Monthly Archives: May 2012

Parallel lives

We’re in my car on the way to Hassan’s mum’s house when I ask Frances if she is doing anything for the Jubilee. Without looking I can tell she is pulling a face. “Who cares that she’s been our Queen for 60 years?”

I ask her about the Olympics, this year’s other big event that we’re all supposed to get behind. Last night on the local TV news there was yet another report on the Olympic Torch being carried from one place to the next with thousands of enthusiastic onlookers waving and cheering. Apparently the torch tour makes the rest of the country feel part of the London-centric Games.

“I’d rather go and watch a carnival,” says Frances.

Ironically it is Frances and millions of others on low incomes who buy the Lottery tickets that support the Games that they cannot afford to enjoy. The poor are paying for the entertainment of the more affluent. There’s a dissertation in there somewhere.

“How’s your mum?” I ask as we cross the A6 through Longsight.

“She’s back home now,” she says. “She had had a small heart attack as they thought”. Her mum has been in and out of hospital for the whole time we have been writing this blog. After a number of operations where her toes, then foot, then lower leg were amputated, she is now waiting to have a prosthetic limb fitted. “They’ve put one of those door entry things on her front door now, so she can just buzz people in.”

I follow Frances’ directions to her mother-in-law’s house and realise she is effectively directing me back home. It turns out that she, Hassan and Mia have been living part of their week only a couple of miles from our house. The semi is a hundred yards up from the Sainsbury’s I use on Saturdays and the Blockbusters I hire our DVDs from. I drive past their front door half a dozen times a week. Parallel lives.

I say hello to Hassan and, after if he is off the phone, introduce myself to one of his brothers, the only other person at home. Hassan tells him who I am and the website is brought up on the computer, by way of explanation.

On the nights they are here the three of them share the downstairs front room. There’s a double mattress on the new wooden floor and not much else.

“I suppose it’s a bit of a pain to keep taking her toys backwards and forwards from one place to the other?” I say to Frances.

“Yeah, it is a bit.”

“Maybe we should mention it on the blog. I bet you’d get some donations.”

“Could we?”

I don’t stay long. It’s a shame Hassan’s mum is not here. I would have liked to take a picture of her and Mia . Apparently she checks out the blog from time to time to see the latest photographs of her granddaughter.

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Beauty treatment

It’s the end of term and Frances has finished all the sessions on her course but still has to come into college so she can qualify for her bursary. “I’ve just been going to the college gym and to the beauty salon to have free treatments,” she says as we eat some lunch together in the refectory, “it’s been great.”

She was told last week that she has passed Level One and can start Level Two in September. She’s done okay in her maths and English lessons too.

“I have to say congratulations to you Frances, because I did not think you’d stick at it,” I say between forkfuls of roast pork. “I thought you’d be defeated all the travelling, the distance. But you’ve done it.” Frances beams. “I know you’re not a great one for the early mornings.”

If she, Hassan and Mia are at her flat in Wythenshawe Frances gets up at 5.30 to leave an hour later. One bus into town, another one across town – “just saves me having to walk” – and a third one to college. If they are staying at Hassan’s mum’s then she doesn’t have to get up until 6.45. “This morning was even better,” she says, “Hassan has bought a new car and so I had a lift. It’s been in an accident so it’s a bit mashed.”


“You know, smashed in.”

When we’re finished and our trays are stacked, I ask if I can take some pictures of her in the salon where she trains. “I could go and have something done, the second years will still be looking for models.”

The hair and beauty training area is set out like a hospital ward with beds against two walls. Heavy red curtains can be drawn around each one and trolleys with surgical looking equipment is laid waiting. Frances introduces me to her tutor Shona and asks if she can be a guinea pig.

“Will you have a spray tan?” asks Shona. “Or a bikini wax? Maybe an underarm wax?”

None of these are particularly appropriate today with her ‘personal photographer’ in tow so Frances asks if she can just have her eyebrows done. “Okay, no problem,” Shona says, “just wait outside please.”

She has to sit on the comfy seats in the corridor as if she were a client. “Perhaps they should offer you a cup of tea while you’re waiting,” I suggest. Frances laughs as she picks at the dry skin on her shoulders where she got sunburnt last week. “You should get some cream for that,” I say. “But I guess that’s more expense.”

“Unexpected items,” she says, as if it’s an entry in an imaginary accounts ledger she keeps in her head.

