No. Nooo! This is not good. In fact, this is bad. Very bad. This can’t be happening. This is a DISASTER. I can’t breathe. I actually can’t breathe. Oh no. I need to sit down. I can’t believe this is happening to me.
There is going to be a school disco.
A school disco. A disco, at school. Disco plus school. Dischool. Not cool. My worst nightmare, brought to life, made real, and looming in the distance like a dark, menacing cloud of doom. Looming doom.
Yeah, this is some bad, bad business. See, the one thing you need to know about me is I’m not good at dancing, in any way, shape or form. And that means a disco is bad news. Worse than bad. Worse than very bad. Big bongo bad with bobbly bits on. And I’ve got one week to do something about it.
What to do though, that’s the question. Or perhaps, what not to do. The obvious, straightforward option would be not to go to the disco. Easy, right? WRONG! Everyone who is anyone will be there, and I’m not someone who wants to be no-one, or everyone will know I’m no-one and no-one will think I’m someone who is anyone anymore. See? See? I’ve got to be there. People expect it from someone of my standing. That standing being: quite cool. A bit. Not very, not the coolest of the cool, not even really very cool, but a little bit quite cool. I’ve had to work hard to get that reputation, and I’m not going to give it all up and become a dork, or even a doofus, by not going to the school disco.
So that idea is a no go. Not going is not going to work. Don’t know why you even suggested it, are you crazy?
I caught up with my best friend, Kat, on the way out of school. She’d know what to do. She always knows what to do.
‘Disco! D-I-S-C-Ohhhh yeah! I can’t wait! A discooooo!’
‘What’s up, Joe? It’s a disco! The coolest thing ever to happen at St Kevin’s. You don’t seem very excited.’
‘Yeah. Thing is Kat… look… I’m cool, yeah? A bit, at least?’
‘Yeah. You and me, Joe – we rock the coolness.’
‘Riiight. ‘Rock the coolness’ is about where we’re at, I guess. One problem though. With this disco thing. I can’t dance.’
‘What? Course you can.’
‘I can’t. Honestly.’
‘Everyone can dance. You just listen to the music and then move around in time with it.’
‘Right, and that’s what I can’t do.’
‘What? Move around?’
‘Listen to the music?’
‘What then? That is literally dancing. You are literally doing it if you do that.’
‘Not when I do it.’
‘It just… goes wrong. Nothing goes where it’s meant to. And sometimes I fall over. A bit.’
‘No. I don’t believe you. Dancing is easy.’
‘For you, maybe. Not for me, ok?’
‘Well when was the last time you even tried? Maybe you can dance and you just don’t know it because you don’t dance because you think you can’t dance.’
I let my brain catch up with all of that for a minute.
‘I don’t think so. I definitely couldn’t the first time I tried, and frankly after that I’d rather not risk trying again.’
‘Why? What happened?’
Sigh. I suppose I’d better fill you all in on the back story.
Wibbly wobbly back in time bit. Woooooooo.
So. It was my cousin’s fifth birthday party, and I was having a great time. Jam sandwiches, chocolate fingers, I’d got a packet of crayons as a mid-layer prize in pass-the-parcel, and finished a very impressive second place in musical chairs (small bag of sweets as a runner-up prize). Then, it happened. IT. The thing that I’m telling you about. The dancing. Aunty Lou put the music back on, and said we could all do some dancing while she got the birthday cake ready. I was young, I was eager, I was… a dancer! Look at me! Oh yeah. Shake it Joe, let it go! Uh huh, uh huh! Uh… what’s everybody looking at?… huh… shimmy shimmy… Wait, they’re all looking at me, aren’t they?… Arms in the air, though I actually very much do care now. Why are they staring?
I tried to throw in a spin to see if that would help, but that turned out to be a BIG mistake. With my arms waving above my head, my balance was all wrong for such a groovy manoeuvre. Down I went, and as I went, my flailing hands caught the tablecloth and down that came with me. Together with the birthday cake. Splat! Right on top of my head. Happy Birthday, cuz!
Wibbly wobbly back to the present bit. Woo etc.
‘So, safe to say I actually can’t dance, see Kat?’
‘But… that was when you were five. Surely you’ve tried dancing again, since then?’
