Monday, January 29, 2007

Write Time

Writing class tomorrow and I haven't done the homework. Plus, I am on strict orders from the Bim to go to bed no later than 11.30pm, due to a recently developed inability to get myself there before two in the morning. (I blame an alarming month, and my need to talk about it on my drug of choice, but that's neither here nor there).

This leaves me with fourteen minutes, and a problem. So I thought I'd get over myself, work to deadline and just do the task:

Writing Exercise Number 2:
Describe an object using each of the five senses. Write for 10 minutes.

Two plain wood pencils, each with a pecky, wingless bird stuck on the pencil's end. The pencils are lathed to a finish satisfyingly smooth; the birds are spotted and bright. One yellow, one red. Chickens? Their beaks - and eyes - are sharp. I can almost feel the yellow bird's predatory peck, peck, peck, as it leans out of the pencil holder towards my typing hand.

I've seen these birds, these pencils, in an off-hand way every day since Christmas, when they were given to Anna-mouse and promptly popped into the holder on my desk. The red bird faces away, dismissive, singing its pecky-peck-peck song. That yellow bird - it has its tiny eye on me. But I can smell the pencil wood before I've even lifted yellow bird from his perch, and it is nothing but safe: nutty, of the earth, like autumn leaves. And the taste - that pencil taste! - comes to me again: school, long afternoons, autumn days.

Okay, so I cheated. I took far too long. It's my weakness. But I finished the task.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Reasons To Be Cheerful

You might have thought - given that 2007 hasn't got off to the best of starts, what with my car being impounded, my acting talents being rejected and my mother discovering that she has a life-threatening illness - that I might be a little... down.

I might have thought so, too, especially in view of the fact that I was, in more youthful days, prone to depression in the same way that some people are prone to accidents. I had only to look at the colour orange and it sent me into a spiral of decline. (Strange how, now that I have discovered Happiness, the same shade can make me beam).

So I am doubly chuffed and surprised to discover that I, like everyone else at a moment of crisis, have Hidden Reserves. I've actually managed to impress myself with my resilience and, believe me, that's not an easy thing for me to do.

My mother Esme has to take most of the credit. She is leading from the front on this one. Way out front. Close friends are stopping her mid-sentence and asking, "But are you really all right, or is this an act?" because they can't believe how serene she is. I'm sure she doesn't feel serene all the time. That would be impossible (and, let's face it, nauseating). But she is, for want of a better word, grounded. Quite clearly standing on her place on this earth and saying 'Here I am. This is me. And I'm okay.'

I had noticed a change in my mother over the last couple of years. Watching her handle this latest situation has confirmed that it really has taken place - quite a subtle but profound transformation that I would hope to go through myself when I've clocked up enough years. Yes, I do think that it is related to the process of getting old. It is an astonishing process, if only we could celebrate it a little more, rather than getting bogged down in the aesthetics. What seems to have happened is that my mother has become wise in the best way it is possible to become wise: she has become wise about herself. She knows herself at last. So her actions and reactions are not muddied by anything, or anybody else's stuff. To be envied, indeed.

To see her like this - this makes me happy. Plus, I can hardly hide under the duvet until the year is out if she is out galavanting, now can I?

Clever of her, that. Blinding us with optimism. Thanks, Esme.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The News

It's bad news I'm afraid.

Tiny words signalling the enormous.

All week I've had the strange sensation of my feelings lagging behind my thoughts, like a bolshy kid dragging its heels behind her mum around the shops. Please keep up! I admonish myself occasionally. Do try to keep up!

I don't know how you keep up with something like this. So I don't. I go through the motions of my days and get most things right (though the butter appears in the oven, and the sugar in the fridge) and sometimes my feelings catch up with the news and I sit down quietly with myself and cry.

This is usually late at night, when the house is silent, and I can hear what my thoughts are saying.

A week ago I went to stay with my mother, Esme, and that night, cradling coffees, cosily ensconced on her sofa, I told her about the existence of this blog. This blog which I have held so closely to me for the last five months, nursing it into sustainable life without the imput of any single one of my nearest and dearest other than the Bim - who couldn't be more hands-off if he tried.

