Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006


Dresses I Have Loved

I am a feminist and I love dresses. I also enjoy wearing trousers, but I don’t seek them out with same passion as I find myself trawling clothes-rails actual and virtal in search of the dream dress. Germany’s Top Husband, who recently shrunk a dress of mine in the wash and saw his ratings tumble, can attest that my cupboard is full of dresses, some gorgeous, some everyday, some that don’t live up to their online imagery, but all worn. I believe that the search for the dream dress will never end, even if I find the nearly perfect dress (which I did last week, but more of that later). It is an ongoing search, much like the hunt for the perfect book, or the hunt for the supermarket in Germany that keeps a permanent supply of coriander – a neverending search that provides entertainment in and of itself, a meta-search.

I plan a couple of posts on some of my favourite current dresses, but before I do, it is essential that I first mourn the dresses that have past. You know. For closure. For without attaining closure on the past, how can we move forward to more and better dresses?

So I give you, not so much a meme as a memorial, to Dresses I Have Loved:

1. The nude lace vintage dress

I did vintage long before it had a cool moniker. This little beauty I found in a secondhand stall in Greenmarket Square in Cape Town in February 1987 on a hot Saturday morning. It was a nude lace sheath, beautifully lined with nude satin. It had a v-neck and back, sleeves to the elbow and just covered my knees (my nickname was once Knee Puffs – knee coverage is a good thing). The lace was slightly torn near the waist, a fact that I ignored because I loved it so. I wore the dress to my first university ball, with a black choker, long nude satin gloves and a long thin black cigarette holder. I wore some vintage flat winkle-pickers purchased in my home town before heading to university that pinched and made my feet bleed. This fact I ignored because they were the perfect match to the dress. During the ball, the lace ripped. I kept the dress for another five years, but never had the money to have it repaired. At some point, during one of my many moves, I must have thrown or given it away. This is the dress that I mourn the most, the ur-dress. All dresses are held up to its glorious lacy beauty and are found wanting.

2. The lime green belted dress

Originally my mother’s dress, the lime green belted dress was a standard favourite for weddings and parties in my third year of university. It had a v-neck, short cap sleeves and a matching belt. It came to just below the knees (theme alert!) and skimmed the body. I loved it. I have it no more. I mourn its passing. It kicked off my lifelong passion for lime green.

3. Dani’s black designer dress

Dani’s father bought her this dress in one of the first achingly cool hipster boutiques in Cape Town. Little did he know that this garment – black viscose, square neck, elbow length sleeves, slighty high waist and flowing to the mid-calf – would become beloved not only of Dani but of all her friends. On big nights out, the first negotiation would be who would wear the dress. Once we discovered how gorgeous it looked with a denim jacket, negotiations grew more heated. It was a floaty dream of a dress that suited everyone who wore it and I miss it now, more than 20 years later.

4. Black Bo-Peep dress 

This was another of my vintage finds, but I can’t remember which of my secondhand haunts provided this little lovely. It could have been Cape Town, but it could just as easily have been Johannesburg or PMB. It was black cotton with a tiny white spring, small cap sleeves that were loosely elasticised and a tiny white Peter Pan collar. I lived in this dress for about a year. I usually wore it with white pantaloons (cotton leggings with three layers of broderie anglaise at the ends – hence the Bo-Peep) that I sewed myself, but I also wore it without them. It was loose and flowing, and very very easy to wear. Our school uniform was a sprig with a Peter Pan collar, so I should have hated the dress, but I think wearing it was a kind of up-yours to the school establishment. I still love a sprig and a Peter Pan collar to this day.

5. Purple maxi-dress

I wore this dress with purple and white sneakers, Lily Allen-style but a long time before the young lady herself even dreamed of doing so, and a big smile every weekend in 1994 – the year that Germany’s Top Husband and I got engaged. The love affair was deep and meaningful, while the dress was Empire-line with spaghetti straps and a tiny white polka dot. It was cool and flowing, the perfect summer dress. I wore it the day we collected my engagement ring and wore a diamond for the first time. There’s a photo of me somewhere looking purple and very happy.

