Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Sloe Comfortable... Drink In The Garden

"Hold on a minute!" I heard you cry. "Wasn't there - admittedly quite some time ago - a mention of sloe gin?"

Indeed there was - well remembered; very perceptive of you, if I may be so bold.

Sloe gin and muscarii - Merry Springtime!

I am pleased to announce that finally, finally, and quite a long time after Christmas, the sloe gin is ready. After I tasted it in November and reported its delicate notes of cough mixture and school nurses, I whacked in a fair bit more sugar, shut it in a cupboard and forgot about it.

I am very satisfied with the result! For a change I have created a fruit liquer that doesn't taste of raw ethanol with a hint of fruit! Clearly the extra sugar helped. It is very tasty - still tasting alchohol-y, still sloe-y, still gin-y, and not too sweet.

 I recommend putting a measure into a goblet with some cheap fizzy wine and creating what I shall refer to as... a Kir Prunelle? Kir Faiseur? Kir-de-la-hedgerow?  You don't really mind what it's called once you've got halfway down the glass and are working up to making imperious demands for another...

Monday, 26 March 2012

Pitstone Common (Ashridge - Circular Walk)

In which the sun comes out and my tree painting friend and I wander around Ashridge on a brief tour of some Significant Trees of Awesomeness, and I am oddly grateful to be back at work.

Map: None used (eek!), although it's on good ol' Explorer 181
Distance: 2 miles (guesstimate)
Time:  45 mins -1 hour

Rating: Easy Walk

This walk wanders through part of the Ashridge Estate, and although I've tried to make it as accurate as possible I would like to place a small health warning on this walk - as my friend had to take me off the path to show me Significant Trees of Awesomeness several times, I may be a bit woolly here and there...

Starting at door the Bridgewater Monument, walk down the left hand side of the road towards the actual Manor house. After - maybe- 200m or so you will see a pond to the woods in your left, and bearing left into the woodland there is a signposted path. This is the one we took.

The path leads around to the left and you join a wide avenue through the trees. My friend seems quite happy to wander off into the woodland in search of exciting trees, which is probably why she paints them so well. I, however, am not so keen to bimble off into the woods without a map. I really like walking through woodland, but as long as I'm with people. If I'm on my own it often feels pretty menacing - probably some old evolutionary hangup I have. Maybe I have ancestors who were menaced by wolves in the woods.

Interestingly enough, I feel a lot happier if I'm in woods with water. Subconsciously I think this may actually have less to do with wolves and more to do with my atrocious sense of direction. To me, woodland looks like woodland looks like woodland, but if you have a river, you always know which direction you came from. It's harder to get lost.

Once you're in the woods having followed this path, you get a wide carriageway looking kind of path, rutted in places with the tracks of 4x4s.

The sun was shining and it was moderately warm, our children were being quiet and everything was pleasant. We had a bit of a moan about the usual things we moan about - people who seem to present that everything is amazing with being a parent, the judgement we perceive from others if we don't seem to be towing the line. It's not that we don't like our children, we do, we think they're great, I just think we're less inclined to wax lyrical about it. I knew this woman and I would get along the day she cocked an invisible shotgun at her son who had been awake 3 times in the night. Mothers rarely do that in public. We're all usually pretending we're brave little soldiers, then going home and crying.

Of course, I am now failing to tow the line by having gone back to work part time. Society seems difficult to know how to deal with us, really. It nods in approval at us for going back to work, and it also nods that we are partly sacrificing our careers for our children, but at the same time there is the sense that society sucks its teeth at us for exactly the same reasons. All I can say is that I think part-time work is best for me. It might not be best for everyone, but oddly - and unexpectedly - I'm really grateful to be back at work. At work, there are rules. The hours I'm supposed to be there are clearly delineated, and the expectations of me are made clear. People tell me what to do, I do it, they don't give me shit. What they don't do is throw 4 different advice books at you, conflicting Health Visitor advice, and no-one spends time posting articles on Facebook about how what I've been doing is wrong.  It is, I must admit, a refreshing change. If the Chap didn't howl every time I dropped him off at nursery, I would be completely satisfied.

In due course, pass a turn off to the right and then take a marked path to the left further on. Continue along this path and (this is where is gets a bit hazy, so forgive me) I think it will eventually lead you left to one of the Significant Tree is Awesomeness much admired by my friend. This was her daughter's Castle Tree, and it sits in the middle of the path along what used to be a boundary line for the old Roman farms that used to exist on Ashridge. Standing next to this tree and looking to the left and right, you can see the bump of the earthwork that indicated the boundary lines. The trees all along it are really old and gnarled, and - so I was told - are all pretty old because, being on the boundary line, were all left to indicate... well, the boundary.
Middle right, the rooty hand clutching at the soil...

