Monthly Archives: April 2012

Shopping trip

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?”

“Over £1,000.”

We walk back to the car. It’s still raining.

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Lazy day

“Have you got a smile for me? Have you? Have you got a smile for me? You can sit up now can’t you? You can. You can.” I’m back in baby mode. Click, click.

It’s late afternoon and they are all having a lazy day. Frances is still in her dressing gown and is getting Mia dressed. They’ve all just had a bath.

“Everything is still coming out looking dirty,” she says holding up a Babygro.

“You sound like an advert for…”

“Daz! I wouldn’t mind but I do use Daz,” she says, laughing.

“Where do you wash? Downstairs?”

“Yeah, They’re proper laundry ones.”

Frances wipes Mia’s body and face with cocoa butter oil. Click, click. Click. “She loves this stuff, she’s going to be licking herself all day. Hello Mia, hello Mia. You don’t like milk any more, you like food, don’t you?

“What food do you like?” I ask, half to Mia and half to Frances.

“Anything and everything as long as she can eat it: rice and fish and pasta and chicken… everything. If you leave the camera over there she’ll crawl for it. Come on Mia, come on, what’s this?” Click, click, click. “Big girl.”

We watch Mia crawling, showing off. “And how is your mum, Frances?”

Frances’ face changes, her smile drops. “She’s all right, she’s just… she’s not allowed out of hospital yet. At the moment they’re just trying to work out what’s gone on. They did a heart scan and it came back abnormal. They think she might of had a mini heart attack or stroke or something. They’re going to do more tests.

“She went a bit weird. Started saying strange things, just dead confused. Even when she was in hospital she’d say stuff like, put the potatoes on, really random stuff. She didn’t know where she was or who we were.”

Hassan comes in, looking smart as usual. He’s off back down to Moss Side later.

“Hi Hassan.”


“Is that Daddy?” I say, holding both of Mia’s hands, walking her in Hassan’s direction.

I’m left in charge while Frances gets dressed and Hassan returns to the bedroom. Mia and I look out of the window together at the overgrown grass in the garden. It’d make a great play area if regularly maintained, but now it’s only good for a bug hunt.

“What can you see? Can you see any birdies? Oh there’s one. Can you see any? Can you see any birdies?”

When Frances is back in the room I ask about her accommodation.

“I’ve got my positive notice,” she says.

“From this place?”

“Yeah. Hopefully I’ll get higher up on the list.”

Frances was placed in this supported accommodation shortly after she gave birth. It was a condition put on her by social services: if she wanted to keep her baby she had to move out of her mother’s house – Frances’ childhood home. There was no choice.

Dunbar Street is run on behalf of the local authority and is really aimed at those young mums who are single and, for whatever reason, cannot live independently or with relatives. They are taught how to look after their child and are given whatever support they need to start a new life on their own.

I think Frances being here has been an anomaly. As far as I can tell she hasn’t accessed any of the support services and because she and Hassan are effectively a couple she no longer fits the criteria for inclusion. The rules state that partners are not allowed to stay more than three nights a week and so Frances and Hassan move out for several nights a week, back to his flat or to his mum’s.

And Dunbar Street is too far from Moss Side. Frances feels cut off and isolated from her friends and family. The only up side has been she is close to Wythenshawe Hospital for the times when her mum has been here. So now Frances is trying to move back. She hopes to get a housing association property – what would have been a council house – and has to use some online bidding system each week to do this. Her ‘positive notice’ from Dunbar Street – a good reference which confirms her and Mia’s situation – will give her more points, greater priority.

“How do you bid for them?”

“You just click on them. It’s better to do it on a Thursday morning because that’s when the new ones come in.” I remind myself that Frances doesn’t have a computer and has to go down to the library, a good 20-minute buggy-push, to get onto the Homefinder website.

“So, it knows who you are… and your situation… and so someone, somewhere, assesses the people who have bid and decides who has greater priority?”

“Yeah. Usually you’ll have to do over 300 bids before you get anything. And you can only bid for three a week.”

“300 bids? That’s 100 weeks which is, like, two years?”

“Yep. Ah big girl! Say Uncle Len, Uncle Len.”

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Parenting help

Frances writes:

it’s been a good easter holiday but there has been nothing really to do my sister and all the kids stayed a few nights so my flat was a bit cramped but i enjoyed the company. my sister has been giving me parenting help, getting mia into a bedtime routine and it has worked, well she has 5 kids so she has enough experience but she said she didn’t get how to do it till the last 2. mia is being an angel since my sister come she goes to sleep without kicking off more or less when i want but i try to make it the same times everyday. mia is 7 months now, wow how time passes fast she is crawling better and can sit up from lying down on her own she is even trying to pull her self up using things like the table. i want to start planning her birthday party soon get things ready so i no what im gonna do, i no i want it in a big venue and have lots of people. my brother has volenteered to dress as a clown so it should be fun.

me and hassan are back in college on monday i cant wait to get back to work and learn some more. Hassan didn’t pass the test for the fork lift course so he is looking for other courses and opertunities. im applying for my provisional soon so i have some form of id because ive only got my birth certificate and i want to open a new bank account to start saving for mia and rainy days.

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Her first word

[… continued]

I ask after Mia.

“Oh, she’s hard work at the moment,” says Frances. “She won’t leave me alone. If she can’t see me, she’ll start crying. Unless I’m giving her all my attention then she gets upset. Jane [the Family Nurse Partnership nurse] says it’ll only last a month or so but it’s getting really irritating.”

Frances goes to get Mia from the bedroom. “Good morning… good morning… good morning,” I hear her say.

Mia, bleary-eyed, stares at me as she is brought into the living room. “She’s getting big now,” I say, remembering the tiny baby from only six months ago.

Frances puts her down, holds her arms high and shows me how she can ‘walk’. Still half asleep, Mia isn’t quite ready to perform. “Normally she can walk right across the room,” says her mum.

As Frances fetches a bottle I pick Mia up and carry her across the room, slipping into baby talk as I go. “Hello. Yes, how are you? How are you? Soon you’ll be talking into my tape recorder, won’t you? Won’t you?

“Has she started talking yet?” I ask Frances.

She laughs. “Yes, but I can’t tell you what she says.”

Apparently Mia makes a sound which resembles a moderately rude swear word.

“So, what will you tell her when she is seven and asks what her first word was?”

“I’ll make something up,” says Frances, still laughing.

After Mia is changed and fed we set off to Moss Side. We pass an adventure playground in the centre of the estate, its slides and zip wires obscured by a high fence made out of wooden stakes, like a Wild West stockade. “I used to play there,” she says, reminiscing. “I’ve photographed there,” I say.

Remembering the two large, less than friendly dogs at her mum’s house, I pull up tentatively outside. As Frances is getting her things out of my car the front door opens and one of her sisters walks down the garden path to meet us. For a moment Frances is concerned, not expecting anyone here other than her mum. Her mother had asked for some help, needed some shopping, and so the older sister had arranged for her three kids to be picked up from school and came over straight away. I think she was relieved she could now pass on the responsibility to Frances.

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