Friday, 11 November 2011

Ashridge Estate (Circular Walk)

In which I find a new walk to do in Ashridge with my sling meet and am all conflicted about the word 'mum'.

Ordnance Survey number: Explorer 181
Distance: 2 miles approx
Time: 75 mins (walking at a pace good for little legs!)

Autumn is finally here! Wet, misty and with leaves changing colour fast. The Chap and I woke up to find it sheeting down with rain. I was filled with confidence at the fact we had agreed to go on a walk with my sling meet - this looked like we should be turning up at Ashridge with a paddle and life jackets.

I think we managed to burn off the rain by sheer dint of the heat of our own rage at the Liz Jones 'spunkburglar' article (as my husband refers to it) - the echoes were still reverberating. Happy minutes were spent creating Ultimate Headlines along the lines of "Illegal Immigrants Steal Babies From Careless Older Mothers, Causing Cancer and the Devaluing of House Prices".

We started at the Bridgewater Monument, built in 1832 and available to climb in summer months (I love a good tower. The ChapDad and I had an inadvertent run of holidays in places with towers, so it has become a bit of a running joke that whenever we go somewhere we have to find a tower to go up. If we ever find ourselves in Mordor we'll be up Barad-dûr by the end of the first day).

Standing outside the cafe and looking towards the Bridgewater Monument, take the paved road to the left. into the woods. This is an easy, slightly gravelly path that is could take a pram if you don't mind having to turn and go back the way you came when the path becomes impassable.

It was really lovely, if a bit damp. For the first half I had to break out my umbrella, which is sometimes a challenge as, more often that not, the Chap starts trying to climb out of his sling so he can reach the dangly bit that fastens it closed when the umbrella is folded.

 In due course, the path will split. We stayed on the left hand fork, but I suspect the right hand one will take you down into the village of Aldbury. Aside from a lot of women toting babies, we also had a number of small people with us, leaping around in wellies and rainsuits (I do mean children, not dwarves), pointing out squirrels and demanding to see some deer.

So there I was, surrounded by mothers, and I was struck by a creeping thought again... I don't really want to be a mum. Now, you may look at this:

And think that maybe I have somewhat burned my bridges if that is my feeling. Left it a bit late for that realisation, perhaps.

But no, my problem isn't with being a mother. My problem is with the word 'mum'. Actually, no, my problem isn't with the word 'mum' - my problem is with the way the word is used. The vast majority of mothers in the UK are called mum, and I'm not in any way criticising that choice. What's getting my goat is that I hear word mum and I come over all a bit Saussure, because what I also hear is the way the word mum is being devalued.

Why it makes me twitchy

Sarah Dittum in The Guardian made a good point that there is no 'dadsy' equivalent to make men feel dowdy
Made it into the dictionary last month (defining a mother who runs her own business from home so she can combine work and childcare). I don't have a problem with the activity, I have a problem with the fact that as a man you can be doing the same activity and you're an entrepreneur - as a woman, we have to put a label on you to disambiguate you from other women running businesses? What's going on here?
Your mum
The final put-down to win any argument.There's even a Facebook group bemoaning the current Prime Minister entitled David Cameron - Your Mum. I know it stems from the cultural belief that one of the greatest insults is to criticise someone's mother, but it's the way the sentence has evolved to needing an ending "Yeah, well, your mum's stupid" to just "Your mum" as an insult in itself.

Add to that Sanctimommies, Discombobumoms, MILFs, the way mumsnet is treated on the news (they care more for biscuits than politics, because that's all mother's heads are filled with) and, if you really want to be depressed, go to urban dictionary and look at all the mom-suffix words. I know they're supposed to be funny (and I know there are also loads of dad-suffix ones), and some are, but it's the sheer number of them, and the wealth of contempt bearing down on you; a list of why you are comprehensively shit.

As a group, after the path bears to the left, we  had reached a point  at a crossroads where we could either turn left through a gate and head back, or carry straight on down the bridleway. After some discussion, we decided that neither we nor our small friends were tired yet. We would continue forward in the hopes of seeing some deer. If you've got a pram, this is a good place to turn around - it got pretty muddy from here.
There was a convenient gate at this point, on which we could put my camera with a timer so we could get a picture of us all.

Further on, there are some trees that clearly came a cropper during some high winds. This is excellent fun for small (and larger) people to clamber all over, as well as getting to go 'ooo' at some tree roots. One member of our group said there was a picture of her sitting on top of these roots while pregnant - it's quite a clamber, so I was pretty impressed!

Sooo, if I don't want to be 'mum', what choice have a I got? Mummy? That's fine for now, but it's hard to be a grown up and still call your female parent 'Mummy' (plus, there are then overtones of 'Mummy's boys'... I'm aware other epithets are also used in a derogatory manner). Ma? I'm not Irish enough. Mama? If you pronounce it with the short 'a' I'm not American enough for that, and I couldn't use the British 'Muh-Mah' pronunciation because Daddy doesn't own half of Berkshire, so I'm just not posh enough. Mother? A bit formal.

