See the photo of Hubby and me below? It was taken on our Yukon trip in 2006. That was a wonderful trip. And a wonderful day. A day of sunshine, amazing views, and lots of smiles. But it’s not always like that, my friends. Not everything we do together is sunshine and smiling faces. That’s why I adored the book I read recently about love blossoming in misery. You Are Here by David Nicholls is one of the best books about misery I’ve read in years. All about meeting someone new, falling in love, and being miserable. Physically miserable, wet, and exhausted, and in pain. Not to mention cranky and blame-y. OMG. Could I ever relate.

Smiles and sunshine in the Yukon, 2006.

It is a fact well documented on this blog that, when I participate in activities with my husband, I am sometimes miserable. Sometimes uncomfortable. Sometimes wet, bedraggled, or cold. A few times in pain. And numerous times scared, cranky, and even shouty. Not to mention blame-y. In fact, when we were on that Yukon trip, I remember one hike when I was scared stiff. I’d just been apprised by Hubby what to do when one encounters a grizzly bear. Grizzly bears are a thing in the Yukon, you know. We luckily didn’t encounter a bear on that hike. But it was the most uncomfortable two hours of my life. And not all down to the fact that I was hyper-ventilating most of the way. Ha.

Later in the trip, I almost bought a gift-shop tee shirt that said: “I’m not saying it’s your fault. I’m just saying I’m going to blame you.” I wish I had. It could have come in handy on rainy, sopping wet camping trips.

See the photo below? That was taken on my first wilderness canoe trip, back in the eighties. Hubby and I had been dating for only a few months. I was a beginner paddler, and not confident in a canoe. I’m way better now. Well, I would be after almost forty years of practice.

Anyway on that late May trip the sun did not shine. And on the second day as we fished, it began to rain. When I complained about getting wet, Hubby said I’d better put my rain gear on if I didn’t want to get even wetter. I had to stand to pull on the rain pants. I know! In a tippy canoe, while scared to death that I would capsize us. And as I was trying to not fall in the lake, it started to snow. I clearly remember saying through gritted teeth, “I am NOT having fun, you know.”

Then I sat down, put on my jacket and buckled my life-jacket on over it. Hubby dug in his fishing bag and found the fetching weiner-like rubber gloves you can see below. My hands were freezing. Then I caught a fish. I was a bit mollified after that. Not much. But a bit.

Happy I caught a fish. Algonquin Park, 1985.

I was so miserable in the photo below that I couldn’t even muster up a smile. It had rained all night, as you can infer from the sagging fly over our tent. And it was still raining in the morning. The rain stopped long enough for Hubby to build a fire and cook breakfast. And no, I didn’t help. He was lucky I even went after the last trip. Ha. Then the rain started again and, in the slightly blurry photo, I’m standing under the tarp, trying to finish my toast and sausage. That’s not a beer belly you see on me. My vest pockets are stuffed with warm gloves, my bear guard, and bug spray. The bear guard had been a Christmas present from Hubby. The old romantic.

Misery still needs to eat. Algonquin Park, 1986.

And so, despite the romantic gifts and miserable trips, our relationship progressed. We hiked in Scotland in the cloud and mist in 2005. But cold, damp misery was soon cured by smoked salmon and some of the local tipple that evening.

We’re smiling now, but for how long? Scotland 2005.

We even encountered cold, wind, and low cloud in Australia in 2008. I’d not packed a hat so my hoodie had to suffice. See below.

Hatless hiking on Mount Kosciuszko, Australia, 2008.

I still remember Hubby saying that the wind wasn’t that strong. “No, no, not strong at all,” I muttered as a gust almost toppled me. We didn’t get far that day. Cloud descended and we decamped to our accommodation for a glass of red wine in front of the fire. Much better.

“It’s not that windy, Suz.” “Liar.”

Not all our travel, hiking, or camping trips were miserable. Of course they weren’t. We’ve had many starry nights by the campfire, wine on the deck of a beautiful cottage in a far away land, and spectacular views which made the sore feet and bug bites well worth the effort. But, you know, sometimes when I look back at my twenty-something self, who loved make-up and high heels, who had never stepped foot in a canoe, much less paddled into the wilderness in one, I can’t quite believe I did that. And didn’t quit after the first leaky tent on a rainy night, or scary thunderstorm when we were miles and miles away from civilization. It must have been love, eh?

