Friday, 30 December 2011

The Grand Junction Arms (Bulborne) to Tring Reservoirs and back.

In which rain stops play at Tring Reservoirs and I retrace my steps, play around with our new camera and list 18 things I learnt this year. Why 18? Whyever not?

Ordnance Survey Map: 181 (Chiltern Hills North)

Distance: 2 miles (?)
Time: Hardly anything
Rating: Easy Walk

Well, it's that time of year where we all start looking back and going 'ooo'. All in all - and to offer up a massive understatement - this has been a busy year. I hope next has a little bit more money and a lot more sleep in it. As the gear-up for Christmas began, I started to do a lot of thinking about this time last year. Mostly, my thoughts have been a deep and sincere gratitude that I am not heavily pregnant, and that I live in an age where acquiring the state of heavy pregnancy is one of choice. There is nothing like having a baby to teach you the joy of contraception.

The Grand Junction Arms, Bulborne

Today's walk wasn't quite what I intended. I had a plan for a circular walk, but it started to rain and, even with a brolly, I was worried about the coldness of the Chap's toes, so I decided to play it safe and head back. It was at least nice to have left the house, seeing as over the past few days I have thrown food into my mouth with gay abandon without too much exercise to counteract it. I don't think I can count Christmas cake as one of my five-a-day, and I'm pretty sure that eating it for breakfast is not wholly to be encouraged.

Cakey Breakfast of Champions dealt with, I started at The Grand Junction Arms in Bulborne, with every intention of stopping at the end of the walk for a cuppa, but seeing as I called the walk off early and they don't open til 12, my cuppa was missed and I opted to go home and prepare the Chap a sausage sandwich instead.

The Grand Junction arms is - unsurprisingly, from the name - right on the towpath of the Grand Union Canal. On towpath with my back to the pub, I turned left and headed along the tarmaced road - this is a fantastic walk if you have a pram. Come the summer I have every intention of starting in Marsworth, walking here for lunch along the canal and then walking back. Today wasn't a day for that, really. All grey and miserable, rather.

On this day last year, I was round my friend's house being fed a large and delicious Thai curry in an attempt to encourage my son to vacate the premises. He wasn't late, you understand, but I felt a few hints wouldn't go amiss; frankly, I'd had enough of him where he was.

So, on the whole, things I have learnt this year:

1) Childbirth is really not as bad as people make it out to be. Or at least, it wasn't for me.
2) Sleep deprivation really is torture- people aren't making that one up.
3) Between the hours of midnight and 5am, and foodstuff available is liable to fall into your mouth.
4) I have reached the point in my life where poor service (notably from the NHS & Ikea this year) not only annoys me, but annoys me to the point of shirty letters. I have become that sort of a Bear.


5) Whisper this one quietly - for me, I think if I had another baby, I would probably skip the whole farrago with endless industrial milking machines and nipple shields and whathaveyou and just go straight to formula feeding. The people who can do it often seem mystified and I regularly got the response 'oof, when I got going I could have fed the whole street'. To those people, I can only shake like a veteran from 'Nam and intone "You weren't there, man. You weren't there..."
6) I married the right person. This is encouraging to have reconfirmed after 6 years and a baby.
7) Much love to the baby-friendly matinee at The Rex cinema in Berkhamsted, without which I would not have been able to enjoy The King's Speech, Win-Win, Potiche and Jane Eyre (that being said, Win-Win had an amusing trailer, but was best avoided).
8) Spending your Christmas money on a new camera means you will end up playing with the settings and taking extreme close-ups of plastic dinosaurs.

I was very excited by our new camera, actually. I didn't choose it, but it has brilliant automatic focus setting that makes the whole thing a point and press job, which is excellent if you're me and lazy.

Lock 44, The Grand Union Canal.
It's a pleasant, easy walk along the canal - I passed a number of locks which are part of a section I am sure are called The Marsworth Steps, but I can't find any evidence of this online. Anyway, I passed five locks in a really short space of time, which shows it's quite an up bit, even though the walk is pretty flat.

In a short while you reach the junction after which the pub is named - do not take the left hand turn towards Wendover, but instead go straight on over the humpty-backty bridge to head towards Tring Reservoirs.

More things I have learnt this year:

9) Learning my limits, and how to ask for help. It is hard to admit that you are not the Lord God Almighty, particularly if you're an only child. And particularly if you're British - we really do have that whole stiff-upper-lip thing going on. However, there is much to be said for throwing your hands up in the air and saying "Can someone help me with this?" before you hit your limits.
10) It's a really good idea to man up and go to therapy. Really, it's been brilliant. Again with that stiff-upper-lip thing - all this emoting. All this carrying on. One might as well be Californian. I thought you had to be a) mad, b) self-indulgent or c) both to go to therapy, but I was talking tosh. I wish I had gone years ago, it would have saved a lot of trouble.
11) I have revoked the Johnny Depp Clause in my marriage. I had previously asserted that should Johnny Depp turn up in Buckinghamshire and present himself at my door (which of course we all admit is highly likely), I reserved the right to reconsider my choices. Given the option now, however, I don't think I need to. My husband is my Pikachu - I choose him over all others. Where were you at 4am on various February nights this year, Mr Depp? Hmm? Where were you? Not letting me go back to bed for a sleep, I can tell you.

