Watch a sunrise and /or sunset and sleep under the stars – Challenges No 25 and 12

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So it may be a bit late in the day but I decided to actually look up the definition of the word challenge and amongst other things it is this, according to my pocket Oxford Dictionary ( a 21st birthday present which I cherish and still regularly use)  :-

“a call to take part in [something] demanding or difficult and stimulating” 

And these 50@50 challenges easily fall into that remit!! Because….I have NEVER slept out under the stars…usually a nice comfy bed in a hotel for me, I most certainly have NEVER been for a wee outside and, as most of you know, I HATE getting up early so have seldom seen the sun rise.  Yet this is at total odds with the nature loving me who wants to see and experience as much as I can.

So, when Debbie suggested that as part of her ‘ connecting to nature’ challenge to me we were going to sleep out over night up on Stanton Moor in Derbyshire, in a bivvie (whatever that is…although I do know now!!), and that we would then get up to hear the dawn chorus (4.38 am) followed by watching the sunrise (5.18am) and morning meditation my heart leapt whilst my stomach churned…..was I up for it??

ABSOLUTELY.  We headed out after our lovely willow weaving day, where my fellow weavers had done their best with their oohs and aaahhhs about sleeping on the Moor ( a spiritual place full of unusual people, noises and rituals….. thanks ladies!!) to make me a tad nervous. If Debbie had not known what she had taken on before, she certainly did when it came to packing and she had to give me a step by step guide of what things were ( I might add I was very concerned when the matting looked remarkably coffin shaped) and how to pack them.  That done we headed out to the Moor, past the sign forbidding camping and fires

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( she made me break the law too 😱) and headed past the Nine Ladies Stone Circle.

http://www.peakdistrictinformation.com/visits/stanton.php

It was about 9.45 and at half light, one night after a full moon, when we began to hear strange, guttural sounds coming from the direction of the stone circle, accompanied by our own nervous semi-giggle/WTF utterances.  It was then we saw two half naked men in the centre of the circle sparring…relief together with confusion washed over us (and thoughts of primitive sacrifices, gladiatorial fights, a scene from Women in Love, and maybe that this was their own challenge crossed my mind)….the scene was similar to this photo below which I found on the Internet

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So I now have to apologise to the weavers as they were right…it was a place to behold strange sights.  We walked on and tried not to disturb them and headed for our camp.  I cannot thank Debbie enough for what followed. She had previously found a great site (the entrance to which was marked by the carnage of a bird kill the previous night…not prearranged by Debbie I hasten to add), under a circle of birch trees and which already had a stone firepit made.  She had put walking sticks at the moor entrance which had still been there and collected firewood which she had stashed off the ground in the nook of some branches to dry….it was perfect.  We set up our bivvies ( which are waterproof covers for your sleeping bags thus negating the need for a tent), laughed, reflected, lit a fire, shared a cider, laughed some more and went to bed hoping the forecasted bad weather would stay away……..and with me still refusing to have a tinkle in the dark undergrowth.

As I lay down and looked up the leaves on the trees were swirling rhythmically, an ethereal mist formed over the top of the braken and swept coolly over my exposed face….not scary but magical. I will skip over my fidgeting and snoring as I am sure that only enhanced Debbie’s experience to no end, along with me asking loudly “are you awake?” as I wanted her to see the full moon as it cast its glow on us through the trees.  That was some time after 1am and it was then that Debbie’s keen ears heard voices…and approaching people walking through the moor and undergrowth…at that time of night and with the stillness we had no idea how close they were to us but the sounds finally subsided so we guessed they had moved away.  The mist had also gone and the movement in the trees reminded me now of my childhood kaleidoscope, constantly changing and lulling me off to a comfortable, deep sleep.

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Debbie awoke me and the birds started to joyously sing…note to self…learn bird songs!!! A curious robin came to investigate, a peacock called ( reminding me of home) and it was then time to temporarily abandon our camp and go and see the sunrise from the top of the moor.  When you witness this it is easy to understand why so many cultures worship and hold the sun in such high regard, why poets and lyricists write about it and how dependent our lives are upon this simple act….I felt humble as I basked in the increasing and dazzling warmth……yet inspired too.

