Friday, 24 February 2012

Four Things To Make You Feel OK About Leaving Your Child In Nursery

So, I survived my first proper working week, but I'm afraid there has been no walk as - in classic fashion - I picked up some horrible germ and have been too ill to leave the house. Boo!

Work itself was ok, although the Chap wasn't in nursery as he was running a temperature. Obviously him being unwell isn't a good situation, but it has been quite a nice opportunity for me to ease myself back into work without having to worry about him being in nursery at the same time. I don't have a problem with me leaving him going to work, but I am still very unhappy about leaving him in a nursery, and it's still the hardest thing I've ever done. Worse, even, than my A Level year, and The Year Of The Really Horrible Job, which is something worth saying.

There  are things, however, I have found that don't make it better, but do make it more manageable...

1) Lots of people put photos of their family on their desks to make themselves feel better.

This is not an option I have chosen. If I see a picture of my son, I will feel so awful that I will have nothing to do but run to the nursery and take him out and go home right then. This is not practical. Therefore, I have instead printed off this picture and stuck it on the partition on my desk.

Oddly enough, I found Hogarth's Gin Lane to be very comforting while pregnant, too. There are so many Pronouncements thrown at you while pregnant (eat this! Don't eat this! Take that! Don't go near that! Don't even think about drinking that!), I found Gin Lane to be quite reassuring - look, all these people are living in poverty and off their heads on gin, and they have managed to have babies they can then allow to fall head first off the steps. Now I am a mother, it's quite nice to have a gentle reassurance that yes, there are much, much worse things I could be doing than putting my son into nursery for two days a week...

2) Talk to other women.

Specifically for me, this has had to be other women who have gone back to work. I love the ChapDad dearly, but it's not the same for boys. Their experience is different because there are - unjustly - fewer expectations placed upon them by society. No, that's not right. There are as many expectations, they're just different. I used to really get my goat when people used to see my husband changing nappies and say 'aww, isn't he good', where it wasn't anything that people used to say to him about me when they saw me doing the same thing. So, while in most other situations, he's a very good person to talk to, in this situation it doesn't seem to work. When the little creature has ripped it's way out of your haa-hoo, and you've then got up three times a night to stay awake for an hour and a half trying to breastfeed, only to then have to spend a further half hour on a breast pump, and then it's taken seven months for the aforementioned haa-hoo to have all its stitches removed, and everyone having an opinion on how you should feed/clean/carry/dress/behave with your child, and all very keen on telling you on what you're doing as a mother and how your should be doing it better, your view of the world is different. I think there is so much opposition it forces you  into quite a strong little unit - you & your baby -, because you do have to reach the point where you have to just stand up, look the world squarely in the eye and say "Yes, I am formula feeding this child, and I'll carry him in a sling, and I will put him in a pink shirt every now and again and let him play with my Hello Kitty, and I will occasionally threaten to put him on eBay, and if you don't like it then I suggest you Go Get To Know Yourself Better". Boys don't have to do that, as far as I can see. They have their own societal crosses to bear, don't get me wrong, but they get less of a Thousand Yard Stare from the first year of childrearing. Other mothers know this, and they also know that having to give your child to someone else to look after can feel a lot like the bit in His Dark Materials when Lyra gets separated from her daemon. It's worth talking to other women to know you're not the only one who feels like this.

3) Feel like you're still a mummy

I mentioned last week that a lot of the feelings I have around nursery and leaving my child to go to work stem from the fact that I feel leaving him in a nursery means I'm not performing the role of his mummy. One way I've found around this has been to make sure I read the Chap a book before I go to work - for some reason that makes me feel like I've performed part of the act of being a mother. I've ticked a box. The other thing I've gone for has been a displacement activity to stop me stewing, combined with a bit of gender performance. All of a fluster, I went out and bought a knitting magazine last week and have been spending my time distracting myself by knitting my Chap a pair of socks. It's going quite well, and I'm having my first experience of knitting something that isn't a scarf. Good old Youtube for explaining the difficult bits in the patterns...

Go on, admit it - you covet my Doctor Who project bag.
You can get them from my lovely friend at Nicsknots, you know...

4) Wear all your nicest clothes.

The Good Shoes have come out, as have skirts & tights; I have worn a full face of makeup. It's been nice. Shallow, but nice. A one year old doesn't care if you're wandering round in tracksuit bottoms and a USSC Nostromo hoodie (which is part of their charm, certainly), but it's nice to get a bit dressed up and click clack along corridors pretending you're all efficient. And it's also nice to be reasonably confident that no-one will come along and wipe their snotty nose on your shoulder halfway through the day...