‘A few times. But it’s always the same. People stare. I fall over. Sometimes cakes get squashed. That is dancing, for me.’
‘What are you going to do then? We’ve got to go to the disco.’
‘I know. I was hoping you’d have a plan, actually.’
‘Hmm. Maybe I have then. My place. Later. Be there. Or be… somewhere else. But really, be there. I’ve got an idea.’
‘This is ridiculous.’
Well, it was.
‘Just be quiet and stand like I am,’ said Kat.
‘Fine. It’s still ridiculous though. Especially this thing. What’s it called again?’
‘A tutu. And it’s not ridiculous. If we’re going to do this, we have to do it properly.’
‘Yeah, but why do we have to do this? Ballet? We’re not going to be doing ballet at the school disco. That would be even worse than my usual dancing.’
‘Master the basics. Strong foundations. We’ve been through this. Now… position one, and… one two three, down two three, and a graceful sweep of your arm two three…’
‘Bored two three, stupid two three, can I go for a wee two three?’
Seriously though. How did I end up here, in Kat’s room, stood in a frilly skirt thing, waving my arm around like a baby baboon being bothered by a bee? Well apparently, to learn to dance at a disco, first I needed to learn how to do ballet. Yeah, I know, right?
‘And now, demi-plie, bend those legs, and petit jete!’
‘Stop. Stop. STOP. T out. What what whaaaat? Demi plemi doo-ey poo-ey? I don’t speak Babbleteeboop.’
‘It is French, young Joseph. Look, just jump in the air like this.’
Kat bent her knees slightly, lifted one foot up, and then pushed off the floor with her other foot, landing back on the first. Wowzers. That looked good. I mean, there was no way on earth I could do it, but it did look good.
‘Give it a go.’
‘Show me again.’
Yeah, it really looked good. Maybe I could do it. It was just jumping in the air, after all. Hardly dancing at all. Just jumping. I could jump. Yeah. I could do this.
I got into position. Funny feet, odd arms, bend those knees, and…
The door opened. Kat’s little sister Molly walked in, and burst out laughing. I screamed and tried to cover the toot-toot or whatever it was called with my hands, but because my feet were still in the funny ballet position I lost my balance and, you guessed it, fell over, pulling the duvet off Kat’s bed on top of me.
‘Hahahaaa! Classic. What are you doing to poor Joe, Kat? Aren’t you too old for playing dressing up?’
‘Maffalec atrella doo doo,’ I replied from beneath the duvet.
‘I wish I had my phone on me, a photo of this would be pure gold.’
‘Mmmmoooo! Mo popos!’ I said, panicking. One photo of this and any slight hint of coolness I might have earned would be lost in an instant. I poked my head out of the duvet, and saw that Molly had gone, presumably to find her phone. Gah! Molly was a complete nuisance. She loved nothing more than making fun of me; she would never ever let me forget this. I wriggled and wiggled, and managed to free myself from the duvet, then took the toot-toot off as quickly as I could, before Molly came back.
‘No more ballet.’
‘No. Nopety nope nope. New plan, please.’
‘No no no no no…’
‘…no no no…’
‘Argh! You’re impossible. Ok, but it’ll have to wait until tomorrow.’
‘Fine by me. But no more dressing up, yeah?’
It looked like we were back to square one then. I sure hoped Kat could come up with another plan, quickly.
In fact, I came up with an amazing plan all by myself, later that evening. And it was a doozy, toozy. Yes, when you are as brilliant as me it doesn’t take long to sort out any problem that comes your way. My mind is as sharp as a knife dipped in lemon juice, driven by logic and reason, cutting through any problem and leaving nothing but facts and solutions. I am pretty much a genius, really.
So there I was, lying on my bed, throwing a rolled up sock at the clock on the shelf above me, when it hit me. The clock. It fell off the shelf and hit me. Square on the head. But that gave me an idea. The idea. What if I told everyone that the disco was later than it actually was? No-one would turn up on time, and it would all be over by the time they did turn up and there wouldn’t even be a disco for me not to go to because everyone else wouldn’t have already not gone to it after! See? Genius!
I got my laptop out, and set about designing a new poster. Picture there… text here… false time over there…Yep, that’ll do… Save… Print… 50? No, 100. That should do it.
