Learn carpentry (Part one: making a table)

Finally after months of angst we have our own home; and I am going to become a legend at DIY. I have instructed Dave that he can have no part in my first project, it is to be an independent effort and a triumph of girl power. I am making a table. It is to be tall and long, and will create a study area in our hallway. It must cost considerably less than buying such a table. I have no prior experience of carpentry since I created a malformed duck at secondary school.

So. I have been foraging for materials and seeking advice. My first trip to Travis Perkins was inauspicious.
Er, I need some wood.
What for?
Making a table.
What is it going to be like?
Um. I don’t really know yet.
I think he found it difficult to know how best to help me. He showed me various pieces of wood, the price of which ruled them all out anyway, and suggested I draw a plan of the proposed table. I scurried off, feeling I had not come across in my best light.

So then I chatted to a few folk who know more of such matters than me. A vague design began to take shape. I measured the space in which it needs to fit. I estimated a height that would allow us to use the 3 chairs we already possess. I drew a picture.

The next time I ventured into Travis Perkins, thankfully there were different staff on duty. I spoke to another fatherly figure who was somewhat bemused by me. The prospect of a table 1.5m high stumped him. (I later realised that I had meant to say 1.05m, which would account for his confusion.) But, he introduced me to the off-cuts bin, and at last things began to make sense, price-wise at least. I returned home triumphant, with a bootful of fenceposts and other mismatched planks, for no greater outlay than a pocketful of change to their company charity. These, combined with the internal door that I had found in the garage loft would create my table for almost no cost at all. Perfect.

I got home with my spoils, and demonstrated the component parts to Dave. He scratched his head. ‘Mmmm. It’s hard to see how it won’t look a little bit shit’; were, I believe, his exact words of encouragement.
No matter. I was not to be discouraged. I erected the work bench by myself. I located a saw. I allowed him to offer me brief instruction in how to use the saw. I measured and I pencilled and I sawed and some legs took shape.

I trotted off to Screw Fix, and was offered an extraordinary amount of tuition for no cost at all, from a friendly chap who maintained a careful attitude of respect despite clearly doubting my capacities. ‘Are you, er, quite handy with a saw?’ he asked me. ‘Who knows?!’ I replied cheerfully. ‘I can’t see why I wouldn’t be…’ I may have discerned a hint of eye rolling at that point. But I came away with a sackful of screws, a much improved drawing, and a bottle of gorilla glue. The legs were going to need a little more work.

Next day I found the power tools. The day after that, Dave reluctantly agreed to show me how to use them. He clearly expects to find me dead when he returns from work.

But au contraire, I have spent a happy time sawing, and drilling, and screwing, and feeling generally delighted with myself.

Dave later pointed out that I was using most of the tools all wrong. The power drill was set to reverse, apparently, which hadn’t been helping. Even so, my progress was impressive. I have created 2 table ends, like this:
table leg
Then I put an extra support beneath the table top (aka door), ready for the support struts. If that is indeed what one calls them.

Eventually the table top was secured to the table ends… and then turned the right way up. The moment of truth. Would it stand up?

It did! Slight wobble. One more support strut thingy perhaps needed.

But, here we are, a week later, and this is what I have created.

It is neither neat, nor pretty. But it is functional, sturdy, almost free (£9 for gorilla glue and £6 for all the wood) and I have done it all by myself. I am delighted beyond measure.

Next up, we are going to create a tree house. Woo hoo!

Get rid of ANOTHER half of our possessions

Regular readers may recall that I have already done this once. So now we are getting down to some tougher decision making. Everything that remains has already survived one drastic cull!

But, as homelessness looms, we have to judge what we really value enough to cart round to storage, keep there for months, and then cart elsewhere and unpack again. Anything that we neither like nor use nor value for sentimental reasons, has already gone. Now we are looking at things we can profit from selling, things too heavy to move, things we can really do without, things that are specific to the home we are in, things we don’t absolutely love.

