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!

#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!

#95: Learn to play a musical instrument

It was pointed out to me, a number of times in response to the first published list, that this isn’t exactly the work of five minutes. So the task is far from completed, but what I have managed, is to learn fully 6 chords on the guitar, which is more than enough to give a (very) poor rendition of ‘You look wonderful tonight’. I am supported here by Dave and Rosie on ukulele, and Caitlin on guitar, while Eva films. I’m afraid both the music and cinematography are absolutely awful.

You will see that Dave rather carries that performance(!), so we then had another go, this time without him. It is perhaps rather hard to make out my guitar playing over all the singing that is going on, but I assure you it was happening. Not well, and not in time, but happening.

No doubt I could take my musical career to higher levels, given time and dedication, but since I lack both, it may well end here…

#92: Stand up/ open mic

I have been avoiding this for some time. There are a few challenges that I have substituted from the original list, mainly because of timing and opportunity issues, but I knew if I took this one off it would be pure chickening out. So it had to be done.

Having left it to the last minute, I did not have a massive choice of open mic nights. But I found one advertised in a pub in Torquay, which is comfortably far from home, and also very convenient from Dave’s mum’s house, and therefore a highly amenable babysitting opportunity. Dave was persuaded to join me, on the clear understanding that he would not be required to perform. Thus it was planned.

My actual act was a matter of some consternation. The pub’s website suggested they welcomed ‘acoustic, electric, comedy and poetry’. The first two sounded a little too musical. I rang the pub landlord to enquire further. ‘Do people do comedy, then?’ I queried. ‘Well. We’ve certainly had a few monologues’ he answered unconvincingly. ‘Do I need to book a slot?’ ‘No, no, just come along. And they’ll probably persuade you to pick up a guitar’. Well, whatever, I thought. It’ll work somehow.

My comedy routine has eluded me for some months now, which is why I have not ticked it off before now. And the ‘monologue’ comment made me fear that incompetent comedy might be rather tiresome for all concerned. But the poetry idea had taken root. Now I am not a gifted poet, but if there is one thing I flatter myself I can do rather well, it is crafting a smutty limerick.

So I spent the whole day scribbling rhyming filth. And sniggering aloud at my own great wit. I quickly generated 10 verses, about people I had met from various towns in Devon, and their appalling sexual practices. I could scarcely wait to share them with the world. They were, in my eyes, works of absolute brilliance.

It is odd how desensitized one becomes to the actual content, when you spend so long on the technical craft of making lines rhyme and scan correctly. When I read my works aloud to Dave he almost choked. I fear with horror rather than mirth. But I was undeterred. The people of Torquay could take it, I was sure.

I was still giggling all the way to the pub in the car. And still at our table, as we sat with our drinks. But as we observed the pub, and the clientele, and the general set up, I began to giggle slightly less.

There was no sign of any mic, open or otherwise. The dirty old men who I confidently imagined would love my wit, all left. In one corner of the really quite small pub, was a table of folk with guitars, all strumming, and singing folk songs, looking rather absorbed in themselves and their music. 2 old men sat at the bar. Me and Dave lurked in our corner. And that was it. There were no ‘acts’ as such. Just a bunch of musicians, sharing their craft.

It was quite literally unthinkable, that I should go up to the table, and ask them to pause in their music-making to listen to my catalogue of obscene limericks. There was no reason to imagine they would be interested, for example, in the gentleman from Ashburton, who expended himself into a curtain.

My anticipation faded. What to do? Could it be, at number 92 of the 100 – a failure??? There were no more open mic nights available before the big birthday. (And in any case, I would have to rewrite all the smut for a different geographic location.)

The only way to save it, then, was to join in with the musicians. And praise the Lord that a) they were a welcoming bunch after all; and b) one of them had a spare guitar.

So I joined the table. I strummed, haphazardly. A slightly drunk, slightly simple-seeming man was happy to help me by shouting out chords as they all sang along. (Thankfully I know how to form about 5 chords already, due to my endeavours with #93: learn a musical instrument. Transferring from one chord to the next in the time available was another matter, but there were enough folk playing to drown me out.)

‘How long have you been playing?’ asked one of my new friends. ‘Oooh, about three weeks’, I replied, for all the world like a serious musician. ‘Brilliant!’ they all cried. And we all played on. I must have been with them for about an hour!

Around the table everyone was taking a turn to suggest a song and lead in the playing of it. The inevitable happened. The faces turned to me. In truth there is only one song that I have been learning, and I can only play that very slowly, with the music in front of me, in the privacy of my own home. Without any music to refer to, it went very badly indeed. It was possibly the worst rendition of Eric Clapton’s ‘Wonderful tonight’ that has ever been given. Thankfully Dave was too absorbed in nursing his bleeding eardrums to film it. You will have to trust the still photograph. It did happen, and it was dreadful.
open mic
But it means I have done an open mic night! Of sorts!

