#80: Do an aerobics class

Lordy, this was everything I feared. A room full of fit-looking, well-coordinated ladies, all in the appropriate garb, all well-versed in the routines and terminology. A mirrored wall that we all faced. A scary instructor clad in lycra, professing everything very easy. Me, in 10 year old running kit, hiding at the back, consistently out of time with everyone else.
aerobics
The instructor assured us it would be fun. I was watching the clock from 5 minutes in. Explanations were given at high speed, in impenetrable language (every move had a name, which the rest of the class seemed familiar with), then the music was on, and we were all off again. Arms and legs were all doing different things. It was entirely impossible. I considered leaving.

I suppose if I were minded to be embarrassed, it was pretty embarrassing. I am confirmed in my view that aerobics is not, and will never be, for me. And I was heartily glad that no one was there who I recognised. But I got through it, after a fashion.

I will not do that again. Not in this life anyway. But at least I gave it a go! Another one down!

#78: Waterski

This was superb!  I actually did it!   

I tried waterskiing once before, in Malawi, behind a boat, and I couldn’t do it at all.  But that was with no tuition, just a couple of lads with a boat trying to make a bit of cash pulling tourists along behind. 

This was entirely different.  The legendary Sam at Lakeside Brasserie in South Cerney (http://www.lakeside-ski.co.uk) gave me wetsuit and lifejacket, explained the position I needed to be in, and how to get up from it.  My tuition lasted roughly 3 minutes.

Then he gave me my skis, I sat on the edge of the jetty thing, while he and my official photographer (oh yes!) got in the boat.  I hadn’t really thought it through, because when he told me to drop in the water I was horrified.  Won’t it be bloody freezing?!  I thought I was to ski above the water, not in it!  I don’t know how I thought it was supposed to work.  But anyway, once in, and cold, it seemed best to get on with it.  First I had a go on the boom bar, and that was all good. 

Then he threw me a rope, revved the speedboats engine, and we were off.  And I cocked it up, panicked, let go of the rope, fell in the water, got soaked.  Gaah. My confidence faltered. 

But Sam explained it all again, and something worked, because the next time I was standing up all the way across the lake!  It was a massive buzz!   Exhilarating and exciting and tremendous and all good things!  The boat turned a corner and I fell off ignominiously in the reeds.  But no matter.  Sam pulled up alongside for further tuition.

We tried again, and this time I crossed the lake, rounded corners, crossed back the other way, and again, and again .. . and this time when I fell off it was only because my arms gave up on me.   Consider me utterly delighted, I couldn’t stop grinning for hours! 

Image

I would love to go back on a fine sunny day, with a whole bunch of mates, have another go, and drink a few beers…  Anyone tempted?

#77: Hang out in a betting shop all morning

This panned out ok in the end. I didn’t mind going into a betting shop, but once there I felt rather conspicuous. As if everyone might be looking, and thinking I don’t really belong in that environment!

To begin with I had to find one! I was wandering the streets of Cirencester, picking my way between the antique shops and the classy cafes, and charming independent craft stores, and wondering where on earth does one find a bog-standard bookies?

I investigated a couple of side streets, found an altogether less salubrious quarter that I don’t think I’d ever ventured into before, and happily there was Ladbrookes. In I went.

It was all rather baffling, big screens everywhere, horse racing and football on most of them, and I cast about for some clue as to what I might do next. I have only entered such a place to bet on the Grand National before – without that focus I had no idea what the form was! I had mentally set myself the target of staying for an hour, and actually talking to at least one person.

So I sat down, and skimmed through the Racing Post. It may as well have been in another language. For the first 10 minutes it was excruciating just to be there. I assumed everyone was looking at me, and I didn’t have the least idea how one was meant to behave, or what possible reason I would find for being there. I had no idea how to place a bet, especially on horses. There was one old man scanning all the paper cuttings on the walls, and 2 young-ish men working there. That was it. No one looked ripe for a chat. No one looked as if they would find it amusing that I was visiting by way of a personal challenge.

