#75: Have a conversation in another language

Hooray, I have had dozens of conversations in French over the weekend, and very satisfying it has been too, though it does rather remind me how much I have forgotten and what a shame it is to have let my once passable language skills deteriorate to such an extent. My tenses are in tatters and my vocab reduced to a tenth of its former scale. But still, I can converse, and some people, if they are minded to be kind, appear to understand.

My children were rather disorientated at first, to find Mummy babbling indecipherably. The French children, unpossessed as they were of any tact, admitted to equal bafflement. My French-speaking but fundamentally Welsh hostess was a godsend, as she could fathom what I was trying to say even while I butchered the French language beyond recognition.

Thus we managed to discuss English and French customs and routines, talk of my former worklife, share anecdotes of children’s misdemeanours, make plans for the day, and convey the children’s preferences in terms of cuisine. (Do not underestimate the challenges of this last one, it is complicated enough in one’s native tongue.) As our final night drew to a close and we turned to the pros and cons of Scottish independence I confess I gave up and reverted to English. But for 2 and 1/2 days, mostly French was spoken. So that was very pleasing.

And of course the best bit was seeing the kids make their own attempts. Eva is very proud of her ‘merci pour le petit dejeuner’ (indeed she applies it in almost any context). Everyone has mastered the basics: bonjour, merci, oui, non, au revoir, and jus de pomme. They have all been willing to try and name things in French, and I even overheard the beginnings of a very halting conversation between Eva and our 7 year old French host, about how old they both were. So I am delighted we came, 5 is not too young for a French exchange after all, despite our misgivings.

An excellent weekend’s work.

#63: Do something unique and special with each of my children, part 3

None of the 3 unique and special things have been earth shaking events, but the challenge is in separating one child from the mass, and doing something that is special for that child, without then doing exactly the same thing with the other two immediately afterwards. They are all very different, and so enjoy different things, but all too often we do the same stuff with all of them, either together or by turns, just to keep everything ‘fair’. So this challenge was to try and address that, and think about them all individually.

The opportunity for Eva’s ‘thing’ occurred spontaneously, but it was no less special for the lack of preplanning.

We were staying with the in-laws. The weather was bleak. It had poured for 2 days, and we all had cabin fever. We had done swimming and watched films and eaten as much as anyone can humanly eat, and the only thing for it was to put on our waterproofs and go out anyway. So we did, for a short walk, ending in a flat clearing, with a slightly soft football. And we started to play with it. Two children quickly got cold and bored and went home. But Eva, she was onto something. She couldn’t get enough of it. We kicked and passed to one another, and for an hour she had the undivided attention of me, her dad, and her Great Uncle Howard; and none of my children have ever in their lives known that much undivided adult attention! She was running all over the field, dribbling, passing to each of us, receiving the ball and sending it on to someone else, all of us passing back to her… And the compliments flowed, because she really was very good. And very energetic! And she was working really hard.
Eva footballing
She totally loved it, for a good hour. And eventually when we called it a day, she was sopping wet, hair matted, muddy faced, eyes shining. And she said, ‘I don’t want to go to football club mummy. But can I play football again, with you?’ And so I expect we will!
me and eva, football

#59: Sleep rough AND #60: Spend the night in a haunted castle

Ok, technically we were just outside the haunted castle, but it definitely should have been close enough to be aware of any ghostly presence.

I am glad this is behind me – it wasn’t terrifying, but really just rather unpleasant! I woke up at 4am to find everything sopping wet and a slug snuggled up with me on the sleeping mat. No ghouls in evidence though.

But back to the beginning. Part of the challenge in achieving any of these things is how to fit it all in with normal life, without getting myself a) arrested or b) pegged as a total weirdo by my entire acquaintance. I may be failing on the latter but it is still quite important to avoid the former.

Rather than sleep rough in my own village, where I might be recognised; or among real homeless people, where I might offend by appearing to minimise their difficulties; I cunningly combined that challenge with the haunted venue. My husband was happy to take on the ghouls and the sleeping rough, but was pretty adamant that breaking into historic property would not be acceptable. I was quite keen for the company, and thus the limits were set.

As luck would have it, my mother in law lives near just the place, and so our escapade was incorporated into a family visit. We left the children with grandparents, and then, (after watching a DVD about all the ghostly sightings to date at the castle in question, to whip ourselves into a fearful frenzy), we set off at 10pm with sleeping bags, mats, bivvy bags and bin liners.

