Saturday, December 23, 2006

The Giving of Christmas

Whenever I talk about the Bim and me, sooner or later I end up hearing myself say We're like chalk and cheese!

It's true: we are. In most things. But it has dawned on me these few weeks past, in those late-night, blurry moments of reflection in front of the Christmas tree, that there's one way in which the cheese, in spite of itself, is getting chalkier. Or perhaps that's the other way round. That way is about Christmas:

I do have some happy childhood Christmas memories, I do. I remember the door to the sitting-room being locked by my parents, Christmas Eve night, and the driving necessity to find the key and get it open and find the presents - at all costs! - shared by me and my siblings. I remember the manic excitement, the thrill, the longing for morning. I remember the colours, the magic, the feasts whipped up by my mother - and feeling sometimes near to happy tears, so heightened were my young feelings by the festivities.

Then my father left. What I remember most of Christmas after that is the terrible trying - the three of us for my mother, and my mother for the three of us - to make the irrepairable good again.

It never did come good, how could it? All times without him were sad, but Christmas really was the saddest of all. We were all the cliches, we lived them then, and we went on living them for many years, right into adulthood. Which is why, when the Bim met me, I was none too keen on the festive season. I weathered it, with a fixed smile and an aching heart.

Ah, how was I to know I'd married a Christmas freak?

This knowledge dawned on me, slowly but surely, not the first December-time we spent together, but earlier, much earlier that year, sometime in July, when I would catch him singing Jingle Bells in the shower; and a blackboard went up in the kitchen around September which announced (with daily, chalked updates) how many days left there were to Christmas.

I was horrified. I asked him to keep me out of it. I asked him to keep his singing to himself. I melted only a very little when he appeared in full Santa suit with six-month-old Little Helper in arms on Christmas morning. I was thrilled when it was all over. His exuberance embarrassed me.

Then, last year, we had a repeat performance of the Santa visit, only this time Santa's beard was alot longer, and his boots shinier, and a great deal more effort had gone into the whole affair. Sleigh bells had been ordered, for God's sake, and Santa's Helper - somewhat bad-temperedly, it has to be said - was now able to walk and carry her own tiny sack. I was a little bit impressed in spite of myself.

And so here we are again. And I find myself strangely lacking in the waves of melancholy I am so used to feeling at this time of year. Indeed, I was confusingly disappointed when the Bim took me at my word and the little chalk blackboard didn't go up until 1st December. Likewise, he really did stick to his promise and kept his bathroom sing-song to various sundry Irish ditties which couldn't possibly be construed as Christmassy. Now that we're nearly at the big day itself, I am delighted to note that his enthusiasm and joy are as unbridled as before.

But the big news is that I'm even more delighted to note that for the first year in - oh, I couldn't begin to know how long! - I too have back some of that joy. Yes, of course I have my own child now, and want to make it special for her. But it's not just that. Somehow, by ways both sledgehammer and subtle, my beloved Bim has done something for me no amount of time has been able to do. He has given me the best present ever.

Against all the odds, through his love and generosity and acceptance of me however I am, he has given me back Christmas.

May yours be merry. xxxx

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Putting on the Ritz

I was in the depths of duller than dull domestic chores when the text message arrived:

How does posh Indian in Mayfair sound for dinner tonight?

It sounds like heaven, I reply.

My astonishing friend Dee, whom I have known for nigh on twenty years, is waiting for me at Victoria Station. I fall into her arms and surprise us both by bursting into tears when she says she thought we might begin the evening - which is on her - with drinks at the Ritz.

If you knew how far that idea is from anything in my life right now... I splutter. She doesn't need me to explain. We go way back.

All dressed up for Christmas, London feels sexy and exciting. It's like being around an ex-lover you haven't seen for a while. It makes me feel a little more exciting, too.

Chatting madly, we catch the Tube to Green Park and I catch the buzz. What would have driven me crazy on a routine rush-hour journey when I lived in this city, now appears both desirable and impossible. Why would anyone live like this? I catch myself thinking, coupled with an enormous yearning to jump right back in.

The Ritz is another world. A liveried doorman bids us 'good evening' as we climb the red-carpeted stairs. Everywhere we turn there are sweet-smelling Christmas trees dripping with silver and gold. White twinkly fairy-lights stud the walls.

First off, we take a trip to the Ladies, as much to try out the lotions and potions as to relieve ourselves. It's all pink pastels and cherubs. There is a sofa down there, too, in a roccoccoed resting area of which Watteau would be proud. Frosted glass bottles of chilled water marked simply 'Ritz of London' sit on a little table in the corner, awaiting the dainty patronage of a fainting maiden, as do the various glossy magazines strewn on the coffee table - Tatler, The Spectator and one or two upmarket travel brochures for Africa. Of course: what better to do in a pause from the beautiful upstairs than plan one's next safari?

Thrilled and refreshed we find the bar, only to be taken through a curiously elaborate game of Will There, Won't There (Be a Table) by the dashing Italian Maitre d'.

'Oh, ladies, you haven't booked? I'm so sorry, the bar it is fully booked... Perhaps in twenty minuti? Ah, wait! For you, I will find a little niche, signore, a little sofa, perhaps, if you don't mind sharing for now..?'

We couldn't be happier to share. The sofa he offers us is, after all, half a wall long. And it is in the long hallway through which the hotel clientele must pass to reach their rooms. Since Dee and I share an eye for the absurd, we are in people-watching heaven. I am especially blessed, as my voluptuous armchair is tilted towards the wall, which is a long panel of paned mirrors, so I am able to stare to my heart's content at the various tableaux played out behind me.

A mother and father pass through with their three daughters of varying ages, each sporting long blonde hair and identical pink coats. We identify at least one gorgeous callgirl, and several unhappy rich wives. We squeal with delight that we are here, together, calling ourselves on a life we wouldn't want to live fulltime but which is irresistible to visit every now and again...

We each drink one slim glass of champagne before heading off for our meal. Our conversation, the velvet ambience, our palpable love for each other - all these work over the golden hour to soften life's recent rough edges.

Oh, the salve of friendship.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Road Rage

The Bim took Anna-mouse down to Kent Town on one of their jaunts today, to give me a breather from this 'I-wish-it-would-end' week. On the way, he saw a runaway supermarket trolley sliding down the middle of the road.

He and several other by-standers then watched as the car that came up behind it hooted - yes, hooted - at it to move out of the way...

This little tale, recounted on his return, really improved my day.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Reader, I Married Him

Last night I cried in his arms.

I can't get anything right, I said. I'm so frustrated, I said. I'm so guilty that I'm so frustrated, I said. I'm losing my patience too many times a day. I adore her but...

You're tired, he said. You've been ill, he said. You've been tired since you were ill, he said.

Let's go to the seaside tomorrow, he said. Early. Before I go to work.

So we did.

And as they stood by the shore and threw stones, I turned to him: I need to walk. Just a few minutes, I said. Go, he said.

So I did.

Up onto the shore walk, past the beach huts, running into the wind. Passed an ageing woman, bent double with her metal detector to the pebble stones. What might she find, I wondered. What treasure? None compared to my two, big and small, chatting by the shore.

I went on, past a woman pushing a pram and another with her dogs. Smiled vaguely, pushing on, relishing my own company and the sharp, low, winter sun. There's nothing like a beach resort out of season.

I returned soon enough to my two. We found a hotel with leather sofas and ordered coffee and crumpets and early Christmas muffins spiced with ginger. I felt refreshed; truly alive for the first time in too long. It's nice to see that smile, said the Bim.

This day is why I married this man. To be this known, this seen.
Knocks the rest into a cocked hat.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Livvy's Meme: Fulfil Three Dreams

This time of year, I often start to feel jaded, as though my 2006 shininess has rubbed off and all things, including me, need a bit of a spit and polish.

Certainly, today, the unpredictable weather outdoors and the unpredictable child indoors didn't help. There are great clusters of old leaves in every corner of the garden, and similar piles of rubbish cluttering my mind. I'm melancholy, in the way that I used to be as a child. Lonesome (though I was one of three) and longing for company.

