oddness. She keeps saying: ‘You be back tomorrow morning before ten o’clock because we’ve got a surprise announcement to make,’ and, ‘how many gears do you want on your bike,’ and, ‘have you had mumps yet?’ How would Bean know if he’s had mumps yet? ‘I want as many gears as possible on my bike,’ he says, as he runs upstairs to pack his rucksack.
Just as Bean is about to leave to make his way to the tent he is told to pack an extra blanket. ‘It gets cold in the middle of the night,’ his mum says, as she kisses him on the cheek. Bean winces. ‘I thought you’d forgotten my birthday,’ he says. His mum smiles. ‘I’ve been distracted I know. But you’ll find out why that is tomorrow, when we announce our surprise.’ Bean had forgotten that his mum had mentioned earlier that there was to be a surprise announcement. The last time she said that, a Danish student came to stay with them. He didn’t speak any English and was completely boring. ‘Okay,’ says Bean, ‘I’ll be back before ten.’
As the evening grows darker and as the smell of the tent becomes increasingly unbearable, Bean and Mandy decide to sleep under the stars, as far away from the tent as possible. They pull their sleeping bags out onto the lawn and lay looking up at the clear night sky. For a while they count meteorites as they appear and disappear so quickly. Bean starts a conversation about how big infinity is but that doesn’t last very long. They eat their crunchy peanut butter sandwiches. Bean has brought two packets of cheese and onion crisps, so they eat those and drink the orange juice Mandy’s mum had insisted they take. ‘I could do with some chocolate biscuits now,’ says Mandy.
Bean looks at his watch. ‘Gosh it’s nearly midnight,’ he says. Mandy has fallen asleep. He has never seen her asleep before. She looks peaceful. Bean puffs up his pillow and pulls the extra blanket over his shoulders. He sees the longest lasting meteorite of the evening and considers waking Mandy up to tell her. He doesn’t. He begins to wonder what his dad’s airship might look like if he ever builds it. ‘It’ll probably be something like a Zeppelin but smaller. He could make the motors out of lawnmower engines,’ he says to himself.
Just as Bean is beginning to fall sleep, he hears a rustling noise from the tall hedge that stands between the garden and the track that leads down to the bridge. He sits up. ‘It’s probably a badger,’ he says. ‘Or maybe a blackbird having a bad dream.’ After a few moments he plucks up the courage to turn his head. He wakes Mandy up first. ‘I heard a noise,’ he says. They both look towards the hedge. Mandy has barely opened her eyes. Suddenly, a dark figure appears near the hedge and looks across at them. Bean grabs Mandy’s hand. Mandy squeals and closes her eyes. Bean closes his eyes too. When he opens them, a few moments later, the figure is gone. ‘Oh bloody hell,’ he says.