We then took at detour off the path to view another Significant Tree - heading right from the Castle Tree, you pick your way through the undergrowth to a huge rooty thing that was festooned with blue rope for swings. It's hard to explain quite how big it was. I was also particularly menaced by the fact it clearly has a five-fingered hand grasping onto the Earth. I am half convinced it uproots itself and night and wanders round the woodland.

Back on the path with the Castle Tree, we followed the path through Pitstone Common until a path marked by a post with a mushroom on it branches off it. This path bears right and I was surprised to find brought us back to the other side of the pond we had gone past about 45 minutes earlier, and lead us back to the car park. It's a nice wander, on the whole, made even more pleasant by sunshine and a spot of putting the world to rights!

Things I Learnt

  • The woodland at Ashridge is all pretty new, as the land was farmed for a long time after the Romans stopped. The oldest trees are the ones along the boundary lines.
  • My sense of direction, poor at the best of times, completely deserts me in woods.
  • For a couple of years I have been a total wazzock with regards to Ashridge, taking the same dull path every time. I am really excited to have been shown other routes and find other things!

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Slings or Pushchairs? A UK Mother's Day List of Pros and Cons

This is a special post for UK Mother's Day :)

I found myself in a Sling Meet saying something that as a Mother™, I Should Not Say. It was this:

"To be honest, I don't give a sod how beneficial it is for my baby or not. It's me who has to use it, so sell it to me, tell me how it's going to make my life easier, and then I'll think about it"

We mostly use a expensive sling (we use a £95 Ergo, but there are loads of others out there to suit every size, shape and wrapping ability!) and a cheap pushchair (£40) which were both bought new. Below are my experiences of various situations you can find yourself in, and the advantages and disadvantages of using both types of child transportation. The internet is full of gubbins about how one way or the other is beneficial or not to your child. These are my experiences with my child, and how both methods of transport can make your life easier as a parent. Or not.

You are a Dalek. Discover how poor wheelchair access is in your current location. See my brief complaint about the access to my local station on my first trip into London with the Chap.
As normal.
You are confined to accessible routes. Little opportunity to ever feel you’re really in the great outdoors, if that’s your thing.
You have legs – off you go! Once you’ve tackled the first stile and you’re confident with that, you’re laughing.

Christmas Shopping
Those who favour the pram for this usually own a pram with a large capacity tray beneath and the gumption to drive your pram like a tank along the high street. Can be highly effective.
Greater manoeuvrability, particularly in crowded shops. A godsend if you’re in the sort of shopping mania where goods are left on the floor of shops (Primark being a particular example in the UK) where driving a pram over that stuff is a right old faff. You can also use your familiar routes in shopping centres – stairs & escalators hold no fear for you.
Grandparents / Family
May quibble over the type of pram you buy…
You may have to bear the disappointment of grannies who have been waiting a long time to push their grandchild to the shops.
You may also have to spend some time explaining why you’re not using a pram.
Awkward. May not always be somewhere you can put your pram. Bus drivers and other passengers can sometimes be delightful and really helpful, other times they can be just plain rude.
Step on bus. Pay fare. Take seat.
Locate rain hood, try to remember how to fit rain hood, put it on upside down, get wet, swear, turn rain hood right way up, realise that now the child is dry you have no free hand to hold an umbrella. Hair now ruined.
Use an umbrella as normal. Hair remains intact.
Weird looks or comments
Probability for this happening because you’re using a pram – low.
Probability of this happening because you’re using a sling – high. Mostly people are nice – “Ooo, he looks comfy in there”, or just curious and ask you if it hurts your back (unless you’ve got them on your back, and then they want to know how you get them up there). It’s never happened to me, but I have had friends who have had people bitch at them in the street (e.g “He’ll never learn to walk/ he’ll grow up clingy”). Just smile and carry on…
Younger babies may not want to be laid down while you cook and may kick up a stink to be held. Older, cruising – walking toddlers may spend a lot of their time pulling on your trouser legs and howling because they want to see what you’re doing.
Once you’ve mastered the back carry, it’s not a problem. Use your common sense – if you have one that likes to lean and grab, do your chopping away from any pans of scalding liquid!

I had a lot of unpleasant gynaecological gubbins to go through in the first 6 months post baby (to those expecting, please let me stress – this is not typical!) . Attend surgery, wheel in pram, derobe, assume all manner of inelegant positions for impersonal rummaging.
If you’re baby is pre-rolling, place child on floor, carry on. Much more awkward if you have a roller/crawler/walker as they are not contained and can begin to roam…

(depends where you go and what you want to do. We like to go and look at points of historical or cultural interest, sit about in cafes or do a bit of shopping)
Bulky and takes up luggage space in cars, and can often be the last thing to appear after plan travel.

