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…]