Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006


The Marcus Aurelius Meme

One of the tacit themes of Balthasar’s Gift is that everyone we meet, whether we like them or not, has something to teach us. It’s an adage I strongly believe in and try to remember, though not always with success. In novels, we like to see protagonists learning and achieving something with that knowledge – it’s called character arc, and if it doesn’t happen, we feel that characters are flat, wooden or too self-satisfied.

Litlove’s Marcus Aurelius Meme made me think of this, and so I am shamelessly plundering her ideas bank on this Tuesday morning to give you Gifts I Have Received from Other People:

From my mother, the Gift of Relentless Optimism: Her glass is not just half-full, it is overflowing. She believes in a benevolent and provident universe, and although she doesn’t have much in the way of material things, she leads a life that is surprisingly full of good luck and serendipity and Things Landing in her Lap. It’s been the experience of a lifetime being the child of a person who lives like this – guileless and believing in the good.

From my father, the Gift of Willingness to see the Funny Side. He is one of the funniest people I know and in another world, would have been a stand-up comedian instead of a lawyer. I love his take on the world and, when I remember to see the humour in a situation instead of freaking out and railing at unfairness (which he is also known to do – call it the Gift I’d Prefer Not to Mention), problems do diminish.

From my children, the Gift of Living in the Moment. There’s nothing like a baby to make the best-laid plans transmute into a spaghetti of terrible chaos. Though I have, and often still do, fight to plan ahead and organize, the moments when I allow myself to to sniff a child’s head, feel their warm limbs wrap around mine and melt into the joy of right now, this very second, are the best in the world.

From my husband, the Gift of the Oblique View. He has never been one to follow the pack, even when I first met him as a 17-year-old teenager. He holds the surprise factor of having viewpoints, ideas and ways to explain the world that knock me off my perch. My office (what my bedroom is known as during daylight hours) is next to his and I get a kick listening to him explain software to his clients on the phone. When a sentence starts ‘It’s like broccoli …’  I lose track of my protagonist’s problems and tune into the vagaries of global human resources management, because I have to know why software is like broccoli.

From my friends, I receive the Gift of Being Vastly Entertained. I love people to be amusing, witty, intelligent, provocative, a bit off-the-wall without injuring others and I have a treasure trove of people who do all of the above.

What gifts have you received from others?


Giving Thanks

Today my daughters dragged me to church. I have religious beliefs, but they are private ones, and I don’t feel the need to worship communally. I also have a suspicion of organised religion that stems from the days when my family used to go to church with another family whose mother my father ran off with. That didn’t seem like very Christian behaviour to me. I’m also not keen on the concept of a Christian God who presides over a Christian Heaven to the exclusion of everyone else, and neither do I like being lectured to. However, D had received an invitation to an Erntedank or Harvest Festival service at the Evangelical church (that’s the Protestant one) here in the Burg and with, the fervour of a new schoolgoer, believed that it was compulsory not optional. L likes singing and “being in God’s house”, so we went, the two girls with joy in their hearts and mother sulkily kicking at lamp-posts along the way, saying “Do I have to go?” in a whiny voice.

Of course, when I got there, I enjoyed it. The reverend, or whatever Anglicans call their leaders, is young and kind of vibey and didn’t lecture. The church was filled with people I know. I sat next to a woman whose kid was in the same kindergarten class as L, and who has a voice like an angel, so I enjoyed listening to her sing. Since it was a children’s service, the hymns were easy and rousing, and although I didn’t know most of them, I managed to sing along. The church was prettily decorated with pumpkins, apples and other produce from neighbouring farms, and with bread baked by local bakers, while the sun streamed in through the stained-glass windows. Apart from the moment when D spoke loudly to me during a prayer, it was a pleasant hour and a half.

