The one where I turned 40 and took off all my clothes in public

It’s hard to believe that it’s two years since I ventured off to Tea and Tents for the first time, and boy how my life has changed since then. Back then I described it as one of the most inspiring weekends of my life and just being back in the same place and seeing how far I’ve come since then was in a way quite humbling.

The Women’s Institute has helped turn around my life over the last few years. It’s given me confidence, courage and ambition, and without it I don’t think I would have made the changes I have to my life. I realised how unhappy I was and made differences to give me and my kids a better, happier life. The WI as a whole, the experiences I’ve had there and the friends I’ve made are what made all this possible.

Tea and Tents Women's Institute

When I discovered that the 2018 event was the weekend after my 40th birthday it seemed like the perfect time to celebrate with some of my closest girlfriends. What I didn’t realise when I booked my ticket was that I would by then be 24 weeks pregnant. Or that the country would be in the middle of a massive heatwave.

Never fear though – with a paramedic in my WI group, plus my mum and sister living just down the road from Walesby I set off determined to have a fab time and I did just that.

Last time round I was totally disorganised (possibly something to do with the amount of gin I took with me!) but with a clear head I this time planned my activities somewhat more and even booked in for some workshops and activities before I went.

For those unfamiliar with it, Tea and Tents is an unofficial WI festival that runs over three days on a Scout camp in Nottinghamshire. With over 500 women of all different ages and backgrounds, it’s a completely unique experience that I think is one that all WI members should try to see for themselves.

There is so much on offer that even after being more organised I still only feel like I scratched the surface of what there was. But I once again came home from Walesby feeling reinvigorated and motivated in a way that I hadn’t before.

Being pregnant meant that things like axe throwing were off the agenda for me, but instead I aimed to strike more of a mental balance by signing up to a variety of craft activities. I started off the weekend by totally throwing myself into the festival vibe and making a flower crown. How else are you supposed to look when going round a campsite in your pyjamas in a morning?

Tea and Tents Women's Institute Suffragette Flower Crown

I’ve never really been very good with fresh flowers, but Polly was a fantastic tutor and gave us a great workshop showing us how to form the basic crown from wore and then adding on flowers as we wanted to. Bearing in mind we all started off with very similar flowers, it was amazing just how different all the finished crowns were. But that’s individuality for you.

Tea and Tents Women's Institute Stampin Up

I booked onto a card making workshop on a bit of a whim. Mainly because I was looking for something to fill a time slot and because a couple of my friends were going. I’m so glad I did though as I absolutely loved it and came away with a couple of completed cards. It also introduced me to Stampin’ Up and I know I’ll be heading there way to order a few bits for some Christmas card making later in the year.

There were so many sewing and needle felting workshops that I wanted to do, but in the end I went for one simply titled “stitch a suffragette”. With no picture as I guidance it was a bit of a case of booking in the dark, but I’m so glad I did. Run by a mother and daughter team from Old Town Belles WI, it was quite simply one of the most organised workshops I’ve ever been to.

Tea and Tents Women's Institute Suffragette

With pre-prepared fabric hoops and kits consisting of all the pre-cut pieces of fabric we would need to create our suffragette (as well as detailed written instructions) it really did make the process of creating such an impressive looking piece of embroidery quite simple.

Tea and Tents Women's Institute Suffragette

The two hour session just flew past and I’m so pleased and proud of my finished piece. Another member was telling me about how she was planning to add hers to a suffragette collection of artwork and memorabilia that she had in her downstairs loo and that somehow seemed just strangely perfect.

The other highlight of my weekend couldn’t really be any further away from the stereotypical Women’s Institute image of stitching a suffragette. ¬†After signing up for a swimming session at Walesby I was convinced by some of the other women online to join them in the organised skinny dipping session. And somehow I agreed to this without a drink inside me!

Two years ago there were stories floating around the camp about an impromptu spot of skinny dipping, but this time around it was far more pre-planned. With a lifeguard and everything! Quite what made me sign up to do it I’ll never know. But I’m so glad I did.

Never before have I felt so liberated and free. Naked in an open air swimming pool. My pregnant body fully on display. With a bunch of women that I had never met before, but yet I felt so comfortable. And heck that water was beautifully refreshing when it was so hot outside.

Tea and Tents Women's Institute

What a way to celebrate turning 40!

Just two days before my 40th the blogging world lost one of its brightest stars. Kate from WitWitWoo died suddenly, and we were all left stunned. How could someone so full of life be dead? Kate always told us to live life to the full. Not to worry about what everyone else thought. To wear what we wanted to wear. To be who we wanted to be. The blogging community came together in a way that Kate would have loved so much.

Inspired by T from Mummy Barrow we all decided to make the following weekend by embracing body confidence regardless of our size or shape. Bloggers across the country (and around the world on holiday in may cases) showed off their swimsuit selfies on social media. She would have laughed so hard (especially as many of us realised just how damn hard it is to take a good selfie in swimwear!) but I know she would have also been proud. #BeMoreWitWitWoo has already become a mantra for so many of us, and that’s exactly what I was doing when I went skinny dipping. Take these crazy experiences that life throws at you and embrace them as much as you can.