It was a happy moment and her reaction was happy, too. She was encouraging, free-ing, instantly recognising the possibilities I had opened myself up to. She could even converse with me in the lingo of this brave new world, having picked it up from the Saturday pages of The Guardian, speaking proudly of 'hits' and making polite enquiries about my 'traffic'.

She knew why I had told her, too. It wasn't hard to guess, waiting as we were for the results of the biopsy taken at her colonoscopy. Why have secrets now?

Yesterday she called me: It's bad news I'm afraid. It's malignant, and today there was a CT scan to determine the extent of the bad.

Although - although everything else is so good. The lines of communcation, as I wrote, are open and clear. After so many years we are all of us out of the woods and in the clear. There is transparency between us, the family, which has not been there long. I am glad we are all behaving so well. There is dignity in this, respite, and hope.

My mother above all is extraordinary. Brave, and clear. Knowing writing here is what feeds me these domestic days, I asked her permission to write here about what is happening and she gave it freely.

An elderly Quaker friend gave me comfort and insight today. When I told her the news she said: It will work out in the best way, whatever happens, I do believe that is how things work. And then, most profoundly, and the thing which most moved me, she said You're safe.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

End of Story

More evidence. Not that I'm obsessed with getting my £200 back or anything.

(God, I could turn into one of those people who do this sort of thing for a hobby. I could be found, years from now, sitting in front of my single bar electric fire, mittened fingers wrapped round a mug of strong tea, churning out letters of unrelenting bile to Organisations Who Have Done Me Wrong...)

Actually, it's just a little coda to 'Impounded!':

The Bim told me that had a Corkonian (that, for the uninitiated, is the very lovely word for a person who hails from Cork City, Ireland) been telling the story of the missing car, they would have said "There it was, gone!"

Tee hee.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Ten Minutes

There was a moment in December when I made the decision to take the plunge. This week, the plunge was taken for the first time: Anna-mouse is a nursery virgin no longer. Her mother braved the waves of guilt and, how 'bout that, survived.

The Writing Class felt good. Different and good. We were given an exercise to follow every day of the week until we next meet: Write for 10 minutes about the present moment. Time yourself. When the time is up, stop.

Yesterday, this is what I wrote:

The timer has begun. The countdown timer. The present moment. Take it as your starting point. Now.

The flickering fire. My mother yawns. I hear her through the kitchen door. The day spent looking after my child, now she looks after hers. The pots on the stove, I see them, full of water; the mushroom sliced on the side. A jar of red pesto sitting DON'T INTERRUPT ME! Do you want to keep these, Liv, the cold potato and peas? Only a mother. A mother. The theme of the day, the week, the hour. My mother. Extraordinaire. Her pebbles ranged on the bathroom windowsill, the joy they give me. The sense of all things right in the world even though we know they might not be. The scan tomorrow then not. A doubt. I don't know how she stays so - what? What do I want to say? Herself. These things do push you to other places. Other parts of yourself. That's what they say and they're right whoever they are.

The fire I can hear the fire. The present moment. This seems so poignant, to be asked to write about the present moment - the rustling of a packet of peas - at this time that I can feel again the push of tears behind the eyes. I've felt it alot this week since we knew. The good thing is the extraordinarily good thing is that the lines of communication - these are clear. Clear, taut, open, waiting for the pellets of news. The bulletins. The information we need the information. The scan can give us this but the scan was supposed to be tomorrow and now is not.

I'm on a 'Countdown Timer' according to my mobile phone; aren't we all? Never knew you could pack so much into ten minutes - a lesson for life? Precious life. My child sleeps next door. Some things are right with the world. An inspiration! my brother called my mother. Such pleasure, such comfort, such a privilege to spend a night and a day and another night in her company, at her house.

The page turns quick! quick! this should be how we live life, cramming it in - the alarm beep beep beep. Stop.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007


No, this is not art - though there is something rather decorative about it - nor is it without meaning. It is, my friends, evidence.

Picture the scene: Saturday afternoon. Albert Embankment, London. The Houses of Parliament just a stone's throw across the water, splendidly gilding the horizon.

