Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006


I Stand Corrected

My mother tells a story of how, when visiting the local Botanical Gardens, she pointed out some budgies to her small daughter. I apparently told her witheringly, “Those are not budgies. They’re love-birds.”

I got the same treatment from Ollie this morning. We were poised at the top of the stairs, about to head down for breakfast. I said to him, “There’s your tractor, darling. Do you want to bring it down with you?”

He grabbed the tractor, turned to me and said, “It’s not a tractor, Mummy, it’s a digger. It is for digging erf.”


NaBlo Blues

Okay, it’s Day Twenty-One and I’ve had it. I’m not stopping, but I’ve had it with the daily posting. Just thought you should know.

Here are some “exciting” things from my life that I wouldn’t normally share with you, but am damn well going to just because I have to.

1. The neighbours have put up the giant Father Christmas outside their house that they put up every year, so I guess it’s Christmas.

2. I am knitting a scarf for my husband.

3. I went to the “Tiger and Dragon Food Store” in Heidelberg today where I bought tumeric, masala, minced coriander, curry paste, Chinese egg noodles and two tins of sweetened condensed milk that will no doubt be essential in my Christmas baking come December.

4. I went to sleep with an incipient migraine last night but was relieved when it was no longer there this morning.

5. I am editing some men’s writing as an honorarium for an AIDS organization in my home town, Pietermaritzburg, and am finding it very moving.

And that’s it, folks. Five random and not overly interesting facts from my day.

Let’s hope I’ll have something to say tomorrow.



I was driving back from the airport, having dropped my mother off, thinking I shouldn’t focus on how sad I am but on how grateful I am that we get on so well. Then, I saw Ms Healing Magic Hands’ comment on my last post, in which she reminded me the same – be grateful for what I have and that it is good.

I am grateful that:

I have a mother
She loves me and I love her
She is healthy and well
She is my biggest fan
Our relationship is based on love, support, trust and sharing each other’s clothes
She is willing to drop everything at home to come and be with us
She is not scared of our laundry monster
She shares my love of breakfast
She thinks being in Europe is the most exciting thing that could ever happen to her
She mended two necklaces of mine and sewed new buttons on two jackets
She adores my children equally and favours none
She is happy with eggs or toast for supper
She participates in our daily life and does not yearn for something more exciting
She loves going to the supermarket
She loves to declutter
She will paint pictures with my daughters all afternoon long
She will get on the floor and play cars with my son
She is kind, compassionate and gentle

Long live the Queen, long live!

(We’ll forgive you for breaking our tumble-dryer.)


Au Revoir, the Queen

The Queen goes home tomorrow.

The worst thing about being an expat is the goodbyes. Our lives are full of tear-filled, horrible, sad goodbyes. We have hellos too – joyous, thrilling ones – but the goodbyes hurt like hell. The hardest kind are ones like tomorrow’s, when we don’t know when we’ll see each other again. It’s easier to say goodbye when there’s a plan, a new hello to look forward to.

So I’m filling up my week in order to fill up the hole that she leaves – seeing friends, having expeditions, arranging playdates, finding new work – so that I don’t notice how much it hurts.

After 11 years, this is the one thing you don’t get used to.


Guilty Pleasures

Fantasy Escape, followed by Guilty Pleasures? It’s a hedonism fest this weekend in the Web of Charlotte. Meme courtesy of Amy.

Six guilty pleasures no-one would suspect you of having?

1. I have diamond addiction. So sparkly, so pretty. Must have more.

2. Playing bridge while drinking gin.

3. Knee-high boots. I have three four pairs and there’s room in my cupboard for more.

4. Peanut butter eaten straight from the jar in large tablespoonfuls.

5. Very cheap necklaces. Best worn with #1.

6. Love, Actually. Over and over again. Crying loudly and snottily in the part where Colin Firth proposes in bad Portuguese. Crying in the airport scenes. Crying during the carol singer/thwarted love declaration scene. Crying when Emma Thompson cries.

