For those who enjoy listening to Clare Balding’s Rambling programs on BBC4, you’ll know that rambling is supposed to be a pleasurable activity, an opportunity to explore the countryside, get fit, relax and unwind from the stresses of everyday life.
Unless of course you’ve just been poisoned by an enormous pot of fruit salad that you scoffed on the train before the ramble and all hell has broken loose . . . which is exactly what happened to me many moons ago.
This isn’t a story I’m particularly proud of but it makes people roar with laughter and everyone said I should post it on my blog. So, deep breath …. here we go…. I just hope I don’t get arrested for disorderly behaviour.
Several years ago, my former flatmates and I decided to go rambling one Saturday afternoon with the ‘Official Rambler’s Club’. One of the flatmates, Emma, had read about it online and booked us all in as a ‘flat bonding exercise’. The plan was to head to Seven Oaks on the train and trek through the countryside for a few hours.
The ramblers – all 20+ of them – took their pastime very serious and as we stepped off the train from London we were met by what looked like a group of ernest scout and guide leaders, most in their 50s or 60s. They were all dressed in proper sturdy leather walking boots, sensible coats and warm attire.
We on the other hand, were dressed in ‘city’ clothes – jeans/ t-shirts, sweater and trainers. We had takeaway coffees with us and were clutching environmentally unfriendly plastic shopping bags of food. Annoyingly I’d already scoffed most of mine – a large tub of fresh fruit – on the train on the way down.
Before we began, the group’s leader – an enthusiastic chap called Richard who was delighted that we’d come all the way from London to join the rambling club, took us through the ramble pre-amble.
- Do not not leave any litter or ‘spoil’ the countryside
- Do not stray off the track or away from each other
- Let someone know if you feel unwell or are injured.
- Take plenty of water and wear proper walking shoes – (I’m sure he looked at us disapprovingly.)
- Don’t touch any of the wildlife
- Make sure you have plenty of food with you. (this was going to be tricky)
Richard finished his pre-amble and off we went striding across the fields like ‘Dad’s Army’. Ah the fresh air, the bird song, the beautiful trees and fields. I was in my element and could feel all the stresses and strains of London washing away.
We’d been walking for about half a hour when we came to a narrow dirt path or bridleway with fences on either side. We would have to walk in single file, came the instructions from the front.
It was unusually warm and I could feel small beads of sweat breaking out on my furrow. I wondered if the others were feeling as hot as I was? I didn’t want to disturb the silence of the walk by asking, so removed my sweatshirt and tied it around my waist.
We were half way down the never-ending path, my face now drenched with sweat, when I heard a loud deep gurgle.
Crikey, what was that?!
A few more steps and there it was again. This time twice as loud like a large ferocious, angry bear.
Much to my horror, I realised it was coming from me!
I looked down, clasped my belly as it roared once more and then bent double as I was hit by an enormous cramp. My bowels moved like a rumbling earthquake and I stumbled forward.
The fruit salad!! God no – surely no, please not here!
I could feel the panic rising as I realised something terrible was about to happen. I looked around wildly for an escape route but I was trapped on a narrow path with ramblers in front and behind, fences either side, open fields and nowhere to hide.
“Emma!” I hissed hopping from one foot to the other.“I need to go to the bathroom!.”
“Well you can’t go here darling,” she responded calmly behind me. “You’ll have to wait until we get back to the beginning.”
“You don’t understand. I have to go now!!! I think I have food poisoning.”
There was a moment’s silence as she contemplated exactly what I was trying to say.
“Seriously?!! Can you hold it in? There’s nowhere to go out here”
I was now walking like a constipated cowboy. My face was bright red and sweat was dripping from my forehead. My stomach was cramping every ten seconds and I knew that if I didn’t find a bathroom soon, all hell was going to break loose.
Emma began to half push and half drag me as we shuffled down the path. We passed a couple of ramblers who looked annoyed that we’d broken formation but I didn’t care – I was a volcano about to erupt.
We reached the end of the path and come to a T-junction. There was a small country lane in front of us with a steep bank and trees on the left hand side and a high hedge on the right, and another road veering off to the left which the ramblers seemed to be following.
“Everything OK?” It was Richard.
“Ah yes, my friend doesn’t feel very well. We need to find a bathroom” said Emma as I ran around in circles holding my breath and trying to think happy thoughts.
“Er, it’s quite a way away from here, about half an hour. Can I do anything to help?”