You eventually appear out by Tring Reservoirs, which look bleak and forbidding this time of year. I don't know about water, but should there be exposed mud at this time of year? Shouldn't reservoirs be full this time of year? Whatever it was, there were quite a few mud flats and birds with muddy legs wading through them.

When the path leads, turn left between the two reservoirs and past a group of fisherman, one of whom was complaining loudly that all he had caught today were two bird's nests.

Just as I reached the end of the path and was heading towards the road, it started to rain heavily. I had my umbrella (which I much prefer to faffing round with a rainhood on a pram. I'm not very spatially aware, so by the time I've fitted the damn thing the rain has usually stopped, or the Chap is complaining vociferously), but even so I was worried about the rattly cough the Chap has and the current situation of his cold little toeses, so I chose to turn round and head back, which was a bit disappointing, but I don't want him ill.

Last bit of the things I have learnt this year:

12) When organising a road trip through France, and when planning your first day's driving that you need to remember to include the time it will take you to get to the ferry in your total for driving hours of the day. Also, France, you have many good and noble qualities, but the signage in your towns needs some work. I have a radical proposition for you - how's about putting the signs before you get to the junctions rather than at them? Much easier to get in the right lane then...
13)A good health visitor is worth their weight in gold. Fortunately, we have one who has her head screwed on and has given very sensible advice, particularly about weaning (which was winding me right up).
14) Slings - they're a really good idea. I like walking, and baby carriers let you go wherever you like.
15) Also, sling meets are full of people who are still reading books and come out with sentences such as 'I can fit into my My Little Pony t-shirts again!', and 'I am sure it was reading Meg & Mog as a child that directly resulted in my later becoming a goth'. Such sentences make me happy, so sling meets for the win, I say.
16) There is a rule for life one needs to abide to, and it is this - when one has been out drinking and one hears Bon Jovi's classic, Livin' on a Prayer, you may use it as a litmus paper for whether or not you may return to the bar. If you do not attempt the key change, all is well and you may continue drinking. If you attempt the key change, you have probably had enough and should not accept any more. Finally - and this is very important - if you attempt the key change and think you did it really well, then that is the moment you should have a pint of water and head home to your bed for more water and a vitamin C.
17) Christmas is way more fun when you have toys to play with :)
18) There seems to be no limit to the number of photos you can take of your child. Whatever they do is clearly the cutest thing that has ever been done. All those other people thinking their baby is the best? Deluded fools! They can't smear yoghurt over themselves the way your baby can!

So yes, those are the things I learnt this year. There are more, like how to put a nappy on properly, or what to say when you find yourself in a baby group next to a powerfully ugly child, or why proper bras are integral to my self esteem, and what stitches feel like when the don't dissolve, and how to stop a child from choking, and how to stay awake at night when all you want to do is sleep, but these are the ones I've put here, and I don't want to go on all day.

So, the conclusion at the end of almost a year of motherhood? It's all right. It really is fine. I quite like it, although some more sleep would be nice. I'd rather have him than not, certainly. As my husband has been heard to say - he's a good bloke, that baby.

Happy New Year!

Sunday, 25 December 2011

The Baby's First Christmas

Men & babies. Really, it's adorable. All my friends have asserted that "The bit where you come home with your baby and the boy cries" is certainly a highlight of the first days with a new baby.

Love songs to your children slay me these days. At The Godmother's wedding last week, I had to turn to the pew behind me and hiss "Stop it! Stop it right now!" at my friend, singing along to Jack Johnson's Better Together, serenading his 6 week old, gently snoring son. It was either that or I sobbed openly on the floor of the Church.

Later on on the wedding day, Tim Minchin's White Wine In The Sun was played, which cruelly set me up to see my friends dancing in a circle with their parents after 11 years together, and again there may have been some more tears.

My husband doesn't sing. Well, he does, but it's when everyone else is out and he's doing the ironing, or very, very quietly behind closed doors when he's putting the Chap back to sleep. So he sings no love songs, and he writes no poetry, but he does disappear off into his shed and emerge at some point later with, say, a cot for his son. Or, as happened a few days ago, muttered something about 'having the right wood', 'really, it's very easy' and 'there will be a giraffe end and a zebra end', and then spent last night sticking and sanding and then appeared with this. It does indeed have a giraffe and a zebra end.

The Jacob's Ladder in action.
I tried to take a video, but it wouldn't upload.

And it may seem silly, but it is as much a love song to his child  as anything that might involve a treble clef. The meaning is the same, and still it slays me. Having a child is like owning some work of art, something like Van Gogh's Starry Night, something wild and beautiful, but you painted it, and it's there all the time, and it came from you. And it is awesome in the original sense of the word, and wonderful and terrifying and awful all at the same time.

Here, at the darkest time of the year, we think of babies because they bring us hope and terror in equal measures, and because that is what the dark brings, too.

Merry Christmas.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Aldbury to the Bridgewater Monument (Circular Walk)

In which I have a leisurely wander from the village of Aldbury up to the Bridgewater Monument and back, don't stop for a cup of tea because the Chap was a-napping, and wish you a festive furry fu-fu.

Ordnance Survey Map: 181 (Chiltern Hills North)

Distance: Approx 3 miles
Time: 1 hour
Rating: Easy-Moderate Walk (hills & maps & mud - oh my!)

