The outdoorsy vein of my recent activities continued the weekend following the camping trip with a group venture out to a “cabin” in the “woods”. I use these terms loosely, because when I say ‘cabin’ what I really mean is ‘incredibly swanky holiday home of a millionaire with a pool table, a double balcony, and a widescreen TV in every room, that happens to be made of wood’, and when I say ‘woods’, I really mean ‘gated community of very rich peoples’ holiday homes which happens to be full of trees and have very nice views’. Which is not to do the place down in any way – it was lovely. I just wouldn’t want to give people the incorrect impression that I’m suddenly transforming into some kind of tree nymph. The branches would never hold me without snapping, for a start.
A group of ten of us made our way to Pennsylvania after work on Friday, and got to the cabin just before 10pm. I, as official voyage navigator, declare this to be a miracle because, well, I was official voyage navigator. But we got there in one piece and, thanks to someone’s genius thinking, full of pizza and with a minibus that smelled not unpleasantly like sausage and cheese and all of the good things.
We had a quiet first evening involving cracking into the copious amounts of drink everyone had brought with them (because, after all, we were in the wilderness without ready access to such things) and playing games. And when I say ‘playing games’ what I really mean is ‘trying to pretend we hadn’t all lied about our abilities at pool in the two weeks leading up to the trip, even though we were now being confronted with an actual table’.
The next day we all woke up early. It’s difficult not to when there are ten of you in a wooden house – once one person gets up and starts moving around, another inevitably hears and gets up, and so on and so forth, until the cumulative effect of all of those clumping footsteps is something akin to a herd of elephants in heels. So, at 9am, I woke up. I know there are certain people reading this and shaking their head at the idea that I think 9am is early, but you know what? I had spent the previous night watching pool failures until 3am and so 9am is very early. (Also, I am lazy and 9am is always early).
We ate a breakfast of an indecent amount of pancakes (not quite so indecent when split amongst ten people, but still not exactly attractive) and went to drive around the local area. We ended up at ‘The Niagara Falls of Pennsylvania’. Having been to The Niagara Falls of Actual Niagara Falls only a few months previously most, but not all, of us chose to not pay to walk along a path to see The Niagara Falls of Pennsylvania and instead dropped the others off and indulged in a serious game of mini-golf. I was firmly under the impression I had this in the bag until we totted up the scores at the end and, in a shock defeat, I had come second. And so ended my Olympic mini golf career.
When we got back home everything was fine. Fine, that is, until a cat ran out of our bedroom wardrobe. Which, as I didn’t even notice and quite like cats anyway, I didn’t mind. Fallulah, however, with whom I was sharing a room, is terrified of them. It quickly transpired that a genius had left a window open in one of the rooms when we’d all gone out, so our new friend had been merrily exploring until we all clomped back in, at which point he ran and hid. A couple of minutes of crawling around on the floor with a torch in my hand – looking for a black cat in a dimly-lit room whose only light source is artsy neon advertising signs is no mean feat – I saw four legs underneath the sofa. Mr Cat was standing behind it in a “If I can’t see them, they can’t see me’ kind of move. We pulled the sofa out and he came quietly, letting someone pick him up and take him towards the door. But when she put one foot on the steps up to the front door he went completely apeshit, emptied his bowels all over her, ran away and climbed up the wall to sit on the curtain rail.
What followed was a good 90 minutes of a show called ‘Nicola The Lion Tamer’. Or in this case, ‘The Feral Cat Tamer’. Our new friend did little more than sit on the curtain rail and look at me with judgment in his eyes while I used my best ‘cajoling’ voice to politely request that he come down. As it turns out, I am not a natural cajoler. I built our new friend a climbing frame out of precariously-balanced bar stools in case he’d got himself stuck. I left all of the French doors open, and performed a short, improvised pantomime to demonstrate how easy it was to get outside. I put down milk. I scavenged a scrap of meat from the rest of the group, who were upstairs preparing dead things for the barbecue we were planning on having later. I performed another short, improvised pantomime to demonstrate what our friend should do with the gifts he was being offered. I did a bit more cajoling.
In the end, I gave up and went to have a shower. At the sight of me in a towel, the cat shifted (I assume he was trying to cover his eyes to avoid the horror) to such an extent that he knocked the curtain rail off of the hook it was held up by, and fell onto the makeshift climbing frame I’d built. I might be a horrific sight, but at least I’d arranged a padded landing. I assumed that, from there it would be a simple enough task for him to get outside by himself, so I went to wash off the spare rib juice and cat pee backsplash I’d been in the firing line for earlier. And when I got out? He was still sitting on the stool, like the freakin’ Sphinx. In fact, he remained sitting on the stool when I tried to push him off. And he still remained sitting on the stool when I got dressed and came back out of the room. And he still remained sitting on the stool when I picked the entire thing up and carried it outside like I was transporting him on a sedan chair. I carried the entire bar stool plus cat outside, and he sat there being all proud and sphinx-y as if to say ‘Now this is more like it’. When I got him level to a picnic table he hopped off, gave me a look of pity, and then ran back into the woods. I’m reasonably sure I was defeated in that battle of wits with that cat, but I went upstairs triumphant. Because nobody would ever know. Until I published it on the internet. Oh well.
My triumphant streak continued when I was coerced into several round of flipcup. The aim of the game is to down beer from a plastic cup, then put it upright on the table and use two fingers to flip it, so that it lands upside down. The players are split into two teams and the first team where every player has an upside-down cup on the table wins. I’m really not a drinking game person. I think they’re pointless and in no way fun, and they’re just an excuse for people to get unnecessarily drunk. I’m really quite middle-aged in my disapproval of them. Or I was. Because it turns out I’m amazing at flipcup. I’m something of a prodigy. I’d never played before, so I didn’t realise that I was innately talented, but I’m really good at flipping cups. It’s the first time I’ve ever had a natural ability at any kind of sport. Yes, we’re calling this a sport, because it involves stamina, and physical dexterity, and I just really want to be able to call myself athletic for once. I was the first person picked for teams, and nobody wanted to play against me. It made me feel like one of the Mean Girls at school and I got more drunk on the power than would ever have been possible on the cheap beer alone. It was one hell of a rush.
Later that evening, I announced my shock retirement from the game for good. Partly in the interest of fairness to other people, partly because I wanted to go out on a high, and partly because I really didn’t want to drink any more Bud. But I expect my advertising deal to come through any day now.