We found a rock with a ledge and Debbie, an experienced yoga instructor, led us in a meditation which I choose to keep private.  We walked around the moor, past Rapunzels castle and other significant features, witnessed the skyline coming to life, enjoyed seeing both the moon and the sun up together and then ventured back to camp for a ‘nice cup of tea’, before heading off.

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Some statements are well over used…but this genuinely is an experience I will endeavour never to forget….it was a Challenge, an adventure, life affirming and absolutely worth losing a nights sleep in a comfy bed for.  I am slightly ashamed to say it…but I felt brave.  Thanks Debbie for such an uplifting experience.

Hahahahhaha…and yes…I even had a wee in the undergrowth !!!

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Willow Work (Complete a piece of art) – Challenge No 42 ( and No 7)

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There is always such a great pleasure in trying an activity for the time; it combines the fear you might be completely rubbish mingled with the hope you may absolutely love it.  I particularly enjoy creative art and even though my track record is littered with failed attempts….such as the disaster pottery lessons turned into and wishy washy water colours,  I am always excited to have a go at something new and just sometimes you hit the jackpot (in my case calligraphy).  So when Debbie, who is both my niece and friend, picked a day learning willow work as my challenge ( well part of my challenge but more about that later..) I was thrilled.

We were blessed with amazing weather and a group of 8 of us, together with our talented instructor  Carole (her web link is below), sat outside enjoying the breathtaking Derbyshire views from Debbie’s garden over Matlock and across to Stanton Moor….you could not fail to be inspired.

http://www.carolebeavis.co.uk/index.php

The majority of the group plumped for making free form light pods so Carol then guided us through how to make willow circlets, which we joined and built up then moulded holes. (The hilarity of this aspect can’t be recreated so I won’t even try, you can use your imaginations 😉).  As an all female group activity we bonded, relaxed, laughed, teased and the dynamic atmosphere reflected the ebb and flow of conversation and concentration.  I really enjoy male company but there is also something particularly pleasing about solely being in the company of people of your own gender and this day was a perfect example of that. Then, before our eyes strange pods appeared, all starting the same and somehow each taking on their own identity…tightly woven or lose and free, straight, curved and in my case…onion-shaped!!  We stopped for tea and cake ( too scrummy), then later again for a feast of a lunch which collectively was made and shared and fuelled us to continue.

Finally, our creations ( many light pods and one completely adorable puddle duck ) were complete, we had in and outed, woven, tied, secatoured, twisted and often doubted then been delighted and now….they were done.  And, without exception, they looked stunning.

And here I return to what I said at the beginning, as just sometimes you strike lucky and find something you love!! I LOVE willow weaving…it was accessible, so therapeutic, you could not really go wrong as there are so many small or large projects you can do producing functional and/or artistic pieces. It is a tactile, physical and, fortunately for me, Carole had enough willow for me to buy some and bring back to Kent so I can have another go soon.  A perfect day.

This was an inspired challenge by Debbie and I am so grateful she helped me to find another new hobby; however it was only part of her ‘connecting with nature’ challenge to me…..so stay tuned to find out how she then ended the day by completely taking me out of my comfort zone!!!!

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The challenge I could not say outloud!!! – Challenge No 5

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This 50@50 Challenge I could not even write down, just in case I could not summon up the courage to actually complete it……Its a bit of an emotional one for me as I wanted to see Quella again.

How do you appease a teenage daughter who wants a dog, a husband who does not want a dog and a son who does not care…answer…….you have a Guide Dog Puppy for one year? And so Our beloved Quella entered our life.  

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She was a stunning looking puppy and we all fell in love instantly.  It was hard work as she was never ours, she had to be trained in a specific way, we were trained too….how to walk her and treat her and there were no cuddles on the sofa; but she loved to play and we became a dog loving family.  It was an amazing experience ( highs and lows) and when the day came that she left us I thought mine and Chris’ hearts would break.  However, an even harder day came when she failed her training ( a complete shock as she had been creamed off as one of their best potentials) and out of the blue we received a call asking if we wanted her back.  I knew, for a variety of reasons, that at that time we could not take her and reluctantly said no. ………And that decision has caused me heartache ever since.

The great news is that she became part of Roger and Margarets family and we keep in touch twice a year and I know she is well.  She spends half the year raising funds for the Guide Dog association….she is such an affectionate dog and therefore a huge draw.  The rest of the year she spends on a canal boat, enjoying the outdoor life.