On my previous walks around Aldbury I had seen signs to the Bridgewater Monument, so I have been quite keen to join the dots of The Aldbury Circuit Part I & Part II and the Ashridge Estate. Also, The Chap has been running yet another mild temperature (the average child has 12 colds a year, I think I read in the NHS Birth to Five book), and so a trot in the fresh air is always good.

This time I did not abuse the good nature of the Greyhound pub car park, but instead parked 100 or so metres beyond that in the recreation ground car park, where a few other people were starting off on their own walks - although they seemed to be heading more towards the Ridgeway than in the direction I was going.

Come out of the car park and turn left, walking down the road for about half a kilometre. It's quite a narrow road, but it's quiet with it. In due course, after passing a natty wrought iron gate on the right and seeing a large white country house hotel through the trees on the left, you follow the public bridleway signs and turn right through Stocks Farm and head gently upwards.

This bit through the farm was pretty muddy, so it was a case squelching for quite a long way. I reckon with a bit of tenacity of upper body strength you could do this walk in the summer with a pram, but in the winter  it would have been pretty dire. As it was, I still had to go pretty carefully as I'm always a bit concerned about slipping over and squishing the Chap on landing. He was oblivious, of course - by this point he had nodded off.

It being Christmas and the season of eating, I had thought a lot about weaning this week. Particularly as we had a pre-Christmas family dinner in which the Chap kicked off in a particularly impressive way (we later discovered it was probably because he was ill). He's not a big eater - we've had the health visitor in who announced him fine, and to keep doing what we're doing and he'll pick up on the food eventually. But yes, the way he can ruin a dinner is pretty stressful when you tend to use the preparing and eating of meals as a stress-relieving activity. I wrote a whole post about how, when your relationship with food is pretty messed up at the best of times, weaning can be pretty trying. However, I want to be enjoying Christmas dinner without all of my family-in-law peering at my extra helping of turkey and thinking 'hmmm', so it's not going on the blog yet. Maybe in the new year.

What has pleased me greatly this week, however, has been pubic hair. No, really. This is the sort of thing that pleases me. To my shame, I have finally been sucked into one of those weird half-reality half-soap opera shows, set in Liverpool and tastefully titled Desperate Scousewives. It's worth a look for nothing if not the eyebrows - they look like they've been drawn on with a ruler and a biro. Anyway, a couple of the girls on that were discussing how one of them had had laser hair removal on her - ahem - 'bikini area'. "Imagine being an old woman with a bald Minnie." the other commented. Quite. Why would you want such a thing? Let me nail my colours to the mast as being from the Caitlin Moran school of pubic hair;

"I now believe that there are only four things a grown, modern woman should have: a pair of yellow shoes (they unexpectedly go with everything), a friend who will come and post bail at 4am, a failsafe pie recipe, and a proper muff. A big, hairy minge. A lovely furry moof that looks – when she sits, naked – as if she has a marmoset sitting in her lap. A tame marmoset, that she can send off to pickpocket things, should she so need it – like that trained monkey in Raiders of the Lost Ark"
How to Be A Woman, 2011

There is no dignity in being a grown woman with a la-la like an eight year old. And there certainly will be no dignity in it when you're eighty.

And before I continue on with my walk, let me continue publicising my shameless fangirl crush on Caitlin Moran by suggesting you  watch her opine in the attempt to flog her book:

I love her. I just need to say that. I love her.


The Bridgewater Monument at the Winter Solstice.
The path really was quite muddy, and as you head up into the tree-line it also gets a little steep. It's not too bad, but it took me longer than necessary while toting nearly 2 stone of baby up a muddy incline. As this incline begins to flatten out, you shortly come to a point where the path divides. Take the left hand hand fork (marked no horses) and head through the woods until you pop out onto a wide mobility trail which shows you are now clearly on the Ashridge Estate. Well, that at the Bridgewater Monument peering through the trees at you.

I had intended to stop at the cafe here for a cup of tea and a piece of cake, but the Chap was asleep and I didn't want to wake him, so I decided to save the calories for later and continue on my way.

Cross the field in front of the Bridgewater Monumnet as if you are heading to the cafe, then turn right down the mobility trail. In a few hundred metre this also diverges, so take the right hand fork downwards to head back towards Aldbury. This really is quite a steep incline, so watch your feet!

So yes, the reason why pubic hair has pleased me this week is that - apparently - it is coming back into fashion. Or so Eva Wiseman told me (me personally, of course) on Twitter, and she has striking hair, so it must be true. There's a pleasing article on that you can read by clicking this link. If you don't want to see any (tastefully done) muff shots, then don't.

I am heartened at the thought of a festive furry backlash. I was also heartened by a recent report on BBC's Woman's Hour that touched upon recent 'Muff Marches' held by the campaign group UK Feminista regarding the rise of 'designer vaginas'. Now, waving my 'I have birth vaginally and had a third degree perineal tear' flag (handed out in theatre, sometime in between the start of the suturing and the point at which they start talking about you as if you're not there. If you really want one, I'm sure you can pick them up on Ebay very easily. Amazon have probably started selling them, to be honest), I would like to look this allegedly rising trend firmly in the eye, poke its pigeon chest with my bony finger and advise it most strongly to leave be my cha-cha-cha. There will be some women who do need labioplasty - if they find bits of their anatomy interfering with sex and making it uncomfortable, for example - but the vast majority do not. This sort of behaviour, and the normalising of it, just plays on fears, to steal a phrase from Germaine Greer, that "No woman wants to find out that she has a twat like a horse collar". There is enough censuring about the female body from the outside - we don't need it to get internal as well. I'm not tying bows on my bloody kidneys for fear someone may want to have a little look. There will be no cravat upon my pancreas. My cervix does not need a hat. Back off, Harley Street. Back the hell off.

