(26) Passing Places
Updated: Apr 10, 2020
We took the kitten over the hill this afternoon to go to the vet. We passed at least five convoys, one with fifteen cars...... It seems that people do many things in passing places. People stop in them to take pictures of other people with deer and mountains as a backdrop. People stop in them to look at maps, read books and even, occasionally, to take naps. (Yes, really.) All too often, people go right past passing places and ignore the police information signs which tell you that as well as being a space for letting you and oncoming traffic pass each other, they are a place for you to stop to allow traffic behind you to overtake. There is often swearing in passing places.
I have often grimaced past passing places (today, often) and have sworn near them many times. On one occasion I was pushed to sheer rage, coming back over the hill. I had been on a training course in Aviemore and had driven back slowly in rush hour. I knew at the corner bend out of Lochcarron, that the people in front were inconsiderate of other drivers. Thirty miles an hour and frequently slower than that, all the way to Kishorn (in a 60mph limit, mostly doable at 35-55 if you know the road), we had passed over ten valid passing places. Typically, on the double lane stretch we were up to 65mph and, there being sheep and lambs on the roadside, I still could not pass. I am not a pushy driver. I am not a pushy person. I sat behind them, crawling along at their pace on the Bealach until the turn off for the Kishorn Yard, two miles in. I stayed as close as I could and I put my headlights on. A few passing places later and a slow down for some photos, I flashed my lights (this is polite protocol, not a display of anger). Not unpredictably, we met another convoy coming down the hill and not unpredictably, we passed with difficulty. Passing places are not designed for four or five cars. That is why you must allow following traffic to overtake, and why you must never travel in a convoy. I do wonder if they had been called 'overtaking places', we would be singing a different song. In this song, it was 6:45pm and there was a bad headache brewing. The next action in the flow diagram of acceptable single track overtaking, is to beep. I had never actually had to do that before. Lights flashing had previously got the message across. But this car and these people needed beeping. A series of short toots, loud toots, and finally, near the top at the first hairpin bend, an angry FUCKOFF on the horn. Cheeks red. Tears flowing. Fist. They let me pass, but only, I think, because they were stopping for a look back down the hill. It is quite possible, if you have never driven on single track roads, to wonder if this amount of anger is warranted. I hope you don't ever have to find out.
Passing Places almost always are unsuitable, too conspicuous, for peeing in, even though you find them every now and then with the 'A' removed and replaced with the 'I'. I would know. I seem to have spent much of my life waiting for an okay time and place to pee. In classrooms, both as pupil and as teacher, on journeys, on courses. The first thing I do when going to a new place is work out where the toilets are. Just knowing seems to make it less urgent.
The worst toilet I have been to was on a road side in the south of France, while travelling down to Béziers. I didn't mind the lack of actual toilet and there being a hole where I had expected to find one. I have read that squatting is the best way to evacuate. It was the lack of toilet roll, soap and the writing on the wall (in hue of poo) that disturbed. The best toilet I have been to was on the A9, driving up from Linlithgow to Inverness. I don't shop at The House of Bruar - THEY ARE EXTORTIONATE!!! - but they have an impressive selection of unusually flavoured travel sweets in pretty tins. And I could spend a disproportionate amount of time in the woodlined and wallpapered cubicles, reading the County Life magazines that they place there. The best thing about the House of Bruar toilets is that Is found a tenner in the car park....
I asked friends their toilet thoughts and there is a common theme. The best toilets are those with toilet roll, soap and clean sinks, and a modicum of privacy. TIP: Don't drink too much tea on a creel boat. Too much alcohol on a night out leads to a fuller bladder but also to less inhibition, and so back streets and alleyways suddenly become acceptable. I don't think my male friends are so bothered with toilet thoughts. Males do not have to touch anything, when peeing, that has been touched by a stranger (not even a door handle) and so they don't seem to notice dirty sinks, or splashing or that there is a lady cleaning the toilet block. It is notable that 100% of women who come into the campsite toilets when I am cleaning, either apologise or ask if they should come back later. 100% of men do not. In fact, it is not uncommon for them to walk past me to the urinals as if they are about to use them in front of me. I actually have to stop them, telling them that there is a toilet just next door and I'll be finished soon. It is probably healthier in some ways to have this disregard for when and where and who. Ian was recently reminiscing about earlier days in France when some toilets were unisex and you could be at a urinal peeing, while a french lady walked past you. C' était la vie....
