The thing Is with Steve Canavan
Ihad a marvellous weekend, mainly because I spent it away from my wife and child.
Don’t get me wrong, I love them dearly and genuinely think I’ll stay with both a little while longer, at least till Christmas.
But it is nice to do your own thing now and again.
So on Saturday, myself and a couple of friends - I say friends, they’re just lads I’ve known for a while who annoy me less than other people – headed to the Lake District for a couple of days of walking, having a pint or two, and, most importantly, having a bed to ourselves.
One of things I don’t get about our society is why it is deemed normal to share a bed with someone else. In my opinion it is absolutely abnormal. There is nothing pleasant, for instance, about waking at 4am to find your wife six inches from your face, saliva dribbling from the corner of her mouth, and her foul stale-smelling breath blowing into your face like a particularly odious wind turbine.
There’s also the touching. When I’m trying to get to sleep, I need my own space. The last thing I want is someone’s foot on my leg or their arm on my shoulder. It’s not romantic, it’s annoying.
Mrs Canavan will often say, just as I’m trying to drop off, ‘would you mind rubbing my back?’ to which my honest reply would be, ‘of course I mind, it’s midnight and I’m knackered – rub your own back.’ However, given that response might lead to a slightly frosty atmosphere for the remainder of the night, what I usually do is reach across, sort of waft my hand in the general direction of her spine for around 12 seconds – as if sweeping dust from a surface – then abruptly stop. She’ll always say, ‘aw, I was enjoying that’, a comment I’ll completely ignore, while rolling over and resuming my efforts to try and get to sleep.
Indeed, this unnecessary touching annoys me so much that I am currently working with a local architect to erect an electrified barrier along the middle of my marital bed – like those countryside fences to keep cattle in their fields – which will emit a sharp and painful shock each time Mrs Canavan touches it.
But back to the weekend, when having a bed to myself was a glorious thing and something I’d been looking forward to.
The three of us were staying at a youth hostel at Honister, next to the slate mine. Our room consisted of two sets of bunks. My mate slung his rucksack on one bottom bunk and so I bagsied the other bottom bunk (I’ve never liked sleeping in the top bunk since an unfortunate incident in my teens when, after drinking some powerful cider the night before, I rolled over in the early hours and fell clean out, landing with a thump on the floor six feet below and spending the next three days in hospital with a broken arm; this is a true story, my tennis serve was never the same again).
We went out in Keswick that evening, returned late and – after a game of chess in the youth hostel foyer (never let it be said that one gets boring in middle-age) - clambered into our respective beds.
I had a shocker of a night. My feet were hanging over a metal bar at the end of the bed and every time I tossed and turned, I seemed to smack some part of my body – usually my head - against the wall. By 4am I had mild concussion and was considering calling an ambulance.
What made my sleepless night more frustrating was the fact my snoring friends had a fantastic, unbroken eight hours sleep.
When the alarm went off (I was already awake, obviously, on account of not having been to sleep), I commented on how terrible the beds were.
As I was uttering the words I looked across properly at their bunks for the first time and realised they were not only a good foot or two longer but a foot or so wider as well. They had thicker mattresses and plumper duvet covers. I glanced back at mine and, with some distress, suddenly realised that the bunk bed I had selected was designed for an infant.
Far from being sympathetic, my acquaintances seemed unconcerned and began an in-depth conversation about how they’d had not such a good night’s slumber in years.
I took this in good spirit and when they went for their showers, used their toothbrushes to clean my hiking boots.
Next time I’ll take more care selecting my place of sleep, and I daresay they’ll keep a closer eye on their toothbrushes.
Happy Alf still touches us all
The walk we did in the Lakes included reaching the summit of Haystacks.
According to my rather nerdy mate (this is a justified description: he possesses a selection of highlighter pens which he uses to mark on his map the different peaks he has completed and the direction he does them from … he hasn’t got many other friends), Haystacks is the favourite Lake District peak of Alfred Wainwright.
I couldn’t quite see why Wainwright loved it so much. It is very peaceful granted, but the views aren’t especially wonderful and there are certainly nicer peaks in the area.
But each to their own and Wainwright loved it so much that after he died, his widow – as instructed – carried a box of his ashes to a tarn just below the summit and scattered them in the water.
We sat by the tarn for a few moments and reflected on this, which gave me the opportunity to tell my favourite Wainwright anecdote: when his publishers announced that whoever bought a specially marked one millionth copy of Wainwright’s book would get to eat dinner with the author, so miserable and anti-social was he that he drove to Manchester and purchased the copy, just to avoid having to spend time with a stranger.
In his final book, Memoirs of a Fell Walker, Wainwright wrote: ‘Dear reader, should you get a bit of grit in your boot as you are crossing Haystacks in the years to come, please treat it with respect. It might be me.”
In which case I owe him an apology as I banged my dirty boots together on returning to the car, so Wainwright is now in the car park of the Fish Inn in Buttermere. On the upside, they do serve a very good pint so he’s in an excellent spot.