Just over one month ago I set myself a series of challenges prior to my birthday. It’s been a fun few weeks and my life skills have surely been improved – though not always in quite the way I expected.
On the physical challenge front swimming in the sea was brilliant – a fabulous afternoon at Gorleston beach. Swimming a whole mile (in a pool) took a rather long time – 66 lengths of the 25 metre pool at the UEA with a couple of practice sessions first – but I did it and feel better for knowing I can.
It became evident that juggling was a skill which I was, and remain, the furthest from perfecting. Masses of people can juggle – and using the juggling balls my niece and daughter made me with odd socks and ancient chickpeas – they showed me how well they could. People had learnt for a range of reasons – displacement activity when they’d stopped smoking; envy working in the Edinburgh festival; bored at trade shows, were a few. Having watched my early attempts one son suggested I start with just one ball and, it’s fair to say, it took me ages to get proficient at that. Progress has been made and very occasionally, when the gods are feeling generous with luck, three odd-sock-balls briefly sketch an aerial figure of eight.
The day before my birthday I walked up Stob Ban. It was 3195 ft high so without doubt a Munro. The weather was dry and midge-free, the company excellent and I thought the experience was terrific. I had never walked up so high, so close to the clouds and the heavens. You could see for miles and mile on a level with all the other high places in Lochaber and the Mamores. I hadn’t realised what a heady feeling sitting on top of the world would be… I am definitely up for more of those hills.
On the social / creative side I layered up a cocktail (which looked good but I couldn’t recommend drinking). I had a couple of goes at painting and remembered again how much I love using water-colours. I haven’t quite got one to frame, but I feel confident I could. The piano practice paid off and, while “Farewell to Stromness” might not be concert perfect, I can play it better than I could before the challenges started. Singing a song, beyond my solo performance of the first verse of “Wild Rover” at the layered cocktail party, remains in the pipeline…. however a son and I spent a happy session trying to follow the Cup Song (link at the bottom). It was sooooo complicated we never managed, but I enjoyed our joint effort enormously.
I gained insight into playing poker. 7 year old daughter and I, with two po-faced teddies dealt the cards and followed the rules as provided in “The Dangerous Book for Boys”. It was all about probability and changing the odds by getting new cards … the teddies weren’t giving anything away and the book suggested it was a bad idea to even start playing if it (a) wasn’t for decent stakes and (b) you got bothered losing.
Rap music still gives me some challenges. I have listened to lots now and, frankly, still can’t really understand a word they are saying very clearly. When I can follow the gist, I think many of the performers are whinging quite a lot. The keen rap fans who have tried to educate me point out that Blues singers are whining too – but I think they are more melodic. Forced to pick one piece I’m going for “Kick, Push” by Lupe Fiasco – mostly because I like the bit where he says “Coast” oh so smoothly.
Tree identification offered me a different kind of buzz. A kind friend sent me a FSC guide with laminated pictures and I headed off into Catton Park. I found that the range in local parks and gardens isn’t a great as you might expect. The same oaks, sycamores, birch and rowans appear often. My first go a identifying a pretty pale yellow/green leaved tree in our garden using the RHS on-line tree key produced mixed results: I thought it said it was a bean… 24ft tall? Turns out the Robinia is a member of the legume family, so that explains it. Once I told people what I was doing they started showing me their favourite trees – snake skinned maple, Harry Lauder hazel and the massive Wellingtonias to name check a few. I loved the trees and imagine starting an arboretum must be one of the ultimate future-proof projects, even if I were to live another 50 years most of the tree wouldn’t be near their prime.
My 12th challenge, to create a family portrait, was looking tricky since everyone is somewhere else. I have taken photos of them all in profile – including doing handstands – anticipating an afternoon of printing and cutting and sticking. Kind in-laws, however, have given us a session with photographer, Helena Gore, and so the family will be forever captured for me in 2013.
If these were the 12 labours of Hercules I’m not sure I would be in position to win immortality. If I was being used for a TV programme there would be a voice over, as the credits rolled saying “3 months after this programme Viv is still trying to understand rap and hasn’t found a real person with whom to play poker”. Nevertheless, I’ve had some moments of feeling I’ve met the challenge of doing something I hadn’t done before, I’ve had moments of reminding myself of things I haven’t found time to do for a while, and I have been reminded what a cheery and cheering group of people I know.
Lulu and the Lampshades perform the cup song http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DWCOYJg9ps4
The Dangerous Book for Boys – Conn and Hal Iggulden (this should be a set text for all children and their parents, not just boys)