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 ūüėČ). ¬†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 itūüöôūüöôūüöô. 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 ‚úĒÔłŹ

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 ūüėČ, 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 ūüėā ( 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 ūüźí

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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 ūüáęūüá∑

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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 ‚̧ԳŹ

Attend a flower Show – Challenge No 17

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As I approach the ‘two months to go mark’ ¬†the challenges will now be coming thick and fast so expect to be overloaded with blogs until completion date. ¬†It’s all so exciting at the moment and my life is quite a whirlwind hence this blog being written a tad after the event. ¬†This 50@50 challenge was a personal one. ¬†Most/some of you will know that I love gardening (probably when I have been boring you about it lol) but I have actually only ever been to one garden/flower show and that was many years ago, before I had the bug, when my father-in-law, Colin, and his wife Tina, took me to Hampton Court which was amazing. ¬†Approximately 15-20 years has passed since then and I have followed Chelsea on the TV and intended to go, but never quite got around to it….until this year!!

I took advice from friends who had been and got there early ( I know, very unlike me!!), so I  was queuing at  7.45 am for doors opening at 8am.  I then headed straight for the 26,000 hand made poppies which were in the front of the Royal Hospital.  It was visually stunning, each individual and personal poppy made a moving tribute; but collectively it had such a strong impact.  I was glad I was able to enjoy it peacefully and reflectively.

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From there I went to the Pavilion which was virtually empty so I strolled around enjoying the variety of exhibits. ¬†Particular highlights were the florists entries ( I surprised myself here) which were carnival themed, but to me looked more like stunning tribal headdresses, such intricate work, ¬†vibrant colours and amazing flower combinations. ¬†I also decided that irises and clematis were the flowers/plants I most wanted to take home and put in my garden and the protea would be my exotic choice. ¬†Below is the link to this year’s RHS plant of the year, and I am afraid I disagreed with the judges verdict…by far the most stunning flower in my opinion was the chrysanthemum ‘ Rossano Charlotte’ ( see photo below) although I would be very happy to have the winning clematis in my garden any day of the week.

https://www.rhs.org.uk/shows-events/rhs-chelsea-flower-show/2016/Articles/chelsea-plant-of-the-year-2016

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It was by now mid-morning, the sun was shining and so I stopped for a pick-me-up pimms and did a bit of gardening celebrity spotting before heading to the main show gardens.  I could go on endlessly here and wax lyrical about plants, sculptures etc but will instead condense it to this:- (although I will add that I did no research before I went so each garden was fresh to me which had both positive and negative results)

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  • my favourite garden was the Morgan Stanley Garden for Great Ormond Street Hospital (photo above) which gave me goose bumps when I laid eyes upon it, before I even knew anything about it. ¬†It was tranquil, spiritual and used trellis with patterns and holes to give height and form but without feeling enclosed. ¬†The sculptures were vast but blended gently within the foliage and planting which was not crowded or false and together this achieved a real garden with a sense of serenity; and I am still in awe, I have no idea how it was done….skill and vision beyond words.
  • my other favourite was The Winton Beauty of Mathematics Garden, (photo below) which initially I was not fond of but which drew me back later again and again, each time trying to understand it a bit more. It was not my traditional style but I ended up loving it.
  • my least favourite was ( sadly as I wanted to like it) Diarmuid Gavin’s Harrods Eccentrics British Garden….everything I hate in a garden…novelty, mechanics, all about the build rather than the plants = yuk!!!
  • my favourite planting scheme was purple and white with a hint of orange…I may have to find a corner of the garden to experiment with this.
  • best part of the show other than the gardens – by far and away it was the sculptures…I felt I was at an art gallery. ¬†They were truly amazing and at every corner…how I wish I had the spare ¬£10-100,000 they cost ‚ėĻÔłŹ
  • wish list…. Affordable sculptures, clematis, and seating (which blends rather than stands out and entices me away from the weeding).

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It was an amazing day where I met interesting enthusiasts to chat with ( even though I went on my own), it provided me with enough inspiration for another 5-10 years and had constant surprises like the pimms tents at every corner, the music in the park, the artisan shops, and my favourite batik artist selling her work (Jane Hickman). ¬†I ended the day with a ride on a red double decker bus back to the station and once home I shared my photos (another great thing was that this is a photographers dream to visit) with fellow enthusiasts. The latter has had a rather splendid result ………..I already have tickets booked for RHS Chatsworth 2017 (and lovely company to attend with….thank you Debbie and Nicky) which means I could not be happier.

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Take a generation photo series – Challenge No 3

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I first saw a generation photo like this done some years ago, I think in a digital camera magazine, although it could have been on ancestry uk, whichever, I kept a copy of it but never quite got around to doing it; hence it making it onto my 50@50 challenge list. ¬†I loved doing this and it was relatively simple to achieve….(only a few incidents of crooked frame holding, broken glass, wrong wind direction and sun reflecting poorly etc etc ūüėČ ). Thanks go to Kate for taking the photo of me and my mum for not falling over!!!

It is a wonderful thing to have and cherish, but¬†I now intend to adjust the idea. ¬†I am going to find a photo of my lovely nanny Noakes for my mum to hold and then reverse the process, that way the generations can continue for as long as our family line does….my gift to future generations and branches of my family. ¬†

Grow my hair long – challenge no 34

 

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Ok, so this challenge is a mildly rebellious one.  Whilst I have not had very short hair for some years, I noticed when I started going through the menopause that my hair was getting progressively shorter and shorter, was this me asking for it shorter ( subconsciously or not) or was the hairdresser trimming it shorter for some reason.  This made me think:

do people judge middle aged women with long hair?

When I reflect back all my aunties, nans, teachers, neighbour’s and people I could recall of middle age had short hair ( with the exception of the sophisticated Miss Harrison, the music teacher at school, but she was probably much younger than I think)…is there an unwritten rule somewhere?

I did a bit of research and was astonished at what was said about why women cut their hair or have shorter hair when they hit middle age such as:

  • There is societal pressure to conform
  • hair becomes thin and loses pigment so you must
  • its a ‘mature’ style
  • women have now earned the right to have it short

and my favourite

  • at a certain age women need to reduce their attractiveness and show they have gone off sex which having a short masculine hair cut achieves

and, equally potentially negative comments regarding older women who chose to keep their hair long:

  • they are flaming liberals
  • a certain type of older woman who still wants to be ‘seen’
  • raging feminists

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What I know is that a woman’s hair length should be a matter of personal choice and not because of your age or silly societal pressure!! ¬†And to celebrate that choice I shall continue to grow my hair, until my NEW hairdresser says for condition reasons I should stop!!!

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