The final message that I took home from Tea and Tents this time round was being realistic about what is possible in life. A deflated air mattress, a bad bag, and crazy temperatures meant that the camping element wasn’t the easiest of things to deal with. The final night I headed off to my mum’s rather than endure another night under canvas. Although I missed out on some time with my friends (who it seems managed to stagger round most of the campsite making friends into the small hours) I instead slept for a decent length of time, woke without aches and pains, had a loo just down the corridor when the baby decided bouncing on my bladder at 3am was a fun thing to do, and also got a hot shower the next morning. As a result I felt refreshed for my return home – and clean for once too!

Knowing no one

The problem with moving somewhere new and knowing no one is knowing no one. I work from home and my kids are staying at their old schools back in a neighbouring town, so my opportunities to get to meet new people are somewhat limited locally.

For me, one obvious way to do so was to pop along to the local WI. I’ve been a WI member for four years now and I absolutely love the Herts Belles back in St Albans. In that time I’ve made some brilliant friends, learnt some new skills and had an amazing amount of fun. I realise not every WI is quite the same, but talking to this local one they seemed friendly enough on Facebook when I enquired about meeting details.

So last night I went along, trying to ignore the slightly nervous feeling in my stomach. With it still being school holidays locally they weren’t meeting in their usual venue, but instead at a local church. I knew roughly where I was going and pulled up in the car park outside slightly surprised to see quite so many women heading towards the church. I’d looked at their photos on Facebook and whilst they seem to have a healthy number of attendees I didn’t think there were quite this many.

I followed them towards the door of the church where I met three women who instantly asked “are you here for WI?” I uttered the word “yes” and before I could say any more the door was held open for me and one of them said “excellent, we can follow you then”. I quickly explained that that probably wasn’t the best idea, seeing as I’d never been there before, but it seems the only hall these women they could find in the church was for Slimming World!

After a quick discussion as to whether or not this was some sneaky NFWI ploy to get us all to lose a bit of weight, we tried several doors before venturing down a dark corridor and finally finding a room in which they at least recognised most of the women inside.

Once there everyone was delightful and incredibly welcoming. They were all very keen to find out about the Herts Belles and where I was living locally. Space was made for me to sit next to someone and I was given a quick run down of how they do things there. I’ll be honest and say it is a much older and traditional WI that I am used to, but I was made to feel so welcome by everyone there.

The official part of the meeting was done much more formally than I’m used to (I’ve certainly never had a set of minutes read out in full before) but I was surprised to find that they don’t actually sing Jerusalem, as I’d expected them to do so.

It was also interesting to hear about meetings that they’d had previously and also about future meeting and trip plans. I realise that with the kids I’m not going to be able to attend all meetings but it still seems like they have a nice bit of variety throughout the year.

Tales of a recent Gyles Brandreth event (that I think was a county event) and his advice for public speaking (“always make sure you have your nipples pointing forwards at your audience”) led our speaker for the evening into talking about how he was once researching Victoria vibrators and came across “nipple jumpers” which were apparently a thing to give people the look of erect nipples that you might get on a cold day, even when the wearer was warm. It was quite a start!

What he was really there to talk abut was Victorians and death. They way that they mourned the dead, what they did with their dead and how Queen Victoria pretty much ruined the whole mourning “business” by choosing a white funeral for when she died. All this with the occasional background noise of screams from a drama group that were rehearsing in a nearby hall. It certainly set an atmosphere!

It may all sounds like a bit of a morbid topic, but was actually fascinating. So much so that a few of us from the Herts Belles are now wondering about booking a little trip to Kensal Green cemetery in London for a tour.

Talk over, vote of thanks delivered, it was time for a cuppa. Being polite I held back a little and chatted to a few people before getting my (excellent) cup of tea and a nice biscuit to go with it. I then sat down and continued my conversations with a few of the women I’d met whilst slowly drinking my tea.

I noticed the President sat back at the table wearing her coat and looking a tad concerned. Also, a couple of other women who had headed off after the vote of thanks seemed to have returned to the hall. News soon spread around to tell us that there was a slight problem. We were locked in!

Yes, it seems that as we weren’t regulars there on a Thursday evening, and were tucked away down a dark corridor, we’d been forgotten about and locked into the church complex. I knew some WIs can be a bit “wilder” than others, but I certainly hadn’t been expecting a WI lock in at my first meeting!

I dropped my boyfriend a text to let him know that the meeting had finished, but saying that I wasn’t quite sure when I would be back as we were being held captive somewhat. “Well at least you can drink tea whilst you wait” he replied. Well, not really. There I was taking my time over my cuppa and enjoying chatting when a woman appeared at my side and told me to drink up quickly as there was only me and one other woman still with cups and they wanted to be able to finish the washing up. Well that told me. I don’t think I’ve ever drunk hot tea quite so quickly.

Apart from the rushed tea drinking and being held captive it was a lovely evening and so nice to actually meet some local people. It was also my first step towards becoming a bit of a WI tourist too. I find it fascinating just how different WIs can be despite working towards the same aims and goals. I’ll be becoming a dual member when I go back, but I’m also looking to broaden my WI horizons a bit more and find out what other local groups there are so I can see if there are any more meetings or activities that I can join in with in the area.