By now several other ramblers had joined in and were having an animated discussion about my predicament. The nearest facilities were back at the Seven Oaks entrance. I needed to think fast.
I looked over at the country lane and steep semi-sheltered bank. Could I do it? Could I reach the trees in time? Without a word to anyone, I stopped circling, sucked in as much air as I could into my lungs and ran in a weird, flapping run down the country lane and towards the bank.
“Emma, guard the street!” I shouted into the wind. “Don’t let anyone down here!!”
I scrambled up the dirt bank into the trees, frantically dug a hole, whipped off my bottom half and er, well, it wasn’t pretty. The relief, the shame, the horror, the shock, ah but the relief….. I was shaking, still sweating and unbelievably mortified. Had this really just happened?? Had nature just called (or roared in my case) while I was out walking with more than 20 strangers!!?
I wanted to die . . . . but there was worse to come.
In my rush, I hadn’t grabbed anything to clean myself with. No water, no tissues. Now what was I going to do? I peered through the undergrowth to see if I could see Emma on the road but she was still at the junction acting as my personal bodyguard.
I’d just have to use leaves. I looked to my left – nothing. Looked to my right and beautifully positioned was a huge patch of what looked like mint – light green plants with little cerated edges on each leaf. And there was an entire patch!. This would be perfect! Thank you God. Thank you for your natural toilet paper. So kind. So lucky! I promise never to do my business in your woods ever again dear God. Thank you thank you.
I leant across and grabbed a large bunch of leaves bringing them to my bottom in one swift move.
Bumble bees …
That’s what it felt like – thousands of bumble bees stinging my bottom and my hand. Aaarrrghhhhhhh! I was on fire. For a nano second I thought I’d done my business on top of a bee hive.
I leapt to my feet, howling in pain, tried to pull on my trousers and crashed through the undergrowth landing on the road below ….. partially naked from the waist down.
There was Emma, staring at me, her mouth wide open in shock, clutching a bottle of water.
“I’ve been stung by some plant!” I wailed. “Something in the undergrowth. Oh my god, it hurts so much. Throw some water on it. Aaarrrgghhhhh”
“Hahaha you’ve been stung by stinging nettle!! What on earth were you doing?” Emma spluttered with laughter trying to hold it together. In fits of giggles, she started throwing water at me from her bottle in pathetic drips and drabs. She was laughing too hard to concentrate. I was trying to pull on my trousers, skin on my hands and bottom still on fire.
“Can I take a photo?” asked Emma, tears streaming down her face as she doubled over with laughter.
“No you bloody well can’t!” I roared, grabbing her water bottle. “Oh god. This is the most horrifying thing I’ve ever done in my life. You can’t tell a SINGLE person Emma! Swear to god! Not a soul!!!”
Emma was nodding and crying with laughter. I finally managed to calm my skin using a mixture of water and tissues, and pull myself together. Emma had semi composed herself and we both turned to walk back down the road. The stinging nettle was still giving me little sharp reminders that I’d just used it as toilet paper. God knows why people drink this stuff in a tea, it’s so painful!
We shuffled down the lane and as I looked back to survey the scene of my crime, something caught the corner of my eye. To my absolute horror, on the other side of the hedge was an enormous tractor and on top of it was a man’s head turned directly at us . . . It was the farmer and he’d seen everything!
I pushed Emma forward. Quick, quick, we have to run. I have to get home. Please, please don’t say a word to anyone. We rushed to the end of the lane where to my second horror was the official rambler “marker’ – a lady who was supposed to round up any stragglers and who was patiently waiting at the junction with a direct view of the bank. Had she seen everything as well?!!? The marker just smiled like a knowing Cheshire Cat and asked if everything was OK. I was red with embarrassment.
Back with the ramblers, I couldn’t explain what had happened to anyone and had to give Emma a couple of small kicks as they began to ask questions. All Emma could do was splutter that I was ill as she tried to control her laughter.
I went straight home while Emma and my flatmates went to the local pub with Richard and a couple of other ramblers and had a fantastic night. The three of them staggered through the front door at 2am. I don’t know if Emma ever told them what happened. I was too afraid to ask.
Needless to say, I never went rambling ever again nor was I ever invited. I’ve never returned to Seven Oaks, I’ve suspiciously eyed every tub of fruit salad since and I have a very healthy respect for stinging nettle. Most importantly, I’ve always wondered if that farmer ever told anyone about what he saw – about the stupid New Zealand lady partially naked howling on the country lane about having used stinging nettle as toilet paper. I pray not.