News from Shakes Manor: Anniversary Edition

Mr. Shakes and I met online five years ago today. It was so random; it would be like someone having emailed you a link to Shakes and then your striking up a conversation with someone in comments, and then, you know, within a couple of months, completely rearranging your lives on two continents so that you could hang out for the rest of your lives.

We met on the Ides of March, and by May, my 10-day annual trip to Britain which I had planned for August had already been turned into a jam-packed itinerary of traveling about together, including a several-day camping trip in the Highlands, where Mr. Shakes regularly mountain-biked with his mates.

Back then, I had a habit of keeping copies of all my online correspondence. (I’m regularly harassed for being unsentimental by family and friends, but the one thing about which I am rather sentimental is correspondence; I have a massive box filled with folded notes that my oldest girlfriend and I passed back and forth in classes starting at age 11, and I could never bear to part with it. I also have a box filled with hundreds of printed emails from my dear friend Andy in London, some of them saved because of one line that made me laugh, or an interesting thought I couldn’t bear to simply delete.) Now, I’m not such a saver of letters and emails and things, mainly because I’d run out of storage space, but I have copies of every email Mr. Shakes sent me and IM conversation we had through which we forged the relationship that eventually became a marriage. Some of them are cringingly, excruciatingly embarrassing to read now—the things one says in an attempt to put forth one’s best self can be so utterly dreadful! But for this edition of News from Shakes Manor, I braved the depths and pulled out a snippet from the planning stages of what would become known as The Worst Camping Trip of All Time:

May 18, 2001 email from Mr. Shakes:

Anyways, I've come up with a few additions to our grocery list:

You Wrote:

Orange Juice
Cabernet Sauvignon
Cheese and crackers
Oranges (maybe I should bring those from the States so they actually have flavor)
Weird meat products you intend to cook
Freeze-dried pouches o' sustenance
Junk food
Toilet paper (and lots of it)
Canned foods (corn - for real, it will make our shit like a damn disco)
Band-Aids (those'd be for me, of course)

My suggestions:

Humble pie: (For when either one of us loses an argument)

Chocolate biscuits: (Reward for winning an argument)

Water purification tablets: (for when I pee in your water bottle)

Omar Khyam's Quatrains: (I want to show you how fantastic they are)

Compass+Map: (Trust you to forget those)

Sellotape: (for sticking your crackers back together, after having them bashed about in a rucksack all day (God preserve me!))

Anti gravity generator: (to make your tinned food easier to carry)

2 crystal wine glasses (So we can drink the wine in a civilised manner)

A rope: (tied round your waist; this way when you fall over a cliff or into the Loch, I can cast the rope around a rock and save your glake ass

Gaiters (not the green snapping kind, you stick 'em on your shoes and it stops the water getting in - we will probably have to ford a few streams)

Change of underwear (since we are both bound to piss ourselves laughing)

Whistle (For signalling the rescue team)

Team of huskies and sled (for when we get lost, and wander too far north)

Dog food (see above)

Bedouin guide (for when we get lost, and wander too far south)

Camel food (see above)
Well, eventually we settled on a real list, divided up so that Mr. Shakes had his list of Things to Bring and I had mine. I brought the tent, a flashlight, a First-Aid kit, and those sorts of things. Mr. Shakes was to take care of provisions.

After a few days in London, which started with our nervous meeting and ended with nearly missing our flight out of Luton Airport thanks to a wholly useless cabbie, we flew into Inverness, and made our way to a B&B for one night. The next morning, we headed by cab to Glen Affric, which Mr. Shakes had chosen as our camping destination. At a tiny wee town (three houses and a general store), Cannoch, at what we thought was the mouth of the glen, we stocked up on supplies, and began the 10-mile uphill hike to Dog Falls, which was really the mouth of the glen.

Two miles in, I turned to Mr. Shakes: “We forgot toilet paper!” We looked back at road behind us, steeply declining away. Not worth it, we decided. The local foliage would have to suffice.

Six miles in, we saw a sign that read: No Camping. “They all say that,” Mr. Shakes assured me. And on we plowed.

Along the road ran a waist-high stone wall—convenient for sitting on, while stopping to have a smoke and a chat. We would swear we’d just stop for a moment, but each time, hours would pass, as we talked and talked and ate bananas and gulped our water, which we’d replenish at the loch once we got down into the glen. “Ha ha ha,” we laughed, “we’ll regret this when night falls and we’re nowhere near the glen yet.”

But the summer light stays in the sky late in the Highlands. We weren’t really worried.

It wasn’t even dusk when we reached Dog Falls. The views were breathtaking; we strolled across the wooden bridges and then sat down in a picnic area next to the stream, where we had sandwiches and fed eager little sparrows with bits of bread. The hours ticked by. “Ha ha ha,” we laughed, “we’ll regret this when night falls and haven’t set up camp yet.”

But the summer light stays in the sky late in the Highlands. We weren’t really worried.