We drove as close as we could and parked. We were already dressed in night attire, and teeth brushed, just like any other vagrant. We hiked with the sack of sleeping apparatus down a long forested path, by a sliver of moonlight. We eventually reached the castle. All was enveloped in foggy gloom. We investigated the walls and towers for somewhere suitable to ‘camp’. All options seemed to involve lying on wet grass, and being rather visible if anyone chanced to come past. We plumped for a spot where we were at least partially hidden between a tall bush and the high castle walls. The allegedly most haunted tower was right in front of us. Ideal for spotting any ghostly doings.

We lay some bin bags down first, then the therma-rests, then stuffed the 4-season down sleeping bags inside the bivvy bags. Each wearing 2 pairs of trousers, 2 pairs of socks, thermal tops, down jackets, hats, scarves and gloves, we climbed in. God it was hot! It may not have been terribly authentic, for I suspect not many of the actual homeless are working up a sweat in early April at midnight. After all that preparation we had to remove most of the gear!

Here we are, looking more ghostly than any ghoul:
scary night pic
It was completely dark by now, clouds hid the moon and stars, and there was no sign of otherworldly goings on. So we curled up and slept. And that is really all I can report, until 3.45am when we both awoke, needing the loo, and unable to ignore the fact it was raining reasonably hard. Everything on the outside was soaked, yet in the middle of our cocoons we were toasty. We discussed whether it would be acceptable to get up and go home. Since nobody is making the rules here but me, I concluded that that was allowed!
So we packed up, removed the slugs, stuffed all the wet gear in a rucksack, and trudged back up the hill in the blackness.
slug
We were home and snuggled up in a warm comfy bed by 4.30, ready to enjoy the luxury of a Nannie-enabled lie in. I appreciate that is not a recourse that is open to most rough sleepers, and although the whole experiment has been somewhat flippant, I find myself sympathising with their plight in a whole new way. We can at least go home and dry everything off in a nice warm house. What do people do once they are wet, and then stuck outside all day the next day and the next night, and the next day after that?

I was rather disappointed not to have more scary happenings to report. I promise I did choose a place that purports to be extremely haunted. Alas it was a quiet night for the ghouls. Though in truth I had taken my glasses off and stuck my head half way down a sleeping bag, so it’s also possible that I just missed them!

#55: Learn some bike maintenance skills

A couple of weeks ago, Dave and I were cycling in the Forest of Dean when my chain broke. We weren’t carrying any of the right tools, and he had to suffer the indignity of standing by, while I flagged down a passing young man and allowed him to fix my bike for me. The very next day, Dave went out and bought a chain tool, and every possible form of quick link, lest such a thing should ever happen again.

That very weekend, he was biking with mates, and someone’s chain snapped. He was delighted to save the day with his armoury of quick links and the knowhow gained from our previous misfortune. Pride was restored. A godsend!

But then imagine, simply imagine, my delight, when today I was biking with a different male friend and his chain snapped, and I had the right kit in my bag for the job! Here I am, affixing the new link to the old chain, in insufferably smug fashion!
bike maintenance
The oddest thing is, I have never known a chain to break among any of my cycling acquaintance in the last 10 years! All the people I ever bike with are now signed up to a maintenance course in May!

#53: Sing karaoke

This was a very unexpected evening. And another much dreaded challenge turned to surprising success! (Success defined here in terms of fun, rather than singing quality, as you’ll see!)

I had been intending to go far, far from home for this one, to hide in some grotty bar and embarrass myself in front of people who I would at least never have to face again. Regular followers will be well aware that my vocal chords have not been privy to the finest training.

But then, walking past our village pub, what should I see but an advert on the chalk board outside, for karaoke, this very weekend. And with heavy heart I realised what I must do…

The babysitter was booked, the husband’s support enlisted. Alas, the friends were all indisposed that night (apart from one late recruit who unexpectedly proved a great karaoke talent!)

As proceedings kicked off, the only act was a trio of 8 year olds. Having initiated the party, they were taken home to bed, and we thought we might just get away with singing our duet to an empty room and scurrying home. But it was not to be.

