#46: Do a jump on a mountain bike

We had a delicious day in pursuit of this objective. Dave took a day off and we went to the Forest of Dean while the kids were at school, for biking fun together. A rare treat!

I love cycling, but have never quite got into the mindset of proper mountain biking; now we are trying to change that! I’m trying to see all the roots and rocks as a fun challenge, rather than a tedious impediment to an otherwise enjoyable ride!

So, I attempted a red route for the first time, which really should have been the challenge, as the ride overall was harder than the couple of jumps that I did attempt. Uphill and downhill, single track sections, berms and rocks and roots and ditches and all sorts. I did a lot less pushing the bike and a lot less cursing than is normally the case!

The jumps were singularly unimpressive. I promise I did try several, and many were bigger than this, but sadly this is the only footage that was captured. It is quite splendidly rubbish! Indeed you will struggle to see me leave the ground at all. I blame the cameraman, as I am sure it was far more impressive in reality.

I’m afraid that is as good as it is likely to get before May 10th!

But Dave assures me that in general I am getting better. And most importantly, it was fun, which means I will go again, so that is a triumph, albeit of a (very) modest sort.

#45: Put up our roofrack and bicycles without help

This was immensely tedious and fairly difficult, but ultimately a triumph for women’s lib. One of the perils of married life is that this kind of task just never falls into my remit these days. And I get anxious about losing the ability to do stuff like this for myself. So, cue a very tedious morning messing about with keys and fittings and what not, taking an hour to accomplish something Dave can do in 5 minutes. I have no instinct at all for stuff like this, I can only figure it out by doing it wrong, then doing it differently, and only slightly less wrong, then eventually on about the 6th attempt getting it vaguely right. But I did it, and now I know how to do it again. So hurrah.
Then there was the lifting of the bikes onto the car. I can just about manage it, though it is far from comfortable, balancing inside the doorway of the back seats, mountain bike wielded aloft, and try to keep it steady to line up with the rack. Then keep it still with one hand while securing all the straps and locks. But again, it was done without injury, or misadventure to the bike. Et voila:
bikes on car
Getting them off again is harder – undo all straps, hold onto bike and somehow leap backwards out of the car, holding bike aloft, without allowing any part of bike or pedals to scratch car paintwork. It was just about done, but it is unlikely to be mishap-free every time!

But it is good that I can do it. It makes it far more possible to sneak in an adventure during school hours.

#44: Take the children to the beach for a day trip, just me and them. Have fun without spending money

I had a vision for this one. I was going to take my brood to Brean Down, and have a lovely day out in nature, running on beaches, fishing in rock pools, taking photos, observing sea birds, picnicking in the dunes.  How delightful.

Within seconds of being left alone with them, it all went massively awry.

I suggested the beach. Massive excitement. I mentioned an hour in the car to get there. Absolute mutiny and utter refusal. No one would go. They are all well aware that there is a fake beach 5 minutes up the road, and that is where they wanted to be. Nothing else would do. Everyone howled. My resolve weakened.

I wondered though. The downside of the local fake beach is the £10 entry fee, hence it involves spending money. But. What if we cycled in the back way, and thus avoided the car parking charge? That would be a triumph for frugality, and also create an adventure, because the beach is 2 miles from home, and the bikes are very small.   I put the plan to the people in charge. They were mad for it! I stressed the need for unwavering sensible behaviour, as the ride would involve real roads. They assured me they were equal to it. No one would make a fuss about not being at the front. No one would cycle into someone else’s wheels and knock them sideways and giggle about it. No one would have a hissy fit because they couldn’t get up the hill. All would be serene, grown up, and responsible. I beamed at them proudly. What could go wrong?

I cycled at the back, to slow approaching traffic. That inevitably put someone at the front who held but a tenuous grasp on the concept of left and right, making directional control difficult. I stressed the need to stop wherever white lines were painted across the road. This led to multiple unnecessary stops, at any and every form of paintwork, but better too careful than the opposite. We got up the hill. We executed 2 junctions. We were on fire!


A mile and a half in though, morale was drooping. A head wind was not helping. The road was long. I called a halt in a layby, and dished out the chocolate.
biking break
I had thought this ride took 10 minutes, and we were already nearly an hour into it.   We sat on some rocks. I delivered my most motivational of pep talks. 3 angry faces stared back at me, unmoved. I promised an icecream upon arrival at the beach. That did the trick. (Though it rather undermined the ‘spend no money’ bit.)

Back on our bikes and on we went. An hour and a half after leaving home, we had achieved the beach.  A triumph!

Immediately upon arrival, all their clothes came off, with scant regard for propriety. We were at the beach after all, and would need our swim suits on. Never mind that it is mid-March, cloudy, and the red flag is flying over the water, a clear hint that swimming is discouraged. But the brood got togged up, and in a fit of ingenuity, took their buckets, began gathering water from the lake, and pouring it into a corner of the sandpit to create a pool big enough to splash in. Various other children were recruited to the project, including, thankfully, a family that we are very good friends with. It was already apparent that my cycling party would not be equal to making the journey home. Luckily I was able to leave the children with the friends while I shot home for the car.   The eldest crashed off her bike while I was absent, landing in a bramble bush and soaking one side of herself in the lake. Many tears. We returned home somewhat chastened by the whole escapade!   Mummy solo day care is not what it once was!  I must be out of practice now they are all at school. But at least I only spent £6!

#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.