#23: Drive through a city without sat nav

I put this one in because I realised how reliant I have become on the old sat nav. I frequently arrive somewhere with no idea how I got there, where I am or how I am going to get home! If the thing packed up half way through a journey I would be scuppered.

And also, it is a shame to lose the old fashioned skills – manoeuvring through fast-moving traffic, map in one hand, steering wheel in the other, handwritten page of directions floating about somewhere in the passenger foot well… Ah yes, that’s what it was all about. And for optional added spice, I tried it with almost zero diesel in the tank and no button to press to find a route to the nearest fuel.

Happily all turned out well. In truth I confess I did not penetrate very far into London, but it will have to do – 77 more challenges on the list! Onwards and upwards!

#22: Do something unique and special with each of my children (part one)

First up, no. 3. A bonus 2 hours of alone-with-mummy time meant either watching the Lion King for the third time this week, or, some sort of project.

The conversation this morning ran thus:
No. 3: what is happening after school today?
Me: It’s just me and you, coming home together.
No. 3: Can I do something? Wiv you?
Me: Of course we can. What would you like to do?
No. 3. Um. (thinks about it). Make a zebra cake?
Crikey. I am not sure what that even is.

6 hours later, I collect her from school, and realise too late I have not given our project a moment’s further thought.

Which is why it is particularly satisfying to now report THE most triumphant zebra cake I have frankly ever seen! (though admittedly I am not sure I have ever seen another one)

Cobbled together from general household ingredients, we fashioned this:
It would be tempting to go into business and sell them, except I fear the food hygiene folk would have something to say about this:
food hygiene
But all in all it was a thoroughly satisfying afternoon’s work. She was absurdly chuffed with it! We have been high fiving and talking of nothing else since. Now in the name of ‘fairness’ I will probably have to spend all weekend fashioning a menagerie of baked goods with one child after another. But for now, this will do.

Coming up soon: the drastic haircut. Eeek!

#21: Get rid of half my possessions

This has been the work of several weeks now. Whenever I trip over something, or am irritated by it, I bin it. Anything the children fail to tidy away, disappears. That rule was intended to enforce discipline – it hasn’t worked, but there is much less stuff!

I have been through every room, grouping items to sell, to give to charity shop, textile collections, recycling and the bin. It is extraordinary how much stuff we possess that adds nothing to our lives.

Sofas and tables and dressers and drawers and slides and climbing frames have all been sold. 6 bin liners filled with textiles, old clothes, curtains, and duvet covers that we never use. At least 3 boot loads of toys to the Salvation Army. Anything that doesn’t fulfil an actual current purpose in the home has to go. (Apart from a couple of boxes of photo albums and childhood letters. I figure I have hung onto them this long for a reason.)

A couple of points are interesting – one is how little any of it is actually missed. The children have lost at least half their toys: all the plastic paraphernalia that we have surrounded ourselves with for the last 3 years. They have barely even noticed. A lip wobbled when an ebayer made off with the doll’s house, but it was forgotten in minutes and hasn’t been mentioned since. In any case they spend most of their time pretending to be cats, or princesses, or magical unicorns, without any need for props. I could have cleared out years ago! I am not missing half my wardrobe, nor the various items (vases, jugs, candle holders, wicker baskets…) left over from an earlier stage of life when I bought things just because I liked them, rather than to use them as a matter of urgency.

The second is just how much actual refuse we have been sharing our living space with. There is a fine line between kids’ art and household waste, and we have definitely been on the wrong side of it. Models made of some sort of dough found rotting in cupboards. Rockets made out of empty cardboard boxes and other recyclables. A vast stash of chocolate coin wrappers discovered in a jewellery box. Disgusting!

Memo to self: declutter often, and ruthlessly. (And check more regularly behind radiators for hidden soiled pants. Nuff said.)

#20: Have a Brazilian


So, one of the more dreaded of deeds is done. Good lord. I cannot believe people go in for that on a regular basis.