Friday, 17 February 2012

Totternhoe Knolls via the Nature Reserve (Circular Walk)

In which I walk through the weird yellow-green nature reserve in Totternhoe Knolls, and inadvertently turn my son into a girl by putting the 'wrong' clothes on him.

Ordnance Survey: Explorer 192
Distance: 2.5 miles approx
Time: 60mins

Rating: Moderate (some steep up and downs - a faff when it's muddy)

Well, back at work this week, and after last week's worrying over the nursery I was then presented with a piece on Radio 4 about child starvation, followed by hearing about the shenanigans of alcoholic parents, followed by a trip on a bus which included a staggering display of generally poor interpersonal skills between a mother and toddler also travelling. In short, I was reminded that maybe putting your child in nursery is not the worst thing ever. We may yet survive. I will keep you posted.

Anyway, eager to get out after last week's snow, I enjoyed a wander over Totternhoe Knolls. Starting in the carpark as with the last walk, go up the steps, bear right at the top and then left. However, unlike last time when I went through the gate on the right, this time I continued forward along the path I was on.

The path takes you up a gentle rise, and the higher you go the better views you get of Totternhoe & the surrounding countryside through the hedge on your left. Had it been a nice day it would have been lovely indeed, but it was damp and misty and cold. On a nice day I'm sure it's lovely, however.

During the snow, there was one thing I did do aside from insist the Chap walked to the shed and back - I dragged our off-road pram 'The Beast' out from under the stairs and wheeled ol' Chap-chops off to toddler group (why no sling? It was sheet ice underfoot, and while I am happy babywearing in the snow, it was so slippy I decided a pram would be better for us that day). He marched up and down with a baby walker for a bit, and then we went over to play with the wooden puzzles. There was a lady there doing a magic roundabout puzzle while he grandson drove a pedal car around the floor, and we did the idle polite chat thing. The older they get the faster they move. The problems with molars. How the Chap is really only interested in a toy that includes wheels or is a ball. By this time, the Chap was showing interest in one of the easy wooden puzzles. He picked up the circle, bashes it on the table a bit, and then neatly slotted it back in place. "Hooray!" I cried, as you do when a small child makes a minor achievement (which the Chap has now learnt, and makes a noise like the Fonz every time something pleases him). "Ah!" said the woman opposite me, "Clever girl!".

And here's the thing- I'd been sitting there blathering about him and he and his and I'm sure I'd used his name too for a good 5 minutes, but something had been talking louder than I'd been. Really very vocal. It had had an awful lot to say. It had been this shirt:

Warning! This shirt will make your child a girl!

Continue along the path - for a good while it was quite unmuddied as there is a structured surface (ish) to it. The further you go along, however, the squelchier it becomes. A few paths can be seen going off this one, but ignore them and stay on this main path. Finally, you will reach a dogleg that takes the path down the hill. Undecided about which way to go, I stood and looked at the map. I was also struck by the weirdness of the landscape of the nature reserve to the left of the path. Mossy, damp, weird teletubby-esque lumps and bumps, like a mogul field without the snow. It's either what happened after some quarrying was left to go back to nature, or the result of some serious bombing.

You're not going into the nature reserve yet, however - stick to the path, which now became very clarty with mud and I proceeded with caution down the slope.

Follow the path down the hill. It will then curve to the left. To be honest, it's a pretty dull green lane - it may be more exciting in the spring/summer, but right now it's sticky with mud, grey and pretty tedious.

Not long after, however, after the path swings to the left you find a metal gate in the hedge to your left. Going through this takes you into the nature reserve and its odd landscape. I found it strangely menacing - the sort of place you are likely to either find or become a body, I thought. Joyfully, neither event happened - we just got a bit damp, but that was the mist.

Take the path bearing slightly to the right of straight ahead (after the gate you can either go hard right or this slightly right, much like the options our government seem to be fond of at the moment) and take the path in between two knolls.