So, all the sofas are sold, one dining table, several bikes, all manner of cheap and unattractive storage items. The fridge freezer, the washing machine. Chests of drawers, dining chairs, boxes and boxes of books, kids toys, spare curtains from previous houses … Anything that might be useful ‘one day’ we have decided we will ditch and buy again if we ever need to. We do not need to fill our lives and space with contingency items. The weight of owning all this crap is itself oppressive. Shoes for the children to ‘grow into’. Shoes that I might one day wear again, but haven’t worn for years. Clothing that might be useful, in certain scenarios that will probably never arise. Outdated electronic apparatus that we spent too much on but is now obsolete. All gone.

At the end of it all, Ebay has been the main winner. Them, and the pikey community of Blunsdon who ransacked my car boot sale for little more than pence. But overall we are up several hundred pounds, and our skeleton possessions are stored in 2 cars and a friend’s spare room. I am not sure whether to be embarrassed or proud that everything I own can fit into a room she doesn’t even need to use.

The children have been stoic in the face of downsizing. Rosie ran in one day with her drawing paper and pens in hand – ‘Mummy Mummy! Where is the table!?’ I had to confess it was gone. She lay on the floor with her colouring book and got on with it. Eva went to get the milk from the fridge… and found the fridge no longer there. She located the milk in the coolbag and had her breakfast on the floor. As the sofas reduced in number, they all squashed up on one… when that went they sat on camping chairs to watch TV. Then the floor. When the TV went, they played on the trampoline. The trampoline went, and they hunted for caterpillars. There is always something. Caitlin has struggled a little with the absence of her more treasured possession. ‘Mummy, where is my Miaow Cat? You have sold it Mummy, I know you have!!’ (Actually I really haven’t. The miaow cat is genuinely lost, but nothing will persuade her of my innocence in the matter.)

It has been a liberating exercise, though we still feel we have too much. And it is also kind of depressing. I am disgusted at the amount of ‘stuff’ we have amassed in the last 20 years, and how little any of it is really worth, to me or anyone. The car boot was a miserable display of the detritus of modern life, crap that people have bought to make themselves or their children happy, which is offered, for a few pence, to anyone who wishes to take it into their lives, where again, it may make someone smile for five minutes, before becoming oppressive tat that weighs us down, gets in the way, and distracts us from anything of real worth or meaning in our lives. Down with ‘stuff’!

What a terrible load of arse. Let’s never go shopping again.

Trashing the house

As the day of departure from our minging bungalow (known affectionately throughout our acquaintance as the B.O.D. – bungalow of doom) drew near, I began to discuss with the landlord whether we really needed to spend £200 on cleaning the carpets to protect our deposit.

‘Good God no,’ he replied. ‘I wouldn’t even bother wiping the surfaces. We’re knocking it down the next week’.

‘Hmm’, I said, cogs whirring. ‘Well in that case, could we have a bit of fun with it? Do you mind if we trash it properly?’

We established that he didn’t. Don’t break any glass, and don’t trash the curtains; these were the only ground rules.

So with much delight I invited 10 families round for a comprehensive house trashing party. Bring paints, glue, wallpaper, water pistols, and some very low value clothing.

It was the talk of the classroom for a week or two. Finally the big day was upon us.

At first the children looked rather anxious about the whole thing! We may have drilled them a little too convincingly on the disastrousness of making mess and ruining their clothes!

‘Mummy, help, I have got paint on my hands! Get it off!’

‘Caroline, I have accidentally spilt a bit of paint on the carpet. I am sorry.’

‘Mummy, there is paint on my trousers!’

‘Am I allowed to paint on the wall?’

‘Am I allowed to draw with pens? Really? Am I? In real life? Mummy, really??’

No one could quite get their heads around the level of freedom and carnage suddenly permitted. Some of them looked positively fearful!

So the adults got stuck in. Greg threw the first paint bomb, it burst in a flurry of red paint and the girls squealed as paint went in their hair. We graffitied the walls. We painted our hands and made prints. We created splendid faces looking down from the ceiling. We painted amusing shapes on one another’s heads.

The children began to relax. Requests for their own paint bombs flooded in. Greg spent the next hour filling up balloons.

