Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006


Welcome to the Tea Party

I’ve decided that if I don’t crack it as a novelist, I’m going to offer my services as a professional tea party organiser. I love it all: the baking of delicious goodies, choosing and arranging flowers, sourcing decorations, using objects I already own to prettify the room and table. It’s a silly lot of fluff really, but a ridiculous amount of fun. The Headmistress of the young ladies’ college I once attended would have been proud that I am finally putting my skills to good use. (I actually considered creating a category called “Entertaining” to describe this post, but managed to restrain myself for fear of sounding too much like a Fifties housewife.)

So this weekend, I hosted a baby shower for a friend who happens to be having a baby boy. I once attended a baby shower where the mother-to-be had to “apple-dip” for a chocolate bar floating in a child’s potty full of orange juice while her arms were tied behind her back. With that horror in mind, I did some research as to the kinds of things people do at baby showers, and these were three suggestions that cropped up:

* Squash different kinds of chocolate bars into disposable nappies and then pass around the room for people to sniff and guess which nappy holds which chocolate bar. The winner is the one with the most correct answers.

* Each person gets a jar of baby food and a plastic spoon. The winner is the person who can eat their jar the fastest.

* Divide into two teams and equip each team with a roll of loo paper. See which team can construct a nappy on one lucky individual without using glue, tape or pins.

Having digested these, I decided a tea party was in order. Something dignified, pleasant, with good things to eat, champagne for those who could, punch for those who couldn’t, lots of tea and coffee. No apple dipping or chocolate bars in sight.

Instead, there was bunting:


I am hysterical about bunting. I love it. I was quite sad when after a few days my family requested that I took the bunting down because it was “embarrassing”. I looked on Etsy and there are a few people making bunting, but there’s a big gap in the market for lots more of it. I would prefer to use it for children’s parties than the plastic rubbish I buy at the supermarket and then throw away after three hours.

Want a close-up? Here it is again:


There was cake:


Victoria sponge with lemon curd

Lots of it:


Lemon cake

My personal favourite, carrot cake muffins with marscapone icing:


Rose-scented macaroons:


And champagne:


There were also some savoury snacks brought by friends, because I like to focus on the sugar. However, when I have my fantasy tea-party company, there will also be cucumber sandwiches and very fine slices of rare roast beef.

Need any catering done?


In Honour of My Hero

coldIt is -14°C today.

The Neckar is frozen.

So am I.

I am wearing a shawl, not unlike a granny.

However, I am looking forward to the inauguration.

I have been invited to a party.

There will be corn-dogs, chocolate cake and potato salad.

And hopefully, hot drinks.

I will cry.

Get a red nose.

And try not to swoon.

(Make your Obamicon here.)

Edited to add: I am taking part in an Expat Blog Carnival, hosted by the lovely Paddy K. Check it out here.


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.


Guess the Lie

One of these points is a lie. Guess which one it is:

(Oh, and don’t read this if you are eating, about to eat or have just eaten. I thought I should warn you.)

1. Last night I went out for dinner in Heidelberg.

2. I met Ash in Amsterdam, who I have known via our blogs for nearly two years, and she is just as fabulous as I imagined.

3. I recognised her the minute I saw her, but we nearly didn’t meet because she and her partner couldn’t find the restaurant and I, as usual, didn’t have my phone on me.

4. After dinner, we decided to show Ash and M the underworld of Heidelberg and progressed to the Untergasse, a street of bars and restaurants.

5. My husband’s favourite bar, Destille, was full with groups of people spilling out onto the street. There were at least four stag and hen parties celebrating there. The atmosphere was lively.

6. We were standing outside, holding our drinks and chatting, when I felt something warm splash against my legs.

7. I looked and it was vomit! My legs and my gorgeous pink satin shoes were splashed with puke!

8. I turned to see who had done it. It was a guy wearing a “Germany’s Next Top Husband” T-shirt. He wiped his mouth, turned back to his group, which included a guy wearing a backpack, and carried on drinking.

9. I said to Ash, “Germany’s Next Top Husband just puked on my legs. I am so blogging this.” We laughed. Then we left.

10. When we got home, my darling husband sponged another man’s vomit off my pink satin shoes, even though he doesn’t like them and would prefer to see them confined to the bin. Clearly I am already married to Germany’s Top Husband.

