Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006


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10 Things My Kids Love About Germany

One of the posts that consistently gets hits here is 10 Things I Love About Germany. It contains reference to cake, walking, coffee shops and great holidays. Today, while sitting in a coffee shop and eating Schwaebsiche Apfelkuchen, I asked my children what they love about Germany, and this is what they came up with:

1. Berlin. The best city in the world, even better and prettier than London (where two of them were born).

2. Swimming in the summer and skiing in the winter.

3. The coffee shops serve very LARGE slices of cake.

4. Being able to speak two languages.

5. Lots of Italians live in Germany, so you get really good pizza and extra good ice-cream.

6. Having lots of friends who speak different languages (English, German, Spanish, Turkish, Arabic, Greek).

7. Going ice-skating in winter.

8. Our friends P and M who are kind and funny and let us sleep over at their house.

(Please note that the grown-ups love P and M too, for exactly the same reason.)

9. Kika – the children’s TV channel.

(The grown-ups love Kika too. It is advert-free and age-appropriate.)

10. There are lots of different sports you can do – cycling, walking, skiing, swimming, gymnastics.

Germany – the land of outdoor living, great food, wonderful friends and big cake. How can you not love it?


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Fighting the Fear

Or, Why Skiing is like Writing

In the morning, I wake with fear in my belly. Through breakfast, the nauseous feeling grows. Then I begin to dress, putting on the ski gear, the layers and layers that will keep me warm and protect me. I go downstairs to the ski room, squeeze my feet into unfamiliar and not entirely comfortable ski boots, grab my skis and poles and those of any child who is accompanying me, and start the descent from the chalet down the icy road to the car park below where I will meet my instructor. Every step is tenuous; there is a chance I will fall. Before I even meet my instructor, I’m already sweating.

I force a smile when I greet him, but I would rather cry. I consign my children to their instructor, kiss them goodbye and pick up my poles and skis. I crunch over the ice behind him to the lifts, where I try to stay as close to him as possible despite the crowds. On the lift, I stare straight ahead at the snow, never up or down, because that signals how high we are. At the top of the mountain, we tighten our boots, slide them into the skis and snap them down. Bending over to do this, I can taste my breakfast. I stand at the top of the slope. Unfortunately, because it is sunny, I can see how far it is to the bottom. And how steep. Voices in my head compete. One says, “You can do this. Just take it one turn at a time.” The other says, “It’s too hard, too steep, too scary.” My instructor says, “Just follow me. You’ll be fine.”

I push off with my poles. I am skiing, making turns. On the axis of each turn, I am looking and then skiing directly downwards and that frightens me, but I shift my balance and ski across the slope. Sometimes I stop to catch my breath. Sometimes I fall and get up again. Sometimes I make it all the way to the bottom of the slope without stopping or falling. Sometimes, just sometimes, I get what skiiing is all about: that amazing flying feeling, as my body controls my skis and my descent and not the other way around. In that moment, it’s just me and the mountain.

I get the bottom of the slope and say, “That was wonderful.” I have fought the fear. I have skiied. Not well, or beautifully, but smoothly, evenly and good enough for me. There were a few moments of flying. I rest on the lift up again, ready to fight the fear at the top of the mountain all over again.

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I have been hovering at the start of Chapter Three of my novel for a couple of weeks. I am nauseous, feeling the fear of beginning again. There are competing voices in my head. One says, “What you have written already is good. What you will write will also be good.” The other voice says, “You can’t do it. You can’t think of anything new to say. Your story is no good.” Another voice says, “Just take it step-by-step. Make a start.”

I ready myself, having thought about it enough. I arm myself with pen and notebook, find a cafe where there is no laundry to be done, no meals to be cooked, no kisses to be delivered. I slip off the edge and I write, making turns and edging cautiously downward. The words flow. Sometimes I stumble, but I pick myself up again. Sometimes I rest, have a sip of coffee, and then pick up the pen again. I write evenly, smoothly, not always beautifully, but well enough for me. I make progress. There are even moments when I fly. In that moment, it’s just me and the story, in unison. When it’s time to go, I think, “That was good.” I walk out of the cafe on a high.

Now it’s time for me to strap myself in again, bat away the fear and just slide.

I hope to fly.


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Skiing By Numbers

25 – Blue runs skiied

24 – Public usages of bad language

23 – Age of my skiing instructor

21 – Age of the other person on my ski course

18 – Age difference between her and me

17 – Times I kept the youngsters waiting

15 – Minutes Daisy waited at the bottom of the slope on the day we “skiied down the mountain together”

10 – Red runs skiied

8 – Humiliating fear-related tumbles

7 – Times my children flew over my head in a lift screaming “Look, everyone, there’s our Mummy!” as I tried to lever myself out of the snow on the edge of a cliff

5 – Hot chocolates consumed on slopes

4 – Times I nearly fell off the lift

6 – Days in which I skiied

6 – Nights in which I went to bed early

1 – Night in which I partied

4 – Glasses of red wine I drank that night

6 – Jaegermeisters I drank that night

3 – Songs I sang loudly into the microphone – with dancing – for the listening pleasure of my audience (Sweet Caroline, Mustang Sally and can’t remember the other one)

1 – Time I cried at breakfast

1 – Wonderful new friend made on skiing holiday

1 – Full-body massage enjoyed

1 – Cheese fondue relished

1 – Black run skiied

0 – Disfiguring accidents

Clearly I have this skiing lark taped.


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Feeling a Bit Piste

I’m off skiing on Saturday. Not my greatest talent, skiing. However, having stunned both Austria and Italy in years previous with my abilities on the piste, I have decided to share the love with the inhabitants of Switzerland. The good burghers are already preparing the essential cheese fondues and hot chocolates that are necessary to keep a skier of my remarkable and note-worthy skills upright on the piste. In other words, reward! The only reason I ski is so that I can enjoy numerous, sumptuous, guilt-free hot chocolates afterwards. Oh, and to keep an eye on my children whose skills are far superior to mine. Not only do they gloat over their pristine German, but they gloat over their pristine parallel turns while laughing mockingly at my inelegant snow-plough and tendency to spend a lot of time sitting down.

Little buggers. They are so lucky to be learning to ski as kids, while I have to do the same as a not particularly fit nor agile adult who grew up having beach holidays. In Africa, there was not a lot of snow happening. Give me a beach and I fit in nicely: I do the book, sunglasses and towel thing spectacularly well. I even get in the sea and shriek, and have been known to toss a frisbee. But snow is foreign matter, and strapping myself to some planks in order to get down a mountain at high speed with only my muscles between me and disfiguring accidents, even more so.

As a last-ditch attempt to prepare myself, I joined a gym a week ago, and have been there every day, trying to build leg and stomach muscles. I have generated a lot of sweat, but can’t see any new muscles. It may have been too late, but I am hoping they are there, subtly lying in wait under my skin ready to transport me towards the next hot chocolate.

As another form of comfort, I am taking a large pile of books, including Jane Smiley’s wondrous A Thousand Acres, which I have just started and am loving. I will be leaving my laptop behind, but taking my notebook and pens in order to work on Chapter Three of my novel, which is 22,000 words long and showing no sign of stopping. I have started dreaming about one of my characters, which is convenient since the next chapter is about him. In the last dream, he was baton-twirling in a newly-threshed field of corn, which is not entirely relevant to the action, but never mind.

So wish me luck, dear blogging friends. I hope to return intact, having mastered the parallel turn and rewarded myself accordingly. Also if I could be spared jeers and mocking laughter, that would be good too.