(Ah, my child wakes. I can hear the Bim quietening her with a gentle 'Ssssh'. I tap the keys more lightly; pray she will lull back to sleep. Enough demands on my frayed self for one day).

Taking a quick back-check, I realise that the year's tail-end often causes me to pause like this. I'm usually exhausted in December, finding a small drop of juice for Christmas, then collapsing for the final week - only to emerge re-energised by the actual and symbolic hope of a new year.

And this year I'm going to follow the example of my very good friend Luke. A true lover of life, Luke has always said he sees no point in giving anything up for the New Year; that's so negative. His advice is to take something up instead. How's that for positive thinking? And it doesn't have to be just one thing, either, the more the merrier, I say.

So let's have a think, as the days reach their darkest, and there is promise of light and newness growing from the old - think of 3 things, 3 things we want to take up in 2007. The more wistfully longed for, the better. The more previously procrastinated over, the better. I'm going to take time to write mine down over a glass of mulled wine one late December night sometime soon and will share them forthwith.

Join me in fulfilling three dreams.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Happy December, Kay

Two schoolgirls, thirty years ago, catching leaves.

Plane trees offer big, crispy leaves at this time of year. They're ideal for cities; just as humans shed their skin, plane trees shed their bark every few years, so the smoke and grime never overcomes them.

In our quiet North London street they complemented the Victorian redbricks, reaching as high as the first floor windows. They spring to life later than other city trees, and lose their covering last. Which is how it was that Kay and I came to be chasing leaves that 1st of December, all those years ago on our way home from school.

It was dark, of course, so the leaves like our upturned faces were orange in the lamplight. We made up a rule as only teenage girls dizzy for love can, that whoever caught a falling leaf could have a wish, and that wish would come true. I caught a leaf and kept it. I probably still have it somewhere, crackly and dry, tucked in among the boxful of secret notes we passed endlessly to each other during the last class of the day. Invested as it was with such hope, I can't imagine I would ever have thrown it away.

Today, that evening Kay and I caught our leaves gleams purely in my memory; a tiny, thumbnail image of joy with undimmed edges. She is still a friend, though circumstance has taken her to a live her life in a different land. Her house is above a lake halfway up a mountain, really quite near heaven, looking towards a range of mountains. We speak infrequently, email erratically, text less.

And yet, in the manner of the best friendships, I am sure that were someone to ask, she too would be able to describe the night we ran towards the falling plane tree leaves as they sashayed to the ground.

Some things, just a few, never change.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Taking the Plunge

I did it. I have at last taken my whining, wistful self in hand, visited the local Adult Education Centre, checked out the childcare - and booked myself a place on a Creative Writing course starting in the Spring Term.

That means, in less plain English, that I have finally admitted that I can no longer exist on a daily diet of Domestic Soup alone and that for the sake of my very soul I've decided to break my vow that I would be Anna-mouse's only carer until she was all of 3 years old.

It also means that I felt sick the whole time I was discussing my options, filling out the forms, and checking out the 'Baby Room'. It means I almost whisked Anna-mouse up in my arms and turned tail when I read the large sign outside said room: 'We have had several cases of HEAD LICE. Please check your child's hair.' It means I am in no way hardened to the idea, let alone the reality, of leaving tiny person with anyone other than nearest and dearest for an hour and a half each week.

And yet. I'm doing it. And let's just run that bit again. An hour and a half. Each week. For eleven weeks. In the day. That last is important - the very idea of adult company, adult conversation which isn't toddler-based during the day! A slow smile is spreading... I can't help it: as well as being sick with trepidation, I'm also giddy with anticipation. It almost doesn't matter what the course is like - it's what it represents that's important.

Never mind Anna-mouse; Livvy U is growing-up.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Casting with Child

Anna-mouse and I attended our first casting session today. It's too early to know if we got the part. Sorry, if I got the part, that should read...

My agent called well into the Mary Poppins Teatime Hour yesterday afternoon with a 12.30pm casting today. He said he'd checked and, if the worst came to the worst, I could take Anna-m with me. Somebody would look after her for the few minutes of the interview. It being such short notice the worst did come, and favoured Childcare Option Number One (my mother) was doing her contemporary dance group thing in Lisbon while Childcare Option Number Two is about to go into labour... I took my courage in both hands and decided to make beloved child my lucky mascot for the day, and bring her with me.

It was a curious meeting of my two selves, being only the second time I've chosen to let the domestic and the dramatic worlds meet. Not unpleasant, and at the same time not altogether satisfactory if I want to progress my acting career. There's something about the fruit of your loins saying "I want go loo" moments before you're called to audition which isn't best preparation for appearing on camera a few moments later as calm, sophisticated career woman.

And I was so intent on remembering everything Anna-mouse might need for the day that I left my long, beautiful "I-Am-A-Career-Woman" jacket on the banister at home, remembering far too late down to road to turn round and get it. The Bim, bless him, left me a wonderful "I don't know how to tell you this but you've left the main part of your costume at home" message on my mobile, which was actually worth listening to after the event simply to hear the agonised love in his voice.

I have to admit it was fun, though. Navigating the backstreets of London Bridge to find the office-cum-casting studio wasn't easy, and it was a little tricky getting a handle on the script at the same time as peeling the pith from a satsuma for toddler on lap at the same time as finding where to stick the hot air balloon in her Bumper Sticker Activity Book - but once these minor multi-tasks were over, the interview itself was a cinch...

Afterwards, little one and I had lunch out perched on benches in an inimitably London Italian 'caff'. I felt myself relaxing; breathing differently, talking differently, just being differently. At the next table two film crew type blokes talked script. At the table after that a little old crazy gobbled his soup and roll. A posh lady came in with a poodle to order cappuccino.

I understood where I was. I was there so happily with my child. There was the hopeful promise of a job. God, I miss London.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Waiting Game

Almost completely unfurled, I took myself back to the Airport yesterday to pick up beloved Big Irish Man and tiny child.

I like airports. I like them even more since the Bim and I met. They featured heavily in our courtship, given we lived in separate countries then. I still get that little fast-heartbeat frisson as I stand with other fast-beating hearts at the Arrivals barrier, waiting for my loved one to arrive. Only these days of course I wait for TWO loved ones, which is at least four times as exciting.

So I got there a bit early, deliberately early, in order to savour those strange moments-in-waiting unlike any other moments in life. The board informed me that they were in that limbo state of 'Baggage in hall'. Isn't it always, I pondered. Don't we all have baggage in the hall, just waiting to be put out with the rubbish? Don't we all wish, sometime or other, that that ol' baggage would just up and out the front door of its own accord... So my thoughts ran as I ate my cheese and tomato Tostato, which tastatoed of precisely nothing. Even this cotton wool eating experience, however, could not dull the fascination with which I watched the other wait-ers as one by one the folk they had come to meet appeared through the double doors.

Next to me there was a mother and her three-year-old son, waiting for his grandparents. For every single person who came through he informed us: 'That's not Nanny! That's not Grandad!' When his dear Nanny and Grandad did, finally, appear he ducked under the barrier before his mother could stop him, dodging trolleys as he ran - straight into the arms of his grandfather, and shouted 'At last!'

It was, I suspect, how most of us would like to behave on first sighting our loved ones after they've fought the battle of the skies and won. No matter how much they tell us we're more likely to meet our death driving to the corner shop for a bottle of milk, air travel still makes the best of us quiver and grown men drunk. It's just not natural, for goodness sake. But I'm not suprised Anna-mouse has fallen in love with it either, for even when your flight's cost you less than a good meal out there's still something inherently glamorous about it.

So what I observed about my fellow grown-ups-in-waiting was this: very few of us know how to do a proper 'hello', in spite of our palpable relief that our awaited travellers have actually turned up alive. Men were the funniest and most touching. Watching them greet other men was quite extraordinary - their pleasure expressed in a series of really-quite-hard slaps, pats and punches. Women were a little more obviously aware that they were being watched (or maybe, theatrical that I am, I was simply more aware of the effect of the double-doors entrance), and were either studiedly vague or deliberately flamboyant.

