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.