Shoes on a bin

Hadrian's Wall Robin Hood Tree

Kevin Costner. Robin Hood. Oh baby! It was whilst visiting uncle Stuart that I was introduced to what became the Kensington of films in my life—the one I go to, to both forget and also remember. Quite literally, it can do no wrong. In fact, on this very afternoon, I was listening to Radio X whilst driving my kids to an afterschool art lesson and, as well as a great story about some killer whales bullying a great white shark off the coast in South Africa, the DJ was talking about the worst accents in film history, and how low and behold Kevin Costner’s accent in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is number one on the list. This is curious to me because uh…what accent? He’s American and he sounded…um American. Then I realised: perhaps his complete lack of Nottinghamshire Northern English or whatever version Robin Hood is supposed to have spoken is the problem. Whatevs. Mock away.  I love it. I can’t say exactly why but I think something to do with its relative grandiosity.

I saw Robin Hood at the cinema with my cousins, my brothers and mom and uncle—so, big screen experience; and I was probably underage (my brothers definitely were and I think my mom, who went in blindly, felt bad afterwards…that witch; and when she scrapes her disgusting long yellow nail in that bowl of blood. Gross. I loved it. The romance of it; the castles, the crusades, the villain (Alan Rickman at his evil best) overcome by the hero and the love story. As an adult I prefer a dark twist in a film that exposes life’s penchant for chaos and yet I think perhaps there is a part of me that defies this dog-eat-dog world with an unashamed yearning for the days when life was simple, with its fairytale endings and easy romances—and Kevin Costner’s bad accent lights the way to this dreamland.

With this context in mind, you can imagine the thrill of holidaying up in the north of England with Zanin and our friend Yvonne (visiting from SA) and stumbling upon what we now fondly refer to as “The Robin Hood Tree”. I knew it was the Robin Hood tree as soon as I saw it. Even Zanin (who vaguely tolerates my obsession) knew. There it was; standing in all its glory next to the historical aura of Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland. Coming from South Africa, this tree was the closest thing to a celebrity that I had ever encountered. It was a huge moment (and I revelled in it) but Yvonne just didn’t believe us … so, in fact, she was the cause of all the trouble that was soon to follow.

What Robin Hood Tree you may ask? Cast your brain matter back to the beginning of the film when Robin of Locksley and his friend Azeem (Morgan Freeman) have escaped captivity and arrived back in England after fighting in the Crusades. As Mr Hood and his new friend cross over Locksley land, they encounter a boy in a tree (the tree) who is trying to save himself from the Sheriff of Nottingham’s bloodthirsty minions, and their dogs. There is an old wall in the scene (Hadrian’s wall) that Robin Hood skips down as Azeem kneels to pray and…blah-blah-etcetera-etcetera. This is the tree. Not according to Yvonne. But (ha) she was proved oh-so-wrong after hearing a plethora of excited comments from fellow adventurers trekking along the wall. The final nail was bashed into the coffin when a sweet old tour guide on our bus trip home stated, ‘And I am sure I do not need to inform you about the famous tree on your right.’ It’s not like we didn’t tell her—magnanimously. (Just saying.)

A couple of days later we decided to walk back to the tree so that Yvonne could share in the poignancy of visiting so worthy a landmark, and have her moment basking in the ambience of celebrity foliage. Having spent a lovely day purchasing Scottish Clan paraphernalia from the tartan shop in Gretna Green (had to see where Jane Austen’s runaway couples were escaping to), we were far too lazy to walk up the hilly landscape to get to the tree, so, first mistake: we took a short cut along a path winding along the hillside. But poor, poor Yvonne is afraid of heights and so, second mistake: I suggested that we should perhaps cross the field at the bottom of the hill and walk on some low-lying land. Yvonne beamed an emphatic yes, so down we went. Warren, the leader of the pack, was most perturbed upon arriving at the bottom of the hill to discover that the field we so desired to cross was, in fact, a marsh. Third mistake: I did not believe him—until a kid on the other side of the marshy field tried to cross, and half way through, like a surge of electricity, shot up in the air and fled back to the safety of yonder dry land. So we carried on walking along the side of the mountain, happy to discover what looked like a path across the mud and marsh. Zanin (although he may disagree but trust me, I am by far the more reliable source) suggested that we try and cross but that he had no intention of going first. Me, being the brave adventurer (aka stupid moron) that I am, relished the opportunity to demonstrate my feminine superiority. So, fourth mistake: I boldly took the first steps.

