Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Getting Ready to Go On

One thing about my family: we definitely do quirky.

In preparation for the dreaded op on Friday, we all seem to be running around like headless chickens, making as many plans as it is possible to make for someone with a life-threatening illness, with as much aplomb as is possible for a bunch of headless chickens.

I guess we need to feel busy. I've noticed that myself, my brother and my sister have all come up with ingenious little plans to ease my mother's passage into hospital, through the operation, and out the other side. It makes us feel better. As I mentioned, there is great comfort to be found in attention to detail at such a time.

The best plan, though, is Esme's own.

Once the operation is over, and we've managed to wean her off the morphine and outwit the various superbugs waiting to get her if the cancer doesn't, she will be going for two weeks' early convalescence to Denville Hall, which is - wait for it - a Home for Retired Actors.

This must be the only place in the country where admission is on grounds both medical and theatrical. A Committee of Actors meet in confidence to assess the luvviebility of the applicants. Needless to say, my Ma passed with flying colours.

Esme has been in the business more than 50 years. She remembers Morecambe and Wise when they were the Brokers Men in panto - her landlady threatened to chuck her out for having them to tea. She went to drama school with Harold Pinter. As a teenager she paid a penny to watch Richardson, Gielgud and Olivier from the gods at the Old Vic, then followed them herself, many years later, to perform at the National Theatre down the road. Her theatrical credentials are impeccable, and as long as my arm.

It's a whacky idea, to go off and convalesce with a bunch of fellow thespians, but I must admit it sounds fantastic. It sounds like another world. It sounds... civilised.

The Hall is set in several lovely acres of land. It has a Rose Garden and - vital to a recovering thesp's guests - a bar called The Green Room. There is a conservatory, and numerous upstairs sitting-rooms apparently 'perfect for when you are entertaining visitors'. The Dining Room has small tables so that 'meals can be a time for conversation and friendship'. Residents play Scrabble - oh, and Bridge. Hairdressing and aromatherapy come free. And of course the Hall takes several magazines and newspapers each day. Special days are celebrated, outings arranged, and actors frequently attend interviews and go off to work from the Hall, returning for a quick snifter in the Green Room of an evening.

I think I'll get my name down now.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

On Being Irrepressible

This isn't the post I was going to write. I found something much more important. I want to dedicate it to my mother, Esme, who taught me to care about human rights, to speak out when I can, and take what action I am able to take.

Imagine if the next post you write, or this post you are reading, landed you in prison...

Petite Anglaise - who to many will need no introduction and to the rest I need only say 'Go there now' - has posted an important note from Amnesty International about a new campaign against internet repression and its consequences.

The campaign is called Irrepressible.info and you can express your support in myriad ways: Sign the pledge, publish fragments of censored material on your blog (see Sidebar), and become an Irrepressible Blogger by writing a post on your own blog about the campaign.

You can also write letters of concern in several recent cases of internet repression. If you have never got involved with Amnesty before, their Letter Appeals really do have a powerful effect on the governments and individuals to whom you write. It's also very easy - the templates are right there on the site, and you can find yourself emailing the Tunisian Minister for Justice, for instance, before breakfast...

Blogging can often feel like a cosy occupation, but for many it's not. It's easy to forget that when we press the 'Publish Post' button we are publishing to every country with internet access in the world. And that some countries' governments don't want their citizens to have that kind of power at the touch of a button. Naively, it had barely occurred to me that fellow bloggers are being imprisoned for this thing I take so much for granted.

Of equal concern are the large internet companies - those familiar, helpful giants - Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, without whom I wouldn't be sitting here now - who are aiding the censorship of the written word in countries such as China. Worrying indeed.

Petite's post startled me. Enough of the navel-gazing for one night. It's good to be startled once in a while.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Seeing Red

Anger. It used to catch me unawares, like a distant cousin who came to visit occasionally, unannounced. After these visits I'd sit exhausted, crumpled, wondering what all that was about.

Nowadays, it's here. It's shouting at me, in me, from me: the cousin has moved in round the corner, and pops in as often as she likes.

This alarming change seems to have come about a) since I stopped worrying so much about what people think of me and b), crucially, since Anna-mouse turned two. Desperately boring, but true: the Terrible Twos will have their day, even if you've been the best-ever-mother-in-the-world up to that point. It's another one of those conspiracy things people don't tell you about having children - like the pain of childbirth and what breastfeeding does to your breasts. Children behave appallingly sometimes. It's their job. Yours is to deal with it.

Which brings me to today. And how I didn't deal with it. At all. How, after an interminable morning of negotiation, bribery, bi-hourly reconciliations and stand-offs, I could be found sitting on our un-made bed, weeping into my hands, with a certain small person enquiring with disingenuous concern, Mummy, what's the matter?

Ah, Anna-mouse my child. One day you will understand the matter, the terrible, push-me, pull-me tension of the mother-wife-with-a-brain who used to do other things. Who used to be, you know, out there in the world, creating - well, creating other things. Only a few of them successful, if truth be told, in my case, but nonetheless they were thought-about, rehearsed, discussed, practised, creative things. None of them, categorically none of them, as extraordinary and life-affirming as the creation of the person that is Anna-mouse herself - but today as we hit stalemate for the fourteenth time over which pair of socks she would agree to wear, that was not the point. Today, the domestic was boring, and I missed my life.