Besides misery makes the best stories, don’t you agree?

And that brings me back to that wonderful book about misery I just finished. David Nicholl’s You Are Here. It’s the story of two lonely people who meet on a several-days-long walk, along “Alfred Wainwright’s famous coast-to-coast path through the Lakes and the Pennines.” Both Marnie Walsh, a work-from-home, free-lance copy-editor, non-outdoorsy person, and Michael Bradshaw, a geography teacher and inveterate walker, are single, one divorced, and the other regretfully separated. Their mutual friend Cleo is trying to lovingly bully them both into being social, into “getting out more,” and so she plans this short break, inviting two other single people along, hoping that romance might blossom. It does, only not in the way she’d planned.

Nicholls tells the story through alternating points of view. One chapter through Marnie’s eyes, followed by one from Michael’s point of view. Thus we see how they see each other. And we learn their stories, their past histories, and their disappointing present. Nicholls writes with sensitivity and humour throughout about love and disappointment, loneliness, and joy.

I seriously identified with Marnie’s nervousness and her social gaffs. She spends too much time alone. She’s awkward and out of practice. But her wry, self-deprecating humour is lovely. The description of her arriving at the meeting place in the Lake District in her brand new outdoor gear made me laugh out loud. The shiny new boots, the huge pack that doesn’t fit properly, the green rustling cagoule, the red knitted cap that when worn with the jacket make her look “like a stuffed olive.” I also identified with Michael’s pompous, compulsive “teaching” about each geographical feature. Compulsive teaching, happens to the best of us. In my defence, you can’t take an English teacher to all the Scottish castles mentioned in Macbeth and not expect a little quoting. Or a lot. Ha.

Woven throughout the story of Marnie and Michael’s lives and their progressing relationship is the walk itself. Sometimes breathtakingly beautiful, often misty, cold, rainy, wet, muddy, hilarious at times, and exhausting. I could not put the book down.

Cleo’s plans for the adventure swiftly fall apart. Each day a walker drops out, one doesn’t even bother to show up at all. Finally Cleo and her son go home. It’s just Marnie and Michael left. Each day I expected would be Marnie’s last day on the walk. Blisters, an ill-fitting pack, wet clothes that are still wet in the morning, utter exhaustion. Michael keeps expecting to carry on alone, and then doesn’t. I won’t tell you what happens except to say that the suspense was killing me.

Alex Preston in The Guardian perfectly describes my own feelings about the book: “The reader becomes so invested in the outcome of this unspectacular, everyday, cagoule-clad romance that it makes the whole world shimmer with a kind of secret possibility, as if such narratives are everywhere, just out of sight.”

And of course everyday, shimmering, unspectacular, amazing stories ARE everywhere. If we only look closely enough.

That’s it for me this week, my friends. Only one book to talk about today. But what a book!

What a wonderful, hopeful book about misery. I’ve read good books about misery before. Mostly non-fiction memoirs. Most of them alternating between being informative and hilarious. Most written by Bill Bryson. If you haven’t read Notes from a Small Island, you must. But David Nicholls’ book is the best fictional book about misery I’ve read in years. Certainly the best, most uplifting, funny, touching book about misery.

P.S. The book links in this post are affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking my link, I will earn a small commission which helps to pay for the blog. If you’d rather get the book from the library instead of shopping the links and want to support the blog, you can always buy me a coffee. πŸ™‚

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30 thoughts on “Misery Loves Company”

  1. That’s a coincidence. Just yesterday I read the Guardian review of that book & put it on my to read list . I can empathise with your introduction to the outdoors . I was the typical 60’s girl , all miniskirts & mascara . Family camping trips as a child put me off it for life . Hiking boots & anoraks were never going to be part of my world . Then along came Max , lover of countryside & wildlife , ex Boy Scout & as stubborn as me . Most of the best parts of our lives have been spent walking , both here in the uk & abroad . You really get to know places by walking through them . Big but though , no camping . We tried once just after we got married & it brought back all my childhood trauma ! You’re either braver than me or less stubborn 😁

