Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006


When I Was 35

In 2007, I wrote a blog post called When I Was 25. I had forgotten all about it, until the lovely Amanda visited and left this comment:

I’m so happy I came across this, now several years after you wrote it. I turned 25 eight days ago and I’m kind of doing research on the disenchantment and restlessness one feels around this age. I’ve certainly gained some insight in a different way than I expected from your post as well as all the comments.

I reread the post and realised that making an effort to remember a time long ago brings its own lessons, ones that are worth contemplating. It is now seven years since I turned 35 and since I believe in the seven-year cycle and the spirit of learning more, I give you When I was 35:

When I was 35, I thought my family was complete with two darling little girls. Then I fell pregnant again and our son was born. I learnt that being a parent of three children is significantly different from being the parent of two. A wise friend said, ‘Embrace the chaos,’ and once I did, life became much easier. But much more than that, my heart just expanded to include him and what a feeling that is.

When I was 35, I had never heard of blogging. Now I have a whole alternative, Internet-fuelled life and I love it. I have even met some people off the Internet and came home intact.

When I was 35, the idea of writing a book, finishing it, rewriting it multiple times, joining an online writing community, getting beta readers,  submitting to and signing with a literary agent was only a dream. I made it reality.

When I was 35, I grew tired of buying expensive (though delicious) cakes at the  bakery and taught myself to bake. This happened.

When I was 35, I thought that donning sports shoes and propelling my body in a forward motion was closer to hell than I thought it was ever necessary to go. As an asthmatic kid and an adult with couch-potato tendencies, jogging never entered my personal vocabulary. This year, I’m running in the MLP Marathon relay event.

When I was 35, I was still buried deep in the intense phase of parenting: nappies, bad nights, tantrums. Now that my three spend large chunks of the day in other places being taken care of and taught by others, I have had the luxury to do things like write, run and earn money.

When I was 35, I had never had a migraine. Now, I have worked out my cure: no alcohol for two weeks of the month. It’s radical, but it works.

When I was 35, I had just moved to the Burg from Surrey, England, and was suffering culture shock. I settled down, made lovely friends and a home for my family. The Burg grew too small, so for a while, I considered Berlin, the German city that holds my heart and where I still hope to live one day. Now I live in Heidelberg and love my new life.

When I was 35, I still highlighted my hair blonde. Then I went grey for Obama and it turns out I was leading a major trend. Just call me a rock ‘n roll fairy princess.

When I was 35, I had been married for 10 years and believed that I was in it for the duration. I still do *waves to darling*.

When I was 35, I had no idea what my future held. I trusted that things would work out, that I would be gainfully employed, that my family would be happy and well. Since then I have read hundreds of books, held dozens of dinner-parties, cooked hundreds of meals, written hundreds of thousands of words, written dozens of articles, run a few dozen kilometres, met my girlfriends for book club dozens of times. On the bad days, I have sighed and taken stock and picked myself up and carried on. While I now have an inkling of what my future may hold, I still cannot say for sure that it will turn out the way I have it in my mind. But I won’t stop hoping. Or cooking, baking, reading, wiping faces, loving, writing words, occasionally running, dreaming, sighing and imagining a world where my family is happy and well.

What was life like for you when you were 35?


Going Grey with Obama

Please note that I:

am in very good company:

Barack going grey

I swear here and now, in the company of my three children and some discarded pieces of Lego, that if Obama gets in and becomes President of the USA, I will never dye, highlight or ever maltreat my hair again.

After all, we grey-hairs must stick together.


Project FGN

Before I give you a brief update, let me just note that after a talking-to from my husband, the project will no longer be known as Thin, Grey Novelist but Fit, Grey Novelist. Being thin is not a good goal, but being fit is.

Being Fit

I ran five kilometres for the first time last week. I liked it so much I ran the distance three more times during the course of the week. The key to my running success: an iPod! Having pooh-poohed them, I was surprised at what a huge difference music of my own choice made to my stamina and enjoyment. Thanks to the above-mentioned husband for a wonderful present and my fabulous gym playlist. You are a superstar. I also attended a yoga class and a fitness class with Tommy “Teletubby” Fitness Instructor. Today, I have a sick child and a nauseous headache so no gym attendance happening.

