Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Life Under Canvas.

I love camping. True, there’s a lot of hassle; the rooting around for the insect repellent in the pitch black whilst you shiver in your midge infested, postage stamp- sized tent. The early mornings where you wake up clammy and cold, then trip over numerous guy ropes as you stumble to the toilet block. Then when you get there you find that there’s no toilet paper and there’s a daddy long legs the size of a small child’s head hovering just above the toilet bowl. When you lift the seat there is a poo that smells like everything that has ever nauseated you in your whole life all slopped together, glistening in the morning light; the texture of peanut butter with a slight green tinge (what do these people eat?) On top of that, there’s the tinned food, the dishwater tea, the fact that everything is ever so slightly damp and the fact that you only remembered to pack one jumper then spilt wine all down it within five minutes of getting there. Loudmouthed children, dogs that shit outside your tent, matches that stubbornly won’t light the stove for your morning bacon. These are the delights that life under canvas provides on a daily basis.

Yet I am not being sarcastic when I say, wholeheartedly, that I love camping. So much. This weekend I went away for a few days in the lake district with a couple of close friends. I genuinely had the time of my life. Not despite the above. Because of the above. What can I say, I like a little bit of discomfort once in a while. Yes yes, I know I sound horribly middle class, but getting ‘back to nature’ is actually a lot of fun. I enjoyed the rugged outdoors and the beautiful scenery. But I also enjoyed the lack of creature comforts and being at the mercy of the good old British weather, that sense of being connected to the world around you rather than being bubbled off from it. I liked getting up in the morning, looking up at the sky and trying to work out what I should wear. I can’t remember the last time I did that. I liked planning our days around the lay of the land and the rhythms of nature rather than the so often arbitrary wristwatch/calendar combo.

Most inconveniences didn’t bother me and some even made me smile. By the end I was almost playing join the dots on my legs from all the bites and I thought I was going to go crazy from all the itching. It was funny, though, comparing bites with my friends and even scratching each others to see if that would make them itch less. Or frantically rubbing them on a variety of inanimate objects when we had both hands busy making hotdog sandwiches on our rickety stove. Hours of amusement from one hungry parasite! Also, I can’t say I physically enjoyed walking up killer mountains for three hours. In fact, at one point when we got to what we thought was the top, only to discover we were not even close I did actually collapse on the ground, roll around melodramatically and say ‘Please God NO!!!’ But eventually I came around. I am not one to be defeated by a lump of rock. Oh yes, I took a long gulp of lukewarm water, rubbed my calf muscles back to life and clambered up to the summit. The view from the top was AMAZING.

I also enjoyed the company. It was the first time I’d seen my friends in a while and I had missed them so much. The chemistry between us is really good. I don’t think we stopped laughing the whole time. I have not seen Owen look so relaxed for months. Usually he’s so wrapped up in his work that even after I pamper and treat him with a back massage or a long, lingering blowjob he maintains a bit of an ‘edge’. Here, he just melted completely. The pills probably helped. As did the endless supply of BBQ meat and luscious red wine. Honestly though, it was the company that did it, the constant mucking around and singing silly songs and taking the piss out of each other. The camaraderie and bickering, the hugs and the dancing, the in jokes, constant mishaps and the all important laughter. I was a bit nervous about going on holiday with another couple, even one so close to us. O and I are a tight knit couple and we need our space. Yet, we never felt claustrophobic, maybe if we had spent much longer together it would have been a different story, I don’t know. Still, it was really great to see our friendship still flourishing after all this time.

Which brings me on nicely to my next ‘item’ that I want to talk about.

I feel kind of smug. This holiday increased my smug levels from ‘about tolerable’ to ‘sickening’. Just ask Owen.

I know that probably makes me a bad person.

I am feeling smug because I am starting to become a better friend. It really hit me this holiday. Becoming a better friend was one of my 43 things before I deleted my list because I got way too obsessive. But I’ve plugged along with that particular goal and I’m starting to feel like it’s paying off. I’m far from perfect. I still almost pathologically forget birthdays. Sometimes when the phone rings in the middle of a movie I look at caller ID and if it’s a ‘big’ call I’ll sometimes not pick up. I still have very bad friendship habits, you mark my words. However, I’m getting there. For one reason or another, (the main ones being the advent of facebook, friends getting blogs; basically other people finally catching on and becoming as internet obsessed as I have been for the last twelve years) I have started to emerge from my antisocial shell. And although I’m utilising the internet, I’m not hiding behind a computer screen like I have done in the past.

