Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006


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How I Love A Booky Meme

Aphra tagged me to write about books. My rubber arm duly twisted, here is the Booky Meme:

Number of books you own:

Between my husband, my kids and I, probably a few thousand. What is visible to the public eye is the proverbial tip of the iceberg, because downstairs in the Keller in the Room That May One Day Be Someone’s Office, there are many many more. I need to give some away, but am ridiculously attached to them. They spark memories and tell stories of other times in my life. I really like owning my own fiction and reference library (with special focus on literary, feminist and film theory, travel, history and all things geeky).

Last book you bought:

The Road by Cormac McCarthy. I haven’t read it yet – it’s joined the teetering piles of TBRs scattered around my bedroom.

Last book someone else bought you (I had to add this one. Sorry to the person who invented the meme):

My husband understands the book addiction and his latest treasure trove for me contained: Darkmans by Nicola Barker (which I’m presently reading and can’t wait to post about, so fabulous it is), Mr Pip (which I’m reading next) and the now much pored-over Rough Guide to Berlin (which I must post off to my friend in South Africa as a reminder of our lovely week together).

Last book read:

Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult. Strong on narrative, but with superficial characterisation, as always.

Five Books that Mean a Lot to Me:

This is hard because I’m not a great re-reader. I tear through books and move on, and I’m realising now that all those classics I like to say I’ve read, I have completely forgotten.

How To Eat by Nigella Lawson. Despite the tragic lack of photos, this is the book that got me interested in cooking. It is peppered with great wisdom and I love her lack of issues around food. I now have a large cookbook shelf in the kitchen, but this is the one that I always return to and always find inspirational.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by What’s ‘er Name. The book I was reading in the bath when Daisy decided to give us a surprise home birth. It’s a book that’s now understandably close to my heart. For the first few months of her life, I called her “Hufflepuff” which seem to suit her style of being.

The Narnia books by CS Lewis. They lifted my heart, comforted me and assured me that life would go on at a time when I believed it was hardly possible.

Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney and Anita Jeram. The first book I read to each of my babies. I think I got more out of it than they ever did, and I’m sure it taught me more lessons about parental and unconditional love than any parenting manual. “I love you right up to the moon and back!”

The poetry of William Wordsworth. Hilariously described by AA Gill in last week’s Sunday Times as “lyric brown sauce, an unctuous, fruity slop that’s supposed to be a complement, but actually drowns nature in rhyming sycophancy”, Wordsworth’s poetry was my first experience of words as transcendental. They made my soul tingle and I don’t care if that makes me the literary equivalent of ketchup. I am clearly v. middle-brow.

Consider yourself tagged!


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National Unity, Pyjamas and Berlin

Today is Germany’s day of national unity – the day when East and West Germany became one. In this house it is also known as the day Mummy Stays In Her Pyjamas All Day If She So Chooses. And she does choose. (By gumminy, she does.) Having just visited Germany’s monument to national unity – the wondrous Berlin – I should probably talk about my trip last week. I’ve been a bit slow about writing about it, because I’m still holding it close to my heart. I’m not sure if I want to let the secrets out or not.

So when two youngish mothers of a total of seven children hit the techno capital of the world, do they go clubbing? Do they stay out all night, drinking ridiculous cocktails and chatting up younger men? Do they totter about in high heels, whooping and kicking over dustbins?

Umm.

No.

We didn’t.*

What they do is that they carefully and responsibly See Everything. They start by seeing the Berlin State Ballet perform Alice’s Wonderland. With the artful use of matchsticks, they manage to stay awake (having just arrived in Berlin after a six-hour drive from Frankfurt) to appreciate the exquisite choreography, staging and dancing. They leave, stunned by all this superlativeness and by the enthusiastic ovation that Berliners like to give their very own ballet, and eat fresh tomato soup at an outdoor restaurant in the Gendarmenmarkt for their supper, accompanied – for one, at least – by Germanically generous glasses of white wine.

Then they leap out of bed, refreshed, drive enthusiastically to Potsdam, and park at the Schloss San Souci (which their guidebook says is the number one sight in Berlin). They repair immediately to a restaurant and partake of one of those large and languid Sunday brunches which is the number one activity in Berlin. They watch the autumn leaves fall. Then they walk around the Schlosspark, enjoying the sunshine and taking photographs, followed by an impromptu skating session in a pair of enormous pantoffel inside the Schloss itself (they avoid the tour, preferring the whistlestop self-guided version in which you can skate really fast on the polished marble and wood floors).

Would we allow our children to do this?

Hell no!

It’s far too much fun.