Unfamiliar areas can include cobbled streets (cue much bouncing if suspension isn’t all that great), stairs, restricted access to certain monuments & museums. We went to France and found out how poor wheelchair access can be… How bad? Bad. Versailles claims you can take in prams and then makes you park them just inside the door, and we took our pushchair to Dijon and found that the whole of the upstairs of the Duc’s Palace is off limits if you’ve got wheels…

Parasols are available to keep out the sun.
 A sling also takes up much less luggage space, and doesn’t need to go in the special whoojit on planes.
You might like to consider the thickness of the material of your usual sling and hire something thinner from a sling library if you’re going somewhere hot. The people who run the sling library should be able to offer advice to find the best sling for your needs.

You might like to consider using an umbrella or parasol as well as the usual sunhat, suncream to protect your child.
Can be awkward navigating ticket barriers, getting down to station platforms and negotiating the actual trains.
As normal, off you go, off you go!

If the baby is asleep, you don’t have to move them. Pushchair can also be used as impromptu highchair.
If they are asleep, learn to drink coffee sideways (so as not over the head of your child).
The whole business I found to be just plain awkward. Some people can sometimes do something clever if you use a SPoC (single piece of cloth sling), but we don't have one and so never managed it!
Can be used to rock the baby to sleep? Never tried it, so can’t really comment…
Putting him in the sling and wandering around the house with him gave me some much needed peace and quiet. Don’t know how it works, but it worked like magic. Worth the price of the sling on its own to save my sanity at times!
You’re up there, they’re down there. You can still have a nice chat, though.
The contact and ability to sniff or kiss your child’s head at will is very pleasant, particularly if, like me, you can’t breastfeed but want more snuggly bonding time.

Do what works for you, and what makes your life easier. For me & the ChapDad, it's been a sling, and I'd recommend them to everyone. But then I would say that - our house is at the top of a set of steps.

Happy Mother's Day!

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Change Of Update Day

We've got to talk. It's not you, it's me. We're in different places now, and we want different things. I still want to walk, but going live on the Friday... It's become too hard for me. I work Monday - Wednesday, which means I need to do my walk on Thursday in order to get it out in good time on Friday, and if I'm tired or the weather's bad that one day, I'm in a pickle.

Updates for new posts will now happen on a Monday.

This gives me more time to do my walk and write everything up in order to fit in with work :)

Friday, 9 March 2012

Willen Lake (Circular Walk)

In which I find Willen Park in Milton Keynes to be filled with interesting things, enjoy a wander round a pagoda, and conclude that all parenting gurus are best avoided.

Distance: 2.5 miles
Time: 1 hour
Map: None required - just follow the edge of the lake! 

Rating: Easy Walk

Every now and again, someone hands me an essay to mark that makes my heart sink. The students are always pleasant, well meaning, perfectly nice people; they are attentive in class, and have tried hard. Unfortunately, they hand in total bilge. I find myself desperately trying to find something nice to say about their work. You've structured this very well, I might attempt, even though I gave them a piece of paper saying what they should write in each paragraph. You've used a variety of short and long sentences to create interest. Sadly, Milton Keynes brings to mind these sorts of essays. I really like your planning. I find myself wanting to say. You've really tried to do something different here. They've tried, they really have, but the whole place always feels to me as if it is one step away from falling into a J.G. Ballard novel.

This week's walk was in Willen Park. It is based around a lake that has been divided into two sections - the South Lake, for the noisy, excitable youth where you can do things like wakeboarding, outdoor adventuring and submit yourself to some sort of horror that is known as the Willen Park Trim Trail, where you are invited to jauntily do some exercises on brightly coloured outdoor gym equipment. The North Lake is aimed towards the more tranquil  visitor, with a Buddhist temple, Peace Pagoda, labyrinth and bird sanctuary. My plan was to walk all the way around the two parts and to see what I could see from the edge of the lake.

Starting at the South Lake car park (£1.20 for 2 hours, and with the ever important baby change), I made my way to the path at the edge of the lake and turned left, following signs when they cropped up towards North Lake and the Peace Pagoda.