Anyway, hurrah for a festive muff, I say. Maybe I should have hallooed that as I once again entered the village of Aldbury. I didn't, sadly. I merely turned right, towards the centre of the village, then right again past the duck pond, the Greyhound pub and down the road again to the car park.

Things I Learnt
  • Gosh, it's dark this time of year.
  • And muddy. Don't look at the rain on your path as you leave and think 'oh,  my jeans'll be fiiiine', because  I was coated in mud to my mid shins.
  • Pubic hair pleases me. It really does. And the word 'merkin' is always welcome in Scrabble.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Pitstone Redundant Church to Ivinghoe Church in the snow

In which I adhere to the phrase 'there's no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes', wrap the Chap in fifteen layers of clothing, and enjoy the winter wonderland.

Ordnance Survey: Explorer 182
Distance: 1 miles approx

Time: 30mins

Rating: Easy-Moderate Walk (would be easy if there was no snow!)

True to the weather forecast, we woke up this morning to a festive dusting of snow. This is something about the British - we get really excited by weather. The sort of snow that the Canadians - or even the Germans, or other central-European types - would laugh at, the British work ourselves up into apoplexy over. This is probably because whatever weather we get, it will usually only last a maximum of a week before it'll all change again.

Today's short stroll (it was cold, after all) started at Pitstone Redundant Church. After admiring it being all snowy, you retreat down Church Road until you can turn left onto Vicarage Road. Maybe 50 metres down this road you will see a sign pointing through a hedge declaring that Ivinghoe is 3/4 of a mile away. Cross the road and follow the sign through the metal kissing gate and across the fields.

A festive post box

I want to talk to you about something. Something serious. Something that is currently on the minds of many parents across the country (or, at least,the ones I've been speaking to). Should you have it in the house? Is it better to introduce these things gently to your children at home, responsibly? If you don't have it at home, will your child run amok when they discover them outside your house? Or should you conclude - to directly quote from a Facebook comment - that  "If you hide these things, they only go and do it somewhere else!".

Of course, I'm talking about that most contentious of issues for the parents of toddlers and cruising babies - the Christmas tree.

Our Christmas tree for 2011.

It being that time of year, our minds have turned to decorations, and indeed, have promoted something of a Great Christmas Tree Debate. If you have very small children, do you have a Christmas tree or not? We have opted for the 'not' this year. We have a tree, but it's a little fake one and roosting safely on a bookshelf, away from grasping little fingers. the ChapDad observed, we have a tideline of Christmas - we have decorations, but they're all above the height to which one small, cruising child can reach.

However, mention a Christmas tree to parents of toddlers and pre-toddlers, and suddenly the conversation turns as if we're discussing drugs or alcohol. And we're all wildly justifying our choices, again as if the issue was more serious than just a tree. I assert the Chap is only just beginning to grasp the concept of 'No', and I don't want to spend all day every day directing him away from the electric-lighted, glass baubled spiky thing. Others declare this sort of behaviour unnecessarily fussy (and why, they may do so. If they also want to come round my house and spend their days directing my son away from the tree, then why, they may do that also and I shall get on with the stuff I need to be doing). Another friend gave me a long and heartfelt explanation of how they decided to have a tree because the rest of their house was so well child-proofed that they thought a small period of intoning "NO touch!" as their child heads for the baubles would be good for their child to realise some things are out of bounds.

The Chap peers at the snow

But the conversation is so contentious, so liable to prompt debate and counter debate (particularly on social media), and earnest reasoning behind the choices that have been made, it suggests to me that while on the surface we're talking about trees, underneath we're talking about something else. What is the conversation we're all really having here? Is it discipline? Is it about giving your child boundaries? Is it about child safety? ChapDad found an interesting article earlier this week in the Washington Post about parenting choices :

"Have you buckled a child into any kiddie gear lately? Here’s what you see when you do: WARNING: DEATH or SERIOUS INJURY CAN OCCUR.

Thanks! I hadn’t fully appreciated human mortality until I became the whole world to this helpless creature I love to an aching degree, and now vivid images of his death fill my mind every time I dutifully employ the safety equipment that now constitutes the baseline obligation for responsible parents but that didn’t even exist in my parents’ day!

Fulfillment is impossible unless people filter these worst-case scenarios from daily life, and most parents do override the sense that harm to children is epidemic.

I can haz camera?

But that takes willpower when California’s missing child makes headlines in Rhode Island, and when your gentle days with your newborn are punctuated by dozens of encounters with


(Read the full article here.).

I don't really know what conversation we're all having. It seems a mixture to me- something about child safety and some sort of judgement about how helicoptery your parenting is. It's just no-one is saying anything overt. We're just all sitting about giving long and impassioned speeches explaining our Christmas tree choices. I hope to God no-one opens the star/angel/fairy can of worms - we'll here all night.