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I have had the chance of seeing her before but balked at it, feeling guilty, but my mother in law has seen her and my son, daughter in law and granddaughter have all seen her.  So this year, knowing she was going to be at the Kent County Show I decided I should do it.  How glad am I that I did!! We were warmly nuzzled, licked and greeted…..but she did not recognise us….and that strangely gave me the greatest pleasure.  She had moved on, and so completely that my guilt was washed away, allowing me to move on too and look at the situation afresh.  We gave her a great start as a puppy ( she could not have been more loved) and after that initial hiccup at training when she left us she has turned into a fabulous dog, adored and doing some great work.  She leads a better life with Roger and Margaret than we could have offered her and I was thrilled to see how well she looked.  With the help of Quella, who will be 6 at the end of the month, and her owners their stand raised over £2,000 for the charity….takings are always up with the dogs there…not surprising when they are this cute ( and I feel absolutely no shame for the pouty, gushy, kissy face I am pulling!!)

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Have a Driving lesson/drive Chris home from the pub – Challenge No 15

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So, this may come as a surprise to some of you but I actually have passed my driving test and possess a full, clean licence (others will just be wondering….HOW 😉).  If you knew me when I was a driver, between the ages of 19-24, then it would be in Chris’ car ( which he used to lend me) and was very similar to the one below.  The only happy memory of driving I have was in this car, going to college with the window down, Tears for Fears blaring on the cassette and beating everyone off the lights.  

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The other, more numerous, memories are not so great, not feeling in control, nervousness every time I got in the car, flooding the engine, driving AND reversing over the front spoiler…I could go on!! My excuses were that my mum and my mother-in-law did not drive and, being ‘old school’ my Dad was not that helpful…no extra practice in his car and then refusing to get in a car with me as driver, even after I passed ( I guess he had his reasons) , not having my own car…..again,  I could go on.  Basically though I was not a good driver.  I remember clearly the day I ‘stopped’ driving; I had just had Matt and was off to visit a friend and within minutes the car broke down in the middle of Hartnup Street in Maidstone, where we lived, and some kind passers by pushed me off the road to safety. I felt so vulnerable and that was it – no more driving!!

I wont lie, I have tried having lessons once since then, very unsuccessfully, but felt that I owe it to Chris (who has been absolutely brilliant about my non driving status, as have my children) to try again, especially now we live more rural and it’s a 40 minute walk home from the pub.  So this is how my  50@50 Challenge came about; firstly to have a driving lesson with the aim then of driving Chris home from the pub.  I rang Julie, a local driving instructor and she has been brilliant…so calm, reassuring and she had me off through Tenterden on my first lesson, then through the outskirts of Ashford and she built up my confidence.  

http://tenterdendriving.co.uk

I then was put on our car’s insurance (not the Jag…and how ironic…the price went down by adding me…I am still chuckling over this).  I summoned the courage, which equates to Chris telling me I had to, and drove into the village, phew we made it.  Then, finally came the evening when Chris had 4 pints and it was my moment of truth.  He did an unusual amount of talking on the way home and my face shows I think how much I have to concentrate and how nervous I still am.  But,  we did it🚙🚙🚙. If it had not been for these 50@50 challenges, and casually reading how you are more likely to be successful at tasks if your age ends in a 9, I know I would never have even attempted driving again.  

 

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Am I ready for other passengers – No

Do I enjoy it – No

Will I go further than the village – Probably not

Am I going to keep trying – Yes (if Chris wants me to)

Am I pleased I tried – I AM THRILLED!!!!

 

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Have a holiday with my family – challenge no 14

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It is a strange thing that as you get older your horizons don’t always broaden as you would expect but, as in my case, actually can become refined and happily focused.  My family are the centre of my focus and many of my most memorable times emanate from them; sharing in their experiences, loves, successes, adventures and important events.  Often my favourite memories have come from holidays together but such time becomes increasingly  harder to achieve as Matt and Kate have grown older and now have their own homes, jobs and families.  This 50@50 challenge came about therefore as a concerted effort to make and spend quality family time with them, away from the hustle and bustle of normal life.