After Wednesday's post about the Daily Mail's contradictory reporting of Gina Ford, I've had some interesting conversations. The one I've found most thought-provoking was a friend who said:

"The very fact that some new mums are so vulnerable and desperate for a manual is why they should be protected from some of the tripe that these baby help books spout forth, especially ones by the dangerous ill informed divorced former nursery nurse who has never had children. Its irony heaped on irony that women who have fought so hard to reclaim maternity back from male doctors who have never experienced childbirth are willing to accept the same one size fits all advice from someone who has never had children! So I'm not going to leave that awful woman alone!"

I've been thinking about this. I knew I wasn't going to follow Gina Ford when a friend read out one of her schedules that dictated that you and your child should be dressed by 8.45, after a feeding session that outlined a strict 10 minutes of left breast followed by 10 minutes of right. Seeing as  we have generally held a 'be dressed by Woman's Hour' policy in our house, I could see following dear Gina would be unfeasible, and I didn't pursue her books further. I didn't even get them out of the library to give them a proper critique as I didn't want her to get the library fees...

But then people started recommending I read Dr Sears' books. After all, there I was, a homebirthing babywearer attempting to breastfeed. But again, the advice makes me feel uncomfortable. The whole focus on the word 'natural', as if to suggest other ways of parenting are unnatural. The urge for you to be 'instinctive' and 'follow your baby's needs' while producing books and websites on how how to follow those instincts...

Both the gentleman who made the comment above and I agreed that most parents, if they are going to use a parenting guru, choose one that agrees with them. I think why I've never followed one (apart from my refusal to read the books) is that I don't seem to fit. I had a homebirth, I enjoy baby wearing, but turfed the child out of our bedroom at 5 months when he started squawking in the night. I tried to breastfeed, but by the end of my second pint I can be heard expounding that formula milk has been one of the greatest liberators of women, along with the washing machine and the contraceptive pill. I thought the ability for my husband to also share in the closeness of feeding a baby was a fantastic thing, and it also meant I could go to sleep. I could follow Dr Sears, but I wouldn't be doing it 'right'. I like a routine, and I like things to be convenient and set by me, but I also don't want my life to be dictated by the routines I set. I want my child to sleep, my God I want him to sleep, but I can't face the controlled crying route. I'm still unnerved by the dark, so the thought of waking up alone and crying out for someone and no-one answering fills me with a cold dread. So Baby-Whisperer stuff, or Gina Ford, again, I wouldn't be doing it 'right'.

But come on, I hear you people cry. No-one is asking you to be a martyr to the gurus. You fillet them for the advice you find works for you, and carry on.

Once you have passed under the road and headed towards North Lake, follow a sign bearing left that leads you towards the Buddhist temple. I went to a few when we lived in China (although this is a Japanese style affair), and was keen to compare. Sadly, however, the door to the shrine was locked, so we enjoyed the Japanese style garden and went on our way.

Upon leaving the Temple grounds, turn left and the white marshmallow of the Peace Pagoda soon hoves into view. Follow the path around and the steps up to the pagoda, flanked by lions and - at this time of year - a row of daffodils soon comes into sight. If you have a pram, there is a pram & wheelchair route up to the pagoda available a little further on.

The pagoda was the highlight of the park for me. I was sorry I couldn't get into the Temple, but there is a real tranquility to the whole area. Decorated with a large golden statue and scenes from the life of Siddhartha, the place had the sort of atmosphere that used to exist around the temples and shrines in China. I don't know how it would feel on a hot Bank Holiday weekend with people all over the place, but with me and a napping Chap, it felt lovely.
Next to the pagoda is the Labyrinth. I was eager as ever to idly bump into the Goblin King and see I was in a position to help him out with those jodhpurs, but sadly there are no walls, men with birds on their heads or Bogs of Eternal Stench - just some lines on the floor and a tree in the middle. It's probably fantastic to send a small child running around on a hot day.

Once you've enjoyed these sights, there's nothing more really to do at North lake beyond walking around the perimeter of the lake and head back towards South Lake, so I did just this.

The Pagoda across North Willen Lake
There are some nice views as you walk, dependent upon you looking in the right direction. If you ignore the noise from the M1 and the roads running alongside the park and concentrate on the Peace Pagoda across the lake, it's very pleasant.

Regardless of the sense of peace and tranquility you may have fostered at the pagoda and temple, it can be easily shattered by some new Government issued declaration on how we're rubbish. Or if it's not the government, it's some other body funding research that shows how we're making a hash of it. Once you have a baby, there's feeding, washing, weaning, nappies, teething, transporting, clothes, pain relief, sleeping, entertainment and education - whatever you choose to do with your baby, I can guarantee someone will post an article on Facebook which will tell you how what you're doing is damaging your child on a fundamental level. Whatever you do, someone has produced a piece of research to tell you that you're doing it wrong.

