Friday, 4 November 2011

College Lake (Circular Walk)

In which I still have a cold, wander around College Lake and consider how being injured seems to link with a sense of Manliness.

Ordnance Survey Map: Explorer 181
Distance: 3 miles approx
Time: 60 minutes
Rating: Easy

Both The Chap and I were full of cold & grump, so the general conclusion was to get out of the house -a bit of fresh air and distraction from the joys of teething (four coming through at the same time! Four, I tell you!) and mucus-production would be most welcome.

As I am eternally dubious of my ability to read a map (I was mentally scarred during The Duke Of Edinburgh's Award) at the best of times, it seemed foolish to head out to do something challenging, which is why we picked on College Lake. A flagship nature reserve for the Berks,Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trusts, College Lake has a number of walks that are suitable for both buggies and slings (but be aware that the orange signposted walk that is suitable for buggies can get very boggy in the winter). It's also a fantastic place for birdwatching if that's your thing, although my skills don't run beyond "That's a coot!" and "Hmm...Sounds like a dial-up-modem.".

Once you have passed over the Woolly Mammoth tusk in the turf-roofed Visitor Centre (nappy change available), you come out on a rise overlooking the lake - it's prettier now it's flooded than when it was an old chalk quarry.

We turned right, following the blue signs on the Time Trail, which takes you down along the edge of the lake. If you have a pram, you'll get stuck on this route, so you need to follow the orange Wildlife Trail, which also takes you past an 'honesty' secondhand bookshop and some more toilets and baby-change, just in case.

There are some very pretty views down by the lake, and  quite a prodigious quantity of sloes - it being a nature reserve, however, we felt it as probably Not Cricket to go picking them.

Picking sloes, making gin, baking and cooking are 'self-soothing' activities for me, much more than for my husband, who was happy at University to live off pasta and sauce for a whole term. Is this just a me-him thing, or a boy-girl thing? Fat is a Feminist Issue would have be believe that I've been conditioned to enjoy these activities to fulfil some societal ideal. That every cake I bake is my attempt to level up as a 'Perfect Mother'. I don't know how much I buy into that argument, to be honest, but it has become clear to me over the years that boys and girls are different (I could even draw you some helpful diagrams!). It seems clear to me there are some fundamental differences that are not only physical, but are also in our heads. Indeed, whole generations of self-help books have made a lot of money out of just that assertion.

What's made me think about it is because events this week have reinforced the fact that boys and girls see danger differently.

We've got a baby walker that was donated to us by a lovely, generous friend. It looks like this. Now, earlier this week I looked up from sorting out laundry to find that my charming child was standing on the orange bit by the back wheels, balancing his stomach on the handle and leaning forward to grasp the orange and green phone on the front. As I watched, The Chap lifted his feet and was balancing like some tiny circus performer, stopping himself sliding onto his face by his continued quest to grasp the orange and green phone.
"Come and look at this." I said to the ChapDad, who was bimbling around with laundry in the kitchen.
"That's my boy." he gleamed, proudly. "We have no need of Jeremy Kyle DNA tests here- that is clearly My Son."

At which point, the chap let go of the phone and slithered down the front of the baby walker, where he would have landed squarely on his face had I not been there to catch him. The ChapDad nodded approvingly at the stunt. 

The thing I like about College Lake is that every now and again you come across an information board with exciting things on it, like woolly mammoths or tigers, showing you what roamed across the 3 Counties area in ancient times. Around here was the edge of an ancient sea, which gives excuse for gratuitous pictures of sharks and trilobytey type things, which are always pleasing (as an aside, did you know that Hampstead Heath was the shore of an ancient tropical sea? They're found fossils of huge palm trees of the sort that burst into flame in Vietnam films. I find that very exciting, especially as we're usually so cold and damp here).
Walking along the non-prammable Time Trail takes you along the banks left by the old chalk quarry. The area is a perfect habitat for examples of the British Orchid in the late spring/early summer. I get quite excited by these slopes in the hope I might get to see a rare Bee Orchid one day. The ChapDad looks at these slopes and gets misty-eyed about bicycle stunts.
Because boys of any age don't seem to see danger. Or they do, but they seem to see it as a challenge. But a few days after the baby-walker gymnastics, I was idly reading my husband's Google+ account when I saw a picture of Mr Nigella (not his real name. If I called him Mr W for the sake of the Internet it always sounds like he is the victim of some horrific ongoing criminal investigation, so I'm just going make up names, if that's oktexted Mrs Nigella to say "Squawk! Saw the picture of your son, glad he's ok." she then texted back about feeling terribly guilty because she hadn't been there for the incident, and this clearly made her a Terrible Mother
In the meantime, Mr Nigella had moved onto Facebook, posting the same picture with a paternal pride that seemed to radiate Behold my offspring! I am the father of a MAN.
Gender performance - what is it about injuring yourself and being a man? Shortly after learning I was pregnant, the ChapDad announced that he would like very much to make the cot. Over the 9 months he took to produce it (in the odd spare moment when I wasn't insisting we redecorate something), he would regularly reappear in the house sporting some graze or scrape he would purport to be a Manly Injury (his words, not mine!). Why does injuring yourself make you more of a man?

And, of course, by writing all this here I too am enjoying a bit of gender performance. A tut-tut and an eye-roll is all part of the game, including probably some form of sighing "Boys...". And there's years of playing this game to come. You know how you witter away to your children while you're in shops? I actually found myself rifling through the racks of a charity shop the other day, explaining to my sleeping son that "It's all a bit 'generic boy' here, darling. I rather hope you'll have a sense of gender identity without needing to resort to all these trains and rockets". The shop assistants must have thought I was bonkers.  But as the mother of a son I will have to live with a lot of this sort of rough-and-tumble gender performance, ranging from at best rather sweet tomfoolery to at worst, overly macho bullshit. And it's a scary thing, being the mother of a son, because you know you need to craft a sensible human being who isn't going to go out and make another woman's life a misery. You don't want to end up producing some overly testosteroned tosser who's going to march around in supremely smug self-confidence, cockily taking too many risks and destroying the banking system.

College Lake is not really at its best this time of year, but the walk is easy and there are some pretty things, like these teasels. I like the word teasel. It's a good word. Both me and the Chap were definitely breathing easier by the end of the walk. Fresh air is always good - and the Chap had, as usual, fallen asleep in his sling, which was a blessed relief after his pretty relentless teething whinging, poor thing. Can't be fun for him. All he needs to do is avoid radiator brackets and hopefully all will remain well for a while.

Things I Learnt

  • Getting injured is somehow manly. Or an image of manliness. I thought it was just my husband who thought this, but apparently not.
  • Fat is a Feminist Issue. Hmm. Got it on my Kindle; haven't finished it yet. It makes some good points here and there, but I often find myself looking at some assertion and going 'Really? Are you sure?'. It's a bit like the time at University when a friend and I found ourselves in a seminar where everyone in the room was howling about how Mary Collier was discounted by her contemporaries because she was a woman, and we found ourselves trying to assert that she had been discounted by her contemporaries because she just wasn't really any good...
  • Teasel. Let's just say it one more time...

1 comment:

  1. I believe the use of napalm is outlawed on Hampstead Heath by some sort of bye-law or something. It's just another example of namby-pamby feminism.