THERE is an angry caravaner in the shower block. I can tell he’s a caravaner because he’s wearing beige. I once read somewhere that caravaners wear beige as camouflage, so they blend in with their caravans if a campsite suddenly fills up with bikers or people in old cars towing trailers loaded with borrowed camping equipment.
He has put his 20p piece in the shower box, but only cold water has dribbled from the nozzle. So he has dressed himself again and is off to see the farmer to demand a) hot water, b) his money back, c) blood. He is really angry.
I stand alone in the silence of the shower block, peering forlornly at the two electrical boxes controlling the two showers. I have just come down off Creag Meagaidh after a long day which included its neighbouring Munro, Stob Poite Coire Ardair, and I really need a shower. Incidentally, dropping down off Sron a Choire by the wrong route with a chap from Glasgow who does up old houses, I found a bum-bag containing a compass and a lump of shrink-wrapped Dundee cake with a sell-by date of September 2004. It smelt all right so I ate it. Well I was bloody hungry.
I am on the campsite at Newtonmore, one of my favourite Highland bases because it’s one of those old-fashioned, how-things-used-to-be-in-the-olden-days campsites where the farmer does his rounds to collect the fees and there are no distractions such as TV rooms and adventure play areas. It’s a what-you-see-is-what-you-get campsite. You see a flat field and a shower block and that’s what you get – with a few ducks and some interesting old farm machinery thrown in.
So I’m standing in the shower room with my 20p in one hand and a bottle of Tresemme (“Used by professionals”) shampoo in the other. I reason that, if the caravaner put his 20p in the box on the left, there is a sporting chance the box on the right might deliver hot water. Two minutes later I am washing myself in a freezing deluge that feels like it has been pumped directly from the nearby River Spey.
At this point, the shower block door opens and in troops the angry caravaner, followed by the farmer, his wife and their collie dog. I know this because despite not being able to see through the flimsy plastic curtain, I can hear them talking and the dog snuffling as it pads around. They stand in front of my cubicle and discuss the water situation, while I huff and puff and splash about in a bid to rinse off the suds so I can dry my numb body and get some heat back into it.
And to tell you the truth, I’m feeling a bit vulnerable. Not only is a cold shower incredibly uncomfortable, I have three strangers standing within inches of me, with only this flimsy curtain between us. They are talking plumbing, gas bottles, pilot lights, and they are standing between me and my towel and clothes. I am naked, wet, cold, and have no means of escape.
The farmer, a genial chap who I have had several conversations with over the years, and with whom I once spent an interesting hour talking about blacksmiths and forestry, is aware of my predicament.
“You all right in there?” he says.
“The water could have been a bit warmer,” I venture.
“Wid ye like my wife to step in and warm ye up?”
I cannot begin to relate what flashes through my mind as I contemplate his offer. Did he actually say what I thought he said? Did he actually say: “Wid ye like my wife to step in and warm ye up?”
I hear the caravaner snort and the farmer’s wife titter. But before I can reply, the shower curtain twitches and something warm and soft touches my leg. Almost paralysed with horror, I glance down and see a pair of brown eyes. It’s the bloody dog licking my knee.