Browsing Tag

Camp Merrie Woode


If the Shoe Fits

Yesterday I tried on a jacket at Pakeman Catto & Carter, a gentlemens and ladies clothier in Cirencester housed in a three story townhouse that’s all polished wood, glass cases, and dark carpets. The jacket was a tailored number made of green tweed with a coral coloured windowpane overlay and green silk lining. It was handsome, half-price, and fit me like a glove according to the sales assistant who called me madam and asked me to spin around as he assessed the length and shoulders. It was, he informed me, a hacking jacket, which I assume is another one of those cryptic horsey terms so prolific around these parts, like “on the gallops” or “a jolly.”

The only other time in my life where I would have fit in without note while wearing a tweed hacking jacket was at Camp Merrie Woode, the all girls-camp in North Carolina that I attended for three summers in a row between the ages of twelve and fourteen. The camp uniform consisted of forest green shorts and a grey sailor smock with a matching green tie. I felt like a martian when I showed up fresh from south Florida with my trio of skinny neon belts and heart bedecked Vans slip-ons to accessorize what I thought of as the hopelessly unstylish attire I was expected to wear day in and day out for the next three weeks (in my defense, this was the eighties). The other girls, girls with names like Darnell and Eleanor from Vermont and Maine and Georgia, wore LL Bean moccasins or plain white Tretorn sneakers, both essentially unisex styles that hadn’t changed since their mothers had worn them.

For summer number two I showed up with a pair of Tretorns, but in an attempt to maintain some integrity mine had a madras plaid “V” rather than plain white. I also brought my beloved pump spray bottle of Aqua Net (aerosol was my preference but strictly forbidden by camp rules) with which to coif my feathered bangs, only to have it diluted with water in a prank by my evil cabin-mate, thespian Kren. That summer I was permanently turned off of horse back riding when I was forced to muck out a stall, a “mandatory” part of our equestrian curriculum. It was difficult to keep my polka dot driving cap on my head while I scraped shit and mud out of a temperamental horse’s hoof with a hook, but I persevered. Someone around here had to stand up for fashion.

At the end of summer three, I cried when I saw my father waiting for me when I got off the plane. When he asked why I was crying I said, embarrassed, that it was because I was so sad to have left camp. The truth was I was overwhelmed with relief to be home, away from the freaky canoe and equestrian young people and back amongst teenagers who had the sense to fawn over my prized pink ankle boots, the ones that made me feel like I had a shot at Simon le Bon.

Back in Cirencester I admired myself in the mirror then hung the hacking jacket back on the sales rack. It was a beautiful jacket, but wearing it somehow felt disingenuous. It was a beautiful jacket for someone else.


Terror Firma

Husband and I are sitting on a hill outside the Wainwright Inn, a pint of Wainwright ale and a packet of scampi fries (seafood flavoured “cereal snacks”—so British, so processed, so good) in hand. Husband has also just produced two packages of sandwiches from his backpack that he has squirreled away in case of a mountain top emergency (nevermind we are both are packing “natural” calorie stores I’d estimate conservatively at 1 week+). He is laughing now, but a short hour ago he was on the brink of a full-fledged panic attack.

As we headed back over the crag following our soothing paddle around Lake Grasmere, I was impressed by my newly adventurous husband. Rocky brooks were crossed with nimble bounds as we made our ascent, no sign of the panic-stricken shell of a muttering man wondering around a dried stream bed in Topanga Canyon who had made an appearance during my one and only mountain hiking experience with him years earlier. As we “summitted” the crag, the tone shifted. He consulted other walkers for advice on which of the three forks to pursue (admittedly the map only showed one). The sheer drop in front of us was ruled out and after a few minutes following another couple along a ledge, the path to the right was also abandoned. We headed left, which wasn’t exactly a trail but given the bright sun, a multi-network bar displaying BlackBerry, and legions of other walkers, including small children, in sight, I felt confident.

Husband on the other hand was starting to flap. Literally. He interrupted an elderly couple mid-sandwich to enquire, with a noticeable vibrato and pitch-elevation in his voice, if they knew a gentle way down. I hung back, hoping not to be associated with my high-strung husband, as the country gent advised him with the non-chalance of a seasoned fell-walker to continue left. No, elderly country gent did not need to consult husband’s map (yes, husband asked him, wanting to be very sure about the advice so casually dispensed). Elderly gent informed husband that he did not have his glasses and so could not read a map. I thought it unwise to point out to my husband that this man was so unworried about “getting down” he didn’t even bring his glasses.

To be fair, husband did not like me spend childhood summers at Camp Merrie Wood in North Carolina’s Sapphire Valley where opening day included a camp-wide romp up Old Bald with Guinevere the Saint Bernard, followed swiftly by a week of backpacking on the Appalachian Trail. Neither did husband have a grandfather who took him around the foothills of San Bernardino on a neighbor’s Palomino horses or hiking in Forest Falls. Instead, the quintessential summer outing for my husband and his brother was a car trip to Parbold Hill (forever parboiled hill in my head), culminating in a thermos of luke-warm coffee (yes, coffee for kids) and a Cadbury Club bar. While still sitting in the car.
Husband’s early outdoor life is summed up in a snapshot of him outside his childhood home, Seaview Terrace. He is grim faced, in full scout regalia, and holding a duffel bag as big as him, packed by a fretting mother for his one and only Boy Scout camping trip. He describes it as four days of certain ridicule and an introduction to alpha male posturing. His entire scouting career was over in six months.

In this context, our successful descent along our makeshift mountain goat path is somewhat miraculous. Following elderly gent’s advice we were safely to the Wainwright Inn within an hour, which takes its name from a famous Lake District fell walker. If you complete a Wainwright hike, it’s called “bagging a Wainwright.” Suffice it to say I do not think I will be bagging any Wainwrights with husband in tow. The gentle undulations of the Cotswolds hills are infinitely more suitable for this lady-man of mine.