So, some time after the initial 'clever girl' incident, we went for a pub lunch with my parents. I put the Chap in the shirt again because it's sort of a rugby-style shirt, and the first time my father met him he gave him a small talk on which was most likely to be his standing leg and which was most likely to be his kicking leg, so I thought it an appropriate piece of clothing to put on my son. The Chap enjoys walking in places that aren't our house, so holding onto my hand (he can't do it without yet) he marched across the floor with that slightly disturbing toddler goose-step. A grandparent-aged couple on a table nearby cooed at him. "Oooo, you're doing well, aren't you. How old is she?"
"He's a boy." I said. They did the usual polite blustering about being terribly sorry and I made the general polite noises about how no-one can tell when they're this age anyway.
"He was wearing pink, you see." They said.
"But it's a rugby shirt!" My father spluttered.

You pays your money and you takes your gendered choice, it seems.

Obviously, this whole gender segregation of colour thing is a marketing tool - if you have a girl and buy everything with pink & flowers, if you have a boy second you'll simply have to go and buy a whole new load of clothes because otherwise he will clearly grow up to be gay and that would be appalling (someone this week said to me after I'd mentioned how The Chap was very active and allover the place investigating how "Well, you'd rather that than them being all sissyish, really, wouldn't you?", which I'm afraid got a rather firm "He can do whatever he wants to do" intoned from me.). But it pervades everything. There's an American Korean (or Korean American) called JeongMee Yoon who has done a series of photos called The Pink and Blue Project, in which she takes pictures of children with their pink or blue toys. She says "The saccharine, confectionary pink objects that fill my images of little girls and their accessories reveal a pervasive and culturally manipulated expression of femininity” and a desire to be seen. To make these images, I arrange and display the cotton - candy colored belongings of several children in their rooms. When I began producing the pink images, I became aware of the fact that many boys have a lot of blue possessions. Customers are directed to buy blue items for boys and pink for girls. "

JeongMee Yoon's Jake and his Blue Things
It's pretty staggering after a while - go and have a look at the full project so far here.

I can understand this colour-coding for children, particularly babies when they all look the same. A friend of mine said she was grateful when she saw a colour-coded baby, because then you don't have to go through the awkward 'is that a boy? Girl? If I say 'aw, isn't she cute' am I going to really offend the parent when it turns out to be a boy?'. However, looking at Jake and his blue things, it spreads beyond clothes, and it reaches a point where it's really hard to buy clothes for a boy in shops that aren't black, blue, dark green or brown (there are occasional spurts of orange, to be fair. Also, have you ever tried to find a piece of clothing for a boy that has a cat on it? Best of luck to you - girls get pink and cats, boys get blue and dogs. No boy, evidently, has ever liked a cat, ever. My child is clearly some kind of masculine feline-fondness prodigy).

What gets my goat is the way this spreads and spread until activities become segregated and it becomes a major effort to find, say, some sort of 'playing house' toy that isn't bright pink (although the Early Learning Centre do a blue iron. It's rare enough that it's worth reporting). Construction toys, similarly, get heavily marketed towards boys whereas girls get the pink treatment again, as indicated in this video that ChapDad showed me this week.

So while I'm not totally anti colour-coding per se, it's when it starts to infringe upon the activities you may be choosing to do that vexes me. There are some 'girly' things that I suck at, and ChapDad does a lot better - ironing, for instance, and folding. Conversely, when it comes to catching the live mice that the cat brings in, the ChapDad retires quietly from the room while I do a larger version of the 'spider in a glass'  technique. I should stand on a chair and fear for it to climb my skirts, I know, but I don't. Such a failure....

Back in the nature reserve, you will come to a fork - take the left hand one and you will eventually be led down the hill and onto the road. Cross the road and turn left, continuing down it until you pass a farm on your right, then take the next bridleway leading up the hill on your left. When you reach the top, you rejoin the path you started on - turn right, and retrace your steps to the carpark.

Things I Learnt

  • There is something that feels a bit odd about Totternhoe Knolls. I've walked there twice and it's not that I don't like it, it just seems to have a bit of an atmosphere.
  • In my opinion, you can't make children like something because it's a certain colour. You can influence a purchase, but it's the difference between me asking if something I want comes in red (which happens quite a lot), or me buying something simply because it is red (which doesn't really happen).
  • I didn't like Lego as a child. I liked Playmobil. My favourite was the ghost. You could take his sheet off and move his beard up and down (such was the joy of the Playmobil beards) and attach the ball-and-chain to other characters you didn't like. His candelabra was also very useful for hosting banquets. And he glowed in the dark. Amazing! Would I have liked it better had it been pink? Don't be so silly - that's the wrong colour for ghosts to be....

Friday, 10 February 2012

My Door to the Shed (Circular Walk)

In which the Chap and I take our first (short) walk in the snow together, and I feel bad about sending him to nursery.