Do you have dresses whose loss you mourn?

(Image courtesy of Lainey’s Repertoire, Flickr Creative Commons)


All Hail the Queen

No, not that one. This one. Queen Emily has called upon me and thus, as a loyal subject, I must respond forthwith.

I give you Emily’s Eleven Questions Meme:

1. Have you ever liked a movie more than the book? If so, what movie(s)? 
Never. Not once. Not ever. Books rule. Books win. Books are the best.
2. ________ opening for __________ would be a dream concert. Fill in the blanks. (You can fill them in with performers dead or alive.)
Ivy Quainoo opening for Florence and the Machine would be a dream concert.
3. If you’re making dinner and don’t need to take into account anyone else’s tastes but your own, what do you find yourself having over and over again?
Salad, or eggs with salad. I get very boring when I cook for myself.
4. You get to interview the author of the book you are reading right now. What’s the first question you’d ask?
I’m reading the latest Elizabeth George. I’d like to know why she killed off Lynley’s wife. Was it really necessary? My second question would be, ‘And now would you read my book?’
5. If the world becomes one in which all new novels are only published in digital format, what will you miss most?
The thrill of the bookshop hunt. I have strong physical memories of many of the bookshops I have visited over the years and it would leave a vast gaping hole in my life if they were no more.
6. If you had been gifted to play any musical instrument brilliantly, what would you choose to play? (Or maybe you are so-gifted. If so, what do you play?)
I have no gift to speak of, but would adore to play the piano. Need I say that all three of my children take piano lessons?
7. The “war between the sexes” has been around since the beginning of time. What do you think is the biggest problem between the sexes today?
Misogyny amongst young men. It makes me fear for younger women. I happen to listen to a radio station that plays a lot of rap, and the misogyny and hatred of women that pours out of those lyrics is appalling. But also infantile in a way – lots of little babies all trying to get boobies. Really pathetic. Perhaps I should stop listening, but I can’t help myself because I’m so incredulous at the level of awfulness.
8. If you could switch places with any celebrity for three months, with whom would you like to switch places?
Lionel Shriver (a celebrity to me). Three months in her skin would teach me how to write.
9. You can eat at any restaurant in the world. Where would you eat?
I’d go to Lookout Beach in Plett for a bucket of prawns and a cider – and if they could order some whales in for me to watch at the same time, that would be perfect.
10. What book do you wish you hadn’t wasted your time reading last year?
Oh dear, now I have to come clean that I never manage to finish A Stranger’s Child: the first half was so brilliant it had me swooning and quoting bits and writing blog posts, and the second was …. a snore.
11. Would you like me to answer all these questions myself?
Absolutely, Queenie. You go for it girlfriend.
Emily will forgive me if I don’t invent 11 questions and tag 11 people. Firstly, her questions were so good, I couldn’t beat them and secondly I don’t do tagging any more.
However, if you want to play, the Queen would be thrilled!
(Apologies for the strange formatting in this post – I have novel revisions to do and don’t have time to fiddle with the code.)


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?


Ten Things That Make my Day

1. Other writers. I belong to Litopia, the online writing colony, and I have met with such generosity of spirit there. I’ve just put up a story for critique and received wonderful, useful, constructive criticism.

2. Robby. After six months of looking, we may have found our family dog. The weirdness of adopting a dog in Germany deserves its own post, but I will wait until we actually have Robby in our home before I jinx my luck.

3. Coffee. I’ve just had two coffees, milky, strong and hot, in the market square with a friend while watching the Friday market unfold in front of us.

4. Books. I’m having a reading feast at the moment, with great books  behind me and front of me.

5. Asparagus. It’s still Spargel season in Germany, so the market was groaning with Spargels green and white. We have been having lamb chops and green asparagus on the barbeque rather more often than is decent lately.

