Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006


Channelling Mrs Prothero

I am not one for fits of rage. If I am angry with you and you are not one of my children, I indulge in a little judicious slamming, some quiet muttering and a style of loud walking that I inherited from my mother and which has earned her the nickname of “Captain Footsteps”. At my angriest, I might give vent to cutting words. The same goes for my depressions. When I am down, I am not extreme. There is no breast-beating, I don’t go off my food or stop sleeping. I have very gentle declines, so mild as to be hardly noticeable.

Which is why it took me three days to realise I was having one this week. Vital clues to a decline are: engrossed reading (2000 pages in 2009), slightly increased chocolate intake, heightened need for sleep and an inability to leave the couch. So far, so enjoyable. What awoke me to the fact that I was having a decline was one afternoon, while the children were having a post-prandial game of Wii tennis, when my husband called up the stairs, “Where is the Queen? In her parlour, having another little lie-down?”. I thought God, I have been lying down for a week. Just like a Victorian lady, having a fit of the vapours.

I’ve just finished reading Mary McCarthy’s The Group (487 pages) and in it Mrs Prothero has to cancel everything on discovering that she once entertained a man to dinner who has since had a night in jail:

“A jailbird!” she repeated indignantly, with a wobble of her receding chin, so loud that Yvonne, coming down the stairs, could hear her. Clutching her wrapper around her and holding Yvonne’s arm, she retired upstairs to her bedroom and canceled the car, which was to take her to the hairdressers at eleven.

Clearly I have been channelling Mrs Prothero. Needing to lie down and cancel the car. On reflection, I think it is because December looked like this:


In a few short weeks, we had a 40th birthday party, a seventh birthday party, Christmas to plan, prepare and shop for, a New Year’s lunch for 12, multiple social engagements, adorable house-guests who were sleeping in our bed necessitating us to sleep in the cellar, parties and end-of-year engagements for the children to attend and a slew of disgusting ailments, including the flu (all four grown-ups, one child) and a stomach flu (all three children) that required frequent wiping of puke and poo. Apart from the illness bit, I love it all and throw myself into the planning, preparation and jollity that makes the season fun.

Then January came and I was tired. So I lay down and cancelled the car.

I’m glad to say I can feel my energy creeping back. I got off the sofa and took the kids to see Madagascar Two a couple of days ago, and yesterday we went toboganning. My creative juices are churning and I am looking forward to school starting on Monday so that I can attack the last quarter of my novel. I want to get back to my healthy eating and get back on the treadmill. I am thinking of ways to generate new editing work. I am full of resolve.

Mrs Prothero is no more.


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?


My Fantasy Escape

My fantasy escape is a writing retreat in the African bush. I sleep in a large double bed with white linen and a mosquito net, and have a view of a waterhole where elephants come to drink, bathe and cavort with their babies. There are monkeys in the trees and warthogs snuffling in the shrubbery.

Silent staff bring me meals – exactly what I require, when I require it, without my ever having to ask – and are available take me on game drives should I wish it.

My family are permitted to make short visits. When they leave they do not cry, but cover me with kisses and wave cheerfully. I feel no guilt when they leave.

There is also yoga, but after the class all the other participants must melt away, unless I like them, in which case they may stay for dinner and be highly entertaining.

I swim in a pool that is the perfect temperature, and take outside showers.

There is a library of books and fat, comfortable sofas in which to read.

There is a verandah, with views, for contemplation.

The temperature never rises about 28° Celsius, and never drops below 18.

I write, and dream, and wake, and sleep, all to the rhythm of the bushveld. I watch sunsets and stars, sunrises and morning mists, but sleep through the heat of the day.

I live in the moment, meditate to the sound of beetles and birds, and write and write and write.

Can I go there now?

Thanks to YogaMum for the inspiration.


Walking Tall

My status has improved. I am feeling rather elevated. I am walking around with my nose a few inches higher in the air than usual.

Here’s why:



Beautiful, aren’t they?

Here’s a picture of one in sepia, just to underscore its iconicity:


Let it be said that as a girl who prefers trainers or flip-flops, and who has never knowingly worn peep-toes before, I am getting a kick out of my new status. There’s a swing in my step. There’s a swoosh to my stride. I am towering over animals and small children and the odd crouching grown-up. I am enjoying the rarefied air of the tall.