Later, I delivered D to a birthday party. All the attendees were little girls with whom she was first at kindergarten and with whom she has started the big adventure of school. We went to scout a local restaurant as a party venue for our fortieth at the end of the year, where the manageress is a friend of our babysitter. Later I went for a run, passing a family I know flying kites in a field, and towards the end, coming across the partygoers hunting for treasure at one of the playgrounds. After my shower I went to fetch her, but the party was running late, so I went upstairs to another friend for a cup of tea while we waited for it to come to an end. As D and I were trying to leave, the parents were flooding in to collect their kids and three of them stopped me to arrange play-dates.

Today in the church, we gave thanks for the harvest, for having enough food to eat, clothes to wear and roofs over our heads.

I also want to give thanks. I am grateful for community. However much I might see myself as a foreigner, alien to the Burg and various German habits that I find touchingly odd, it turns out I belong.

We have made friends, a place and a life for ourselves right here in this little Burg, and I give thanks for that. I am also grateful for my wider community in Germany, my community of expats and past and present work colleagues whose broad world-views I inhale eagerly. I am grateful for my friends and family around the globe, in South Africa, England, Dubai, the USA, Canada, Scotland and Ireland, who provide a backbone of support and the knowledge that while we may be far away, we are still loved. I am grateful for my online friends, some of whom I have already met and others whom I am about to meet, who are just as real and just as wonderful.

Today as we came away from the restaurant, L said, “You want to have a party for 120 people? You have a lot of friends.” I said to her, “Well, we are nearly 40, so we have had a long time to make friends. We have also lived in lots of countries, where we have met lots of people. And we like having friends.”

It’s true. I love my friends. Thanks to each and every one of you, near and far, who make my life so special.


10 Things My Kids Love About Germany

One of the posts that consistently gets hits here is 10 Things I Love About Germany. It contains reference to cake, walking, coffee shops and great holidays. Today, while sitting in a coffee shop and eating Schwaebsiche Apfelkuchen, I asked my children what they love about Germany, and this is what they came up with:

1. Berlin. The best city in the world, even better and prettier than London (where two of them were born).

2. Swimming in the summer and skiing in the winter.

3. The coffee shops serve very LARGE slices of cake.

4. Being able to speak two languages.

5. Lots of Italians live in Germany, so you get really good pizza and extra good ice-cream.

6. Having lots of friends who speak different languages (English, German, Spanish, Turkish, Arabic, Greek).

7. Going ice-skating in winter.

8. Our friends P and M who are kind and funny and let us sleep over at their house.

(Please note that the grown-ups love P and M too, for exactly the same reason.)

9. Kika – the children’s TV channel.

(The grown-ups love Kika too. It is advert-free and age-appropriate.)

10. There are lots of different sports you can do – cycling, walking, skiing, swimming, gymnastics.

Germany – the land of outdoor living, great food, wonderful friends and big cake. How can you not love it?


From the Frontline

… of suburbia, here is my life today:

Having a slight hangover, after cooking dinner for five girlfriends last night. We ate guacamole, a butternut and feta gratin, green salad with asparagus, carrot and walnut muffins with marscapone orange cream. We drank some bottles of rose, my favourite summer drink.

Sniffling somewhat, from the hayfever that prevents me from enjoying early summer with my whole heart.

Worrying about how Chapter Six has gone all spongy in the middle and how I am going to give it its edge back.

Reading other writer’s blogs for tips and finding this from Scott of Poetic Chaos:

When I get stuck while I’m writing, it’s usually because I realize there’s a problem with one of the characters. I’m not ‘getting it’ where they’re concerned. One of the ways I try to work around that is free writing. I’ll just open a new window and start writing for ten or fifteen minutes. Sometimes, it turns into a two way conversation between the character and I. Other times, it’ll be a journal entry, or just free association.

If I really get stuck, I play around with scenes that I’ve already written, and try writing them from the ‘stuck’ character’s perspective. It lets me into their head a little more, and gets me in tune with the character.