Ordnance Survey: None required
Distance: 10 metres
Time: 5 minutes

Rating: Super easy

Should you wish to recreate this walk, I assure you that you do not need to come round to my house to do it. Indeed, your house or a friend's will do, and a shed is not required. You do need a quantity of snow and a small child on the cusp of walking if you want to be completely true to the post, however.
It has not been a week for walking in the UK. On Sunday it snowed, and while a lot of us diligently cleared our paths (or, in our case, the next door neighbour's kids cleared the path. We gave them salt and a shovel and our gratitude.), the bits of the pavement that weren't cleared got tramped down and then it all froze and now the paths are part tarmac, part ice-rink. While I remember ChapDad and I disappearing off up Pitstone Hill in the snow a couple of years ago, with the Chap I am more reticent...

The Chap and I have hidden indoors a fair bit because of this, which has been a shame because this has been my last week at home. I return to work on Monday. I hope to continue doing my walking and posting here once I'm back. I'll see how it goes.

We did go for a walk, however, and a significant one - the Chap's first walk in the snow. We had matching wellies and everything.

The Chap is not yet walking completely unaided, but he will go a fair way if you're holding his hand. I carried him into the garden (we have some steps to negotiate) and plonked him down in the snow. As we can see, he looked plaintively back at his father, as if to ask if he really had to be doing this. Hadn't we noticed all this white stuff? Honestly, mother...

A few steps down the garden, you will
notice a shrub to your right.
Heading back to the house.

So all I really managed to do this week was either drive places (such as to a friend's, where - to steal a phrase from Jeremy Hardy - my performance of Florence and the Machine's Dog Days Are Over on Wii karaoke gave a whole new meaning to the phrase 'extraordinary rendition'.) or stay at home and have nice people around for cups of tea. It's been nice, actually, particularly as the Chap has been teething like billy-o.

It's also been a good distraction from him going to nursery. I've thought about posting about this, I've thought about not posting. I thought about why I started this blog, and about the way I felt that lots of women think the same way about babies and children, but we are culturally compelled to remain silent for fear of being branded a bad mother. So I thought I should post about it, even though it's something I don't really want to dwell on.

I don't want to really think about the Chap going to nursery, and the problem is I find myself wearing my judgey-pants in a way I wouldn't be if I was hearing the story about someone else. I feel that people (people? who are these people? where are they?) think that I am being stupid; inconsistent. I spent the first six months crying because the Chap was here - now I'm crying because he has to go away from me for three days a week..

Actually, one of those days is fine - ChapDad has rejigged his work so he now has Wednesdays off to do childcare, so the Chap only needs to be in nursery two days a week. I don't really like the nursery he's in, but it's very convenient for where I work and the little girl (I keep saying this - she must be at least 18) who's his key worker is nice and doesn't look evil.

It's weird, we leave the Chap for 2 - 3 hours every Saturday morning for therapy with barely a backward glance, but on Monday when I had to leave him for 90 minutes for his settling in session, I wandered round the supermarket like he'd died. It was awful. There was a woman throwing her baby round and cooing in the cereals aisle and I wanted to cry. I wanted to punch her. I wanted to run away.

It's really, really confusing. Mostly because when he goes into nursery, the stuff I have going on in my head, on average, is this:

  • He was really upset last time I left him.
  • She said he looked at the door every time it opened ("so do I!" says the ChapDad). He was looking for me and I wasn't there.
  • I wasn't there. I'm his mummy and I wasn't there.
  • I'm not doing my job. I'm his mummy and I'm not being his mummy because I'm not there.
  • I'm being selfish going back to work.
  • But isn't not having any money and dying in penury more selfish?
  • How else does the mortgage etc get paid?
  • It'll be nice to be able to wear my shoes again.
  • I'd rather wear high heels than look after my child. I'm his mummy but I'm not there. I'm not being his mummy.
  • Is this early abandonment going to screw up his relationships with women in the long term? It's only recently I've started to realise how big an impact being sent to school had on me and my relationships, and this is even earlier. This is a really bad plan.
  • You're being ridiculous. You also used to worry about leaving the cat when you went to work.
  • He's not a cat.
  • Maybe he would be upset less if I'd taken him to more groups.
  • They'll look after him better than you do. They have to give him attention. You give him a wooden spoon and leave him to get on with it while you tappety tap on the computer. Selfish selfish.
  • It'll be nice to do a job that will finish at a set time rather than carrying on and on and on.
  • What if he doesn't eat?
  • What if he doesn't nap? We've always cuddled & sung him to sleep. She says they won't do that at nursery. What if they leave him to cry it out?
  • They won't leave him to cry it out. You asked them and they said they don't. Also, crying it out would be impractical when all the children are napping in the same room.
  • But what if they do? He'll be crying for me. I'm his mummy and I'm not there. This is my fault for resenting how he'd destroyed my life after I'd had him.
And on and on it goes in a downward spiral of endless self-pity about how I'm a terrible person who didn't deserve to have him where there are so many women who are desperate for children who can't have them but would be way better mothers than me, blah blah blah. I start boring myself after a while.

