#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!!)

#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)


#4: Battenberg

Good lord, what an almighty faff this has been!  Making a Battenberg cake didn’t sound that hard, I admit, and it hasn’t exactly been terrifying, but a thoroughly frustrating business that has revealed all manner of holes in my housekeeping skills!

I meant to do it a week ago.  Didn’t have the ingredients so made a list of what I needed.  Next day went to the shops, but forgot the list.  The day after: finally managed to buy the ingredients.  Great, I thought, I will bake it tomorrow.  But the weekend came and went, with alas no spare 3 hours to attempt Battenberg.  By the 6th day, I was determined.   Looked again at the recipe.  Oh bugger.  I don’t have the right sized cake tin.  Oof.   Never mind.  Borrowed one from a friend.  Started assembling ingredients.  But hold on – I don’t have enough eggs!  How can that be??  I checked all the ingredients only last Thursday…. Oh.  We ate the eggs for tea last night.  Bugger again.  Assembled everything but the eggs; eggs to follow…

Finally, got eggs, got tin, got everything – and spent a peaceful couple of hours in my kitchen, radio on, baking and assembling, nibbling the offcuts, sticking all the bits together – et voila!


I took it along to a play date, to the astonishment of friends who are more accustomed to me turning up with a packet of Happy Shopper digestives (at best!)

All in all I am quite pleased with that one.  Which is lucky as I could be eating it for weeks, since no one else in my house will touch it.  Grrr.

#1: Start a blog

I have set myself a challenge: for 100 days I will do something every day that pushes me out of my comfort zone… hopefully completing the full 100 before I turn 40.

I have consulted friends far and wide, resulting in the following list of challenges.  It is a work in progress so I reserve the right to change them as the attempt goes on…   New suggestions or challenges are always very welcome!

I’ll aim to blog about each as I go; post some photos; and, if my technical abilities permit, I will include the facility for folk to comment and tell me what you want more of.   But for now, here’s the list:

  1. Start a blog
  2. Put the children in charge for a day
  3. Try Zumba
  4. Cycle through floods
  5. Make a Battenberg cake
  6. Interact on social media for 3 hours.  (Not just snoop! Interact!)
  7. Cook a pig’s head
  8. Change a tyre on the car and learn to adjust the tyre pressure
  9. Introduce myself to the neighbours
  10. Join an expensive gym/health spa
  11. Go to a meditation class
  12. Pack the car for holiday entirely by myself
  13. Stay in bed for an entire day
  14. Have a drastic haircut
  15. Go rowing
  16. Build something
  17. Go to a posh restaurant and eat on my own
  18. Watch a horror film
  19. Strike up conversation with a stranger in a pub
  20. Do a mountain bike race
  21. Invite someone to dinner I don’t know very well
  22. Tantra workshop
  23. Go wild swimming
  24. Do an aerobics class
  25. Look after chickens
  26. Sing karaoke
  27. Do belly dancing (or pole dancing)
  28. Water-ski
  29. Write to 10 people and tell them what I love about them
  30. Stand up/open mic ??
  31. Sky dive??
  32. Do something generous and unexpected for someone else
  33. Ride Cow/help birth calf
  34. Learn to ride a unicycle
  35. Learn some kind of useful plumbing task
  36. Put up our roof rack and bicycles without help
  37. Take someone old and lonely a meal
  38. Have a Brazilian
  39. Ski a black run
  40. Drink a yard of ale
  41. Spend a day dressed as Bananaman
  42. Speak in a public place (speakers corner type thing)
  43. Learn to Eskimo roll
  44. Salsa/tango
  45. Volunteer to help at school
  46. Apply to be on a TV game show
  47. Knit a pair of socks
  48. Write a short story
  49. Make a Baked Alaska (for guests)
  50. Have a conversation in another language
  51. Dance all night in a club
  52. Abseil
  53. Sleep rough
  54. Learn a random new language
  55. Eat something alive!
  56. Try Tai chi
  57. Write a letter to The Times
  58. Publish a poem on the internet
  59. Potter a cup or plate
  60. Do a jump on a mountain bike
  61. Make some jewellery
  62. Paint a picture
  63. 24 hours juice-only fast
  64. Visit an abattoir
  65. Do ALL my filing
  66. Get rid of 1/2 of my possessions
  67. Give a significant amount of money to charity
  68. Drive through a city on my own without sat nav
  69. Drive across Europe at night
  70. Charge an eye watering fee for some work
  71. Get a tattoo
  72. Hire a personal shopper
  73. Take the children to a roller disco
  74. Busk/sing in public
  75. Be silent for a day
  76. Stay in a haunted house/castle
  77. Go caving
  78. Drive a bus
  79. Shoot something
  80. Have a session with a personal trainer
  81. Download 5 apps and figure out how to use them
  82. Drive to the mountains, and hike on my own
  83. Take the kids to the beach for a day trip, just me and them.       Make it fun without spending money
  84. Promote myself, shamelessly, far and wide
  85. Apply for a job with a 6 figure salary
  86. Learn a musical instrument
  87. Sell something I have made
  88. Go to a networking event and speak to people
  89. Get up at 6am every day for a week and use the time productively
  90. Go biking in the dark
  91. Take video footage of one of my challenges and upload it to you      tube
  92. Teach somebody something

…  …   …   …

100 – Take a photo of each achievement & publish them in a book!

Some slots are still blank – please do send me your suggestions!