It had all started when initial smiles and jumps-for-joy had quickly turned into arguments with begging, shouting and even stamps and tears.
The family were delighted when dad announced, over the tea table, that their summer holiday had finally been arranged. They would be going to Disneyland Paris. James and Sally had been hoping for such a holiday for several years. Friends at school, who had been themselves, told excited tales of the rides, the carnival procession, the exciting lights and actually meeting Mickey, Minnie and other Disney characters at the theme park in France. James and his twin sister, Sally, had squealed with glee, cheered and shouted. Ben, who could often be very excitable, was quieter but soon joined the twins in jumping around the room in excitement and joy.
Watching them with smiles on their faces, Mum and Dad had waited for several minutes. They were all rolling around the floor in a great big group cuddle when Mum broke the news that Ben would not be going with them. (Again, of the three of them, it was Ben who had made the least fuss.) James and Sally lead the protests, shouted complaints, argued persuasively that they should go as a family and eventually, through frustration, behaved in ways which ended up with them having to go to bed rather earlier than usual! It was all to no avail, however. It was not possible. Nothing could be done. Ben could not go with them. He would have his own, special, holiday – but would have to miss out on Disneyland.
When the time came, Disneyland was great. It was everything they had expected and more. Mum, Dad, James and Sally all had a fantastic time. But, that summer, it was Ben who really had a holiday adventure.
James and Sally had gone along with Dad to drop Ben off. The accommodation for him was good. He had enjoyed the food – and there was plenty of it. After a rather nervous start, he had quickly got to know many of the others and made some good friends. He had enjoyed the activities with his new playmates and exploring together, but the best was yet to come…
After a long walk in the country during the Thursday afternoon and playing out in the warm evening air, most of his friends were feeling tired, but not Ben. The time came for everyone to go indoors but, while the others trudged through the gate from the field, Ben was looking for more adventure. A stout oak tree which had fallen close to the wooden fence at the bottom of the field made the perfect hiding place and, crouching behind it, eyes peering up towards the big house, he watched the last of the others go indoors and waited for the outside lights to the switched off. As soon as the artificial light was gone, the sky seemed to gain a turquoise glow and the surrounding area, which had become familiar over the week, now took on a magical atmosphere. The stars had a brightness that Ben had never known before and his jaw dropped at the sight of the moon – a huge, glowing blue-white ball with incredible detail visible on the edges of craters and ridges. Ben felt his heart beating loudly in his chest and a shiver ran up his spine as he anticipated the night ahead.
Creeping out of his hiding place, he began exploring the edges of the field in the twilight. A pair of ladybirds strolled over a marigold flower and a bee headed straight for the honeysuckle, needing no sun to light its way, but the daisies and some other tiny blue flowers growing among the grass were beginning to close for the night.
For a while, Ben thought that he might have made a mistake and that he would have a long and boring night. But, far from going to sleep, the area suddenly seemed to be waking up. Sounds of scraping and snuffling came from the copse below the bottom fence. Returning to the fallen oak, he stood in silence on the trunck and watched as a grey-haired animal with a black and white striped head and short stubby legs nervously scented the air. In a few moments, the adult badger was joined in the moonlight by two young cubs. Edging out of their sett they looked around and quickly began nuzzling the ground where the soil was loose, searching for an earthworm meal.
Over the next hour, Ben watched entranced as these animals were joined by others from the sett to engage in boisterous play and grooming. Then, suddenly all the badgers froze. One of the adults rose slightly on its hind legs looking directly away from Ben. He followed its gaze. Squinting into the distance he eventually made out the silhouette of what looked like a slim dog, standing proud on the horizon. A turn of its head announced that this was a fox. In a flash, the badgers disappeared into the safety of the sett and, after a pause, the fox began making its way along the edge of the wood and down the hill. Although Ben was not able to keep it in sight all the way, his eyes were well adapted to the dark and he was able to track the fox as picked its way towards him.
The evening had been amazing already, but it was about to become even more surprising and wonderful. The fox kept coming nearer and nearer and, only a moment after disappearing from sight as it approached the fence, a plank began to move. The base rotated inwards and suddenly the fox was in the field with him. Ben froze. The hairs stood up on his neck. This fox was a magnificent creature. Only a few metres away from him, brush held high, it walked calmly around the fallen trunk and proceeded diagonally up the field. There it found another loose plank and now Ben had watched the animal, he could clearly make out in flattened grass, the route that it had taken. Obviously, this was a well trodden track.
As he turned again to see if the badgers had returned, Ben noticed with surprise that the plank in the bottom fence had not fallen back fully. Clambering down from his look-out post, Ben investigated the fence and managed to wriggle through the gap. The two younger badgers were out of the sett again. And it was Ben’s calmness and slow, patient approach that meant that he was able to spend a night with the badgers. Not just watching them, but playing beside them and with them. It was a night of adventure and the night of his life.
When everyone was back home again, James and Sally were full of news about their holiday. “You’d have loved it too,” James told Ben.
“Maybe we can go again and you can come with us next time!” cried Sally, giving him a hug. “You’d like that, wouldn’t you?”
Ben, however, would probably view things differently. He would be quite happy if they all went off to Disneyland without him and left him, once more, to create his own adventure