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Our destination was Villa Katwijk, in Carvoeiro, Portugal which we visited when Iyla was a baby and so it was nice to return with Lara as a baby this time.  

https://www.jamesvillas.co.uk/destinations/portugal/algarve/quinta-do-paraiso/villa-katwijk-3028

Needless to say we had a fabulous holiday, the villa was quiet and perfect for hosting our annual Peal Poker Night.  The Quinta Do Paraiso resort provided plenty of fun in the pool for Iyla ( a water baby if ever there was one) cocktails and tennis for the energetic. Carvoeiro provided music, dancing, boat trips, ice creams, beaches, crepes, calamari, rocks and caves, stunning views and  fabulous venues for meals out.

We laughed, had fun, explored, rested and forged many happy memories….job done ✔️

Have drum lessons and learn one piece of music – challenge No 1

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Since we moved to Woodchurch, a fantastic village in Kent, we have spent quite a bit of time in our local pub The Six Bells where we have made wonderful friends.  It serves great beer, has a wonderful atmosphere and frequent live music.  I realised then how much I love the sound of the drums and became a dab hand at playing along with some wooden spoons (you can guess how well that went down!!). 

https://www.facebook.com/The-Six-Bells-152114374821154/

A couple of years ago I got a huge surprise as Chris unexpectedly bought me a second hand drum set from a friend in the village, thank you Ollie, for my birthday and I spent six months following an online you tube teacher (JustLisa) which gave me some very basic rudiments. Unfortunately I could not read music, knew none of the technical lingo and as I have never played an instrument before I basically got stuck.  So for my birthday last year Chris bought me a years drum lessons and I set my 50@50 challenge.  In my dreams I wanted to play along to Stereophonics Dakota.

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The first hurdle I had to overcome was that of reading music.  Having never played an instrument before I found this very hard.  Even though Ed, my tutor, was impressed with my improvised way of recording music which I then had to learn at home  I soon realised I would not be able to progress very far.  So I purchased Rock School Drums Grade 1, practiced very hard outside my fortnightly half hour lessons and finally (also with the aid of Chris’ Grade 1 music theory) it sank in. 

https://www.rslawards.com/music/graded-music-exams/drums/grade-one

Over the past year I have learnt rudimentary sticking, rock grooves, fills, syncopation,  paradiddles, how to open the hi-hat, the six degrees of separation, triplets, accents, flams and other fun things.  YET all along the one thing I could not do was just play along to any song..be free to just play.  I became embarrassed and very self conscious and would resist doing this at all costs.

I worked really hard though and completed my task being able to play both the Kaiser Roll and Bend and Snap….both being musical pieces in my Rock Book, but Dakota still eluded me…..

Until my last lesson!!!  I spent the afternoon with friends sitting in the sun drinking a glass…or three…of prosecco and come lesson time I was on fine form.  Ed, bless him, had planned a fun lesson and we had a few warm ups which unbeknown to me were key beats from Dakota….he then cued the music and we were away playing freestyle accompanying the Stereophonics.  They went wrong a couple of times, but I helped them through 😉, and had a great time doing it.  I am so grateful to Ed for thrusting this upon me as I would never have done it otherwise..a great teacher who made each lesson interesting and enjoyable.  In return I was his model pupil who did their homework and bought in cake….a fair trade in my book.

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It is now gardening season so the drum sticks are away but come Autumn I will be back drumming away and enjoying the sensation of making music ( of sorts ).  Whilst I never wish to be part of a band or play in public, I do particularly enjoy the sense of coordination it gives me, the awe I feel every time a child sits at my drums and freely expresses themselves with none of the inhibitions that I possess, the physical release it gives me to play really loud and angry or gently and rhythmic but  mostly the pleasure in the knowledge……you can still teach this old dog new tricks!!!

 

Go Ape – Challenge No 39

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This 50@50 challenge was a total surprise on the day, and I had been quite nervous as it approached wondering what my son Matt had planned for me.  Growing up he was an absolute joy ( well most of the time) as he loved being outside either climbing, running, walking, cycling or playing sport…..however mostly he was climbing.  In Matt’s eyes our homes were only any good if the garden had a decent tree to climb in them.  Therefore when we pulled up at Go Ape at Leeds Castle in Maidstone it could not have been more appropriate.

https://goape.co.uk/days-out/leeds-castle

As I have said before I am blessed to have my children grow up into wonderful adults and one reason I am so proud of Matt is because of his supportive and encouraging nature.  When we have been on holidays in the past and we have had waterfalls to jump across, ledges with steep drops to walk along or any adventure to undertake he is always there for me with a kind word, a steadying hand or a pat on the back and he has done this since a young lad.  There is no fuss or drama, just a solid, steady presence which I have come to rely upon.  I now see him doing the same with my daughter-in-law and grand-daughters ( Iyla is already another budding monkey).  However I wondered this time if his expectations of me outweighed my ability and even his coaxing abilities!!!

