#32: Drive to the mountains and hike on my own

Well, the sun may be setting on my ‘mid to late thirties’ but I still have the banter of a 12 year old. So when planning this challenge, the only mountain worth considering was ‘Fan y Big’ – the most snicker-worthy summit in South Wales.

It may be surprising to folk who have known me a while to find this on the list – I have after all climbed Kili 5 times and led more tours up the Inca trail than I can remember – but this challenge was more about rediscovering the ‘me’ of yore. In more recent years, I rarely do anything a) on my own, or b) more than 10 miles from our village. If I do venture further afield it is usually for an organised event involving a load of other people.

So I promise it was a legitimate challenge, and not just a jolly. (Although having said that it was quite jolly once I got going)

It took an absurd amount of time to find the right place, due to my lack of planning and poor decision making (though really I should learn to plan for those, as they characterise most of my endeavours!) Wrong turns, no cash, forgot lunch, bought another lunch, more wrong turns, repeated stops to consult map, wrong car park….

No matter! Having left home before 6.30am, the sun was high in the sky by the time I was ready to climb at 9.30. That is, until I rounded the final corner, and entered a dense cloud, covering the very peak I had travelled so far to find. This was a problem, as my navigational skills are of a level that rather require being able to see where I am going.

I parked, and tried not to look too conspicuously clueless in front of the 40 army recruits who were engaged in some impressive venture with very large backpacks.

I set off up a steep climb by a waterfall. And I soon popped out the top of the cloud, to find a glorious sunny day, and lush views in every direction.
wales ridge view

In the main the path was obvious, though one stretch was across open country, and at one point I left my hat marking a junction to be sure of finding the right way home.

The summit of Fan y Big was nothing very obvious, a few rocks in a pile. But it was open, and spacious, with glorious views all around, and the schedule permitted a half hour kip in the sunshine, which was rather lovely for early March.
(see here the Standard Mountaineering Pose (SMP))

I cannot pretend it was a massively risky or hazardous venture, but it was lush to be out, and a tremendously satisfying way to fill the hours while the kids are at school… I think it would be much improved by taking some chums, and having an orienteering course under my belt. Might have to add those to the next list!

But it was great to get out and do this stuff again; proper hikes are too few and far between for me these days!

#26: Belly dancing

This was yet another experience that I turned up for roughly 20 years too soon. And another one that I was very happy to enrol some friends for as well.

I found a class in Cirencester, in a church hall. Took 2 friends along, and we loitered cluelessly on the fringes, until our intention to belly dance became apparent. Then the regulars all bustled to make us welcome, introduced themselves, and offered us spare skirts and belts aplenty. (We had, as ever, failed to find the requisite attire, of flowing skirt, and sash/belt bedecked with jangley metal coin-like thingies. (Forgive my lack of correct terminology)).
belly dancing
Once suitably attired, we were politely asked to remove our minging biking trainers, and to dance barefoot if we had no ballet pumps. (We hadn’t.)

Three of the group were of my own party. Then there was the teacher, an administrator, and three other ladies, who reluctantly admitted they were in their second year of tuition. They were clearly anxious that their skill level may not adequately reflect this.

The warm up began. And indeed, it went on for the majority of the lesson. It was far from clear where the warm up ended and the dancing began.

We were asked to move our hips in a figure of eight. Not that hard, you might think, but it was extraordinarily difficult to move just the hips – not feet, not shoulders, just the bit in the middle. Near impossible. I caught sight of myself reflected in the window and I looked like a robot having a seizure.

The class was very gentle, extremely welcoming, light, fun, supportive and encouraging. Everyone took pains to assure us that no one ‘gets it’ straight away, and that the moves are tricky. We must not feel bad about ourselves, for butchering their routines so entirely. But we shimmied, and we shook, and we wiggled our hips, and we stepped and we twirled, and occasionally we fell into time. Here and there we may even have mastered an actual step. I found it rather hard to concentrate on what all the different bits of me were doing, as arms and hands, and hips and feet were all doing unfamiliar things, in different directions, at the same time. I fear the overall effect was anything but flowing.

By the end we were all twirling sticks, while twisting and thrusting and stepping. Hazel made it look beautiful and natural and lovely. I was more of a safety hazard, jerking around erratically with a long wooden pole.

There were too few people to hide in the crowd. We had no choice but to stand proud, be crap, and do our best, but it really wasn’t at all intimidating, everyone was very kind.

The final challenge was to lie on the floor for a cool down. Now there at last we had the edge over our more mature class mates. Everyone creaked and groaned and lowered themselves a fraction gracelessly to the ground. We may not have excelled on the dance front, but the newcomers could at least lie down and get up again without fear of doing ourselves ‘a mischief’.

It was lovely to sample belly dancing, and it is something I’d like to return to. Though maybe not quite yet. But at this rate, I am certainly going to be a step ahead when I do reach retirement!

