Selwyn looked around the cabin. There was no desk, nowhere to set out his laptop or sort through his papers. He checked his phone: only 3 bars on the connection, and no Wi-Fi network that he could connect to. He sighed, and once more complained under his breath at the stupidity of taking a “vacation.” It was true that he had not taken even a Saturday off for the last several years, but he was happier like that. He wouldn’t be here now if the other partners at Tomlinson, Jackson and Smithers hadn’t insisted that he take a break. He looked out of the window. He might be only 100 miles from London, but the view outside was strange and slightly scary, to be honest.
He returned his view to the interior of the cabin, and soon managed to hook up his laptop, set up a hot spot on his phone, and was ready to check emails. Only 256 unread since he had left the office, and his virtual assistant had categorized 26 as urgent, and 2 as critical. He was soon busy dictating replies and organizing his schedule, when the phone rang, and he was momentarily annoyed to see that it was Bridget, the newest partner in the firm, and quite the rising star.
“Bridget!” He answered cheerily. “What’s up? How can I help?”
“Selwyn, aren’t you supposed to be on vacation? What’s with all the emails? Shut off your computer and have some fun!”
Fun? Selwyn wanted to say. Fun? What has fun to do with anything? There were profits to be made and deals to be struck, and he was here in this back end of nowhere, without even a fast internet connection. But he knew the latest fad was to have a ‘work-life balance’, and so he gritted his teeth, and said he’d shut down the computer and go for a walk.
He was, in any case, almost completely up to date with his inbox, so, he concluded, it would be fine to take a break for a while, and check back later when Bridget was not around to spy on his activities.
Selwyn could not remember the last time he had just walked, without any idea of a destination, and with no thought other than the physical activity of walking. He followed a path through the woods, noticing that it did not seem to be taking the quickest route, but was twisting this way and that, apparently at random. He crossed a dilapidated bridge over a small untidy stream, and was annoyed to see the path continued to wind back and forth in an unstructured manner.
He had been walking for probably about 30 minutes when he noticed the first drop of rain. Before long the rain was falling in sheets, and he hurriedly retraced his steps, trying to get back to the relative safety of the cabin as soon as he could. He was just approaching the bridge when there was an enormous clap of thunder, and the ground seemed to shake under him. He found himself tumbling forward from the shock of the blast, and before he knew what was happening he was knee deep in the rushing stream. He struggled to shore, drenched through from the river and the pouring rain.
Another clap of thunder was followed by what sounded like an explosion, and there seemed to be a secondary flash from closer by. More lightening illuminated the area, and he struggled to the cabin, wondering where all the lights were. He soon found out, when flicking the switch in his cabin he discovered there was no electricity. He reached for his phone, only to find that it was missing; he assumed it must have fallen out of his pocket when he fell into the water. Cursing all the way he went back out into the night, and was soon hopelessly lost in the dark and dank forest.
Eventually the rain stopped, the clouds cleared and by the light of the full moon Selwyn was able to make out the river, and followed it until he found the bridge. He searched, and eventually found his phone, covered in mud, but apparently unharmed. He wiped it off as best he could, but when he pressed the power button, nothing happened. He trudged back to the cabin, and collapsed onto the bed, too tired even to take his wet clothes off.
Suddenly power was restored, and light filled the cabin, shocking Selwyn awake. He got up, ran the bath, slipped out of his sodden clothes, and relaxed into the hot water, grateful for the simple gift of warmth. Drying off, he found that the top of the bed was wet where he had laid on it, but he managed to find a dry area, and he pulled the blankets up to his ears, and fell into a deep dreamless sleep. He didn’t even think about checking emails.
The next morning he awoke slowly, luxuriating in the warmth of the bed, before jolting awake to check on his phone. It was as he had feared, the drenching in the river had been too much, and it showed no signs of life. He dressed in his still damp clothes and went out to the campground office, made some calls and arranged for a new phone to be expressed delivered. Even so, it would be mid afternoon before the delivery could reach him, and so he was out of communication for the next few hours.
He decided that he’d walk to the beach following the directions he found in the office, and he set off. He felt strange. This was the longest he’d gone without being able to check emails and social networks for – well – for longer than he could remember. It was scary, but also somewhat exhilarating.
He soon found himself on the beach, and realized that his Giorgio Armani Moccasins might not be the most appropriate things to wear on the sand. He couldn’t take them off, obviously. To even think of walking barefoot along the sand was ridiculous. Soon, however, the sand was finding its way into his shoes making it really hard to walk, so he reluctantly removed them and his socks, rolled up the legs of his trousers, and carried on.
He wanted to hate it. He wanted to be having a really bad time, so that he could complain bitterly to Bridget and the other partners and say that he was coming straight back to London. He wanted to feel out of place and awkward.
But somehow, some small corner of his heart was not having it.
For as much as he didn’t like to admit it, the feel of the cool sand between his toes was soothing and refreshing. Much as he tried to scowl at the world, the bright sun reflecting off the water made him smile. Even though he tried to ignore it, the gentle breeze coming off the sea, with its slight salt tang, made him feel light and alive.