**** Edited to add ****

Number 8 is the lie! The person who puked on my legs and shoes was the guy in the backpack, but you can’t spoil a good story and it HAD to be Germany’s Next Top Husband. I am a journalist after all. Also, I might add that Ash caught some of it on her shoes and trousers, so we are now blog sisters – puked on during our first-ever meeting.


Let’s Talk About Food, Baby

It’s clearly autumn. I’ve got visiting owls and the bakery’s got Zwiebelkuechen. When I walked past yesterday and smelt the delicious scent of baked onion, creme fraiche and bacon, I had a vision of all the festivals and seasonal foods that lie ahead of us – the Zwiebelkuechen of harvest time, followed by the pumpkins that may or may not mean Halloween, the November Laternefest and its cakes, and then all the delicious smells and spices of Christmas. In about three seconds’ time, I’m going to be sipping Gluehwein at a Christmas market, wondering what the hell happened to the year. Wasn’t I in Tuscany on the beach, like, yesterday?

Now it’s harvest time and the German new wines will be appearing soon. These are bottled – with screwtop caps – as soon as they reach 4% alcohol, but continue to ferment inside the bottle up to 11%, so they are deceptively strong. Germans serve their Neue Wein with a good hearty Zwiebelkuechen in order to counteract the unknowable amount of alcohol in the wine. We have to be cautious, you know? It’s apparently a very good pairing, if you like Neue Wein, which I don’t. It’s far sweet for me and brings on an instant headache (not the the fun kind that you earn after hours of drinking, but the depressing kind when everyone else is having a blast and you have to go home at 9.15pm).

When I started working in Germany, the first team after-hours get-together I attended was trumpetted as a “Neue Wein und Zwiebelkuechen Party“. The guy who organised it got quite excited about his party theme. You could have sworn he was going to be serving Moet and Beluga caviar, he was so thrilled. (Have you noticed that it’s always the same people who organise parties? Some people are party helpers, other people are party goers, and then there are the special souls who like to organise parties. They don’t seem to spend much time actually enjoying the parties; they are not usually the ones seducing the intern on the dance-floor or arranging group down-down sessions. Instead, they are restocking the drinks fridge, making sure there are enough knives and forks on the table and doing the music. I love party organisers. They provide the excuse for me to make desserts and then do a lot of dancing.) So after all the Neue Wein and Zwiebelkuechen PR from the party organising guy, I got quite excited about these exotic new foodstuffs and was looking forward to trying them. Sadly, they were not great. Zwiebelkuechen turned out not to be some fascinating kind of cake, but Quiche Lorraine (easily found in South Africa) and the wine was sweet, feathery and gave me an instant headache. I was underwhelmed.

However, the Zwiebelkuechen, with its crumbly crust and salty-sweet combination of bacon and onion, has grown on me. Today, passing the bakery, I was lured by its siren smell:

Zwiebelkuechen with feta and pepper salad

Now I don’t drink alone and I seldom drink at lunch-time, even at weekends, but somehow it was not possible to eat Zwiebelkuechen without drinking wine. I’m not so German that it had to be Neue Wein, so instead it was a tiny little glass – really, a tiny, tiny little glass – of rose.

I needed something to help soak up all that Zwiebelkuechen, after all.

And I wasn’t alone. I had three children with me.


The Saturday Night Meme

We’re having a quiet night in, having had a fabulous party last night. As a special treat, our daughters (7 and 5) were allowed to stay up and enjoy the party. Their goal was to make midnight, and they did. Ollie flagged and slept in his pram, but the girls put on their dancing shoes and grooved. When the special 12 o’clock moment arrived, Lily rushed over to where Daisy and I were dancing.

L: Daisy, Daisy guess what?! It’s MIDNIGHT!!!

D: Scream! (Jumps up and down on one spot.) Scream!

L: Mummy! It’s midnight!

Mummy: Wahhh! Midnight! (Performs silly dance of joy.)

Shortly after that I took them all off to bed, myself included. When the Otter girls peak, it’s not pretty.