    1. I wish we had walks here that could take us from one country pub to the next. That’s the problem with being such a big country with most of our most beautiful sites being almost inaccessible. Unless on foot or in a canoe carrying all the comforts you’re likely to see for a week or so. Ha. I will say that Stu always tried his best to make wilderness camping palatable for me. Wine decanted into the requisite plastic bottles, marinated steaks that made the pack that much heavier. Not to mention the fact that he did all the wood chopping, fire making, and 99% of the cooking. Gad, put like that I can’t see what I was complaining about. Ha.
      P.S. I am seeing Max in his Boy Scout uniform right now. πŸ™‚

  2. I had to skip over the end of this post as I just bought this book a week ago and want to be surprised. Have only read the first chapter so far.

    My experience has been the exact opposite! I grew up camping and I love it, but my partner is Italian and doesn’t canoe or even swim! I took him once to Algonquin Park. I tried to introduce him to canoeing. He wore cashmere and has never forgiven me for laughing at his nerves after he saw an entire Spanish tourist family go in the drink when they tried to get into a canoe standing up erectly… I wanted him to trust me and I only took him for a spin around the shoreline, but nevertheless when I talk about going to a cabin somewhere his response is always “What would we do? I’m not getting in a canoe with you.) He WILL go hiking but everything is on a “late” schedule with him so we always end up in the woods near twilight with me yelling at him that I don’t want to be in the woods after dark so I want him to turn around. And he’s happy to meander in the woods even after people have passed us telling us they have seen bears. Drives me crazy. Each summer I spend time on the Ontario Provincial Parks website looking at at least booking a campsite and going somewhere by myself…

    Anyway, loved the pictures and stories of your camping misery. Reminds me a bit of some soggy camping in my childhood, but for whatever reason I’ve never minded that part (except for a wet sleeping bag that smells musty).

    1. I think when you grow up camping you have a special relationship with it. I think you’ll love the book Stephanie. The descriptions of the landscape and the details of the walk are wonderful. As well as the story, of course.

  3. have never camped, don’t want to camp, and never will at my age in mid-70s. husband tells people that my idea of roughing it is staying at a Holiday Inn instead of the Hilton.

  4. Enjoyed this post, Sue. Especially the introduction to your willingness to TRY all the different types of outdoor activities. Your husband must have seen what a “keeper” he found/caught as you tried each new outing.
    One of my first dates with my husband was a very, very early morning date to go to a local harbor. We picked up live sardines for bait and rented a skiff. He then produced two trout rods (yes, trout rods in the ocean harbor) with hooks but no weight or sliding sinkers. He hooked a squirmy sardine through the nose and let the line go over edge of the aluminum skiff. That sardine took off like a bullet each time a mackerel (I think) rose up to chase it. It was hilarious and fun. At one point my line (and me) almost got wrapped around one of the buoys floating nearby. It was a Lucille Ball moment.
    It was the starting point of almost fifty years with that man. I did get better at fishing and learned to properly use a trout rod in the California Sierra Nevada mountains.
    Thanks for bringing about this sweet memory…and thanks for sharing yours.
    Charlene

  5. Thanks for sharing the fact that not every trip was all fun. I have stopped even the suggestion of camping, not for me ever again. I really don’t like the damp sleeping bag, the bugs, the organizing everything before you go, no, not any more. One of my first trips with my then to be husband, we were awakened in the night by something scratching the tent , then when that eased we decided to try sleeping in the truck. On the way back, I stepped on a nail in a board hidden in the long grass, then when I put my weight on the other foot, guess what, another board with nails sticking up. After pulling the boards off my feet, I had to be carried to the truck and then off we went to the nearest emergency room. Near is a relative term in the wilderness. Had to get shots and bandaged. Not my idea of a fun time. One other episode was a rattler that decided where we wanted to put the tent was the perfect spot for sunbathing. There were a few uneventful trips, and many gorgeous sunsets and clear star filled skys but my time with all that is over. I prefer a comfy bed and a shower with no bugs thank you very much. I just recently told my husband that he is quite welcome to go with son and I will be happy to stay home. So far not happened. I quite enjoy all the comments that prove that I am not alone with the desire to put it all in the past. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

