When The Wife™ fell pregnant with the J Unit, we kind of knew that a load of stuff we always did would be put on hold for ages. Life with kids is like that. One minute you’re holidaying in New York, the next day it’s too much bother to go to the top shop to get nappy sacks and you find yourself trying to fit a soiled nappy into a sandwich bag. We didn’t know things would be that bad, but as a ‘last hurrah’ we organised mini breaks away with friends apart from each other.
I went camping with The D. We had a cool plan: get to the Lakes early.. hike up the hills around Ullswater to a spot called Angle Tarn. Take some booze and refreshments and camp out overnight. Wake up in the morning before the hikers arrive, do a spot of fishing for trout and such and spend the whole day on the mountain top. Fucking. Aces. Stick around till the end and you’ll be glad you did
Day One: our heroes establish base camp
We loaded up on supplies at Lidl before our departure. In case you live somewhere posh – like Mogadishu – Lidl is a kind of aspirational brand for people who eat out of bins. To save money, The D and me did some regression analysis on Lidl’s alcohol stock and arrived at the acumen that a bottle of Lidl cherry brandy would be the ideal tipple to take along. We also bought some Lidl own brand sausages, more of which later.
But for now… traffic. Hellacious, summer, everyone’s-going-the-same-way, British holiday traffic. To travel the 70 or so miles from Manchester to Ullswater took about 3 hours. So when we arrived the day was already fading as we loaded up our gear on our backs.
Now, I’m not one to call a man lazy. But The D’s pack was suspiciously smaller than mine. I mean, really fucking small. By bringing the bigger pack I’d committed a gross strategic error, as seemingly every item we took out of the boot was “too big” for his pack, but could somehow fit into mine with some judicious squeezing and swearing on my part.
I hadn’t helped by eschewing modern rucksack technology in favour of my dad’s late 60s model. Made from an unholy combination of inch-thick canvas and 3-ply, it was held together by an unwieldy metal frame. As a result bending down to tie one’s shoelaces or inspect some flora or fauna led to the pack overbalancing and a head-first topple into the grass. The eventual weight of my pack was, by a rough estimate, roughly the same as Lithuania.
So it was that as dusk began its inexorable climb up the Western sky we began our climb.
I am not a fit man. I make no pretension to iron man status. I will never run a marathon or scale Everest. But ordinarily the amble up to Angle Tarn is, while taxing, the kind of exercise I can happily undertake. Because we were late in setting off, we decided to try to shortcut our way to the higher reaches of the path by ascending straight up the side of the mountain.
The word you’re looking for is: “morons”
That’d be a 1:2 slope. With 400 hundredweight of pig iron strapped to my back. In trainers. Through waist high bracken. In the last stages of a sun-stifled day. After seemingly 4 hours of toil, we had advanced about 16 feet up the murderous slope and the sun had dipped below the mountains on the opposite side of the valley.
We abandoned camping that night. Having bought Lidl cherry brandy to “save money” we now found ourselves driving listlessly along the valley to pay £8000 to pitch our tent on a piece of gravel at the back of a pub that was actually reserved for mobile homes. Still, at least they had beer and I had the opportunity to feed badgers with prawn cocktail crisps and picnic eggs (true story).
Sharing a tent with The D can only be likened to sleeping amid a seal colony. He honks and snores and farts and jiggles and is engaged in ceaseless activity throughout the night, which is why I found myself “sleeping” bolt upright in the driver’s seat of my car instead. Nontheless, as the crisp morning broke across the sunlit uplands, we felt good about our journey.
Day 2: Hubris
By noon the following day we had pitched our tent by the banks of Angle Tarn and were merrily fishing some beautiful – if diminutive - trout. A peregrine falcon wheeled overhead with a piercing cry and for a few short hours we were at one with the majestic solitude of nature.
But then came tea time.
“Tea” was to be a treat of Lidl sausage sandwiches. I set up the small gas stove and began to cook. Now the normal method of cooking a sausage goes like this:
- Heat oil and deposit sausages into pan
- Make murmuring noises of pleasure as the sausages lazily snap and sizzle in the pan while you exchanges stories of the day
- The sausages acquire a glistening golden brown hue
- You burn them slightly – just to be on the safe side.
- You make them into sarnies and spend a leisurely time in the silent companionship of food while you eat delicious, moist pork.
Cooking Lidl sausages goes like this.
- Heat oil and deposit sausages into pan
- Make murmuring noises of happy curiousity as nothing much seems to happen
- The sausages appear to be going yellow
- Inspect stove to see if it’s on high enough. Turn it up.
- Sausages go yellower still.
- Try exploratory operation to ascertain interior temperature of sausages
- Discover that sausages are hard. Harder than hard. Hard enough, perhaps, to press into service as an impromptu hammer for your tent pegs
- Cook for a bit longer
- Watch sausages getting yellower and yellower
- Venture a small bite of sausage
- Hurl sausages into lake, where they sink and poison the lake’s delicate ecosystem for many years as they decompose into toxic sludge.
