Caught by the River

The Outsider: Going Al-Fresco

Nell Frizzell | 1st June 2017

In this month’s column, Nell Frizzell muses on the joys of weeing outside

Empty-bladdered at the top of Scafell

There is a very particular smile you get, from a stranger on a sunny day, as they spot your bare arse, hovering above a damp bit of grass.

As you scramble knickers up your quivering thighs, scrape past poorly-camouflaging branches and trip over laces, they smile the sort of coy, embarrassed, ‘I-wish-I-wasn’t-here-either’ smile more commonly seen on the person collecting sanitary towel bins from a train station toilet. This happens to me a lot. Because, of course, I piss outdoors a lot. It happened just yesterday, in fact, barely 100 metres from my house, as I ran around Leyton and Walthamstow Marshes on a quiet, rabbit-bouncing morning under a pinkish, hazy sun. I knew I wouldn’t make it home, I spied a blossom-covered bush and, dear readers, I took my chances. Little knowing that an elderly couple with a spaniel were, at that very moment, rounding the horse-trotted corner to my left. I like to imagine they still think of me, from time to time, in their quiet moments.

A wee stop in Scotland

From winding rock paths on the Quiraing to East London bushes, from roman hillside forts to woodland dingles, from scrappy tufts of marram grass on northern sand dunes to rocky southern outcrops, I have pissed all over some of the greatest landscape this set of islands has to offer. Not in the leery, lairy, out-on-the-piss, down-the-side-of-a-biffa-bin way that ruins most city centres on a bank holiday, of course. I mean the sort of bracing, al fresco, grass-against-your-soft-bits wee that becomes essential if you’re spending more than about six hours outdoors. When wild camping, hiking up a mountain or tramping for days through a wood, you don’t have much choice but to down your undercrackers wherever you find yourself caught short. It’s no worse than a fox, or badger or horse would do – at least, that’s what I tell myself.

My Cornish friends would call the process of outdoor urination, going to ‘bob down’, which I love more than saffron buns and clotted cream combined. There are, of course, some rules about to how best to ‘bob down’. Come off the path, bury anything substantial (you’re not an animal), don’t litter with tissues or wet wipes and, most importantly of all in terms of dignity, look away. Look at the ground, at a cliff, up at the sky if you must – just don’t run the risk of eye contact with any poor sod who may happen upon your line of fire. It is better by far to catch a glimpse of buttock than the full arse-face combo. You do not want a passing stranger to be able to put a character to your nether regions. But, if you are ever caught in that situation, as I was just this week, simply smile, apologise, laugh and move the hell on.

A wooded al fresco toilet

During a long walk in the Isle of Skye a few years ago I discovered with horror that an Australian-born friend – a grown woman with arm muscles, and bookshelves and a strip of silver through her hair – had never before taken a leak in the great outdoors. Never. I felt as flabbergasted as the day I found out that none of my housemates had ever swum naked (a situation I remedied immediately, much to the delight of a passing German father and his son, in a dingy). Perhaps it’s something to do with growing up in a country where even the tiniest of bugs appears specifically designed to kill you; maybe this is what happens when you choose being cool and bookish rather than wholesome and bare-legged; maybe she just has rock solid pelvic floor muscles. But never before had she known the particular, dewy-pubed pleasure of taking a wee in the great outdoors. So, of course, I made her. I stood in a volcanic crevice off the path, stared out at the soaring hills and road that wound below our feet like a stream, and blocked the view, so my friend could drop her jeans and let the good times flow. I felt terribly proud. And she’s never quite been the same since.

Where I bobbed down beside the old Berlin Wall

So, if by some miraculous chance, you are that sensible-footed couple, who chanced upon my bare arse last week as I took a leak beneath the May blossom; or if you’re one of the passengers on the 8.42 to Bishop Stortford who probably regularly spies my dropping knickers as I bob down in the long grass; or if you’re my saint-hearted boyfriend who had to stage a coughing fit beside the Mauerweg to distract a group of German cyclists as they pedalled along the former Berlin Wall path; or you’re just an unlucky stranger who once spotted a brown-haired woman emerging shame-faced from behind a tree – I’m sorry. It’s just my nature.


Nell Frizzell on Caught by the River/on Twitter