BUT NO!! There is life in the old girl yet.  As we suited up I realised the men would be having by far the worst of it 😂 ( although I was covered in bruising the next day) and after a fear inducing, brief training session we headed into the tree canopy for the aerial assault course.  It took 3-4 hours and was at times quite physically gruelling ( for an overweight, under-tall and physically not at her peak individual such as myself).  However, this was all blown into insignificance by the fun we had.   We both absolutely loved the zip lines.  It was so hard to just step off the ledges and ‘hope’ you had clipped on correctly and that the ropes would take your weight but, my goodness, the adrenalin of then whizzing through the air, past the trees and out into an open meadow and then back under the tree canopy was fantastic.  It’s not often you can scream with joy in a public place but I certainly made the most of this opportunity!!!!! And that gentle ” am I going to have to push you mother”  in my ear was the only encouragement I needed to take that initial plunge, after that I was away.  Towards the end there was the Tarzan swing which crashed you into a cargo net and I was genuinely worried I would not be able to climb up it but I did not take the easy route, with Matt’s encouragement I gritted my teeth and worked my little legs and arms until I got to the top and onto the platform.  He then flew across providing acoustics which resonated around the woods and scrambled up with ease like a contestant on Gladiators ( my genes are in there somewhere).

At the end we agreed that it was a great course, higher up than it initially looked, challenging and fun for the fit and providing less taxing alternatives for the less able.  We would both do it again at the drop of a hat and would absolutely recommend it unless you don’t like heights.  It was so nice to spend some 1:1 time with my son as life has a general habit of getting in the way and this really was such a great choice of challenge.  

Simply the best fun…thanks Matt 🐒

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Kayaking the Dordogne – Challenge No 50

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So, at last, I hear you say….something approaching a proper, physical challenge.  And you would be right, when my friend Megan did this last year she thought to herself this would be the perfect challenge for Claire, a physically demanding three hour kayak, balanced out by the stunning scenery along the Dordogne (and the assistance of some of her rather gorgeous family  if things got too much) and a tasty Fench picnic.  I jumped at the chance but sometimes things are just not meant to be….

Our trip suffered numerous setbacks which were totally out of our control (personal sorrow, freak meteorological flooding and,the French being the French, various strike actions) so our new challenge became….just to make it to France!!

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I have known Megan for about 20 years now as we met when our children were at St Philips playgroup and we are both ‘cup half full’ people so hit it off instantly.  Therefore even though we had to shorten our trip and ditch the kayaking ( the Dordogne was flooded so not allowing kayaks on the water) we both still knew we would have a great time…which we absolutely did.

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We were staying at a beautifully converted house, near the town of Gourdon and a five minute walk away from Megan’s brother-in-law and his family who were extremely hospitable, beautiful people. Megan also had family and some other friends staying with us so there was a ‘party’ atmosphere which was wonderful.  We ate at a fabulous restaurant which only opens when pre- booked and all the courses included fresh herbs or flowers from the small but brilliantly packed restaurant garden.  We had a pizza chef come in his van to the house and cook what are undoubtedly the best pizzas I have ever eaten, to celebrate Megan’s brother in laws birthday ( duck pizza being a speciality of the region..inspired) and a bar-b-que, like no other…where the mushroom starter had been foraged, the meat cooked were huge steaks which I don’t even know how to describe and the fish was fresh and fabulous, all washed down with wine and merriment.

