It had started to snow in the time that I’d been considering my shelter, making me worry. I’d never slept out when it was freezing. The next thing on my mind was to pack my rucksack, test it with the additions since last time, and I was taking some time finishing my tea before beginning. I think I knew that there was no way I was going to get away with such a tiny sack so I stalled, wondering instead about the shape my boots were in, when I found myself straining to hear the radio. As I turned it up the story had switched to an interview with their reporter at the scene.
“The body of the young man has been found here in the woods, near Alveley, last night, by a farmer out with his dogs. The police have the area cordoned off.” I could hear her breathlessness brought on by standing in the cold.
“And is there anything to go on? Has he been identified?”
“It looks as though he’s been here quite some time, over a year, they think. Forensic tests are ongoing. They haven’t managed to identify him yet, and they’re asking for anyone who knows anything or who might have been in the area to come forward.”
I muttered to myself about how anyone could know that, whether they were in the area I mean, when the time frame was so vague.
The presenter was about to cut her off when the reporter interrupted,
“Apparently a phone, not belonging to the victim, presumed stolen, was found on the body”
“Alright, thank you Jane. That was Jane Marsden reporting for BBC radio Shropshire. We’ll keep you up to date on that story”
I turned down the volume, disorientated, and saddened. I could set out and try to forget it, but I was already also feeling haunted. Out there the fears would probably multiply. And imagine being in a tent and hearing things in the night, I thought. I wasn’t planning to go through there again, but even so…
Distraction was needed. I would go and buy some winter boots and a ‘silent tent’, if such things existed.
“What’s your quietest lightweight tent?” I asked the assistant.
“Okay, tents” he focused himself. “What are you going to use it for, and how big do you need?”
“There’s just me. As small as possible. All weathers and seasons I suppose.”
“No. But then again…I suppose in Scotland I’d maybe want something that capable.”
“Aha. Right.” He began to slow down, either thinking about tents or something else entirely.
“But I want a quiet one. Not a crisp bag.”
“A quiet one. To be honest that’s not on the spec. I can do it by price, weight, technical features, but not noise. You can look at the fabric of the ones on display for yourself. See what you think.”
He looked derailed and conflicted, as though he wanted to close a deal with me on a tent but wasn’t sure whether it was going to be worth his while.
“Some people have started to ask for quieter zips, for when they’re in the campsite” he hazarded. I hadn’t really thought about that angle, but certainly it’d help not to be announcing myself every time I wanted to see outside.
“Okay, do you have any small, strong ones with quiet zips?”
“I don’t know” he said. “S’ppose they’d be plastic zippers but not likely to be put on a technical tent.”
We weren’t getting very far.
“Look why don’t you start with the catalogue, here.” He walked over to a small pedestal table, chest height, with a laminated book attached to it. “If there’s anything that suits you we can order it in.” He hadn’t bothered to show me any tents so I figured that mine wouldn’t be a popular choice, not held in stock. I decided to pretend to look, which I did, then left as soon as he was out of sight. I went for a coffee instead, and wondered to myself why I hadn’t gone to the Internet first. It was pretty obvious that I wasn’t going to be able to get up close to the tent that I needed, feel the cut of its cloth, when it was doubtful even that what I was after existed in the first place.
I was starting to enjoy being out, though, now the coffee was sinking in. I’d give the boots a go, in a different shop. I couldn’t get boots any other way, certainly not through the post. There weren’t many proper outdoor shops to choose from, and I’d used one up already!
“Boots, yes” the assistant was keen.
“And what kind do you need? What are they for?”
“Well, walking boots I suppose. Very durable, for long distances, and ones that can cope with snow and ice.”
“Rigid sole? for crampons?”
“No, for walking in this country. Well, and Scotland as well.”
I gradually navigated my way from full shank mountain boots down to something I could actually walk in comfortably, and then up a bit from that to something that wouldn’t fall apart or fall off my feet. Eventually I had a pair whose uppers would ‘give’ after a while, and whose lowers had just enough flex for my knees to work. Quite a difference from the walking sandal affairs that I’d worn three months ago.
“Do you need anything else at all?” His confidence had grown once I’d settled on the boots and now he was fresh, ready to start again. I thought that, actually, now I’d been stalled on investing in a tent perhaps I could stretch to a larger rucksack. That was a much easier proposition and my assistant lit up with enthusiasm about the range that he could offer. But I didn’t need his help with that one. All the stock was out, and it was easier to search for what would work for me than attempt to describe it.
“I’ll just look through if that’s okay.”
“Sure. Okay. Just ask if you need any help.”
I didn’t need to ask. I found a slightly larger one than the one at home, of a similar design and the same make, that remained on my arm throughout the processes of comparison and elimination of the others. It was one of the few that had comfortable straps that were close enough that they didn’t tend to fall off my shoulders.
It was a long time since I’d spent so much money on anything but the house, and it gave me a slightly anxious feeling. But it was sense, not nonsense, this spend. To go out in these conditions you needed to be equipped. So by anyone’s judgement my spending spree was wholly justified. I didn’t want to unravel the argument any further though, because for most people the whole premise of the walk would be completely unjustified. Well, Ed wasn’t one of those people at least. I hoped very much to be able to see him before I set off, and maybe arrange contact at some point by phone. It was very difficult, though, to get hold of him.
The snow was falling more heavily still, so I sat and watched it rather than making firm plans. The Internet only threw up unusuals when I searched ‘silent tents’ and ‘tent noise’, though I did get a few tips to quieten the zip. I didn’t find anything I wanted to spend that amount on though; they were costly things. Maybe I’d look for a second-hand one, or maybe I’d just stick with the one I had.