#14: Pack to go on holiday entirely by myself

Well, the job is done, although the whole project has been riddled with errors from beginning to end.  If we reach our destination at all it will be a minor miracle, never mind with any of the correct equipment.

We are readying ourselves for the most low budget ski holiday on record.  The plan is to drive to the Czech Republic, with a boot full of food and borrowed equipment, stay in an insalubrious bunkhouse, and hope to find somewhere with enough snow to throw ourselves down a few hills.   So the packing is critical: success or failure can be sealed by seemingly small details like forgetting the children’s warm gloves. 

A significant complication is the uncertainty of what we might find when we get there.  Most of the information about the area that I have found is in Czech, and despite my best efforts at learning a random language (#16), I have not deciphered much of value.  And although we are billing it as a ski holiday, the presence of snow is far from guaranteed, so we also need to be equipped for a week’s worth of other activities just in case.   And it all needs to be loaded in such a fashion that we can reach the essentials during a 15 hour drive as needed.

So.  Ski kit for 5; normal clobber; plus kit for all the activities that might come into play if the snow doesn’t materialise.  Plus all the additional kit for the various challenges that I hope to achieve while away – knitting needles and wool, Bananaman outfit…   Then 2 crates of Lidl’s finest tinned produce, to ensure that 3 fussy eaters will be sufficiently nourished to ski for a week, if the snow does indeed present (Czech goulash and dumplings are unlikely to play out well for us). Then there are all the child related sundries that transform the whole thing from an ordeal into a slightly more manageable ordeal –games, books, a sackful of pens and paper, soft toys…  Though all the planning is somewhat misplaced in this regard.   The greatest sources of entertainment for our children are highly portable, and always available, namely: getting naked, and farting loudly.  Armed with those two options, they can never be bored.   (Over the last 6 years, we have taken them swimming, biking, climbing, and skating; shown them cinemas, theatres, pantomime; travelled on trains, planes, buses, and escalators; shared stories, films, puzzles, games, and toys of every description.  We have still found nothing that diverts them quite so royally as their own flatulence.) 

But I digress.  I had most of the bags packed a day early, so come the morning of departure all felt reasonably under control.  Until 8am, when Eva presented with a urine infection, at about the same time as the esteemed Turisticka Ubytovna SJ Slavoj emailed to alert me to an ‘administrative error’, meaning our hostel was expecting us 2 days later than we intended.


2 hours of panic, phone calls, doctor’s appointment and internet research ensued…. But we ultimately left as planned, with substitute hotel booked, and antibiotics secured. 

It hasn’t been the toughest of packing challenges – without tent or camping equipment there is no problem fitting everything in.  The alarming bit is shouldering the sole responsibility for whatever we may have forgotten.  But at least I have put in the coffee pot; that improves the chance of forgiveness for whatever errors will shortly be uncovered.

#13: Tidy the house and keep it that way for a week

Oh God, oh God. I have been working on the tidying for days. All the bins and recycling boxes have been filled and emptied many times. Scrubbing, sweeping, hoovering, sorting, binning. Not helped by the tendency of 3 small people to trash the entire residence every time they enter it. Today I thought I was all but there. I heaved a mighty sigh of relief. Put the kettle on. Popped to the loo. And then I saw it.

There was only a DRIED UP NUGGET OF TURD lying in the corner of the bathroom floor!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Noooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Feral children!! How could that even happen? It was at least 1.5m from the toilet! Perhaps it was just a lump of mud, I hear you cry. But I’m afraid there can be no mistake. I picked it up and sniffed it. And I am not big on forensics, but I suspect it had not been very recently produced.

Oh help. Anyway. Rest assured that that has now been dealt with, and all is clean and tidy on the home front. I have cunningly timed this one to coincide with a week’s holiday, so staying neat for a week should be achievable.

Slow progress!

Oh dear, I am worried I have included too many challenges that are rather more than the work of a day.   Learn a language, learn an instrument, write a story, knit a pair of socks, learn to ride a unicycle…. what was I thinking of!?  It was funny when it was just a list of words!

Now I am sitting at home on a miserable rainy day, surrounded by a Czech phrasebook, a ukulele, a unicycle, and a baffling array of knitting apparatus… and no idea what to do with any of them!   Where to start?!!