As the devastation got underway, everyone became more comfortable. After an hour, we had a lull and fuelled the kids with hot dogs. More parents began arriving to collect. The adults congregated outside and chatted idly among themselves, slightly losing track of both time and parental responsibilities. The remaining children seized the day. They found all manner of ingenious methods to get paint on every corner of the house, and indeed themselves. By the time we remembered them, they looked like this.

Holy moly.

It was brilliant though. My kids were the envy of their class, 20 kids had enjoyed freedom beyond their wildest imaginings, and now all my friends live in fear that similar creativity might be applied in their own homes! Tee hee. The only down side is that we have to live in it for 3 more days before we officially move out!

Learn to Eskimo roll

This was on the original 100 list, and for various reasons I never got round to it.  But now, hurrah!  I have joined the local canoe club, endured my half day ‘start session’, and thus was allowed to attend their swimming pool session: by far the best way to learn skills that involve capsizing repeatedly.

So, off I went, swallowing the indignity of learning my new skill alongside a bunch of 10 year olds, and prepared to take full advantage of the availability of willing coaches.  The pool was full, the youngsters were many; the boats were not quite numerous enough to go round, and the coaches were in short supply.  It threatened to be a frustrating wait.  But, eventually, a large chap called Dave was able to give me some time.  I spent a lot of it hanging on the side of the pool upside down and trying to right myself with the critical hip flick. 

Dave moved on to assist a youth, but I then caught the attention of the venerable Doug, who I quickly realised was something of a legend in the canoe club.  I later discovered he was the very founder of the club.  He took charge of me, and relentlessly tipped me upside down for half an hour, at first moving the paddle into correct position for me, then gradually intervening less and less.  He had all manner of useful tips.  Any protest was answered with an impatient ‘Don’t worry about that.  Go on, get on with it.’ And over I’d go again. 

By the end of the session I had done 5 rolls under my own steam, and went on my way utterly delighted.  I finally understand all the elements that I am supposed to bring together.  It would be a whole different thing to do it in a crisis situation, but at least I have mastered the movements and I know what it is supposed to look like.

(2 days later and Dave suggests we sell our kayaks.   What!!??  After 10 years trying to enlighten me, it is now me trying to persuade him that we still want to go kayaking.  What the f***!?)

Eating all the food in the house

The challenge is done, and the cupboards are bare. We have had some highs and lows!

All the usual favourites were gone in a handful of days. The children began to feel the lack. No pain au chocolats for breakfast. No more crunchy cereal. No ‘proper’ toast. No pitta breads left for the packed lunches. No more chicken nuggets, or bolognaise.

Breakfast was not a disaster for some time. We still had porridge (with sugar or syrup, once the honey was gone), and Weetabix. Even after all the favourites are gone, these 2 are acceptable alternatives.

Lunches were more challenging. They quickly deteriorated to a mix of dry bread, buttered crackers, and hunks of cheese. But we still had fruit. And the box of chocolate treats will outlast all our other supplies, so the lunches can end on a happy note, even if the main content is bleak.

Dinners have been the difficult time. A bag of rotting carrots was salvaged and souped, with lentils. A sack of frozen bread rolls converted into croutons. A disappointing risotto was fashioned from nothing but rice and frozen prawns. A strange Catalan fish curry with some frozen Pollock and more prawns (An enormous value-pack of prawns has haunted us for some time, you see). My tuna and olive pasta sauce was a surprising hit with the children, once they finally tasted it (after they had stared at it miserably for 40 minutes and eventually realised it was not going anywhere). All the beans in the cupboard created a flatulence-enhancing casserole. Then school requested donations for the local foodbank, and that pretty much cleaned us out of tinned produce!

My parents came for dinner, and I almost cracked, but realised I could make pastry and therefore a quiche with the last of the eggs and a lump of blue cheese that was in truth a little past its best. Quite remarkable hospitality!

A christmas pudding was a surprising choice for June, but it was taking up valuable cupboard space. (It didn’t seem right to give it to the foodbank!)

