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Friday, 29 March 2013

Pole-tastic Pole Dancing.


As if to add insult to injury, the day after the great goat debacle was earmarked for pole dancing. It’s not that I don’t love to dance - I do - but I had a feeling that pole dancing might not be quite my thing. I had this image of a studio full of long-legged, buxom twenty-something sex-pots with flowing hair, rippling abs, and buttocks you could crack a Brazil nut with. And then me, in my yoga shorts. It was not a pleasing vision.

However, now is not the time to go wimping out of challenges. Mum had both suggested pole dancing and taken the time to find me a class. So, with a heavy heart, and stumpy legs, off I went.

Princess Studios in Marbella is not afraid to be pink and sparkly. In fact, it rather embraces the idea. I saw it from the street and nearly turned back, conscious that this was probably going to be one of those experiences that would really make me feel my age. I’m not good with pink and sparkly. It unsettles my sense of all that is right and good with the world. Having come thus far, however...


To my instantaneous relief, the place was empty but for a very friendly lady on reception. The hordes of sex-pots were yet to arrive. I filled in my form, paid my money, and peeked into the studio. There were seven poles affixed from floor to ceiling, and an ominous hole where the eighth should have been. Evidently someone not sufficiently sparkly had tried to use it and had caused irreparable damage. Oh dear. Please don’t let me break a pole, please don’t let me break a pole, I whispered to myself.


Five minutes before the class was due to start, there was still no one in the studio except my official photographer and me. Things were looking up. Perhaps the day’s inclement weather had kept the sex-pots indoors? The lack of a teacher was slightly more concerning, but was a misfortune I felt I might be able to bear tolerably well.

My official photographer shows me how it's done...
At last my first – and as it transpired, my last – fellow student arrived. She was indeed endowed with an enviable figure and beautiful long blonde locks, but she was also quite shy, and confessed to not being very experienced on the poles. Feeling less intimidated by the second, I started to relax. Then the teacher, Victoria, arrived, flustered and five minutes late. Here was what I had been dreading: A pocket rocket with hair down to her hips and hot-pants that revealed a cheeky curve of nut-cracking buttock. And, even worse, legs covered in livid purple bruises. If a professional looked like that, what on earth was I going to do to myself in the course of an hour??

I try, not very successfully, to be pink and sparkly.
The class began with a warm-up including hip swaying, curve-caressing, bum wiggling and hair flicking. I managed everything minus the hair flicking. Naturally curly, frizzy hair like mine does not take kindly to being flicked. Instead of cascading alluringly down my shoulders, it would merely have grown in unruly volume with each flick. It stayed firmly in a bun, where it could not get up to too much mischief.

My hair without products. Thank you V05, Pantene, L'Oréal, Wella...
The first official move we learned was called the ‘Sexy Squat.’ Is it just me that thinks these two words don’t belong anywhere near each other? A squat? That is sexy? I can hereby confirm that I was unable to endow my squat with much in the way of sexiness. I managed, at most, a coquettish dip.


Next came instruction on how to walk around the pole, how to slide down the pole whilst rolling one’s head, how to grind against the pole and, finally, a basic hook and spin. Which might be better named  ‘hook off your skin’, because I certainly managed that, in several places.



Here’s something I didn’t know about pole dancing poles: They rotate. This probably seems completely obvious, but I had always assumed that the pole was static, and that the dancer did all the spinning around. Not so. The pole very helpfully spins around with you, making your main concern to ascend or descend as required. During a basic hook and spin, the job is to descend, all the way to the floor. I managed this with only intermittent success, often finding that whilst my legs were perfectly happy to slide, my hands stayed resolutely where they were. I think this was in part thanks to the liberal coating of hairspray Victoria had applied to my palms, in order “to prevent them slipping.” Alas, it is not particularly sexy when you end up with your (slightly grazed) knees on the floor, and your arms clinging to the pole three feet above you. I think it looks rather more like “I’m hanging out of a window, help me” than “I'm a sex-pot and if you pass me a Brazil nut I can show you a neat trick.”  Nonetheless, I got some fairly decent thrust on my spins, and exposed myself to significant g-force on the way around, which was a lot of fun, if somewhat nausea-inducing.


Wheeeeeeeeeee!

Victoria taught us a simple routine, which we practiced several times.  Her style was not precise, meaning that she occasionally varied which arm or leg she used at the start of a move, or where she placed her head and hands. This gave a sense of fluidity and improvisation to the dancing, which is, I suspect, part of what makes it exciting in a club setting. An appreciative audience probably prefers a style that feels spontaneous, as if feeding on the energy of the room, rather than something too obviously choreographed.


