Monthly Archives: January 2012

Their own personal photographer

Frances has had visitors this week. The social worker came round and confirmed that Frances and Mia were ‘off the list’. She was, apparently, happy with the way things were going and didn’t think there was any need for continuing intervention. Frances is happy about this. It’s like a good report card, but better.

“Someone from the Prince’s Trust has been round and filled out a form with me about the college equipment I need,” she says. “I’ll get an answer by the middle of February but he said they are not giving much out these days…”

Jane from the Family Nurse Partnership has also been here but, this time, didn’t weigh Mia as she has since her birth. “Surely it’s not such a big deal now?” I say.

“No, but I like to know how much she’s put on.”

“What can she do now?” I ask, knowing that each month, each week, brings a small achievement for a new baby at this age.

“She can roll over,” says Frances, proudly. “Then she puts out her hands and sits up like this. She watches the TV on her belly. Don’t you? Don’t you?”

Frances has made me a mug of tea and asks what I have been up to this morning. I tell about the new commission from the electricity company, photographing a line of pylons going straight through a housing estate in Flixton. It’s being redirected underground and I am following the work. “That’s where my sister lives,” she says. “There’s a field at the back of the house with some horses and a pylon.”

“That’s where I’ve just been!” I show her a picture on the camera screen of the exact same horses in a field.

“That’s it!” Small world.

Mia is lying on a rug in the middle of the floor ignoring CBeebies, listening instead to our conversation and concentrating intently on my camera.

“How’s it going this week?” I ask as Frances investigates the bag of outgrown clothes and toys passed on by one of this blog’s readers. I know there have been complications over childcare. “Have you managed to get to college?”

Because Hassan was booked to do a four-day security training course Frances had organised alternative arrangements for Mia. She explains that events took an unexpected turn on Sunday and Monday, which meant that she missed college and Hassan missed his course. “I think we should leave out the details,” she says. “But I’m definitely going to college next week.”

“Have you got your squiggle pad?” asks the TV.

“So it’s not been a good week?”

“No. But, on the other hand, my mum’s home.” It’s been a few weeks now since her mum’s amputation. But she is now back in Moss Side in the family house she shares with one of her sons, and Frances is clearly very happy for her. “She’s coping well but can’t really get about even with a wheelchair. My brother has to get her a brew and something to eat before he goes to work and, if he forgets, she’ll be without anything until 6 o’clock in the evening.”

I know Frances would like to be around to look after her mum but it’s not easy living on the other side of the city, with a small child and too reliant on public transport.

“Isn’t there anyone else who could go in?”

“Only my sister, Jade. She lives at the back of Hassan’s flat. But no-one else.”

“It’s time to go now but come back to get squiggling soon!”

Before I arrived Frances had planned to get something to eat from one of the shops around the corner. I finish my tea and accompany the two of them to the cash machine and then the chippy. Their own personal photographer. “Everyone will think I’m famous or something,” says Frances.

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On camera

‘Morning Len,’ says Ruth’s text this Saturday morning. ‘Just letting you know I am outside Frances’ flat as her and Mia are starring in the Reclaim film this morning…’

Ruth heads the ‘mentoring-and-much-more’ youth project that Frances attended when she was just 12. Reclaim is how I got to know Frances and, although she hasn’t been officially involved for five years, she still gets active support from the team. Today she is one of four or five ‘case studies’ who will promote the project’s work.

One of this morning’s locations is close by, at Monika’s house but I have missed most of the action by the time I get there.  “Come through the back door,” Monika shouts as I walk up the front path, “there’s too much kit in the way here.”

Any house with small children is already full, so the addition of a four-person crew, all their equipment, Ruth, Frances, Mia (she doesn’t add too much) and now me, pushes the limits.

Monika is a board member on Reclaim, mum to two-year-old Isabelle, pregnant with her second, and counsellor to Frances when she was expecting Mia.

As I arrive, Monika is helping Frances administer Calpol to poorly-looking Mia. “What’s wrong,” I ask.