The path along the top edge of South Lake.
I was coming home on the bus this week, and I was a couple of seats away from a lady who I used to teach who is now in full time care of her grand-daughter. There was I with my organic fruit smoothies and my selection of picture books to entertain my son for the hour's journey. About twenty minutes in, after some wriggling from the granddaughter, I saw the lady reach into her bag, remove a chicken nugget and hand it to the 18 month old. She then followed this by tipping some of her coke into a sippy cup and proffering it to the child, who began gluggling greedily.

I will confess, I was wearing my Judgey Hat when I saw this. I had some Opinions. I pondered socio-economic dynamics and so forth. Anyway, we both got off the bus at our destination, and I helped my former student with her pram. And as we did so, she said to me "God, I couldn't believe I gave her a chicken nugget and the Coke. But I knew we've run out of food cos she's been really hungry, and I didn't want to her to kick off on the bus, and I thought, if anyone says anything, I'll just say, sod you.". I had been sat halfway across the bus when she'd got out the chicken nugget, I hadn't said anything to her about it, but here she was, justifying herself unbidden. And I felt a bit of a swine about my Judgey Hat. If I'd been in the same situation, 20 minutes in to an hour long bus journey and when all I'd had had been chicken nuggets and Coke, I would have handed them over to the Chap too.

Returning along the shore of South Lake
And this is the crux - we are terrified of other people's judgement, but we do it all the time. It's taken me a long time to just be able to say 'We're on formula. We tried to breastfeed but it didn't work." rather than give them the whole industrial-milking-machine, nipples shields, up for an hour and a half each feed speech to prove to them how hard I tried to breastfeed. What the speech was saying wasn't about how breastfeeding didn't work - it was five minutes of me trying to give the message "Don't judge me! I really tried!". I have seen people wince (really, wince. Like I'd poked them with a pin.) when I've said we sometimes watch TV together. I don't mean we're cracking out the Tarantino, I'm not asking my child if he thinks Marcellus Wallace is a bitch, I'm talking In The Night Garden maybe once or twice a week. One of my friends commented the other day that although she, like me, does the whole babywearing, non-controlled crying, mostly let your baby set their own routine thing, that she's worried 'when I talk to naturally-minded baby rearing friends [that] it's only a matter of time before they find out that I'm not longer breastfeeding and I don't use cloth nappies....'.

And this is why we like parenting gurus, because when we do feel judged, we get to outsource our guilt. Don't blame me, we say, blame The Baby Whisperer! From before the child is conceived we are told we are not good enough, and so it is not surprising that these gurus are so popular; they exist not only to shore up our faith in our own parenting, but also to give someone to point to when the rest of the world tells us we're doing it wrong.

Enthusiastic Noodle Boy!
Oddly enough, this whole Doing It Wrong thing was confirmed by a woman looking absolutely horrified as (having left the park and gone to the shopping centre for baby foot-measuring and a spot of lunch) I fed the Chap yaki soba and duck gyoza from my plate in Wagamama. I like this walking baby. He eats with a gusto I have not previously seen, and hoovered up soba like there was no tomorrow. Experiments at dinner later on also suggest that while he rejects many foods proffered on a spoon, he will accept them when offered on chopsticks. Thank goodness for chopstick skills!

Things I Learnt

  • Regardless of how cute you think your child may be, nobody looks good eating noodles.
  • Milton Keynes has Buddhists.
  • I would go to Willen Park again. It's a bit spoilt by the noise of the roads and the views of the cars hurtling past, but they've really tried, and there's lots to see and do. It can't help the fact it's in a city.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

An Open Letter To The Daily Mail : Please Back Off Gina Ford

For those who have missed it, this week there has been a Twitstorm over a Daily Mail article, headlined "Don’t say no to sex, even if you are not ready, childcare guru Gina Ford tells new mothers". This is my response.

Dear Daily Mail,

First of all, please let me explain that I am not a devotee of Gina Ford's Contented Baby series; it's not really my cup of tea. However, being a new parent can be a confusing and frightening time, so I can see why people might turn to the books as a way of managing. As people endlessly say to parents in the first few months, babies don't come with a manual, so I'm sure some would find that the provision of a manual a welcome thing. As I say, it's not my cup of tea, but I wouldn't presume to suggest to those parents who follow Ford's advice that they're doing it wrong. They're doing what's keeping them sane and working for them.

Babies, fine. They are delightful, but they are also confusing, alienating and even a bit harrowing at times. Let's be honest, none of us know what we're doing; we're all just muddling along as best we can.
But I find myself in a position I never thought I would be, and I have a message for you - Dear Daily Mail, back off Gina Ford. Stop it.