So while my husband monitors the state of the world from the horizontal position on the sofa, and I take a brief break from writing my monthly column on the state of (expensive commodity), here is the Saturday Night Meme, otherwise known as the Five Things Meme, courtesy of the lovely Cook Sister!:

What Were You Doing 10 years ago?

I had been living in Germany for a year, and I was about to go on holiday to Tuscany with my mother, my aunt and my long-suffering husband to stay in a mill near Lucca with a mad English alcoholic who insulted us, lied about the opening hours of the museums in Florence, but cooked very excellent breakfasts.

Five Snacks You Enjoy:





Mixed unsalted nuts

Five Songs You Know All the Lyrics to:

The Marseillaise by Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle

Three Little Birds by Bob Marley

Scatterlings of Africa by Johnny Clegg

Wishing (If I Had a Photograph of You) by Flock of Seagulls

The Wheels on the Bus

Five Things You Would Do If You Were a Millionaire

Fund Rape Crisis Centres in South Africa

Pay off my mother’s mortgage

Purchase a house with an office/retreat/writing room for me and me only

Buy my hubby his dream car

Take my family on a lovely holiday to somewhere hot and sunny

Five Bad Habits


Blogging when I should be working


A lackadaisical attitude to my answering machine

Getting snappy and tense when I’m running late

Five Things You Like Doing:

An early morning game drive followed by a massive breakfast and a nap

Having a day to myself with nothing to achieve

Getting lost in the flow whether it’s of writing, meditation, yoga or a great book

My Sunday morning lie-in with coffee, my laptop and a pile of books

Dancing till midnight with my daughters

Five Things You Would Never Wear Again:

Knee-high socks




Velvet Alice bands

Five Favourite Toys:

Apple laptop

Food Processor and other baking apparatus

Blue vases for pink roses

Bead necklaces

New pink shoes


I have no idea where my daughter gets her love of accessories from, really I don’t

I usually don’t tag, but I have some lovely new blog-pals who I want to invite into the playground. Paul, Simmone, Letters, Trousers, Bine, will you play? Everyone else is, of course, welcome.


You Can Dance If You Want To

I owe the Germans an apology. Last week I suggested that at parties they just stand around, wallflowering, while South Africans, despite the restraining force of bad techno, give it their all unashamedly on the dancefloor. Sorry, Germans. I was wrong. It appears that all you need for a really good party is really good music. And one litre glasses of beer.

The Burg, where I live, came to sparkling life this weekend with two live open-air concerts at the meadow on the river. The first was a Night at the Proms affair – complete with little Union Jacks to wave – featuring the Neuen Philharmonie Frankfurt and the soprano Anna Maria Kaufmann. If we were lulled into thinking that it would be a mild evening we were soon re-appraised by this young and vibrant orchestra – the evening may have begun with God Save the Queen, but it arrived at Deep Purple via Elton John, Mel C, Elgar, Mendelssohn, Andrew Lloyd Webber, The Who and the Beatles. It was a great evening, and by the end all the Burg pensioners were up on their feet, waving their Union Jacks and yelling “Smoag on the Va – ter” along with us.

Let it also be said that the oddness of fluttering British flags with a crowd of Germans while singing Jerusalem and Land of Hope and Glory did not escape us. Neither did the Sekt.

Last night, in a bid to get to the bottom of what really rocks the Germans, your intrepid correspondent joined 15 000 people (who managed to double the population of the Burg in one evening) at the Rosenstolz concert. Born in the cool centre of the planet, Berlin, this pop duo of singer AnNa R. and songwriter, keyboardist and singer Peter Plate have been together for fifteen years and they are extremely popular. Imagine a group that combined Michael Stipes with the love-child of Grace Jones and Madonna, plus extremely hot back-up musicians, and you would get Rosenstolz. They belt out fantastic dance songs, ballads, a bit of erotica and are not scared of humour. The Germans LOVE them. And, after a couple of litre glasses of beer, so did we. We sang, we danced, we lit metaphorical cigarette lighters and swayed. It was a really good party. And thousands upon thousands of Germans danced.

I was wrong. The Germans CAN dance. But only if they want to.


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.