#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!

#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.)

#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.

#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!

#54: Write a poem and publish it on the internet

I thought this would be an easy one! But I have been wrestling with it for weeks. Turns out it is not that easy a) to find inspiration, or b) to find an internet site that will publish it. Many of them have several months’ lead in time from submitting a work of brilliance to seeing it included on one of the many poetry forums.

In any case, I couldn’t think of anything to write. Nor find a genre that I am comfortable with.

‘I can’t think of anything to write a poem about’, I complained, plaintively last night. ‘Why don’t you do one about the pandas shagging at Edinburgh Zoo?’ suggested my other half. He can always be relied upon for a random idea. And in the absence of any other ideas, that is what I have done. And here it is:

Edinburgh’s first panda bear
is ready to mate, but beware:
Much hope is riding
on Mr Panda deciding
That he wishes to stick one up there.

She has but one chance in a year
A mistake will cost everyone dear.
The world and his dog
All gather agog
To see if he cares to come near.

A large scientific task force
Seek to influence nature’s course
With diets and tablets
And panda porn pamphlets
To part panda seed from its source

We have only the two panda bears
On loan from the east for 10 years
We must get them boffing
Or the zoo will be coughing
Up money, for nothing but tears.

Good heavens. I really must get a job soon.

#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.