Saturday, July 28, 2007


It's a blowy, cloud-racing day. It's always breezy in that playground down by the river. Following a week of broken nights, Operation Exhaust (The Child - At All Costs) is in full swing, so I don't immediately clock the funny little girl in the slightly old-fashioned outfit playing with her grandmother.

She's probably about four, quite slight, with a huge, pink sunflower hairtie holding back her dark hair. Her granny is attempting to persuade her to wear a white floppy sunhat. It's too big for her, I can see that from here, and anyway it's way too windy. Anna-mouse's hat never even made it out of the bag.

Anna-mouse is hell bent on a heart-stopping manouevre which involves throwing herself off the edge of the climbing frame, hoping to catch hold of the fireman's pole on the way down. I am a wreck, challenged but happy with her increasing physical confidence and the sheer level of application to her task.

The other little girl is attracted by the climbing frame, too, which has all sorts of ways to climb. Her granny briefly catches my eye and smiles broadly, nervously, wanting to be friends. I smile vaguely back, one eye still on my kamikaze kid.

A moment later the old-fashioned little girl does something - I don't see what - which causes her grandmother to say Oh, that was good, wasn't it.

Yes! The girl replies, delighted with herself. I'm clever!

To which the grandmother, who knows I am listening, hastily - sharply - replies We'll have to see about that.

Will we? I think to myself. Why? Why can't the funny little thing be praised for being clever and - more importantly - for thinking herself so? Why is it so important for your grand-daughter to be modest, at the age of four? What special quality was weeded out of you at that age?

I am quite sure that had the girl said I'm beautiful! her granny would have had no problem agreeing with her in public. It was the attribute of cleverness which so troubled her. This tiny moment touched an enormous nerve in me. As one who could never have boasted I'm beautiful! as a child (I was convinced I was plain for many years. Sadly, I look at photos now and think 'Gosh, I wasn't'), and who never felt her intelligence was great enough to say I'm clever! either, I try daily to infuse Anna-mouse with a positive sense of herself. It has taken me half my life to have any real confidence in my brain, though there never was anything wrong with it. Please God may she already have it!

Oh, let our daughters be clever! Let them trumpet their talents at any age, at all ages. Let them know what it is to know that they can outsmart anyone in the room - or playground.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Haiku x 3

My tutor said lots of good things. One of his best ideas was this:

Write a Haiku journal for a week. Every day, use the discipline of the syllable rules of the haiku (5 - 7 -5 over three lines, for those not in the know), to encapsulate your day.

I haven't managed to write much since. I haven't done my Portfolio writing yet, the stuff that needs handing in on Friday. I've barely written a shopping list. I haven't, as you know, written here. (If I simply state the words 'Leaks, Ceilings, Scaffolding, Insurance and Toddler Parties' a picture may begin to emerge...)

But I wrote three haikus. On three separate days. Here they are.


Last day of class I
throw my hat into the ring.
Contending, at last.


Roof man did not come.
Fractured our day. But our child
hugged us, and we laughed.


New painted wall speaks
of sea. Sweeps 'Sorry' away.
We make up again.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

A Notice

"Livvy U. would like to announce an unprecedented reaction to the previous week's events, something akin to the development of a nasty rash, only on the inside, in her being and brain, which has been preventing her - along with a go-slow by her computer - from communicating in this space in which she so loves to communicate.

She begs her readers' goodwill and will resume service as normal, as soon as she can decode her errant thoughts and make some sense of them.

In this last week, she has glimpsed a wider world and been thrown by it, after spending almost three in the wilder, but known, world of Domesticity. She is wrestling with metaphorical demons and is hopeful of victory, but has presently lost her poise.

Some would advise, never attend a potentially life-changing Creative Writing course in the same week as:

(1)an interview for a television job which would substantially up-the-ante in terms of your acting career
(2) seeing your mother-who-has-just-had-blood-transfusion because so very weak perform in playreading;
(3) receiving your first daughter's first written assessment (Music Class - 'Anna-mouse is a delight to have in the class');
(4) getting drunk for the first time in who knows when;
(5) not getting the acting job;
(6)writing stuff - actually writing stuff - and thinking, I can see it, I can see the future if I choose it to be so - and getting scared witless.

Livvy U. is not known for her capacity to deal with change.

Livvy U. feels like crying. She used to cry an awful lot (she was known for it, much to her annoyance). These days she has to remember how to do it.

She's not unhappy. She's just seen the Future and is scared by it.

Thank you for your indulgence."

Monday, July 02, 2007

Book List

I rise insanely early, feeling like a kid. So early I'm washed and dressed even before Anna-mouse's sing-song cries break the coolish air (Daaaddy, oh Daaaddy!). As ever when we're both around, she is suitably non-plussed when I appear at her door, not he.

But I said... she begins.