“She’s got the flu,” says Frances. “I’ve had it all week, too. Haven’t been able to go to college.”

There’s just one more shot to do. Frances and Monika ‘chatting’ across the kitchen table. Ruth is left in charge of Mia and Isabelle. I crouch out of shot on the kitchen floor as the camera operator shoots from the back garden.

As the film crew pack, Frances tells us she is going to take lifeguard training. Lifeguard training! Why not? “I’ve always loved swimming,” she says, “used to swim in the sea for miles.”

I offer to take Frances back to Wythenshawe. It’s not far. She tells me next week Hassan is doing a four-day security guard training course. It’ll be on Frances’ college days. “So what will you do with Mia?” I ask.

“On Monday, my sister will look after her. On Tuesday Reclaim say they will help. Not sure about Wednesday yet.” It’s complicated.

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Peace and Love

[… continued]

Hassan had been wondering where she was. He needs to go out. Frances assures him she’ll be back soon. I’m giving her a lift.

In the car Frances passes on her good news. Her social worker has closed her case. No more ‘case conferences’, no more having to justify herself to strangers. I’ve quizzed her a number of times about the circumstances of her being ‘on their radar’ and Frances herself has never been quite sure. Which, in itself, is revealing: why has Social Services not made it clear enough for Frances to understand this unwanted intrusion. Was it because of the family past, or even her choice of partner? It no longer matters.

I’ve been wanting to come and see Hassan’s place. Before Christmas they were thinking of giving up on Dunbar Street and going back to Moss Side. This is where they have friends and family. It’s familiar.

I’ve been past here a million times. It’s on Princess Road, the main road through Moss Side, one of my routes from home to town. Frances and I walk past an internet cafe, the Jerk ‘n’ Spice café and a worldwide money transfer shop. Hassan’s flat is just near Mohammed Ali’s Peace and Love Barber Shop.

“The place is a mess,” warns Frances as we get to the top of a second flight of stairs. Inside, the buggy reminds me how much they will have to carry up and down those stairs each time they go out.

Frances is right. The place is a mess. To spare embarrassment for us all I restrict my picture-taking to Mia who is lying on the double bed apparently enjoying her four-month birthday. Hassan suspended his tidying duties this morning to take Mia to the local health centre for her BCG injection. Frances is now examining the puncture mark.

Despite them feeling comfortable here, I can’t imagine it being ideal when Mia is a little older. Fine now, while she is immobile – Frances demonstrates how she can now sit up, another milestone surely celebrated by parents everywhere – but it will be different again when she starts crawling, toddling.

Today Frances has been telling me how she has started playing the lottery and what she might do with her ‘big win’. If it doesn’t happen any time soon she concedes that she’ll have to wait until March when the support workers at Dunbar Street will give her ‘positive notice’. She’ll get preferential treatment on the council’s housing waiting list and maybe get somewhere close to the places she knows in Moss Side.

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Her first week

I get to her college with time to sit. They all look so young, so fashionable, even the staff. No! Both hands down the front of your already descending pants is surely not a good look. I resist the urge to reprimand the young man coming through the double doors as I would my own teenage son.

Frances walks across the courtyard: smart, smiling, not a bit out of place. I offer to get us both some lunch and, once she has assessed the crowds – “I hate lots of people” – she agrees.

“How’s the course?” I ask, crumbling a papadum into my mouth.

Frances tells me about getting up at 5.30am, sitting for an hour on the bus to town and then another 20 minutes on the bus from town to college. Her bus pass is £11.50 a week.

“I’m falling asleep on the way home,” she says. “I’m in bed by 9 o’clock. But it’s only three days a week. I should be able to manage that.”

I was concerned about the travelling, for Frances. It’s a slog from her flat to this campus on the other side of town, and, by her own admission, she’s not keen on mornings. So I have to admit to her, “I’m impressed. I was a bit worried.”

“So was I.”

