Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006


Awakening the Inner Cave-Dweller

We’re down to one car here at Fun Central. My 12-year-old Renault Scenic died unceremoniously a few weeks ago and we decided not to replace it, because we are good Germans and like to think about the environment. This does put some pressure on me and Germany’s Top Husband, though, in terms of negotiating who gets the car when. I was fondly imagining I’d go grocery shopping this morning until he pointed out that he had a suit day in Heidelberg and the car was his. Off  he went, leaving me staring into the empty fridge wondering what the hell I was going to have for breakfast.

Turns out, it was a peach. Not a peach that was lingering in the fruit-bowl, but a peach that I had to hunt down by foot and then drag home, skin and eat.

There is something intensely satisfying about bringing your food home on foot. Here’s what I managed to scavenge by going into the Burg’s thousand-year-old town centre and walking around the shops there, instead of driving to the supermarket outside town:

1. Butcher: Thuringer sausages, both plain and spicy; marinated lamb chops (got the fourth free just by chatting to the lovely lady – that wouldn’t have happened at the supermarket); free-range eggs.

2. Greengrocer: a butternut (never to be found in a German supermarket), peaches, apples, grapes, cucumber, red peppers, a tin of marinated giant beans, a lettuce.

3. Schlecker: muesli, cleaning cloths, bin bags, snacks for the kids.

4. Bakery: Brezeln, both plain and cheesy, and a free chat about Germany’s chances for Saturday.

Then I dragged the whole lot home and pounced on my peach.

I have become a fan of the caveman lifestyle idea. Those of you who have been with me a long time know that diets have come and gone. There was Shangri-La, there was low-carb and long, long ago in the mists of time, there was Weight-Watchers.

But the caveman diet, I’m telling you, is the way forward. It has various names and proponents (paleolithic, caveman, primal blueprint), but the basic idea is the same: eat the way our ancestors ate, move the way they moved, and rest the way they rested, thus becoming fitter, leaner and healthier. It makes a lot of sense to me. Without wanting to repeat what the experts say, I point you to the best blog I’ve found on the caveman lifestyle: Mark’s Daily Apple. Check out his About section for tons of useful background information.

I’ve been acting the cave-dweller for the month of June. I’ve lost kilograms and centimetres, which is always pleasing. I am also happier, better rested and far less grumpy. And right now, I’m off to the pool in my mammoth-skin bikini for some caveman-like romping.

Want to join me?


Seven Stages of Receiving Critiques

I’m at the stage with my novel where I’m leaking chapters to a few trusted readers. Some are real-life friends and others are friends from my online forum. The forum has a rule that the only correct response to a critique is ‘thank you’. This is absolutely true. Another rule is that as writers we have to grow a hide as thick as a rhino’s because after the beta readers (if we hit the next stage), we will have to face critiques from agents and publishers. The idea is: get used to it!

Having kept this novel to myself for the past two years, it has been a swift growing-up process for me learning to put it out there in front of others. At times it’s felt like placing a baby in front of sharp-shooters and saying, ‘Duck, my darling.’ Baby grows a thick skin fast.

Even if the only correct response to a critique is thank you, and even if the critiquer is absolutely right, facing criticism is very much like the seven stages of grief:

1. Shock/Disbelief

How can he say that? That’s my carefully crafted sentence/paragraph/chapter! How can he just rip it apart like that?

2. Denial

Never heard such crap in my life. Deleting my adjective build-up? This person clearly has no idea.

3. Anger

Does he think he can write? Try spending 24 months slaving over one manuscript, fighting off children, the laundry pile, dinner dates and and, visits to the hairdresser! in order to do this. What does that writer do? Probably stay indoors and write for 12 hours a day, stopping only to order flat food that delivery boys slide under the door. I have a life! And I wrote this, and I won’t have it fixed.

Anger can go on for quite a long time. This is the moment where the writer should avoid pinging back an email by return post.

4. Bargaining

Email to the critiquer: I know you said xyz, but I really need to keep it there because of abc, you see. It’s crucial to the narrative. I know you think it should come later, but you’ll see, really you will, that this is the place for it.

5. Guilt

I’m wasting their time. I’m boring them. I’ve presumed to ask them to be my beta reader and now they’re propping open their eyelids with matchsticks trying to get through my turgid prose.

6. Depression

I am awful. I am crap. I’m nothing.

I am so freaking bad that when I finally approach an agent all I’m going to hear is the sound of roaring laughter across the English Channel, through Belgium and down into south-western Germany. People will be looking at me saying, ‘She’s the one who caused the laughter.’ The whole of the Burg will be looking at me and laughing, and I’ll be … naked.

7. Acceptance and Hope

I think I just might move xyz. That will make the chapter stronger and more resonant. I am so lucky to have such great beta readers. My manuscript is improving. One day maybe, maybe an agent will read this and think, hmmm, not bad.

This is the point where the writer should ping her beta readers and say those two little words: thank you.

Thank you to my beta readers, near and far, present and future. Thank you for your time and patience. Thank you for helping me grow up and for making my manuscript into a much better read.


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.


Not Sure How to Take This

I went to a fitness class today and the instructor … called me something. He was smiling as he said it, and after I said “Danke schön” in a slightly offended tone, he quickly said he really, really likes the thing he called me. In my time, I have liked them too, but I grew tired of them because they are:

  • Bouncy (excessively)
  • Cute (tiresomely)
  • Colourful (eye-achingly)
  • Round (disconcertingly)
  • Entertaining (but only if you are under three)

Now if I were thinner-skinned than I am, this statement would be the death-knell on my gym attendance. I would imagine that everyone was looking at me, thinking, or worse still (and since this is Germany, Land of the Frank Statement), SAYING ALOUD, “There goes the …”. I would not be able to put my round, bouncy, cute and colourful foot back inside the place.

Instead, I am going back. Damn, I am. I’m going right back there, possibly even tomorrow. I’m not letting a Germanic mind-burp stop me.

Do want to know what my fitness instructor called me? My buff, handsome, and usually very kind fitness instructor said to me in the middle of class while I was bouncing away happily doing “step, together, Arme hoch”?

You do, don’t you?

You want me to say it, even though it hurts me and strips away my dignity?

I thought so.

He called me … deep breath … A TELETUBBY!

All I can say is thank God he was not using a microphone.