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.


  1. I shall have a cup of tea with you next Saturday (if offered), but probably decline a cake; I'm not sure it's safe to accept cake from a cook who can't tell testosterone from frosting - and what's wrong with the good old English word icing?
    I think you got a bit ranty there and were guilty of misinterpreting some critisim which seemed to be knowing and self-mocking. I particularly like the Clint Eastwood poster; it cleverly gives a slap to both sides, but you seem to be complaing about the forward movement while ignoring the back-hand.
    Personally I've got nothing against Twilight - but then I had never heard of it until I read the above.

  2. Some fair points there. In reply:

    1) Why frosting not icing
    a) If I said 'it is the icing to your fairy cake', then there's a whole kettle of worms [sic] there about whether or not I'm playing the whole gay insult game there.
    b)I couldn't choose the word muffin because muffins don't have toppings.
    c) I chose the word cupcake for two reasons - firstly, it's a word that's usually applied to women as a pet term, and so I was making an aim at subversion of the perception of overly macho men by a comparison to cupcakes. Secondly, cupcake being an American word, I chose frosting to go with it. Also, American frosting is different to British icing. Icing tends to be quite a thin affair, whereas American frosting is really laid on thick, which I thought was a better image for the way some men portray their manliness.

    2) Testosterone vs frosting.
    As a woman, I get annoyed when people accuse my hormones as being the sole cause of why I am vexed with someone or something. Therefore, instead of writing men off as slaves to their testosterone (because there are reasons beyond hormones, such as socio-economic factors as to why men march down the road with pitbulls), I thought it was fairer to not point the finger at hormones and instead use the frosting analogy, rather than having to pull phrases like socio-economic factors out of the bag. Hey ho.

    3)Fair enough, maybe I was having a sense of humour chip malfunction with this particular Eastwood/Pattinson meme. The problem with the Internet is that when stuff gets taken out of context, there's no tone of voice with which to judge the comment, and thus it's hard to judge. By the time I found this one I'd seen a lot of pictures all bitching at Twilight's romantic hero, and a common theme had started to appear.

    I feel my point still stands even if we discount this particular meme - there is a massive backlash against the Twilight phenomenon attacking Edward as not being a 'real man' because he sparkles (I agree, it's a twee idea). However, if you google 'Twilight meme', the second website you get in the list is currently one called 'Still not as gay as Twilight'. To be a character as massively popular with women as Edward Cullen is, you *obviously* have to be gay. It's a paradox, but Greer notes in the Female Eunuch that 'The kind of man who studies [romantic] behaviour and becomes a ladies' man whether for love or lust or cupidity is generally feared and disliked by other men as a gigolo or even a queer'.

    Have I gone all yet?

    4) I wouldn't bother with it if I were you. I'll lend you V for Vendetta instead :)

    1. I dunno.

      Twilight *is* irredeemably awful. And our culture does rather like to pigeonhole gender-specific behaviour (did you know that seeing men in dresses is utterly psychologically destructive for young children but seeing pantomime dames is just fine and good larks?).

      However, internet memes about gayness... I accept it's a stupid term, not sure ire should be that way directed (via Germaine "all men are potential rapists" Greer?).

      What am I actually arguing? I don't know. I drank a Relentless at 7.50 this morning and I'm still buzzing. Sorry.

    2. I was just a bit offput by finding them on George 'It's ok to be' Takei's facebook page. They're a bit incongruous next to 'Set Phasers To Fabulous' and the like... They irk me. I have been irked. And it detracts from the irredeemable awfulness of Twilight.

      Yeah, I don't think everything Germaine Greer says is gospel (although I agree that sometimes I may appear to be standing, hands aloft in the pews, shouting "Testify!"). Sometimes she just puts things better than I can. But yeah, I've never really gone for the 'all men are potential rapists' argument, just as I find some of Orbach's arguments in Fat is a Feminist Issue a touch spurious, and Faludi's Backlash needs a 'puh-leeease' every now and again.