I’ve texted, phoned and left a message on Facebook. I could really do with getting in touch with her today as it’s the last chance I have before we go away for the holidays. I phone again at lunchtime and this time Frances answers. She hasn’t any credit on her phone and so couldn’t even text me back. I forget that even the smallest things – like being able to communicate effectively – are restrictive to those on low incomes.
“What are you doing this afternoon?” I ask.
“I’m getting ready to go and see my mum. She’s back at home. I thought I’d go down and do a bit of cleaning for her. See how she is.”
Her mum has been very poorly in hospital: complications following the amputation of part of her leg. I’ve been hoping to get to see Frances with her mum, extend the blog a little, so this sounds interesting.
“Can I come with you?” I ask.
“I don’t think that would be a good idea. I don’t think she’d be up for that. She’s fed up, the doctors have told her she has to go back in.”
“What about if I just come over and give you a lift to her house and photograph you outside? It would save you getting the bus.”
“Wicked,” says Frances.
It’s about the sixth day of unseasonably warm weather. Twenty degrees at the end of March. Wythenshawe is taking advantage: the clothes lines are full, shorts are on and gardens are being tidied.
Frances comes downstairs to let me in. Hassan is on a course, more fork-lift truck training thinks Frances and baby Mia is asleep. Good, I have a chance to talk to her. I’ve been wanting to ask her what she gets out of this, the blog. Sometimes I feel it’s too one-sided.
“I love it,” she says, putting the kettle on. “I don’t know, it’s a really good experience, isn’t it? People have seen me and recognised me from the blog, haven’t they? It’s nice to know that anyone in the world could come across it on the web and be reading about me. That’s just interesting, isn’t it?”
“And what’s it like having this bloke, who’s old enough to be your dad, pitching up every now and again with a camera?”
“You are like my dad,” she says genuinely. “You know, I don’t actually have a dad, so it’s like my dad is coming to visit when you come round. You pop round, have a brew, I tell you what I’ve been up to. It’s someone different to talk to, isn’t it? I can’t really explain it, it’s just… exciting.”
“What will it be like at the end?”
“I don’t want it to end.”
The window is open wide and we can hear kids from the other flats playing in the enclosed garden.
“So, tell me about your mum.”
“They wanted to put her on antidepressants and I said no.”
“You said no?”
“She’s on enough tablets as it is. She’s on about 30 different tablets a day. All those tablets are bad for your liver or something. And antidepressants can be really addictive.”
“I don’t think they are addictive any more,” I suggest.
“I’ve told her she should go and see a counsellor instead. My mum loves to talk – she’ll tell anyone her life story – so she would be better going to the counsellor anyway.”
“And what does your mum think?”
“She doesn’t say anything.”
“So, if she’s not talking, and she usually does, then maybe she needs to be on antidepressants,” I say, knowing that talking therapy is useful but pharmaceutical intervention is sometimes the answer. “I’ve been on antidepressants,” I offer.
“I’ve been on them too,” says Frances, “and I only realised they were making me worse when I came off them.”
We discuss treatments for depression, both of us ill-informed. “Anyway,” I say, “I’m not supposed to be giving you my opinion. I’m just supposed to be documenting yours. When does your mum have to go back in?”
“The doctor says as soon as possible otherwise she’ll end up in a coma, again. But this time it could be worse than last time.”
It seems that her mum is living at home on her own, pretty much. Frances’ brother has moved out and his mate is staying there temporarily but is out for most of the day and evening.
“Once, last week, she fell out of her wheelchair and had to wait two hours before anyone came to help her up,” says Frances. “That’s why I was going to go down this afternoon, to clean up for her, take her for a walk, or sit with her in the front garden.”
[to be continued…]