The guilt - and the anger - which accompanies these thoughts is not inconsiderable. Worth living with for the rewards, but not inconsiderable. And of course writing here so frequently is upping the ante on this inner debate. It's the lack of thinking space from sun-up to sun-down that wears me down. This is the invisible factor in full-time childcare which people who don't do it, don't understand. Sometimes, like today, I'm mad with it, raging like a crazy woman between my gutwrenching love for Anna-mouse, and my desperation to be autonomous once more.

I didn't mean to make you cross, she said after I'd lost it over the socks. Of course not, I say, I know you didn't. She wraps her arms round my neck.

It's just Mummy, I don't say. Silly Mummy.

Image: www.freeimages.co.uk

Monday, February 19, 2007

Trying to Delight! (again)

There has been a funny little drama going on, following yesterday's post - read the Comments and all will become clear!

As a consequence, the dear Directory of Delightful Blogs say they cannot change a rating, once given, so they are removing my first entry and asking me to re-submit my blog so that we can start again.

So if, by any remote chance, you have been on my behalf to have a look and vote for Livvy's Life - may I beg your patience and your good will and ask you to leave a couple of days' grace and then return there when the blog will have been re-submitted. Otherwise you may get discouraged and not find it at all (and I will have a pathetically low credit rating, and cry alot).

My undying thanks. And ask me to return the favour, anytime.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

This is a Delightful Blog (isn't it?)

It's official: I'm delightful.

Well, I'm pathetically pleased to announce that Livvy's Life has been accepted into a really rather select (ok, small) directory of blogs which are, yes that's it, supposed to be delightful. As this is not a word I would have immediately used to describe either myself or my blog, I'm doubly, erm, delighted, shall I say, that I have been welcomed into their fold.

So as not to throw its readers off the scent, this directory, as you may have noticed from the sweet new button in my sidebar, is rather cunningly called - wait for it -delightfulblogs.com, and apparently you can go there and actually vote for Livvy's Life in all its - erhem - delightfulness.

Okay, okay, I'm just telling you! I'm English, for God's sake! All this self-publicising doesn't come easy to me! Don't get me wrong - I love my seven-and-a-half readers, really love and cherish them (you) with great gratitude and fondness for keeping me going on this odyssey over the past six months. But I would like to get the numbers up just a little, don't you think? Seventeen-and-a-half would do.

At the very least, you'll find a host of eclectic, interesting blogs attractively arranged into eclectic, interesting categories and who knows, perhaps you could join me and we could be delightful together.

Come to think of it, we already are.

Saturday, February 17, 2007


Funny how all of a sudden something snaps and you have to do it. That thing you've been promising yourself for weeks. That thing you've been both longing for and dreading in terms of the effort involved.

I woke up knowing I'd reached the point of no return. The Bim offered me a deal: two hours lie-in for him, a late morning swim - my 'thing' -for me.

I love water. It heals me. Always has done.

The pool was new to me, not my local, which was closed for a Gala. It was pleasing, though. A low Fifties building with a sloping, wood-beamed roof and long windows of darkened glass filtering the sharp, sunlit day outside. The water was a tad colder than I'd anticipated, which made me swim hard from the outset. I had my goggles (The world is purple, Mummy! cried Anna-mouse when she put them on this morning), helping me to focus on the task and forget the few swimmers around me.

I soon fell into a steady rhythm. Gleaming skeins of light danced beneath me on the bottom of the pool. I remembered swimming when pregnant; how they were really the only times I felt beautiful carrying Anna-mouse, the water lifting my load and making me light and fast and free.

And then the rhythmic pull, pull of my breaststroke, and the occasional reach and kick of my crawl began to work on me in a different way. Slowly my body began to give up its most recent secrets. Those thoughts I have been holding all week somewhere, some place about my person - but nowhere previously accessible - came, inexorably, to the fore and made themselves known.

I began to think about death. I suppose it was inevitable, given that I was doing the thing I have always used to reconnect myself to myself. I wondered which way the year is going to go. I wondered whether I will be required to grieve. I felt like the child I am, hearing my own voice phrased like an Anna-mouse: I don't WANT to have to go through this! I don't WANT to feel sad! I don't WANT my mother to die!

Only on the way home did I cry, driving myself back to my loved ones, James Blunt's haunting, quivering tenor wailing along with me. I read once in a rather trite self-help book that it's good to let yourself cry on a timer. Give yourself ten minutes to howl your heart out, be as indulgent as you like, let it all out, then get on with your life. What a great piece of advice that is for someone like me, who used to cry for England. The journey was just long enough to empty my heart of its current ache and stock up on a few deep breaths before re-entering the general fray of life where I get to be the mother, not the child.

All day my body has held the swim, swim, sway of the water, though, and is better for it.