#12: Watch a horror film

Today I was running a bit low on energy, so took on the relatively low input challenge of ‘watch a horror film’. Oof. The most unpleasant task yet. I absolutely hate these; I sit there unable to watch, hiding behind a pillow, then find I’m traumatised for nights afterwards, so although passive, it deserved its place on the list.

I had ordered some nonsense called ‘The Orphanage’ from Amazon; it arrived today. I persuaded my other half to watch with me, and we both had a thoroughly miserable evening, sitting in front of ghosts, ghouls, death, deformity, and generally unpalatable goings on. Basically a woman goes to live at the orphanage where she grew up, taking her young son with her… the boy disappears, and it transpires that the ghosts of all the children she grew up with are still in the house and have something to do with it all… Don’t let me spoil it by saying more.

If anyone likes that sort of thing, I guess it was quite well crafted and even kind of convincing – and actually not nearly as alarming as the films I remember watching at sleepovers in my teens …. But Good Lord, I can think of about 350 things I would rather do with an evening.

The verdict: scary, horrible, psychologically disturbing, massively unpleasant. The only upside is no hangover after a Saturday night!

The orphanage

#11: Introduce myself to the neighbours

I am extremely pleased with myself today. On my mind for the last 2 weeks has been the terrifying prospect of ‘Introduce Myself to the Neighbours’. I know, I know, it isn’t exactly facing the Taliban unarmed, but I had been intending to do this as my very first one, and every day I have found an excuse not to. The flurry of random exercise classes betrays my avoidance of anything that puts me in an unpredictable social situation.

So. I told 3 people today was the day, as that made the prospect a bit more real, and meant I’d have to explain myself if I bottled out, again. Even after that, I jumped in my car and was about to head to town, promising myself I’d do it later, when I thought, ‘oh for God’s sake. Just go and do it’.

So I parked the car 10 yards from my house, and got out. I went to a house at random and knocked, (hoping no one would be in), but oh help, a man answered and looked me up and down curiously. I explained my neighbourly intentions, and all was well. In fact I was invited inside, met the dogs, and was there for a good 20 minutes, comparing tales of how we come to be living where we do; and chuckling companionably at how unpleasant my house is. Which was nice.

Flushed with success I went to another door, to find a retired couple whose children had left home; and then a third house, within which lurked a teenage girl off sick from school. I had to apologise profusely for dragging her out of bed. Lucky I didn’t go there first.

The best thing about it all, was that later in the day the wife and daughter of neighbour no. 1, came to pay me a visit in return. I was woefully underprepared for guests (we were half way through a play date and literally no corner of the accommodation was unsoiled. The children had already snacked, spread toys through every room, painted pictures, and were now happily ‘cleaning up’ in the bathroom, which they had flooded). Nonetheless I invited the company in for a cup of tea. The carnage was impossible to ignore, and I think her exact comment was ‘Well it‘s nice to see a house where children can play’. That is about the most generous interpretation that anyone could put on the level of abject squalor. I warmed to her immensely.

So now we are all the best of friends; it turns out they are not yet hugely established here themselves, and were therefore glad of the acquaintance. And as a happy by-product the daughter is of prime babysitting age, AND in need of money to fund an upcoming foreign expedition. So I think we will all get on famously!

But most importantly, the deed is done. I can move on from that one, knowing I have conquered one more mini-demon. Though I suspect I will still be delaying on the stand-up comedy attempt for as long as possible!

#10: Write letters to 10 people telling them what I love about them

I have had a delicious few days doing this.  I am positively brimming over with affection and good will for humankind!  I slightly wish I hadn’t limited it to 10 (but must press on, 90 challenges still remain…)

I thought it would be hard; but actually when I pause to focus on someone it is easy to express what I feel for them, and a real pleasure to do it…. I have spent the last couple of days in a haze of blissful euphoria to have so many lovely people in my life and the chance to reflect on their brilliance!

So I have sent 7 missives out into the world (the other 3 are for my children and will go into their treasure boxes for when they are old enough not to scribble on them /lose them/ wipe their nose or arse on them), and I am now in a state of mild anxiety about how they will be received.   It is a rather odd thing to do, these days , to write an actual pen and paper letter.   And I don’t usually express such sentiments at all, apart from rather clumsily after several pints of lager.   So they may be rather surprising to receive.  