For the record, the minute I spotted my two I found myself, like the three-year-old, shinning the barrier and hare-ing up behind them making funny faces. The Bim hadn't seen me but Anna-mouse, hanging over her father's shoulder, thought this hilarious and suddenly we were one untidy hugging bundle shrieking and laughing in the middle of everyone. But hey, d'you think I cared?

Sunday, November 19, 2006


There was a crooked man
Who walked a crooked mile
He found a crooked sixpence
Against a crooked stile
He bought a crooked cat
Which caught a crooked mouse
And they all lived together in a little crooked house.

Yesterday I took the Bim and Anna-mouse to the Airport for their long-awaited trip to visit my In-Laws-Across-the-Water.

I felt a sickening 'There goes my life' feeling as I waved them through Passport Control and lost sight of them in the interminable security procedures beyond. Then I walked briskly back to the car giving myself a team-talk as I went - and began the strange, slow process to which I can only give the name unfurling.

I have always felt a curious affinity with the crooked man of Anna-mouse's favourite rhyme, and I'm just now beginning to realise why. How very crooked my whole being had become! How very crooked and how very, very tired. And how very wonderful to feel my tired, crooked soul unfurling in direct relation to the amount of time I am spending doing, precisely, nothing.

I had plans, of course. I have several lists made in the days previous to my loved ones' departure of all the things I planned to achieve in this heavenly time alone. These lists are spectacular for their colour-coded organisation and grandiose in their vision. You might almost call them an accomplishment in their own right. I now realise that there is no way on earth that I am going to accomplish a fraction of the tasks set, and that I am going to have to make peace with that fact, allow my body to collapse and my mind to dream and simply be.

With this to the fore, I'm off to soak in a long, candlelit bath, cook myself the most sophisticated, non-nursery meal I can muster, and watch the latest re-run of The West Wing.

Tomorrow I'll have a look at the list. Tonight's for straightening out my soul.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

All Change!

So here's how it happens:

You're in your own, toddlerfied world, having a little picnic banquet on white plastic chairs at a white plastic table after morning swimming, when your mobile 'phone rings and you don't answer it because along with all the other little things that niggle you about your ageing, post-birth body you're sure your hearing's going so you only hear it on the last ring; but after you've wiped the Noddy yoghurt from your own and toddler's fingers, propped a book in front of said small one to buy a few moment's grace and found said mobile at bottom of nasty mess in out-of-date handbag, you find that the call is from your brother, who is at home.

Brother 'phoning from home in middle of the day can mean only one thing. I punch the buttons with mounting trepidation and yes, I'm right, and there it is - that's how it happens - life's map has changed. Forever.

I have become an aunt. I'll say that again. I am an Aunt. Note how it's capitalized now, giving my new-found title a little more status. I am Aunt Livvy. Hmm, not sure about that. Aunty Livvy? Auntie Liv? Whatever he likes! The momentous has happened, and Baby Cousin has been born. At 8.13pm last night, to be precise, although his existence became known to me only today, at 11.48am, according to my mobile, when I returned my brother's call. The details are banal and comforting in the face of so miraculous a thing as a birth.

I trip through the rest of the day, with this marvellous knowledge shining inside me. Anna-mouse gets away with murder (and chocolate - a word and a thing I have managed to keep from her for all of her two-and-a-quarter years, despite my own deep association with it). Little seems to matter as my mind does the vital job of updating my life map with Baby Cousin included. It's important, I've read, to take time to do this essential re-jigging of the landscape for oneself at each major life junction. It's an interesting process. I think it helps you to stay present and encompass the subtle changes in relationship that a birth (or a death) inevitably brings.

Eventually, of course, we say 'I can't imagine life without 'x' but for now, while the re-jigging is doing its thing, it's the most wondrous feeling. I keep remembering - Baby Cousin is here! I'm Aunt to Baby Cousin! - and savour feeling curiously dizzy and light-hearted to find myself on such new, welcome, unfamiliar terrain.

Monday, November 06, 2006

William Shakespeare, the Circus and Me

It's been quite a weekend: not one, but two pockets of childhood nostalgia revisited. I'm weak with remembering.

The Circus is in town. The very same Circus that came to our lovely local Victorian park when I was a child. There the Big Top sits, overlooking Kent Town harbour, all white peaks with blue tips. For the Bim, who had never been to a circus, and for me, who has only the faintest, infinitely romantic memory of it, it was all too good to be true.

And thus it was that we decided to try Anna-mouse with her first live show. Since beloved child was in not-so-loveable mood all morning, I employed my best distraction tactics as we prepared to leave by asking her to choose one of her furry friends to accompany her to the by-now momentous event. She chose one of my personal favourites, a soft shaggy bear given to Anna-m on her first day in the world whom I named William Shakespeare (yes, yes, okay; what do you expect from the daughter of an actress and a writer?). Within minutes William had been transformed, with a few bits of string, shiny paper and Anna-m's dark glasses, into the kitschest bear who'd ever had the good fortune to be taken to the Circus.

Off we processed down to the Circus site, Anna-mouse up high on the Bim's shoulders, me and Will bringing up the rear. Spirits were high, the atmosphere carnival and the Bim and I were enchanted with ourselves for creating this special family outing. Anna-mouse too was enchanted; by the peaky tents, the chatty queues, the picket fence holding us back and the general, much touted promise of all that was to happen inside.

The show went up late, but it didn't matter. We had clowns to entertain us, other children to watch, the orchestra to point to. We were in a smoky, penumbral gloom in plastic seats not far from the ringside, and Anna-mouse caught the excitement snaking round the arena like wildfire. Things couldn't have been better.

Until the show started, that is.

The thing we'd not taken into account, of course, was the noise. 'Ladies and Gentleman,' crowed the Ringmaster, 'iiiiitttts showtime!' And so struck up the band. And Anna-mouse tears. No, not just tears. Gutwrenching, end-of-the-world sobs. She sat shaking, her face pressed into her father's shouder until we could bear it no more and she was rushed from the Big Top, to which no amount of cajoling, reasoning or calming could persuade her to return. This was, oh, two minutes into the show. Ten minutes after that I was beckoned from the tent entrance to come and console my inconsolable child. As the Irish Bim put it, 'Only her Mammy would do.'

So that was it: the most expensive ten minutes we can't afford. But... it was worth it. In the few solitary moments Will Shakespeare and I stayed in the glittery dark, I did indeed re-find the sense of magic I'd had all those years ago in that North London park. I could have seen that the ring was smaller, the costumes tawdry, the tricks shoddy and not especially well performed but the hope-filled girl that was me was already there by then. I saw nothing but the glorious, magic world of entertainment in the same way I'd seen it before I knew what entertainment was, and I was transformed by it, as I was then.

Will and me haven't been the same since.

*Image courtesy of

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Remember, remember the 5th of November

The bangs began around five, slowly gaining in crescendo and momentum. They've been a source of tension in the house for days: I live with an Irish Catholic and a toddler, for God's sake! The latter is too young to appreciate the Blitz-like soundscape impingeing on her bedtime, and the former takes all Bonfire Night festivities as a personal insult directed towards him by the entire population of his adopted homeland.

And then there is me, whose nostalgia about childhood Guy Fawkes nights begins sometime around Halloween. Sigh.

Every one of those childhood years before childhood became for me about division and divorce, my mother threw the most fabulous Fifth of November parties for my brother and sister and me, all our friends and all their parents. A great crackly bonfire was lit on the stone flags outside the kitchen window, one or two grown-ups were given sole charge of the box of fireworks, and all the children had their own packet of sparklers to light as and when they wished. And it was always colder than it is now. We had red raw noses, cut-off mittens, and woolly hats. The oven was stuffed full of baking potatoes, which we ate, steaming and dripping with butter, in the dark; and old baking trays filled with Black Jacks and Fruit Salad sweets in their black and white and pastel wrappings were passed round to one and all.

