Thursday, October 02, 2008


Little thing of heart so brave and full, she leaves me standing.

Literally, as I let the kite go and it drops and trails and then, as if taken by the sheer force of her will as she pelts at full tilt into the wind, it begins to fly.

It's up Anna-mouse! I scream. Yes! That's it! It's flying!

She glances behind to see the red and yellow ninety-nine pence splendour raised aloft and runs even faster on, on along the cliff top, to keep the thing up there. People stop to watch this tiny wonder hurtling past. She is oblivious to all but the wind. People are clapping now, laughing, and I run behind, catching her plaudits and applause.

Brilliant! calls a man as he gets into his car. Brilliant! he says, as we fly past.

She raises smile after smile, and I am crying out and laughing and revelling in try after try as she gets better and better at getting the kite to fly. Eventually she discovers that if she just believes and runs fast enough, she can get the thing up and flying behind her by herself.

Her perseverance is a wonder to me. All day this moment has been her goal. Never mind the paddling, the picnic, the icecream; never mind those. The thing she wants above all else(following a failed attempt a few months ago), is to get her kite to fly.

It is as perfect a moment of childhood as one could hope to make. For both of us. Its memory renders me almost speechless with love.

All week the image of my four-year-old running, running with her kite on that breathtakingly lit Sunday afternoon pierces my sad soul and heals, each time I think of it, a small, kite-sized piece of sadness there.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Seven times Seven

Just when my spirits needed a little pick-me-up, I find I have been awarded an award by a reader new to my blog. Bush Mummy, who runs a charming blog of her own, has given me this lovely heart pic and asked me to answer the following seven questions with seven word answers.

It just so happens that I love seven. Seven is my talisman, my number, the way I think. It's odd, it's romantic, it's more than six.

And as it turns out, it's nice to have the chance to write a post which although of course about me, causes me to look at the bigger picture of the person previously known as Liv...

London's South Bank, playing the National Theatre

Try to get to bed before 1am.

I am, in spirit. I have Anna-mouse.

Salford, St. Andrews, Camberwell, Cork, my head.

Going to bed too late, Procrastination, Impatience

Olives, crackers and cheese - late at night.

Emergence - a new blog - great spirit, great heart
Reluctant Memsahib - recently discovered, revel in her fine writing
Stay at Home Dad - because I want to read him again

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Heart Listening

Courage is the price that Life exacts for granting peace.
Amelia Earhart, American aviator, 1898 - 1937

Why should it be that courage comes so much more easily when life appears to be falling apart?

I could just say I don't know. Lately, I have been aware of the insidiousness of those words I don't know. It's a great cover, the fence-sitting, uncommitted, undecided place of I-don't-know. Mad-makingly, it's what the Bim said, when I asked him those raging questions - But why? Why?

I have come to believe that we are often not being entirely truthful when we say 'I don't know'. I think we are more often talking about what we cannot bring ourselves to acknowledge or to say out loud. I think that we - I - frequently do know, we simply choose to live parallel lives with the information we can cope with, rather than act on the more uncomfortable knowledge our instinct comes up with all the time. Even good information can feel too much, too outlandish, at times. We seem to have grown rusty in the art of listening to our instinct. We don't live by the moon anymore, and the city cement deadens the voices of our hearts.

Take me. All summer I had an eerie sense of gloom about the Bim and me. I can write it now because I know why now, but although I was aware of this feeling, I couldn't actually live it. I couldn't stop everything, sit the Bim down and say 'Now what's all this about?'. I should have done, of course. I should have paid attention to myself. To us.

This summer's gut feeling was as powerfully negative as it was overwhelmingly positive in the twenty-four hours before
I met the Bim for the very first time. I remember walking down Cork city's Shandon Street almost shaking with expectation, thinking This is odd... Because it was such an exciting feeling I was more inclined to go with it than the more recent offering, but even then I could not quite believe, until the Bim was there buying me a glass of Guinness, that some better, higher part of me just knew.