The bottom line, that I smack myself around the head with, is this:

You have no choice. Suck it up.

There are no nearby grandparents to impose upon, childminders have a higher child-adult ratio than they do in nurseries (nurseries it's something like 2 or 3:1, whereas childminders are 5:1 not including their own children, so one person with 2 children can legally be looking after 7 children, and the Chap needs more watching than that.). There is one option. This is the option. Live with it.

So that's what's going on in my head. I spoke to my friend who works 2 days a week, and she said she felt the same when she went back to work, but that it does get better. I'm hoping this is the case.

Things I Learnt

  • Small people walking in wellies are supercute.
  • I have always been a sucker for The Whatifs.
  • It's only two days. It's two days. It's two days. It's two days. He did not, as the ChapDad pointed out, spend the first 6 weeks of his life coming off heroin because I'd been using while pregnant. I could be a lot worse. It's two days. It's only two days.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Finger Food For Fussy Babies

I have briefly mentioned this before, but The Chap  is not a good eater. While other people's babies were being fed puree from 4 months, I looked nodded at the WHO guidelines and decided to hold off til 6 months, and that we would then go the Baby Led Weaning route. In some ways this was a good choice, and in some ways, bad. I wish now I had ignored the guidelines and begun spooning puree down his gullet so he would have got used to eating from a spoon. I now watch other people's babies powering through all manner of cooked vegetables from Tupperware tubs, or accepting a forkful of something or the other from their parents meal.

The Chap does not do this. He does not eat well.

Potatoes. Meat. Most cooked vegetables. Pasta. Savoury purees. Fruit that isn't apples or bananas. Fruit that sometimes is apples or bananas. These are the items that we continue to present him with, and continue to occasionally, grudgingly be brought to his lips, only to sail moments later over the side of the high chair. Even the food he does like (sausages, bread, toast and cream cheese, apples, raisins, dates, Ikea meatballs, pork pies, apple pies, yoghurt, cereals like Shreddies) is often rejected and goes the same way.

It is not unknown for breakfast to consist of a Shreddie, or half a rice cake. Yes, I've been to the Health Visitor. The answer is that I must love the baby I have, and to keep offering variety to him in the hope he will expand his repertoire. It appears to be working, albeit slowly. He will now consent to 2-3 bites of broccoli if presented, or the occasional noodle. And, indeed, he does now bring things to his lips, rather than before when he would pick things up, only to drop them in disgust.

This lack of food I find very worrying. I know it's silly to compare your baby to those of others, and I know he is, at this age, pretty self regulating. It is hard, however, when you put him in a high chair with breadsticks, raisins and an apple in front of him, and he waves his hands about declaring he wants something, but whatever it is is not clear. Banana? Yoghurt? Pork pie? Nope, nope, nope. It all goes sailing over the side of the high chair, and he then works himself up into a frenzy, cries to be taken out of the high chair. This would be fine, but he then spends the next half hour crawling up my legs, sucking his finger and complaining that he's hungry. Offer him food, it is refused. I get to enjoy this farrago five times a day. It's hard.

However, this means that when I make something for him, I want it to be calorie and nutrient rich, because I know at best we have 2 - 3 bites of it before it goes over the side of the high chair.

Here are three recipes the work for my Fussy Fiend. If you have one like mine, maybe they will work for you. Anything is worth a try...

Dried Fruit & Nut Raw Food Bars

This is an adaptation from this recipe given to me by my friend Caroline, but with added bells and whistles. I don't really go for the raw food movement, but this gets fruit (vitamins!) and nuts (protein!) into the Chap, and they taste good, so I'm all for it.
The quantities make more than 3 bars, promise.