Oh, the joy of in standing in a raggedy little circle, lighting our sparklers from the lucky someone who'd managed to get theirs lit from a grown-up's match. And the frisson that passed through the crowd as the grown-up-in-charge would yell 'Stand back!' as they lit the blue touch-paper of the Catherine Wheel pinned precariously to the wooden fence at the bottom of the garden. The sense of the lateness of the hour, of festivity, of danger - that something could, and occasionally did, go wrong - these only added to the piquancy of the night.

It's no wonder my longing for these golden moments has intensified as the date draws near.

But the thing about fireworks is this: they're not much cop if you can't actually see them. And by some geographical Kentish quirk our house is situated on a hilly cul-de-sac which intensifies sound but prohibits viewing. You would have thought, given the hill, we'd be able to see something, but no. The angle is wrong. Even when I held Anna-mouse up to the study window tonight before her bath in the hope of catching a glimpse over the rooftops, we were left sorely disappointed.

And so it was, around 6.42pm, that this forty-something seven-year-old was seized by a force that surprised her as the Bim took over the bath and bedtime. She found herself writing a note ('GONE TO WATCH SOME FIREWORKS xxxx') grabbing the car key and heading out. Yes, out. At beloved child's bedtime, the witching hour, the hunkering down to dozy domesticity, a bit-of-tele-then-bed hour. The pact hour, where it is silently agreed between you and yours that you will both keep to this ritual, this denial of Life Outside, for most, and sometimes all the nights of the week. Said child will be watched over, until child is child no more.

Not tonight. Tonight I stood, hatted and gloved, by the banks of Quaint Town's river and wept for my little self as the showers of light rained above the houses on the opposite shore. Then I pulled myself together, found an open newsagents, realised I was in there to look for Black Jacks and Fruit Salads and to my utter delight, found them. I got back into the car and made my way to the highest spot I could find just as a Council display on some open parkland a couple of miles away was beginning.

I stood and watched, downing my sweets and watching the lights of hope and promise with the wonder I felt of old. I felt myself grow lighter and younger with every chew. Whirling corkscrews, tiny fishes and bursting flowerheads coloured the sky for their moment of fame. There is such wistfulness in the life of a firework! Perhaps that's why they captivate me so.

I returned to the house two hours after I had escaped it. I played down the nature of the force which had caused me to leave, but I could see from the Bim's tired eyes that he saw it in me anyway, and did not need me to explain. Friend to my soul that he is, he went to bed early and left me to continue my chosen time alone.

I sit with hot water bottle on my lap, my heart lighter, and my tongue satisfyingly, brilliantly black.

*Photo courtesy

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Birth Plan

Anna-mouse loves telephones.

Yesterday I heard her make the following call on her very pink, very fake mobile 'phone:

"Hallo, hopital? Please can you check my belly button please, yes. See if it's working? Thankoo! Bye-bye".

This could of course have something to do with Baby Cousin who is, to everyone's delight, 'coming soon'. She saw me touch pregnant Sister-in-Law's stomach a week or so ago, and later on that day announced that she had a baby in her tummy, too. "Feel my tummy, Mummy. Feel my baby."

Probably just wanted the 'hopital' to check said baby's exit route.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Spilt Milk (Note to Self)

What have I been talking about? 'You don't know you're born', and similar unhelpful cliches have been flitting through my brain all day. Shame is not a comfortable state. Some things happened to cause me to regret my yesterday's post:

This morning I caught a few minutes of Radio 4's usually wonderful, always thought-provoking 'Woman's Hour'. In my moments' listening I heard a woman tell Jenny Murray how, 17 years ago, she went to her missing daughter's house because her son had told her there was a bad smell there. To cut to the awful nitty-gritty (those of faint disposition look away), she was drawn to the bathroom where the smell was at its worst, and after only a little searching pulled open the bath panel to find her daughter's decomposing body inside.

Words fail me. The mother in me shrieks with anguish for that anguish suffered by this woman. But how can I know? I can't. I can only thank God it's not me, and send her loving thoughts. Now, not only did this woman not curl up in a ball and die, she went on, in the intervening years, to campaign to get the Double Jeopardy law changed, so that the man the family suspected of killing her daughter could be re-tried. (He was, and eventually, this year found guilty).

And so I continued my humdrum day, beginning to be more and more thankful that it was, indeed, humdrum.

And then I got an email from someone I had barely known at school, who in fact, if truth be told, I had little time for then. She wasn't one of the girls you wanted to be seen out and about with at break-time. She kept her thick mousy hair in an untidy pony tail and wore her skirts unfashionably long. This girl, now woman of a certain age like myself, found my email address in the Old Girls' Magazine which had found her in South Africa where she now lives. In her message she had put a link to one of the 2 NGOs she now works for, and within the web page that brought me to there was a link to a film she had made about abused women coming to terms with what had happened to them through the quiet transformatory moves of Kundalini Yoga. In fact she has won an award, the page states, for her work with marginalized women. And she raises three children.

What is it about the Universe? I suppose I needed humbling in some degree. Or a kick up the arse. Tonight I'm just feeling sore and nursing that ol' kick, but maybe someday soon it'll push me into a little action, too.

In the meantime I'm trying to keep a perspective. This is best kept by pausing to listen at Anna-mouse's door for her soft breath and nocturnal snuffles. You are, for God's sake, bringing up a child, I keep telling myself. This is a work in itself. This is important work, if you get it in the slightest degree 'right'. Never mind that other people juggle 58 jobs and 5 kids, or whatever. Never mind that. Never mind them. Acknowledge them, doff your hat, deal with the longing, the wistfulness and stay on the path. Your own.

Never mind that you haven't a clue where it's going.

Monday, October 23, 2006

About Nothing in Particular

How's that for a dejected title?

And dejected I am. I'd like to loudly state that this was, officially, one HORRID day.

For a start, it has rained all day long, as only our country can rain; switching between mizzling and drizzling and the all-over-drench.

Maybe it was inevitable, to have a little bump down to earth after the gleefulness of Livvy working again. Which, by the way, went well. Although I could have been truly awful, I've no idea; it was a crazy blur of rushed scenes, working with kids and pigeons and seasoned RSC actor with lovely voice (no, not luvvy voice, lovely voice).

But there are days, aren't there, when the ketchup top does come off the bottle all over your favourite cream fleece; when adored child starts behaving appallingly 5 minutes before the first-time visitors arrive (and stops 5 seconds after they've left); when you and your beloved miss one another completely, even though you're in the same room - every word misconstrued, misinterpreted and leapt on, so that you're left in a well of crossness and frustration when he goes to work. Need I go on.

I can't have a drink because I'm so badly hormonally-challenged I'll go to bed with a hangover, let alone wake up with one in the morning.

I can't do what I need to do, ie. type my Dad's play and earn some sorely needed money, because my head is a jumbly mess.

I can't have a cracker and Marmite because my stomach hurts.

But I suppose... I can blog.

I can believe my own blurb and use my drug of choice.

I can make myself feel better for not writing for a week by thanking all those, er, 3 of you out there who are staying so loyal...

I can say I've never had an experience like blogging before.

I can ponder that I've rarely kept a secret for so long (no-one I know, except the Bim, knows I write a blog).

And I can wonder as I often do why I still haven't done a huge round-robin email announcing where I am in the blogosphere. Certainly would increase my traffic.

Tonight, as the rain beats on the window, and adored child sleeps after 8th try, and the Bim isn't due for another hour, I know that I keep it that way because writing a blog gives its own special buzz on a wretched day like today. The achievement can feel truly massive: 500 or so words strung together to make some kind of whole which will then be published into a beautiful space with a quote I treasure at the top. There is great grace to me in this. Great hope for sunny, time-filled days in the future spent stringing together 5,000, even 50,000 words. Each post, each present five hundred is like a little pledge towards that time.

Mmm, ahah, yes, you know what? Drug of choice is working.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Rogues and Vagabonds

And yet it comes at a price, this creative urge.