My first difficulty was how to book it. What does one actually say? ‘Do you do Brazilians?’ Surely not. And is that even how one refers to it? Should one perhaps request ‘intimate waxing’ or some other polite euphemism? I simply didn’t know.

(I was reminded of an HILAAAArious student prank I once played, in the small hours of a morning, when I phoned a home moving company called Beaver Removals, and told them ‘I have a particularly troublesome beaver, I wonder if you could come and remove it for me?’ (How they must have laughed.) I wonder if that approach would serve me now?)

In the end, I found a beautician with an explicit price list and an email contact form, and thus the appointment was made.

And I presented myself today.

And while it was as painful as you would imagine such a procedure might be; it was actually less humiliating than I feared. Perhaps I am desensitised having birthed twins in the company of 10+ medical practitioners, but the matter-of-factness of the beautician made it strangely normal to be chatting away with no pants on.

It was the work of a mere half hour, and the lovely Justine assures me she has done a splendid job. It is almost a shame it won’t be appreciated by a wider audience, but don’t worry, I will not be posting before and after shots.

This would be my advice to readers considering anything of the sort:
1. Take some paracetemol before you go.
2. Take some tracky b’s to wear afterwards.
3. Before you book it, check that your partner finds the image below arousing. If not, you can save yourself considerable unpleasantness, and £28.

fresh plucked chicken

#19: Spend the day dressed as Bananaman

This is a bit of a cop out, as I decided to do it very, very far from home.  So none of the social embarrassment of having to explain myself on the school run, but instead a host of other issues, trying to retain the integrity of Bananaman, without sacrificing warmth or safety on the slopes. 

We told the children last night that for the next day of skiing, Mummy would be Bananaman.  I love how children accept such things as if they were entirely normal. Why not, after all?  They were actually disappointed that I hadn’t brought superhero costumes for them aswell.  (Why didn’t I think of that?  It would have been a whole lot less embarrassing for me, and they would have loved it!)


Still, off we went to the most populous resort of the Giant Mountains, me in full Bananaman garb, for absolutely no reason at all.  (Thank you, Ferg, for suggesting it).  But the odd thing was, it drew almost no reaction from anyone.  Which made it possibly more embarrassing!  In the general way, fancy dress is a conversation starter – people want to know why, or what you are supposed to be, or what the occasion is, or something.  The Czechs did not raise an eyebrow.  A ski school of kids may have tittered.  One man shouted ‘Superman’ as he shot past me.  But in the main, studied nonchalance.  So little comment did I draw that I frequently forgot I was wearing it.

I had a brief bout of euphoria, snaking my way down a red run, cape billowing in the wind, with 3 well behaved and beautifully coordinated children descending the mountain in my wake, some of them almost smiling… But that brief snapshot was notable for being the only 10 minutes of the morning when no one was whining.


For much of the day though, my garb was entirely forgettable. Barring the odd glance from my other half which clearly indicated that I am a massive tool, most people couldn’t care less. It was a day on the slopes like any other, pulling small people out of the snow, bile rising at the endless bickering about who would sit with whom on the chairlift.

I drew a few more looks in the restaurant at lunchtime.   Children couldn’t help but stare, but still, zero banter.  The serving staff were plainly unimpressed by superheros, particularly those who couldn’t order drinks in the right language. 

An amusing moment post lunch.  The plate of goulash and half-litre of apple juice each prompted a family visit to the facilities.   Each child piled into a cubicle, wrestling with their many layers of clothing.  A Czech teenage girl was not far behind us, and she opened the door to the first cubicle (none of them had locks), to find a small child having a dump.  She withdrew hastily and opened the second cubicle – in which another small child was having a dump.  She opened the third, only to be faced with – you guessed it, a THIRD small child having a dump.  Shaking her head in disbelief she opened the fourth door – and there was Bananaman!  She withdrew in considerable confusion.    