I phoned up my mum to pick her brain. Well, I say I phoned up my mum. "I always wanted to be mum." she said "But I never got to be. When you were little it all started off fine as mummy, then we went to America and then it was mommy, and then we had the Pete's Dragon phase where I was Nora, and then you got a bit older and it's been mother, which I hate, because it sounds like you're cross with me all the time. It's like being called by your job title."

You see, even as a child I was conflicted about the word. There were two problems, really. In my head, she is my mummy (and that's what I always write on mother's day cards). But, when I got to about Year 4 at school, everyone else seemed to have mums; I didn't. I had a mummy. But I couldn't tell people that; it was babyish. So I had to refer to this impostor I had at home - but she's my mummy, not my mum. Who is this mum character? I'm 30 now, and it's ridiculous, I still feel like a bit of a prat about it.

My other problem was that everyone else had a mum, and I've always had that sort of temperment where I am a little wary of having what everyone else has got. So I'm afraid I have, without really knowing what else to call her, leant towards mother, because as she said, that's her job title. I know she doesn't like it, but I still hold onto it as a habit when talking to others because it became so ingrained at school. So maybe that's the real problem - I don't really know what I'm supposed to call my own mother, so how am I supposed to know what I should want to be myself? Maybe I should just let The Chap make his mind up. After all, Jenni Murray is 'mum' to her sons, and she's not looking too oppressed. Most mothers are mum, and it doesn't seem to do too much harm. My mother suggested I should just be 'mum' and reclaim it as a word, but it's not like the reclamation of the word 'queer' by the gay community. Queer was always an insult - mum is a word that's being eroded with contempt. I think that, on the whole, I've just got to surrender it to my child - I am his mother, so he should choose. Children come with their own ideas, so whatever happens, like my mother before me, I guess I won't have a choice.

Shamelessly stolen from GeekySweetheart
Take the first left - from here on, things got very muddy indeed, which was a source of much delight to the younger members of our group. There was less delight from mothers who had put their children down to walk, only for them to ask to be carried again - complete with muddy wellies threatening to make a mess of jeans!

It was around here that we saw our first fallow deer - I did try and take a picture, but my wildlife photography is pretty dodgy. I due course, we came to a crossroads - take the left and road. When this road comes to a T junction, do not go left or right but step over a very low bit of fence (or something) among the undergrowth and cross straight back over the field. This takes you back towards the monument and - crucially - the cafe for a cuppa!

The Bridgewater Monument hoves into view.

Things I Learnt

  • I should pay more attention when being taken on a walk by someone else. The directions here are a bit fluffy this week...
  • If I had called people what they wanted, I would have had a Ma and a Mum. Instead I had a Grandma and a Mummy. I will have very little say in what The Chap decides to call me!
  • You can still go for walks with small people. You have to take it at their pace, but tramping through the undergrowth doesn't have to be written off once the little ones can walk. This bodes well for the future.


  1. Don't tell Michael but I also have this dilemma with Mum-the reason why you shouldn't tell Michael is that when J started calling him Dad a year or so ago, he got cross and I told him that it was no big deal and he should just go with being called Dad. Michael got tetchy and told us all that he would forever be called Daddy and that was the end of the story...apparently. But then he does act like Daddy owns half of Kent, his Mum refers to herself as Ma Mah and they all call her that so there we are.
    J had only started calling him Dad to see what it sounded like anyway so it is still Daddy...for now.
    I remember quite clearly asking my Mum to write 'Mum+Dad' on my birthday cards in future after my 7th birthday and she obliged and she was Mum forever more. Unless I was cross with her, then it was Mother and Mummy when I was grovelling ;)
    Jack and Lou have only ever called my Mummy so I guess I will just wait and see what they decide to call me next.
    And for the record, I am apparently a Mum-prenuer and hate the term. It is demeaning.

  2. I really dislike 'mumpreneur'. There are no dadpreneurs, no queerpreneurs, no blackpreneurs, so why single out this demographic for a special noun? In an age when people are actively seeking for gender-neutral expressions - flight attendants, chairpeople, waiting staff etc - why suddenly decide to go backwards? Almost overnight you went from 'This is Nic, who runs her own business and also keeps chickens', to 'This is Nic, who's a mumpreneur, and also keeps chickens'. I'd have more time if it was related to what you sold ('This is Nic, she's a knitpreneur who also keeps chickens'), but just to point a finger and announce "This is a woman! With children! Running a business from her home! Can't be anything serious, move along here, nothing to see..." or at least that's what my head hears, and if I hear it, surely others hear that too. I think, as a word, it smells of poo...

  3. Don't fancy coming to the 'Mumpreneur conference' with me then?