Six guilty pleasures you wish you had the courage to indulge?

1. A small secret tattoo.

2. A nose piercing. Make mine a diamond.

3. Absinthe.

4. I wish I’d tried coke. Just once to know what all the fuss is about. (Mother, avert thy eyes.)

5. I still haven’t been to a sex shop. Would some kind friend please oblige and induct me? I’m too scared to go on my own.

6. My very own chocolate fountain.

Six pleasures you once considered guilty but have now made peace with:

1. Eating raw cake mixture and cookie dough. Yum yum, scoff scoff.

2. My Sunday morning lie-in. Richly deserved.

3. Reading in the bath. Sorry, books.

4. Being alone. A rare treat that I LOOOOOOOOOVE.

5. Spending too much time on the Intrawebs.

6. Mocking the Germans. Because really I love them. Most of them, that is.

I tag the lot of you and recommend that you move fast. This is such a good meme to do on a Sunday.


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.


Do I Need the Gym?

This is the workout that my daily life provides:

1) Wrestling a toddler into a snowsuit in the morning. Wrestling him into it when I fetch him from kindergarten. Wrestling him out of it at home. Wrestling him back into it when it’s time to take a sister to ballet. Wrestling him out of it when we get home again. Wrestling him into it when it’s time to fetch the other sister from her playdate. Wrestling him out of it at home. (By this time I’m ready to slash the snowsuit. But I don’t.) Good for overall fitness.

2) Scraping ice off the Familiewagon with a credit card while the family shiver inside. Good for biceps.

3) Carrying the groceries the 200-odd metres from where we park the car to the kitchen. Excellent weight-bearing exercise.

4) Running up and down two flights of stairs all day long. Tones legs; cardiovascular.

5) Walking to and from kindergarten, walking to and from extramural activities. Overall fitness.

6) Pram-pushing. Tones arms.

7) Carrying loads of laundry up two flights of stairs. Tones arms; cardiovascular.

(8) Bending to sweep food crumbs into dust-pan. Tones backs of legs.

(9) Carrying toddler. Weight-bearing exercise.

(10) Surfing blogs. Finger agility. Overall toning of funny bone.

Do I really need the gym?


Tales from The Web

There’s a frenzy of writing on the Web this month. The GloBlos are posting daily (a trial for me, I have to admit, but I’m grittily hanging in there by my teeth) and the NaNos are writing 1,667 words of their novel a day, and some crazies are doing both. There are 6,068 people doing GloBlo at last count and over 60,000 writing novels. One of the best things about GloBlo is making new friends (hi, Alida!). Another great thing, as Reed and Aphra pointed out, is hitting that Randomizer button and indulging in a lovely long blog surf. Unfortunately, some blogs are awful. But the Web is democratic, so if you come across something that sends your apostrophe alert button zinging, rings your bad grammar bells, plays music so loudly that you spill your coffee, or muses about things you don’t feel like musing about like belly button lint (Dooce, j’accuse) or whippets or the face of God seen in a kiwi, you can move right on.

In the interests of quality and good writing, here are some great posts that I have tripped over during my Webby peregrinations this month.

A sad and beautiful tale of art, love and rightful belongings from the irresistable Bindi at ePossums. Don’t read it without immediate access to a hankie.

No Impact Man tells astonished parents ways in which he entertains his small daughter without television and DVD. Read it and wonder at his patience, dedication and energy. I know this is the way it should be and I admire him.

A story from the Noble Savage about how her Noble Husband has blossomed into fatherhood. It’s also about love and the surprise of just when you think you know everything about someone, they show you that you don’t.

One German tradition we enjoy is the St Martin Lantern Festival, where kids make their own lanterns and then wander around town in the dark singing lantern songs. This time we repaired back to kindergarten for more singing, a small show (Daisy had a “very important” role as a tree) and some cake and Gluehwein. In her delightful post Halloween Lantern Walk, Anthromama describes how the Waldorf/Steiner tradition is far closer to the German style of celebrating St Martin than it is to Halloween itself.