6. Germany’s Top Husband. Have I ever mentioned that he’s wonderful? And that I am deeply, deeply lucky?

7. School holidays. I slept in till 9am today, thanks to GTH and the fact that no-one had to be anywhere by a certain time this morning.

8. Friends. I’m blessed with fabulous friends, near and far, without whom life would be grey and sad.

9. Children who make music. We have the sounds of guitar, piano and recorder in our home and I love it.

10. Journeys. I’m going on one tonight and the prospect is delicious. I’ll tell you all about it when I’m back!

(Thanks to Ben Warsop for tagging me for this meme, Happy 101 Sweet Friends. Please play along if you want to.)


I Vote for Hilary

I started to write a post about why Hilary Mantel absolutely has to win the Booker Prize because her novel Wolf Hall is the best thing I’ve read all year, and she deserves it and I once used to live in the same block as her but never met her only her husband in the parking lot with the Sainbury’s bags, but I have run out of the words. I can only say this:

Wolf Hall is great.

Mantel deserves to win.

Now that I have lured you in with promise of literary explication you will be dazed/angry/amused to find that this post is in fact a meme. All my brain cells are being used to write my novel at the moment, and while I plan to write book reviews and many other things, all I am really up for is a little narcissistic Internet sport. Muchos gracias to Dad Who Writes who supplied me with the material only this morning. Had he not, this post would have had to wither on the vine, and the dust bunnies would continue to blow through the wasteland of this blog (see? I’m doing lit-er-rary).

Here’s the deal:

OK, the rules of this award are that I now have to say 10 honest things about myself, and then tag 7 bloggy friends who I think are honest and true with what they have to say.  Sigh.  The hard part.  OK, first things first.  10 honest things.  This might be difficult, because I think you all know everything already.  I mean, isn’t that what the award is about, being honest and spilling my guts?

Here are the 10 honest things:

1. I am looking for a full-time job.

2. I really don’t want to live in the Burg anymore.

3. For the last two years, all I wanted to do was live in Berlin. Now I am happy with the idea of Heidelberg.

4. I am really tired of random “mummy talk” except with people I really like and whose children I care about. Tell me about your new boots, for God’s sake, or a great book you just read.

5. When my daughter plays songs from High School Musical on her recorder, it makes me cry. With happiness.

6. I am eight days into a two-week no-coffee, no-alcohol liver detox. I think it is making me grumpy. And affecting my brain cells.

7. I get squeaks of panic when I think about all the books I’ve read that I have not entered in my Books 2009 page nor reviewed here.

8. My children are trying to persuade me that we need a pet. The line, “But I already have three pets” is no longer working.

9. I am a covert low-carber. You cannot believe how many green vegetables I have to eat. I even have salad for breakfast.

10. I believe that Hilary Mantel should, must and will win the Booker Prize this year. If she doesn’t, I will eat a potato.

I’m wimping out and not tagging. Please feel free – if you believe yourself to be honest and true, or, if like me, you are in need of some not overly challenging blog material – to tag yourself.

And remember: vote Hilary!


Examining Navel, Thanks to Blog Award

Thanks to the very lovely Zoesmom and the equally lovely Featherduster for a blogging award and a meme. Here is the award:


To claim this beauty, I have to list seven personality traits, and then nominate seven others. I am always happy to navel-gaze, so here goes:

1. I have a Facebook habit. I like reading people’s updates and looking at the photos. I don’t send gifts and nor do I poke, prod or offer lollies for people to suck, but I enjoy the somewhat conspiratorial aspect of keeping an eye on things and making contact with people I knew 20 years ago. I am also recently addicted to the new version of FB Scrabble (non-US and Canada), so if anyone wants a game, let me know. My present opponents are being rather tardy.

2. I get a sick feeling in my stomach if I am late, so I make every effort not to be. This means I am often early, and I sit around waiting for others.