We put our names on the list. We stepped up to the mike. We listened to the lengthy intro and almost missed the start. Then we burst into a horrifying rendition of ‘Love lifts us up where we belong’ by Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes. Happily(?) it was all captured on film. I defy anyone to listen to it through to the end!

The room began to fill – more from curiosity than a desire to hear more. But at least we set the bar so low, that no one could fear stepping up! The event gathered pace as more people ventured near. We were a small but committed group! There was never any lull in volunteers.

The beer flowed. The songs kept coming. We made new friends. We became the very best of friends! We signed one another up for increasingly difficult songs. Unlikely duets were forged; group performances came together. Employees of the local garage were in fine voice. Some of the elders of the village were tempted to participate, and applauded most generously. ‘Ring of Fire’ by Jonny Cash brought everyone to their feet. The landlord himself got up and rapped, to the crowd’s delight.

Even after my challenge was more than met, I found myself part of a line up offering Bohemian Rhapsody; and later a squealingly poor rendition of ‘Whole New World’, (that romantic tune from Aladdin, for any aficionados of Disney films). It really didn’t suit my voice! (Though it is hard to think of any song that would.)

In the small hours of Sunday morning, the landlord played ‘Hit the road Jack’ and turned the lights up. The performers exited reluctantly, hugging and congratulating one another, quite overwhelmed with real ale and one another’s brilliance. It was just an enormously good laugh. One of those nights that puts a smile on your face whenever you think of it! Hooray for the karaoke!

#50: Do something unique and special with each of my children (part 2)

The eldest had a day off school this week. It is always a hard one to call, she had seemed peaky, but by 9.30 it was hard to see there was very much wrong.

But in any case, it presented a rare opportunity for some one to one time with her. And she could not believe her luck when I suggested we do painting together, at an easel, outside, so that we could copy what we saw in the garden. I envisaged the two of us, passing a happy morning, companionably dunking our brushes, chatting of this and that, assessing the light on the branches… but of course she is 5. What actually happened was that I abandoned my own craft to sit next to her, advising on how to dunk the brush in water without then streaking the whole canvas with too-runny paint. But that was nice too.
painting cakey
Regarding subject matter, I had envisaged replicating the cherry blossom, the willow tree opposite, a cloud bespeckled sky, that kind of thing. Caitlin chose to immortalise the trampoline. Ah well. Who is to say what is art, after all? Perhaps it is indeed this:
caitlin's art
I suppose we will have to put it on the wall now. Heavens.

#48: pick up all the litter on my street AND #49: Be a children’s entertainer

Time is slipping away from me, if 100 challenges are to be done by May. And the only answer is to start doubling up on them. So, I hatched a cunning plan to combine these two in one activity.

My husband and several other gentlemen of the village went away for the weekend. All the abandoned wives and children sought solace in numbers, and gathered together for a marathon 24 hour play date and sleepover. I volunteered to lead the first activity: a village litter pick-up, dressed as superheroes. It was inspired, as it enabled me to a)gain maximum value from the Bananaman investment, and b) create a slightly strange and dare I even say fun event from an activity that might otherwise have met with protest.

But it is marvellous how willingly the children accept such proposals. ‘We’re all going to dress up as superheroes and pick up all the litter in the village’. Of course we are. What else are Saturday afternoons for? 10 children ranging from 3-8 years embraced the prospect, and presented as instructed, variously dressed as Batman, Spiderman, a princess, a pirate, a ballerina, Mrs Incredible… I gave them each a carrier bag for their spoils. And a pep talk about how the village needs us. No litter must remain after our efforts. And off they all ran, in high spirits.

I had been anxious we’d fail to find any litter (for such is the nature of the very community-spirited village we hail from) – but once we started to look we found a surprising amount. They checked around bins, dug about in ditches, scraped up mushy paper. On occasion the refuse was so precariously positioned that only Bananaman could safely go in for it. Between us we filled about 8 carrier bags, enough for everyone to feel proud! And finished up in the park for some well deserved celebratory roundabouting. Happily we only bumped into one other family, and she was very understanding about it!
litter picking party
The hunt was followed by a feast of chicken nuggets, ice cream and cookies, a couple of hours of trampolining, endless table football contests, DVDs and stories.

But at bedtime a couple of the kids were asked what had been the best thing about the day. ‘Litter picking with Bananaman’ came the gratifying reply. Oh yes.