Being Grey

I went for my annual haircut on Saturday and refused highlights. Very empowering.

Being a Novelist

I’m stuck on Chapter Five. There’s not much more I can say about that, except that this novel is exactly at the point where it died three years (the 30 000 word point) and I’m having a mini-crisis. However, my lovely writing cheerleaders stepped in and said inspiring words to me about Chapter Four, so as soon as I post this, I’m heading off to face the unlovely protagonist of Five.

I’m having some very entertaining email contact from the 70-year-old father of a friend of mine. He (the father, not the friend) lives on a yacht in Malaysia and is a writer. We are sharing information about agents and publishers, but he is much further down the line than me, having had a novel published in the Seventies and with a completed manuscript now. He asked me if Commonwealth writers can approach US literary agents and while I saw no reason why not, I mailed an agent in San Francisco just to check. His response was:

You’re not under obligation to query British agents
exclusively.  I would take a close work at your work to see where you
think its natural home market lies, since each market has different
tastes, and then query based on that.

So watch out, all you US agents. You’re going to be hearing from me and my yacht-living writer friend! I may be grey, but I’m getting fit and I’m coming at you, unpleasant protagonist and all. Now I really must go and drown her, or something.


Project: Thin, Grey Novelist

So my goal for this year, my 39th as it coincidentally happens to be, no smack of a midlife crisis in this corner, is to get fit, learn to accept my grey hair and finish my novel. I thought you might like an update.

Getting Fit

I am attending the gym regularly (three to four times a week), despite having been called a Teletubby by a fitness instructor. I’ve attended two more of his classes since then and he tore a strip off someone for being five minutes late, and the next time gave someone else a lecture for chewing gum in class (admittedly a dumb thing to do in an aerobics class). I clearly got him on a good day. I also do my circuit and am getting stronger, and can go for longer and faster on the treadmill and cross-trainer. I have only attended one spinning-class and I loved it, but have not gone back. I must because it’s a brilliant fat-burner, but I do get sore nethers.

Writing a Novel

I have just submitted my difficult and by no means perfect Chapter Four to my writing cheerleaders. Their job at the moment is to say “Yay! You did it! I love this bit.” Later on, when there is a full novel to read, they will be allowed to provide critique. I am now starting Chapter Five, which in theory should be a breeze because it’s a part I wrote three years ago, but we no longer have the computer it was on and I’ve lost the print-out, so there’s a chance I’ll be reimagining it from scratch. Also, I am planning a writing retreat on my own, probably in the Black Forest, sometime in June and I am very excited about that.

Going Grey

This part is going well. My hair is doing the job all by itself with no input from me. I had a moment in a department store in Karlsruhe when I saw a lady with multi-coloured hair like mine fixed into a rigid helmet with a pouffe-like thing going on front, and my mother-in-law had to forcibly restrain me from running into the nearest hair salon and shrieking for highlights. A couple of days ago I heard an insert on my favourite source of information, Woman’s Hour, that as more and more women of a certain age are refusing to go grey and are dyeing or highlighting their hair blonde, that blonde is becoming seen by the young (see how that ages me) an older woman’s colour. Young women now favour chocolate brown red and black as their hair colours of choice.

Well, mine is neither blonde, brown, red or black. It is, as you see below, stripey:

But, because I am growing up, I am happy about that:


Missives from my Mid-Life Crisis

In case I’ve not mentioned it before, I turn 40 at the end of this year. I think I’m suffering more angst about this than I let myself believe, because I talk about it to everyone. In the course of all this talking, I’ve heard a brilliant description of a mid-life crisis, which I’m going to share with you. My friend said, “It’s a period of mourning, in which you have to grieve the dreams you are never going to achieve, and set out to achieve the ones that are still possible.”

