#41: Strike up conversation with a stranger in a pub

I am not sure if this counts, because I did it at an event that was designed for getting to know people… but it might have to do, because the days are passing by too fast!

We went to a ‘meet your fellow Twinners’ evening in the local pub (which several have pointed out sounds ominously like some sort of swinging event, but I can assure you it is nothing of the sort). It involves a bus load of folk from our village travelling half way down France to spend 3 nights with some random French people, on a kind of whole family French Exchange type arrangement. I have signed my family up for this extravaganza over Easter weekend.

The pub night was the preamble, and so I was able to strike up chat with the founder members of village twinning; the current organisers of village twinning, and with 4 (count ‘em) other parents of school age children who are also up for French high jinx. And I don’t think I gave myself away as too much of a buffoon, but it is early days – plenty of time for that in a few weeks when we are all bolting red wine and enjoying a crepe!

#40: Potter a cup or plate

Well this was a very pleasant morning. I enjoy the creative process, but I suspect that my approach is far too speedy and slap dash to ever create anything truly worthwhile.

A group of 8 ladies gathered at the Gateway Café in South Cerney. Some of us visibly over excited by the free tea and cake that was offered as part of the deal. Bridget showed us the various techniques that we might want to apply, and some finished pieces of her own: bowls, dishes, birds, feathers, flowers. All looked professional and lovely. The techniques looked quite easy. We were keen to begin.

Before long it was all going wrong for several people. The marbled effect failed to marble. The thin bowls were so thin the clay split. The colours smudged, the birds faces caved in… disappointment was palpable.

I had not gone in with great expectations, so I was happy to chuck some clay about and see what happened. Predictably, I created several deeply unimpressive pieces.

Others had greater ambitions, and more persistence, and indeed more artistic talent. One lady created this marvellous owl:
Another fashioned a splendid bird:
I meanwhile, threw together an oddly marbled bowl thing, a sort of stripy ash tray with uneven edges, and 3 quite brilliant faces which I have grand plans of turning into a fridge magnet each for the children. (Why is it that my craft activities are still at child level even when I have not a child in sight?) Ah well. I expect they will be delighted.
pottery, me3 faces
A happy morning’s work though. And literally more cake than I could eat – now that doesn’t happen often.

#39: Paint a picture

I have done it!  I didn’t think I could do painting!  But I have created a spring-like scene, not unlike (though in truth not very like either) a spectacle to be found at the corner of our garden.  And what a lovely time it was – at least for the minute and a half that I spent on it before the children demanded their own paints and canvases, and then the children from next door hopped over the wall to join in, and suddenly glitter and paint was everywhere and the whole exercise descended into thinly veiled carnage.    

But still, I fashioned a recognisable tree in the space of half an hour.   And with no more than a set of children’s gammy paints, and a £2 canvas from Lidl.  Imagine what could happen with a nice set of watercolours and a bit of painting tuition!  I feel a whole new creative streak coming on.  Oh yes. 


#38: Go to a Tantra workshop

‘No need to worry’ said one of the helpers, as we were hanging up our coats in the very large meeting room of a London hotel. ‘There won’t be any nudity or intercourse tonight’. Good Lord! I hadn’t even imagined there might be! Is that supposed to be reassuring???

Shortly afterwards 30 of us were sitting in a circle, introducing ourselves, and offering 3 words about how we felt at this point. Anxious, nervous, open, and curious came up again and again. One lady professed herself ‘discombobulated’ which broke up the repetition splendidly.
tantra room
A few minutes later, we were all standing in a space on our own, bouncing up and down to some music. Feet remained on the floor, we bounced from the knees. Direction came via a microphone from the course facilitator. We jiggled, and bounced, and vibrated and wobbled, and generally got into the zone. Most people closed their eyes, the better to lose themselves. (It was hard not to be somewhat self-conscious otherwise). We must have bounced for at least 20 minutes. It has a curiously liberating effect.

That exercise was, I soon discovered, the most enjoyable of the whole night. It got more intimate and risky from that point in, but our leader was true to his word – no one was naked, or copulating. Which was nice.

Next we had to gyrate our pelvises in circles, and after some minutes of this, move towards another participant, and introduce pelvises, without words. It was kind of funny, but it seemed it wasn’t supposed to be funny, and thus appearing to find it funny might actually show one to be in some way repressed or deficient. It was one of the harder social situations to read, I found.

We were to imagine a bowl in our pelvic region, sloshing with liquid. We were to give it a name. It really was a very unusual evening. Pelvic bowls were christened and introduced around the room. Boris, meet Brian. Keith, meet Wendy.

