#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?!

#43: Hire a personal shopper

The actual hiring was easy. A friend of a friend is a most excellent personal shopper, the marvellous Julie Ladhu, (www.julieladhu.co.uk), so it was just a case of making a phone call.

This was on the list because I have never been one to take great care or expense over my appearance. In fact since having children I am rarely sighted in anything grander than jeans and a top, and my idea of dressing up is wearing something clean. Comfort is everything. I once went to a dinner party with my slippers on. You get the picture.

So Julie had her work cut out. And she was more than equal to it! I spent a gloriously decadent day at her house, going through every item in my wardrobe, deciding what to keep, what to bin, what to reserve for gardening in, and what could be worn with what to achieve an overall look that was more sartorially pleasing than the status quo.

So phase one involved throwing literally all the clothes I own into the car, and driving up to London with them. My other half must have suspected I was doing a runner. Unfortunately the timings conspired so that I left home for the tantric sex workshop, taking my entire wardrobe with me. (I am not sure whether to put his lack of protest down to trust or indifference.)

But back to the shopping. Julie is some sort of magician, because I went from being convinced ‘I have no clothes’, to realising that in fact I only need to buy about 5 items in order to have dozens of decent outfits!

And what is even better, is that she then went out to find all the required items for me! And plenty of others besides.

So when we met again a week later, Julie had already mapped out the shops we would go to, the items she expected me to like there, and the things I could wear the new items with, for maximum effect.

We spent 2 hours power shopping, which was amazingly focused, and productive. I spent more money than I intended, but know that everything will be worn, everything suits me, and everything I bought means that more things I already own will not just be worn, but will look better. So I think it is money well spent. If I were richer, I would have no qualms at all about doing it several times a year, but even as a one off experience, it was very worthwhile – I have a much better idea how to ‘put myself together’! And I am converted to scarves!
personal shopper

Aside from the new clobber, I learnt much from the process. ‘Caroline’, Julie said to me firmly, ‘A top and trousers do not make an outfit.’

Well that was a revelation in itself. I have always assumed that if I am covered, I am ready. But it is undeniable that I do look better with a bit more detail. Some layering, a scarf, a statement necklace, that kind of thing.

Loved this one! (And would thoroughly recommend Julie if anyone is interested in the experience. She can work to any budget, and has no vested interest in what you buy, so you know that the items chosen are chosen purely with pleasing you in mind. Plus she is extraordinarily nice and fun!)

#19: Spend the day dressed as Bananaman

This is a bit of a cop out, as I decided to do it very, very far from home.  So none of the social embarrassment of having to explain myself on the school run, but instead a host of other issues, trying to retain the integrity of Bananaman, without sacrificing warmth or safety on the slopes. 

We told the children last night that for the next day of skiing, Mummy would be Bananaman.  I love how children accept such things as if they were entirely normal. Why not, after all?  They were actually disappointed that I hadn’t brought superhero costumes for them aswell.  (Why didn’t I think of that?  It would have been a whole lot less embarrassing for me, and they would have loved it!)


Still, off we went to the most populous resort of the Giant Mountains, me in full Bananaman garb, for absolutely no reason at all.  (Thank you, Ferg, for suggesting it).  But the odd thing was, it drew almost no reaction from anyone.  Which made it possibly more embarrassing!  In the general way, fancy dress is a conversation starter – people want to know why, or what you are supposed to be, or what the occasion is, or something.  The Czechs did not raise an eyebrow.  A ski school of kids may have tittered.  One man shouted ‘Superman’ as he shot past me.  But in the main, studied nonchalance.  So little comment did I draw that I frequently forgot I was wearing it.

I had a brief bout of euphoria, snaking my way down a red run, cape billowing in the wind, with 3 well behaved and beautifully coordinated children descending the mountain in my wake, some of them almost smiling… But that brief snapshot was notable for being the only 10 minutes of the morning when no one was whining.


For much of the day though, my garb was entirely forgettable. Barring the odd glance from my other half which clearly indicated that I am a massive tool, most people couldn’t care less. It was a day on the slopes like any other, pulling small people out of the snow, bile rising at the endless bickering about who would sit with whom on the chairlift.