Pitstone Windmill


Ivinghoe High Street
The gate
Really, when everything gets snowed on it all looks fresh and clean and exciting and festive. As I reached the end of the field and was about to enter Ivinghoe, I was so excited I even took a picture of the gate.

 Go up Green Lane until you come to the High Street. Turn right, and in a little over a hundred metres or so you will be at the end of the walk at Ivinghoe Church. It is still covered in scaffolding, and not even the snow can make that pretty. Hey ho.

Things I learnt

  • Wearing big woolly slipper socks inside your wellies is a top plan.
  • The weather hood on the Ergo baby carrier is a really good idea. It did get a bit wet in the snow, but it dried out pretty quickly.
  • I now feel super-festive!

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Eat, throw it at the wall, laugh.

I am reading Eat, Pray, Love. It has been very successful - so the cover tells me - with 8 million copies sold worldwide. I bought it to get over the £5 mark so I could use my debit card to pay for Christmas cards in a charity shop, and to that end I am pleased I donated £2.50. Other than that, I am not getting on with it. It seems a lot of self-indulgent navel-gazing, which as someone prone to self-indulgent navel-gazing every now and again, is a bit rich. Imagine - if you will - that sort of Carrie Bradshawesque introspection, but without a pun at the end to look forward to. You get to the end of this scene, and there will be no distraction of Samantha Jones brandishing a vibrator, there will just be more hand-wringing about searching for spiritual fulfillment.

I'd have more time for it if it was funny.

It is not funny.

Or, at least, the first half isn't. What is funny, however, was the Guardian review of the film of Eat, Pray, Love, which was written in fittingly tripartite sentences: go - read it here now and save yourself the pain of mistakingly picking up the book or DVD.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Grebe Canal Cruises to Marsworth and on to Tring via the Number 61

In which I am cheerier than last week (but less well planned), realise it's going to take far longer than I thought to get to where I want to go, give up and take the bus.

Ordnance Survey: Explorer 182 (if you look at it)
Distance: 3 miles approx
Time: 60mins

Rating: Easy Walk (if you give it enough time and don't assume you know where you're going like a wazzock.)

Although I have been musing on lovely things this week, I have also been set by disasters - fortunately, mostly by the amusing sort. Most disasters have been to do with the fact that the Chap learnt how to open the kitchen cupboards at will, but the walking one was officially All My Own Fault.

I was due to go for lunch in Tring at Anusia (it has a baby room upstairs, which is good when you have small people who would like to maraud around). I had done the walk from Pitstone Windmill to Tring before, and it had only taken a little more than an hour, so this time I decided to walk there along the Grand Union Canal. Ha! I thought. I don't need to look at a map! I'll leave it an hour and a half, I can get there without any trouble! No problem!

Pro tip: If you want to walk somewhere and you're not really sure where it goes, look at a map.

Of course, I had been on the phone to my lunch date earlier that day announcing my Virtue and going to walk. I was feeling smug. I had seen that the Chap had disappeared into one of the cupboards and was waving a bottle of food colouring around, but as he just seemed to be proffering it to Toutatis or similar sky-dwelling deity, I didn't see too much of a problem. Of course, it takes but a moment for such a small person to bend the cap on a bottle of food colouring and end up with a face like this:

This is what happens if you try to eat a
bottle of red food colouring. And then your mother
has at you with a flannel. Be warned.

Chap well-flannelled and trying to leave an hour and a half to get to Tring, I then took 25 minutes to get to the 'start' of my walk at Grebe Canal Cruises (I look forward to the point when the Chap is old enough and we can go and see Santa on a boat. That being said, is it me or is there something about the title of Santa Special Cruises that sounds dodgy?).

Grebe Canal Cruises

This part of the canal wide and open, alongside fields and has some nice views, including fields of some sort of brassica-type crop. Should that interest you.
Brassica-type crop. Indeed.
So, red food colouring aside, the other disaster had involved an Oxo stock cube. Again, the Chap had opened a cupboard and removed an item of choice - in this case, a box of Oxo cubes. I checked the box - it appeared securely closed, and it made a good rattly noise when he waved it, so I thought it seemed fine. Foolishly, however, I was not watching him as carefully as I should. I was half watching the baby and half watching the orders I was placing on Amazon for Christmas.

Of course, I looked across the kitchen to suddenly see that not only had The Chap successfully opened the box, but that he had also seized an Oxo cube and was chomping away on it. Delicious! I flapped across the kitchen and fished the foil out of his mouth, but he seemed rather disappointed that I had wrestled this tasty treat from his little fingers. What a mean mummy!

The walk was very pleasant. I overtook a narrow boat, saw a couple of swans, looked at a couple of locks, exchanged some words with a gentleman coming the other way about the chilliness of the morning, and felt quite pleased with myself.

So I walked and I walked and I walked and I walked and I was beginning to wonder at which point I would reach Marsworth. I began to wonder if really I was on the right bit of canal. I began to wonder if I was going from Grebe Canal Cruises to Marsworth via Dover.

It did, however, take me almost an hour to walk what it would have taken me 3 minutes on a bus, such is the meandering nature of the canal. Finally I saw the tower of Marsworth Church appear. I looked at my watch. If I kept going at this pace, I was going to be catastrophically late for lunch.