Our afternoon was altogether jollier.  Fuelled with goulash and mars bars we attacked the red run several more times in higher spirits, and only abandoned play when all the lifts had shut.   A satisfying day after all.  And happily Bananaman is now done, the only worry being that I have promised 3 more Bananaman outfits in smaller sizes, and another family Superhero outing, sometime soon…

#18: Teach somebody something

Well here is a heart-warming little thing. There I was, minding my own business, trying for the umpteenth time to get on with knitting my socks, when all three girls pounced on me, and begged me to teach them knitting. So we had a go, and I let them do a stitch each, after which two of our number ran out of patience, but No.2 was really quite taken with it. She sat with me watching intently, so I cast 10 stitches onto fat needles for her to have a go herself, and we sat there companionably knitting for a good hour. She is making a scarf for a dolly. Or possibly a baby, depending how long it ends up. Not that babies have a lot of use for scarves, but no matter.

She has really taken to it, and she loved seeing her scarf get longer and longer. We did more after tea. We snuggle up on the sofa and knit, she does most of it, but I keep a hand on the needle to stop the whole row being dropped at the point of transferring the stitch. The other two were briefly angry at not being part of it, but they quickly became absorbed in a game of ‘Big rum poo bum’ (the exact premise of which eluded me, but it involved saying both ‘poo’ and ‘bum’ ad infinitum thus giving rise to uproarious mirth). Meanwhile, No. 2 knitted. And it was quite lovely to be snuggled up doing something calm and creative with her, and she is SO chuffed at the amount of knitting she has produced. The scarf is a foot long already. It is going considerably better than my socks. We are going to continue tomorrow. Hurrah!

#17: Beer Spa (have a random beauty treatment I had never heard of)

Well I’m not sure it is exactly a beauty treatment, but it was a new experience, and since I am making the rules here, it will have to do. The Beer Bath does exactly what it says on the tin – you bathe in some beer!
beer spa

I love trying random things like this in different countries. I have tried Moroccan baths, Chinese massage, Indian eyebrow-threading, and I have particularly fond memories of sharing a sauna with 20 naked Russian ladies flagellating themselves with bunches of birch twigs. But I have never had a beer bath. The literature assures me it is highly restorative. The literature also suggests I will be enjoying a pint while bathing in several more, what’s not to like?

pivni lazne

So. I phoned up the Novosad Mini Brewery and suggested in extremely halting German that I would like to come for a beer bath. Today. At 18.00 hours. As far as I could tell that seemed to be acceptable, so off I went.

On arrival I was recognised, I think, from the phone call. ‘Ah’ said the receptionist. ‘Reservazione’. She may have pegged me on account of the linguistic incompetence, or perhaps it was the lack of any other customers that made me easy to place. Whatever.

In the spa I was greeted next by a sturdy matronly lady, looking a little stern. Over years of travel I have perfected a look that says ‘Please help me and forgive my incompetence; I am really very nice’, so I offered her this, in place of any greeting. She smiled, showed me where to put my shoes, and pointed me to another room, with instructions to disrobe, conveyed in a mix of German and sign language. ‘Complet’ she added sternly, handing me a yellow sheet to protect my modesty.

Kit off, showered and sheeted, I re-emerged, and she showed me into the bath tub room. Sure enough, a bathful of water awaited, to which she added some yeasty pellets, and switched on the beer tap. 10 litres of finest ale turned the water an unpalatably rusty colour. Half a pint of even finer ale was placed on the table beside. She demonstrated the Jacuzzi effect and indicated she would return in half an hour.

I lay back and enjoyed the soothing sound of some 80s power ballads, while wallowing in beer, drinking beer, and inhaling the fumes of beer. The yeasty pellets dissolved around me, leaving an unseemly film of muck all around. The lighting was subdued, the walls were wooden panels like a sauna. There was another bath in the room, mercifully empty.

After 30 minutes, sure enough, she returned, and pointed me to my relaxation bed, one of 11 in the room. Another pint was placed next to me. A blanket over my wet sheet. More music courtesy of Foreigner et al. The relaxing ambience only marred by the sound of the matronly lady scrubbing my filth from her bath tub.

Another 30 minutes and it was time for my massage. There appeared to be no other staff or guests at the Novibad, for the same lady performed the massage, and it did not occur to her to close the door as I sat on the bed as instructed with my norks out.