70g dates
70g prunes
70g plain cashews
1 tsp tahini
handful of oats

  • Stone dates. Put the flesh into a food processor and whizz until the contents of the bowl has stuck together into a big ball of mush. Remove and put into another bowl.
  • Repeat with prunes. Put the ball of mush in the bowl with the dates.
  • Repeat with cashews until they are ground. Put in bowl with dates & prunes.
  • Add a hefty teaspoon of tahini and a handful of oats to the bowl.
  • Using your hands, mix the mush together until combined.
  • This mixture isn't too sticky usually, so I can then turn it out and roll it on a work surface and then chop it into bars.
  • If your mixture is a bit sticky, it is easy to just shape them into bars using your hands. If the mixture is a sticky one and you have a stroppy toddler like I do, the Chap tends to reject it, so if you leave them a couple of days the outside dries a bit and he will then accept them.

Carrot & Apple Soda Bread

This is an adaptation of Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall's Parsnip & Thyme Bread, and is good when we reach a 'I will only eat bread or toast, thank you' phase, and is also good for getting cooked vegetables into him. You can easily replace the parsnips with any root veg you fancy, or, in this case, some fruit too. I haven't tried beetroot yet, but I am excited by the possibility of a jaunty pink loaf. You don't have to use gram flour, and can just use 175g normal self-raising, but gram flour, being from chickpeas, is high in protein, and with a baby that is awkward about meat, the more protein I can shoehorn into him the better.


175g carrot and apple (I used 3 carrots and one small Gala apple)
1 onion
150g self raising flour
25g gram flour
1 egg
1-3 tbsp milk
50g cheddar (or other hard cheese)

  • Chop onion and fry in a little oil for 10 mins or so until soft.
  • Grate carrot, apple and cheese. Add flour and salt.
  • Add softened onion.
  • Beat egg, and add most of it to the flour and mix to a soft dough (save the rest of the egg to glaze the loaf). If the dough appears dry, add 1 - 3 tbsps of milk.
  • Shape dough to a loaf and brush with egg (or an egg and milk mix)
  • Bake at 180 degrees for 40 - 45 mins, or until the bottom of the loaf sounds hollow when tapped.
Peanut noodles

A new addition to the Chap's repertoire, this is a) calorific, b) tasty and c) cheap, and is good for us to share for lunch. It's not good for under ones as it contains honey, and if you worry about your child eating salt or peanuts it's not for you. It works for us, however.


1 tbsp peanut butter
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp groundnut oil
1 tbsp honey
A squidge of garlic puree
1 portion noodles

  • Mix peanut butter, soy sauce, oil, honey and garlic puree to form the sauce
  • Cook noodles according to packet instructions.
  • Drain noodles and return to pan. Pour on sauce and heat through, stirring continuously.
Optional Step

The Chap is a bit suspicious about floppy noodles, so I then transfer the noodles to a frying pan and cook until they are firm on one side, then flip over and cook the other side so you end up with a loose noodle 'cake'.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Pitstone Redundant Church to The Valiant Trooper, Aldbury (Circular Walk)

In which we walk off the Sunday glumpf we were suffering, squelch our way through some very sticky mud and I - to my horror - find myself in a position to need to defend Twilight. I feel sullied and unusual.

Ordnance Survey Map: Explorer 181
Distance: 5 miles approx

Time: 3 hours (not including the time it takes to eat a poor treacle sponge in The Valiant Trooper)
Rating: Moderate Walk

We were all of a grump and a glumpf, and what with the weather forecast threatening arctic conditions on the way, the ChapDad and I decided we need to get out of the house before we have to bundle ourselves up in a million layers just to poke our noses outdoors.

The walk starts a Pitstone Redundant Church. Directly opposite this is a gate and a path into the trees. Turn left when you join the main path, and then take the first right hand path that appears to lead you out along the edge of the quarry.

Follow around the edge of the quarry and then follow the instructions as on this walk around the base of Pitstone Hill, but instead of turning right down the public bridleway, we turned left towards Aldbury. Not long after this you come to a crossroads and should continue onwards, joining the Ridgeway National Trail. This is very well signposted (black signs or white-on-black acorn markers), so even I knew where I was going.

This route takes you through the charmingly named 'Aldbury Nowers', which is a delight for all of us who like to verb things at will. (What does Aldbury do? Aldbury nowers. What does Jonathan do? Jonathan Frakes. Imagine our delight whilst on holiday in Brussels upon finding a lorry emblazoned with the name Marcus Vanderhoydonks.). Anyway, it's Chiltern chalk grassland and very good for butterflies and British orchids.