And I think a lot of voice is like that. It’s about tuning in. Sometimes, you’ve just got the frequency off a little bit – if you jiggle the knob, you’re going to get that clear crystal picture.

Enjoying the sensation of worked-out muscles in the gluteus maximus from my run yesterday and aerobics class with the Tommy the Teletubby on Monday.

Wondering if I will ever lose the five kilograms I joined the gym five months ago to lose, and considering my friend G’s tip to go and have my thyroid tested, but fearing that my thyroid will be fine and that the way forward will be a sparrow’s diet.

Puzzling about how I have got myself into hosting a sleepover for four girls between the ages of six and eight this weekend, and steeling myself to be firm with the one invitee who knows no boundaries. The solution may be to tranquilise with DVDs and popcorn.

Dreaming of leaving for Berlin next Thursday for six whole days of aloneness and writing.

Missing my husband.

Feeling inspired by this piece of wisdom, collected at Pippa’s Porch this morning:

The easiest thing to be in the world is you. The most difficult thing to be is what other people want you to be. Don’t let them put you in that position.

What’s happening in your world today?


39 Things I Have Learnt

Next week, I will be 39. I am thrilled about 39. Really, I am. I’m convinced that my fortieth year is going to be the most exciting year of my life. I feel it in my bones. I sense adventure, success and happiness and I’m embracing it all with joy.

To celebrate my birthday, here are 39 Things I Have Learnt:

1. If you don’t have the time or inclination to polish your boots with polish and a brush, a baby wipe will do just as well.

2. Cooking, if you have time and sufficient inclination, is not drudgery. It is relaxing, calming, recuperative, creative and feeds people.

3. We all breathe too shallowly.

4. Walking is better for our bodies than jogging, but swimming is best.

5. The only way to keep weight in check is to balance input and output. Eating fewer carbs helps too.

6. We can’t all be famous, but if we blog, we can pretend we are.

7. Writing every day leads to writing every day.

8. There is no such thing as “finding your other half” or “being completed” by someone else – the only way to have a successful relationship is to be a whole person already.

9. Living for your family, while satisfying at the time, can be pointless if you carry on doing it after they have left home.

10. Even very old people want to have sex.

11. Empathy is more useful to another person than sympathy.

12. No one person can be “everything” to another person. We get what we need piecemeal from all the people around us.

13. Love is all around, actually.

14. Children need time and laughter from their parents far more than they need expensive stuff and trips to fun-fairs.

15. Women should stop judging each other’s choices and stand up for each other – if someone’s anti-fashion or obsessed with her looks or works or stays home with her kids or breast-feeds or bottle-feeds or eats local or eats vegetables from Kenya, you don’t have to be her friend but don’t judge her.

16. We can’t protect our children from every little hurt or wound, but we can provide a safe place for them to come home to and talk about it.

17. I am scared of global warning and the aftermath of AIDS, but I am angry about patriarchy.

18. I don’t think any woman anywhere will be truly free until no woman is raped, abused, forced to wear clothing to hide her body from the gaze of men, prevented from getting educated or expected to carry out all the home and child-care in exchange for men’s benevolence.

19. Getting out of bed to care for the children when you’d rather lounge there, eating chocolates, filing your nails and watching Friends reruns hurts, but is also rewarding.

20. Speaking your truth is brave.

21. When you do speak your truth – without the intention to wound or hurt – you are not responsible for the reaction of others.

22. Fear is a bad philosophy of life.

23. Children get far more joy out of paper, glue, scissors and paint than they do out of big shiny plastic things from the toy-shop.

24. Being passive-aggressive is abusing the truth.

25. Whether you’re a man or a woman, earning a salary is only a small part of your responsibilities.

26. Whoever earns the most money does not own the remote control.

27. Partners who ask “What can I do to help you?” are very, very sexy.

28. What goes around, comes around.

29. A half-finished household task makes a job for someone else. Always complete.

30. We don’t have “one chance to accept God into our lives”. God, or the divine, is already there – whether we like it or not and whether we believe or not. And if you don’t believe me, climb a mountain, listen to music or hear a baby’s gurgling laughter.

