There is no easy way to wee in a bush with two dead legs. It was 7:00am, day two of the road trip, and I was squatting in an uncomfortably frosty shrub in South Germany, legs determined to take off in opposite directions.
I woke up this morning unable to feel anything from the waist down, which is always a bit disconcerting. There seemed to be a knee on either side of my ears, both arms clamped between my legs like a foetus contemplating escape. There was a burning sensation in my lower stomach. This was peculiar.
Through three layers of sleeping bag, the alarm was going off. It was Samsung’s “Homecoming”, a tinkly number which I imagine was also torturing prisoners of war somewhere. I endured four rounds of this before accepting there would be no movement from the adjacent sleeping bag. Like a maggot demonstrating a right angle, I sat up and flailed, unable to move my legs. Valentin woke from a misplaced uppercut and dutifully silenced the alarm. We sat for a while, unpeeling each other’s cocoons in the dark. I suppose this is the road trip equivalent of a candlelit bath. (It’s early days, but so far, the novelty of wondering how many layers deep you’ll discover your partner hasn’t worn off.)
But back to the dead-legged woman urinating on the carpark. Let’s get some context. For this, I bring you to the events of yesterday – night one of our lockdown road trip.
We began our journey at Valentin’s parents’ farm, just south of Munich. From there, we’d driven south to Hohenschwangau, a little Bavarian village not far from the Austrian border. Due to the current COVID-19 restrictions in Germany, campsites remain closed so we’d spent the night in a carpark looking out on the tourist favourite – Schloss Neuschwanstein.
Luckily, the campervan features a pop-up deck, which creates an extra tent space above the ceiling, big enough for two people to lie down in. (Think open lid on a grand piano). We’d used it once before in the UK, but the November cold added a merry dance to assembling the bedding.
The Body Bag
This brings me to the body bag, which is definitely not a sleeping bag. If anything, it is a man-sized pillowcase or full-length condom. Valentin prefers the definition: lightweight “inner lining” drawn up to the chin to cover the entire body.
The function – twofold. Primarily, for ease of washing. Having a machine-washable sheet inside your sleeping bag gives you the peace of mind that you can launder your bedding without wading into a lake. Secondly: for a bit of extra warmth.
Last night, after wandering about in the carpark, fantasising about breaking into the castle, Valentin popped open the lid of the campervan and we equipped ourselves with a pair of body bags each. As you can imagine, donning something like this requires space. Imagine the space between the lid of a grand piano and the strings – the sleeping tent is tall enough for a grown person to sleep in and, if you’re short, to sit up. Any more than that requires a physical dexterity I don’t possess.
The van thermometer read minus 2 degrees. While I’d been outside brushing my teeth, Valentin had assembled himself in bed like a Russian doll, a single tuft of hair protruding from an air hole he’d procured for himself. From within, he was reading The Alchemist with his head torch on. I didn’t like to ask how he’d managed this. The prospect of getting from the ground floor to the bed deck wearing two body bags seemed unfeasible, like something off a Japanese game show. Dressed accordingly, I was now wearing so many jumpers that getting the bags on from the sleeping deck was no longer an option.
I’m a Midlander, one whose experience of camping has been limited to summer weekends with friends and pop-up tents you can get to stand up, even when you’re too drunk too. If there was ever a time to admit incompetence, it would have been then. But, like all tragic heroes, pride was involved. At the time, I was keen to redeem myself for a scene caused on his parents’ farm earlier that day, involving a pygmy goat and an out-of-control hose pipe, see previous post: Lockdown Road Trip Begins!
I would be doing this on my own.
On the ground floor, I surveyed the body bags warily. One was thicker and fluffier than the other. I decided to wear this second. Using the gap between the driver and passenger seat, I braced my foot against the handbrake and shimmied in while standing up. Well, I thought, I bet he didn’t think of that.
To reach the deck, I would first have to climb onto the passenger’s seat. With movement impaired, I shuffled into position. Of course, once you’re wearing two body bags, the length of your stride is not what it once was. My right leg fought desperately with its constraint but was effectively shackled to the left. After several attempts, and one particularly boisterous hop, I abandoned the bags, climbing onto the seat first, before beginning the dressing process again.
Mummified, I stood on the passenger seat and surveyed the dark hole above my head. Gripping a foot in both hands, I manoeuvred it onto the armrest, using it as a spring to launch myself into the roof. My disembodied head appeared shortly in the sleeping area, eyeline just level with Valentin’s, who absently turned another page of his book. I teetered violently and began to shed my layers. In an act of desperation, I belly flopped onto the deck and began to ease myself forward. It seemed to be working, just that my lower half had swung away from the passenger seat and was now hanging suspended in the kitchen area. From the dark, Valentin’s muffled voice enquired if I was alright. I bit back something sarcastic. Gravity was taking its toll, and in a bid to avoid crash landing on the kitchen table, I raised my legs from 90 to 180 degrees.
In my cocooned state, I was now planked across the gap between the sleeping deck and the front of the van, reminded of the scene in Pirates of the Caribbean when Jack Sparrow finds himself skewered on a fruit kebab between two cliff faces. Stomach muscles screaming, it was at this point, I conceded and allowed Valentin to haul me into bed.
I lay there later that night, ferociously swaddled, watching Valentin inhale a tuft of his own hair. I wondered how I could do all this another 364 more times. From somewhere to our left, a stream was trickling. I closed my eyes on the edge of an exhausted sleep. Then I felt it, it came slowly, ominously as if spreading through the sheep’s wool base layer, the two body socks, the three jumpers, the sleeping bag and the woollen blanket – I needed to pee.
And so there I was in a bush 9 hours later, numb from the waist down, recalling a night spent concertinaed like a pretzel, convincing my bladder it could survive the night. It can only get better, I thought, trying to squat as my feet rolled determinedly on their sides like a pair of spaniels.
Back in the van, Valentin was discovering a parking fine from the police.
Written Nov.13 2020.