Feels good up here. Wish you could join me.

*totters off to prepare lunch*


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.


The Sun Is Wearing a Very Small Hat

The sun has come out. May I mention that again? The sun is shining, and is predicted to continue doing so for the whole weekend, which is a good thing, seeing we have to attend an (outdoor) summer party tomorrow and host an (outdoor) braai in our garden on Sunday. Sun is a Good Thing. Especially here in Germany, where it has been raining and grey and COLDER THAN WINTER IN SOUTH AFRICA for the last six weeks.

It has just dawned on me that the lack of sun for the last six weeks is the reason why I have been so out of sorts. I didn’t mention it here, for various reasons:

1) I’m not good at mentioning depression while I’m having it. Only after the fact.

2) While there are some things I can share with the whole damn world, I don’t always like to share that I’m stuck inside with three kids, rain outside, piles of washing to put away, too many DVDs being watched and me working my way through the children’s sweet tin. Only after the fact.

3) I like to present my happy, smiley face to the world. With a hat on.

I often don’t even know I’m out of sorts, until afterwards. Then I look back and realise why I started seven books and couldn’t finish them, forgot to put the bins out, ate too much chocolate, started a diet, became unable to blog anything other than memes, wasted time watching crap movies like Elizabethtown, neglected all household responsibilities, became very slow and began a list of reasons why I disliked myself.

I blame the weather. I was SAD of course. Very, very sad. And with the sun starting to shine, with wearing a skirt instead of jeans, with kids in T-shirts and sandals, with some promise of Vitamin D, I am feeling BETTER. I have sunglasses at the ready, I am eating salads, I may even be able to take my kids to a playground this afternoon.

I don’t have this problem; unlike many Germans I find pale interesting, but just a little bit of sun is going to do me a lot of good.

I may even become bouncy.



Feeling Good

Last night my husband and I put on some gladdish rags, said goodbye to our lovely Ironing Babysitter (the only kind to have, I assure you) and went to a friend’s fortieth birthday party. It felt good to leave our kids behind and go to a party together.

I wore my favourite purple wrap dress over my favourite dark jeans, with my comfortable black boots and my favourite dangly green necklace that I bought in Paris. I felt good! I am working that dress over jeans look at the moment. It is intensely liberating to wear a dress, which is feminine and sexy but not have to worry about sitting neatly, visible panty-lines, uncomfortable tights and showing too much leg. I love it so much that I am considering wearing trousers under the exquisite purple lace dress I bought to wear to the Oslo wedding in two weeks’ time. (More on Oslo in a later post. I know you’re breathless with excitement.)

The party was held at a great bar in a nearby town. The nineteenth-century building has recently been renovated and is filled with funky shops and new businesses. The bar is in a cellar and is completely smoke-free. That felt good. Germany is way behind the rest of Europe – except possibly France – on the no-smoking laws, so it was highly unusual to be in a bar where no-one was smoking. My clothes don’t stink today.

The friend whose birthday it was, and his lovely wife, were thrilled to see us. We have been a bit out of touch with them in the last few months so it was great to make contact again. We made promises to get together soon. It feels good that we have made such wonderful friendships here in Germany. We have carved out a place for ourselves.

During dinner – a sit-down meal where I did not have to affix a bib, wipe a face, correct table-manners or ask anyone not to talk about poo – there were the usual entertainments meted out at German birthday parties. Having been bored rigid by long poems in rhyming couplets or scary dance routines, it felt good that that the entertainments were tasteful and did not go on too long. The birthday boy’s wife put together a short movie of his life, with a great sound-track. His sister-in-law did some very impressive belly-dancing.

Impressed by her snakey hips, we were the first on the dance-floor after dinner. It felt so good to dance! I danced and danced. When midnight came and it was time to go home and relieve our babysitter, my husband said to me, “You’re having so much fun. Why don’t you stay and dance some more?” Another friend agreed to drive me home, and then he and I danced for two hours. I loved it. I danced, tested out my snake hips, laughed, smiled, drank wine and danced some more. I felt as relaxed as I do dancing at home with my kids, except I wasn’t at home with my kids, but out after midnight in a funky bar wearing my favourite outfit and dancing my heart out.