I know, I know, you said Daddy. Well it's sooo early he's next door sleeping, so I'm here instead. Good morning!

Can I go and give him a kiss? she asks. So sweetly sleepily I've melted already, and the day not yet begun. No time for sentiment this morning, though. I take her through to the Bim. She curls into the nook of his big arms and deposits a kiss on his sleeve. I note with relief that I won't have to worry about Anna-mouse today. They're reading the one about George, the scruffiest giant in the world as I slip from the house to catch my train.

After numerous changes and waits on windy platforms (won't do that route again) I get to the university site with just twenty minutes to register. It seems I have, magically, appeared at exactly the right moment: my surname starts with the very letter they have just called and I am whisked to the front of the queue like a celebrity at a nightclub. I embrace my new-found status and in a matter of minutes I am clutching my take-out cappuccino in one hand and a large manilla envelope with my name on it in the other. I am beside myself with excitement.

They send me to Room 038, which I take some pride in finding first go. The nice lady at the front of the class informs me that there has been a room switch and that I have, in fact, come to the Effective Writing class. Creative Writing is in another building altogether. I walk in circles for some time before stumbling, at two minutes to ten, upon Room 068, my correct destination. All morning there are small moments confusion as one, two, then another of our class realise that the same error has occurred to them, only in reverse. But I only wanted help with my paragraphs! I could hear them muttering as, one by one, they scoop up their papers and beat an embarrassed, hasty retreat.

The class is upbeat, interesting, stimulating and precisely pitched to what I need. We discuss monologue, point of view, the tricky line between stereotype and character in 3-D. I am in seventh heaven. It all goes swimmingly well, in fact, until the last informal moments. I have spent so long making notes that I find I'm the last to leave. The tutor is there, too, packing up his papers.

That was very good, what you wrote, he says encouragingly as I near the door. I am beginning to approach a feeling equivalent to the icing on the cake. And then -

Who do you read? he asks.

A hopeful, expectant look flickers across his pleasant face.

Er... I say.

He might as well have driven me into a brick wall. Who do I read? I ask myself, attempting bibliographies in my head. Who do I read? And I, who was raised on the classics, who could quote Shakespeare at seven, who once wrote critical essays citing Woolf, and Mansfield, and Plath - I who carried Henry James with me at sixteen, discovered John Irving in my thirties, moved on to Philip Roth, then back a century to Edith Wharton - in that moment could not utter one single author's name.

The question was asked of genuine interest. For my tutor, who I read places me on his world map. Later it occurs to me that had he asked What do you read? I could have answered. And what I have been reading of late defines me as sharply as my former intimacy with the Brontes.

The conversation goes like this:

What do you read? he asks.

Sell-by dates, I reply without thinking. I read alot of those. Oh, and ingredient lists come a close second in those stolen moments at the fridge door. Then there's cereal packets, shopping lists and instructions on battery-fitting - always a joy. Small-print, disclaimers, the fiddly bits on bills. When I have lots of time I read magazines - you know, Woman and Home, Ideal Home, that sort of thing. Anything with a home in it, really...

Late tonight I flick through my notes for the day. The very first note, in big, breezy capitals, says READ, READ, READ. ANYTHING. EVERYTHING. BROADEN YOUR WORLD.

I think I'll start doing that now.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Summer Report

Fellow would-be writers will be familiar with the desperate, procrastinatory 'I-must-clean-the-house-at-all-costs' attacks which frequently precede the act of committing words to paper.

Small wonder, then, that the Creative Writing course I am about to undertake (largely, it has to be said, in astonished response to the many hugely encouraging Comments received after my last post detailing my struggles to write - for which eternal, heartfelt thanks) sent me into a house-clearing frenzy.

Imagine finding 18 hours of University-standard tuition spread over 6 mornings, for the majority of which your beloved supportive husband happens to be off work! Imagine, too, discovering that the course is - wait for it - free. Yep! Gratis. Niente - nothing! - to pay. How can this be? I asked at first. Now I'm just readying up to enjoy it.

I'm a bundle of nerves, joy and guilt, though: I don't like taking time away from Anna-mouse but this time it is as if I have no choice. I need shaking up/challenging. And my energy levels have shot through the roof! All of which, as tomorrow's start date nears, has meant that massive de-cluttering and box emptying has been achieved in an action-packed weekend at home.

Delving into a dusty crate, untouched since we moved here two years ago and probably not looked into for many more before that, I found a batch of old school reports. There were even some from my primary school days. Small, handwritten epics. It was hilarious and only a tiny bit heartbreaking to find the REPORT FOR SCHOOL YEAR ENDING JULY 1972, which read as follows:
'Livvy is producing first class imaginative written
work. She is currently at work on her first three volume novel!!
Hmmm. Right then. Could be time to quit the cleaning, don't you think?