All this tramping across the countryside gives one opportunities to have a good rant, and I had found rantfodder this week whilst idly looking for amusement. Like many people on the Intarwebz, when I find myself with the odd minute of free time it often ends up being wasted finding vague moments of roflment on the wall photos of George Takei's Facebook page. I started doing so after I saw this video:

Now, in the interests of fairness, I must confess that I don't really like Twilight. I read the first one because everyone was going on about it, but it didn't work for me. This is going to sound horrendously shallow, but if you're going to market a love story to me, I need to find the male protagonist hot, and I didn't. I also watched the film in the interests of of fairness (really, everyone was saying how great it was), and my interest remained unpiqued. I didn't hate it (although I did hate the descriptions of Edward Cullen's clothes. Honestly, Bella, take the man in hand and sort out his wardrobe!), but I didn't think it was the best thing ever. Don't get me wrong, I do like a good vampire story, but I always preferred Lestat to Louise; Spike to Angel. I don't like the whiny ones.

So, like many people, I enjoy whiling away my time smirking at the memes people have created about Twilight.

There are the ones that just show horror at it:

There are the ones that have a feminist point to make about it:

There are those who don't think it's much of a romance:

"The problem about Twilight" suggested the ChapDad "Is that there is nothing there for men. Which is why there's this massive backlash against it. All the criticism focuses on how it's rubbish because girls like it, and the pitch of the squawking. The moment Cons get invaded by screaming girls, everyone starts getting sniffy, but they're not taking it seriously, they're just writing it off because its perceived as being for girls."
Which isn't why I didn't like Twilight - I found Edward ferociously patronising (I never liked those paternalistic romantic heroes), I thought his clothes were awful (unbuttoned sleeveless shirts under tan jumpers? Come on, either it's hot enough to unbutton a shirt, in which case you don't need a jumper, or it's cold enough to need a jumper and to do your shirt up underneath, laddie), I disliked the way it uses the old romance trope of the kiss standing in for orgasm (Blood boiled beneath my skin, burned in my lips. My breath came in a wild gasp. May fingers knotted in his hair, clutching him to me. (Twilight, p261, 2009 BBC Audiobooks Large Print Edition )To paraphrase Germaine Greer, if the build up to a kiss results in orgasm, anything heavier will clearly result in epilepsy.), and I dislike that whole suppressed violence thing Edward has going on. Also, I found that whole 'I want to bite you, oh but I mustn't, oh but you seem so delicious, oh I must bite you, but no, I mustn't' not really my style. Stop shilly-shallying, man! I've been promised a good biting, and a good firm biting I expect! Lestat wouldn't hang around like this, you know. But anyway.

Hedgerows near Aldbury
Upon reaching the crossroads, follow the Ridgeway downwards until you join Station Road, then turn left along this (it's not far) until the road makes a dog-leg to the left and you continue onwards along the edge of the field. The planting of the hedgerows was really well thought out, and there were some interesting colours for the time of year. Cross over a black bridleway, and then turn left through a metal kissing gate as I did at the end of the Aldbury Circuit Part I.

The Valiant Trooper, Aldbury
 Along this road, we decided to break our walk in the middle to have a cup of tea in The Valiant Trooper. This is one of those quintessential British village pubs, all nooks, crannies and roaring fires. I didn't have a beer for fear I would fall asleep and need to be carried home, which was mean considering the ChapDad was carrying the Chap too. I had a cup of mint tea instead (it means I can share with the Chap, who is partial to a spot of mint tea. I blame the vast quantities I drank whilst pregnant) and a very regrettable treacle sponge that had been sitting too long beneath a heatlamp, I suspect.

Suitably recovered, and some of us with a new nappy, we left the Valiant Trooper and turned right, crossed over the road heading past the stocks, pond and the Greyhound Inn and continued down the road. We took a right turn through the recreation ground, bearing to the far left corner of the field until we popped out onto the lane that runs alongside the golf course (a route I did the other way in the Aldbury Circuit Part II). Follow this path until you come to a wooden gate in the fence on your right. Go through the gate and follow the yellow arrows up the gentle rise along the side of the golf course. At the top of the rise there is another signpost - go straight ahead into the woodland.

The mud through this stretch of woodland was really black. I'm sure that says something, but what it is I couldn't say. This path will lead you to another green lane running across it - turn left, and you will rejoin the route you came via Aldbury Nowers (What does Aldbury do?). From here, it is simply a case of retracing your steps all the way back to the Church.