Being a very happy wild camper and walker on hills, I am relaxed with peeing outside anywhere really, so long as it is discreet. Isabelle has worked with a female tree-planter who gives no warning that she is about to drop and go in front of you. That's not me, I need a rock or a tree and to be out of view. Otherwise it can all go memorably wrong. One mountainside pee (sans rock) in the Haut Languedoc national Park region was my most embarrassing pee to date. We were coming down the mountain to Langlade, having done our favourite walk, Les Milles Marches (The Thousand Steps).
We had enjoyed a cold swim and a picnic of salami, Camembert and cold beer at the midway waterfall and pool. The path is steep and gravelly in parts, winding its way down the side of a gorge. There are plenty of trees and rocks all the way but I needed to pee urgently (bladder beer and cold kidneys are a risky combination) and shady trees were 100 metres away.
I listened for footsteps behind me, while Katrina and Ian went on ahead with a friend of ours. I was so sure of there being nobody following, that I didn't bother hiding under cover and squatted just a metre off the path.
I have never since managed such a spectacularly long pee, and nor, since then, have I ever been witnessed by strangers. It became immediately apparent when I heard the two male voices that I was going to be unable to halt it, stand up, or shuffle out of sight. No choice but to go with the flow.... My cries of ' Désolée!' were met with cheery 'C'est rien' and , 'C'est naturel', accompanied by shoulder shrugs of don't worry about it.... Actually, 20 seconds after they had passed, I was able to laugh about it. Still, I have been more careful since, with outdoor peeing.
When we can laugh at our pee or poo stories, we are in a good place. I can laugh at myself twenty five years ago, sitting on the toilet all evening with a urinary tract infection, Ian offering to bring the tv in for me. I can laugh at myself post Bartholin's cyst op, trailing blood along the corridor when the stitch burst. Recently I had quite a scare that was not funny at all. But now I am over it. They don't tell you that 50 percent of women over 50 have some sort of pelvic organ prolapse. The uterus, the bladder, the bowel or the top of the vagina can slip down from their normal position and bulge into the vagina. It is not ok when that happens.
The nitty gritty.... Lately, on long walks (3 hours or more), if I have needed to poo (and I generally do, on long walks) it feels like it is bulging (the poo) into where it shouldn't. Mum - I am going to say VAGINA (LOUDLY). (My mum cannot say words like that comfortably, nor lesbian, anus, penis. We have often wondered how, as a midwife, she managed to prepare women for giving birth..... We need to shave your lady garden, I'm just going to feel inside your vvvvvolkswagon.) Anyway, that is where the bowel seemed to be. Uncomfortable, but sorted after the walk and after the poo. More recently, after all that lifting and shifting of boxes, I actually had to squat on the toilet (feet on top of it) to poo. And to get the bowel/poo out of the wrong place, let's just say that you can put your finger inside the volkswagon and push it back to the anus. Believe it or not, it says this 'splinting' is a thing to do, on the NHS website.
I can laugh at myself vaguely, now that it is sorted, but it was uncomfortable and exhausting, feeling heavy and knowing that it really wasn't right. I also had to walk with my legs splayed, as the inside was sore. I walked 20 metres at a time, feeling somewhat relieved to have a one and half year old to stop and talk to, before managing another 20 metres. I did shoulder stands (I am good at them), did Kegel exercises with a You-tube lady, ate prunes and made an appointment to see the GP. I really was very down about it. In addition to this, my volkswagon seemed lower than it should. Happily it turned out that the soreness was dryness (it can be so bad that you can actually chafe internally whilst walking, during the menopause). That can be easily remedied overnight with hormone replacement cream. The bowel was maybe slightly weak there, but nothing that pelvic exercises can''t sort. And as soon as I knew that, my outlook lifted entirely and so did did my vagina. What an enormous relief.
While I am on the sunnier side, I have resolved to try not to travel during busy times, but it does make you ask the obvious question about emergencies. I have an inclination to make up a leaflet to pin on windows of cars parked in passing places ( and today I am talking specifically to you, red Audi at the head of the bay). And I have promised myself to do the pelvic floor exercises daily and forever. Perhaps whilst sitting in passing places, watching other people manoeuvre the reversing that they wouldn't have had to do if the other other people hadn't been such inconsiderate drivers.