All day I have felt myself slowly slipping away from life-as-I-know-it; I may have paid my pound and got my bin liner to fill with second-hand goodies from the NCT Nearly New Sale, gone through the racks and decided to be extra specially frugal and only get what I came for (Grobags, as it happens) - but all the while the essential being that is me, well, wasn't there.

A strange morphing of self has been taking place. I warned the Bim a few days ago that I might be a bit vague in the days running up to the job (I leave for the North tomorrow), but until today I only half-remembered why. To become someone else, and do it really well, you have to, yes, become someone else. Literally. There is a massive amount of concentration and thought that goes into the creation of a believable character for someone like me who has the craft in her blood. As a child I well remember hearing my mother, also and still (passionately) an actress, rehearsing her lines at the kitchen sink and wondering who on earth she was talking to. And there was I, a mother become my mother today, doing the same thing.

"What you doin', Mummy?" Anna-mouse chirps.

Something twangs at the back of my neck, like it's been twanging all weekend. The tension between these two beings of mine made physical.


What? What can I say? My answer is precariously conflicting, emotional, unneeded to a toddler. I'm preparing to leave you and be solely, utterly who I am, and do solely and utterly what I do know how to do in this world, I might say. But the only reason I can do it so well and so happily these days is because of you, little one. Because you and your father exist, and will keep the notion of me here at home and loving you alive in your tea parties while I am away...

"I'm learning my lines," I simply say.

Anna-mouse of course already has a book about Fred and Ursulina, the bear twins who appear in the school pantomime.

"Well done, Mummy," she says, as she toddles off.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

To Thine Ownself be True

So here's the thing.

Way back when, pre-Anna-mouse days, what I did was act. Even further back, I trained as an actress and most of my decades before meeting the Bim were spent in an anxious and frustrating pursuit of fame and glory. Well, kind of. I got the glory occasionally, and even the odd moment of fame. In fact my jobs tended to be pretty classy - mostly theatre, mostly classical, or quirky - just far, far too spaced out for my soul's or my bank balance's liking. That's how I know how to massage, and type, and run someone's office, and teach, and dance, and... That's why most actors have hundreds of strings to their bow.

When the glorious empress that is Anna-mouse was born, I had to tell my Agent that I couldn't do theatre anymore, not for a while, seeing as I had found a love to usurp my love of the stage. So I said 'Go and find me some TV jobs, ones I can do in 2 or 3 days'. And he did. Lots of them. Detective-type progs, and spooky drama progs and the odd historical film in period costume (if the light's right I have the face of someone straight out of the eighteenth century). And finally, after getting really rather despondent on these strange days going up to London to audition and getting the train right back again, finally I have been offered one. I have a job! Hoorah.

The part is the guest lead in a sort of soap. Okay, okay, it is a soap. But it's one of the better ones, honest. If I say I've got to do some research on agoraphobia, schizophrenia and depression, you'd be right in thinking my particular episode isn't a barrel of laughs.

But... I've noticed something lovely has happened to me in the days since I've known I'm doing it. A certain jaunty spring has appeared in my step. Domestic chores are done before I think of them as chores. Anna-mouse can be howling and I won't mind. I'm holding my head up high. Sometimes there's nothing like a job for giving your sense of identity a little pick-me-up. And, when we're so very hard-up, the thought of a few pounds which I have earned myself is very gratifying (after fending for myself for so many years I've found the transition to being kept child-minding woman quite harrowing). Yes, the week has been transformed.

So I am brought once again to ponder my frequent, fervent search for a sense of balance in these autumn days. And that in going for and getting this job it has been somewhat restored. For the first time in a long while, I can hear the beat, beat, beat of my creative heart.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Make 'em Laugh

When I was ten, there was this joke that used to tickle me pink. It still does.

Q: What comes out of the sea at 100mph shouting "KNICKERS!"

A: Crude oil.

(Just in one of those ten-year-old moods).

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Three Beautiful Things

A tribute to Clare's idea. My own, on this 7th day of October:

1. Finding an slow, easy acceptance in myself of today's picture of me: aproned, domestic, biscuit-baking, breadmaking, child-holding me. Last night I went to dance, so I guess today, as the house filled with Anna-mouse, and her Uncle and Aunt and Baby Cousin-to-be, I could accept that not all days can I be both mother and spirit that is free.

2. Anna-mouse in her pram being wheeled by the Bim round the picturesque streets of Quaint Town:
"Muuummmy, can I get out of my pram, please" Mother strides ahead, oblivious, pointing out local landmarks to our visitors.
"Mummy, I want to get out of my pram!" Mother again doesn't hear.
"Mummy I want to walk, Mummy." Still no response.
"LIVVY! I want to walk!"

3. Placing my hand on my sister-in-law's belly, waiting for signs of life. It's hard, taut, warm. A little chant begins which stays with me into the night, long after they are gone: this is a person, this is a new person, this is a person I will know and hold and love.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

This Writer's Life

Something about me: I like lists.

I like making them, physically passing my best pen over any blank space I can find - best notebooks, flyers, backs of envelopes, receipts, anything - and I like ticking the items off as they're achieved. Some lists, like Life Goals, are important documents, some, like the weekly Shopping List, are random necessities for an easy life placed incongruously, deliciously, side by side.

Writing a list invariably brings me a sense of order imposed, of control regained; a sense, in other words, of myself as a woman who knows what she wants and how she wants it, even (and especially) when I'm living life in a state of unrestrained chaos.

So I thought today I'd write a list or two. You know, balance things out a little, calm a soul which has been too frazzled and distracted to write lately. And they're dedicated to queendebbee - as far as I know my one and only regular reader - who has made me keep the faith and keep writing:


1. My middle name is Rachel, after actress Rachel Roberts ( This Sporting Life,Yanks etc), because my mother went to drama school with her.

2. I met my husband at a bus stop.

3. In 1997 I went to the Academy Awards for a nominated friend of mine who couldn't attend... he asked me to take his aged mother, who didn't recognise Al Pacino but got very excited at Julie Andrews... It remains one of the favourite moments of my life.

4. I once met the Queen. Aged 10.

5. Shortly after I met the Bim I went to a psychic, who said she'd never seen a spread like mine, was shocked into chain-smoking cigarillos throughout our session and told me several things she never could have known. The oddest was identifying an enormous rift between my sister and me, which I strenuously denied because... it hadn't happened yet. A year later my sister and I fell out so badly she didn't speak to me for a year.

6. My father, my mother and myself have all worked at the National Theatre.

7. I love dancing. I once danced blind with Ned my Salsa teacher. There was no sex, but it was one of the sexiest moments... and I danced naked on a roof in Herne Hill with a dear friend, in the rain. I think dancing could change the world.

8. Anna-mouse was born between two blue moons. Just think. No wonder she's a wonder child.

9. When I was 18, and thinking I was very plain, after staring at me for some time a man in Central Park came up to me and said: "You have beautiful bone structure."

10. I am practising writing. I'm practising now. I'm practising allowing myself to write badly and still press the Publish Post button. I've read this is the only way for a perfectionist with gremlins on her shoulder trying to make her stop (like, er, me) to continue. So bear with me. Here goes...