After a while I acclimatised. And some greyhound racing came on one of the TV screens. I have been to the dogs, and I at least know how the betting works for that. And so I filled out a betting slip for the next dog race. And promptly lost £3. Doh.

I took advantage of the free tea and coffee facilities. How marvellous! Then bet on a couple more dogs. Lost each time. A couple of women were loitering about, and we had a bit of banter about losing on the dogs. Not an in depth conversation, but enough. I took a punt on tonight’s football match. Arsenal to win, 4-0. I will be in the money if that happens. I wasn’t feeling awkward at all by this point! I could have stayed! Except the dog racing was sucking me in, and I’d already squandered a tenner.

Luckily I had booked myself in at the waterskiing lake, so had to make tracks. Here I am trying to take an inconspicuous selfie in Ladbrookes!
ladbrookes

#76: Make some jewellery

Thanks to Groupon I found myself a bargain, in the form of a half day jewellery making workshop only 20 minutes drive from where I live. (see the most excellent http://www.vinesdesigns.co.uk)

Cathy Vine has a beautiful home, full of artistic and creative pieces, and she makes splendid cake, and even more splendid jewellery. Her workshop is a feast of beads of every possible shape and size.

The company at my workshop consisted predominantly of ladies who were probably in their late 50s, all active in the fields of cardmaking and various stitching pursuits, all with short grey hair, and names like Jan, Jane, Janet, Joan; so differentiation was difficult. The chat didn’t get much beyond pleasantries, especially once we were all concentrating hard on our creations.

We were shown some amazing pieces of jewellery, and various techniques and equipment to make it all. A surprising array of paraphernalia, who would have thought there were so many different types of pliers? And Cathy made it all look very easy. At first we were overwhelmed by possibilities, then gradually everyone’s ideas took form. It was remarkable how different the final pieces all were.

Once we began, it all got far trickier than the demo had made it look. My loops were not very loopy. My pins were too short. My clasps were not clasping. I was not the only one experiencing issues, we were all vying for some individual expert tuition. Anything we expressed a need for was found with alacrity, Cathy must have beads in every corner and cranny of her home. And the end results were quite remarkable. If I say so myself, I have come away with an item that I don’t think looks too amateurish. In fact I must send a picture to my personal shopper, because I have tried to create the ‘statement necklace’ that she advised me would complete so many of my outfits. Quite what statement it is making I am not sure!
necklace displayed
The only frustration was in seeing so many possibilities and only having time to make one thing. I might even go back again! Whoever would have expected that?!

#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.

#73: Master a circus skill (breathing fire!)

My attempts with the unicycle have been broadly unsuccessful. I cannot even sit on it long enough to try and pedal. So I have reluctantly had to give up on that aspiration.

But instead I looked at other circus skills, that I might have more aptitude for. And once again the legendary Hectic came up trumps. He just happened, he said, to have a firebreathing kit in the shed, and could teach me to do that in a few moments, should I wish. ‘Is there much danger with it?’ I asked, in a carefully casual tone. ‘Well I suppose you could burn your face off. But most people don’t’.

That seemed enough of a health and safety assessment. We sank a few pints, ate a ton of Baked Alaska, and got the kit out.

The process is curious. First we practiced spraying water through pursed lips to create a fine mist. That was the essential technique. ‘Don’t spit. Spray.’ Then the fire was lit, on the end of a truncheon. I rinsed my mouth round with milk, as instructed. Then took a sip of paraffin, wiped my mouth, and sprayed it in the direction of the flame, held an arms’ length away.

The first attempt was unimpressive. But then I had another go. You need to watch the video right to the end! It was remarkable! I am delighted! There was a sharp intake of breath as all spectators thought I must have lost my hair, at the very least! But surprisingly it was fine, and much less dramatic for me in the middle of it, than for those watching it.

Do not try this at home children. But I am extraordinarily pleased with it! (and it is much easier than a unicycle!)

#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!