(Please note, the selection of the 10 was fairly arbitrary, so no one should be offended if they don’t get a random letter in the next few days!!)

#9: Go to a posh restaurant and eat on my own

This was the first one that I had real misgivings about; especially when I phoned up and booked a table, with the inevitable question ‘How many is that for?’ Er, just one. I feared there was a bit of stigma about it, and felt quite self-conscious about presenting myself on my tod, in a public place. I expected it to be highly uncomfortable and probably expensive.

But imagine my delight; it turned out to be an enormous pleasure! Excellent food, time to myself, and not in the least bit awkward. I went far enough from home to not fear bumping into a crowd of school mums, and found a lovely pub/restaurant http://www.thevillagepub.co.uk. The staff were friendly and betrayed no hint of an attitude that I was a slightly tragic figure for dining alone.

I found a corner-ish table where it didn’t feel as if the whole room were staring at me, I made myself comfortable, ordered a drink, accepted the menus, and only then realised – quel horreur – there were two men at the next table having an intensely personal conversation, loud enough for me to hear, and what could I possibly pretend to be doing that could hide the fact I was there???! Argh! I busied with the menu. I checked my phone. I went to the toilet. They were almost finished. But then! They ordered dessert! Help! The catalogue of personal tragedies ran on and on. Thankfully I had brought pen and paper, as I’d had the inspired idea to knock off another of the 100 challenges while there. So I could ignore the distressing chat, and instead absorbed myself in writing several of my 10 letters to tell people what I love about them, which was a delightful experience in itself.

I ate delicious cod filet with an olive oil mash, drank sauvignon blanc, and enjoyed the ambient lighting and rustic feel of the place. Since I didn’t feel at all awkward or out of place, I agreed to the dessert menu, and followed up with a splendidly delicious banoffee pie sundae. I was enjoying the time and space and letter writing so heartily that I ordered a coffee afterwards… In fact I was the last to leave; the waiters were hanging round the bar at the end of their night, and one clearly thought the place was empty, as he let rip with a ma-hoosive belch. His colleague hissed at him in reproach: ‘we have a customer’; which I thoroughly enjoyed.

So that is excellent; I am very pleased to report I have sufficient poise and self -assurance to go out and dine alone. I am officially ready to be 40!

#8: Tai Chi

This is not something I had much preconception about, apart from having walked through a park in China once and seeing many people balancing oddly.

But it was very easy to book myself into a class at the local leisure centre. I had no idea of the right attire, but I forgot my bag anyway, so it was lucky that it was fine to do it in normal clothes and bare feet. Certainly you don’t need to dress with any anticipation of working up a sweat.

It was extremely gentle, and I would almost go so far as to say boring, but I think that is a case of adjusting to the pace. Others in the group were clearly regulars, and seemed to get into the flow of it much more readily.

Two things hampered my enjoyment of the class: 1) I was literally the only person there of working age. Indeed many must have advanced quite far into their retirement. So that left me rather preoccupied with the need to get a proper job, rather than mobilising my chi around the sports hall.

And 2) I very much needed to fart. This is a problem that is difficult to ignore when conducting a squat in a crowded but almost silent room. If I could have put those things aside then I am sure there is a lot of merit in Tai Chi.

A buxom and engaging Scotswoman led the class in quite a low key style; she demonstrated the movements and we followed as she moved: shifting our weight, moving our chi, reaching for the moon. Much of it involved holding an imaginary large sponge ball between our hands and moving it around. None of it was fast, or in any way difficult, but afterwards I do feel as if I have done some exercise; I suspect it has strengthening properties. And no doubt it would be even more beneficial if I were doing it properly.

I probably won’t go to that particular class again (I’m still too traumatised at being 30 years too early!); but I would certainly have another go at Tai Chi, especially in foreign climes or if I found an evening class.

#7 Go to a meditation class

A curious evening this was. I have long been interested in meditation: the concept of slowing down and creating space in the general maelstrom of one’s head can only be a good thing, and there is plenty of science to be found about the benefits. I have a couple of audio downloads that I attempt to follow now and then, but in truth I often fall asleep, or just forget to do them at all. I need some external force to give me the discipline.