Early the next morning, I was up, and ready to put Project Poster Plaster Plan into action. Even the name was cool. Come on, this couldn’t fail! I put on the fake moustache and glasses from my joke set, and headed out on my mission. A master of disguise.
‘Morning, Joe,’ said Mrs Higgins, out walking her dog.
Really, did she think I’d grown a moustache overnight or something? Come on! And I don’t even wear glasses, Mrs Higgins. Some spy she’d make. Luckily, the rest of the 6am streets were quiet, almost deserted, as I scuttled around sticking my posters up everywhere I could along the route into school. Back home in time for breakfast, and everything was in place.
Walking in to school later that morning with Kat, I couldn’t wait for her to spot one of my posters. Hee hee! I didn’t even ask if she had come up with a plan overnight; no need, it was all sorted. As we approached one of my posters, I stopped to study it carefully.
‘By jiggins, I say, a poster about the discotheque, no less. Let us stop and read it, perchance.’
‘Are… are you ok, Joe?’
I really needed to work on my acting skills. Well, that’s next on the list after dancing then.
‘Oh, yeah. Just wanted to check out this poster for the school disco… THAT I MADE! Woo hooooo! Lookity look! It’s my new plan. See; Disco, this Friday, 7pm! Get it?’
‘Erm… no. Surely even more people will go if you put posters up?’
‘Yeah, but 7pm. See. Sev. En. I’m a genius.’
‘Still not getting it, Joe.’
‘My posters say 7pm, right. And the school disco starts at…’
‘No. No no no… the school disco starts at…’
‘No. It’s 7pm. Definitely 7. I remember, because I wouldn’t be able to go if it was any earlier, because I’m at Taekwondo. It’s at 7.’
What had I done? WHAT had I done? What had I DONE? Free advertising for the flumpin’ school disco, that’s what I’d done! Even more people would be going now. Even more people to watch my pathetic fail dancing. Even more people to point and laugh. Remind me never to use my genius to make amazing plans ever, ever again. Ever!
And just when things couldn’t possibly get any worse, they got worse. More disco disaster. Verity Simmons asked me if I’d like to dance with her at the disco. Let me explain just how bad this is.
Firstly, as we all know, I can’t dance. That is an established fact.
Secondly though, even if I could dance I would NOT dance with Verity Simmons.
So it’s double bad. Not that there’s anything wrong with Verity Simmons, you understand? It’s just, she likes me, but I don’t know why she likes me, and it freaks me out. On the face of it, I should be happy she likes me – I mean, she’s popular, cool, nice, pretty… But I don’t want to be liked, by anyone. It’s all just scary and weird and I don’t know what to do. I’ll worry about all that when I’m like, 30 or something, not when I’m ten and I’ve got other things to worry about, like putting my trousers on the right way round or not accidentally saying ‘yes Mum’ instead of ‘yes Miss’ to a teacher. Those kinds of things haunt you for a long time at school. Oh yeah, some kids can’t remember what 6 times 7 is for more than 42 seconds, but something like putting your trousers on the wrong way round five years ago, they’ll never forget.
I’ve had a Valentine’s card from Verity for each of the last three years, and every lunchtime – and I mean every lunchtime – she calls over and asks me to sit in the place next to her that she’s saved for me. I never sit there. But she always asks. Then there’s the wave. Let me tell you about the wave.
She waves at me.
Yeah, no, listen though… it’s this fluttery little wave and she giggles when she does it and says ‘Hi Jooooooe’ in this sing-song voice and I go bright red and then she says how cute it is that I’m embarrassed and it is just SCARY, OK?!
And I’m expected to dance with her? Nuh uh. Ain’t gonna happen. I fall over anyway when I’m dancing, without Verity making things even worse. I may as well just hand in my cool card now. I need another plan. Fast.
P L A N.
Plan Number 1.
Plant a planet.
Plant a Planet of plum punnets.
Gah! I’d been working on this for at least an hour, and I hadn’t come up with a plan at all. A good drawing of an alien plum, an ok doodle, some squiggles and some bubble writing wasn’t going to help me much. Particularly not when I was meant to be doing maths at the time. I needed to speak to Kat once this lesson was over. Surely she would have come up with a plan now?