Hassan is apparently enjoying quality time with Mia on the college days, with instructions to keep the flat clean and tidy for Frances’ return. Having observed Hassan’s abilities, this won’t be a problem for him.

“This must be the longest you’ve been away from Mia, since she was born?”

“Yeah. I talk about her all day long, everyone must be getting sick of me,” she replies. “She wakes up when I’m getting ready and ‘talks’ to me. It’s dead cute.”

Despite the early starts, the long bus journeys and the extra expense, Frances sounds really positive, and it’s great to hear.

“I’m going to apply for £20 a week, something like the EMA [now defunct Education Maintenance Allowance] but not that,” she says. “And if I come in every day, on time, for the whole course then I get a £100 bonus. I’m going to buy me and Mia something nice with that.”

As well as the hair and beauty, she studies ‘functional skills’, maths and English. “And what have you learnt so far about beauty therapy?” I ask, not expecting much.

“Well, first off you have to wash your hands in front of the client so they can see you are clean. Then you cleanse their face, wipe it off with wet cotton wool, tone it, dab it off. Then moisturise it, then put concealer over the dark bits, then the foundation… powder… blusher… it’s a big long list. But it’s fun.”

She also has to find £100 for her equipment: hair brushes, make-up kit, doll’s head, uniform. “I need to go to Connexions [careers advice] some time and ask about that,” she says as we leave the noisy canteen. Before we walk through the rain to my car, she calls Hassan. She’s had six missed calls from him whilst we’ve been eating our chicken curry.

[to be continued…]

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New Year resolutions

Apart from the news about her mum, the festive season has been good to Frances. We’ve been missing each other for about ten days but today I manage to get her on the phone and she sounds upbeat with real optimism for the new year.

Their small flat in Dunbar Street was ‘invaded’ on Christmas Day by one of her sisters and her five children, a brother and the sister’s boyfriend’s mother. “Then,” Frances tells me, “we all went to see my mum, plus another brother and my other sister. She was well happy.”

“How is your mum?” I ask, trying to imagine the scene around her hospital bed.

“Well, she’s got to have her leg off tomorrow. Serious.”

“Not the whole leg?”

“Hopefully only from below the knee.”

This is the news that the family has not wanted to hear. Previous smaller operations have not been successful. It’s another two months in hospital, Frances says, and a transfer to another hospital for a prosthetic leg after that.

For Frances it means more visiting but, while she stays in Dunbar Street, at least the hospital is relatively close.

“And what did Mia get for Christmas?” I ask, trying to lighten the conversation.

“Clothes, books, a pair of earrings – good ones for when she gets her ears pierced – a toy buggy from my mum, loads really.”

New Year sounds more sedate, certainly not typical for a 17-year-old. “We were here at the flat in Moss Side [Hassan’s place]. We didn’t do anything, just stayed in. Nowhere to go.”

Frances is excited about starting her hair and beauty course on Wednesday. It’ll be two and a half days each week, so this week, because of the holiday she’s only got a half day, 9 until 12.30, which is an easy start.

Seems childcare is not needed as Frances says Hassan will look after Mia on college days. And he will. Hassan, I have seen, is a very capable dad, getting stuck in with the bathing, dressing, feeding and changing with apparent ease.

“So, apart from your mum, everything is going well?”

“Yeah. Mia is getting bigger and cuter every day. Proper gurgling away.” Frances puts Mia to the phone or the phone to Mia and I hear her ‘talking to me’. “She’s laughing now; holds a bottle; sits up even more; rolls over. She’ll be four months in nine days.”

Four months. That means we’re a third of the way through Her First Year. I feel as if I am just starting, getting to know Frances, and Mia, and Hassan… a little. There’s more I want to do. I need to photograph them all outside of Dunbar Street, at Hassan’s at least, where they spend some of the week because of the constraints at the supported accommodation. I could photograph Frances at college now, or travelling to and from.

Expand the story. That’s my new year resolution.

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