So we snorted mostly about psychedelic kisses and I  held forth at some ranty length commented about the relevance of the ensouled vampire to the burgeoning sexuality of the adolescent girl. And then... then there's the stuff about Edward. Now, just in case you've missed the whole Twilight thing, in the Meyer take on the vampire story, the reason why vampires can't go out in the sunshine is because if they do, the sparkle. Now, this has prompted a huge outpouring of glitterball-based snerking around the internet. I'm not having a go at the snerk. I will fight to the death for your right to snerk, as Mark Twain didn't say. But it's not about the snerking, it's the method you use to snerk. The best of the snerking uses stories within the current(ish) vampire mythologies with characters that we know are very bad men:

Just in case my mum reads this, this means
 'really, sir, I do believe you must be joking'

Fine, fine. This being the internet, a kitten also has to get involved somewhere. This is, because as we are all well aware, the internet is made of cats.

And then things start to go a bit ugly...

Really? Only David, Elton and Freddie? Dear God, someone get onto the rappers - put the bling down, gents. Yes, Mr Doggy Dogg, you too. Apparently the shiny stuff is now reserved for three men only, one of whom is now dead.

Ah, now we get to it. Where does that phrase 'real men' come from, exactly? Girly vampires and real men? That's the greatest insult you can give to Edward Cullen - he's girly? Couldn't you reach for, perhaps, insipid? But no, we need the word girly there to prove a point -the vampires are -shock, horror- similar to females! Spock, Kirk and McCoy however, are Men. When Men sparkle, it's through the use of machines to get somewhere. That makes it Manly. Once they've done sparkling, they all rub meat on their chests and go back to whittling a war club.

But, to give the meme its due, it suggests that there is a time and a place for men to sparkle. But then...


No, wait a minute, I see your point. Because really, we don't want to perpetuate this namby-pamby myth that men have feelings, do we? Only gay men have feelings, as well we know. If they insist in going about all queer then they need to indicate it in the camp, lispy, shiny suited way, because if they don't... if they just look like the sort of people who sit around drinking tea and eating toast, then... then... we won't be able to tell, will we? We might treat them like normal people, and that would never do. No, real men, that's what we want. Real men have guns and live in the Wild West. They don't speak too much, and if they do we can describe it as a growl, or maybe a grunt. That's a real man. We want, to steal a phrase from Germaine Greer 'the charm of a half-cured goatskin'. That's definitely the image I want my son to grow up with - you're only a man if you're unkempt, toting some form of weaponry, and God forbid you should demonstrate sensitivity (which we all know is a euphemism for 'as a row of tents') or wish to listen to women.

But hold on - Clint Eastwood is an actor. He plays pretend for a living.That's pretty gay. Oo, hold on. Let me consult the Real Man Handbook here - I need to look this one up.

This sort of retrogressive tosh helps no-one. The concept of a 'real man' is a poisonous as  'yummy mummy', and leads to misery for both sexes. It is a myth, a mirage, a lie as big as the beauty industry peddling that women need to constantly be primping and preening or you will be in danger of losing 'your man' (because you need to have one of those. Greatest achievement you can make, apart from the day you have a child, obviously. Obviously that is the same for everyone, right?).
 You know what makes you a real man? Being in possession of the correct set of genitals. Everything else is just gender dancing on top. It is the frosting to your cupcake. You see those guns? Frosting. The swagger? Frosting. The much-lauded inability to cry? Frosting. Those lads strutting down the high street with massive pitbulls? Frosting. Teenage boys pretending to be gangsters? Frosting. Bankers making stupid decisions, risking too much because they got over-confident? Frosting. Feeling the need to perform your gender, feeling you have to be a certain way to be acceptable is dangerous to everyone, and it makes everyone miserable.

Things I Learnt

  • What Aldbury does.
  • I still don't really like Twilight (stop all this moping a fetch me Mr Pointy, I say, but maybe that's just my age talking), but I like the way it gets criticised less.
  • Custard left under a heat lamp = regrettable.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Tea for the ChapDad

The ChapDad was very pleased last week to find himself a featured Example of Instructable Best Practise (or whatever it's called) with his recipe for Fridge Brewed Tea. If you want an invigorating brew that doesn't make you go all twitchy with caffeine, may I direct you to his method here.

Good results have been had with Christmas Tea teabags (normal English Breakfast tea with added spices) and lemons this week. The jasmine is still my favourite, however.