At lunchtime, having avoided Verity’s wave of embarrassment as usual, I sat down next to Kat.
‘Well?’ I asked.
‘Dancing? Disco? Plan? Have you? Got? One?’
‘Oh, that. Yeah, kind of. Sort of. Maybe. Scoff your lunch, and then we’ll get to work.’
‘Ok. But no dressing up, right?’
‘Ish? That’s not even a word. What does it mean? What’s the plan? Why is it ish?’
‘Look, just eat up and then meet me in the sports hall.’
And off she went, leaving me with my tuna sandwich and rather delicious looking chocolate muffin. Speed scoff! I needed to know what this ‘ish’ was. I quick-legged it to the sports hall, where Kat was waiting for me.
‘The trampoline, Joseph. A piece of sports equipment consisting of strong elastic material joined by springs to a frame, for jumping up and down on.’
‘Yes, thank you, walking dictionary. Next definition please – what in the merry name of Batman has this got to do with dancing, and why did I rush my chocolate muffin for it? And where’s the ‘ish’?’
‘Just go and get your sports kit on, and you’ll find out. And quick, or lunchtime will be over and the next class will turn up. Go. Quick quick. Shoo!’
No point arguing. I ran to my locker and got my kit out and sprinted back to the changing room, but in my rush to get changed, I somehow managed to put both feet down one leg of my tracksuit.
I tried again, but the leg-hole had turned inside out. I fell over, and squirmed around on the floor. Finally I got them on properly. Then I noticed that they weren’t on properly, I’d put them on back to front. The curse of five years ago! Back to front trousers of doom!
No time to take them off though. I was struggling about, trying to reach round behind me to the ties to at least do them up, when there was a knock on the changing-room door.
‘Joe. Hurry up! We’re running out of time.’
Argh. Fine. Fine. No, fine. Let’s get this over with. I walked out into the sports hall, and saw Kat standing on the trampoline.
‘Up you get then. We’re going to do some jumping on the trampoline.’
‘Because it’s bouncy.’
‘No, why jumping? What’s that got to do with dancing?’
‘Well, they’re kind of the same thing, if you think about it. Look, I worked out what the problem is with your dancing. You’ve been overcomplicating it. If you can just jump up and down a bit in time with the music, it’ll pass as dancing. You don’t have to worry about groovy moves or anything, just jump up and down a bit. Easy.’
‘But why the trampoline? I can jump up and down on the floor.’
‘It’s just easier on the trampoline. And just in case, just in case you fall over, then you’ve got a soft landing and nothing can go wrong. But you won’t fall over. But just in case. But you won’t.’
‘Oh come on, it’ll be fun. You go on the trampoline in your garden all the time, we just need to practice it in time with some music.’
Kat knelt down and turned on some music. Ooh, the new one from ‘Flamingos of Fury’. This rocks!
Kat started bouncing, and held out her hands to me. Here we go then. I took her hands, and started bouncing along. And it was alright, to be fair. We were bouncing up and down in time with the beat, and I could actually feel it. Bounce – BAM – Bounce – YEAAAH – Bounce – FLAMINGOS – Bounce – OF – Bounce – FURYYYYY!
Wooooh! I was dancing! Well, kind of. But it was working. I even started to throw in a few head nods as I bounced along to the music. Yeaaaah. Dancing. Dancing. Daaaaaancing! Trousers! Falling down. Falling down. Faaaaaaalling doooooown! Oh no! Gaaaah! Can’t stop bouncing. Oh nooooo!
I hadn’t had time to tie them up, had I? And now they were falling down, and I couldn’t stop them. I tried to grab them, but they were already down by my knees. My pants were on display! Pants are private! Even worse, bending down made me lose my balance, and as I bounced back up in the air I did a somersault, landing on my back and flipping up again. So now I was doing somersaults, with my trousers down by my ankles, and my arms flailing wildly about trying to reach them to pull them back up, desperate to get my pants safely behind closed doors where they belonged. All to a soundtrack of ‘Flamingos of Fury’.
It was at this point, of course, that the next class decided to walk in to the hall.
‘Haha! He’s got pants!’
‘Nice pants, pants boy!’
