Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006


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.


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.



Do you know which game is sold in 121 countries in 29 different language versions? Which game has sold one hundred million sets worldwide, and is found in one out of every three American homes? It’s Scrabble. Otherwise known as that bloody game.

I’ve been playing a game of online Scrabble with my brother-in-law in South Africa, thanks to Scrabulous. He’s the acknowledged family champion, king of those irritating little words that score many extra points. At one point I mailed him to say it was getting embarrassing how he was thrashing me, and couldn’t we just stop, and he mailed back to say he’d play left-handed. He’s funny like that.

The final score of the inaugural Oxford (he) – Cambridge (me) match was 611 to 239. I am utterly humiliated. Appropriately enough, his last word was “ta”.

I have only one thing to say, “Tidy up your clonisms, you raddled taupe snotting. In future matches, I will ape your squares, dive-boil your hajis, make mana of your flinty eloge and become a maxi biter who will aye your wiz till it boils.”

See, he might be the Scrabble champ, but I’m still the wordsmith of the family.


My Fantasy Magazine

Imagine I am an editor. I edit an online magazine, and have full responsibility for selecting the content. My job is to scan the web, focusing mainly on blogs, and choose what I consider to be the best writing on a broad variety of topics for publication in my magazine. My focus is often women’s issues and women’s writing, because that is what interests me, but I frequently publish articles by men. The scope of my magazine is wide-ranging, and changes from month to month, according to what I discover and what delights me. I publish witty, acerbic, moving articles and above all I prize excellent writing. My magazine has no editorial policy, no editorial board and no mysterious benefactor who insists on one article per month on Ferraris or fine wines. All decisions are mine and mine alone. I eschew product placement and advertorials (no Mauritian spa visits for me), fundamentalism and intolerance, sexism and racism, anything overly scatalogical or profane (unless it supports the aim of the article).

My magazine is one of the fastest growing sites on the web, with visitors flocking in their daily thousands to read my selection of the month’s best content. I am not Huffington or Dooce, but somewhere in-between – sometimes polemical, sometimes strident, usually funny and always entertaining. If you like to think, you like to be amused, you like to know what the good writers out there are saying, then my magazine is where you come. I save you the hassle of trawling through millions of mediocre blogs to point out, for your reading pleasure, the very best writing the web has to offer.

Welcome to my first edition. One day when my magazine is famous and my mortgage is being paid as I lie in bed, file my nails and eat Belgian chocolates for breakfast, you will be able to say you were one of my first readers. Quite likely you will also be one of my first contributors (see below).

The first edition focuses on quality. I want to show you the best writing I have found on the web in the last few weeks. I want to share with you articles and posts that have me laugh and think, but above all, that have delighted me with their unswerving dedication to beautiful words.

Let me introduce our first piece. It’s written by Emily of Telecommuter Talk, a blogger who is consistently witty and thoughtful. She deserves to be famous (or at least well-read) because her writing is fabulous. Her article is called The Wives of Others, and it celebrates friendship between women, men and their wives.

The next article is by Litlove, one of the most erudite bloggers writing today (and she will still be writing tomorrow). Every post is a jewel, every post is challenging. In the one I have selected from her recent oeuvre, Litlove veers away from literature to delight us with her insights into learning The Tango.

In many ways, I am a modern woman, except in that I loathe my mobile phone. It sits in my bag “for emergencies”, but usually the battery is empty. I loathe the loudness, the rudeness and the global inability to make proper arrangements (“call me when you get here and then I’ll tell you where we are”) that make up the mobile phone culture. I’d like to arrange a Put Down Your Mobile Phone ceremony, where all addicts could return their phones to their local police stations and life could become a little slower and a little more peaceful. (Don’t try to take my broadband away, though.) Here is a provocative piece from Kerryn, of the always-excellent White Thoughts blog, called Who Died to Make Your Mobile Phone?

No edition is complete without a diatribe. A few days ago, the wonderful Wendz was having a very bad day. She took it out on the blogosphere in a post called The Blog Commandments. I have to say I agree with every single one of the rules that have been handed down to us by Wendz, and find myself muttering “Not too many widgets” as I do the kindergarten run.

There needs to be food. Food is essential. My favourite food blogger and fellow South African is Jeanne of Cook sister! Her posts are well-written and well-researched, and her photographs are beautiful. So add an atmosphere of elegance and glamour to this month’s edition, and to make us feel cosmopolitan, here is her review of London restaurant Yauatcha.

Irish-but-living-in-Sweden blogger Paddy_K comments on the oddities of his adoptive country. He writes well, and amusingly, about politics and pop culture. Please enjoy this piece on a new Swedish phenomenon: Gothic Lolitas. Please also note that if I were fifteen now, this is definitely how I would be dressing.

Somewhere in the blogosphere lives the Queen of the Absurd, the ProblemChildBride. She tells a shaggy sheep story like no other. Currently residing in WeirdyBeardsville, USA, the PCB hails from Scotland where, apparently, one knows a thing or two about sheep. I have selected a wonderful post of hers for your delectation. It’s not about sheep, but about bears. Look here and admire as PCB and family Play to the Sitting-Room.

I have just finished reading Vikram Seth’s Two Lives, a poignant memoir of his great-uncle and aunt. As I read it, it made me think of marriage, loyalty and love. In her review of The Post-Birthday World, Diana writes with wonderful clarity about the book, and her experience of reading it. This experience highlights her feelings about her husband and her marriage in unexpected ways. It’s a delightful post.

Another blogger whose writing I love is Courtney of The Public, The Private and Everything In Between. Her prose is lush and evocative, whether she’s writing about organic vegetables, views from the lake or politics. Here she writes the Reasons You May Not Give If Don’t Want Hillary for President.


I do hope you enjoyed the first edition of the Charlotte’s Web magazine. In conclusion, I would like to introduce a competition: the magazine needs a name – something witty and quirky that encapsulates the catholic and eclectic nature of my new publication. I will send a box of Belgian chocolates to whoever can come up with the best one. Leave your suggestion in the comments. I will contact the winner by email.


The Verbiage Meme

Today I’m lifting Zia’s word meme. It’s deceptive, because it looks quick and easy, but actually took me quite a while.

A word that describes me is:


My favourite word is:

Peripatetic. Ah, travel, philosophy, freedom.

My least favourite word is:

Moist. Sounds so damp and mouldy. Where worms might be found.

Use these two words in a sentence:

The backpacker found that her peripatetic life often left her feeling moist in the armpits.

A word I have to think twice about pronouncing is:

Halcyon. I always want to say halycon.

Dictionaries. Printed or online?

I love browsing a printed dictionary. The only online dictionary I’ve used is http://www.leo.dict, which is a great English-German dictionary.

A word whose meaning I cannot seem to retain no matter how many times I look it up is …


Open a dictionary to a random page and find a word you don’t know. Post the word and its meaning.

Scintilla. n. Rare. A minute amount; hint, trace or particle.

Use the word and the word you can never remember in a sentence.

The eponymous Smith of Smithfields demonstrated not a scintilla of wit nor insight when asked to explain how the park came to be named after his family.

One of the most overused words in my area of work/study is …

Impact. As verb, as noun, and soon to be seen on software documentation near you as an adverb, she mentioned impactfully.

Now I tag the lot of you. Get your clever noses out of those books, and let’s get wordy.