#25: Shoot something

One thing I am really loving about this whole experience is how friends are getting behind it, and either joining me in my challenges, or, as in this instance, completely fixing it for me to have a new experience that I would have no idea how to organise otherwise!

A good friend just happens to have her own large field, and a very amenable farming dad, complete with guns, clay pigeons, machines to fire them with, and sufficient patience and expertise to supervise a shooting session for me and anyone else who cared to join in. So she organised a legendary ‘lunch and shoot’ to take place on her 40th birthday, the day after a large group of friends had been celebrating this happy event with considerable gusto.

Thus it came to pass that a shooting party gathered in Chew Magna on Sunday, all looking somewhat the worse for wear. Having only barely concluded a 3 course breakfast in an attempt to banish the hangover, we moved on to a substantial lunch, then decided we had really better do the shooting before starting on the birthday cakes. (Once we had done some ‘sport’ we would surely have room for it.)

We gathered outside under ominous skies. Equipment was assembled, clays loaded, and instructions given. Some of the men stepped up and had a go, they hit some, they missed some, but it all looked fairly achievable. Point gun, clay is fired, bang, clay smashes to smithereens, everyone cheers. Marvellous.

Then I stepped up. And it all began to look considerably less easy. Firstly the gun was immensely heavy. Second my posture was all wrong. I was leaning too far back and firing up into the trees. Further explanation was offered by the infinitely patient Phil Coombs. I was to look along the length of the gun, and line up the clay with the little red light on the end of it. Well I was already seeing at least 2 guns, whether due to excess booze, or wearing glasses, I wasn’t sure. Then there was the timing issue. It took a few seconds to line up the gun with the clay thing even once I had the gun in focus – by which time of course the clay thing had moved. Dammit.
My first 2 bullets shot into the sky. Ditto the next 2. And the next. Oh dear. Feet begin shuffling. I was losing my audience. ‘Do you have to actually hit something?’ people began to ask. ‘Did you put ‘shoot something’, or ‘shoot at something’?’ asked another, hopefully.

2 more bullets evaded the clay. ‘I’m not getting this’ I muttered. ‘No you’re not’ agreed my tutor with some feeling. The audience sniggered. Phil explained the principles again. Foot forward. Weight on front foot. Do not lean back. Do not absent-mindedly brandish the gun in the direction of spectators. Ah yes. I nodded sagely, as if all were now clear.

Then I shot again, and to everyone’s hearty astonishment, I hit one! Wahay! I had just been mentally composing a blog post for abject failure, so hurrah and huzzah to actually do it! It was strangely satisfying, even though it was only a clay disc.

I had a couple more shots, but it had clearly been a fluke. No further success. But no matter, I hit one, and so challenge number 25 is achieved. A quarter of the way through!

#8: Tai Chi

This is not something I had much preconception about, apart from having walked through a park in China once and seeing many people balancing oddly.

But it was very easy to book myself into a class at the local leisure centre. I had no idea of the right attire, but I forgot my bag anyway, so it was lucky that it was fine to do it in normal clothes and bare feet. Certainly you don’t need to dress with any anticipation of working up a sweat.

It was extremely gentle, and I would almost go so far as to say boring, but I think that is a case of adjusting to the pace. Others in the group were clearly regulars, and seemed to get into the flow of it much more readily.

Two things hampered my enjoyment of the class: 1) I was literally the only person there of working age. Indeed many must have advanced quite far into their retirement. So that left me rather preoccupied with the need to get a proper job, rather than mobilising my chi around the sports hall.

And 2) I very much needed to fart. This is a problem that is difficult to ignore when conducting a squat in a crowded but almost silent room. If I could have put those things aside then I am sure there is a lot of merit in Tai Chi.

A buxom and engaging Scotswoman led the class in quite a low key style; she demonstrated the movements and we followed as she moved: shifting our weight, moving our chi, reaching for the moon. Much of it involved holding an imaginary large sponge ball between our hands and moving it around. None of it was fast, or in any way difficult, but afterwards I do feel as if I have done some exercise; I suspect it has strengthening properties. And no doubt it would be even more beneficial if I were doing it properly.

I probably won’t go to that particular class again (I’m still too traumatised at being 30 years too early!); but I would certainly have another go at Tai Chi, especially in foreign climes or if I found an evening class.

#7 Go to a meditation class

A curious evening this was. I have long been interested in meditation: the concept of slowing down and creating space in the general maelstrom of one’s head can only be a good thing, and there is plenty of science to be found about the benefits. I have a couple of audio downloads that I attempt to follow now and then, but in truth I often fall asleep, or just forget to do them at all. I need some external force to give me the discipline.