He came to the lane he had been told about, and started back inland, and as a café came into sight he realized that he was ravenously hungry. Thinking back, his last meal had been lunch the day before, he had been too preoccupied since to even think about food.
He went into the café. He ordered a Full English Breakfast, extra toast, marmalade and tea, and was soon happily eating his way through a huge plate of freshly fried food. It wasn’t the sort of thing he was used to, of course, no fine dining experience, and he inwardly labeled it as “carb city” food. It also came with conversation, and the serving lady, Dorothy, who also seemed to be the cook, cashier and cleaner, talked nonstop about the storm of the night before, and Selwyn recounted his own story of falling in the stream and almost getting lost in the woods. He ordered more toast and marmalade washed down with more tea, and his hunger was eventually satisfied.
When he got the bill, Selwyn was shocked at how little it was, considering how stuffed he felt. He reached into his wallet for his corporate credit card, but it was not in its normal place. He checked through the wallet, but no card. He stared to go through his pockets, when it suddenly struck him; when he had called for a new phone, he put his card on the desk while he read the numbers, but he didn’t recall picking it up again. In fact, now he thought about it, he had a clear picture of his card sitting on the desk in the campground office. He went back through his wallet and his pockets, getting together all the loose change he had, but he came up short. He could feel a cold sweat coming over him. How embarrassing was this? He had visions of being carried away to sit in the police cells, and what his partners would say at his criminal record.
All this time Dorothy had been watching him from the other side of the counter. She seemed to come to a decision, and came up to Selwyn, who was still frantically counting the pathetically small amount of cash he had.
“Don’t worry, darling, you put your money away, this one’s on me.” Selwyn looked up, shocked and unsure of what to say. Dorothy went on, “I’ve lived rough myself a few times, and I know how hard it can be, even round here. So call it me playing it forward for the day I need a helping hand. You keep that money you have for later, and here.” She scribbled an address on a napkin and slid it over to a totally confused Selwyn. “This is our local charity shop. Go there and tell them Dorothy sent you for some decent shoes. When you’re on the road the one thing you really need is good footwear.”
Selwyn was speechless. He, Selwyn Smyth-Tomlinson, was being mistaken for some down and out looking for a handout? Then he looked at himself, at his sand covered bare feet and his dirty disheveled clothes. He stumbled a few words of thanks, and left the café, stunned.
He started out along the trail, wondering at all that had happened. Soon he found himself at the bridge over the stream, where he had lost his phone the night before. Now, instead of the dark gloomy place he had thought it, it seemed bright and alive, full of joy and promise.
He let that word run around in his head as he stood, transfixed by the babbling water of the stream. There were many things that made him happy, many things that gave him a sense of achievement. Buy joy? He realized that he had seen joy in the face of Dorothy when she had helped what she assumes was a destitute man. When had he seen joy around the boardroom table at Tomlinson, Jackson and Smithers? Where was the joy in his expensive clothes and exquisite dining experiences?
He shook his head, trying to get rid of these annoying thoughts that had come, unbidden to his mind. He turned resolutely towards the campground office, retrieved his credit card, and the phone that was already waiting for him.
Going back to his cabin, and trying to ignore the tug that his heart gave as he went past the path to the beach, he set about setting up his new phone, and in no time was connected to the world again. His Virtual Personal Assistant told him that he had 526 unread emails, of which 35 were urgent and 7 critical.
He was just about to look at these when his phone rang. Without thinking he answered and was greeted by the voice of Bridget. “Ah! Glad I got you at last Selwyn.” She was all business, all the time, Selwyn thought, and he wondered if she ever found any time for joy in her life. Bridget’s continued talk broke into his thoughts. “It’s about the Hodgkin’s case, we have a couple of issues and I’d like to run them past you.” Selwyn could tell that she was about to continue, but he cut her short.
“I’m sorry Bridget, but I’m having a hard time hearing you,” he lied. “Anyway, why don’t you put it in an email, and I’ll get back to you after my vacation. Only I’m quite busy right now, I have some things to sort out.” With that he cut off the call. He told the Virtual Assistant to categorize all his unread emails as non-urgent, closed his laptop and switched off his phone.
He sat wondering what had come over him, but whatever it was, it filled him with excitement. First, he would go to the café and pay the money he owed, he thought. No, much better would be to go there after they close, and secretly leave them the money, plus a tip, a really generous tip! First, he would go buy some unfashionable swimwear, flip-flops and a cheap tee shirt, and go and laze on the beach. And if it rained again, he’d sit in the rain, and feel the joy run through his body.
He still wasn’t sure what had come over him, but it felt good.
Cabin 22 Journal.
Accommodation? Barely adequate.
Amenities? Almost completely lacking.
Phone coverage limited.
Electricity supply unreliable.
Also, the weather is terrible.
The Most Perfect Place in the entire world, and I can’t wait to come back!