Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006


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Blog Hiatus

Dear Fans of Charlotte’s Web,

I am going on holiday and will be off the grid for a few weeks.

I plan to be here:

The Bush

And here:

The Beach

 

See you on the other side!

Love,
World Traveller


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Feeling Horizontal

I’ve just come back from a week in Mallorca, having found its quiet, laid-back corner (it still exists) and am feeling horizontal. I wonder if my sun lounger misses me?

Life is going up a gear for me, however, as I start work in two weeks’ time – a real, fulltime job – just as my children start their summer holidays. We’re having to import our favourite au pair from South Africa (Granny) in order to cope with the timetable clash. And in the two weeks between then and now, I plan to finally complete the novel revisions and submit them, so I’m not sure how often I am going to be able to post here at Charlotte’s Web.

While I’m writing and contemplating my work wardrobe, here are some pics from Mallorca upon which you can feast your eyes:

Finca Sol Rose: view from the kitchen to the lovely blue pool and mountains

Blue sea, blue sky

Craggy mountains, blue sea

Blue coves

Blue flowers

Contemplating lunch, while wearing blue

More damn blue

Formentor Beach blues

As you can tell, it was very, very rough, but someone had to do it.

Au revoir,

Your intrepid correspondent


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Camping Les Ormes

My husband is a cyclist and likes holidays that involve immense amounts of pain. I am a sybarite and like holidays that involve beautiful things to eat, drink, read and look at. This is why our holiday at Camping Les Ormes in the Dordogne valley was perfect for us both. From the minute we arrived, I knew I was going to be happy:

Our tent was perched on the lip of a hill, with a view of the pool:

Inside, wine and roses waited for us:

As did crystal tea light holders:

Bright white linen:

A piano:

A chandelier:

And thoughtfully chosen books:

Everywhere I looked, there were strong design values:

And places of beauty for the eye to rest:

Best of all, no-one seemed to mind that after about 20 seconds our perfect pitch looked like this:

The campsite has 100 pitches on 25 acres of landscaped terrain. It has a pool, a bar and a restaurant and enough space for posses of kids to run around happily while their parents sip rose and contemplate reading a book. Staffed by two industrious Dutch couples, who have imbued it with their flair for design and people’s happiness, Les Ormes attracts campers from all over Europe. We met German, Spanish, British and Dutch families, all of whom were equally friendly and happy for their kids to run around with ours. One of my favourite things about Les Ormes was its non-sexist staffing – the teams of students working there ran the bar, worked the restaurant and cleaned the tents regardless of their gender. My other favourite thing was the price – it cost slightly more than other campsites we have visited, but at just under 500 Euros for one of the very chic safari tents for a family of four, I think it’s very good value. A Les Ormes holiday comes highly recommended!

(PS As a novice mystery writer, I have placed a red herring somewhere in this post. Can you find it?)


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Journey’s End

So I’m back from my journey. We took a 12-hour drive to the Dordogne Valley for a week’s glamping at the unequivocally fabulous Camping les Ormes. This is a camping site that actually lives up to its website – it is that beautiful. While strong design values don’t make an iota of difference to my kids’ holiday, or for that matter, my husband’s, they do to mine. I loved sleeping in a tent with a chandelier and an antique piano, having crystal tea light holders and fresh roses on the white kitchen table. Pictures and a full report to follow.

However, we came home to the news that France is the world’s most expensive destination. So we may not be going back for a while.

Today is South Africa’s big day, and we are off shortly to celebrate the start of the World Cup with all the South Africans who live in Germany. Since there are only 14 of us, some Germans have also been invited and we are looking forward to teaching them how to blow the vuvuzela. Though I hold with good design values, I may break from those for today and wear my green Bafana Bafana t-shirt. Because, the boys, you know, we want them to win.

I watched some of the concert last night and cried in the dark in front of the telly. The atmosphere was amazing, the musicians outstanding and I felt proud, patriotic and very far away. Still get a lump in my throat when I think about it.

My novel is progressing well. I am close to the finish line of draft four and have promised myself and my husband to start approaching agents by July at the latest. I wrote a car chase scene last night that included references to BMW model numbers and felt like James Bond, just for the day.