It's six o'clock, the witching hour, and we're emerging happy and the toddler equivalent of drunk from my god-daughter's sixth birthday party which her mother, my oldest friend, has held rather imaginatively on a boat on the River Thames. That is, we've eaten alot of cocktail sausages, Hula Hoops and satsumas and been given an enormous goody bag of extremely interesting things to take away with us and dress up with in the morning. A pair of wings, a crown and a whole tray of plastic costume jewelry. Rich pickings to a two year old interested in role play. I am also sporting a rucksack to which are attached at least eight large, purple balloons. Oh, and it's blowing a gale.

I carry toddler and party swag in balloon-trailing rucksack across the road. I feel like a one-man band without the music. We reach the side road where I parked the car. Only it isn't there. Six o'clock, with child, miles from home, in the eye of a mini hurricane.

Oh no, Anna-mouse, I say. I can't see our car.

What happen, Mummy? What happen?

I can't see our car, Anna. I think our car's not there.

There it is Mummy! There!

I see a car very similar to ours across the street from where I know I parked. I will myself to believe that it is, indeed, our car and that somehow I have got confused. It's amazing how fast the brain works. I begin to make up scenarios as to how our car moved miraculously by itself from one side of the street to the other.

No, I say at last, desperately trying to make the number plate letters resemble our own, No Anna, I don't think that is our car.

It takes me very little time to realise that our jolly little Peugeot has been either stolen or towed away. I look more closely at the road signs. They are utterly confusing. There are two, within 5 yards of each other, each with conflicting information. So I wasn't completely stupid, I mutter to myself.

I call the Bim. I've forgotten to charge the 'phone so the fact that it's about to conk out adds piquancy to the drama. I can see the headline: DEATH BY BALLOON as I'm pummelled furiously in the wind. I put Anna-mouse behind a wall and crouch down to make the call. I note that she is still clutching a cocktail stick with a rather bedraggled looking sausage on it. God I love this child, I think absently.

A couple of calls confirms it. The car has been towed away to the nearest Pound. The only time I lose my calm exterior, scrupulously maintained for Anna-mouse's benefit, is when they say it will cost us £200 to retrieve. I turn away from Anna-m and weep a few quick tears of frustration.

We rush back to the Embankment, where my friend and party helper are luckily still waiting for their taxi. The owner of the party boat, The English Maid, is a very English gent who rushes to our aid. He sees my problem with the balloons and suggests I cut them free. Are you mad? says my look. Cutting loose the balloons would create a far greater crisis than losing the car... But he does bound across the road and take a look at the offending parking space for me. Apparently there's nothing he likes more than doing battle with Lambeth Council, with no small success on several occasions. And yes, he comes back triumphant, talking very fast about road markings and previous overturned convictions and so on. He instructs me to 'tell my husband to come back tomorrow and take some pictures'.

In fact it is I who returns. I am calmer, and alone. Wonderful Dee, my partner in crime at the Ritz, comes with me to the Pound - a kind of dismal prison for cars - loans us the money and sets our car free. I drive to the side road and take my photographs.

I pause at the wall to remember Anna-mouse and her sausage, which she carried throughout this little drama, determinedly saving it once she knew we were headed home via Victoria Station, for a 'picwic on the train'. The sausage didn't make it. She dropped it on the platform minutes before boarding our train back to Kent Town and the Bim's welcoming arms. It was the worst moment of her night.

Friday, January 12, 2007


The call came a little over a week ago.

We'd had a desperate, depressing day batting our budget back and forth, trying to figure out how to make ends meet 'til the end of the month.

I hate this, I said. I don't want to live like this anymore, I said. I need a job. The Bim raised his eyebrows, made his 'We've-been-over-this-before' face, and said nothing.

It's a conversation millions of couples have the world over: how to find your own particular 'Eureka!' balance, where everyone gets nourished bodily, spiritually and mentally, the child is raised the way you always promised yourself you'd raise a child, and you've even got a little over every now and then for a haircut. (Yes, my hair is currently frightening).

I came upstairs. Cried. Had a word with the Universe. A couple of hours later I got the call.