So, to a class. Specifically, this class: http://meditationincheltenham.org.uk/cirecester

I turned up at the Friends Meeting House; a Quaker Centre that I had never before had cause to discover. I followed the sound of hushed voices and was welcomed by a man with enough facial hair to reassure me that I had found the right place. He was friendly and welcoming, offered herbal tea and biscuits, and in I went. All very easy, no one looked as if I needed to explain myself, so I didn’t. I just sat down amid the circle of chairs. There were perhaps 12 in attendance; they seemed a peaceful, gentle crowd. Quite a mix. Several men and women of mature years and careless clothing, the type I would at one stage of my life have referred to as a ‘bunch of beardos’ (but hopefully I am more tolerant now). There were also a couple of younger women who looked as if they had come straight from work, suggesting as I suspected that this kind of malarkey is becoming more mainstream. There was also a young man who seemed very intent on the whole thing; I am speculating wildly, but he looked the sort who might have recently returned from a trip to India ‘finding himself’.

We spent the first 45 minutes with our eyes closed, contemplating our breath. It is curious how difficult it is to do this. I did try, really, but I just kept thinking of all sorts of things. Apparently it is a case of practice. We visualised breathing in the pure white light, and breathing out the foul black smoke that was the former contents of our minds. That was a helpful image.

I later learned (which amused me immensely), that somebody had come in late, and sat down in a fluster, and apparently started unpacking her possessions in anticipation of the Amnesty International Trustee meeting that she had come for – only then to discover she was in a room full of odd looking people with their eyes closed, breathing heavily. She repacked her possessions, tiptoed out, and one can only speculate as to how baffled she must have been.

Once we all reawakened and brought our attention to the room, it became clear I was at some sort of Buddhist workshop. The teacher (a stand in, I was told, not the regular person) was armed with a book entitled ‘Transform Your Life: A Blissful Journey’ by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, from which he proceeded to give a talk about happiness, and the nature thereof. I cannot be sure I was fully awake throughout, his voice was extremely soothing. But I think it was about no person or thing being good or bad in itself, but rather your state of mind influences how you perceive it. Even someone who you find fearsomely irritating is loved and cherished by someone else, so one cannot state categorically that they are a git. A chocolate bun may make you feel happy, but if you had just eaten 68 other buns then that same chocolate bun would not make you happy. So the bun itself is neither good nor bad. So there you go – a little bit of Buddhism according to the Ginger Legend.

We then closed our eyes to reflect further on the nature of happiness (I am sorry to say that enlightenment eluded me, but I did have a kip), before heading off our separate ways with a flyer about the Akanishta Kadampa Buddhist Centre.

All in all – I am not sure this is quite the thing for me, but I do think there is much value in mindfulness and meditation – something to experiment with further for sure. I’d be very interested to hear any recommendations, of classes or downloads or whatever.

#6: Zumba

This was completely brilliant.  Good exercise, lively, fun, and best of all – it is not at all embarrassing to be crap at it! 

(I was scarred some years ago by an aerobics experience that involved me flailing around, completely unable to keep up with a class full of pros, in a room with a mirror all along the wall that we were all forced to face… so there was literally nowhere to hide, and I was stuck there for an hour.  And I’d gone on my own, so there wasn’t even anyone to laugh about it with.  Ouch.)

So this time, I went to a class that a friend recommended, and took another novice friend with me, but I needn’t have worried. 

The instructor was a feisty bundle of yelping, whooping energy (in an engaging rather than annoying way): a vision of muscles and pink lycra gyrating rhythmically at the front of the room.  

Each routine was contained, and fairly short-lived, so if you didn’t get the hang of it there was something else soon after.  And even if you couldn’t do it properly, you could do some sort of movement that wasn’t too conspicuously ‘wrong’!   In any case most folk were too absorbed in what they were doing to look around.

There is a dilemma for me with things like this: to follow what is going on I really need to be at the front with a good view – but that of course gives the rest of the room an excellent view of the back of me…   I weighed it up and stayed at the back.  

I imagine I will ache tomorrow – many muscles used and positions adopted that felt somewhat unfamiliar!  But overall another triumph, a really enjoyable experience.  I would go again!  (Except I still have 95 other things to do before May!)


(Thank you very much to Meryl Miller – Stratton Village Hall class at 9.30 am Mondays and Stratton School Hall 8pm Tuesdays)


# 5: Join gym / health club

I have now joined Spa 6, our local luxury health club of choice… and totally loved sitting in the sauna for much of last week while the kids were at school! Decadent mummy.

I also had a gym induction and received the benefit of a personal trainer (which ticks off 10 and 80 from the original list), though admittedly I have yet to do more than look at my exercise programme, which is nicely written out on a piece of card. It is very impressive. If I ever actually do it I am assured it will help me to get ski-fit in a fortnight.

I must confess this weekend has not seen a startling flurry of achievements. However the ground work is laid for a multitude of challenges. Drastic haircut is booked. Bananaman outfit is ordered. Tai chi class booked. Shooting partner confirmed. Unicycle sourced. Sock knitting set purchased. So there has been some progress, though a fearsome distance remains to be travelled by May. Need to step it up this week!

#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!