The tower of Marsworth Church hoves into
view over the bridge.

So I wimped out. It was 20 past 11. I knew a bus would come past at half past. I had had my exercise, I was peckish, and even if I arrived early via the bus I would get some food, which was more than I was getting pacing along this endless canal. I gave up and exited at the next bridge.

View back along the Grand Union Canal.

Heading straight up this road, you pass by the Red Lion pub on your left and then Marsworth Church on your right.

At the end of the road, by Marsworth Village hall, turn left and cross the road to the green bus stop. From this you can gain an excellent view of the number 61 bus as you give up your expedition and opt for lunch over all this prancing round in the fresh air.

Things I learnt

  • Do check the map before you go anywhere, even if you think you know where you're going. I know, I know...
  • Child locks on kitchen cupboards are and excellent invention.
  • It's better to give up and go for lunch than plough on when you have no idea where you're going!

Friday, 9 December 2011

Generally tardy

It's been a week of mild disasters, sometimes involving items such as Oxo cubes, bottles of red food colouring, the number 61 bus, lack of preparation and general poor organisation.

As such, the walk is late this week. I'll try and get it out tomorrow.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Lovely libraries

I am genuinely excited by libraries. This because I read a lot. In the recent cutbacks, I heard a lot of pro-government supporters announcing 'but really, who uses libraries?'. Well, me. All the bloody time. And I'm tardy too, so they get extra funding out of me in the form of late fees.

But yes. I get through a minimum of a book a month, depending on this or that, and the size of the book. Gone With The Wind took me 9 weeks, but it is an astonishing work of fiction and well worth the time. I thought it was going to be floppy-flappy namely-pamby fiddle-dee-deeing (just to be clear, I do really like the film, too), but it was really a Proper Book. I have yet to recover from the siege of Atlanta.

There is a thing I love best about libraries. I often catch myself standing looking at two volumes of something with an internal monologue going 'but what if I don't like it? I'm not sure it's my sort of thing. And do I have time to read both of these in 3 weeks?' until suddenly my brain kicks in and I realise - IT'S FREE! I can have both! It doesn't matter if I get halfway through it and can no longer be bothered. I have a copy of The Girl With Glass Feet on my Kindle which I just can't be bothered to deal with any more, and I feel terribly guilty about it sitting there, the great waste of money. But libraries? I've list count of the books I've lost interest in and returned early! And I don't care! Because they were FREEEEEEE!

Now, of course, I have a baby, and so off we trot to get something fresh to read because I can now recite Little Kitten, and 123 What Can You See is suffering from addendums ("They are gifts for you all frOm me to help you learn your ABC 123!" "Thank you, Frog, you patronising git, what a wonderful treat!"). I neither want, nor can afford, nor can fit in my house, who rafts of 'That's not my noun, it's noun is too adjective' books, but the library? They have loads, and I think a fortnight in the company of That's Not My Bear/Tractor/Robot is just enough before it can go back and our copy of That's My Tiger becomes interesting again.

I know that I'm trying to concentrate on lovely things, but this is where the government's literacy strategy is wrong. You don't encourage literacy by memorising lists of words- you nurture it quietly through a love of story. And libraries are just one whole temple to that. Which is why they are wonderful.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Lovely Rich Fruit Cake

It's that time of year - the time of year that is as a red rag to a bull to fans of baking. I'm not particularly good at baking (I can't really make things look beautiful, even though they taste nice), but I do love the traditional celebratory fruit cake, laced with brandy and clothed in marzipan and Royal Icing.

The naked Christmas cake, 2011.
It will be iced sometime between the 20th and the 24th, I imagine.

As a child, decorating the Christmas cake was one of my favourite activities of the festive season. There was a set manner in which the cake was decorated - the Royal Icing formed into low peaks (easier than trying to make it completely flat),and then piped with those funny little coloured flowery splodges around the base (I think they're called  drop flowers?). Every year I encouraged my mother to more and more violent colours. I definitely convinced her to do the whole thing mint green one year (it'll be very big in fashion next season), and I think we may even have done a black one. Well, we used black icing; I think it came out a sort of sludgey grey in the end.

Now I am a grown-up, and I get to do my own Christmas cake. It's definitely a thing to be done sparingly - who really has the time to bake something in the oven for four and a half hours more than once a year?

The Cake, 2010.

But I like the time it takes. I like the preparation up to the point where you declare it Time To Do The Cake. I like the way I find myself announcing how I Must Feed The Cake, as if it is some ancient demonic presence in Tupperware that will wreak havoc if I do not mollify it with weekly supplications and brandy.

Getting married is another occasion when you get to eat The Cake. It's also one of those odd times when you are suddenly required to have opinions about things you don't care about. Providing swatches of bridesmaid's dresses so the flowers can match exactly, for example. Cake, however, we found we had Opinions on. My husband insisted that the cake should be round, and that no other shapes were acceptable.

"How about doing a sponge layer for the people who don't like fruit cake?" our cake bakey lady said.

"No!" I intoned, with all the tolerance of Jeremy Clarkson at a Greenpeace meeting. "If they don't like fruit cake then they don't have to have any."

