When I was in Year 8, I went to Paris on a school trip.
So far, so good.
But wait – there’s more. But also, in many ways, there’s less. Much, much less.
Firstly, let me tell you a bit about my background.
Oh by the way, little tangent, normally when a comedian says “let me tell you about my background,” they follow it up by making a joke about the back wall of the stage. Because that’s literally their background in that moment. Like, background as in the thing behind them rather than background as in their childhood and where they grew up. And when I’m watching a comedian do that bit, I always think, how do they not realise they’re not the only person doing this joke? And if they do realise, why do they keep doing it? Do they not care? What kind of childhood must this person have had for them to end up like this?
It makes me legitimately want to find out about their background. Perhaps that’s the genius of the bit.
Anyway, I want to tell you about my background – it’s the wall of my bedroom hehe. But nah, where I grew up, in a town called Stone, near a “city” called Stoke, we had a middle-school system. There was first school, middle school, then, yep, you guessed, a 3-year training camp where we all had to learn the ancient martial art of Karate, which taught us not only how to defend ourselves, but also what it means to be a man. Not really, I’m being silly again. After middle school was high school, where we learned the ancient art of fingering girls. I never did it in high-school myself, but I heard a lot from people with first-hand experience (so to speak lolololol). According to Jack Bond, it’s like sticking your fingers in a quiche.
In middle school, Year 8 is the top year, so you’re one of the big kids in school. You feel confident. Invincible. At that time, it was entirely possible that I had the biggest dick in the whole school. To say that wasn’t on my mind as I was packing my suitcase to go to Paris would be a lie and possibly libellous to my former self. But I wasn’t just revelling in the possibly majestic relative size of my sexual organ, I was also thinking a lot about a certain 4-letter word. Not dick, but love.
Paris is the city of love. At the time, I was in love with what can only be described as a girl called Becky. She had brown hair and a ponytail and the kind of smile that makes a boy in Year 8 go crazy. We were in Maths together, and instead of doing my sums like a good little beaten down and uncreative product of the British education system, I spent most of the time trying to figure out how to get me plus her to equal boyfriend and girlfriend. I know I was only 12, but I was ready to settle down and build a life with this girl, or at the very least a treehouse.
I was always too frightened to ask Becky out at school. I tried on numerous occasions but unfortunately that number was 0. That joke doesn’t really work, because numerous just means many rather than a certain number, but the point is I was too in love this brown-haired bombshell to be working on my vocab. Anyway, every time I got close to her and went to say, “hey will you go out with me?” I panicked and farted and had to immediately evacuate the situation before the fart particles got a chance to reach her lovely nose.
As soon as we were in Paris, the city of love, and away from Stone, the town of slowly waiting for death to end the monotony of existence, I was sure things would change. I was gonna go for it with Becky. We could drink wine and eat snails under the Eiffel tower and I could have my first ever kiss. Why not ask her out in Paris? Fuck it, Year 8 was coming to an end and maybe this could kickstart a summer of love, we could arrive at high school as a power couple, fingering different parts of each other’s bodies in between studying for our GCSE’s.
Little did I know, I was about to be brought right back down to Earth, my least favourite planet to be brought back down to.
To save money and to increase everyone’s sense of unhappiness, the school decided we would go to Paris by coach rather than by plane. We had to go to Dover, then get a ferry to Calais, then go to Paris.
The journey was gonna take 14 hours in total, and to pass the time, we were playing this game where we’d all talk about what we were gonna be like when we were older. Thinking about it, it was more of a conversation than a game. Well, I’ve said game now. I’m gonna stick with game. The whole back half of the bus were playing this “game”. Meanwhile, the front half of the bus seemed to be having this conversation about what they spied with their little eyes. At one point in the game, someone said, “Imagine if Eric grew up to be really fit” and then they laughed and then everyone else laughed and it proper made me feel sad. See I didn’t know that I WASN’T fit. No idea, whatsoever. I don’t think I thought I was fit. I just didn’t think either way. It didn’t occur to me. But this was like everyone knew I was a munter and they were howling at the absurdity of it ever being any different. Devastating.
I tried to ignore it. See if I could just put it to the back of my mind, maybe join in with the front half of the bus’s conversation. But the only thing I spied with my little eye began with B. And that was “Becky Also Laughing At The Idea Of Me Being Attractive”. Also, brownie. I had had a brownie in my lunch. Thanks for packing that, mum. It helped reduce the humiliation for a few seconds, before I looked back at Becky and realised I was a loser and a grade-A DORK to her.
You may not be surprised to hear that I didn’t ask her out when we got to Paris. I just ate my crepes and saw the shitty Mona Lisa and went back home. That’s how I remember it. There must’ve been other things we did in the 5-day trip but it was honestly just one long sad crepe to me. When I got back to school, I made a conscious effort to just focus on myself and my studies, and never even think about asking a girl out again.
How did that work out for me?
Fast forward 10 years from the cruel coach comment, and I’m 23, one of the most respected new comedians in the whole of the South Birmingham comedy scene, and I have degree in Mathematics from Warwick University. Not bad, eh? Life worked out for little for little ugly Eric Rushton, didn’t it? Well, unfortunately, I’m also crippled by a couple of obscure conditions known amongst psychologists as “anxiety” and “depression”. Friends who actually exist will often say to me, “Eric, you’re easily one of the top 7 comedians aged between 20-25 in the Kings Heath area of Birmingham, how is it that you’re still so down on yourself?”