(If anyone would like a copy of the Hilarious Limericks I would be delighted to email them to you. Just ask! It does seem a travesty that they will not reach the audience they deserve.)

#76: Make some jewellery

Thanks to Groupon I found myself a bargain, in the form of a half day jewellery making workshop only 20 minutes drive from where I live. (see the most excellent http://www.vinesdesigns.co.uk)

Cathy Vine has a beautiful home, full of artistic and creative pieces, and she makes splendid cake, and even more splendid jewellery. Her workshop is a feast of beads of every possible shape and size.

The company at my workshop consisted predominantly of ladies who were probably in their late 50s, all active in the fields of cardmaking and various stitching pursuits, all with short grey hair, and names like Jan, Jane, Janet, Joan; so differentiation was difficult. The chat didn’t get much beyond pleasantries, especially once we were all concentrating hard on our creations.

We were shown some amazing pieces of jewellery, and various techniques and equipment to make it all. A surprising array of paraphernalia, who would have thought there were so many different types of pliers? And Cathy made it all look very easy. At first we were overwhelmed by possibilities, then gradually everyone’s ideas took form. It was remarkable how different the final pieces all were.

Once we began, it all got far trickier than the demo had made it look. My loops were not very loopy. My pins were too short. My clasps were not clasping. I was not the only one experiencing issues, we were all vying for some individual expert tuition. Anything we expressed a need for was found with alacrity, Cathy must have beads in every corner and cranny of her home. And the end results were quite remarkable. If I say so myself, I have come away with an item that I don’t think looks too amateurish. In fact I must send a picture to my personal shopper, because I have tried to create the ‘statement necklace’ that she advised me would complete so many of my outfits. Quite what statement it is making I am not sure!
necklace displayed
The only frustration was in seeing so many possibilities and only having time to make one thing. I might even go back again! Whoever would have expected that?!

#73: Master a circus skill (breathing fire!)

My attempts with the unicycle have been broadly unsuccessful. I cannot even sit on it long enough to try and pedal. So I have reluctantly had to give up on that aspiration.

But instead I looked at other circus skills, that I might have more aptitude for. And once again the legendary Hectic came up trumps. He just happened, he said, to have a firebreathing kit in the shed, and could teach me to do that in a few moments, should I wish. ‘Is there much danger with it?’ I asked, in a carefully casual tone. ‘Well I suppose you could burn your face off. But most people don’t’.

That seemed enough of a health and safety assessment. We sank a few pints, ate a ton of Baked Alaska, and got the kit out.

The process is curious. First we practiced spraying water through pursed lips to create a fine mist. That was the essential technique. ‘Don’t spit. Spray.’ Then the fire was lit, on the end of a truncheon. I rinsed my mouth round with milk, as instructed. Then took a sip of paraffin, wiped my mouth, and sprayed it in the direction of the flame, held an arms’ length away.

The first attempt was unimpressive. But then I had another go. You need to watch the video right to the end! It was remarkable! I am delighted! There was a sharp intake of breath as all spectators thought I must have lost my hair, at the very least! But surprisingly it was fine, and much less dramatic for me in the middle of it, than for those watching it.

Do not try this at home children. But I am extraordinarily pleased with it! (and it is much easier than a unicycle!)

#72: Make a Baked Alaska (for guests)

This dish has been my nemesis ever since my early teens when I tried to make one for a surprise dinner and it melted all over the oven. (Consisting, as it does, of a load of icecream covered in meringue and then baked). So that is how it got on the list.

We went for dinner at a friend’s house (the legendary Hectic, whose patio I assisted in laying not long ago); and I offered to bring a pudding. I had to bring it in several parts, as the Baked Alaska cannot be assembled nor baked until the last minute.

Anticipation was high as I assembled cake base, chocolate icecream, and covered it all in meringue looking like an enormous delectable snowball… into the oven it went – an anxious 4 minutes, and then: Triumph! It survived! (Ignore the odd head coming out of my armpit; that is not relevant to the culinary achievement)
me, hectic and baked alaska
Applause abounded, and we ate a generous chunk each. That got through half of it, and left everyone slightly bilious. (This dish is not light on sugar.) Then we realised it couldn’t easily be saved or re-served, and it was down to the five of us to do it justice. We struggled through a second slice each. Compliments slowed a little. Hectic managed to eat a full quarter of the thing singlehandedly, but the rest of us were beaten. It did sit rather heavily.

Soon afterwards there was considerable competition for the toilet facilities of Ampney Crucis. But let us not dwell on that. The dessert will be remembered (by me at least) as an unmitigated triumph. Hurrah.