Later exercises involved communicating by staring at length into one another’s eyes; a lengthy bout of back to back rubbing; and an uncomfortably long session of guided face stroking. It would have been an altogether nicer experience if I had taken my husband along! But alas, he was ‘busy with work’. (In fact, the whole list might have been considerably riskier if he had not had power of veto at an early stage. Anything involving nudity or experimentation was removed, and replaced with suggestions such as ‘be silent for an entire day’. I think we might safely assume we have passed the first flush of romance!)

Anyway, the Tantra verdict? An interesting experiment, but probably not something for me!

#37: Knit a pair of socks

I am not sure whether to thank or curse whoever put the confounded socks on the list. It has been a project of many false starts.

First I chanced upon a ‘sock knitting kit’ in Lidl for less than £5, and thought my luck was in. It came with wool, needles and instructions, and I hastened home to get started.

Well that was a month ago. Closer inspection revealed that the instructions assumed a basic knowledge of knitting that I was lacking. The pattern was written in some sort of code. Nothing to explain how the wool got on the needles, or indeed why there were 4 needles. Utterly incomprehensible.

Back to square one. And so I did the only thing that one can really do when faced with an insurmountable housewifely task – I asked my mum. She produced a sack of knitting needles, 2 balls of wall, and a pattern for baby’s booties. That would do, I thought. Youtube educated me in how to cast on; and I was off! Thought the whole job would be concluded before I returned from the Czech Republic.

Alas. This pattern too descended into gobbledygook. ‘With RS facing, knit up 10 sts up first side of instep, work across 10 instep sts thus: K2 tog twice, K2 (sL 1 K K1 psso) … what the ****?

I took it all home again, and asked my mum. She studied my efforts. Then professed the entire piece to be so riddled with errors that it was beyond her powers to salvage anything from it. Start again, was the maternal advice.

I consulted you tube, and found a baffling array of methods involving circular needles, double ended needles… all manner of suggestions that baffled and confused me. And each method threatened to take many hours.

So, I thought, I’ll do it freestyle. Who needs a pattern!? If I knit a patch of wool in the shape of a sock, and then do another one, and stitch them together – surely that is a sock!? Why make it so hard!

So I did. And here it is.

And here it is again, actually on a foot.
sock on foot
I think we can all agree it is hardly worth investing time to complete the pair.

In conclusion then, socks are rather ambitious, but I am excited to have discovered the joys of knitting. It is a very surprising turn of events. Of all things that appeared among the 100 I did not expect knitting and busking to be topping the list for enjoyability! And yet, so it is. Astonishing.

#36: Build a den

When this went on the list I was envisaging a day out in the forest en famille, good wholesome family fun, fashioning windbreaks with rows of sticks, a grassy reed roof, a carpet of moss… that kind of thing. A day spent creating a thing of magnificence, all from the rich resources that nature has to offer.

But then opportunity knocked, and with less than 2 months to go, I opened the door with alacrity. It was a bright sunny day, we were playing in the garden, the kids had a friend round, I was desperate to knock off a few of the 100 but couldn’t leave the premises. Then suddenly, ‘Can we build a den mummy? In the garden?’ Indeed we could! Me and the youngest spent a happy half hour, fashioning an ingenious den. Two benches, a load of old bedding, some stones to hold it all in place; a carpet of hessian sacks, and then filled to bursting point with all the dolls and soft toys in the house. Perfect. Add a jug of juice and a few chocolate biscuits and that is a happy playdate, and can just about (if readers are minded to be generous) count as one of the 100.

#30: Promote myself shamelessly, far and wide!

Well, I have done my best.  I contacted all the local papers I can think of, and several radio stations, and I fear the local rag may feature my ridiculousness sometime next week.  I have also asked everyone I know to tweet/like/share my blog on social media, and the results have been overwhelming – I’ve had over 1000 views a day for the last couple of days!  Thank you so much everyone.

I have considered all the networks that I am still in touch with or vaguely connected to and emailed them the big news – a ginger legend is in the making.   So, charity sector networks, the Clore Social Fellows, University Alumni, Coaching Networks… I have posted links or provided info to all and sundry – we will see what that throws up.

Perhaps most alarmingly, I have emailed everyone in my yahoo address book to alert them to the blog.  And I have not updated my address list since Yahoo was born.  So I am now feeling slightly queasy to think who I might have told about my absurd endeavours.  I wonder how many other parents have emailed our school office this week with anecdotes about pubic topiary.  Oh help.

On the plus side, I have had lovely emails from people who I thought I had lost touch with years or even decades ago, so that has been a delight.  And folk offering help in all sorts of ways – whether to get me published, or drop me out of a plane, or teach me an instrument… tremendous!

If you have any other suggestions about how I can boost my readership, please tell me!  Part of the whole project is to learn more about digital marketing, so any tips are very welcome.  (As are the shares/likes/ follows/comments etc.) 

Thank you to you all for reading, and for your interest and support.  I have really been bowled over by all the compliments and encouragement I have had since I started this.