This was our family theme song for the holiday. Yes, we do allow our children to sing songs about ‘blowing the bad guys away’. We also let them play ‘I kissed a girl and I liked it’ on their recorders.

Hooray for Barbara Kingsolver winning the Orange Prize! I ordered The Lacuna from my DH who flew in from London last night, and as I wiped my tears and read the first pages at midnight, I discovered that Kingsolver has stolen a phrase of mine. Goddammit, don’t these published authors have any respect for great unpublished? It’s a phrase I’m proud of, that my beta readers have all circled and given me a gold star for. Now I have to decide whether to get rid of it, or let it slip in there.

Which is all grist to the finishing mill, so I’ll bid you another farewell. See you at the end of Draft Four!


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C is for Cowries

Cowries were the shells. We collected fans, mussels, spirals, sea-smoothed pebbles, chips of oyster, cuttlefish, lambs, interestingly formed driftwood, but we would exchange a whole day’s booty for just one cowrie. It had to be perfect – a chipped cowrie, or worse, a half, was like the unfulfilled promise of ice-cream; disappointing. We loved their heft, the heavy way they lay on our palms, their curved humpbacks, their chiselled parallel channel a river through which we could whistle a pirate air or summon a dolphin. Cowries, like their ancient use, were our beach currency, to be bartered, admired, competed for, battled over. If we spotted a cowrie churning in the shore-break, we would draw blood to be the first to snatch it. The winner would crow over the loser, taunt him or her, but the fight was soon forgotten in taut admiration of the new find. We noted colour, shape, smoothness, perfection of shell, like two ancient farmers discussing the qualities of a dairy cow.

The outright goal of a beach holiday was who collected the most cowries. There were three methods. The first, and most commonly employed, was taking a low-tide walk and examining what the high tide had delivered to the top of the beach. Like everything, this was competitive. We ran to be the first to get to the new dump of shells, and would scour it expertly for the telltale cowrie shape. Distracted by other finds in the mass, one might stay shifting through the layers and be rewarded while the other ran on, impatiently, to the next shell mound. Mocking laughter would drift to the one ahead if he or she left an unspotted cowrie in his or her wake. We would make our way across the beach, overtaking and leaving each other behind, like the crabs that occasionally goosed us, but subjecting the beach to a thorough inspection.

A less scientific but more rewarding method was the thrilling shell-wash, usually at mid-tide. This involved getting into the water and sifting with our toes and swiftly diving fingers in a wash of shells within the waves. A cowrie found tumbling in the water was a huge prize, involving screaming, inhaling sea water and then running up the beach to showcase it to the nearly indifferent adult who was with us. A better class of grown-up would join our excitement, but theirs never lasted as long as ours. Shell-wash cowries could produce thrills days and weeks later, as, back in our bedrooms at home, we’d turn them over and remember the salty triumph of intuition, of knowing that shape in the water.

A third method was taking a walk to a distant beach, where perhaps there were no cowrie-mad children like us and we could have them to ourselves. If we could make it beyond the far rocks, which we achieved perhaps once a holiday since we usually ran home for the loo or something to eat, then we were in foreign territory, a new, uncharted land where we believed mounds of cowries lay waiting for us. Once, accompanied by the uncle who roars at lions, we chanced on a shell-wash beyond the far rocks and found cowries beyond our wildest dreams. Accompanied by the smell of the sugar-cane mill that was drifting burnt sugar downwind, it was a throat-burning thrill, and my brother still has a giant tiger cowrie hauled from the sea that day.

He always won. Younger than me, he was less distracted by things like books, penning letters to friends and watching our parents’ marriage pick apart. He would go out for lonely walks. Our cottage perched on a hill above the beach, and I would watch him, wandering in a pattern that I knew was not random, occasionally lifting one arm in triumph to let me know he’d scored. Sometimes he would disappear round the corner, and I would hold my breath, not fearing for his safety, but worrying how many cowries he was finding unseen. On his return, I’d swallow my envy and admire his haul. Kindly, he allowed me to hold them, to weigh and measure and decide on the afternoon’s best shell. We offered each other our cowrie currency as comfort. It was our new language, an activity apart, one that kept us from the cottage and its atmosphere of loss. As the beach winds whipped our hair and made our skin salty, we were united against now and future pain. We watched for cowries, saw their humpbacks against our retinas at night, felt the heft of them in our dreams, counted our real and dream collections, and left our parents to the sticky business of unravelling our lives.