However, this style was not that easy for a brand new student to follow. Both my parents are natural teachers, and I have enormous admiration for anyone who is not only skilful at what they do, but also passionate when it come to sharing that skill. I have had a few excellent teachers during this blogging process, and a couple of not so great ones. I felt that, considering the fact that there were only two students in the class, this could have been a more intense learning experience. Victoria is clearly a captivating performer: Sinuous, sexy, springy and spinny.  But just being good at what you do doesn’t necessarily make you a great teacher… Nevertheless, I certainly had fun.

And as has been the case with all my physical challenges, I find myself full of admiration for anyone who makes pole dancing look easy. It really isn’t. Executing moves on the pole takes significant strength, particularly in the abs and arms. Executing them with grace, style and sexiness is on another level entirely. No mean feat. I can easily see how people get hooked on this as a form of fitness. Three days later, it still hurts to raise my arms above my head, and I feel like I’ve done a good dose of sit-ups. Which I haven’t. Though I really should, seeing as how it’s chocolate season.

Whilst I doubt pole dancing will become a regular thing with me, I would definitely do it again. The spinning was painful but exhilarating, and I’d be keen to learn the acrobatic elements of the discipline, with a bit less of the bum shaking. I’ve got bum shaking covered, as anyone who’s seen me dancing at a wedding can testify. So now to get practicing. Someone pass me the hair straighteners. And that bowl of nuts.


Twenty-five down, five to go…

Monday, 25 March 2013

Got Milk?





There’s been some worry, I confess,
Concern that I might make a mess,
And not quite finish what I started
Before the deadline has departed.
For time, you see, is running low,
I don’t have very long to go,
Yet seven challenges remain
And doing new ones is a pain;
I find I am not quite inspired
Fresh ideas are required.
But much as ever I might try
The font of genius runneth dry.
So scraping at the barrel now
I thought: “perhaps I’ll milk a cow.”

Well, inner London has its charms
But is not rich in dairy farms,
And not a cow could I procure
That would be willing to endure
My clumsy fumblings down below
For which I cannot blame them, no.
But out in Spain we had a friend
Who knew a bloke, who in the end
Requested of his cousin’s cousin
- Who’d a goat, or half a dozen -
If I could come to take a class
And fill a bucket, or a glass?
Ernesto gave a friendly ‘si’,
He’d be most glad to tutor me.


But on the given time and date
Some info came in, rather late:
Ernesto wasn’t in the know
With how to make the white stuff flow,
He’d never milked one in his life,
The one who did it was his wife,
(Who at that point was far away,
Off somewhere on a holiday.)
“In that case never mind,” I said
“We’ll think of something else instead.”
(For it did not seem very fair
To give the goat a beastly scare
By squeezing where one oughtn’t to
I just don’t think that’s kind, do you?)

Ernesto was quite undeterred,
“It’s just one goat, it’s not a herd!
“Between us we can fill a cup
Hold on a sec, I’ll tie her up.”


The nanny goat was duly tied,
And swaying on her underside,
Enormous udders milky full
Were ready, at the merest pull,
To squirt their creamy, frothy load
Over my hands, my feet, the road,
Anywhere but where I aimed
Because the goat was not quite tamed.
She put her back hoof in the bucket
As if to tell me where to shove it,
She knew quite well I had no clue
Of what I was supposed to do,
She had far better ways to spend
The final hours of her weekend;
There were some kids she hoped to feed
If only I’d give up the need
To go on squashing, spilling, wasting
Something I would not be tasting.
For the fact is that I never
Never, really, surely, ever,
Would be able to imbibe,
- Not for quite a handsome bribe -
That which came out of her teat,
I truly couldn’t take it neat,
I don’t drink milk, except in tea
I may be weird, but that’s just me.



And so the goat was left in peace,
Thankful for her swift release,
A centimetre in the pitcher,
Just enough to snap this picture:

I shall no more a milking go,
Amongst the trees and the old hedgerow,
But I have managed one more chore,
Completed: challenge twenty-four.




Mil, mil gracias Lele, Ernesto y Pili.

Twenty-four down, six to go...

Friday, 22 March 2013

Zen and the Art of Knitting





My mum caught the knitting bug when she was twenty-four years old. It was a serious case. Once she started she didn’t stop, and my childhood was full of adorable knitted outfits, blankets and scarves.