Sometimes the answer to that question is as puzzling to me as the answer to the question, “How can Primark sell clothes that are so fashionable yet so damn cheap?” It all comes down to ruined childhoods. For some kids, it’s working 14 hours a day in a sweatshop; for others, it’s hearing a mildly unkind comment on a trip to Paris. I’m not gonna say which one’s worse, but let’s just say those sweatshop kids didn’t have to stop at a services that had promised a Burger King only to get there and be told it was “undergoing maintenance”. Fucking bullshit.
It turns out that the trip to Paris stayed with me. I’m not saying I think about it that much, but I think it was the point where I started telling myself a story about who I was. Not a well-written, funny story like this one I’m writing, but a mean story, a story that says I’m not good enough.
I was on the number 50 bus into town other day, and something happened that made me think about all this stuff again. According to folklore, the number 50 bus in Birmingham is one of the most frequent bus routes in Europe. If you miss one bus, another one will come along in the next 3-5 minutes and save your sorry ass from standing in the cold (or the hot, or the pleasant breeze, or whatever weather type). You’d think because there’s so many buses that each individual bus wouldn’t be so busy, but you’d better not vocalise that thought because you’d embarrass yourself. At peak times, you’re packed like bloody sardines on them buses. Hey I sometimes imagine sardines all squashed together in one of their tins and they’re like, “Jesus, this is like being on the number 50 bus in Birmingham.” Then I have to put the sardines back in the cupboard — I can’t bring myself to eat animals that possess such wit.
Normally when I’m on the bus I just listen to Spotify Premium on my brand-new iPhone XR handset (one of the most powerful mobile devices around, with a slick new design and colour options to match your taste, all for just £45 a month when you select Vodafone’s RED entertainment plan and add a loyalty discount, for more information head to Vodafone.co.uk/Red or pop into your nearest Vodafone store and ask to speak to one of their friendly advisors). The phone has the longest battery life on an iPhone ever – while still being incredibly compact and light – but I’d somehow managed to let it die. This meant I had to take in my surroundings and be more present with my thoughts. My thoughts are not something anyone wants to be present with. They’re like the guest at the house party that you try to avoid because you know they’re gonna be super intense and ask you about how your job’s going and your 5-year-plan and what’s next for Eric Rushton and what changes you need to make and whether the chilli sensations in the cupboard are up for grabs or are they food for the family home that we shouldn’t touch. I’m thinking about a very specific party I had once.
As for the surroundings, the bus was packed with people and it was fuckinggggg hot mate. Proper heatwave whether. It was so hot that even thinking about it just made me type the wrong spelling of weather. The bus smelled of sweat and the situation reeked of something that could be narratively interesting. Next to me was a woman. She was youngish and one of those that start speaking to you. Well not you, I mean me. She spoke to me is what I’m saying.
“Boiling, init?” She said.
“Yeah, well hot,” I said.
The conversation ended there, which was a relief for me. The only thing I hate as much as speaking to strangers is speaking to people I know. But after a few minutes, she piped up again:
“Sorry, this is a bit strange, but can I ask you where you’re from?”
“Oh, I live in Kings Heath at the moment.”
“No, I mean, where are you ‘from’ from?”
I absolutely lost it at this point. Who was this lady with her questions?
“Hey, I have every right to be in this country so I don’t see what that has to do with anything?” I yelled.
“Did you go to Christ Church Middle School?” She asked.
“Is this Eric?”
She then did this face where it was like she was gesturing to her own face with her face. It was weird. But she wanted me to look at her face, I figured. Then after any words failed to come out of my mouth, she discharged some from hers.
“Oh my God! It’s Becky. We used to sit together in Maths, remember?”
I didn’t know what to say. “Oh, shit” probably wasn’t great but I figured it was better than silence.
“What are you up to these days?”
“Just getting the bus into town.”
She laughed again.
“No, I mean what are you ‘up to’ up to?”
“Well,” I said, “I do a lot of stand-up comedy these days. I just got back from the Edinburgh Fringe.”
She seemed impressed with this. We got chatting some more about what she’s doing now (something boring that involves computers) and then we reminisced about year 8 maths.
“I always thought you were funny, you know,” she said. “You used to make me laugh loads.”
“It’s cos I fancied you,” I said, and then immediately after wondered why. I anticipated excruciating silence or worse, laughter.
But she smiled instead. “Really?”
“Sorry… bit weird, to tell you that init?”
“It’s okay.” She paused, then said, “How come you never said anything?”
“I dunno… didn’t want to make you feel weird, I guess.”
“I wouldn’t have minded,” she said. “It’s not like I got loads of attention back then. God, remember that Paris trip when everyone was so desperate to get off with each other on the coaches?”
“Err… Yeah, vaguely,” I said, looking at my feet.
“Feels good not to be thirteen anymore.”
“Yeah, yeah it does…”
“Anyway, my stop’s coming up,” she said. “It’s been so good to see you. Do you want my number, maybe we could catch up properly sometime?”
She gave me her number and got off, leaving me to return to my thoughts for the rest of the journey. Except now the thoughts seemed a bit more bearable and joined by all these questions like ‘was I actually fit?’, ‘have I always been fit?’ and ‘I’m actually fit as fuck, aren’t I?’. I’m not saying the answer was a unanimous yes, but it wasn’t a certain no anymore. Like maybe the story I’d told myself for the past ten years could have simply been a wrong one.
And then it was time to get off the bus, which was probably now as metaphorical as it was physical. I got off, headed inside, and sat down.
“Hiya, how’s it going?” My counsellor said, collecting me from the waiting area.
I smiled a big cheeky grin.
“Oh boy, have I got a story to tell you mate.”
Anyway, that’s about it.