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…