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.