As a stay-at-home English-speaking mother-of-three who lives in Germany, I don’t go to cocktail parties, screenings, openings, launches. I very seldom go to concerts, exhibitions or movies. The books I read are found objects; from my book club, happy accidents in German bookshops, presents my husband buys me in the airport. I don’t know are what the latest hip happening restaurants, clubs or bars are. I’ve almost completely stopped buying fashion magazines, so my fashion sense is honed by what I occasionally see in H&M or Zara.
I am in no way qualified to offer a round-up of the zeitgeist 2006. Instead, I give you Charlotte’s Best of 2006:
Best Taste Sensation (Outside the Home)
Lavender ice-cream at Norfolk Lavender. It looked … lavender, and tasted … lavender. A heavenly experience.
Best Taste Sensation (Inside the Home)
Yesterday’s pomegranate pavlova. And the champagne cocktails we made in summer, with elderflower syrup, strawberries and mint.
Best (and Most Fruitful) Shopping Trip
A trip to the factory shops at Stoke-on-Trent with my friend T. I bought an exquisite blue and white cake stand from Portmerion, decorated with flowers and butterflies. I found beautiful blue and white dinner plates at Spode. And at Burleigh’s wonderful red-brick Victorian warehouse, I found smaller plates and bowls in various designs. I now eat off a wildly mixed and matched variety of blue and white crockery. It makes me happy, every single day.
Best Album With Adult Content
Without a doubt, Lily Allen’s Alright, Still. Her lyrics are darkly bitter while the sound is sweet, upbeat, with hints of reggae. It’s British pop at its very best. I’ve only seen her videos on YouTube, webwaif that I am, but I like her style too – she wears ballgowns with trainers and big chavvy earrings. It’s very Charlotte circa 1991 – I was into dresses, with trainers, and tacky jewellery. Her lyrics are explicit, so I can’t listen to it in front of the children. Instead, I like to play it loudly when I’m alone in the car (that in itself is a good feeling) and sing along and pretend I’m 21 again.
Best Album for Singing With Children
Surfer dude Jack Johnson’s soundtrack to the Curious George movie. It’s buzzy and fun, and filled with good messages – share, be kind, recycle. It has a lovely lullaby. We like it a lot. My daughter says he has a “kind voice”.
Best Album for Dancing With Children
Putumayo Kids’ African Playground for its great African rhythms. We put it on when we’re feeling a little crabby or we’re not getting what we want or someone is making us cry (and that would just be me), and it’s an immediate mood enhancer. The children are developing some great “moves” – sometimes accusing each other of “stealing my moves” – and Ollie’s got some real African knee-action going to this one.
Best Re-Read That Turned Out To Be a First Read
Apparently, in my third year of English Literature at the University of Cape Town, we studied Middlemarch. I remember attending some of the lectures, and may possibly have answered an exam question on it. I decided to reread it this year – completely delightful and to my surprise, accessible – but I couldn’t remember a word from supposedly having read it in 1989.
Best Surprise English Find in a German Bookshop
Miriam Toews’ A Complicated Kindness. Reviewed here.
Best Novel Written by a Poet
Finuala Dowling’s What Poets Need. Reviewed here.
Die Fetten Jahren Sind Vorbei (in English, The Edukators). This was released in 2004, but I saw it, thanks to Amazon.de’s DVD hire service, this year. It’s a great story: Jan and Peter, two young Berlin anarchists, break into rich people’s houses at night, rearrange their furniture (often to great effect), steal nothing but leave behind messages designed to disconcert the home owners. One night they botch a break-in and end up kidnapping someone. They find themselves on the run, with their abductee and Jan’s girlfriend Jule, with whom Peter is falling in love. As they hide out in a cottage in the mountains, they begin to feel compassion for their victim, the millionaire Hardenberg, and the debate begins – between the idealistic three who long for the passion and anarchy of 1968 and Hardenberg who has become staid and conservative since gathering his millions. It’s a thriller that isn’t, which is often my favourite kind, because it takes you right to the edge where you expect scary stuff to happen, and then it surprises you by doing an about-turn. There’s a bit of wobbly hand-held camera action to lend authenticity and some great acting, especially from Daniel Bruehl (star of Goodbye, Lenin) and Julia Jentsch (of Sophie Scholl fame).
Best Dieting Tip
Best Style Purchase
A black wrap dress with white polka dots from H&M. It cost all of €15, and I have worn it once a week all year – in summer with flipflops, in winter with a long-sleeve T-shirt underneath and knee-high boots. In honour of Christmas, I glammed it up further with fake pearls. It’s very forgiving when one is carrying a little winterspeck and also very flattering over trousers. Wrap dresses rule.
Best Beauty Mantra
Yesterday’s mascara is today’s eyeliner.
Best Life Mantra
If you speak and act with integrity, you need not take responsibility for the reactions of others. The best decisions are the intuitive ones. Make time to be quiet and go within. Oh, and don’t forget to get up and feed the children.