I know you've said theatre is out 'til she's a bit older, my agent said, but this is really good theatre - would you reconsider? The interview's next Tuesday - don't go unless you can do it.

I couldn't help but notice the coincidence. I smiled. I thanked the Universe. Then I giggled to myself and rang the Bim.

I don't know how the hell we'd do this, I said, testing the waters. I don't know if I even want to do this, I said... But it is in London, and commutable, and it is one of the best theatres in the country... I mean, I haven't seen the script yet, and they're saying the part is small but -

If it's more than a word, you're doing it, he said.

We spent the weekend with calendars, calculators and spidery charts drawn on the backs of lots of envelopes, trying to work out how we could make it work. For me there was a massive mental shift to make. I had previously been wracked with guilt about leaving Anna-mouse for a couple of hours in the Writing Class creche. Now here I was, drawing up plans to leave her in others' care for what felt like weeks on end.

Interesting what you can do when you try. When you're motivated. When there's a lovely goal in sight. Come Monday morning, I made the call: Yes, we're there, we can do it, tell them I'm coming to the interview.

Tuesday morning was an act of stunning organisation to get myself ready (hair a little less scary), and get Anna-mouse to dear, loyal friend who'd rather been hoping for quiet, pregnant day alone. I have to say, Anna-m barely flickered when I left, so excited was she by the prospect of a good bed-bouncing session: I decided to take this as a sign from God that I wouldn't automatically become a Bad Mother if I got the job, and got myself to the theatre as quickly as south London bus lanes allow.

They were running late. I sat at the Stage Door, rearranging my skirt and practising tongue-twisters under my breath. Every now and again I got up and paced the floor. It's a little-taught skill, for an actor, knowing how to contain the nerves and retain the energy when you arrive on time for an audition only to be told you'll be going in late. I was feeling hysterical with the possibility of the thing - allowing myself every few moments tiny imaginary glimpses of What-Could-Be - but I was damned if I was going to peak early...

Well, I honoured the adage: I did my best. I came out fizzing, popping, wondering - did I get the job? Did I get the job?

I'm still wondering. I've been wondering all week long. We got to Friday and I thought, Surely I won't have to go through another weekend with the possibility of this dangling before me? But I do have to. I'm bad-tempered and irritable and full of gushy love for my nearest and dearest one minute, and unable to be in the same room as them the next. I'm ridiculous! It's just that... it would change life so very, very much I feel I'm in some strange place of limbo until I know.

So... watch this space.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Happiest of New Years

Being in the extraordinary situation of home alone minus partner and child, I've just had the best time running around all my favourite blogs and saying hello. Astonishing to have the simple gift of time, and space around that time, to do what I want to do.

That's not to say that I don't feel strange. I do. Surprisingly, even though I lived a solitary life for years and years, now that I do have two lifelong 'attachments', so to speak, downtime alone is quite frankly odd.

An amputee sits before you. In fact, it's a wonder I can type at all, what with so many severed limbs. How do they happen, these for-better-or-worse-bonds, so watertight no amount of therapy, distance or even death can dissolve? Here I am, in Kent, and there they are, in Cork, and yet there is a strong, palpable line running straight from here to there between us.

Two memories come to answer me. Both beat with love. The first - Anna-mouse's entrance, literally days after the comic "Water, water!" moment with which I woke the Bim (who went to fetch me a glass) - the prelude to my weekend in labour. They laid her on my belly and with her characteristic, thoughtful gaze she stared up at me, blinking. There and then it was sealed: I was hers forever, let alone she mine.

And the precursor to that - the last moments of a second date with the tall, awkward young man who had walked me home to the Cathedral B&B up Shandon Street to whom I was saying "Don't even think about kissing me..." so confused was I to find someone so utterly different and apart from, and yet familiar, to me. Yes, the lady was protesting too much and within weeks, again, it was sealed.

Some things we can't fight. Why would we want to? And yet we do. When you've been addicted to drama, as I was for years, it takes a while to learn that happy - content - is not boring.

And so we enter another year. It's a wintry afternoon with a watery sun. The world seems live with possibility, as it always appears to me at the start of a new year. I reach for my tea and name my blessings, whispering their names, slowly, with love.

Happy New Year.