I came home and my darling husband had waited up for me. That felt good.

This morning, though, I did not feel so good. With skunk eyes and white wine breath I did not look or smell so good. But hell it was worth it. A girl needs that every once in a while.


Bad Day at Grumpy Ranch

Actually, it started quite well: Lily eagerly going back to school, Ollie having a fabulous two-hour morning nap so that Daisy and I could do puzzles and draw each other princess pictures to colour in. It was still going well when Lily flung herself through the front door exclaiming joyfully about how wonderful school was. Daisy was pleased to have chilli con carne for lunch (note to self: I make this far too often. Mince may be a good cheap way to feed a big family but we’ve had spag bol, macaroni pie and the aforementioned chilli once too often this winter. I mince no more.). Lily opted for the rice in a bowl with chopsticks (she’s going through a Chinese phase) and Ollie was none too keen on the mince or the rice. Perhaps the mistake was giving everyone chocolate for pudding – there was a brief interlude of happiness, and then on came the grumps.

Lily developed a headache and had to lie on the sofa and listen to The Twits. Ollie and Daisy joined her; he kept getting stuck in the little corner behind the radiator where all the vital cords and wires live that keep this household permanently tuned to the glory that is the world wide web, I kept getting him out, and he kept kept clambering back in. Daisy lay on the other sofa from Lily, but UNDER the rug that covers the holes in the leather, where she kept putting her toes and fingers and other extremities into the holes, which, along with Ollie’s extreme attraction to electrics, was starting to cause Mama’s nerves to fray.

Then Lily gave up on The Twits and went upstairs to her new desk to do her homework, thumped down again to say she felt sick and thumped up again to have another go. This time she was followed by Ollie, who did his best to climb onto her chair with her, which is endearing but not when you’re trying to write “Ei. Ei. Ei. Eis. Eis. Eis” over and over again in your best German handwriting. She managed to get rid of him, and I told her she was allowed to shut her door.

While all this was going on, I was doing nine loads of laundry, then carrying it up two flights of stairs and packing it away. The laundry is in The Dungeon, so it’s a place to escape when things are getting hairy. Which they were. Daisy was in Lily’s room, scolding her for shutting her door. Lily was screeching that she needed to be left alone. I was screeching up the stairs to say (a) Please leave your sister alone, she’s trying to do her homework, (b) I told her she could shut her door and (c) You are not Lily’s mummy. Shortly afterwards, Daisy mentioned she would like some food, and I said “I am sick to death of food preparation, please help yourself to a piece of fruit” (note to self: when things are escalating, it is important for the grown-up in the house to remain calm and not make dramatic statements). After packing away the next load, I found Daisy at the dining-room table hacking away at a half-loaf of stale pumpkin-seed bread with a butter knife. I relented and made her a piece of toast. During this time, Ollie visited the cords behind the radiator about seven more times, climbed up on his high chair and tried to hug the window-pane and Lily huffed up and down the stairs a few times, the last time to mention that a wheel had fallen off the leg of her new chair and that she was coming downstairs to finish her homework.

The rest of the afternoon’s events are a bit of a blur but involved a fight over a small black Ferrari, Ollie tossing all his crayons onto the floor several times, Lily crumpling up a drawing Daisy had made for her, Daisy and Ollie breathing heavily over my shoulder while I tried to address cards and fill envelopes with photographs of the children for relatives in England (note to self: do jobs like this at night), while I persevered, getting more and more irritable until I flipped and said things like I can’t wait for bedtime, and I’ve had enough, and you three are driving me up the wall, and so on.

This made everyone very sad. Ollie had a big cry. Lily drew a picture of a heart crossed out and sad faces and an arrow showing that she would like to leave this family. Daisy did the same, but upped the ante by going upstairs, packing her penguin roll-on suitcase with some skirts, nighties and drawing materials, clomping downstairs and announcing that she was leaving. Lily cried and I did some crisis management, telling Daisy that, while things were not so wonderful at home today, there was no place in the world where she would be more loved than here. During these negotiations, Ollie also went upstairs, gathered Lily’s crocodile roll-on suitcase and dragged it down again, indicating that wherever Daisy was going, he was going too. We persuaded them both to stay, had a philosophical conversation about how horrible it would be to be “a norphan” and put on the pasta for supper.