Of course, now she has a new book out and is sticking her oar in to the myriad of pro- and pre- scriptions that are ladled out to new mothers, I can see you were delighted with this article-fodder. Makes a change from finding things to complain about other than house prices, immigrants and Liz Jones' spunk-burglary, and there's always a danger that without that, you may have to report on the Leveson Inquiry. I've been doing a bit of reading around, you see. It's difficult to see what's Gina and what is part of the Daily Mail's enormous wooden spoon used to stir things with. You report that Gina Ford appears to suggest that a new mother shows 'sexual interest in her partner 4 - 6 weeks after giving birth'. That's a very specific timescale. However, one article implies Ford said women should 'grin and bear it' and in another article says someone on the contentedbaby website said it. One article uses the headline "Don’t say no to sex, even if you are not ready, childcare guru Gina Ford tells new mothers", yet another article that came out on the website 8 hours later reports  "Ford told The Times she would stop short of advising women to have sex before they are ready to." Of course, that comment doesn't get in the headline like the first one, does it? Oo, you're little tinkers, aren't you?

My problem, dear Daily Mail, is that I'm a feminist. I believe in choice. I believe in the choice to marry and the choice to remain single, and for both of those to be valued and respected as the decisions of a grown up. I believe in the choice to have children, and the choice to remain child free. We should see both states as personal preferences. And I also believe it is my choice -nay, my right- to deploy my Ladygarden as and when I am comfortable with it. I know you don't like to mention that ladies over a size 12 can form relationships and be sexually active in a way that isn't compulsive or an indication of 'goatish appetites', but um, sorry - there's a lot of us out here. We are neither compulsive nor goatish. We're just people.

Of course, you wind us all up. You refer to Gina Ford as 'the divorcee' and 'Miss Ford', just to highlight how she doesn't have the experience of, not only child rearing, but also the ability to maintain a successful heterosexual relationship (and you do like to peddle the myth that a woman's highest goal is that of marriage and motherhood). You wind us all up and then watch the message boards explode; you're really very good at it.

Here's a puzzle for you, be it Gina Ford or the commentators on the contentedbaby website (whoever advised to 'grin & bear it', or whoever made up that headline). What's the connection between Thor, Downton Abbey, and having a firework painted on your face? Give up? Well, I'll tell you. All three of these gave me a panic attack/strong feelings of anxiety relating back to experiences of childbirth. I know! Downton Abbey! Thor, for crying out loud. You wouldn't think these were in any way connected would childbirth, would you, but that's how post traumatic stress works, you see. It's not a respecter of logic. You can't expect that, say, the shot of a hospital band upon Chris Hemsworth's shapely wrist is going to remind you of the hospital band on your wrist and set you off. You can expect that seeing someone being slid from one bed to another while Downton Abbey is being used as a military hospital will make you have a funny turn. And you really, really don't expect that while on a friend's Bonfire Night hen do, the need to hold still while someone does something to you (in this case, face paint a firework) will make you feel a bit funny and need to do your breathing exercises to calm yourself down. It was a mild form of Post Traumatic Stress. You don't suggest that veterans of war with full blown PTSD 'get over it' with a course of clay pigeon shooting, and I'm not sure how effective it would have been had I tried to get over my milder case by inserting anything up my Under Henge.

Have I told you about the dreams, Dail Mail/Gina Ford/contentedbaby? For a while I had a run of dreams in which my husband and I would try to -ahem- become intimate, and it would come apart. A dream isn't real, I know, but there are some that stay with you. Dreaming about your foof breaking - that one sticks around. I used to wake up in the night crying - not just because of the dreams, but also just because dealing with a newborn is so very, very hard. You would probably have suggested that my husband left me to cry it out and that would have stopped me doing it in the long run, but that's not his style of husbandry.

So what I'm trying to say, Daily Mail, is that I wasn't ready at 4 - 6 weeks. I wasn't ready at 4 - 6 months. Now, whether or not Gina Ford or one lone contributor on her website advised to grin and bear it, it doesn't matter - you whacked it out as a headline, which suddenly started popping up on links all over the Internet. You must be delighted at the traffic! But what you're doing by peddling these headlines is by spreading continuing pernicious myths about male and female sexuality and you're making us all miserable. You are, I would suggest, the equivalent of the bully in the school playground whispering to girls that boys won't like you unless you put out. But I've got an earth shattering revelation - you don't have to have sex with people in order for them to like you. Have your staff on the Femail tried talking to men? Really, they're very interesting. They've got some good things to say. But you wouldn't want to suggest that men and women can communicate, would you?