‘We can see your pa-ants, we can see your pa-aaaants!’
‘We see the pants! The pants are free!’
Good gravy, this was humiliating. I was losing cool points fast. At least phones were banned from school, so no photos would get out to add to the humiliation, but that was small comfort. The whole class was laughing at me now, as I still struggled to get my trousers back up. All the somersaulting had twisted them round, so even though I’d stopped bouncing and had grabbed the waistband, I still couldn’t pull them up.
Mr Heggerty?! Oh man, you know it’s bad when even the teacher is joining in. Finally, finally, I managed to get my trousers back up, and I ran back to the changing rooms. Why was this happening to me? My attempts to keep my coolness by going to the disco were actually losing me the coolness that I wanted to keep. Negative coolness. This had to stop.
I kept my head down at school for the rest of the day, and all of the next day too. Literally. I looked at the floor all day, terrified of making eye contact with anyone. I still heard the sniggers though, and the whispers that all seemed to contain the word ‘pants’.
Even Kat seemed to find it highly amusing, for some reason. And on Thursdays I go to her house after school because my mum works late at the hospital, so there was no escape. I just hoped she hadn’t told Molly what had happened.
‘I hear you decided to show everyone your pants yesterday, Joe?’
I chased Molly upstairs, and then went back into the lounge where Kat was playing with her little cousin, Sophia, who they also look after sometimes. She’s only three, so at least I was safe there.
‘I do show my pants too!’ Sophia shouted, running around the room with her trousers pulled down. A three year old was mocking me. This was ridiculous!
‘Do your pants too Joe-Joe. It fun.’
‘Shall we play something else, Sophia? How about hide and seek?’
‘No. See my pants!’
‘Do you want to do a puzzle?’
‘No. Showing my pants.’
‘Teddy bear tea party?’
‘Read a book?’
‘Listen to some nursery rhymes?’
‘Play with the… wait, did you say OK?’
‘Yessss. Nursey rhymes. Me want nursey rhymes.’
At last, something was going my way. I mean, I was still going to have to sit and listen to nursery rhymes, but at least it didn’t involve my pants in any way. Kat got her tablet, and put on Sophia’s favourite selection of nursery rhymes.
Sophia grabbed my hands and started running around in a circle, giggling. I span round and round, watching her grin as she clung on to my hands. Then we did some jumping up and down, and then some wiggling around. We were all laughing now, especially when we all joined in with the animal noises on Old Macdonald.
I collapsed on the sofa, breathing heavily, as Sophia ran around shouting ‘More, more, more nursey rhymes!’
‘That was fun!’ I said to Kat, who was sat smiling at me.
‘Yeah, you’re so good with Sophia,’ she said. ‘Nice to see you smiling, for once.’
‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘Until tomorrow, at least.’
‘Well, you can’t do anything about tomorrow today, so today you might as well forget about tomorrow.’
‘S’pose so,’ I said. The problem was, tomorrow would soon be today, and then I’d have no choice but to think about it.
And once I started thinking about it, I couldn’t stop. All of my attempts to sort this disco thing out had just made it worse. There were going to be even more people there now, and they’d all be watching me closely on the off-chance that my trousers might fall down again, and trying to learn how to dance had just made me surer than ever that I couldn’t. Pretty soon I was going to be so uncool I’d have to sit in the staff room at school.
6.45pm. A knock on the door. Two knocks on the door. Knock knock knockitty knock knock on the door. Kat had arrived, then.
‘Smile, Joe. It’s a disco, it’s meant to be fun.’
‘Yeah, fun for everyone else,’ I said. ‘Laughing at me. Yep, that’s fun alright.’
‘Oh, come on. Let’s just get there and see. You never know, something might turn up.’
‘Unless it’s a giant disco-destroying T-Rex, I’m not interested.’
When we got there, Mr Heggerty was just setting up in his DJ booth. Well, at least I was guaranteed not to be the MOST tragically uncool person in the room, I guess. The school hall was pretty packed, my posters had really done a good job. Well, a bad good job, at least. You know what I mean. And then…
Verity. Oh no. Help! The wave. It’s the wave. Don’t look at the wave!
‘Oh, you’re so sweeeeeeet!’