Addendum: When I told my husband this story over the phone, he laughed. Later he sent me this:

I often wonder how you can find time for what you do, in addition to the care of the house; and how good Mrs. West could have written such books and collected so many hard works, with all her family cares, is still more a matter of astonishment! Composition seems to me impossible with a head full of joints of mutton and doses of rhubarb.

Jane Austen


Verily, And the Princess Begat Another …

Daisy (4) relates to princesses. Strongly. She also relates to fairies, ballerinas and mermaids, but princesses rule. In fact, they rock. In her own mind, she is a princess and we are her band of slaves, who are sometimes willing and sometimes recalcitrant in the extreme. When her slaves are not pulling their weight, then she is forced to scream loudly until we are cowed into behaving better.

Princesses, in her view, do not wear trousers. Not ever. Never, never, never. So when her Prime Slave appears before her in the morning, pulling on her forelock and shamefacedly proffering a pair of trousers to don for the day, Princess Daisy protests. Again, she naysays the offering. Then, if Prime Slave does not get the message, she may be forced to yell at her. Sometimes Prime Slave is butt-slappingly cheeky and suggests that Princess Daisy select her own morning garb if the offering is not good enough. Often the Princess and her Slave have a large and loud argument which can be heard in the neighbouring castle. Sometimes, Prime Slave wins the argument, and Princess Daisy dons the offending garment. However, if this is the case, she takes great pleasure in punishing her slave for the rest of the day. Usually, though, Princess Daisy wins and is allowed to walk out into the cold morning, proudly wearing a dress or a skirt.

Right now, while it is still autumn, the situation is bearable. But, as I keep pointing out to her, at some point in the not-distant future, it will be winter, it will be snowing and she will have to wear trousers. When I voice this calumny, she levels me a withering glance. She doesn’t even deign to argue. Princess Daisy knows best and everyone else is a bunch of blithering idiots. I don’t know where she gets this regal attitude from. I really don’t. Even in the face of clear evidence (today: knees knocking under her tights), she will not bend.

As I wrote those last two words, “not bend”, I thought, gosh, that’s it, she’s STUBBORN. I had never put the word to her before. My mother sometimes used to say to me, “You’re as stubborn as your father”, which, since they were getting divorced at the time, was not a compliment. I like to think of myself as a mild-mannered, pleasant person, open to reason and to persuasion. And I am. But there are two fatal words which bring out the Princess in me too. These are “you should”. They do literally send a frisson of ice-cold anger through me, my blood runs frigid, and I inadvertently think, “I should, should I? I’ll show you should, you should-monster. I will slay you and eat every single one of those shoulds you are flinging at me.” And watch me.

Also, I do recall being obsessed with dresses as a small child and suffering the bare naked shame of my mother arriving a kindergarten one winter morning bearing – oh horror of horrors – a pair of trousers for me to change into. Worse still, they had a PATCH! I was humiliated unto the the very depths of my being, and could not hold my head up high on the playground that day.

So having taken a look at myself, I suppose I need to be more tolerant of Princess Daisy. Her femininity is crucial to her and I need to recognise that. And probably, like me, her blood is enraged by hearing the words “you should”. From now on the mornings, as we dress and prepare her for kindergarten, I shall have to look for more subtle and more inventive ways to get her into trousers. I shall avoid any queeny proclamations, eschew servile crawling and aim for imaginative suggestiveness.


Instant Prozac

(Mr Pomo: Humph.)

As the Literate Kitten has just mentioned, the onset of autumn in the northern hemisphere has brought the blues to the blogworld (and elsewhere no doubt). I, myselfly, have noticed the same. However, purely by accident, I found a recipe to cure the blues. It’s cheap, it’s cheerful and it’s better than Prozac:

  • Take your favourite DVD (my choice was the wonderful new JJ Cale and Eric Clapton collaboration, called something or other)
  • Select a dance partner (mine was my 18-month-old son – actually to “dans” was his idea)
  • Or, be alone
  • If you’re shy, at this point you should draw the curtains or close the blinds
  • If you don’t care, leave ’em open and give the neighbours something to talk about (we chose this option)
  • Dance wildly, singing along as loudly as you can and as tunelessly as you like

God, it was good! Ollie is feeling much less depressed.