To sum up, suggesting that men and women might be able to not have sex for long periods of time, and be fine with that, and still love each other, doesn't fit into the Daily Mail mission statement. That wouldn't fit in to the 1950s style values of lying back and thinking of England, looking down on the gays, and sneering at immigrants. There's vintage, darling, and there's retrogressive, and I think we all know upon which side of the line you reside.



Friday, 2 March 2012

Startops End, Marsworth and Tring Reservoirs (Circular Walk)

In which the sun comes out and we enjoy and wander round the (worryingly dry looking) reservoirs, and I wonder if the Chap is really as bad an eater as I think he is.

Distance: 2.5 miles
Time: 1 hour
Rating: Easy Walk

Free from flu and with the sun suddenly shining, we decided to celebrate our recovery with a wander around the reservoirs.

Parking in the reservoirs car park  (£1.50 for 3 hours at time of writing) in the implausibly romantic-sounding Startops End, Marsworth, we started with a cup of tea & a piece of cake at the Bluebell tearooms (nearly £10 for two coffees and two pieces of cake! Is that the price of things these days? I nearly fell over. It's a good thing I've gone back to work if that's the price of cake these days). The Chap refused all offers of cake, but at least consented to eat one of those little caramelised biscuits that come with coffee. It's a pleasant little cafe, and we were quite excited by the bookcase of kilner jars with tea on them - always a good excuse to come back and investigate!

Filled with fat, sugar and caffeine, all three of us walked (yes, even the little one!) back to the car, where we got the sling out and then set off. Mounting the steps up the side of the embankment, we started at Startops End reservoir and followed the path to the right.

The water is still looking really low in the reservoir, which corresponds to current reports that we have a drought going on. The anglers were still out here and there, however, these reservoirs apparently being famous for producing monster bream and other fishy fiends.
Follow the route anti clockwise around the top of the first reservoir - looking to the right you get views of Marsworth, and to the left there's the reservoir and across towards Tring or Pitstone Hill, depending on which way you're looking.

Startops Reservoir with Pitstone Hill in the far distance.

Follow the path round the back of the reservoir, over a small wooden bridge and up a rise and then pop out on Tringford Road. Step over a low crashbarrier to cross the road and follow the path immediately opposite to follow to the left of Tringford Reservoir. This was a lot more full, and apparently is the thing if you're after trout. This reservoir is a lot less obviously elevated and exposed, because shortly after joining the path you go into the line of trees that surrounds it. Bear left, and ignore the path that leads off to the right in a short time, instead heading straight on.

If bird watching is your thing, there are also a number of hides, and there had been a fair few  waistcoated, bearded men with large and expensive cameras around Startops, but they hadn't got as far as Tringford. There were some pretty views from the hides, but no actual birds that we could see.

Tringford Reservoir from the bird hide

I have learnt an interesting thing this week. I went round for lunch with a friend, and  from my point of view watched her son throw food down his neck like all children who aren't my child seem to do. He ate rice cakes, all his own blueberries, then all of the Chap's blueberries, and then a yoghurt. "How marvellous to have a child that eats!" I thought. My own dear offspring consented only to eat marmite rice cakes and yoghurt while turning his nose up at the offer of fruit, cheese or chicken, before performing his usual trick of starting to whinge and flap to be taken out of his chair.

So I was interested when later the same day, the mother of this fruit-eating child posted a question on Facebook about how she was worried about the way her son will only really eat blueberries. Which makes me reconsider my perspective about whether or not I see the Chap's refusal to eat as worse than maybe it is. I'm not saying that having a child who only eats blueberries isn't something I'd wonder about, but at the same time I hadn't seen a child with a problem - I'd seen a child who likes blueberries. Similarly, I wonder if for a while I have been seeing a problem where in fact I have a child who just really, really likes breakfast cereal. In fact, my litany of 'well, my child will only eat...' has now got a bit like the 'what have the Romans ever done for us?' sketch in Life of Brian. 'Well, he'll only eat breakfast cereal. And toast. And sausages. And yoghurt. And apples. And bagels. And noodles. And exactly two  bites of broccoli, but never the whole floret. And fruit smoothie pouches. And red pepper. And individual commercial pies, like apple pies or mince pies. But apart from that, he eats nothing, I tell you. Nothing.'. Ok, so often he'll only eat two bites of something and then throw it on the floor, but things have got a lot easier since we negotiated a sign for 'all gone', which he now uses when he wants to get out of his high chair. It's a lot more preferable to the screaming, howling banshee who used to make an appearance every mealtime.