No I’m nooooooot.
‘See you in a bit for that daaaaance.’
A whole hour of this? I’m not sure I could handle it. I looked around for Kat for some reassurance, but I couldn’t see her anywhere. Great. Thanks, Kat. Abandoning me in my hour of need, some friend you turned out to be. I turned to head for the door, but the crowds were too thick. I was trapped. Trapped on the dance floor.
Mr Heggerty’s voice boomed over the mic. Well, kind of My Heggerty’s voice, he was doing this really fake DJ voice, which made him sound like he had a peg on his nose and ten maltesers in his mouth.
‘Hiiii there guys and gals, it’s DJ Teach here and I’m gonna spin some wicked tunes for you so get down and get groovaaaaayyyy! Thangyaverymuchhhhh…’
This was it then. The moment I became the least cool kid in school. As soon as the music started, my last remaining vestiges of coolness would fall away like leaves from a tree in autumn. A tree which couldn’t dance. And only had a couple of leaves. That kind of tree.
‘1, 2, 3, 4, 5, once I caught a fish alive…’
Whaaaaaaaat? Nursery rhymes? What kind of disco was this? Everyone was looking around, trying to work out what was going on, as Mr Heggerty fiddled about with his laptop, desperately trying to switch to his proper music. Then I saw Kat walking towards me over the dance floor, grinning.
‘Ready to dance, cool dude?’ she asked.
‘You did this?’
‘Yeah, of course.’
‘Well, you can’t dance to normal music, can you? But you were fine with Sophia yesterday, when her nursery rhymes were on. So I thought…’
‘But… but… nursery rhymes? That’s not cool!’
‘Cool is as cool does,’ said Kat. Which made no sense at all, but hey ho. I didn’t have chance to argue, because she grabbed my hands and started running around me in a circle just like Sophia had done. I was just about ready to actually properly DIE from embarrassment, when I noticed something odd. Other people were starting to join in with the ‘dancing’. Just one or two at first, but then a few more, and a few more. They chatted amongst themselves as they started to dance.
‘I remember this one, I used to love it!’
‘This is how I used to dance at playgroup – look.’
‘Ha, that’s cool. I used to wave my arms like this!’
‘We danced to this at my fourth birthday party!’
‘This is FUN!’
Mr Heggerty had given up now. He was slumped down in a chair behind his DJ desk, head in hands, watching as more and more people started dancing along to Kat’s fine selection of nursery rhymes. And then I realised something.
I was DANCING! This was it! The thing that I’d been worried about, it was happening. And it was ok. More than ok… it was actually GOOD.
My excitement was short-lived however… mid-spin, I spotted Verity heading towards me.
‘Awesome work, Joe!’ she said. ‘No-one would have started dancing if you hadn’t got up there. But this is the best fun ever. You’re the coolest.’
Well, I couldn’t really argue with that. But I braced myself, waiting for her to ask me to dance with her.
Once again, the evening surprised me.
‘Heads, shoulders, knees and toes? I LOVE THIS SOOOOONG!’ she hollered, turning and boogying away, head, shoulders, knees and toeing across the dancefloor in a frenzy.
I looked at Kat, and grinned. Coolness in the bank. How had that happened? Well, because of Kat, basically. My best friend, always there for me, like I’d known she would be. I grinned again, as Twinkle Twinkle Little Star started playing, and a huge cheer went up.
‘Would you care to dance?’ I asked her.
‘Why I do believe I would,’ she replied.
So, we danced. And we hopped. And we hokey cokeyed. We moved one finger. Then one thumb. And we were all merry and bright. We wiggled, and we jiggled. And we laughed. Oh, how we laughed. And we remembered what it was like to be little, when having fun meant just doing whatever made you happy, not worrying whether it was cool or what anyone else thought about it. And, tonight at least, everyone was cool. Or no-one was cool. Whatever we were, we were all it together.
Greg lives in Worcestershire with his wife and two daughters. He has two picture books published, The Positively Pleasant Pirates, and The Grumpy Teddy, and in 2017 Greg was shortlisted for the Wells Festival of Literature ‘Book for Children’ competition. Greg can be found on Twitter @thatgregdobbins where he plays around with words and post updates on his new puppy.
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