Vanielje Kitchen celebrates mothers, grandmothers and time spent in the kitchen with them in her lovely post Apples and Thyme. I always love reading about food, but in this post I particularly relate to the weird admixture of African and European that has informed who she has become.

Something I’ve come to love in Germany is seasonal eating (though it took a while to cut the emotional and umbilical connection to British supermarkets where you can get anything you want, any time of year). In another foodie post, Kit writes nostalgically about Italian food and seasons. She shows that Italian food is not tied as strongly to trends in cuisine as it is to seasons. I dare you not to feel hungry as you read this post.

The very wise Mandarine is solidly blogging his absurd ideas throughout November. Each post is a gem, if you can understand it. Here is an excellent post on establishing a centennal warranty on all buildings. The idea is that no building should be built to last less than 100 years. It’s also a celebration of ancient buildings that have stood for centuries.

Watch Ms Marmite insult a colonel in the US Navy in this hilarious post.

A word from our fashion correspondent Maggie, writing as a Dedicated Follower of Fashion who is up to here with expensive knitwear that doesn’t last. Marc Jacobs, look out, Maggie’s on your case.

I’d like to introduce you to a literary experiment that is open to the masses. I’ve tried my hand at it once or twice. It’s called Your Messages. Writers Lynne Rees and Sarah Salway describe the initial Messages project thus:

When we started the Messages Project in 2003, it was all about our shared passion for writing and the creative process. We devised a simple formula over coffee one day. Using email, we would exchange 300 ‘messages’ of exactly 300 words, with each one returned within a time limit of 72 hours. Links between each message were made with words, themes, character, form, or even mood. The project took eighteen months to complete and the original Messages was published in July 2006.

Now, in November, the literary twosome are posting daily messages on their blog for others to respond to. The best 30 responses will be published in a booklet next year, and the proceeds will go to charity. Go forth and write messages!

Seeing it’s almost the silly season, here’s something fun, courtesy of Dewey: LOLinate your blog. This is what Charlotte’s Web looks like LOLinated. I wuz not prodigy!


A Reading Meme …

Who Should Paint You: Roy Lichtenstein

Larger than life, your personality overshadows everyone in the room
A painter would tend to portray you with a bit of added flair!

What Artist Should Paint Your Portrait?


… because I’m worth it.

Thanks, Dewey, for the much-needed NaBlo content today.

1. Do you remember learning to read? How old were you?

I was not a prodigy. I learnt to read at school in Grade One with the rest of the kids (must have been age 6). I was quick to learn though and was soon ahead of my class.

2. What do you find most challenging to read?

I’m not mad about reading in German. I think it’s because reading is such an escape for me, and such an intense pleasure, that I don’t particularly want to be doing in another Sprache.

3. What are your library habits?

I take the kids now and again to choose library books, scan the tiny English section hopefully and then leave, disappointed, with a pile of German children’s stories under my arm.

4. Have your library habits changed since you were younger?

I was a frequent library user at school and at university but then the books were all in English, so it was a lot more exciting and the choice was wider.

5. How has blogging changed your reading life?

I pick up recommendations from other bloggers. I’m also conscious as I read a book of a line of discussion in my head about whether I’m going to blog this book or not. Like Dewey, I spend a lot of time blogging that I used to spend reading.

6. What percentage of your books do you get from new book stores, second hand book stores, the library, online exchange sites, online retailers, other?

About 50% new, 20% online retailers, 20% book club and loans from friends, 10% online exchange.

7. How often do you read a book and not review it on your blog? What are your reasons for not blogging about a book?

I only review about a fifth of what I read. My decision to review is usually some kind of emotional connection with the book since I also feel I want to review it well and not just give a synopsis. Sometimes I read it so long ago, I’ve forgotten it and wouldn’t have much of interest to say. Sometimes I think someone else has written a more interesting review and I wouldn’t want to parrot them. Sometimes (as with Darkmans) I’m just plain intimidated.