So one small, upbeat piece of news is this: I have started to listen to my instinct. Because of this, in the profound sadness which backdrops my days, I meet moments of peace. Scarily, what I've discovered is that if you listen to your instinct, you frequently have to act on it, too, so true to this discovery the last few weeks have seen me handing in my resignation; making a commitment to writing in a way that I have not previously done; handing in a proposal to get my job back in a form that would enable me to do that (freelance, part-time, doing the bits I like and handing on the rest) and writing my very first magazine article whose commission I got myself. (Okay so they're not paying me, but they're printing me. I'll work out the money thing later.)

And what of the Bim and me? Ah, well, that may take a little longer to fathom. I am listening, but my instinct is still saying 'I don't know'. We have separated ourselves out a little. We move round the house less like lovers and more like friends and we have successfullly put our own troubles aside in order to navigate Anna-mouse through her first ever week at school - but beyond this?

No. I don't know. I really, truly don't know.

Friday, August 29, 2008


She talks, and it's like listening to my own thoughts.

We have known each other since we were eleven, and I want to hear, yet can hardly bear to hear, what she has to say. I know that her clear-sighted pragmatism, softened at the edges by her love, will be far too like the words I don't want to bring to the forefront of my brain.

We are in Suffolk on a short break, our two girls asleep upstairs. Each of us is curled up at one end of the sofa, clutching wine glasses and discussing the awfulnesses of the past week in quiet tones. The cottage is like an old friend, too, and I know that I can just about live these moments within its warm, containing walls. When I speak my stomach lurches as I let the words out into the air, but they need to be tested in this kindest of environments, with this kindest of arbiters: I give her a glance and understand what it means that she is allowing them to pass.

Earlier today I swam in the sea. A seagull wheeled above me and a long, long way down the shore one other lone swimmer bobbed. It was not a sunny seaside day. It was grey and blowy. Strangers stopped to applaud my water entry, for God's sake, on hearing my cold water screams.

I thought it might be cathartic, and it was. For the first time since the Bim said those words last week, I felt free. I was not on dry land anymore, where he was. I was somewhere else, separate, swimming, gasping with cold.

Afterwards my hair was matted. My arms were tight with salt. But it was worth it, for those few, short moments of respite.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Moment of Marriage

I attended a Quaker wedding today. It was light and clear and mainly silent. Its simple integrity was moving. The bride and groom, who have found one another later in life, were happy. I wore a linen ensemble. People said I looked beautiful. I clean up nice, I said, with a rye smile.

It's hard to write about the past week; I think I'll only be able to do this obliquely:

Yes, he said, when I said I know you're lying and you must tell me the truth now. Yes, I am unhappy and I think I want to leave.

And when were you planning to tell me that?
I said, sounding like a bad screenplay. Most of the day sounded like that; most of that day was a bad screenplay.

When I was sure, he said.

I have heard this from you before, I said. I can't go through all this again. I was unhappy for the best part of 40 years, I don't intend to unhappy for the next 40. If you have to go, then go, I said.

And then I went to leave the house myself. You see I had this deadline to get the car to its MOT, which had assumed a vital importance, as unimportant things do in a crisis. It surprised him that I went to leave. It surprised him that I didn't stay to continue the conversation. It was, he said later, at that moment that he realised what he might lose. Er, that would be me and Anna-Mouse and all that I thought you held dear, dear. Though I don't know what I think anymore. It's hard to know what to think when people lie.

I drove with speed up the road. He called me and asked me to pull over. He talked, I shouted. I think every single thing I said for the next fifteen minutes was shouted. It was a shouty conversation. But a couple of hours later I was sane again and he had found someone professional to talk to, who might help with the anger and the lying and he had told her no, there is nothing there, I want to be with my wife and family, and he was looking very very serious.

I went out and tried to get drunk and told him I'd think about it.

The thing is, we married. We had a child. We are married. We have a child. Otherwise, I'd be outta here (it's odd, this urge to bad film-speak language. I think it helps me not to feel).