The Cake, 2008

So yes. I love the foolish artistic endeavour of the Christmas cake. It is a lovely thing, and I look forward to icing it, accompanied by festive swearing at a) Delia Smith and b) the electric mixer when I am yet again trying to make the damn stuff form peaks. It's a tradition, after all.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Lovely Gaga

As I go about this week thinking of lovely things and not being so grumpy, let me start by extolling the virtues of Lady Gaga.

Of course your hat doubles as a telephone. Of course.
The video for Marry The Night was released this week. And boy, do I have a strange fascination with her videos. I can lose hours working my way through them, providing someone is on hand to hold the baby. Only Gaga has the nerve to produce a video for a 4 minute song that lasts 13 minutes. At least the video for Alejandro pretended it was about the music with a strung out, extended version of the song (while at the same time providing some form of fetish- based checklist. Uniforms! Smoking! Boys in heels! Leashes! Rubber! Nuns! Rubber nuns!). But Marry The Night takes it onto a whole new level. It's a 13 minute video for a pop song in which the song doesn't start until you're 9 minutes in. You've gotta love the chutzpah of that.

Still from 10.46
But the thing I love about Lady Gaga is that she is, quite simply, terrifying. Look at other popstars - Beyonce, Pink, Katy Perry, Rihanna- they all churn out catchy pop, but their whole thing is to be sexy. It's like the videos aren't aimed at women, they're aimed at the 16-24 year old male. Britney used to get described as the 'Princess of Pop'; Gaga gets described as 'the high priestess' (this month's Marie Claire, I think). Ok, so take the Marry the Night video- there she is in rubber crop tops and skirts hanging out of cars, or in glittery boob tubes writhing around in a dance studio. But sexy? I don't think it is. Frankly, this is a woman who can prance around in a thong and fishnets in the video for Telephone, and you get the sense that she is doing it to wilfully market herself as the object of the gays rather than be sold as the object of the gaze. She's not in Nuts magazine. Somehow, she has crossed the line to a place where wearing your bra and pants is about power. Maybe it's got something to do with the 6 inch heels the dancing boys also have to wear in Alejandro.

The ChapDad asserts that it has something to do with creative control. When Pink made Stupid Girl a few years back, while the message was valid (What happened to the dream of a girl President/she's dancing in a video next to 50 Cent) you get a sense that someone else pitched the video to her and she agreed to it. Gaga appears to insist on having creative control of her brand (hence the Haus of Gaga), so everything she does has a really strong theme that can be linked back to her - the big hats, the big hair, the rubber, the crucifixes, the shoes. My God, the shoes. Her work is incredibly distinctive. I've said it before and I'll say it again - it's like Bjork done right.

So yes, hurrah for Gaga, for the fairies that fly out from under her skirt, for her pretentious use of French, for the self-indulgence of the stab wound in her back ina song about being dropped by her record label, for doing dance routines in fabulous Louboutins while everyone else is wearing trainers, for makingus all wonder if wearing the contents of a packet of Cheerios could really be a good look. Hurrah for you.

And, of course, we all now know that mint will be very big in fashion next spring.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Project Lovely

Lions and tigers and Jeremy Clarkson, oh my!

Hasn't everything got serious all of a sudden?

The Euro and tigers and bears, oh my!

Really, it's enough to make anyone feel a little peaky.

Lions and the deficit and bears, oh my!

Add to that the usual sort of things that annoy me, plus the stress of impending nursery for The Chap, and it all seems terribly glum.

Therefore, lest through the thinking of ugly thoughts I become monstrous (it happened to Mrs Twit, so it must be true), I am instigating Project Lovely - a week in which I think about lovely things and stop being so meh-meh-meh.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Totternhoe Quarry (Circular Walk)

In which I admire the chalk landscape around the Totternhoe Knolls, see lots of pretty coloured berries and unburden myself of my fear of putting The Chap in nursery. Sorry for getting all maudlin. It happens now and again (indeed, it happened the other day, and my husband made me google pictures of Aidan Turner until I shut up. "Stop reading the interviews!" he cried. "Just look at the pictures of the hot man.". To my shame, I must confess I quickly became distracted from Mr Turner and we ended up watching videos on The Hobbit blog, which I think illustrates why my husband and I get along so well).

Ordnance Survey: Explorer 192
Distance: 3.5 miles approx (not sure yet as I've misplaced the map. Will get out a bit of string when I find it and will let you know).
Time: 90mins (still feeling a bit ill)

Rating: Easy-Moderate Walk (Bare minimum of map-reading!)

I should have been going to Occupy London this week, but from Monday - Tuesday I was so full of cold that it was all I could do to leave my bed, let alone traipse round London I was fine by Wednesday, but the thought of venturing into the capital while the strikes were on and risk being kettled with a baby did not appeal. Ideally, I wanted to avoid a conversation that would sound something like this:

"Let me go, Officer! I was just going for a walk!"
"Past Occupy London on the day of the strikes, madam? What's your job?"
"Well, I'm a teacher."
"Member of the Union, are you?"
"Well, yes, but honestly-"
 "Grumpy about your pension are you?"
"Well, yeah, I'm going to have to work until I die and frankly, I've seen the way 16 year olds treat all teachers over, say, 60, and I think the last 15 years of my career as I work up to 75 are going to be horrific."
"So, you're a teacher, a Union member, sympathising with the strikers and you just happened to be walking past Occupy London on the day of the greatest mass-Union action in your lifetime? And you're not involved? And this one's got bells on it, darlin'".