8. What are your pet peeves about the way people treat books?

I am a bit rough on my own books, but, having been reprimanded, I do try to be respectful of other people’s books. I tend to handle my books rather, love them a little too firmly. I dog-ear them, write in them and read them in the bath. Sorry. I am guilty of book abuse.

9. Do you ever read for pleasure at work?

Don’t go to work anymore, but I do remember some guilty reading in the loos on a boring day.

10. When you give people books as gifts, how do you decide what to give them?

Books are the best presents! I give people books they will like, or newly published books that I secretly want to read too. I think I’m generally good at choosing presents for people, and that goes for books too. My favourite present to receive is a large pile of lovely books, preferably accompanied by chocolate.


Poets and Politics

When I was studying English Literature at U of Cape Town during the last dying gasps of the Nationalist government, there was an ideological battle going on between two poets on the department’s staff. One, Stephen Watson, advocated that poetry and literature can stand on their own and need not refer to politics, or the struggle for liberation, in order to be valid. The other poet, Kelwyn Sole, believed that if you live in South Africa it is your responsibility as a public voice to use polemic to educate people and open their minds. It was a debate that I, as an undergraduate, never resolved for myself. All I learnt is that if I wanted to get good marks from Stephen I should leave politics out, and that if I wanted to get good marks from Kelwyn I should put politics in. An object lesson in pandering to academic agendas.

However, the argument itself is a valid one, and it continues to inform South African literature now. The new government is in place, say some, liberation has occurred, so literature is free to soar without the shackles of having to be politically right-on. Others say, hang on, we may now have a legitimate government and one of the most humane constitutions in the world, but does that mean that women are free from sexism or that people on the poverty line have been liberated? Perhaps we still have a duty to point out the inequalities that have not gone away with our longed-for freedom.

I have just finished reading a novel called Strange Nervous Laughter by a young South African writer, Bridget McNulty. Set in Durban’s hottest summer, the plot swirls around six main characters, all of whom are eccentric, to say the least. There is Harry a dustbin man, to whom broken things, including broken people, attach; Mdu who is talented at everything he does, but only finds joy in speaking to whales; Meryl who wears an invisible corset that reigns in her feelings, and Beth, cashier turned motivational speaker who levitates when she is happy. There is also Pravesh, an undertaker obsessed with painting corpses’ toenails and Aisha, a withdrawn and silent orphan. All are seeking romantic love.

Every word I think of to describe this book sounds like I’m damning it with faint praise – it’s delightful, whimsical and quaint. It would make a great date movie. I could see Drew Barrymore as Beth, being cute and levitating. The process of reading it was satisfactory – I wasn’t gripped enough to stay up all night, but I wanted to finish it. I wanted to know if Beth would dump the self-centred Pravesh, if Harry could actually bag the glamorous Meryl.

In any other context, I would love the whimsy. If it were an Irish novel, or a Canadian one, I’d be yelling yay for the whimsy and the bits of magical realism, which I really rather like (the pearls that Aisha cries when Mdu rescues her from the ocean, for instance). But there is a part of me that still wants my South African literature gritty and that’s because life there is gritty. Durban is the epicentre of the AIDS epidemic, most of it is poverty-stricken and crime-ridden. Life there is dangerous, even if you have tall walls and trellidoors to live behind, and far more deadly if you don’t.

I realise that this is my need, and that, for South Africans who actually live in Durban rather than in the European diaspora like me, maybe it’s great to read escapist literature set in your home town. Maybe if you see the gritty realities on a daily basis, you want to read something that takes you away on a magic carpet ride. Maybe there’s room for literature of gritty reality and of charming whimsy and neither need cancel the other out. I’m sure that’s the case.

However, don’t read Strange Nervous Laughter as your guidebook to Durban and KwaZulu-Natal. You’d be in for a shock.

(Bridget McNulty blogs here. Apparently she’s attempting to break a Guinness Record by baking a one-metre wide cupcake. Sounds like my kinda gal.)