31. Gossip hurts both the gossiper and the gossipee.

32. Using children as a weapon is low.

31. Having good friends, even if it’s just one or two, is essential to a happy life.

32. People who use others as audience, or mirrors in which to view their own reflections, are bores and best avoided.

33. It’s better to have a warm and friendly home than a perfect one.

34. Money, while great to have, is not the be-all and end-all. Love is.

35. Shopping destroys, in more ways than one. It’s soulless, bad for the planet, addictive, pointless and far too much fun for its own good.

36. Those who abuse apostrophes should apologise.

37. People who have benefitted from an iniquitous system – Apartheid, patriarchy, national socialism – should find a way to give back.

38. There is no such thing as too many books.

39. The only way forward is with love, and a sense of humour.

(I pinched this idea from the lovely Sognatrice of Bleeding Espresso, who recently turned 31.)


Royal Duties

Today, the Queen and Princess went to France. It was gruelling.

First of all, the Fairy Godmother collected them in her navy limousine, forgetting that both the Queen and the Princess prefer to travel in silver vehicles. However, they were able to forgive her because the back of her limousine is strewn with red velvet heart-shaped cushions – perfect for a little light napping. The Fairy Godmother drove the whole way to France, without forgetting the way once.

On arrival in France, the Queen and Princess were forced to sip hot French coffee and – wait for it – nibble on crusty little croissants. Then they went unto the shopping portals, which are, it must be said, far far better than the portals of Pietermaritzburg. They swished from shop to shop in their gowns, occasionally purchasing an item (the Fairy Godmother had to carry their bags, and the money) or rejecting one on the basis of not being up to royal standard.

After much swishing and shopping, the Fairy Godmother insisted it was time to sit down and partake of victuals. Having placed the Royal Family in the prime spot in the tavern of her choice, she proceeded to feed them buckwheat pancakes of various flavours, followed by dessert crepes of fruity deliciousness. The Queen called royally for the finest wines known to humanity, but the Fairy Godmother shushed her, saying only cider was served at the tavern. The Queen was somewhat surprised to be served her cider in a tea-cup, but she enjoyed it nevertheless.

Once refuelled, the Royals and their loyal attendant swept out into the streets of France for more touching, oohing, jumping up and down with excited little shrieks. Between the three of them, they gathered more bags. Finally, after a sit-down and a loo-stop, they felt it was time to say farewell to France and travel to Germany in Fairy’s limousine.

“But, I have a treat for you, dear Royals,” cried the Fairy Godmother. “Before we leave France, I wish to swish you through the Enormous French Supermarket where we can treats made by artisans in hovels and other treats made in food factories.”

So the Queen, the Princess and the Fairy Godmother visited the Enormous French Supermarket where the citizenry were gathered in their droves, purchasing and partaking of treats. The Queen and her daughter fell upon the following treats:

Violet-flavoured yoghurts
Almond-flavoured yoghurts
Saucisson (for the Prince)
Chocolate chip cookies (for the little Princesses and the Princeling)
Dijon mustard
Sirop de Citron Vert
Red wine, clearly the finest known to humanity

and many other products not always available to the good burghers of Germany.

They had a delightful day, and retired to bed, happy in the knowledge that, once more, they had fulfilled their royal duties.

Please admire …


…….. the Royal Pump.


Tales From the Web

Number 2, October 2007

Welcome to Tales From the Web. This is the second edition of my magazine, where I select my favourite posts from the around this lovely Web that interlaces us all. I have no editorial policy except that I select things that amuse and delight me, and I presume that, since we are friends, they will delight you too. If they don’t, then go away and read I Can Has Cheezburger – which I love – or Perez Hilton – who I love too. This is a place to celebrate writing; funny, beautiful, insightful, clever, uplifting writing. No cats in hats or celebrities’ nethers here.

