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.