Hassan and Mia are still in bed. “Don’t get up,” I call as I put my bags down in the living room. “I want to photograph you in bed.” Frances laughs.
I cheat and open the curtain a little. Mia ignores the parental cooing and looks straight into my lens. She’s not two months old but I’m convinced she knows what I’m doing. “Do you want a drink?” offers Frances after half a dozen frames.
We leave dad and baby in bed and stand in the kitchenette where we exchange stories of domestic grief. Their boiler is still on the blink and despite a visit from an engineer they only have tepid water. “And yesterday we had no electricity for over two hours as the meter key didn’t work and I was on the phone trying to get it sorted.” I tell of water dripping from the ceiling, burst central heating pipes and late night floorboard upheaval.
Chit-chat over, I ask how she is. “I’m okay,” she says. “Still a bit… I don’t know… it’s a bit scary.”
“Like, when she cries. Like, last night she was screaming. She didn’t want a bottle, didn’t need her nappy changing. I didn’t have a clue what was wrong with her. I just had to nurse her to sleep and I don’t want to get into that habit.”
I think about the support we had when our children were babies. Two grandmothers to consult, a row of baby books on the shelf, friends and family to refer to. Frances has some of this and, of course, she has regular visits from Jane, from the Family Nurse Partnership, but I know she feels a bit isolated here in Wythenshawe. She has friends and family back in Moss Side.
I ask about her mum. “It’s gone bad now,” she says. “She can’t even get out of bed. She can’t walk, she can’t get down the stairs. She rang me the other day because the pharmacy had dropped off medication but she couldn’t get down the stairs to get it. I wasn’t around so I had to ring my sister.”
“Hasn’t she got a neighbour who can help?”
“There is neighbours but we don’t speak to them.”
It’s all quiet next door, not a sound from the bedroom. We both creep in. Mia has dropped back off to sleep and Hassan is asleep next to her. Two frames and then out again.
It’s unusual for me to have Frances to myself and I make the most of it, asking how her life has changed over the last twelve months. “So what would you be doing this time last year?”
“I’d be at school,” she says. “Or, I might not have been at school. Sometimes I’d go for a day; sometimes I’d go for a week; sometimes I wouldn’t go for six months.” Frances got grade E in English in the end of year GCSEs.
“How would you say your relationship has been with your mum?”
“It’s got better as I’ve got older. From Year 7 to Year 11 it’s got slowly better.”
“And how has it been since she’s been poorly?”
“We’re very close.”