Part of me wants to behave as irresponsibly as him. Hit back, kick back, go and snog someone, take the child and run. Or make him go back to Ireland and be a very brave single mum. The better part of me, the person who made herself attend the Quaker wedding today, when a wedding was the last place I wanted to be, who had to have a cry in the car park so that she could go into the Meeting House with a smile, thinks this: isn't this type of thing, this very moment of marriage, what those vows I took so seriously were made for? Isn't this why we said those things, to stop us running away at the very moment we most want to?

Something wonderful about a Quaker wedding is that everyone present is asked to sign the Quaker Marriage Certificate, which is then given to the bride and groom as a keepsake. Their vows to one another are also written on the parchment. It is an important touch, I think. I wish I had the same record of the dear witnesses at our wedding. And I'd like to re-read those bloody vows.

When it came to my turn to sign, I found myself hesitating over which name to sign. When I got married I did not automatically lose my maiden name, because it was my stage name and therefore the one I have always used professionally. This occasionally causes confusion when I can't remember which name I've given but generally satisfies the part of me that never wanted to lose my independent identity.

'Livvy..' I began in my best handwriting. And then I watched my right hand spell out the surname I inherited five years ago when I signed my life up to the sad, funny Irishman asleep upstairs.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008


My mother Esme couldn't make Anna-mouse's birthday this year. Some pixie pushed her down the stairs on her way to the loo in the middle of her first night's stay with my brother in his rented Italian villa, and wouldn't ya know it, she fractured her arm in three places and badly sprained her ankle. Ah, the joys of chemotherapy's side effects: it's a bit like that song, 'Your hip bone's connected to your thigh bone'... she falls because she can't feel her feet, and she can't feel her feet because of the peripheral neuropathy and she has peripheral neuropathy because she had chemotherapy and she had chemotherapy because she had cancer, and she had cancer because - gosh, I'd make alot of money if I could answer that one, and maybe save alot of people alot of heartache.

Anyway, I digress. Or should that be, for long-term readers, 'obsess'?

Esme couldn't travel for Anna-mouse's birthday treat this year (a trip to the seaside instead of a party - all that enforced social interaction and themed table napkin stuff just doesn't appeal to my free-thinking just-four-year-old, which, in my recent strange and fragile state of mind, was privately a blessed relief). So I took Anna-mouse to Esme, instead.

None of your Barbie nonsense for Esme! She decided in her inimitable way that it was of enormous importance that Anna-mouse be taken out to lunch at Kenwood House in North London, and thence into the wonderful Adams-designed house to see Esme's favourite painting - a luminous self-portrait by an elderly Rembrandt.

I have always nursed a special affection for Kenwood, with its studied grounds dipping down to the lake; its cake-top house and its small but special art collection. There are rooms full of oils of varying eras, the best of these arguably the Rembrandt and a small Vermeer. I used to come here alone on the 210 bus as a dreamy teenager and wander the elegant halls.

So it is quietly moving for me to come here with Anna-mouse and Esme, especially in my present, reflective state. This became doubly so when we took our slow, uneven perambulation round the house to its entrance - me in the middle flanked by daughter on one side and mother on the other. We have made many such walks over the last year and a half, and I am aware that our mutual progress has slowed as Esme's strength fades, almost imperceptibly, like the air from one of Anna-m's balloons, which bob around the playroom for days after their initial, first-day glory until they die with a desultory pop to my midnight knife.

We stop at a bench framed by two huge pots of agapanthus for Esme to rest. Anna-mouse runs this way and that on the wide lawn in front of us and then comes to flop at her Granny's side. Esme begins to tell Anna-mouse about my gymnastic prowess when young.

And your mummy used to do cartwheels! Do you know what a cartwheel is?

Anna-mouse looks at me no small degree of admiration, and then shakes her head.

I bet you can't still do them, can you? says Esme to me. Can you? It would be lovely if you could show her.

Of course I can! the girl in me cries. The nearer-to-fifty-than-forty-year-old Livvy does a couple of quick, sensible shoulder rolls and then, in a glorious moment of frozen time, I throw myself at the lawn, the challenge and my own, disappeared past and show Anna-mouse not one, but two beautiful cartwheels.

Esme cheers. Anna-m takes up the gauntlet and rolls around the lawn showing her Fifi knickers, shouting But look at what I can do!

