Monthly Archives: February 2012

Home ground


By the time we are in the car Mia is asleep.

I explain why, today, I am driving my wife’s car. It’s do to with her and our eldest son having gone skiing this week.

“Where to?” asks Frances.

“Austria I think.”

“I’ve never been abroad,” she says. “I don’t even have a passport.”

“Where would you like to go?”

“I quite fancy Africa. Maybe South Africa. That’s sounds great.”

“Have you seen what’s left of the bus depot?” I say as we drive down Princess Road, the beginning of Moss Side.

“Yeah, it’s all been pulled down now, hasn’t it?”

“And there is a load of land behind it too. I guess they will be building houses there soon.” We pass the yellow diggers and dumper trucks.

“I hope I get one of those,” she says, “it would be great to be back in the middle of everything.”

We stop at Asda and Frances gets out to join the cashpoint queue as I circle the car park a couple of times. I feel somehow very responsible, vulnerable even. For a couple of minutes I am in sole charge of the sleeping five-month old on the back seat. It’s a peculiar feeling that leaves as soon as she jumps back in.

“Do you remember when this first opened?” I ask. Having photographing it being built, I still think of the Hulme Asda as relatively new.

“No,” she says. Thinking about it, she would have been only three or four. I’ve been at this for a while now.

“Do you know people who work there?”

“Yeah. My friend’s brother works in the McDonald’s; my brother’s girlfriend’s brother works as, like, a shelf-stacker; a few of my mum’s neighbours work on the checkouts; my friend from school worked there. Even my brother used to work in there.” We are passing the probation office. “He used to go there, too.”

Frances points out familiar landmarks like my mum does every time we drive through her childhood stomping ground in Stockport. “That’s the back of the brewery,” she is saying now.

After he’s worked out who it is pulling up outside, her friend Matthew waves to us from his bedroom window. He then comes out in his socks to help with the bags and the buggy. I’m introduced as the ‘personal photographer’ which Matthew and his brother Tyrone find amusing.

“I want to get into photography,” says Tyrone.

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The gorgeous baby

“It’s hot in here,” I say, following Frances into the flat. “Have you had the boiler fixed?”
“Yes,” she says, “but now it’s too hot… we have to keep the windows open.”

Hassan is out at the doctor’s. Mia is in her chair watching Cbeebies. Actually Mia is sitting up, rocking from side to side to the music on Baby Jake. “I thought at first she was just swaying,” says Frances, “but she is actually bopping along to it.” And she is.

I had texted to see if I could take them both to see Frances’ mum at her house in Moss Side but apparently she has a day of hospital appointments. Instead I have offered to give Frances a lift to one of her friends who lives round the corner from her mum’s.

I’ve brought my laptop to show her the final edit of the cinema advert she filmed for Reclaim a few weeks ago. I’ve seen it several times already and so instead of it bringing a tear to my eye it now only brings a lump to my throat.

“I need someone to lend a hand… to guide me on my way…”

As I photograph Frances watching the two minute film, Mia is uncharacteristically grouchy from in front of the TV, unable to see her mother. “Mia!” calls Frances reassuringly. “Ah it’s wicked,” she says as the credits roll, “and look, Mia has her name on it too. I love that.”

I pick Mia up and sit with her on my knee as I ask Frances how things are going. Mia looks up at me, beyond me, transfixed by the reading glasses I have pushed on the top of my head.
It’s impossible not to fall into baby talk. “Why has he got those glasses on? Hey? Hey? Is he bonkers? Yes he is. Yes he is. You are a gorgeous baby, aren’t you? Aren’t you?”

I ask about Frances’ mum (she’s getting better); about the Family Nurse Partnership nurse, Jane (she’s happy with progress); about housing (no change really) and about college.

“The travelling is just annoying. I have to get two buses from here or, if we stay at Hassan’s mum’s then I have to get three buses,” says Frances, “but I have had a cheque from the Prince’s Trust for my materials.”

“What do you think? Will you stick it?”

“Yeah,” she says emphatically.

“And so, Frances, what’s exciting you at the moment? What’s worrying you? What’s on your mind?”

“I really want to get a job. One of my really good friends applied for a job in a call centre, a job I told her to go for, and she’s got it! She’s on £400 a week! Because she’s living with her mum she doesn’t have to pay rent even, she doesn’t have nappies to buy. If I had £400 a week…. I’d be… jumping off houses.

“But I think I am better carrying on with my education and then at least I would have something…”

“Yes, yes,” I say to Mia, who is getting bored with me. “Are we going to Moss Side now to see some friends? Are we? Are we?”

Frances starts the long process of getting ready to leave the house with a baby. She sings along to the TV as she prepares four bottles of formula milk: “… smart potatoes sing with me…” and then, as I have the laptop, I suggest she has a look at our blog.

“Have you seen the blog recently?” I ask. Although she approves the text for each blog post on Facebook through her mobile phone, Frances doesn’t have a computer and so infrequently sees the finished entry. She loves the picture of her daughter in the chippy.

“Look at those eyes,” she says, “and see how she has grown. She wouldn’t fit in that Moses basket now.”

[to be continued…]

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The thought of winning

Poorly children and a poorly car have prevented me seeing Frances this last week. We have spoken on the phone and I get her Facebook profile updates so I know all is well.

Hassan is about to give up his flat to his brother and Hassan will have the room in their mother’s house that his brother currently occupies. I can’t remember why this was happening, but Frances doesn’t seemed too fussed. Although they will only have one bedroom, she says at least they will have their meals made for them. I guess Hassan will also get some help on college days and there can’t be many grandmothers who would complain at having their baby granddaughters move in.

Frances is still spending £4 twice a week on the lottery. The thought of winning keeps her going. She puts a pound on for her, one for Hassan, one for Mia and another for her mother.

The other week, when I had lunch with Frances at her college, I asked her about money. “The rent is paid by housing benefit,” she’d said. “I get income support, child tax credits and child benefit.”

Mostly she spreads her money out across the week but sometimes it doesn’t work so well. “There was one weekend not long ago when I only had £20 left and I needed to buy nappies. They are £10.46 and then I have less than a tenner to get me through to the following Thursday. But,” she said, “Hassan helps when he can.”

This week Barclay’s Bank employees shared a £2.15 billion bonus pot and the government continued to push through their benefit ‘reforms’ that are meant to save £18 billion over four years.

Here’s something from Frances via Facebook:

still going college its all going well im of now for half term its doing my head in a bit all the traveling its to much cant wait to get a house closer still waiting to here from the housing about what band im going to be in soon as that happens i can start bidding. ive been looking for jobs on the internet because i would rather earn my own money but i cant get one with the hours im in college its so anoying the fact that i cant get a decent job that pays more then benefits and out of college hours, even if i did i wouldn’t see mia or hassan much, the best thing seems to be to stay in college till i have finish all the courses i need to do to achieve my ambition at least i will be qualified in something then i can make money. mia is doing great she’s sitting up on her own most of the time im even letting her hold on to the sofa to help her learn for when she starts walking because she loves standing up, she got weighted the other day she is about 16lbs 8oz.

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