3. I am not thorough and tend to go for big sweeping overall impressions. I can only be detailed in short bursts. Writing a novel is shaking me to the core of my being, because it is all about details, with one layer being placed on top of another. It’s a kind of architectural thinking and planning that I last used at university and it is a challenge to be doing so again.

4. I love tidiness but can be very messy. My own mess is tolerable, that of others less so.

5. I am extremely sociable, have a lot of friends and love being around people, but I also desperately need time alone. If I don’t find that time to be alone in my head without anyone chatting to me, requiring things from me or wanting me to do stuff, I get snappy and ill-tempered.

6. I am impatient with people who have no interest in others and who use other people as sounding-boards to bounce back their own fascinating words. Really, if you want to bore me with the tedious details of your life without showing any interest in mine, get a blog.

7. I am not good at confrontation, but believe two things – a) that is is important to be my own representative, since who else is going to be, and b) that I need my children to learn that confrontation doesn’t mean the world is going to fall apart – so am trying to be better at it. I find that humour works.

Now I tag:


Couch trip

Dad Who Writes




The Adventuress


The First Meme

Stolen from Queen Emily, who is mining a rich source of memes in that wonderful place we like to call Facebook, here is the meme of Firsts. The rules are simple and since it is 05.34am, I need simple:

…. 25 Firsts …. Share

1. Who was your first prom date? Growing up in South Africa = no proms. However, I did take a rather lovely young naval officer called Lance to my Matric ball. We had a very romantic relationship that lasted, oh, about three weeks.

2. Do you still talk to your first love? You mean the one I dumped so that I could take Lance to the ball? Er, no.

3. What was your first alcoholic drink? I can’t remember. It’s a bit of a haze. Possibly a very sweet and cheap white wine.

4. What was your first job? Voters’ roll registration in a local shopping mall.

5. What was your first car? A blue Toyota bakkie that my father allowed me to take to Cape Town with my learner’s license on condition that I would always take care to have a licensed driver in the car. Did I? Hell no. Cue lots of illegal driving. On reflection, I really don’t think that was a wise parenting decision on his part, but then, he trusted me.

6. Who was the first person to text you today? Someone who doesn’t know me, because everyone who does, knows email is my friend and SMS is my enemy.

7. Who is the first person you thought of this morning? I woke at 04.55 feeling very sorry for myself, having had asthma and short breath all night.

8. Who was your first grade teacher? Mrs Ross, elderly, sweet and cuddly.

9. Where did you go on your first flight in a plane? Cape Town.

10. Who was your first best friend and do you still talk? Dani, and you bet we talk. Good morning, honey!

11. Where was your first sleepover? At Dani’s house. Her parents were very open and welcoming, and over the 12 years of our schooling, there were periods when I practically moved in. They provided a wonderful, stable home environment for me when my own home was falling apart.

12. Who was the first person you talked to today? Two of my darling children.

13. Whose wedding were you in for the first time? I had a starring role in my uncle Chris’s wedding at the age of three.

14. What was the first thing you did this morning? Got up and had a toke of my asthma pump.

15. What was the first concert you went to? Johnny Clegg and Savuka.

16. First tattoo? Ain’t got none.

17. First piercing? Ears only. I’m not the piercing generation.

18. First foreign country you went to? I landed in Rome and spent the day there en route to England.

19. First movie you remember seeing? Lassie, where I started a long history of bawling my eyes out during films.

20. What state did you first live in? The then South African province of Natal, now known as KwaZulu-Natal.

21. Who was your first room-mate? At my university residence, which we fondly called Fuller Hell, we had single rooms, but I was next-door to Isa, who is my dear friend to this day.

22. When was your first detention? I don’t remember. It clearly wasn’t a trauma.

23. If you had one wish what would it be? Right now, it would be to be able breathe properly. However, on a grander scale, I’d like to see the end of automatic male privilege. What an interesting world that would be.

24. What is one thing you would learn, given the chance? How to dance.

25. Who will be the next person to post this? No idea, but have fun doing it.