One of the things I’ve learnt since I started blogging is that good bloggers support each other, sometimes by commenting, sometimes by just turning up and sometimes by pointing out what a good job someone has done. I tend to have my favourites, but I’m always looking for new writers who inspire. If you come across a talent, please tell me! If you have a talent, please tell me! I’m chasing the delicious tidbits and I want to snare them in my web.

Of as today, my magazine has a name: Tales from the Web. The name was donated by Helen (of A Was Alarmed fame) and for her trouble she wins a box of Belgian chocolates. Unlike this magazine, the chocolates will not be virtual.

So here’s this month’s round-up, in no particular order of preference. If you like a post, go and tell the author. It’s call blog love and it’s good. Enjoy!

Eve, of The Third Eve, is a writer I’ve recently discovered. I’m fascinated by many of the topics she tackles, but recently she has been posting about the challenge of raising boys in a society that no longer tolerates the unique boy energy and wants to medicate it into oblivion. Here’s a snippet:

I’m no expert on boys but I do know that many boys do not fit in. Some manage their oddness by becoming leaders; others manage it by being kicked out of school; others are medicated into oblivion. I have friends whose brilliant son reacted to stressors in their family life (stressors created and denied by the parents, but obvious to nearly everyone else) by developing Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). So many times, bright, sensitive boys develop symptoms in response to the environment–a sort of personal early warning system that functions to tell grownups to slow down. Their symptoms are labeled and ignored in the name of Education. Or Medicine. Or Science.

Read more of Eve’s post here: Bad Boys, Bad Boys, Watcha Gonna Do?

Please read Courtney’s beautiful post on growing more like her mother – When did this happen? – which celebrates her surprise discovery, but questions why families tend to pigeonhole their members.

Amity, who blogs at Noble Savage, is another writer I’m just getting to know. I feel we have something in common – we are both expats, stay-at-home mothers with a fiendish writing habit, and married to British men. Her latest post contains not only complete surprise that, despite having just moved into a new house which she is busy redecorating, she appears to be hosting two parties this weekend, but also a seriously dirty coffee mug. Take a look here. Believe me, it’s worth it.

How is it possible for a ballerina to become an engineer? Lia tells us how, in her post Naivete and Tenaciousness. I know Lia, and it never ceases to fascinate me that she has had these two disparate careers. I believe that she’s training for a third career now, but I’ll let her reveal what it is in her own good time.

Not on Facebook yet? Here are Ian in Hamburg’s tips for trying to persuade/beg/stalk people to become your Facebook friends: How To Get Back in Touch.

Ms Healing Magic Hands went into her labyrinth to do a healing and peace meditation and came out angry. She’s very angry at George Bush, not only because she has a son in service, but because she believes he understands “neither liberty, patriotism, nor humanity”. Read her post here.

I’m a bit of a fangirl when it comes to poet and essayist Kyran Pittman’s blog Notes to Self. Every post is a jewel. She says she strives for quality over quantity, which is a great goal, one which the IntraWeb could adopt to good effect. First, make yourself a cup or tea or coffee, then pick a post (any post) and enter her world. You’ll be so glad you did.

Amy Winehouse might not be going to rehab (no, no, no) but YogaMum and I are. Read her brilliant post Rehab for Busy Moms and see if you wouldn’t want come along.

Befriend a new blogger! My friend K (who I can now officially out as Kerry, seeing she’s done so herself) bravely offered herself up a victim to come on Charlotte’s Very Busy Tour of Berlin. She’s back from Berlin and blogging, about having twins, what it means to be married to the step-parent of one’s own children and a very inspiring photography course. Visit K at Kerry’s Khaos.

