#43: Hire a personal shopper

The actual hiring was easy. A friend of a friend is a most excellent personal shopper, the marvellous Julie Ladhu, (www.julieladhu.co.uk), so it was just a case of making a phone call.

This was on the list because I have never been one to take great care or expense over my appearance. In fact since having children I am rarely sighted in anything grander than jeans and a top, and my idea of dressing up is wearing something clean. Comfort is everything. I once went to a dinner party with my slippers on. You get the picture.

So Julie had her work cut out. And she was more than equal to it! I spent a gloriously decadent day at her house, going through every item in my wardrobe, deciding what to keep, what to bin, what to reserve for gardening in, and what could be worn with what to achieve an overall look that was more sartorially pleasing than the status quo.

So phase one involved throwing literally all the clothes I own into the car, and driving up to London with them. My other half must have suspected I was doing a runner. Unfortunately the timings conspired so that I left home for the tantric sex workshop, taking my entire wardrobe with me. (I am not sure whether to put his lack of protest down to trust or indifference.)

But back to the shopping. Julie is some sort of magician, because I went from being convinced ‘I have no clothes’, to realising that in fact I only need to buy about 5 items in order to have dozens of decent outfits!

And what is even better, is that she then went out to find all the required items for me! And plenty of others besides.

So when we met again a week later, Julie had already mapped out the shops we would go to, the items she expected me to like there, and the things I could wear the new items with, for maximum effect.

We spent 2 hours power shopping, which was amazingly focused, and productive. I spent more money than I intended, but know that everything will be worn, everything suits me, and everything I bought means that more things I already own will not just be worn, but will look better. So I think it is money well spent. If I were richer, I would have no qualms at all about doing it several times a year, but even as a one off experience, it was very worthwhile – I have a much better idea how to ‘put myself together’! And I am converted to scarves!
personal shopper

Aside from the new clobber, I learnt much from the process. ‘Caroline’, Julie said to me firmly, ‘A top and trousers do not make an outfit.’

Well that was a revelation in itself. I have always assumed that if I am covered, I am ready. But it is undeniable that I do look better with a bit more detail. Some layering, a scarf, a statement necklace, that kind of thing.

Loved this one! (And would thoroughly recommend Julie if anyone is interested in the experience. She can work to any budget, and has no vested interest in what you buy, so you know that the items chosen are chosen purely with pleasing you in mind. Plus she is extraordinarily nice and fun!)

#42: Cook a proper meal every day for a fortnight (no chicken nuggets!)

What a relief that this one is over! It was supposed to be the beginning of a whole new era of taking pride in my domestic duties, but au contraire! I am heaving a mighty sigh of relief and popping the fishfingers on.

The last fortnight has seen: spaghetti bolognaise (x3); vegetarian lasagne, pasta carbonara (you’ll notice a penchant for pasta in our house); prawn risotto, jacket potatoes (does that count as cooking?); a freestyle chicken stroganoff creation and a curry.

Each new dish brings forth fresh wails of dismay from the children. The eldest falls to the ground in teary distress if confronted with anything other than pasta and cheese. Each night when I shout ‘Dinner!’, it has been with heavy heart; the word heralds an hour-long stand-off while we negotiate miserably over the exact quantity of each item that must be consumed in order to qualify for pudding. Doleful faces grimace; anguished sobbing fills the air. Cups of squash are at the ready to banish the fearsome taste of my cuisine. A mouthful is reluctantly accepted, only then to be rejected, and sprayed all over the table. The manners agenda is dropped entirely, in favour of getting anything eaten at all. They can eat it off the floor tiles with their hands or even feet, if they would only eat it.

Stickers are promised, sticker reward agreements brokered. Daddy is called home from critical meetings to present a united front at the battle scene. No workplace demand could compete with the level of urgency, of knowing our trio is about to be confronted with a vegetable lasagne.

It is a sapping business. But at least I have done it.

#41: Strike up conversation with a stranger in a pub

I am not sure if this counts, because I did it at an event that was designed for getting to know people… but it might have to do, because the days are passing by too fast!

We went to a ‘meet your fellow Twinners’ evening in the local pub (which several have pointed out sounds ominously like some sort of swinging event, but I can assure you it is nothing of the sort). It involves a bus load of folk from our village travelling half way down France to spend 3 nights with some random French people, on a kind of whole family French Exchange type arrangement. I have signed my family up for this extravaganza over Easter weekend.

The pub night was the preamble, and so I was able to strike up chat with the founder members of village twinning; the current organisers of village twinning, and with 4 (count ‘em) other parents of school age children who are also up for French high jinx. And I don’t think I gave myself away as too much of a buffoon, but it is early days – plenty of time for that in a few weeks when we are all bolting red wine and enjoying a crepe!

#40: Potter a cup or plate

Well this was a very pleasant morning. I enjoy the creative process, but I suspect that my approach is far too speedy and slap dash to ever create anything truly worthwhile.

A group of 8 ladies gathered at the Gateway Café in South Cerney. Some of us visibly over excited by the free tea and cake that was offered as part of the deal. Bridget showed us the various techniques that we might want to apply, and some finished pieces of her own: bowls, dishes, birds, feathers, flowers. All looked professional and lovely. The techniques looked quite easy. We were keen to begin.

Before long it was all going wrong for several people. The marbled effect failed to marble. The thin bowls were so thin the clay split. The colours smudged, the birds faces caved in… disappointment was palpable.

I had not gone in with great expectations, so I was happy to chuck some clay about and see what happened. Predictably, I created several deeply unimpressive pieces.