Bugger. With tea out of the way, we settled down to our life-giving booze. Oh hang on – we didn’t. The D thought it was too heavy to bring up the hill. Glances were exchanged, but it doesn’t matter because we’re here in the wild, experiencing some genuine, life-affirming tranquility with each other’s company.
At some point, before we turned in for the night, I realised that I was ragingly thirsty. And it was at this point that we discovered we’d made a bigger blunder than merely buying Lidl sausages. We had no drink. Not even cherry brandy. Nothing.
Scientifically, the human body can stand a few days without drink. Personally? Fuck that. I was thirsty. I decided to chance the lake water and headed out into the dark with a small plastic cup. The D spoke out on the idea.
The D: “You shouldn’t drink that. No way.”
Me (filling cup and drinking deeply with a satisfied sigh): “That, my friend, is nature’s bounty. Have a drink – it’s proper refreshing.”
The D (wavering): “Errrr… I am thirsty… but no thanks. Night night, Ray Mears.”
It was only when I awoke that my self-satisfied freshwater drinking escapade really began to look like a bad idea. The edge of the Lake, from whence I filled my cup, was covered in a thin film of slimy green. Now, I’m no biologist, but even I know from my GCSE level science that “green things are bad for you” It’s why I don’t eat cabbage. Anyway, The D was convulsing with laugher as we packed away our gear for the journey home.
All that day, I remained in tip-top health, and derived much pleasure from the fact. That night, I enjoyed a fried egg sarnie at my mum’s house before heading home to bed.
Around 1:30AM, it started. The instant my eyes snapped open in the dark, I knew I was in for trouble. Guts boiling, I dashed to the toilet. Now, dear reader, I do not wish to discomfort your delicate sensibilities with a blow by blow account of my internal workings. Suffice yourself with this knowledge: I didn’t move more than 10 feet from the toilet for the remainder of the night and within 4 short hours my ringpiece could be seen gently glowing on the landing.
The 18th Circle of Hell is reserved for people who drink stagnant lake water
A lack of sleep, coupled with a loss of fluids can, it transpires, induce poor you to make poor decisions. Snapping awake from my estimated 2 hours sleep, I immediately and deliriously started to get dressed for work.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking “dickhead” and to be fair you’re right. Somewhere in my addled brain, I was figuring that it would look bad to fail to go to work on Monday after a long weekend on the basis of “sickness and diarrhoea”. I mean, put yourself in my boss’s shoes… would you have bought that? Me neither. Even so, I was seriously, seriously ill and somehow mentally impaired, apparently.
Now although I was stupid enough to go to work I still had my wits about me. Kind of. So, I carefully took some spare pants and a toilet roll with me in the car. I arrived at work and even the kind of blokes who work with computers and are therefore not easily given over to concepts like ‘compassion’ and ‘concern’ noticed that I looked really green around the gills. I pressed on with coding a website, but as I found myself almost literally asleep at my desk I knew I had to act.
I went to the car to catch some sleep and therein began my true horror.
I awoke with a start some 20 minutes later and immediately realised the error of my judgement call. That was definitely dampness around my arse. Oh – and the back of my thighs. Whimpering “deargodnononopleaseno” under my breath, I peeled myself from the seat and eased myself outside, with my emergency supplies of spare pants and a bog roll in hand, attempting to vault free from the back seat in such a way as to leave no stains behind. I believe such a discipline would make an excellent addition to the modern decathlon.
Oh. There was one of the numpties from the printworks stood outside to greet me. I engaged him conversation, feeling all kinds of slippery misdemeanours occurring in my trousers as I smiled and nodded and talked about the weather. I offered a silent plea to a God in whom I don’t believe that the bumptious fool would take his dreary expostulations to some place else – like Libya. But no, he carried on talking to me for what seemed like a good 3 hours as fidgeted and tried to hide my pants and bog roll behind my back.
Eventually he left. I now had to somehow cross the office complex to the toilets to effect some kind of clean-up operation. In the manner of a cut-price James Bond, I ducked round corners until I found myself – blessed relief! – in a cubicle.
Dear reader, I don’t propose to share with you to horrors of that small, hot room. Suffice it say that I worked my way through a rainforest’s worth of toilet paper until I was, at last, in some small measure, ‘clean.’
My joy was shortlived. For while I was approximately clean my jeans were a stinking sodden mess. I stood there dumbly for 14 minutes, trying to think what I was going to do with no jeans (and offering silent thanks that I’d at least brought some spare pants – imagine!)
Eventually, I steeled myself for the most nervewracking walk of my life. Folding the dank and fetid denim into a roll and tucking it under my arm, I casually sauntered back through the corridors of the building, sneaking past the office doors, to the back step and finally across the car park to my car dressed in t-shirt, socks, pants and shoes.
By some miracle, no-one thought to glance out of the window to see my pasty white scurrying. My humiliation was nicely rounded out as I drove home. To every truck driver who glanced down out of his cab as I passed, I would have looked naked from the waist down and thus a pervert.
I’m not entirely sure why I’m sharing this with you, other than the vague hope that it might make you feel better about yourself the next time you do something silly like lose your car keys. In the vast, intercorrelated web of life, there is always – always – somebody stupider and less fortunate than you. If you are that person, get in touch and I will gladly be your friend for life.