Once we were down to a sack of rice and a shelfful of spices, I declared the experiment done. No one was malnourished, and we have found a few more dishes and combinations that are acceptable to the small people.

But most triumphantly, I avoided the supermarket for nearly a month. I have just been again, and proved my theory that simply crossing the threshold of Tesco is enough to relieve me of £100. I don’t think I have ever escaped for less!

Eat ALL the food in the house (before shopping again)

So, this is the challenge. Do not go grocery shopping again, until we have eaten ALL the food in the house.

I am allowing 2 exceptions, namely milk and fresh fruit. The first to make our existing food edible, and the second to avoid the children getting scurvy.

We have to eat everything we own that has some calorific content. Herbs, spices, tea bags and the like are exempt. (I do not want to be reduced to eating a neat pot of curry powder before we can restock.)

We are allowed to forage from the natural environment, and allowed to accept freebies if they are spontaneously offered, BUT we are not allowed to go about scavenging or begging or dropping heavy hints to our friends. Conscience will know the difference!

I have not done a big shop just before starting. So supplies are not vast.
It is likely to necessitate some creative recipes. And the lunch boxes will probably draw comment before long. I know we are pretty well served for tinned beans and lentils, so there could be a windy couple of weeks ahead.

I wonder how long we will last!

Does anyone want to join me? It will save money, reduce food waste, fuel your creativity, and, (in my case), REALLY give the children something to complain about when they come to the dinner table! (that last delights me in a most unmaternal manner!) Come on! We can trade recipes! Only yesterday I made a splendiferous prawn-and-mushrooms-in-salsa-dip-sauce, with rice! Delicious!

Let the fun continue!

Right I am simply too bored to go back to normal life! The challenges must continue, albeit alongside writing the internationally acclaimed bestseller. I am aiming to average 2 a week, a mixture of the new and random, and those which address the personal demons exposed by the first 100. (Suggestions for future challenges are again very welcome, the more bizarre and ridiculous the better!)

So this week:
1 Eat ALL the food in the house, before I go grocery shopping again (it may take more than a week but it starts now)
2 Write a motivational talk and create an occasion to deliver it.

Does anyone want to join me in the groceries one? I’d love to hear from anyone who joins in too! I will post my rules in a moment. You are obviously free to adapt them as you see fit!

And do check back next week for progress.

#99: Drink a yard of ale

The yard had been put on the list by a very dear university friend. Having had his challenge accepted, he offered to buy me the vessel as a birthday gift. What more splendid present could one receive for a 40th?! I am very happy for that to set the tone for my next decade!

But tragedy struck, for the morning of the party came, and the yard glass was duly delivered, but alas, the buffoons had smashed it in transit, into a thousand tiny pieces! Our best efforts to source a replacement were doomed to failure. Disaster!

I really should have drunk the equivalent amount of ale out of a bucket or something, but alas, I was too addled to think of that at the time.

So, thwarted, at number 99! Would you believe it!!!???? The yard will have to be completed retrospectively, at the earliest opportunity. Do not worry, it will happen. After all I have been meaning to do one since I was 18.

And it is most likely a blessing in disguise for the 40th weekend, or I probably would have erased the entire party from my memory. (And created a disturbing image for the children, of Mummy chundering brown ale into a bucket, egged on by all the grown ups of their acquaintance.)

Never fear though readers, it will not be forgotten. Stand by for the postscript, at some point soon!

#98: Organise a party in my own honour

This was kind of a big deal for me. I am more than happy with the logistics of organising an event (I managed charity events for many years); but asking people to come to something that is frankly, all about Me, is very different. But, I never did a 30th party, or a 21st party, or an 18th party; and 40 has somehow become an even bigger deal than it was supposed to, on account of becoming the culmination of the 100 challenges project. So I thought, some kind of occasion needs to be made of it. But it needed to be something in keeping with me, not some scary posh affair!

So it came to pass that I welcomed about 90 people aged 0-70 to an overcast field in the southern reaches of Gloucestershire on Saturday. Many friends old and new, family members, in laws… it had it all. The whole affair was chaotic, unpolished, amusing, bizarre and riddled with minor cockups, in true Ginger Legend style.