Then they whizz back to Berlin Mitte for a show at the Friedrichstadtpalast. Slightly disturbed by the amount of pensioners in the audience and the young man next to them with his trousers up under his armpits, who hums loudly throughout the show, they enjoy a spectacle of dance and acrobatics. There are some scary bits – all of the singing

Ho hum. Could you get on with it please?

and a truly terrifying slippery wet suspended fishbowl affair high up above where two fish

Can we call them dancers?

people try alternatively to drown each other or throw each other out of the fishbowl to plunge down down for many metres in a horrible rictus of what the director must have imagined to be erotic but which was really just a live horror show. They watch this through their fingers, sigh with relief when it is over and stop for grilled tuna on the way home at The Hotel That Has The Worst Service In The World But Which Is On The River Spree, So Must Be Good. They have an early night, tucked up by – oh – 9pm in comfy beds with books.

This big sleep is important because Monday is a big day. Monday is the Day of the Bike Tour of Berlin. One of them is an experienced cyclist, having done four-day mountain bike tours, who likes to spend her spare time careering down mountainsides at high speed. The other is not. She can count the amount of times she has ridden her bike as an adult on her fingers.

That’s not a lot, folks.

The bike tour is fabulous. They see everything. They have their photo taken at (what remains of) the Berlin Wall. They see Checkpoint Charlie, the Reichstag, the parking lot under which Hitler’s bunker may or may not be, the Tiergarten, all the government buildings on the river, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, the Brandenburger Tor. They also enjoy an exciting cycle in the bus lane of Berlin and a very rewarding visit to a Biergarten for a late lunch and a large beer. Their tour guide, Ingo, is beyond cute and both cyclists, experienced and not, keep snuggled up close to him in the pelaton, kicking aside any stray New Yorkers or Oregonians who to try to muscle in.

After being returned to the Fat Tire Bike Tour offices at Alexanderplatz

If you go to Berlin, this is the best way to see the city.

It was fabulous.

And the guides are hot fit.

Whatever. You know what I mean.

they consider rest. After six hours of cycling round the city, would two mothers of a combination of seven children head back to their chic Berlin Mitte apartment for a small nap before finding a bijou restaurant for a relaxed dinner?

Actually.

No.

It becomes essential to go to the Haekesche Hoefe for some late-afternoon shopping in the beautiful Art Deco courtyards. Some coffee and cake become of the essence. Some more walking. It becomes night. Still the shops are open. They are shopped. It is dark, and the intrepid mothers decide it’s nonsense to go home when they can go and stand in a queue at the Reichstag for an hour, allow German security officials to accuse them of carrying a sparkly fairy ornament in one of their shopping bags

It was true.

We couldn’t deny it.

and then go up many many storeys in a lift to admire the view from the top of the building. However, they discover too late that they both have late-onset vertigo and an identical urge to crawl the walkway that hugs the glass dome, so they jog down very very fast back to terra firma.

Tuesday is designated shopping day. They head for the Kaufhaus des Westerns (KaDeWe), the Harrods of Berlin, and walk around in a daze for a few hours, testing the loos and fingering very expensive articles of clothing. Then they begin to stroll up the Kurfurstendamm, Berlin’s famous shopping street, but quickly become exhausted by all the

a. shops

b. tourists

c. beggars

so are forced to repair to a lovely little sidestreet where an Italian restaurant offers to feed them delicious pasta (salmon and pine-nut with a lobster sauce, and rocket and feta) and shelter them from the rain that has so irritatingly decided to pour down. They then retrieve the car from the Hotel That Serves the Worst Tea in the World

A huge, hairy testicle of a tea bag that has clearly been used umpty times before.

to do some driving around the city Because That is Fun. First driving stop is Schloss Charlottenburg. Next driving stop is the chic apartment in Berlin Mitte because they are tired and needing to nap. Later, after the nap

It was good.

So …

… nappy.

they walk around aimlessly, finally landing at the sushi bar under the Sony Centre on Potsdamer Platz for a €12 plate of sushi that they can’t finish it is so huge and delicious beers. They walk home, veering briefly into a lamp-post restaurant to acquire ice-creams.

Next day is Dresden day. This is very exciting because it means Driving Again. It is also very sad because it means Farewell to Berlin. However, they are grown women

really?

and manage to leave Berlin without a tear. Dresden is very beautiful. It is filled with buildings. It also has a river. Most importantly, it has a fabulously luxurious HOTEL where they check in, spend the afternoon sleeping, reading, bathing, lounging around in bathrobes, preening, toenail-clipping, dressing, going to the restaurant, enjoying fine dining and excellent wines and going to sleep again. The next morning they glance once more at the beautiful buildings of Dresden

They are so beautiful.

Aren’t they just?

and drive up the river, passing all the glamorous Communist villas where happy Communists once came to play landlords, to Schloss Pelnitz for a little stomp around the beautiful gardens, sadly muddying the boots that had been polished overnight by the little HOTEL elves. They shop idly for the last perfect present for lucky husbands and children and mothers, and then depart from formerly East Germany back to the West, which, strangely, looks very much like the East except that it has more hills.

It rained.

And the journey took eight hours.

But it was worth it.

* Any irritating tics and verbal asides that may appear in this post are attributable to the fact that I am reading Darkmans by Nicola Barker at the moment.

I am.

And it’s catching.

Really, really catching.

So, I’m sorry. But I can’t help it.