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Highs and Lows

Anna-mouse and I spent the day together. An ordinary day. An extraordinary day. Together we, she, or I -

  • Read 'The Tubby Custard Mess' for after-breakfast-potty-sit (31st time this week)
  • Were late for swimming class
  • Got changed extra quick
  • Giggled in swimming class
  • Got changed extra slow
  • Took Anna-m's new toilet seat with us to the loo
  • Thought up anything and everything to get her to sit on it
  • Left the loo with only the grown-up having gone
  • Went to visit the creche to get her (pretend) and me (this is the truth) used to it
  • Wiped up biggest pee in history from creche floor
  • Told the creche workers 'She is potty-trained, really'
  • Ate mini gherkins dipped in houmous for lunch again
  • Had total stand-off when toddler pooed in her pants 30 secs after getting off potty
  • Made-up big-time
  • Spent quarter hour not speaking after second poo in pants
  • Made-up, just, after the Bim called with cunning-return-to-Star-Chart-plan
  • Did face-painting: a pink tiger(her, done by me); a strange culty person (me, done by her)
  • Ate an enormous bowl of pasta for tea; ate a couple of penne. Guess which one which.
  • Sat at nursery room window watching the rain and waiting for the 'light'. Thrill of her first storm. Mother's heartstrings twang.
  • Endured tantrum when told could listen for thunder no more
  • Wiped the tears away when told loo seat she wouldn't hear of this morning not available now
  • Cried end-of-the-world-tears when told to leave window to brush teeth
  • Sang 'Happy Birthday Anna-mouse', cut the candles, handed out slices of cake
  • Screamed in protest at being put into cot with no more songs
  • Hugged and kissed with promise of one more song
  • Sang 'Happy Birthday Thunder'


  • Child content
  • Mother on gin.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Hunger Site

Link to this title site and click daily to do a Good Deed. A friend sent me this link and I've put it into my Favourites sidebar to remind me to click as I go online each day. How it work is this. Each time you click the sponsors who pay for the site donate something like 1.1 cups of food to those people in the world who can't feed themselves at present. I'm not mad about the principle - there's too much whimsy in it: click here, feed the world and by the way read our ads at the same time - but if it helps, hey, the end is worth the uncomfortable nature of the means.

Click now.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

I Could Have Danced All Night

Clicking on my Favourites and checking out the wonderful Petite Anglaise's post today strikes a chord. Yes, freedom does come at a price. Always, I think. Somedays it's worth it; somedays it's not. Take today.

I am allowed off out for the day. A whole day of freedom on the Bim's orders. He takes Anna-mouse off to the playground, then Kent Town, then brings her home to decorate gingerbread men with saccharine-sweet coloured icing pens and I am told to stay out until I have bought something that will cure me of the cry 'I'm not moaning, but I reeeallly have nothing to wear...'

This is no small order. Lately, we've been thinking twice before buying a can of baked beans we've been that broke. So my guilt button is pressed twice before I even get out the door: I've been given carte blanche with time and money. Not easy for a worrier, and the person who knows what state the finances are really in.

I get over it. Off I go, James Blunt doing that quivery thing he does with the high notes all the way down the dual carriageway. I'm going to the shopping capital of the garden of England. I'm all excited. Hope it won't be one of those demoralising trips where the first visit to the changing room leaves me weeping into my coffee in Starbucks for the rest of the afternoon.

It isn't. I sail through the day. I return on a high, confused only for a moment by Anna-mouse opening each bag I've brought home and exclaiming 'Oh, thank you Mummy!' at each one. I fully intend to go to my newly-discovered beloved Salsa class at 8. I act as if for hours. I really think I'm going to go. The time nears, and I'm having more and more moments of doubt as I watch the Bim cook supper, clean up and take Anna-mouse for her bath. He reminds me to set the video for 'The West Wing' before I go out.

I go for a shower, look out my dancing clothes. And find myself putting my pyjamas on instead. I can't do it. I can't go. I discover this caged bird can't leave the cage, though the door is open. For my night of freedom, after my day of freedom, I would be trading a night in with Martin Sheen and the Bim, and a couple of hours spent here, trying to keep my blog alive while I try to keep my eyes open. My old self has a longing to dance. My new self knows that I have more need to embrace my chosen love, and my chosen life, than to salsa with a stranger.

For tonight, at least, the guilt dogs are at bay.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Kentish Salsa

All day it's at the back of my mind, an eight-beat sub-text that won't go away. Finally, one year into our new life in Kent Town I have discovered that there is a Sunday night Salsa class close by. Will I, won't I, brave it alone? It's three years or so since I danced the dance; Ned, my much-loved teacher is long gone and so is my pre-birth body. Everything's gone a little southwards these days.

It's been a tiring day, too. The Bim's parents are with us, Anna-mouse is on her bestest demanding form and I can think of every reason in the world not to venture out just as she's about to go down.

After an antsy half hour throwing clothes around the room and making it entirely the Bim's fault that I have nothing to wear, I find myself driving down to Quaint Town in search of The Venue. I follow a confident-looking woman through the bar and out the other side, down some steps into a long, low room with a nice smiley black man on the door. Turns out I'm early. I was trying to be minutely late so as to miss the hanging about like a wallflower with a neon arrow saying 'New Girl' pointed at my head, so I spend quarter of an hour in the Ladies, hugging a cranberry juice and re-doing my hair. Nerves aren't in it.

At last the class begins. I put myself into the middle group, Improvers/Intermediates, and pray my body remembers something. Bless Ned, it does. First up I'm partnered by a short sturdy Italian who wears a chain and a moustache. He raises an eyebrow as I stumble on a simple turn, but slowly, slowly as we change partners and work our way round the circle I feel my soul wake up, relax and begin to smile. I notice that other people are nervous, too. Some of the blokes have sweaty palms and are saying 'Sorry' more than I am. About the third time I make it round to the Italian guy, he smiles.

Two days later, my feet still hurt. I catch myself practising the cross-body in Debenhams. I know I'm older, slower. I don't move as quickly on the spins. But some long-buried part of me is gasping with relief. It's like finding a long-lost soulmate. It's like bumping into myself and shaking hands. It's Livvy, dancing Salsa again.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Parrot Fashion

This is getting spooky.

Glancing at a community noticeboard in Kent Town Sainsbury's today, I was drawn to a hand-scrawled 'For Sale' sign featuring, yes you guessed it, Baby Senegal Parrots.

Apparently they make lovely pets and are 'Ready Now': I picture rows of expectant tinies waiting patiently by the front door with their duffel coats and wellies on.

Now, two Tiny Parrot references in seven days feels just too much like somebody having a cosmic giggle for me not to take note. So I have.

Seems like if you're looking for a fun, talkative playmate, the poincephalus senegalus could be for you. There's also some indication that our friend in miniature can be a tad on the high maintenance side, but pretty frequent chats, the odd flyaround and strictly no alcohol, caffeine or chocolate will soon see him right. Clearly, though, parrot abandonment is growing: adoption of said birds is recommended over following up handwritten signs in supermarkets.

In my web travels I've come across Baby Senegals called Huggy, Mickey, Iago - hang on, Iago? - what could he possibly have done to deserve that? I can just imagine it. 'Hi, come in and meet my dwarf traitor parrot. He looks a bit lean and hungry but he's really very chatty when you get to know him.'

It's a whole 'nother world.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Do I want you to be an A-star baby? - A Response

Helen Rumbelow, congratulations, you've had that miracle of miracles, a baby girl. But please, don't succumb! I know that brain-addling exhaustion that comes in the wee hours but no, you must not wish your daughter an average life!

As you say, much of what you describe stems from the crippling effects of parental concern - so let's stop over-concerning ourselves and outline an action plan instead. Here's mine:


  1. 'To thine ownself be true' (Shakespeare, Polonius, Hamlet). Success, like beauty, is very often in the eye of the beholder. It's actually personal. People rarely tell you that being successful is not the same as feeling successful, which is by far the superior achievement, and will make you much happier. So set your own standards and goals, and know what success looks like to you. Then, as you achieve your markers, you will bolster your sense of self-worth, in turn setting yourself up for more success.
  2. Get over your looks - whatever they are. Fretting over what you look like, spending time and money to change what you look like - these things are a sideline. They take you off on a tangent. You already surpass beautiful to those who know and love you: the trick I wish for you is knowing it yourself. You will save so much time and bring yourself so much more joy if you get to know and love your look, and then forget about it. This in itself will make you outstanding, such is the emphasis on beauty today. (P.S. on this one, I'm not saying don't enjoy the frippery of it all - your mother loves, I mean loves a bit of slap - just be wiser than it is).
  3. Get over your fear - this is key. Take your fear with you, make it your friend. Never let fear stop you from sticking your head above the parapet; or voicing your thoughts when you are the only woman in the room (or in a room full of women); or sticking up for the wronged guy; or telling your dad and me to take a back seat if we're holding you back; or striking out on your own in whatever way you want to strike, if it means something to you.
  4. Cherish your friends - the ones who support you, that is. The ones who always respond to your plans optimistically. Good friends should be one of your life's constants.
  5. Dance! Find what moves you - you'll never feel quite whole unless you find your own way to connect with your body. It'll ground you, and keep you sane in times of strife.
  6. Connect with your spirit - whatever this means to you. If you are able to do this AND dance, girl, will you be one whole human being. And if you are one whole human being, people will want to know and love you. And at times when those people are thin on the ground, you will be able to know and love yourself.
  7. Never follow a man's lead unquestionably because he's a man, whether he be teacher, boss or lover. (Unless you're dancing Salsa, of course, when you must learn to follow effortlessly, to get a good dance)
  8. Make community - build it into your life, give to it, take from it, value it. Help others in whatever is your chosen way. This will give you a deep sense of success, and others will acknowledge your achievement.
  9. Make friends with money - know that it is just energy, and all you need to do is get the flow right. Resist the temptation to judge your achievements in life by how much money you have in your pocket.
  10. Know what is important to you - and that your list doesn't have to be the same as your family's. Or your friends'. Be prepared to be out there on a limb sometimes, but if your intuition is shouting 'I'm right about this!', always, always trust it.

My darling girl - Yes, I wish you an extraordinary life, with all the attendant ebbs and flows. And if you equip yourself with the above, you will more than be able to cope with it.

Know that this is, of course, as well as a recipe for you, an open letter to myself.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Radio 4, Rah, Rah, Rah

Confounded myself and my post-birth brain by actually managing to remember to listen to Radio 4's new series on bloggers this morning. Well, sort-of-listen. Wee Anna-mouse has discovered singing along... even when it's talking. Today it was more of a rah-rah-rah-rah-RAH-RAH-RAH kind of noise sung to herself at high volume as she took Baby Tad and Doggy for their morning constitutional.

Thrilled to discover Anna of Little Red Boat the first interviewee. Hers was one of the first blogs I ever read (all of two weeks ago, ah, what a lot of water et al since then, sigh). AND then discover Petite Anglaise is headlining next week, too. My other great role model. Heaven. Am already almost nostalgic for those first discoveries, wandering round the world in the dark at two in the morning, thinking 'You know what, this could be it, this could be my Prozac.'

What am I talking about? I still wander round the world, only now I'm like a kid in a sweetshop with her little white paper bag (remember those?) popping in blogs to savour and suck on at home. Not much has made this World-'n-Art-Starved-Mother-of-One this happy since Anna-mouse was but a slitter in her Irish daddy's eye.

After Anna P. there came Annie Mole - hang on, that's an awful lot of Anna/ies in one post, isn't it - of The London Underground Tube Diary which I could hardly bear to listen to (if I could have heard it above the rah-rahs anyway), so London-sick is this Moved-to-Kent-Town gal. I remember the day of the bombings too, don't we all, and she spoke movingly and fascinatingly about her blog's part in it. Proof again, if any were needed, I would say, that blogs well and truly belong to the people. Rah, rah, rah.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

P.S. (or should that be S.P?)

Oh yes.

Sign spotted on Nature Reserve's noticeboard today:



Needs special diet for medical reasons

Bless. Just think of it. In Kent.

Walter, Your Name's In Lights

London snapshot no. 2.

Last Monday night, just as it was getting dark on the Shepherd's Bush Road, my dear friend Matt came off his motorbike at speed, skimmed across the road and shattered his arm.

Two things happened before the ambulance arrived to take him to hospital.

First, the driver of the car directly behind Matt rolled down his window as he rolled on past and shouted "W**ker!" at Matt as he lay on the ground.

Secondly, a man riding his moped behind the man who shouted "W**ker!" stopped, got off his moped and helped Matt in every way he could. The man's name was Walter, but he divulged only that and no more.

Walter is the first person in this blog whose name is not an alias, because only Walter knows who Walter is, if you know what I mean.

I'm writing in the karmic hope that something, some quirk (or click) of fate will cause Walter to hap upon 'Livvy's Life' and find his name here; to know that he is thought of, and remembered, and that his good made the lack of it, well, bearable to my weeping friend.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Lost it!

I'm a Blog of the Day!

Blogger Virginity, that is. How cool is THAT, to be having a quick peek at the old Inbox before rushing off swimming in the precisely 1 hr 22 mins allotted to me while the Bim and Anna-m go on one of their storming town trips - only to be found I've been made BLOG OF THE DAY!!!

God, give me a valium. This thing is a rollercoaster. No, come to think of it, forget the valium: this thing is better than drugs. I'm off to swim and dream up my next fix.

Big smoochie Mwah! to Rob for helping me lose my you-know-what.

Friday, August 25, 2006


LilBitchmore - check out the groovy style and fab look.

So this is me practising linking. Am back with ridiculous sense of teenage excitement after leaving comments on 2 or 3 other blogs. Feel like I've just been joyriding, breathless and giggling all the way. After last post took a serious look at the karma of the thing and thought, this won't d0, get out there girl! Start commenting! So I did.

Other places I left my mark were sweet first week Blogger Virgin like myself (a dj/music type kind of thing), and odd almost-porn thing with no name that I can remember with FANTASTIC bunny graphic. You kind of hovered over these balls, so to speak, and that made them leap into action and become BUNNIES! Very funny. It would make even Eeyore smile, honest, but I can't remember what the hell it was called, sorry.

I'm off to steal another car.

Into the Void

One whole week of blogging! And still a Blogger Virgin! As far as I know, I mean, my blog is unsullied by a single read...

What a strange and extraordinary thing it is, to send your words out into the great unknown at each post, with no knowledge of what the experience is from then on. Until, I guess, someone leaves a comment. It strikes me, though, that I have been browsing keenly all over the place since discovering this most addictive of pastimes, and not left comments in my wake. So perhaps Livvy's Life is not quite so unsullied after all...

So with goodbyes and dictats to take care, wrap up well and keep warm I send this little message out into the void to boldly go where I, at least, have never gone before.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Rain, rain go away

I've been yearning for glamour today... You know, Bette Davis, paint that lipstick, red carpet type of stuff.

Kent Town in the rain is pretty dismal. In fact I didn't even have to go out to experience this, I just thought, Kent Town will be miserable. Don't go there. It'll be full of twelve year-old mothers and their babes smothered in coverlets with the legend 'Champ' in gold letters above the frills, and skinny dads with fags and no shirt on, even in the rain... Let's me and Anna-mouse create our own world today, I thought.

So we did. Anna-mouse beat me by miles on the invention stakes. First of all she took Baby Doll and Dolly for a walk in the double buggy, rocked them to sleep and changed them ("Smelly poo, Mummy!"). Then she managed a picnic with Squidgy Teddy, Noddy and Mr Pirate in which they consumed boiled eggs, several plates of cake and drank copious cups of tea. This while I emptied the dishwasher and sang 'You're Sensational' to myself as Grace Kelly.

Then we sang Happy Birthday to everyone we knew. No, I mean everyone... but the good thing was, this took some time... Then we - or rather I - had to call everyone we had sung Happy Birthday to on the Thomas the Tank Engine mobile. And there were no two ways about it. Conversations had to be had.

"Mummy! Call Bemjum! Call Bemjum, Mummy!" barks Anna-mouse, in her I-am-going-to-be-running-the-country-really-quite-soon voice.

Mummy takes said mobile and invents jolly chat with Benjamin, one of Anna-mouse's cohorts.

When list of everyone is finally exhausted Anna-mouse guides us seamlessly onto another level of play.

"Mummy, call Mummy!" the order runs.

And thus ensues a surreal conversation between me and... well, me listened to with enormous satisfaction by small daughter drunk on despotic power.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Night, Out

London Snapshot no.1

It must be a nightmare universally dreaded to be woken in the middle of the night and told someone you love is in trouble. This is what happened to my sister a couple of nights ago.

