“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.
“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.”