Onwards and upwards!

#29: Volunteer at school

This was a big one for me, because I have long suspected that I am not good with children other than my own.  (In fact perhaps not even with my own!  But they are rather stuck with it.)

My morning routine is still sufficiently insane that by the time I get to school I am heartily relieved to offload my own 3 children – so acquiring 27 more at that point is really about the last thing on my mind.

But for the sake of the 100 things, I made an offer to school a couple of weeks ago, and thus was booked to assist in Class R on a Thursday morning.  ‘Sit in a quiet room and help the children change their books’ she had said.  It sounded like a manageable brief.

But argh!!  I had not factored in World Book Day.  I arrived with my troops (late, chaotically, and in somewhat tenuous costumes – one bear, one Tinkerbell, and one black cat); to find the playground swarming with excitable pirates, Rapunzels, Snow Whites, witches, dinosaurs, crocodiles, tigers and the occasional uniformed child whose parent had clearly forgotten.  It would, the class teacher admitted apologetically, be something of an unusual day.  She offered me the option of starting my help sessions next week instead, but a little face crumpled beneath the bear head, and I realised I would have to see it through.  If only I’d come in costume myself!  Dammit.

The classes were all mixed up; the register was conducted by book character names, so I hadn’t the least idea who most of the children were. But they were all quite charming, and well behaved, and most excited to have me there, which was gratifying.  Before many minutes had passed I was supervising the creation of oil pastel-crayon self-portraits, drawn in a mirror frame, (inspired by the tale of Snow White).  The children were to study every detail of their own visage and copy it exactly as they saw it, not as they imagined it to be.  They were to reproduce their actual skin colour, actual eye shape, and any odd features that might be going on, on account of their costumes. 

And so they began faithfully replicating.  Nostrils were writ large and pig-like.  Eye lashes were lustrous.  Spiderman was cursing his complicatedly webbed face.  One girl was carefully selecting the right shade of red for a big zit on her chin.  Kids with glasses, or scars, or different pigmentation were all happily studying themselves and copying from life without self-consciousness. It was a delight!  Nobody cried, nobody wet themselves, nobody hit me.  Things have moved on immeasurably since I last helped out at preschool!

I was promoted to the glitter table, where the mirror frames were embellished.  2 glue sticks, 8 children, and no fighting!  School must be operating in some sort of magical parallel dimension; this would be an unimaginable scene in my house. 

Glittering concluded; my characters trooped off to study The Enormous Turnip.  A fresh assortment came in, and I settled to hear Snow White again.  More mirrors, more pastels, more glitter.  When break time came I slunk off.  But it was a very worthwhile morning, and I shall have no qualms about going back next week.  Changing their books should be easy now!

#28: Busk/sing in public

This was one of the more dreaded of my challenges, so praise the Lord for good friends to snatch banter from the jaws of a potentially humiliating shocker!

I cannot sing in tune, nor play any instrument. So it was hard to see how this would pan out well for me. But then, inspiration struck. I was to lunch with my 3 ex-housemates for birthday celebrations this weekend, and what if we could make an amusing event of it? An image presented in my brain. The 4 of us, each in comedy wig, brandishing a pink ukulele… and belting out tunes in the middle of London… How could that fail to be Utterly Hilarious???!!!

Once the image was lodged, it was impossible to shift. I broached the idea with them. And bless them all, not one dissenting voice! Hooray for chums who can be persuaded into these ridiculous escapades.

As the birthday lunch concluded, I presented my props. I piled the wigs onto the table. And the ukuleles. And the busking hat, for the public’s contributions. And the cardboard sign upon which we could explain our feat.

And oddly, as I went on, I noticed a hint of doubt appearing on the faces. Surely they weren’t going to bail on me now!!! The sunny day had brought people out in droves, and South Bank seemed a popular choice. Punters were thronging past like the M25 in rush hour. Oof.

In the end, the birthday girl took on a filming role, and the other 2 dug deep to join me. We positioned our sign. We donned our wigs. We discussed our play list.


And then there was nothing for it but to launch in. With woeful disregard for tune, harmony, correct lyrics or synchronised timing, we burst into a truly appalling rendition of ‘Jerusalem’. The crowds slowed. Brows furrowed. Some tourists took photographs. We sang louder. We strummed badly.

One song down, we were gaining confidence. We offered a rousing rendition of happy birthday. Em hid behind the camera and captured it as best she could.

We moved on to Band Aid,’ Do they Know it’s Christmas’. Perfect choice for a sunny day in March. The punters loved it! The contributions began to flood in! (well ok, perhaps that is stretching it, but some people really did give us money!)