Sister lives with Boyfriend and Best Friend in an unconventional and interesting menage a trois which we can return to another time. 2.30am, she is woken by Best Friend saying "We have to go and get Hal."

Hal is wandering the streets of North London, barely knowing where he is. He is so distressed it takes them several phone calls to locate him exactly. He had been enjoying club night out - the wrap party for infamous reality TV show, as it turns out - talking to a friend over a beer when - with no warning, and no previous interaction with, or provocation towards - the club's bouncers drag him out of the club and beat him near senseless. There are four of them.

Hal is slight. Hal is gentle. Hal happens to be gay. Sister met Hal during training sessions to become a Samaritan. Hal helps others. Hal is a Good Guy.

On first hearing, I despair. I want to give up. I want to yell. I want to hold Hal to me and make it all better, like I can with Anna-mouse. But I can't with Hal, because it won't ever be all better. His life map has changed forever.

Then I think about the four. Men, I presume, and probably young. And I wonder about their world, and how far it must have veered from the one I inhabit. The one in which I daily thank my lucky stars that I am not one of those mothers haunting the news, holding up their bombed toddler or aged parent, trying to shore up a world broken by violence.

Why does violence need to be manufactured by some, when it is not in their daily lives? Is it really a part of our nature, to need some kind of war? Why do some feel so disenfranchised that their route to identity is with their fists?

I have no answers, only questions. And I send love to Hal.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

What makes a friend?

This has been concerning me. What is it that makes you say, perhaps even after only a few moments, yes, I could go on liking this person? This person suits me. This person and I might fit...

Eleven months and 26 days in Kent Town, and still I do not have a Kent Town friend. I have Neighbour with Big Teeth who mends car; Smiley Warm Neighbour who looks after house when we go away; Neighbour of the Exploding Orange Hair who is nice to Anna-mouse; in fact I have neighbours till they're coming out of my ears. But no friend.

Now, the question has arisen, could a Neighbour, perhaps, become a Friend? Today something made me hopeful, when Neighbour with Cat Called Bobo (I know, I know: do I want to have a friend with a cat called Bobo?) turned up on the doorstep.

It was about 3.30pm. The Bim had kindly taken Anna-mouse 'down town' as he put it (absolutely not as glamorous as it sounds) to give me a moment to myself, when there was a fearful banging at the front door. Said Neighbour with Cat Called Bobo is there, looking very very worried.

"What's wrong?" I cry.

"Oh Livvy, I'm so sorry..." she begins.

Turns out, she might have chicken pox. She shows me nasty looking spot marks to prove it. She is beside herself with worry that she might have given them to Anna-mouse the previous day, when Bobo and Anna-m had bonding moment in the street, and nice Neighbour crouched down beside cat and child to seal the moment. She's had a sleepless night. She was thinking I might throw a wobbly.

Neighbour with Cat Called Bobo doesn't know that I need a friend. And anyway, what can I do? I can't - and don't want to - wrap Anna-mouse up in cotton wool... I am utterly gracious and concerned. It's not her fault. How nice of her to tell me...

And all the while we are talking I am experiencing strange weighing-up thoughts: could this person be a friend? Well, obviously not now this week, as Neighbour has sent herself to Quarantine until said spots go crusty or not, as the case may be. She said she'd let me know. Drop round in a day or two with a progress report.

Which, on the friends front, is progress in itself, don't you think?

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Eating, out

I think of us and food. I think of food and us.

I think of the high sky our umbrella at Youghal, when we were only thinking of marriage, nothing declared; and the fine picnic we made there one day, sunlit and buffeted by the wind.

Turrets, or some such structure, we climbed up to above the flattening sea. And there on a bench we took out our fare and ate. Giggled with each squelchy crunch of tomatoes gritty with salt. Savoured the satisfying stripe of our sandwich: cheese, cucumber, cheese. We chatted like the seagulls who came to pillage our crumbs. Sipped hot coffee, bitter, black, made strangely better by plastic.

If I were to ask you, casual, now - which was it, our best fare together? Which day, lit by which candle, which meal? You would say that day, my love, that picnic day, sunlit, when we feasted by the sea.

Time shift

I'm tired. Am writing from the dark, with too much in my head to make sense of it. I'm trying to tap the keys lightly so as not to wake Anna-mouse in one room, and the Bim next door. I'm tired of not making a noise. I've tip-toed through whole nights on end since Anna-mouse was born. The irony is that when we got to Bonfire Night here (a particularly vocal event here in Kent Town, it seems) it sounded like World War Three and little one slept through regardless. Yet still we creep...

I've been to London and back. I miss it. I have heartache when I don't go. I have heartache when I do. I never knew where my roots were until we left it, nearly a year ago to the day. Crossing Waterloo Bridge on a cloudless night... ah! The sense of possibilities is endless. The sheer noise of City washes you clean if you hold yourself open to it. I dream of those blue, Hungerford fountains of light shedding their blue drops into the Thames. Today we spread our time between London north and south: I'm not one of those divided by the river, I have memories embracing both shores, and friends or family still abide on each.

One penumbral evening a couple of months ago I was driving Anna-mouse home from the leafy suburbs of north London after a particularly good humoured day with her Granny, my Ma. On a whim I take a quick detour up the familiar streets left decades before to find myself quietly revving in front of our old front door. I stare longingly up at what used to be the window to my much-loved room. Quite suddenly a small child presses his face to the window, as another, more shadowy face appears behind him, holding this small creature up to the street to say night night. A confusion of years shivered through me - who the child, who the adult? Was that me, then? Is this me now?

"See, Anna, this is where Mummy used to live when she was a little girl," I say.

My child lets out an encouraging, wise-sounding "Ah."

We begin the slow stop-start journey back. I ache for my small self, the one with the Picasso Dove on her wall, and special plane tree leaf pressed between the leaves of her diary.

But the ache heals itself as fast as it is felt, because another small person, another part of me, is sitting on the back seat wearing her sock on her head, gloriously oblivious to my anguish and enjoining me to sing the Hokey Cokey with her for the fifty-ninth time today.

"Cokey, Mummy. Cokey!"

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Leap Year

There's a saying I've had taped to the inside of one of my notebooks for a long while. It goes 'Leap, and the net will appear'. I've always loved that phrase. I've long held a fantasy about using it in one of my classes, well, when I taught classes, wowing my students with such a succinct little gem. One day. One day. And in the meantime, I've been thinking I've not done much leaping recently, not much at all. Well I've had alot to think about. Actually it's quite easy not to think about anything much at all, for several years in a row, when you're looking after a child... Anna-mouse. My little one. Two-year-old bundle of wonder. And when you've gone from single, hormonally-challenged sad girl living in garret flat in Camberwell to married mother of said bundle living with Bim (Big Irish Man) in Kent Town in the space of four years. I've only just now drawn breath. So here I am, wondering about leaping, only leaping of a different sort, all over again.

This time it's for me. It's for the heart of me. It's for where I draw breath. It's about that thing you can convince yourself doesn't exist until you try to deny it: a creative life. There, that's the nub of it. I'm a middle-class, middle-aged hormonally-challenged older mother who had a whole creative thing going for nigh on 40 years until love struck and she decided to follow the personal rather than the creative. Not that it is not an extraordinarily creative and joyous thing to spend your days poring over Postman Pat stickers and face painting tigers - it is! But... these things are about another, and I have unfinished business with myself which won't go away. And so sets up a tension I had only ever read about before, which I'm hoping leaping - I mean writing - here, will change.

The Bim has just come home (weird late shift). Finding me ensconced in the dark in the spare room I tell him about setting up the blog and swear him to secrecy. He finds this pernickety, given half the world can read it if they want. Oh I don't mind them, I say, just no-one I know...

Sensing my new-blogger's euphoria he suggests we celebrate with sex. Can't, I say, surprised he'd even go there. Why not? he asks. I haven't finished my blog! I cry. Now that, that, is a first, says he. And off he goes to commiserate with a cup of tea and a biscuit. Which is of course why I love him.

Welcome to Livvy's life.