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