I have gone in cycles with the Chap's eating. Christmas was particularly bad. I had had visions when we started Baby Led Weaning that it would mean he would, at the age of almost one, be able to sit down and have a piece of turkey, a roast potato and some veg with us. What did he have for Christmas dinner? A shreddie. One. One centimetre square piece of breakfast cereal. Anxiety about the Chap's behaviour at mealtimes has pretty much ruined every meal for the last 6 months. Recently he has seemed to get better, by which I mean he doesn't eat any more, but we can thrust a piece of apple impaled upon a baby fork at him, and he will then wave it around or remove the apple only to try to get in on the tines again. But the whole eating thing is very stressful, particularly when nurseries start reporting what you know back to you; that yes, your son doesn't eat. It's also bad to arrive early to pick your son up to find he is, in characteristic fashion, howling to be removed from his high chair after two bites of toast. Just because he can do the 'all gone' sign and you've told nursery about it doesn't mean he is consistent in his use of it.
In some ways I'm glad it's not just me he does this to.

Weaning - to me, anyway - appears to be The First Great Test of parenting. Do you go for purée or baby led weaning? Do you let them have sugar? Sugar appears to be so dangerous that you might as well strap them down and start injecting them with heroin and be done with it. I reported to a Health Visitor that the Chap had consented to eat a bit of pork pie, and instead of being congratulated on finally getting some sort of protein into him, she sucked her teeth and announced "ooo, it's very high in cholesterol.". I'm afraid I have not been back since.

My anxieties about weaning also feed into nursery. Trying to explain why the Chap going into nursery has prompted such a strong reaction from me, I found myself saying that "the problem is that with him going into nursery is that this is when they find out."

"Find out what?" ChapDad asked

"Find out everything I've been doing wrong." I said. I don't know what it is that I have done wrong, but I am sure there are a lot of people out there with their golden Judgement Cards all ready to produce scores followed by a critical commentary from Len Goodman gratuitously using the word 'fleckle'.

People say that having a baby will find any cracks you have in your relationship and turn them into potholes. Certainly, starting to wean a child will identify all the issues you have around food and crack them wide open. Truly, I feel I am the last person who should have responsibility for feeding this child, because my own anxieties are completely clouding any rational judgement I have around food. True, since slightly before Christmas and the infamous Mugging His Mother Of A Mince Pie Incident, his eating does seem to be slowly, slowly picking up, but there are still days when all he's had are three rice cakes and 20 oz of formula. Whatever happens, though, already in my head he is The Baby Who Will Not Eat. He could eat a whole packet of sausages, a loaf of bread and a bushel of apples every day for a week, but if on the next day he complained he might just have a bit of rice cake because he was feeling a bit full, and I would be there like a shot. "See! See! I told you! Only a rice cake for The Baby Who Doesn't Eat!"
New Mill, Tring

The path leads you away from the reservoir and along the sides of fields inhabited by the occasional horse or pony. We followed the path until Tring flour mill (New Mill on maps) was in sight, and then when the path lead off to the left we followed it instead of following the map's indication of heading straight on.

The concrete path we took along the side of the field looking over towards the mill ended in a white metal fence and a padlocked gate. A path lead off to the left, but we weren't sure if that would get us onto the road, and we knew that we wanted to get onto the road to head back towards Marsworth reservoir. ChapDad asserted that of course he could clamber over the fence while his small, sleeping infant son was strapped to him. I, of course, did what every sympathetic wife would do. I stood back and took pictures.

Once on the road, cross over a turn left along the pavement. In a hundred metres or so, you will see the path you could have taken before you climbed over the gate pop out onto the road. In two places. Feel a bit foolish. Carry on until a path leads off bearing gently right. This was the same path I had taken when I had walked here from the Grand Junction Arms at the end of last year, and we carried on along this path, past some ducks in the reeds and between Marsworth and Startops reservoirs.

When you get to the end of this path, we then headed straight on and bore left along the edge of the Grand Union canal, and then back to the Startops car park.

Things I Learnt

  • I am not the only person who gets wound up by their child's eating. Or lack of it.
  • My son does not need to worry about his cholesterol as yet. He's one.
  • All you need is one sunny morning and suddenly the whole of the 3 counties area seems to decamp to these reservoirs!

Ordnance Survey Map: 181 (Chiltern Hills North)

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Baby, I want your socks

I have finished the socks!

I will be honest, one is a little bigger than the other, but (I hope) not disastrously so... They are at least one of my rare crafty type projects where they have actually turned out looking like the should do (I am scarred by years of CDT and Art at school in which nothing ever looked like it should), and I am awfully pleased with them.

Next step? To learn how to knit socks in the round so I don't have to do a lot of faffing round with the tapestry needle once I've finished them...