#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.)

#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!

#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!

#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.

buskers

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??!