After a moment of pain-free triumph, I feel my entire body jar and I know that I'm lucky to have escaped serious damage. Esme and Anna-mouse continue their way to the house entrance with me trailing behind, making 'ouch!' faces, and rubbing my thigh.

But only when they're not looking.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Missing Myself

I've been missing myself.

It came to me finally a couple of nights ago. Three in the morning, insomniac, seeking comfort in Anna-mouse's room. I sat on the chair at the end of her bed and breathed in the sweet, peaceful darkness.

What happened, I wondered, what happened to you, Liv?

Where's that nervy, excitable, energetic girl who, yes, could be and was plagued by a darker, depressive side but who nevertheless had adventures! Where's that strong, singular creature who danced naked on rooftops in the rain; knew how to move an audience with a turn of the head; smoked, drank gin, made love with more than one man in a day? Where's that flat-stomached, muscular girl who could get away with that gorgeous little sundress - the girl who never, never looked her age?

It's a thoughtful place to be, the mid-forties. It's a reflective time. I've been forced to reflect after a quarter of madness. Four ridiculous months spent in an escalating state of imbalance with myself, my family, my life.

How are you? said the wise lady doctor this evening. I could tell by the way she was looking at me that I must have been very very bad, those three weeks ago when I could hardly breathe. I reminded myself before I went in today that I didn't have to make myself sound better than I am to this person, like I do to so many others. That I wasn't going to worry her if I didn't sound too positive.

I discovered as I talked that it isn't that I'm not positive - just that I have a silken shawl of many melancholic colours of sadness about me. The lady doctor wants to see me again in September, after I have re-started The Job.

Ah, the Job. Well as it turns out I couldn't have decided to make a bigger life-change and - hands-up - I entirely underestimated what its effect would be. Everything about the situation was change, from the Bim and me swopping places (me the main breadwinner, him at home with Anna-m, with all the endless guilt that entails); to being behind the footlights rather than in front of them; to having a pay cheque at the end of month - which, after thirty years of freelancing evoked in me a surprising degree of ambivalence - and finding myself organising for other people to be creative, rather than being the one organised for.

The first, honeymoon weeks were a joy. I couldn't believe my luck, couldn't believe how much I loved the Job. I threw myself into every task asked of me with gusto. Quite how I went from this to working fourteen long, long days on the trot, lurching from one sickening deadline to another and barely laying eyes on my family is... strange.

I hit a wall. One day I was this super-efficient, impressive newcomer, the next I was staring at my laptop quite unable to go on. I have to stop, I thought. I have to stop now.

I walked out to my car and phoned a friend. Go home, she said. You must go home now. My dear, special boss thought a long weekend would do it, but three days of sleeping and weeping later the wise lady doctor was writing me a Sick Note for 'Work-related Stress'. A counsellor friend of mine was appalled: How long have you been in the job? she said. Well it doesn't take very long to lose yourself when you're not looking.

And still I couldn't stop. That's the thing about nervous exhaustion, you may be exhausted, but the nerves run high. (I like to think I've been 'nervously exhausted' - wish she'd written that on my sick note; it evokes a gentler, more romantic age of illness, Katherine Mansfield's, perhaps, or Keats'). I insisted on staggering into work a few more times; had several helpful discussions with lovely boss; by sheer strength of concentration managed to complete a couple of outstanding duties and finally, finally, weary, battered and considerably drugged against the rising panic in my chest, got myself to holiday time.

So here I sit, ten days since. There's a cat beside me, lightning outside and the heat hangs heavy. I shouldn't be up this late - it's part of my new thing, not to be, at least until I come right again - but the words wanted out tonight, and who am I to argue?

The answer is that I don't know.

I do know that love beats keenly in me these days, now that I have the space to feel it. For my extraordinarily beautiful, skipping child. For the Bim. For my two flawed families and, most particularly just now, for my friends. I miss my friends. I miss some of them so much it hurts. Especially the ones who knew that Liv then, the younger Liv, the one I'm trying to reclaim.