So, to a class. Specifically, this class: http://meditationincheltenham.org.uk/cirecester

I turned up at the Friends Meeting House; a Quaker Centre that I had never before had cause to discover. I followed the sound of hushed voices and was welcomed by a man with enough facial hair to reassure me that I had found the right place. He was friendly and welcoming, offered herbal tea and biscuits, and in I went. All very easy, no one looked as if I needed to explain myself, so I didn’t. I just sat down amid the circle of chairs. There were perhaps 12 in attendance; they seemed a peaceful, gentle crowd. Quite a mix. Several men and women of mature years and careless clothing, the type I would at one stage of my life have referred to as a ‘bunch of beardos’ (but hopefully I am more tolerant now). There were also a couple of younger women who looked as if they had come straight from work, suggesting as I suspected that this kind of malarkey is becoming more mainstream. There was also a young man who seemed very intent on the whole thing; I am speculating wildly, but he looked the sort who might have recently returned from a trip to India ‘finding himself’.

We spent the first 45 minutes with our eyes closed, contemplating our breath. It is curious how difficult it is to do this. I did try, really, but I just kept thinking of all sorts of things. Apparently it is a case of practice. We visualised breathing in the pure white light, and breathing out the foul black smoke that was the former contents of our minds. That was a helpful image.

I later learned (which amused me immensely), that somebody had come in late, and sat down in a fluster, and apparently started unpacking her possessions in anticipation of the Amnesty International Trustee meeting that she had come for – only then to discover she was in a room full of odd looking people with their eyes closed, breathing heavily. She repacked her possessions, tiptoed out, and one can only speculate as to how baffled she must have been.

Once we all reawakened and brought our attention to the room, it became clear I was at some sort of Buddhist workshop. The teacher (a stand in, I was told, not the regular person) was armed with a book entitled ‘Transform Your Life: A Blissful Journey’ by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, from which he proceeded to give a talk about happiness, and the nature thereof. I cannot be sure I was fully awake throughout, his voice was extremely soothing. But I think it was about no person or thing being good or bad in itself, but rather your state of mind influences how you perceive it. Even someone who you find fearsomely irritating is loved and cherished by someone else, so one cannot state categorically that they are a git. A chocolate bun may make you feel happy, but if you had just eaten 68 other buns then that same chocolate bun would not make you happy. So the bun itself is neither good nor bad. So there you go – a little bit of Buddhism according to the Ginger Legend.

We then closed our eyes to reflect further on the nature of happiness (I am sorry to say that enlightenment eluded me, but I did have a kip), before heading off our separate ways with a flyer about the Akanishta Kadampa Buddhist Centre.

All in all – I am not sure this is quite the thing for me, but I do think there is much value in mindfulness and meditation – something to experiment with further for sure. I’d be very interested to hear any recommendations, of classes or downloads or whatever.

#6: Zumba

This was completely brilliant.  Good exercise, lively, fun, and best of all – it is not at all embarrassing to be crap at it! 

(I was scarred some years ago by an aerobics experience that involved me flailing around, completely unable to keep up with a class full of pros, in a room with a mirror all along the wall that we were all forced to face… so there was literally nowhere to hide, and I was stuck there for an hour.  And I’d gone on my own, so there wasn’t even anyone to laugh about it with.  Ouch.)

So this time, I went to a class that a friend recommended, and took another novice friend with me, but I needn’t have worried. 

The instructor was a feisty bundle of yelping, whooping energy (in an engaging rather than annoying way): a vision of muscles and pink lycra gyrating rhythmically at the front of the room.  

Each routine was contained, and fairly short-lived, so if you didn’t get the hang of it there was something else soon after.  And even if you couldn’t do it properly, you could do some sort of movement that wasn’t too conspicuously ‘wrong’!   In any case most folk were too absorbed in what they were doing to look around.

There is a dilemma for me with things like this: to follow what is going on I really need to be at the front with a good view – but that of course gives the rest of the room an excellent view of the back of me…   I weighed it up and stayed at the back.  

I imagine I will ache tomorrow – many muscles used and positions adopted that felt somewhat unfamiliar!  But overall another triumph, a really enjoyable experience.  I would go again!  (Except I still have 95 other things to do before May!)


(Thank you very much to Meryl Miller – Stratton Village Hall class at 9.30 am Mondays and Stratton School Hall 8pm Tuesdays)