So instead I left the ChapDad heading off towards to picket line and went and hid in the Totternhoe Quarry/ Knolls. Actually, I'm doing a lot of hiding at the moment. I'm not sleeping well, and it's almost completely to do with the fact that, when I return to work, I am going to have to put The Chap in nursery. It makes me feel sick. It terrifies me. I have a barely-contained panic about it. In fact, when I think about it I find myself sort of... running in my head, looking for doors, looking for a way out. It stimulates my fight or flight, and it all happens in my head.

I parked in the Totternhoe Knolls car park (follow the brown signs from the B489), which also has some picnic tables. These must be appealing when it's not December.

Leave the car park from the back (through the gap in the brown fences) and climb the steps. As you come through the fence, turn right up the rise for a very short distance  When you reach the main path, turn left and then take the next right down a wide-ish byway that takes you in between a field on the right and part of the nature reserve on the left. Continue down this road for about a kilometre.

The ploughed field and a chalk cliff left from
quarrying, looking all lunar landscapey.
I like walking. Walking is simple. It drowns out the noise in my head. You have the world, and you have a picture of the world on your map, and you look at the picture and see how the world matches it and then you go, step by step by step by step and it is all so beautifully simple. The fear is simple too, of course. I feel so panicked about having to leave the Chap in nursery that some days I fear I will start to scream and if I let that happen it will never stop. It's strange to try and explain it, because my work is part time, and what with the ChapDad sorting out his hours it looks like the Chap will only have to be in nursery for a day and a half. A day and a half! How ridiculous to get wound up about it! It's nothing! We went to a Bumps & Babes thing on Monday and within ten minutes he was on the other side of the room, as far away from me as possible and investigating something with wheels! Frankly, put us in a room with other babies and I may as well not be there - there are much more interesting people to be poking in the eye. But what it feels like is that there's something in me hardwired, something evolutionary in me that tells me this is all so wrong. My mother sat in a pub after dropping me off at University for the first time and cried into her half pint, and now I understand why. Because there's this thing, a voice in my head that when I start thinking about putting the Chap in nursery cries mybabymybabymybabymybaby. Something primeval in me is crawling up the walls and telling me that to leave my child is all wrong.

But there's no choice for us. The mortgage doesn't pay itself on the ChapDad's salary. Or at least, the mortgage does, but there's no heat or light or food or Counsel Tax or petrol or electricity or water or travel.

Pass by the wooded(ish) rise on your right an continue down the road until you reach a byway that heads off to your right. After doing this, you'll be on this road for quite some time, so you might as well settle down to plod, plod, plodding and enjoying the pretty berries standing out on the now leafless hedges.

The weird thing is, I panic over a day and a half of The Chap in nursery, but if I think about it, and I did have a choice, I think my choice would be to return to work. Money no object, I would happily tootle off to work and leave the Chap with a childminder/nanny and not have a second thought about it. It's the concept of nursery that frightens me. The more my life has continued, the more education has gone away from teaching people stuff for the joy of it and more standardised tests, more measurement, more institutionalisation. Every level of development is assessed and fretted over. And I feel sick that my child will have to go into that, particularly so young. Everyone's child goes into the machine and 4, and that I'm sort of prepared for. When we were thinking about having a baby, what we'd do with it when I had to go back to work wasn't something we even thought about, to be honest. It's fine! I thought. By one, he's won't even be a baby any more, he'll be a toddler! He can hold his own for a day. And yes, it's probably true. But the voice in my head cries mybabymybabymybaby, and it will cry that from the first time he goes to nursery, to his first day at school, to the day he leaves home. I never expected having a child to feel like this. I never thought it would be so... raw...

One grey view you pass by on
the long road around the knolls

Finally you leave the chalk grassland behind and start to head down a tarmaced path along the side of a green field, heading towards the outskirts of Dunstable. The path forms a dog-leg to the right, and shortly after this you come to a cross-roads from which you can see the Ivinghoe Beacon and the Chiltern's Gateway Centre.

At this crossroads, turn right and continue along this path. When you come to another crossroads, turn left heading towards the big white chalk cliff you first saw at the beginning of the walk, although now from this angle it looks like this.

When you reach the end of the field, turn right and climb up the rise that has had part of dug away to make the cliff, enjoying views of the plain in one direction and Dunstable and the Downs in the other. The rise isn't arduous, and we were soon at the top and on our way down. As you descend, you will recognise the path you met at the start of the walk. Turn left down the road you came up and pop back through the gap in the fence to descend the steps back to the car park.

Dunstable and the Downs.

Things I learnt

  • Being a grown-up sucks. There's a lot of fretting about the world and the country and our situation in general to be done.
  • The fact that my go-to name for this area is the 'Totternknoll Hos' and my husband's is 'The Rottentrolls' clearly indicates which one of us has spent more time in nightclubs, and which spent part of their youth painting the occasional Warhammer figurine.
  • Chalk is grey, berries are pretty colours, and wandering around near both is a generally good distraction. Better than moping around at home, anyway. Although should Aidan Turner wish to come round and offer some distraction, I could see if I have a window in my schedule...