  6. I really enjoyed the post, so much so I wanted to buy the book through your link. Unfortunately when I click on the link it takes me to a book called “That You are Here”

    1. I tried my links again and they take me to the correct book. The problem with Amazon is that each country has a different offering. I have a gadget installed that converts the links depending on the country where the “clicker” lives… not sure what happened in your case. Thanks for letting me know, though.

  7. Oh we did all that too. Favorite memory of me in a canoe with a floaty tiered skirt on with a strappy white top, thinking I would elegantly graze my fingertips over the water. Yeah, right. When I had to stand, the canoe capsized, and my cute sandals went to the bottom while we swam it to shore. Never again. Been with the bears, the snakes, the storms. Now at 72, I want a very nice hotel with very nice sheets and hot water. And Wi-Fi! Thank you for the book reco, it is on my list.

  8. Thank you for the book recommendation. It is now on my holds list at the library and it sounds like it will be a perfect summer read when it comes in. I am certain that I would also enjoy the book version of your wilderness experiences as a couple!

    I have very limited wilderness experience, but we we did a camping trip out west and back with our three oldest kids in the late 1990s, and there are many anecdotes from that vacation that are firmly entrenched in family lore. Some would definitely qualify as “misery,” though they’re easy to laugh about at this distance!

    1. Hubby and I have talked about that over the years, and laughed about possible titles. Mostly in the vein of “My Life as a Chicken in the Wilderness.” Ha.

  9. I LOVED this post (as all of them). We just returned from Ireland and I loved the beautiful country, the hikes, the gardens and the pubs. Thanks for sharing your misery – loved it.

  10. I think if we all pooled our experiences of camping and tramping we could have a wonderful book of essays! Perhaps “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”?
    I had never camped in my life until I met my other half. We went off with a little pup tent for a holiday over Christmas (summertime here). We stayed for a few nights by the beach and it bucketed rain for two days solid. Christmas dinner was a packet of chicken flavoured rice risotto as our tent slid downhill towards a pool of water. An older couple in a caravan next to us invited us in for the evening and dry clothes never felt so good.
    For the next fifty years we have continued to camp and tramp and over the years the group has expanded as children and then grandchildren came along. They, of course, have loved it and could never understand my lack of enthusiasm.
    I also got roped in to be an female adult supervisor on lots of Duke of Edinburgh tramps which are five days or so in the back of beyond carrying everything in huge backpacks while accompanying 20 teenagers. As soon as the tramp was over they would fall asleep in the minibus which I then had to drive for several hours to get home.
    Now my pack and oilskins are buried in a box in the loft and my boots are gathering dust. That is the way I plan to keep them!
    Perhaps I’ll just read about other’s misery and have a quiet, knowing chuckle

  11. Camping is fine, I enjoy it but…I do it in the English countryside or in campsites. I do prefer hot water and conveniences though I love snuggling down in the tent at night, cooking on a little stove, only having the basics with me. On the other hand, this weekend I stayed in a comfortable hotel in London, with a delightfully generous bed and a fully equipped bathroom, all to myself. I suppose it is horses for courses. As for canoes. No. That, I do not do. Somebody I know is going to be rowing down the Zambezi next week. At first I thought she was joking.

  12. I’ve seen reviews of this book recently as well- it goes to my list,I love your recommendations!
    I’ve just read The Berry Pickers-it was so interesting to read about places I know through your posts
    Dottoressa

  13. Hi Sue, I am the same as Geraldine above – the link is taking me to the wrong book. I’ll be able to find it myself but you won’t get any commission unfortunately.
    FYI, I’m in the UK. Thanks for the review, sounds like my type of book.

    1. Thanks for letting me know, Margaret. I wonder if the Amazon gadget is not working properly with respect to UK readers. Hope you like the book anyway. πŸ™‚

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