The planned marquee was destroyed in the attempt to erect it the day before. I did source another, but couldn’t quite be bothered to put it up, so our only shelter was a gazebo and our own coats. A barbeque was brilliantly managed by I know not who, for I was too busy drinking and mingling to remember to light it. The salads, which I had remembered to organise, arrived about half an hour after everyone had eaten. Such were the minor imperfections that might have caused stress had I been less drunk.

The single best thing about the whole escapade, was how much fun the children had, embracing the joys of the natural environment. I had considered bouncy castles, magicians and the like, but decided against, and trusted instead to the power of the simple stick. And hooray for that decision, because although there must have been 40 kids there, we barely saw them. They clambered up hills and slid down them again. They collected worms and built worm houses. They gathered sticks. They climbed trees. They appeared unexpectedly on occasion from the hedgerows. They mixed, and played, and looked out for each other, and if they were actually scrapping like dogs we never knew it, because they kept entirely out of our way. Which is a win:win situation for adults and kids alike!

A game of rounders followed the food, but the preponderance of under 5s rendered it mildly absurd, and highly emotional. Far more rounders were scored than the level of talent truly merited. But no matter. The game was abruptly aborted upon realising the time, for at 7pm, the Barn Dance was to begin.

The largest keg of ale that money could buy had already been demolished, so we all repaired to the bar. The Barn Dance Band absolutely could not have looked more the part. Morris Wintle was blessed with the most astonishing crop of facial hair: he looked like a young Father Christmas.
morris wintle
Ginger beard protruded equally in every direction, even his eyes were almost hidden by it. He was accompanied by a folky, hippy-looking lady doing the calling. And the children loved it! So much so, that most of the adults sat out, thinking this was a kids event. Which isn’t at all what I’d had in mind, but no matter.

The kids danced til 9pm, whereupon we handed them over to the care of the Field Babysitters – a team of 3 legendary ladies, hired to patrol the field full of slumbering offspring. They did a sterling job.

The barn dance band was dispatched around 9 (to the relief of most, I suspect). And we settled to a mix of drinking, chatting, milling, and occasionally when the tunes provoked it, leaping to our feet and throwing ourselves euphorically around the ‘dance floor’.

It was a curious setting for a party; the barn had not in any way altered its look from day to evening, so we were dancing next to a display of vegetables and other farm produce. When a particularly banging tune came on, the vegetables, and, inexplicably, a stack of spades, were all available to be fashioned as impromptu guitars and microphones.
dancing at 40th
me and dave dancing at 40th
It was a suitably rustic affair for my taste. Everyone was in wellies and waterproofs, leaping around a barn with their arms full of root vegetables. Happy 40th to me! I am extremely chuffed to know so many people who are willing to spend a weekend in such a way, and to give every appearance of having a thoroughly good time!

#97: Aqua Aerobics

I managed to squeeze this one in this morning, in between preparations for #98 – organise a party in my own honour!

Thus I spent the last day of my 30s back in the company of the retired community. 15 people gathered in the pool; the vast majority were over weight and over 60. There were some substantial swimming costumes in evidence.

Nonetheless, they were a cheery bunch, though not hugely compliant: the softly spoken lad who ran the class had his work cut out.

Round the pool we went in one direction, then the other. Forwards, backwards, sideways, and then jumping, which reduced the water level considerably. We all got weights and moved them around the pool. It was definitely ‘exercise’; though it didn’t seem to be winning the battle against the bingo wings.

The last 15 minutes saw a relay race that involved everyone lunging from one end of the pool to the other. Everyone was cheating unashamedly.

By the end I noticed I was the only one to have got my hair wet! But it was jolly enough. I have made a note to return in 2035.

#98 is to organise a party in my own honour (the mighty 40th bash scheduled for the morrow); #99 is to attempt the yard of ale (a worthy finale; hopefully to be performed during #98) – and then #100 is to turn all the material into some sort of book. So this is the last report of my 4th decade!