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Staycation Interruptus

Attention! Nous allons dans la Suisse, parce que le Papa veut faire son bicyclette dans les Alpes, la Maman veut faire le swimming dans les piscines et les enfants voulez manger le chocolate et beaucoup, beaucoup de Gruyere. Alors, nous avons Staycation Interruptus pour une semaine. A bientot.

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Achtung! Wir gehen in die Schweiz weil Papa moechte Fahrad in den Alpen fahren, Mama will in den Seen schwimmen gehen und die Kinder wollen Schokolade und sehr viel Kaese essen. Doch haben wir eine Woche Staycation Interruptus. Bis Bald.

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Please note! We are heading to Switzerland so that Daddy can ride his bike up the Alps, Mummy can go swimming in the lakes and the children can eat chocolate and tons of cheese. It appears we have a week of Staycation Interruptus. Back soon.

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Staycation Reading

I’ve been trying and failing to link to an article in the Times Online on staycation fashion – lots of impractical but elegant slouchy outfits. If I’m going to be finger-painting (ta Ladyfi!) and bike riding, then I’m not going to be wearing silk pants and artfully arranged scarves, thanks very much. However, I do think one of the most important aspects of a good staycation – apart from fabulous food – is reading. I am gathering a pile of books that I can’t wait to dive into. Here they are in no particular order:

The Hour I First Believed – Wally Lamb

I am a big fan of Wally’s and am looking forward to this novel, which has been long in the making. Source: a shopping accident in a Burg bookshop only this morning.

Perfect Match – Jodi Picoult

Holiday reading. Source: last night’s book club.

The Art of Travel – Alain de Botton

How can I not read this while staycationing at home? I love de Botton’s prose – the first chapter deals with the vast abyss between what we anticipate about travel and what we find we get there. His succinct answer is: ourselves. We get to the tropical island and find that we have taken ourselves and our own leaky, needy body with us and paradise is somewhat lost. Looking forward to more, and I may be forced to share some jewels here. Source: clever husband.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society – Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

I have to fess that I was greedy and have already read this, but I can recommend it for anyone else’s holiday reading. It is light but not fluffy, and a sweet story. Source: present from my mother-in-law.

Walking in the Shade 1949 – 1962 – Doris Lessing

Part 2 of the mighty Doris’s autobigraphy. Here’s something that felt cutting: “First novels, particularly by women, are often attempts at self-definition, whatever their literary merits.” I look forward to more such insights. Source: book club.

The Women – TC Boyle

I loved Boyle’s Talk Talk and also Drop City, so I hope this measures up. Source: clever husband.

The Children’s Book – AS Byatt

I have read this already, but have to include it because it’s looking to be my book of 2009. I hope Byatt wins not only the Booker Prize, but many medals and much adoration for it, because it is such an achievement. I may pull myself together and write a book review, but if I don’t and if you have loved anything she has ever written, then go and read it immediately and be pleased that you did. Source: very clever husband.

Snow – Orhan Pamuk

I am halfway through this and finding it chewy. I particularly love the perspective – it’s told in third person by a practically invisible first person narrator who surfaces only occasionally – and am regarding it as an exercise in how to write. Source: Amazon a good two years ago, so it really is time to crack on.

Wolf Hall – Hilary Mantel

Mantel never seems to put a foot wrong, and I am looking forward to reading her novel about Thomas Cromwell, whom the Guardian in its review refers to as a “beefy pen-pusher and backstairs manoeuvrer”. Source: my lovely au pair girl (aka mother) arriving shortly from England.


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It’s Staycation Time!