The path was pretty solid to begin with and I continued, fearlessly, to march along until my foot sunk knee deep into a pile of mushy, stinky, cow-patty stuff that smelt like the rotting corpses of the long-deceased Roman soldiers who guarded Hadrian’s Wall—I imagine. Bog of eternal stench vibes. I was then accosted with a vision of Artax (the horse in The Neverending Story)—sinking into a boggy marsh, never to see the light of day again. As I realised that I was about to be yanked into the depths of putrid rot and guts that was, at that very moment, eating my leg, all rationality dissipated. So, fifth mistake: I ran for my life because I thought I was going to die (by now, you know that this is a thing I do in any given situation—dogs, pigs, monkeys, giraffe, zombies) and in the process managed to lose my shoe in said bog of death and stench. To my credit, I ran so fast that Zanin and Yvonne thought that the ground was sufficiently solid and merrily proceeded to make their way across. By that time, I was laughing so much that I couldn’t tell them not to cross—all I could do was scream, ‘My shoe is gone!’ At which point Zanin began bellowing an interrogation across the swamp as he Spanish-Inquisitioned me about how the shit I lost my shoe—until he started to sink. Not envisioning his own death in the hungry swamp, the Italian in him erupted as the mystery of the missing shoe was solved: he realised that instead of turning back when I had started to sink, I had bundu-bashed forward and lost my shoe in the process. My attempt to justify my behaviour by explaining that I thought I was going to die like Artax the horse only made my poor sinking husband all the angrier. Poor man. As my Italian proceeded to combust, Yvonne screeched as she stumbled across my shoe, lying calmly on the path of death, and proceeded to throw it at me. And then it was all over for me—the sight of the stupid shoe flying through the stench-filled air, propelled by the steam emanating from Warren’s fuming person, as he and Yvonne battled the muddy jaws of a reedy, swamp death was just too much for me. I laughed so hard I peed in my pants. And I am NOT joking! Seriously! I peed myself. And then all I could say was ‘I peed in my pants’ and ‘I’m not joking, I really peed in my pants.’

While I was busy laughing and peeing, my co-adventurers had made it to the other side and, in my state of incapacitation, Zanin was forced (by his own sense of chivalry) to go and fetch my rediscovered shoe from a nearby pile of reeds that my poor-aiming friend had lobbed it into. So naturally the Italian then burst forth, to full capacity. Unfortunately, the more I laughed, the angrier poor Zanin got. We proceeded to the Robin Hood tree in single file with a deathly silent Zanin in the lead; a psychotic, drunk with laughter, staggering her way along behind him; and then Yvonne, at the back, trying to control bursts of hysteria. Let’s just say that our second Robin Hood tree experience was slightly tainted.

However, this story does not end at the celebrity tree. The reason my Italian was so mad (other than the obvious) was because his only pair of shoes had been destroyed by a lunatic wife. And we were in the middle of nowhere. When we drove to Scotland the next day, our plan was to stop off somewhere and get Warren some shoes. No biggy. Except, sometimes plans don’t work out the way you intended. We drove a lovely scenic route, scenic meaning: void of shoe shops. Eventually, we got to the town of Sterling, where we planned to visit Robert the Bruce’s Sterling Castle. By the time we got there it was pouring with rain, and Zanin still had no shoes. A series of narrow one-way streets forced us to park at the castle and our last-ditch hope at finding shoes was the gift shop at the castle entrance—maybe some slops or even slippers for weary travellers (yes, we were desperate). As we emerged from the car, Warren barefoot, I prayed ‘Please God, please, let there be shoes.’ Yvonne and I were praying in unison, I found out afterwards. Miraculously, unbelievably, relievedly…Warren spotted a pair of trainers left on the edge of a dustbin. I ran for the shoes, assuredly left for trash (or a weary traveller in need), which I discovered were not wet and were in quite good condition (not that this mattered). If you didn’t believe in miracles before…? So, Warren wore someone’s rejected size ten trainers for two days (Warren is a size seven) and then donated them to a charity shop in London for some other soul to make use of.

Now that this miraculous tale of woe and hysteria is over, I am sad to say that I will most likely be watching Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves alone for the rest of my life, and The Neverending Story is a definite no-mentioner. But I did learn three very important lessons: 1) better the steep, rocky path that you know, than the easier, gentler path that you don’t 2) under no circumstances is it wise to make an Italian angry (he’ll deprive you of all cooking), and 3) pregnancy and excessive laughter spell disaster.


This story is also shared on Our Fireside Stories PODCAST – The Robin Hood Tree & Shoes In A Bog


Author & Storyteller: Andrea Zanin

Andrea is a writer, wife, mother and dreamer; also the author of this website. She moved to London in 2006 to earn £s, travel, see bands and buy 24-up Dr Martens—which she did, and then ended up staying. Andrea lives in North London with her husband (also a Saffa) and five children. She loves this grand old city but misses her home and wishes her children could say “lekker” (like a South African) and knew what a “khoki” is.

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