There's obviously a trick to ageing. You don't have to know it when you're young - you wouldn't understand it then anyway. It's something to do with holding a sense of the bigger picture - of the long view. Otherwise it becomes all about the moment and the immediate feelings. But I don't think it can be done without review. My review list, the one I might write in the morning, goes like this:

Spend time with husband and child. You feel better this way.

Sleep, eat well, sleep.

Start to write again.

Contact your friends. The ones who shared the gin and cigarettes, who know what you looked like naked, or wished they did, who saw the performances, kept the faith - the ones who will forgive the long silence.

Tell the friends: Liv has been missing herself. Perhaps you could help find her?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


Is it because I see my child less these days that I revel in her even more?

She is three-and-three-quarters, but if you asked her she'd say three-and-a-half because she likes the sound of it better. 'Three-and-a-half' is bragged about with pride; 'three-and-three-quarters' dismissed with scorn.

She likes to dance (Let's do a welaxing dance to the bathroom, Mummy). She'll rip off a sock and dance barefoot in fruit puree at the drop of a hat.

Magazines are still mazagines, croissants are crustles: I hold on tight to these anomalies, like I hold on to her when she lets me. I don't correct her because I know that her fierce articulacy won't keep her ignorant of them for much longer.

She has a host of imaginary friends, the most vivid of whom is her Uncle Norgat, who has been there, done that - whatever it is, Uncle Norgat's got there first. I am deeply, irrationally fond of Uncle Norgat.

Occasionally, like tonight, when I'm singing the goodnight songs by her tiny bed, she sticks out a hand, asking for mine, and there we are in the dark, hand-holding, sleep-falling, until her breathing stills to a steady rise and fall, and I make myself let go.

I love three-and-three-quarters.

Friday, March 21, 2008

At Home to Mr Shingles

My mother Esme looks old and ailing. I am pained by the stories in her face. 'Shingles' ought to be a playground game, or the name of a children's entertainer.

She hands me the tiny volume as I busy to leave:
Shakespeare's Merry Wives soft-leathered in miniature.

We both know why
, she says.

The job that saved her, all those years ago.

On the cover, four tiny words: The Play's the Thing.

Thursday, March 20, 2008


It's glossy. There are stars! It looks far better than I thought it would.
I knew what it was by the postmark, but it was still thrilling.
It's slim but undeniably book-like: the paper smells new-made.
First timer, that's me!
It's probably my best, sweetest and quietest triumph.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Five Lines

What shall I do? I asked dearest Dee over drunken dinner (you can tell it was tonight, that's quite a bad sentence, alliteratively speaking). I love my blog; I love my blog readers. My blog is what taught me to take my writing seriously, it's the best thing I've done in years - and I am stretched so thin I don't know how to keep writing. What shall I do?

Write five lines, she said. Regularly. Commit to that. If you just write five lines...

Dee's good on ideas.

So here they are. Tonight's Five:

I have become one of those juggling people you read about in the papers.
Our lives have turned themselves upside down.
I feel as though I have grown limbs, each one pulled for a piece of my time.
I weep for the moments I no longer have with Anna-mouse.
And I .. ( go on, Liv, say it)... I love my new job.

Sunday, February 17, 2008


I have been offered a job.

I, Livvy U, who has never had a proper job in my life; who has remained avowedly freelance through thick and, let's face it, lots of thin; who turned down jobs-a-plenty in those faraway days when I went out to temp to stay true to my vocation as an actress - I, who had my doubts, re-trained, and still clung to my Schedule D number, my pathetic list of expenses and a fading sense of myself as a dyed-in-the-wool bohemian - that same Livvy has been offered a job.

A job-job. A titled job! A job-job with a salary!

For those who have never trodden the freelance path, it must be hard to imagine the magnitude of this change, but change for me it would be in profound and subtle ways. These ways drove me to spend most of the week before the interview in a darkened room, holding my head and agonising over just how much, and what constituent parts, of my artist I would be abandoning by taking this job, were I, who had not a hope in a million, to be offered it. Would I ever act again? Did I really want to give up the driving passion of my life before the Bim and Anna-mouse came along? Would there be time to continue writing, my newest-found love?