We were loving it by now! We had only intended a song or two, but here we were, with (in our minds) the crowd clearly wanting more! We murdered Yellow Submarine. (I should stress that none of us had rehearsed, nor troubled to learn any lyrics, so song choices were a little limited). And still we weren’t done! We gave it large. We hit them with an exuberant ‘Living on a Prayer’. We threw out a horrifying ballad, Elaine Paige and Barbara Streisand’s ‘I know him so well’. Passers-by were open-mouthed. But the donations kept coming! We had reached £8! Surely we could get to £10! We figured by now we had a new crowd and could get away with another rendition of Band Aid, that had been by far the biggest crowd pleaser. And before we even got to the chorus, we made our £10, and only our extreme professionalism kept us going to finish the tune, rather than rush to the pub with our winnings half way through!

No doubt we should have given it all to charity, but I am afraid the only beneficiary was the nearest pub on South Bank. And of course the happy crowds.

So. A triumph! We put a smile on the faces of countless Londoners, had a massive laugh ourselves, earned £10, and ticked another one off the list, conquering to some degree my fear of performing in public and general social embarrassment. As well as creating an amusing memory and bonding experience for all concerned. Hurrah!

Probably my best one to date, that one! Who’s up for karaoke??!

#27: Cook a pig’s head

Good heavens.  This is among the most unspeakably grim undertakings that I have undertaken for some time!  Vegetarians and those of a squeamish disposition should probably read no further.


Ok, well don’t say you weren’t warned. 

It was all quite amusing at first.  I wasn’t at all sure how to come by a pig’s head.  One doesn’t really see them in the butcher’s display cabinet as a general rule.  First I tentatively looked on a couple of websites.  Then I got braver and made a phone call or two.  Then went into town, and made enquiries at every butchers I could find.  One took my number and promised to call when he got one in. 

This week the call came.  My head was in.  Into town I went.  To Jesse Smith Butchers.  I was relieved of £8, and came away with a head in a bag, (2 bags, thankfully, so it could not be identified by passers by).  ‘Mmmm, nice porker’s ‘ed’ observed the butcher cheerfully, as he wrapped it up.   ‘Making brawn, are you?’ he asked.  ‘Mmmm’ I acquiesced, and with considerable self-discipline, I refrained from elaborating on the 100 things, (and thus sharing far too freely about the Brazilian, the Bananaman, or any of the other bizarre endeavours that seem to pepper my conversation these days).

I got home, stuck it in the garage, and ignored it for the rest of that day.

Today though, it was time to tackle it.  I brought it into the house.  Took it out the bag.  Sat it on a chopping board on the kitchen table.   We studied one another, for quite a while.  It was a little unnerving.  He still had eyes.  And whiskers.  I kept looking, and then looking away.  He stared back.  It took a good half hour for us to get the measure of each other. 



The whole escapade is enough to make a former vegetarian somewhat bilious.  The recipe on www.downsizer.net is very matter of fact about it all.  I am to make bath chaps from the cheeks, crispy pigs ears, and brawn from the rest.   Oof.

I made him face the wall, and started on the brine mixture.   Then I readied all the vegetables for the stock.  So far, so good. 

But then there was no avoiding the unpleasantness.   Having no blow torch I used a lighter to try and rid him of whiskers; not very effectively.  Then I held him by the snout and stuck a knife in.  A too blunt knife as it turned out, but we made the best of it.  I lopped off his ears and cheeks.  (Had to turn his face away while I did it).  Once he wasn’t looking, it was easier.  Then I stuck the radio on and it was just like trimming fat off of any other meat.  Though there was rather more fat than meat.  And a lot of bone.  Bleeeuuuugggghhhhhh.

Anyway.  Cheeks and ears put to one side. Covered in brine.  Leave in the fridge for 3 days it says!

Then to the stock.  Even without ears or cheeks, the head was rather too large for my pan.  Help! I can’t have a snout sticking out the pot when the children come home! 


Luckily I found a bigger pot.  Still some snout protrusion!  But better.  I put it on to boil.  And oh God, the stench!  The entire house was filled with the most chunderous aroma imaginable, as skin, flesh, eyeballs, snout and lord knows what else began to boil and disintegrate. 

My husband came home and almost gagged.  ‘What the f*** are you doing?’ was not an unreasonable question.  I explained the various dishes that were underway.  His bafflement was absolute.   ‘But I don’t want to eat a pig’s face.’     I switched off the stockpot and we all had pancakes.

Later on, I studied the carnage in the pot, and with heavy heart  I’m afraid I have had to give up on it.  Aside from the utterly rancid stench which now pervades the entire house and probably neighbourhood, I found a gelatinous mulch of fat, meat, vegetables and God only knows what else… with a skull sticking out the middle of it.  It is unthinkable that anyone will eat any part of it.  So I have scraped the whole lot into 3 carrier bags into the dustbin.  I know it is kind of wrong to eat the choice bits of an animal and waste the rest, when it has made the ultimate sacrifice, but what can I say?  I tried.