And so we sat and talked, who knows about what. We had been talking for five straight days at that point, and had yet to run out of conversation. All of our plans—London museums, restaurants, camping—were falling apart. They seemed like distractions, impediments from what we really wanted to be doing, which was just lounge about and languidly drift across lines of discussion and debate. We’d had almost no sleep; ten days seemed like an eternity when we each secretly worried that maybe this ten-days-with-a-stranger idea was as foolish as we’d feared, but once it proved to be, perhaps, the best idea either of us had ever had, ten days seemed criminally short, and anything that diverted our attentions from one another was a chore.

Finally, the hint of dusk crept across the sky and we gathered up our bags and headed into the glen. And that’s when it all went horribly, hilariously wrong.

A few miles in, we found some flat ground on which to pitch the tent, so we stopped. And as soon as we did, we were engulfed in a swarm of midges—Scottish mosquitoes that are as small as gnats but as determined as starving lions to eat you alive. Mr. Shakes worked quickly to try to get the tent set up, but we were absolutely besieged. I held out my hands in front of my face and they were so covered with midges that they looked black. Not a scrap of shin shone through the buzzing masses of midges. They were in our eyes, our ears, our noses.

“Fooking wanking midges!” Mr. Shakes claimed. “Get the fook away froom me, ye cockwanking bastards!”

He was having trouble getting the tent set up in the shade and failing light. I swung the flashlight in his direction, pointing the way for thousands more midges to descend upon him.

“Get that fooking torch away from me!” he yelled. I turned my back, trying not to collapse into a fit of giggles as I swiped boatloads of midge carcasses off my face.

The midges continued their assault, and I began to run around in circles, laughing maniacally as Mr. Shakes issued a stream of profanity that would make Lenny Bruce blush. He kept having to leap to his feet and run around to get a momentary break from the midges, leaving the tent to collapse into a heap once again. “We have to get out of here!” I cried, over my shoulder, as I ran around drunkenly on the path. “I can’t take it!”

“Where do you proopoose we goo?!” Mr. Shakes shouted back, over his shoulder, running around drunkenly in the opposite direction.

“We’ll have to walk back to Cannoch!” I said.

“Ookay!” he agreed.

He scooped up the mess of tent into his arms and we started to run. As we ran away from the cloud of midges, he tried to fit the tent pieces back into their carrying case. It was a precise fit, and he couldn’t run and do it at the same time, but if we stopped, the swarm would get us. “What am I gooing to do with this fooking tent?” he wailed.

“Launch the fucker!” I shouted, and he threw it into the glen.

And we ran.

After a bit, we seemed to have outrun the swarm. We stopped for a moment so Mr. Shakes could dig out a Snickers, hungry as always. We walked on, and suddenly, all at once, every last bit of light fell out of the sky and we were left in pitch darkness. “Got the flashlight?” I asked, into the dark.

“Uh…” I heard rustling. Then frantic rustling. “I think I left it oon the groond when I stooped for that sweetie.”

We made our way in the darkness back along the path. I have never been in such darkness; I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. When we thought we had reached the approximate place where we’d stopped, down on hands and knees we went, our hands feeling for a flashlight, and coming up with nothing but the slime of the three-inch black slugs that carpet the floor of the glen at night.

Miraculously, Mr. Shakes found the flashlight.

And on we walked.

We had walked about ten miles, bringing us to the halfway point on the road to the glen, when I suggested we stop at the one house along its route and ask to use the phone. Mr. Shakes looked at me as if I were mad. “This isn’t America, you dowsy Yank,” he said. “We doon’t have nice neighbors here.”

I then suggested he try his cell phone. Maybe he could finally get a signal again, and we could call a cab in Inverness to collect us. He pulled out his phone and began walking in the long grass at the side of the road, looking for a signal. And then he disappeared.

I heard a splash. And some more obscenities.

Mr. Shakes had fallen into a bog.

He managed to climb out, only to realize his phone was still in the bog. So he dove back in. And in the second miracle of the night, he fished it out, and in the third, it still worked—and had a signal.

We called for a cab and told the very confused dispatcher we’d be at the power station three miles up the road, the only landmark for miles. By that time, we were out of water, exhausted, and ready to crawl into a nice, comfortable bed. And as we sat on the stone wall that ran around the perimeter of the power station, we laughed.

“You know, that we’re still laughing after all this is pretty amazing,” I said.

“Fooking right,” Mr. Shakes agreed.

The cabbie who collected us made calls to the B&Bs in Inverness. Everything—every last rentable bed in Inverness—was booked solid.

Mr. Shakes and I moaned.

“Well, you two were up here to camp, aye?” asked the cabbie.

“Aye,” we said.

“There’s a campsite in Inverness,” he said happily. “I’ll just take you there. You’ve got a tent, right?”

Mr. Shakes at Dog Falls, blissfully unaware
of what lies in his immediate future.

Shakesville is run as a safe space. First-time commenters: Please read Shakesville's Commenting Policy and Feminism 101 Section before commenting. We also do lots of in-thread moderation, so we ask that everyone read the entirety of any thread before commenting, to ensure compliance with any in-thread moderation. Thank you.

blog comments powered by Disqus