That done, I was permitted further relaxation, should I wish, before I left. And on no account was I to shower afterwards. ‘Vitaminy’ she explained, sternly.

All in all, a very pleasant evening, though whether a beer bath is more beneficial than any other kind of bath I am not entirely sure!

(NB: any readers who don’t know me should be aware that the buxom lady depicted in the bathtub is not actually me. Alas I am far too British to take a selfie in the bath and post it on the internet!)

#16: Learn to speak a random language

For the last fortnight I have been listening to Pimsleur’s Czech in the car whenever I go anywhere. With the result that I can now confidently say excuse me, hello, yes, no, thank you, goodbye, and ‘I understand Czech very well’. That last is unlikely to get me into a helpful situation.

What I really need is ‘Can I hire 5 sets of skis for 8 days’; ‘Where is the nearest beer spa?’ and ‘Get me 3 hot chocolates for these feral infants and fast, please’. But maybe that will be covered in lesson 7.

For now though, here we are, and I have the chance to test my linguistic prowess on some real people. It has produced very mixed results! Some are delighted that I trouble to greet and thank them in their own language. Great. Others are openly irritated at the impossibility of communicating with me at all – my few words sadly don’t get us very far, and when they default to German, (in Czech minds the universal language), they find I am pretty poor at that too. The third response, and my favourite, is undisguised derision. Several people have burst into peels of laughter and summoned their friends to come and hear the freak show.

Arriving at our hostel and home for the week, I attempted to ask someone ‘Mluveti Anglitsky?’ (do you speak English?). Both he and the 4 women within earshot laughed so hard they may well have soiled themselves. Possibly my accent turned the question into ‘Do you blow goats?’ or similar. That is always a risk.

But today I was delighted to ask directions in Czech and have my question understood. A breakthrough. Never mind that the response was incomprehensible, it was the nearest I have come to a conversation.

And it will have to be good enough to tick that one off the list, because I am not sure I have the energy to take my Czech endeavours much further!

#15: Drive across Europe at night

I put this on the list myself, as it addresses quite a number of my limitations. For me, driving at all is far from comfortable; and driving in the dark is mildly alarming. Driving on the wrong side of the road is very alarming, while driving an unknown route somewhere I have never been before brings us into the realm of naked terror. So, time to put it all together, and get on with it!

And so we did. We entered the Eurotunnel about 7pm, with the poorly formed ‘plan’ to drive all night by turns. Since it should take 10.5 hours to reach our destination, we ought to be in the mountains of the Czech Republic for an early breakfast. That was without reckoning on the vagaries of the sat nav, (which took us a circuitous route adding 2 hours to the journey). And then there was the unscheduled stop at a Belgian A and E department, in desperate search of any medication that could stop our youngest from screaming that her ear hurt. It is hard to convey the level of desperation that had overtaken our vehicle after 2 hours of this. The first packing oversight was revealed. I can see the Calpol sitting in the medicine cupboard at home. Why didn’t I put it in the bag? Why? Why?

We had to wait an hour and a half, but eventually left the Clinique Notre Dame in triumphant possession of some children’s Nurofen. It was by then 11.30 pm. We’d been going 5+ hours and were still in Belguim. Not good. I drove for another hour, handed over, Dave lasted til 2.30am. Then I bolted a coffee, resumed my shift, and managed to drive another 3 hours, crossing much of Germany, with the rest of the family slumbering all around, and ‘Pimsleur’s Guide to speaking Czech’ on the cd player. Congratulating myself on my quite brilliant efficiency. (A shame not to be knitting the socks as well, but probably wiser not to).

I did feel quite a weighty responsibility, alone at the wheel, everyone else sleeping peacefully, with no idea where I was taking them or quite how many fast-moving lorries I was negotiating. The whole experience was strangely very calm, in stark contrast to the family life of our waking hours.

By 6am I handed back, very happy to be able to tick that one off. Though I suppose we still have to get home somehow next week.