Now for the fashion pages of my magazine. Do you have a geek in your life? Or perhaps you are one? My dearly beloved has started a new blog focusing on that oxymoron Geek Chic. Take a look and see what well-dressed geeks are, or should be, wearing today: Dedicated Follower of Fashion.


National Unity, Pyjamas and Berlin

Today is Germany’s day of national unity – the day when East and West Germany became one. In this house it is also known as the day Mummy Stays In Her Pyjamas All Day If She So Chooses. And she does choose. (By gumminy, she does.) Having just visited Germany’s monument to national unity – the wondrous Berlin – I should probably talk about my trip last week. I’ve been a bit slow about writing about it, because I’m still holding it close to my heart. I’m not sure if I want to let the secrets out or not.

So when two youngish mothers of a total of seven children hit the techno capital of the world, do they go clubbing? Do they stay out all night, drinking ridiculous cocktails and chatting up younger men? Do they totter about in high heels, whooping and kicking over dustbins?



We didn’t.*

What they do is that they carefully and responsibly See Everything. They start by seeing the Berlin State Ballet perform Alice’s Wonderland. With the artful use of matchsticks, they manage to stay awake (having just arrived in Berlin after a six-hour drive from Frankfurt) to appreciate the exquisite choreography, staging and dancing. They leave, stunned by all this superlativeness and by the enthusiastic ovation that Berliners like to give their very own ballet, and eat fresh tomato soup at an outdoor restaurant in the Gendarmenmarkt for their supper, accompanied – for one, at least – by Germanically generous glasses of white wine.

Then they leap out of bed, refreshed, drive enthusiastically to Potsdam, and park at the Schloss San Souci (which their guidebook says is the number one sight in Berlin). They repair immediately to a restaurant and partake of one of those large and languid Sunday brunches which is the number one activity in Berlin. They watch the autumn leaves fall. Then they walk around the Schlosspark, enjoying the sunshine and taking photographs, followed by an impromptu skating session in a pair of enormous pantoffel inside the Schloss itself (they avoid the tour, preferring the whistlestop self-guided version in which you can skate really fast on the polished marble and wood floors).

Would we allow our children to do this?

Hell no!

It’s far too much fun.

Then they whizz back to Berlin Mitte for a show at the Friedrichstadtpalast. Slightly disturbed by the amount of pensioners in the audience and the young man next to them with his trousers up under his armpits, who hums loudly throughout the show, they enjoy a spectacle of dance and acrobatics. There are some scary bits – all of the singing

Ho hum. Could you get on with it please?

and a truly terrifying slippery wet suspended fishbowl affair high up above where two fish

Can we call them dancers?

people try alternatively to drown each other or throw each other out of the fishbowl to plunge down down for many metres in a horrible rictus of what the director must have imagined to be erotic but which was really just a live horror show. They watch this through their fingers, sigh with relief when it is over and stop for grilled tuna on the way home at The Hotel That Has The Worst Service In The World But Which Is On The River Spree, So Must Be Good. They have an early night, tucked up by – oh – 9pm in comfy beds with books.

This big sleep is important because Monday is a big day. Monday is the Day of the Bike Tour of Berlin. One of them is an experienced cyclist, having done four-day mountain bike tours, who likes to spend her spare time careering down mountainsides at high speed. The other is not. She can count the amount of times she has ridden her bike as an adult on her fingers.

That’s not a lot, folks.

The bike tour is fabulous. They see everything. They have their photo taken at (what remains of) the Berlin Wall. They see Checkpoint Charlie, the Reichstag, the parking lot under which Hitler’s bunker may or may not be, the Tiergarten, all the government buildings on the river, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, the Brandenburger Tor. They also enjoy an exciting cycle in the bus lane of Berlin and a very rewarding visit to a Biergarten for a late lunch and a large beer. Their tour guide, Ingo, is beyond cute and both cyclists, experienced and not, keep snuggled up close to him in the pelaton, kicking aside any stray New Yorkers or Oregonians who to try to muscle in.