Aged three I asked her about the birds and the bees. Having a policy of absolute honesty, she explained to me that boys have willies and girls have clitorises. A day or so later, a male friend of mum’s came round to the house and commented on my superb home-knitted jumper.
“That’s a lovely woolly you have there, Joanna.”
“I don’t have a woolly” I replied, quite matter-of-factly. “I’ve got a clitoris.”

Ahem.

Matching woollies.

Mum was, I believe, rather disappointed when I reached the stage where I flatly refused to wear anything woolly. She had to start knitting for herself, which left a lot less room for cute designs. I showed absolutely no interest in learning to embroider, sew, cross-stitch or knit, and I think we both believed I would simply never be one of those people. But just over a week ago, when discussing my last few Thirty@30 challenges, she asked again if I didn’t fancy knitting a jumper. I’m not going to lie, I’m starting to feel time’s winged chariot hurrying near (that’s a literary reference, don’t you know?) Time is running out on me, and I’m still a good few challenges off target. So, where I had said No to Knitting some months ago, I now said yes. A day later I was equipped with 13 balls of yarn, some needles, and a plan. 

Here is my design, which mum reckoned should be well within the realms of possibility:


On day one, mum taught me how to cast on (put the yarn on the needles ready for knitting), knit, and purl. We did a small row of ten to practice, and then some calculations about how many stitches wide the jumper would need to be. Having done this test, I had to cast on 55 stitches. Did it take me one attempt? Two attempts? Three? It took me four bloody attempts to get the tension right. I felt like I was trying to do everything wearing a huge pair of gardening gloves. I was clumsy and awkward, but eventually got it right. Several hours later we realised I’d cast on 54 stitches instead of 55, but I tell you now that there was no way I was going back.

Casting on.
After I had cast on, Mum had an important phone call to receive and disappeared for an hour (oh, l'amour, l'amour). I decided to watch Seven Brides for Seven Brothers whilst knitting. It seemed a good choice because I know it so well that I can watch the whole thing quite happily without once lifting my eyes to the TV. I am not ashamed to admit this. I love that film. Howard Keel can bless my beautiful hide any time.


 
I successfully knitted ten rows of ribbing. Ribbing is difficult because it requires knitting one then purling one, alternately, all the way along the row. My brain was barely capable of this level of concentration, but somehow I managed. Then I started knitting my regular stripes, where you knit one whole row, then purl one whole row. This is easier, but of course I got cocky and then made a mistake. I found myself with a choice to make: Wait for mum to get off the phone, or try and solve the mistake on my own. Guess which one I chose? Three minutes later I was in floods of tears with a broken knitting needle in my hand, and all my hard work unravelled. Mum found me with my head in my hands, snivelling pathetically along to ‘Sobbin' Women.’ Oh the irony.


Broken needle. Sad Jojo.

Here is the situation at the end of day one:



Day two was better. I got into my stride, and managed to knit the whole of the back of the jumper without too many tragedies. I also performed the entirety of Jesus Christ Superstar from the sofa, singing all the parts, extremely poorly, and making mum howl with laughter.

Argentine cartoonist Quino captures the lengths to which knitting can take you.

Here is the situation at the end of day two:




On day three, disaster struck. We began the sleeves. Oh sleeves, horrible, evil sleeves. Sleeves, in order to be comfortable, have to taper. Nice and wide at the shoulder, so that you can move your arms about easily, and then a more sensible width down at the cuff. You start with the cuff and work upwards, increasing at regular intervals by adding stitches at the end of a row. Well, let’s just say that someone made a little error in calculations, and that five stripes up (i.e., about three hours work) we realised that I was knitting some kind of an enormous bat wing. Unravel, unravel, unravel. Cue deep and tragic despair.

Holy blistering batwing, Batgirl! Unravel that madness.

Here is the situation at the end of day three:



Day four, things got better again. Probably because I decided that it would be an excellent idea to watch all six hours of the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice in one sitting. You know, the one where Colin Firth jumps in the lake? There are few activities that are not improved by a good dose of Colin Firth in a sopping wet shirt, I find. Frankly, it was a wonderful day, not least because I conquered my first sleeve. I was starting to feel a bit less like I was wearing gardening gloves, though we established that where it took mum 1.5 minutes to knit a row, it took me 6.5. I guess those thirty-odd years of extra practice count for something after all…

Watching the Rome Marathon live feed.
As well as Pride and Prejudice, I watched a good chunk of the Rome Marathon that day, because my wonderful friend Julia was running it. 