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However, there were two particular highlights to the trip.   Firstly, we had an amazing day trip where Richard (Megan’s son) kindly drove us to visit beautiful towns like Domme, La Roque Gageac ( where we looked at the doomed kayaks and I dipped my toe in a swollen and very fast flowing river) and the stunning Rocamadour.  I had no idea how breathtaking the scenery would be.  And the icing on the cake was a boat trip as promised…however this was rescheduled to Gouffre de Padriac, a subterranean river ( 103 m below ground ) which opened into the most awe inspiring cavern imaginable….you can undertand why they call them underground cathedrals. As the last visitors we had the pleasure of enjoying it’s majesty in silence for a while which I will not forget for a long time.

http://www.gouffre-de-padirac.com/mobile.php

The thing I enjoyed most though…France itself.  Where we stayed was rural, tranquil and idyllic.  I sat in the garden watching more butterflies than I have ever seen in one place, buzzards were flying low overhead; there was birdsong including cuckoos, hummingbird hawk moths in the sweetest smelling honeysuckle and….wait for it….I saw Hoopoe!!  Poor Megan had so many conversations interrupted by me jumping out of my chair to look at something or other…..she had great patience with me.  In addition the surrounding area and towns are beautiful, the food so tasty and it is packed with things to do.  So Megan we may not have kayaked on the Dordogne but you gave me something much greater….a whole area of France to re-visit, and explore (Carcasonne especially), new friends and wonderful memories 🇫🇷

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Cake Baking Workshop – Challenge No 38

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So as I have mentioned previously My 50@50 challenges are also a chance to spend quality time with people who are important in my life; and they don’t get much more important than Kate, my daughter.  Aging has benefits as well as drawbacks and one of the greatest things is watching your children grow, flourish and become wonderful adults which I am lucky enough to to have done.  However, they have also turned out cheeky and so both Kate and Matt decided to keep their challenges as a surprise for me ( which secretly I loved)

Kate and I both enjoy baking and watching cooking programmes and even though she now lives in Londin we still message each other throughout entire episodes of the Great British Bake Off.  I introduced her to Delia Smith and Mary Berry and she in turn introduced me to Lorraine Pascale and online recipe searches.  She is a much more adventurous baker so I was thrilled when she said my challenge was to go on a cake baking workshop together.

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The day started well with a great breakfast ( although Kate’s porridge…see above..looked suspiciously like a pudding) in Canterbury before we headed out to the Canterbury Baking School.  We were lucky enough to have booked in half term so as it turned out we were the only people on the course.  If I say that our day with Vicky was quirky and chaotic, it is in no way a criticism and in fact it enhanced the enjoymeant of the days baking.  We chose what to bake, there were no fixed recipes ( which I found scary and totally out of my comfort zone as I religiously weigh and follow recipes) we laughed, baked and I learnt new skills.  

We made a pear frangipani (pre-cooked photo below) with a pastry base which was brilliant as I had never caramelised pears before or made a frangipani, and certainly had not made my own pastry for a very long time.  It was great and the end result was wonderful, especially the fruit aspect and could happily be used as either a pudding or an afternoon cake.

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We also made what I dubbed a ‘St Clements’ cake ( from the old nursery rhyme) as the main flavours were clementines and lemons…see photo below.  This was a flour free cake, using instead semolina and almonds.  Whilst the taste was great ( improved greatly by drizzling lemon juice with sugar over the top) I guess this is the risk you take with winging it when baking because the density was not quite right…too heavy and dry.  I would try a no flour cake again though as I really enjoyed the unusual texture…and adding poppy seeds ( which I turned my nose up at) was inspired…but I think a recipe for me to follow will be called for next time.

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We had fun chatting about Paul Hollywood ( this school mainly has bread making courses), overcoming a slight mishap I might have had with some pastry (no one told me it was a loose bottom pan!!!!!!!), me then reminiscing about cookery lessons at school with my friend Michaela and generally learning and baking together.  

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At the end we got to try Vicky, our tutors bakes, together with some of her Kamut bread (which was totally amazing) and figure out how on earth we were going to get four cakes home…without tins…knowing we were off to the Rum Bar in Canterbury first.

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I really can’t remember laughing so much ( although not always when and why we were supposed to be …..my daughter is truly incorrigible) in a long time and I had such an enjoyable day with Kate.  I am thrilled to have passed on a love of baking to her in the same way my beloved Mum has passed it on to me and to be able to share time in a kitchen like this was a real joy.  I will certainly be moving outside my comfort zone next time I decide to bake and am pleased that the grateful recipients of our bountiful offering seemed rather pleased too.  Thanks Kate ❤️