Frances needs some things from the district centre, and I am tagging along. It’s rainy so I’ve put aside my documentary photographer ethic and given them all a lift in my car.
On the way to the precinct Frances tells me I’m invited to take some pictures at Hassan’s brother’s stag night which is in a couple of weeks. “It’s not really a stag night,” she says, “in the Somali community it’s more like sitting round, talking and eating rice. Nice rice though. And the women get together and cut up onions.”
“Cut up onions?”
“Yeah. It’s called the night of the onions. There are two big meals to prepare for the wedding and the woman all come together and cut up onions. I’m going to that. There’s more to it than cutting up onions, obviously.”
I’ve never asked before and now seems like the right time: “Are you two married?”
“In the eyes of the Somali community we are,” says Frances, “but not legally. We wouldn’t be able to live together if we hadn’t had a small ceremony to make us official. But I’d like to do it properly one day, with lots of people, and a big party. But we can’t afford that now, we’re saving first for Mia’s birthday.” I had noticed a piggy-bank tin on the window ledge earlier.
The precinct feels depressing. The rain makes it worse. Everyone is either sheltering or dashing.
Frances and I go off to Poundland while Hassan takes the buggy to the cash machine. Yes, I have been into the pound shops near us, opposite the greengrocers we use, but this is more like a department store, it’s massive. I take shots of Frances choosing hair colour and notice all the shampoos.
“All these are just £1 then?”
“This is a good one,” says Frances, showing me a bottle of Palmolive shampoo for long hair with olive extract. I get a basket and take a couple of bottles.
“Look at these reading glasses,” I say. “These are about a tenner in the chemist’s.” Frances is amused by my apparent glee. I end up with some spare specs, a couple of reporters’ notebooks, and a big bag of wine gums as well as the shampoo.
We see Hassan coming out of Cash Generator as we leave with our purchases. “You sado,” shouts Frances.
“I need to go to Poundworld,” she says to me, “because they don’t do PG Tips in Poundland. And I’d go to Iceland for sugar because it’s a penny cheaper in there.” I open the wine gums and Hassan takes some.
Poundworld is much the same as Poundland. Stacked high with lots of branded products all at a quid. Tesco and Sainsbury’s are really ripping us off.
Hassan and Frances spend some time checking out the perfumes while one of the sales staff keeps an eye on us from the end of the aisle. “Surely these perfumes can’t all be £1?”
“Yeah,” says Frances. “They’re better than the real thing: they smell the same and last longer.”
While we are at the checkout (Frances has bought her tea bags and I’ve remembered we are out of washing powder), there is some consternation as the precinct security guard strides in. The staff relate an incident they have just witnessed on the threshold of their store.
“Did he hit her with a closed fist?” he asks, “or was it more of a slap?” He repeats their answers into his radio microphone.
The security guard has an American accent and it feels like we are extras in some TV crime series. “The cops are on their way,” he says before he walks back out into the rain.
“He’s Canadian,” Hassan tells me on our way to Asda. “Hates being confused with being American. There are loads of jobs in Canada, aren’t there?”
We’re in Asda now buying Coke and lemons. “When I can I get some brandy to go in it,’ says Frances, “but I haven’t had any for a few weeks now.”
Peep. Peep. Thank you for using the fast lane.
On the way back to the car Frances shows me a three-piece suite she’d like. “That one has a chair that swivels. So if you put it in the corner of your room and you want to turn around and speak to someone, you can just turn round on the chair.”
“And how much is all that?”
We walk back to the car. It’s still raining.