She finished in the top of 10% of women, top 22% overall, which I think deserves a serious tip of the cap. My Jane Austen/knitting marathon was, however, a considerably more sensible way to spend a Sunday.





Day four’s progress:



By the start of day five, I was becoming slightly obsessive. I was knitting EVERYWHERE. In bed, cooking, at the hairdressers, driving the car, taking the dogs for a walk. OK, some of these may or may not be entirely true. You can decide which.






This obsession was all very well, but at the end of day five I was knackered and slightly dizzy. Every time I closed my eyes, green yarn danced and knotted in front of them.

Here’s day five, and how I felt at the end of day five:






 On day six we went to IKEA. I knitted in the queue. No word of a lie.



In another shop, mum held up a rather attractive jumper, suggesting I should try it on. “Bof” I said, in my very best French accent. “I can knit zis maself, oui?” Suddenly, I was some kind of Karate Kid-style knitting prodigy.  Despite several hours of retail therapy in between stitches, I made good progress, and had knocked a full minute off the time it took to knit each row. Cast on, cast off, Grasshopper.

Here’s the situation at the end of day six.


On day seven, I started the heart, and it all got a bit intense. The concentration required to keep changing colour from dark green to red to light green to red again was immense. There were more tears, because I felt tired and overwhelmed. I was trying so hard to do it perfectly, to get it right, to impress mum and make sure my design came out as I had imagined it. Several times I started knitting with red and just carried on to the end of the row, when I should have swapped to green at the edge of the heart. Back I went, unpicking, counting furiously, fighting to stay cool. In the end - and this is a measure of how exhausted and stressed I was - I went to bed leaving just ONE LINE of the heart unfinished. Is it only me that finds this extremely strange behaviour? One line? Surely I could have finished the heart? But I really and truly couldn’t do any more. Not a single stitch.

Here’s the end of day seven:


On day eight I awoke refreshed and ready.  I finished the heart in the shower. OK, I didn’t really. Or did I? I wouldn’t put it past me…


The sun shone, meaning more multi-tasking.



At the end of day eight, all the pieces of the puzzle were ready: two sleeves (evil sleeves), and a front and back that had been sewn together, allowing a continuous rib to be knitted all around the neck with circular needles.



End of day eight:



Day nine was sewing day. I freely admit that I allowed mum to sew the evil sleeves to the body of the jumper. She kindly left me the easy bit, which was sewing up the sides. It was extremely satisfying to discover that the stripes front and back did indeed match up. There had been doubts at one stage, due to some slightly overzealous ironing. It isn’t wise to overzealously iron one’s woolly…


Sewing the stripes together
At the end of day nine: It lives, Igor, it lives!






So, all-in-all it took: nine days, a full kilometre of yarn, one broken needle, two viewings of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (yes, I watched it twice, and what?), a full rendition of Jesus Christ Superstar, six hours of Pride and Prejudice, a few outbreaks of tears, a lot of patience, a little obsession, and enormous supervision from She Who Must Be Obeyed. Not in a million years could I have done it without her. Thank mum!

She Who Must Be Obeyed. A worldwide knitting legend.

It was an extraordinarily intense process, and hugely rewarding to see the long strands of wool becoming a mass of fabric. But at the back of my mind I always had one worry. What if I hated it? What if I did all that work, and then I hated it and never, ever wore it?

Well, here's day ten:

The jumper goes to yoga

The jumper has breakfast

A few hours later, the jumper has lunch. The lady behind the jumper is really enjoying her sausage,

The jumper drives us home

The jumper walks the dogs
So there’s my jumper. Turns out I definitely like it and I'm definitely going to wear it. It’s a bit baggy, perhaps. The sleeves are slightly too long. And, well, it’s hardly discreet, is it? You couldn’t miss me walking down the street in that. But there’s something kind of joyful about it. I love the contrast of the green on red, and the sheer exuberance that I feel when I put it on. I made this, I think to myself. I may look a little bit bonkers, but I made this



I haven’t quite mastered the Zen of Knitting, but I think I might be on my way. Oh, and mum's really proud of me. She thinks it's fantastic how I persevered even when it was difficult and frustrating. But just to remind me who's boss, she started a new jumper:



Smart aleck.  

Twenty-three down, seven to go…