Then there were the nights spent agonising over the hours. I did not want a full-time, 37 hours a week, 52 weeks of the year job. I knew this. This much was clear. Rushes of guilt swept over me at three in the morning that I could even be thinking about leaving Anna-mouse for this amount of time, let alone compromising the re-built, fragile closeness with the Bim.

On the Saturday before the Monday interview I told the Bim that I did not want the job.

He said, like everyone else, that I must attend the interview. "Ok, ok," I said, in a bad-tempered kind of way, knowing that he was right and that I had to, just to see the wretched process through.

On Sunday night I got out all my old Community Dance Studies files (because I had, after all, got a Distinction, I'd simply never used the knowledge, because I met the Bim and... well, you know). I realised that not only did I love this subject but that it is something I feel passionately about. I was born with the arts in my blood, I am utterly convinced of their power to change and empower people... Why not just jot a bit of that down and have a little think about it so that I didn't disgrace myself in the morning?

And then the morning came, and with it the alchemy.

It turned out to be one of those blessed days where every little thing comes together in support of the bigger picture. I could almost see the universe organising it all for me. I could certainly feel it. A friend had told me to go in 'all guns blazing', and I did - but really it felt as if all I had to do was turn up. The rest had already been decided.

It was an amazing hour. I found someone else sitting on the sofa with me, speaking with vision and passion and clearness of thought. Someone whose company I hadn't experienced before. Turned out to be the person I've become since having Anna-mouse. It seems that profound things happen when you let the profoundest things in life happen to you. I was astonished to discover that the last three and a half years have been working an alchemy within me all of their own. Quite something for the woman whose brain became so fuzzed by the initial shock of childbirth that she thought she'd never think straight again.

They began to look at me in a particular way and I began to realise something was going on here. The objections, logistical, practical, emotional to my taking the job began to disappear. Don't want to give up acting? We have no objection to your going off and doing a couple of jobs a year! Don't want to work nine to five because of your daughter? Of course you'll be on flexi-time! Don't want to work 52 weeks a year? Would it make a difference to you if we made the job term-time only, which was actually our original plan?

I don't want to put any pressure on you, he said an hour and a half later, calling to offer me the job, but we really do want you.

Sometimes you just have to listen to what life is saying.

So I said yes.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Comeback

I shall come back quietly - though life has not been quiet.

I will honour my promise, and curl myself round the Bim's warm, sleeping back at 11pm.

I will write just a few words, dear words, oh-how-they-comfort-me-words.

I remember moments of the last couple of post-less months. I remember that I could not write here anymore, much as I wanted to hold onto the precious, un-met fellow writer-readers who come here and are unerringly kind. I discovered that people you have never met can feel close to you, and vice versa, and that this is bolstering and affirming in troubled seas.

It's true that crisis equals opportunity. We decided to look at it that way.

Following the semi-comic tragedy that was a moment in our marriage, the Bim and I took a long hard look at each other, wondered what the hell we'd been doing, and set to putting things right.

The hurt of it all ravaged my immune system and I spent weeks fighting one thing or another, or nursing Anna-mouse through the night, or holding my migrained head in my hands.

The Bim returned to work after the Summer of the Bad Back and promptly discovered he was being hounded out of the building. One night just before Christmas there was a loud banging at the door and a man handed him a letter, Special Delivery. Come to a meeting it said. You are going to be disciplined. You may well lose your job. A couple of hours later, when Anna-mouse was down and the house quiet, we looked at one another and knew that another chapter was over. He resigned the next day.

Christmas with no income, hmmm!

But mysteriously and wondrously we were happier people for the changes wrought.

Once, the recent past came to remind us of what we had escaped - I met the Woman Down the Road in the street, we managed a pleasant conversation, I just about made it up the hill before collapsing into the Bim's arms at our door.

For several, nervewracking weeks we have clung to the vision of a new existence - and yesterday, quite suddenly, it paid off, in myriad ways.

And of course the girl who drives us continues to run into the wind, her hair backlit gold by the winter sun.