I drew a few more looks in the restaurant at lunchtime.   Children couldn’t help but stare, but still, zero banter.  The serving staff were plainly unimpressed by superheros, particularly those who couldn’t order drinks in the right language. 

An amusing moment post lunch.  The plate of goulash and half-litre of apple juice each prompted a family visit to the facilities.   Each child piled into a cubicle, wrestling with their many layers of clothing.  A Czech teenage girl was not far behind us, and she opened the door to the first cubicle (none of them had locks), to find a small child having a dump.  She withdrew hastily and opened the second cubicle – in which another small child was having a dump.  She opened the third, only to be faced with – you guessed it, a THIRD small child having a dump.  Shaking her head in disbelief she opened the fourth door – and there was Bananaman!  She withdrew in considerable confusion.    

Our afternoon was altogether jollier.  Fuelled with goulash and mars bars we attacked the red run several more times in higher spirits, and only abandoned play when all the lifts had shut.   A satisfying day after all.  And happily Bananaman is now done, the only worry being that I have promised 3 more Bananaman outfits in smaller sizes, and another family Superhero outing, sometime soon…

#17: Beer Spa (have a random beauty treatment I had never heard of)

Well I’m not sure it is exactly a beauty treatment, but it was a new experience, and since I am making the rules here, it will have to do. The Beer Bath does exactly what it says on the tin – you bathe in some beer!
beer spa

I love trying random things like this in different countries. I have tried Moroccan baths, Chinese massage, Indian eyebrow-threading, and I have particularly fond memories of sharing a sauna with 20 naked Russian ladies flagellating themselves with bunches of birch twigs. But I have never had a beer bath. The literature assures me it is highly restorative. The literature also suggests I will be enjoying a pint while bathing in several more, what’s not to like?

pivni lazne

So. I phoned up the Novosad Mini Brewery and suggested in extremely halting German that I would like to come for a beer bath. Today. At 18.00 hours. As far as I could tell that seemed to be acceptable, so off I went.

On arrival I was recognised, I think, from the phone call. ‘Ah’ said the receptionist. ‘Reservazione’. She may have pegged me on account of the linguistic incompetence, or perhaps it was the lack of any other customers that made me easy to place. Whatever.

In the spa I was greeted next by a sturdy matronly lady, looking a little stern. Over years of travel I have perfected a look that says ‘Please help me and forgive my incompetence; I am really very nice’, so I offered her this, in place of any greeting. She smiled, showed me where to put my shoes, and pointed me to another room, with instructions to disrobe, conveyed in a mix of German and sign language. ‘Complet’ she added sternly, handing me a yellow sheet to protect my modesty.

Kit off, showered and sheeted, I re-emerged, and she showed me into the bath tub room. Sure enough, a bathful of water awaited, to which she added some yeasty pellets, and switched on the beer tap. 10 litres of finest ale turned the water an unpalatably rusty colour. Half a pint of even finer ale was placed on the table beside. She demonstrated the Jacuzzi effect and indicated she would return in half an hour.

I lay back and enjoyed the soothing sound of some 80s power ballads, while wallowing in beer, drinking beer, and inhaling the fumes of beer. The yeasty pellets dissolved around me, leaving an unseemly film of muck all around. The lighting was subdued, the walls were wooden panels like a sauna. There was another bath in the room, mercifully empty.

After 30 minutes, sure enough, she returned, and pointed me to my relaxation bed, one of 11 in the room. Another pint was placed next to me. A blanket over my wet sheet. More music courtesy of Foreigner et al. The relaxing ambience only marred by the sound of the matronly lady scrubbing my filth from her bath tub.

Another 30 minutes and it was time for my massage. There appeared to be no other staff or guests at the Novibad, for the same lady performed the massage, and it did not occur to her to close the door as I sat on the bed as instructed with my norks out.

That done, I was permitted further relaxation, should I wish, before I left. And on no account was I to shower afterwards. ‘Vitaminy’ she explained, sternly.

All in all, a very pleasant evening, though whether a beer bath is more beneficial than any other kind of bath I am not entirely sure!

(NB: any readers who don’t know me should be aware that the buxom lady depicted in the bathtub is not actually me. Alas I am far too British to take a selfie in the bath and post it on the internet!)

#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!