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....


  1. 1)It is a rugby shirt (and not thay women do not play rugby, but....)
    2) I said it was a rugby shirt, I did not splutter.
    3) I do not splutter
    4) Re gender colour-coding, I mentioned Leander rowing club on Saturday. You might like to look at

  2. 1) You are perfectly correct, it is a rugby shirt.
    2) You so did.
    3) You so do.
    4) I have, and it is very pink indeed. I suggest we hotfoot round to Leander and shout 'You're all a bunch of girls!' and see how far it gets us...

  3. haha. but yea I had the same thing yesterday in Asda. And Squig wasn't even wearing pink (but I might be splitting hairs here - he was wearing a red and white striped baby gro that may have looked pink from a distance) I find it difficult because I don't like correcting people because that makes it seem like I'm worried or offended that they think he's a girl (ergo, boys are better than girls) but I think thats just my inner feminist critic speaking..

    so nice that your dad reads your blog :-)

  4. When L was a baby, her hair was black and short, she also wore some clothes that weren't pink, at the same time, J had curly, shoulder length blond hair. After one darling woman asked me if my children had different fathers-I kid you not, she then called J a girl and L a boy. My two have always been mixed up. It gets more entertaining when they get old enough to tell people that they are not a boy/girl.

  5. The Boy gets called a girl a lot. We thought it was because of his incredibly long hair but he had a haircut two days ago and looks like a girl to us now as well. He puts me in mind of Annie Lennox in the eighties, a feminine woman with short hair...

    Me? I shrug and ignore it. If I'm feeling particularly devilish then I play along. "Oh yes, he is *such* a cute girl." Ha, have them apples. Not you, them.

  6. 1) We are in agreement
    2) You are wrong
    3) You are wrong
    4) I'll give it a go if you will.