After being returned to the Fat Tire Bike Tour offices at Alexanderplatz

If you go to Berlin, this is the best way to see the city.

It was fabulous.

And the guides are hot fit.

Whatever. You know what I mean.

they consider rest. After six hours of cycling round the city, would two mothers of a combination of seven children head back to their chic Berlin Mitte apartment for a small nap before finding a bijou restaurant for a relaxed dinner?



It becomes essential to go to the Haekesche Hoefe for some late-afternoon shopping in the beautiful Art Deco courtyards. Some coffee and cake become of the essence. Some more walking. It becomes night. Still the shops are open. They are shopped. It is dark, and the intrepid mothers decide it’s nonsense to go home when they can go and stand in a queue at the Reichstag for an hour, allow German security officials to accuse them of carrying a sparkly fairy ornament in one of their shopping bags

It was true.

We couldn’t deny it.

and then go up many many storeys in a lift to admire the view from the top of the building. However, they discover too late that they both have late-onset vertigo and an identical urge to crawl the walkway that hugs the glass dome, so they jog down very very fast back to terra firma.

Tuesday is designated shopping day. They head for the Kaufhaus des Westerns (KaDeWe), the Harrods of Berlin, and walk around in a daze for a few hours, testing the loos and fingering very expensive articles of clothing. Then they begin to stroll up the Kurfurstendamm, Berlin’s famous shopping street, but quickly become exhausted by all the

a. shops

b. tourists

c. beggars

so are forced to repair to a lovely little sidestreet where an Italian restaurant offers to feed them delicious pasta (salmon and pine-nut with a lobster sauce, and rocket and feta) and shelter them from the rain that has so irritatingly decided to pour down. They then retrieve the car from the Hotel That Serves the Worst Tea in the World

A huge, hairy testicle of a tea bag that has clearly been used umpty times before.

to do some driving around the city Because That is Fun. First driving stop is Schloss Charlottenburg. Next driving stop is the chic apartment in Berlin Mitte because they are tired and needing to nap. Later, after the nap

It was good.

So …

… nappy.

they walk around aimlessly, finally landing at the sushi bar under the Sony Centre on Potsdamer Platz for a €12 plate of sushi that they can’t finish it is so huge and delicious beers. They walk home, veering briefly into a lamp-post restaurant to acquire ice-creams.

Next day is Dresden day. This is very exciting because it means Driving Again. It is also very sad because it means Farewell to Berlin. However, they are grown women


and manage to leave Berlin without a tear. Dresden is very beautiful. It is filled with buildings. It also has a river. Most importantly, it has a fabulously luxurious HOTEL where they check in, spend the afternoon sleeping, reading, bathing, lounging around in bathrobes, preening, toenail-clipping, dressing, going to the restaurant, enjoying fine dining and excellent wines and going to sleep again. The next morning they glance once more at the beautiful buildings of Dresden

They are so beautiful.

Aren’t they just?

and drive up the river, passing all the glamorous Communist villas where happy Communists once came to play landlords, to Schloss Pelnitz for a little stomp around the beautiful gardens, sadly muddying the boots that had been polished overnight by the little HOTEL elves. They shop idly for the last perfect present for lucky husbands and children and mothers, and then depart from formerly East Germany back to the West, which, strangely, looks very much like the East except that it has more hills.

It rained.

And the journey took eight hours.

But it was worth it.

* Any irritating tics and verbal asides that may appear in this post are attributable to the fact that I am reading Darkmans by Nicola Barker at the moment.

I am.

And it’s catching.

Really, really catching.

So, I’m sorry. But I can’t help it.


Glitter, Glitter

That’s what the end of the week is doing. It’s glittering at me. In five sleeps’ time, I’m collecting my friend, K, from the airport and then we’re driving to Berlin (I can’t stay away; I’m addicted) for a week of sightseeing, shopping, eating and non-stop talking. Since we have seven children between us, and they will all be far far away with their daddies, there might also be a little bit of sleeping, reading in bed, working on novels, and stopping off for chai lattes at any moment of the day or night BECAUSE WE CAN.