Shona comes out to tell Frances how pleased she is with her latest assignment. She also asks a bit more about me. We explain about the blog, about Mia and why I am interested in documenting Frances’ life. Shona says she’ll look forward to reading it and then gives Frances a gentle ticking off for not clearing it with her first. “You won’t photograph any of the other students will you?”

Nadine, one of the Level Two students, calls Frances back in and invites her to lie down on one of the treatment beds. I’m given a chair and take up a position next to her, like some visiting relative.

Nadine’s good. She works methodically for more than fifteen minutes, confident with the paint brush, cotton bud and tweezers. I get the impression she is one of the more proficient students. Shona comes to check progress. “Lovely,” she says as Frances lifts a mirror to see her stained black lashes and slightly red tinted eye brows.

There’s more activity on the other side of the room behind some of the red curtains. Judging from the discussion another ‘client’ has opted for the bikini wax and the trainee beauty therapist is being given guidance on how to conduct an initial consultation. “Listen to what she is telling you. I’m sure she doesn’t want to end up with a landing strip!”

“No swimming, no perfume, avoid hot baths and showers and don’t get a lash perm in the next 24 hours,” says Nadine to Frances at the end of her treatment. “That should last you a week or two.”

Today Frances isn’t having to bother with the buses at all because I am giving her a lift back to Hassan’s mum’s house.

To be continued…

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Mia goes paddling

Frances writes from her new ‘lappy’:

its friday. been in college this week how a dpepressing tuesday dont no y just felt like crying all day wednesday was better my mum went home on tuesday i went to see her she is well thank god but hopefully she wont get bad again and have to go back in i come back from hassans mums on wednesday after i finished collge had a ok night my friend came round and we were chatting and remanising i went in the big back garden with mia on thursday to enjoy the weather was out all day mia loved it we even got to no the naighbours. mia was spashing in the paddeling pool and i was making friends i regret staying out there for so long un covered because i have heat stroke now. i dont think im going anywere today i cant move it hurts tomuch mia is fine tho. mia was being nasty to me tho this morrning she kept scratching me and slapping my legs painfull. There is a take away evening on saturday i can pick anything i want and the staff pay so i will be going down for that and then sunday i will probaly get my stuff ready to go back down to hassans mums.

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Man in tux

I turn up at Frances’ place wearing a ‘tux’. Earlier in the afternoon someone had said I looked like James Bond. Or did they just say James Bond wears one of those?

“You’ll be pleased to see the place is a mess,” says Frances, as she leads me from the reception up to her flat. I’m always joking with her that her flat is too tidy, not photogenic enough.

“How did it go?” she asks. I’ve been a few streets away, photographing the Reclaim graduation ceremony for the Wythenshawe Girls’ project. Two dozen 12- and 13-year-old young woman, uncomfortable in hired gowns and mortar boards, have celebrated with family and dignitaries.

As the young women were arriving in three stretch limos I thought it might be fun if the photographer looked a bit like one of the paparazzi on the red carpet. A bit.

Frances was invited. Her own graduation ceremony would have been over five years ago and some of her cohort were there today, giving out awards to the latest Reclaim graduates. Sadly she had had a bad night with Mia teething and had only got up half an hour before the event started.

“I’ve got something for you,” I say to Frances as I make some room to sit down on one of the sofas. She knows what’s coming and she claps her hands together. “It’s like Christmas,” she exclaims.

Ruth, Reclaim’s director and I have colluded to get Frances online. Everyone who reads the blog likes the contributions that Frances makes but these have been limited to when she has the patience to type an entry into Facebook on her mobile phone. So Ruth has donated a redundant laptop and between us we have paid for a internet dongle.

“I feel like a proud mother,” she says as she logs on and inserts the dongle. “Oh, I am a proud mother already!”

“I’ve already put the web address in the favourites.”

“Oh, yeah,” she says scrolling down the latest entry about her and her small family shopping in Wythenshawe. Although she had read the text on Facebook, this is the first time she had seen the pictures.

“And it’s so small… I’ll be able to take it to college and look really important doing emails on the bus!”

Now she is crawling and pulling herself up, Mia doesn’t let her mum spend more than a couple of minutes with the new ‘toy’, demanding her attention by clinging on to the end of the sofa.

“I can’t stay long,” I say, getting up. “See if you can write one post a week… that would be brilliant.”

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