My family are right on-trend with our plan to stay home for the summer holidays. As we drove back from France yesterday – which is not as glamorous as it sounds since it’s less than a two-hour drive and the campsite was one kilometre over the border – German radio was full of top tips on how to enjoy holidays at home. Callers mooted things like having breakfast in your pyjamas, having coffee in bed and not worrying about hotel hygiene as reasons why they enjoy staying at home. Having never given hotel hygiene a moment’s thought, I loved the last one. It’s so German.

After two nights’ camping, I can report that I like staying at home because when you turn a tap, water comes out of it. I also like not having to walk through a damp forest to go to the loo in the middle of the night. And I like not meeting strange men coming out of the co-ed ablutions and wondering if I am going to get the toilet they just used. The campsite was budget-friendly though (€20 a night for a caravan that sleeps four, kitchen equipment, linen for one double bed, a barbeque, gas and a tent pitch) and pretty, and at some point in the holidays, when I get over the water/loo thing, we’ll go back.

The two main reasons mooted for people to holiday at home, or in Germany rather than in another country, are finances and the threat of swine flu. However, Thomas Cook’s new offer for Germans to reserve loungers in advance might be enough to get the population onto budget flights to Turkey. According to yesterday’s Independent, for the first time in a generation more Britons are holidaying in the UK this year than abroad (probably to avoid the Germans and their deckchairs). Marketers have leapt onto the Holiday At Home concept, and sales of picnic accessories and barbeques are soaring.

With my kids on holiday from Thursday this week until mid-September, I’m compiling a list of cool things to do at home. Here it is so far:

* Ride bikes

* Learn to cook something new

* Eat lunch at the river

* Eat lunch in the garden

* Keep diaries

* Go to the library

* Go to the pool

* Hire DVDs from the library or borrow from friends and have movie nights

* Cut up old magazines and make a collage

* Have friends for a sleep-over

* Go for a walk in the forest

* Read in the hammock

* Learn to ride the unicycle

* Bake cakes and invite friends round for a tea-party

* Collect and press leaves

* Go roller-blading

* Camping in the garden

* Pour Mummy a stiff gin and tonic and take it to her in the hammock

Any ideas warmly welcomed.


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Cretan Photo Essay

I’m making a brief layover here en route to Berlin, just to share some images of Crete.

My brother got married here on a balmy Cretan evening:

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The monastery at Aptera

The flower-girls wore wreaths of jasmine and carried:

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Baskets of rice and lavender

The groom and his dudes wore black tie and:

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Chucks

Your correspondent wore:

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Black, and a statement necklace. Also, statement grasses attaching themselves to the hem of her very long gown. A good look.

On Crete, there are many women dressed in widow’s weeds. We saw one driving a Vespa with walking stick in hand, a fat bandage on her leg and no helmet. After having heard the explanation that the term “crone” is sexist and misogynist, my daughter came up with a word for the male equivalent:

IMG_4726Meet the moan

On Crete there are:

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Very small churches

IMG_4506Beaches that look like Cape Town

IMG_4502Beaches that look like Barbados

IMG_4814Beaches that look like nowhere else on earth

IMG_4997Tavernas

IMG_4947Wildflowers

IMG_4728Horses

IMG_3951Giraffe

Now that I’ve really got your attention, I’m off to Berlin. I think it’s missing me.

And my sophisticated sense of humour.


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Our Big Fat Greek Wedding

I’m taking a two-week blog break. One of my step-brothers had the brilliant idea of getting married on Crete, instead of in England where he lives, so we are off to celebrate. My other two steps are coming with their girlfriends, whom I have never met, the soulful one is coming from South Africa and my mum and stepdad will be there too. Apart from the fun of the wedding, we will also be having our first family reunion in over a decade. All this happiness in the land of beachside tavernas, azure seas and white mountains.

If you happen to think this good luck is too much for one set of shoulders to bear, let me assure you that it will slightly offset by our six-hour stopover in Athens tomorrow afternoon and our return flight which leaves Chania at 0655, requiring us to wake up at 0400. Being in Greece will be wonderful; getting to and from is a little more strenuous.

The day after we return, we are briefly visiting Berlin, just to make sure it is still there and surviving without us. I should be blogging again by the second week of June.

Till then, I wish you sunshine and happiness. While I am gone, feel free to meditate in the olive grove:

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Grateful thanks to Arielle for the image