Others had greater ambitions, and more persistence, and indeed more artistic talent. One lady created this marvellous owl:
owl
Another fashioned a splendid bird:
bird
I meanwhile, threw together an oddly marbled bowl thing, a sort of stripy ash tray with uneven edges, and 3 quite brilliant faces which I have grand plans of turning into a fridge magnet each for the children. (Why is it that my craft activities are still at child level even when I have not a child in sight?) Ah well. I expect they will be delighted.
pottery, me3 faces
A happy morning’s work though. And literally more cake than I could eat – now that doesn’t happen often.

#39: Paint a picture

I have done it!  I didn’t think I could do painting!  But I have created a spring-like scene, not unlike (though in truth not very like either) a spectacle to be found at the corner of our garden.  And what a lovely time it was – at least for the minute and a half that I spent on it before the children demanded their own paints and canvases, and then the children from next door hopped over the wall to join in, and suddenly glitter and paint was everywhere and the whole exercise descended into thinly veiled carnage.    

But still, I fashioned a recognisable tree in the space of half an hour.   And with no more than a set of children’s gammy paints, and a £2 canvas from Lidl.  Imagine what could happen with a nice set of watercolours and a bit of painting tuition!  I feel a whole new creative streak coming on.  Oh yes. 

 
paint

#38: Go to a Tantra workshop

‘No need to worry’ said one of the helpers, as we were hanging up our coats in the very large meeting room of a London hotel. ‘There won’t be any nudity or intercourse tonight’. Good Lord! I hadn’t even imagined there might be! Is that supposed to be reassuring???

Shortly afterwards 30 of us were sitting in a circle, introducing ourselves, and offering 3 words about how we felt at this point. Anxious, nervous, open, and curious came up again and again. One lady professed herself ‘discombobulated’ which broke up the repetition splendidly.
tantra room
A few minutes later, we were all standing in a space on our own, bouncing up and down to some music. Feet remained on the floor, we bounced from the knees. Direction came via a microphone from the course facilitator. We jiggled, and bounced, and vibrated and wobbled, and generally got into the zone. Most people closed their eyes, the better to lose themselves. (It was hard not to be somewhat self-conscious otherwise). We must have bounced for at least 20 minutes. It has a curiously liberating effect.

That exercise was, I soon discovered, the most enjoyable of the whole night. It got more intimate and risky from that point in, but our leader was true to his word – no one was naked, or copulating. Which was nice.

Next we had to gyrate our pelvises in circles, and after some minutes of this, move towards another participant, and introduce pelvises, without words. It was kind of funny, but it seemed it wasn’t supposed to be funny, and thus appearing to find it funny might actually show one to be in some way repressed or deficient. It was one of the harder social situations to read, I found.

We were to imagine a bowl in our pelvic region, sloshing with liquid. We were to give it a name. It really was a very unusual evening. Pelvic bowls were christened and introduced around the room. Boris, meet Brian. Keith, meet Wendy.

Later exercises involved communicating by staring at length into one another’s eyes; a lengthy bout of back to back rubbing; and an uncomfortably long session of guided face stroking. It would have been an altogether nicer experience if I had taken my husband along! But alas, he was ‘busy with work’. (In fact, the whole list might have been considerably riskier if he had not had power of veto at an early stage. Anything involving nudity or experimentation was removed, and replaced with suggestions such as ‘be silent for an entire day’. I think we might safely assume we have passed the first flush of romance!)

Anyway, the Tantra verdict? An interesting experiment, but probably not something for me!

#37: Knit a pair of socks

I am not sure whether to thank or curse whoever put the confounded socks on the list. It has been a project of many false starts.

First I chanced upon a ‘sock knitting kit’ in Lidl for less than £5, and thought my luck was in. It came with wool, needles and instructions, and I hastened home to get started.

Well that was a month ago. Closer inspection revealed that the instructions assumed a basic knowledge of knitting that I was lacking. The pattern was written in some sort of code. Nothing to explain how the wool got on the needles, or indeed why there were 4 needles. Utterly incomprehensible.

Back to square one. And so I did the only thing that one can really do when faced with an insurmountable housewifely task – I asked my mum. She produced a sack of knitting needles, 2 balls of wall, and a pattern for baby’s booties. That would do, I thought. Youtube educated me in how to cast on; and I was off! Thought the whole job would be concluded before I returned from the Czech Republic.

Alas. This pattern too descended into gobbledygook. ‘With RS facing, knit up 10 sts up first side of instep, work across 10 instep sts thus: K2 tog twice, K2 (sL 1 K K1 psso) … what the ****?

I took it all home again, and asked my mum. She studied my efforts. Then professed the entire piece to be so riddled with errors that it was beyond her powers to salvage anything from it. Start again, was the maternal advice.

I consulted you tube, and found a baffling array of methods involving circular needles, double ended needles… all manner of suggestions that baffled and confused me. And each method threatened to take many hours.

So, I thought, I’ll do it freestyle. Who needs a pattern!? If I knit a patch of wool in the shape of a sock, and then do another one, and stitch them together – surely that is a sock!? Why make it so hard!

So I did. And here it is.

sock
And here it is again, actually on a foot.
sock on foot
I think we can all agree it is hardly worth investing time to complete the pair.

In conclusion then, socks are rather ambitious, but I am excited to have discovered the joys of knitting. It is a very surprising turn of events. Of all things that appeared among the 100 I did not expect knitting and busking to be topping the list for enjoyability! And yet, so it is. Astonishing.