No, I’m actually tackling my ‘social phobia’- getting out there and meeting people, like, face to face. I’m phoning people, mostly when I said I would, on a regular basis, going for drinks with old friends, new friends, and forever friends. I’m taking trips to see people, travelling on trains and busses and not letting my fears of getting lost or social awkwardness get in the way. I’m starting to say ‘yes’ to social invitations, even when, shock horror, strangers are involved. That in itself is a minor miracle. On top of that, when I attend these functions I am not arriving drunk, then drinking a further two bottles of wine within half an hour and falling asleep in corner, having said two words all night. No, I am initiating conversation, having the odd glass of wine but staying firmly in control. Hell, sometimes I even find myself ordering a J2O.

I am laughing. I am not spending the night feeling like I’m going to have a panic attack or burst into tears. I am talking, joking, singing, smiling. I am, in effect, BEING NORMAL. And, my God, I can’t believe this is actually ME who’s writing this, it just feels so nice even to be able to type the letters in this order! I keep expecting myself, when the phone rings for the first time in the morning, to run and hide under the covers until it stops, then delete the 1571 message before I’ve even listened to which disappointed friend I have let down this time. Like in the old days, like I did for years of my life. But lo and behold, these days I pick up. I talk. I laugh. I connect with people. Not just any old people, but special people. My friends and family who have stood by me all these years. (well, and the occasional double glazing salesman). As a result I now have what I can call friends. Not just one or two friends who claustrophobically take over my life or I cling to like a limpet, but lots of actual, balanced, real life, lovely people to talk to and share my life with. And that is making me so, so happy.

No, I am not ‘Miss Popular’. I never will be one who social networks or goes clubbing once a week and has seven hundred and fifty myspace friends. That would require a personality transplant that I do not desire, not even for a second. But for the first time in a long time I do have a lot of people in my life that I feel comfortable with and happy to ring at any time and confident that if I do dial their code I won’t clam up. In fact, I can feel pretty sure that I will have a giggle or a frank chat. My friendships these days are giving me such pleasure, when in the past they have been at best a source of paranoia and frustration and at worst things that have made me feel guilty and worthless for being such a pathetic friend. So, yes, I am feeling smug. Because although I still have a way to go, I’m over half way there to conquering this social phobia shtick for good. And even a year ago, those were words that I never thought I’d type.

Anyway, the holiday’s over. We sang songs all down the motorway and I’m back in York now, rubbing savlon into my bites and having a normal cup of tea from my favourite china mug.

I saw some stunning scenery; mountains, lakes, forests and waterfalls. I ate homemade scones in quaint tearooms, drank fruity Shiraz under the stars and had a morning wee in the smelliest toilet in England.

However, these things are not what linger on in my mind now the bags are unpacked, the tent deflated and even my bites are fading away. The memory that stays with me is the feeling of warmth that bubbled in my blood as I felt the embrace of my friends holding me tight before we parted. Then the beautiful words I heard whispered in my ears;

‘We love you sweetie, and don’t you ever forget it.’



J Adamthwaite said...

Sounds like you had a wonderful few days. I've missed the virtual-you! I'm glad your back and I'm glad you're happy. xxx

ZenJen said...

Thanks Jen!

Yes, we had a lovely few days. I feel really rested and happy, if a bit fat from all the over indulgence!

How goes it with you chuck? Enjoying last week of hols?

Going to head over to your blog now and see if you've scribbled anything your good self.

God, aren't we becoming a blogging clique?


J Adamthwaite said...

We are a bit aren't we?! I've just left your comment on my blog and come over here!

As usual, the last week of the holiday is frantic: I've finally kicked myself into gear so I'm writing and gardening and cleaning and generally doing all the things I should have been doing for the last 5 weeks. Why does it always take me this long to get going?!!

I'm glad you had a good holiday. It sounds lovely xxx

goosefat101 said...

Blog clique we are indeed.

Glad you had a good time.

You've always fullfilled my criteria for a good friend though. I think that people put too much pressure on this ideal of friendship sometimes. Being good friends isn't about always picking up the phone or about ringing other people (something you are far better at than me!) but about connecting when you do speak/see/internet each other and being there for each other when you need each other.

Having said that I also think that inevitably we will all mess up being a good friend from time to time and part of being a good friend is forgiving such lapses...

anyway... ramble ramble... just trying to say your one of my best friends ever and always have been. But I do like the way we speak more these days!!

Someday I may even crack and get a facebook and we'll speak even more...

not yet though!


Gina said...

Was cruising through the blog world and came upon your blog....interesting last entry about friendship....and I've seen the 43 thingies site....I'm afraid all I'd do is run around trying to accomplish my goals and not living. Read through some of your entries and liked the poetry too. Your writing has a nice flair to it.