To me, that makes a spectacular amount of sense. And just in case you’re worried about me, let me assure you that these are some of things I’m not grieving:

1. My chance to be a supermodel

2. My Formula One career

3. My bestselling album

However, I am focusing intensely on the dreams that are still achievable:

1. Completing my novel and submitting it to a literary agent or two

2. Getting fit

I am writing industriously and have the strong bones of Chapter Three, which is now 5,000 words long. This week I plan to go back and add the meat.

I have also been a gym member for a month, and am going religiously in the mornings and sometimes at the weekend. I do the circuit and some cardio, or the circuit and a class. I’ve tried spinning, Pilates and a German speciality called Bauch, Beine, Po which targets tummy, legs and bum. It hurts. After the gym, I cross the road to a fabulous cafe, order myself a huge steaming Milchkaffee and write, write, write in my notebook.

Then there is a third, smaller, thing about which I feel just as intense: my hair. I have, ahem, natural highlights, folks. About a year ago, I wrote about my dilemma about whether to continue colouring my hair and since then I have not returned to the salon. Instead, I am in the middle of a real-life attempt to live with the grey. And the grey is winning.

By the end of this year, I hope to be a thin, grey novelist.

I’m workin’ that midlife crisis, baby!


(Does that sound a bit young?)


Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow?

Today, after many months of being out on a grey and brown limb, I rejoined the sisterhood and did what many women do on a Saturday morning – left my husband in the care of the children and went to have my hair highlighted. Now I really am from blonde people. The last time I was at the hair salon was July last year, and since then I have been experimenting with how I feel allowing my natural honey dark blonde mouse to grow through, touched up as it is with wings of platinum grey. And the answer is, friends and feminists, not good. I have been feeling steadily more and more frumpish. It doesn’t help that it’s winter, that the world is coloured sludge and the coat which I wear on a daily basis is olive green. Not even my purple sparkly beanie and my various purple scarves have helped. I needed colour and I needed it badly.

Part of the problem is that although I’ve been back in Germany for nearly four years, I’ve struggled to find a hairdresser I like. Some can colour, some can cut and some can blow-dry but rare is the hair-beast who can do all three well. I was loyal to one salon in town that cut and coloured my hair beautifully but I always left with Shirley Temple curls that had been gelled and sprayed into a helmet. Then I moved to another salon, recommended by friends, where I had the world’s most spectacularly incompetent highlighting experience – as she folded the foils into my hair, they were falling out again, drifting to the floor in silver swathes. Last year I found a fabulous hairdresser, but she fell in love with an English lad and moved to London.

So, to quote Zia, I loined my girdles and gave a different local salon a go. Happy me! We have blondeness! And at an extremely reasonable price, with friendly atmosphere, decent coffee and not too much chit-chat (I needed to focus on Anna Karenina, the trashy magazines and at one point, even have a little nap – because going to the hairdresser’s is just so relaxing).

In my heart of hearts, I know this longish, blondish thing is a stop-gap measure only. I have a dream hairstyle. I keep telling myself I can only have it when I lose five kilograms/turn forty/publish a book. It’s a style with gravitas, that says “you are a grown-up now”. It is a complete crop, in the style of Judi Dench. It would mean losing the tresses that have been with me – on and off – since childhood and the thought makes me anxious. Is my hair my security blanket? Would I feel too naked if I cropped it all off? Would I have to wash behind my ears a little more assidiously?

I remember going to a woman’s 40th birthday when I was still a student. It was a lunch for her female family members and friends. She was very slim and lovely, with a mane of dark hair. To this party, she wore an almost completely transparent white dress with nothing on underneath but a G-string. She looked stunning but also rather sad. I remember thinking, “When I’m forty, I want to have accepted the beginning of the aging process, and not be fighting it quite so nakedly.” Well, here I am brinking forty, and um, still highlighting my hair and wearing it long. It’s pretty darn girlish. It’s the hair equivalent of a see-through dress, Botox or a boob job.

I’ve had deep discussions with some girlfriends about the long hair/growing older thing and in principle I’ve agreed with them that long, grey hair can be lovely and elegant. Mine just wants to be really, really short. I just have to get up the courage to part with it.