K and I have known each other for 26 years. I got a little weepy when I worked that out. Twenty-six years is a long time to know someone. Two other friends are supposed to be with us, but can’t for various reasons. One of them I have known for 32 years and the other for 20. Clearly, I am someone who is hard to shake off. Once I find you and decide you’re mine, then we’re friends for life.

Remember what it was like to make a friend at the age of 12? You spent long afternoons together, and then phoned each other as soon as you got home. You discussed every detail of your life minutely. My family lived out of town, so I made it my habit to spend nights at my friends’ houses. They really couldn’t get rid of me. I partook in their family lives, sat around their dinner-tables and listened to their parents talk. I became a bit of a fixture, like a wall-hanging or a lamp. While my parents’ marriage was falling apart and my mother was slowly finding her feet again, both K’s family and that of my friend who I have known for 32 years became my replacement families. They both offered me a place where I could feel secure. So they are more than friends, really. They are sisters.

Last week, someone I know told me that I have let her down, that I have not been a good friend to her. That gave me pause for thought, because I have always considered myself a good friend. I have been known to forget the odd birthday (sorry E), but generally, I make my friendships a priority. It’s much harder now to give my friends the time I used to be able to give when I was 12, given that my life has become exponentially fuller.

My mother always said that you have friends for different reasons and different times of your life. I have old friends, new friends, German friends, expat friends, friends whose children are my children’s friends, blog friends, book friends, writing friends, friends my husband found for me, friends I have stolen from him and friends whose husbands or wives are his friends. Usually friends fall into more than one category, and the more categories the better. I think what happened with this friend who is disappointed with me is that I haven’t allowed her to rise above a certain category in which I’ve pegged her, and she would really like to defy her category and be more to me. I’ve been a bit rigid with her. I see that now.

Now, all you category-defying friends, I need to get back to work. I may manage to post before Berlin, but I may not. Forgive me if I don’t. I’ll be back soon, with stories.


Today Charlotte Will be Modelling …

… her very own sweat.

(Just thought you’d like to know.)

It’s been hot. Hot, hot, hot. It’s been so hot, I cleaned off the six weeks of mould that had accumulated on the paddling pool during our monsoon, stripped my three children down to their nethers and threw them in.

It’s been so hot, that we have scraped the rust off the three fans that languish unused like white suits of armour in our bedrooms, and switched them on.

It’s been so hot that I washed down our trailer trash garden furniture, dried it and arrayed brightly coloured tablecloths upon the tables to make pretty.

It’s been so hot that I swept the terrasse and hosed it down to prevent it from dehydrating.

It’s been so hot that our universally retired neighbours are scaring us by wearing their vests and skimpiest bathing costumes in their gardens.

It’s been so hot that apart from the sound of happy neighbours chatting in their gardens, all I can hear is the shush-shush of hoses as they water their well-manicured lawns and flowerbeds.

It’s been so hot I can hear our own lawn growing, along with its very good friends, the weeds.

It’s been so hot that lemon beer has been the only thing to drink.

It’s been so hot that salads have been the only thing to eat. And ice-cream.

It’s been so hot that Burg has a party atmosphere. People are jollier than the Professor of Jolly at Oxford University.

It’s been so hot that I’ve seen loads of friends, eaten lovely food, paddled in a brook, watched my kids wave sticks at pinatas, lounged on a rug under the shade of a large umbrella, enjoyed a braai at home, strolled into town and walked home with an armful of roses as a present for myself and a new vase to put them in. Best of all, on the way to and from the supermarket, I rolled down the window of my car and played Bob Marley and the Wailers loudly for the benefit of all humankind.

Every little thing IS going to be alright.