Image: www.freeimages.co.uk

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Winter Jazz

Lately my world has been jagged at the edges. There has been alot going on. Not a day goes by without my yearning for the head-space to come here and write, but sometimes I arrive, late at night and aching, and cannot say a word.

I always know I'm not quite right when I start eating an increasingly eclectic mixture of food at ever-decreasing intervals. You know, chocolate followed by olives followed by baked beans and gherkins, with a cup of Horlicks thrown in for good measure.

London freed me. Anna-mouse and I took ourselves off there yesterday for an overnight stay. My nerves were jangly, and my head hurt. I dropped Running-Child-of-the-Many-Negatives with my Ma and headed out to meet a dear friend I rarely see in the middle of the day anymore.

In little more than an hour we drank marvellous Lattes, ate cubes of dark chocolate Torta, and had chats of much depth. I left him feeling lighter, less burdened, more blessed.

Then I ran around collecting little Valentine tokens and such like, delighting in the city's choice. An open air flower stall was selling perfect miniature roses in tiny silver buckets. My mother had courted just such a rose on her sixth-floor balcony for years, given to her by me many Valentines before. Recently it gave up the ghost, so I bought her another and they wrapped it for me in a flourish of red tissue paper.

I sat on a bench and wrote a love-note to the Bim on an understated card of much beauty made of cream parchment with two little cherubs serenading a little red heart. Got it into the post with minutes to spare. And it was then, caught on a traffic island on the Liverpool Road between my car and the post box, that London really began to play on me.

It was jazz. The city was jazz. Cranky and dissonant and beautiful by turns. It was orange neon and undipped headlights and crazy men driving to the tune in their heads. It was buzz and silence and the whoosh of a dirty, rain-filled puddle being smacked into by the Four-by-Fours.

I know this world, I thought. This is my familiar.

And the street was filled with faces of colour and the conversation in the air was intermittently international and I felt less alone than I do on a Tuesday afternoon in Kent Town.

I returned to Highgate, plunging into the bedtime rituals refreshed. When Anna-mouse was truly quiet, and we had supped late and well, my mother and I sat talking into the small hours, as has been our wont for many a year.

We ranged all over: the operation-to-be; the hospital; the management of pain. There is much to be said for the caretaking of detail in the face of the unknown.

And funny how healing is the flip-side of illness: we found ourselves mulling a difficult time in our past, discussing without rancour; apologising with love.

Later, I lay listening to London again as Anna-mouse slept, soundlessly for once, in the travel cot beside me. Being on the sixth floor, the flat has spectacular views south over to Greenwich and beyond.

It felt as if we were being held, high and safe, in the palm of the city's hand.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Heavenly Cards

One of the things I would actually go so far as to call charming about surfing the Web is stumbling across a site which in some small way enhances your life and thinking, Oh! What a secret I've found! - when, of course, by the very fact it's out there, it's not a secret at all...

Indulge me a moment or two.

Click on the link in today's title, be sure your volume is on and have a look at some of the wittiest, most beautiful e-cards around.

Alternatively, click on the Card of the Month in my Sidebar which to her astonishment this novice has, this very evening, managed to install there, and enjoy.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Cutting Through The Dark

Every so often, when the tired week is sliding into the promise of a weekend, there is a small, cherished moment in my life when the world hushes and I can hear myself think.

This comes about during the Friday night drive home from the trips Anna-mouse and I make to see her young London cohorts, offspring of my 'Yoga Girls', as I call them, the women I met as first-time mothers-to-be in pregnancy yoga class. These visits are both exhilarating and exhausting for the two of us, involving as they do 5 toddlers, 4 mothers, 1 baby and 1 nearly-newborn. But after much play, much talk, and a mound of fish fingers, we always pile into the car with a satisfying sense of an afternoon well-lived. There isn't much to beat the companionship of someone who knows exactly what you're going through - and that goes for both of us.

I time the drive to coincide with Anna-m's bedtime. We join the tail-end of a Friday night exodus from the city, and more often than not something about its orange neon crawl, the lateness of the hour and my own relaxed silence causes her to launch into a charming pre-sleep monologue. Story snippets, songs from Mary Poppins, and sightings of Mary herself waft their way from the backseat to me and then, suddenly, I will notice that all has fallen silent, and she is asleep.

Blessed moment. Blessed child.

I am on the A2 by now, headlights cutting through the dark. There is the long, steady drone of the engine. Occasionally, something classical put on low. But I'm silent. Secret. My thoughts are my own. I love the speed of the road after the stop-start of the city. I let others pass me, though: for this short moment I have no deadline. It doesn't matter when I reach home.

Slowly, slowly the thoughts I haven't been able to tend to all week begin to surface, gasping for air. I let them mull about, naked and casual after their confinement. It's not often that anything is actually solved or decided, but this quiet airing in the presence of my sleeping child gives me a pleasure which is rare.

The house is fairytale cosy as I carry her in, a warm, snuffling bundle on my shoulder. There is magic in the air. I tuck her into the cot, she murmurs a little and turns over. There will be no struggle tonight.