The lecky’s off

Wythenshawe is in two minds today. Bedraggled Union Jack bunting is still slung across some house fronts whereas others have moved on to the George Cross, nervously optimistic after our win against the Swedes.

“I haven’t been paid today,” says Frances as she leads me upstairs to her flat. “There’s some problem with the banks and the tax credits haven’t gone through.”

Joanne, one of her sisters, is here today with her two youngest children. Two playmates for Mia.

It’s grey outside and the flat is dark. There are no lights on. “We’ve run out of credit. The electricity is off,” says Frances. “I can’t even boil the kettle to make her bottle.”

There’s a small freezer – new since my last visit – sitting in the living room, just outside the kitchenette. “What about that?” I say, “That’ll all defrost.” Frances shrugs.

“I can loan you a tenner,” I suggest, switching to dad mode, happy not to have it back.

“No thanks,” replies Frances. “I’ll just wait till my money comes through.”

I lift the lid off the freezer. “But that’ll all be ruined by then.”

Frances refuses to take my money. Before I arrived they were thinking of walking to the Civic Centre so Joanne could get £10 from the machine to give to her younger sister. It would be just over a mile there and back; in the rain, with a baby, a toddler and a four-year-old. The local shop has a cash machine but that charges £1.50 for each withdrawal.

While I gently try to persuade Frances to take some money, I take lots of pictures of Mia and her cousins playing, trying to capture her new ear studs in the light. It seems daft to me that Frances won’t let me help out.

“Come on Frances. This is crazy. Let me take you to get £10 on your electric thing.” I’m not familiar with her prepaid key operation. They both find that amusing.

“Are you on a contract for your electricity?” Joanne asks.

“Yes. Direct debit.”

She explains she used to pay quarterly but found it too expensive, all in one go, and has gone back to the pay-as-you-go system. She knows exactly how much she pays each week, each month. I hope she doesn’t ask to compare payments, I wouldn’t have a clue.

“Frances this is hard work! Let’s go!” Still she is resistant. “Okay, what if I take you up to the Civic Centre to get money out of Joanne’s account?”

This seems to be an acceptable solution and soon Frances and I are taking the short trip up the road. I bring my tape recorder, hoping I will be able to hear Frances’ voice over my screeching wipers.

“So tell me, why are you reluctant to take a loan from me?”

“I don’t know,” she says. “If I was at my mum’s house I wouldn’t even take money off her but back in the day, when I was living there, I’d happily snatch it off her whenever I could.”

“Is it because you feel you want to be more independent do you think?”

“I try and make myself get through until the next pay day because if I don’t I’ll just have less the next time and I might have to borrow again. I don’t want to get into that cycle.”

“What if it’s an emergency?”

“Then I’ll ask Joanne. She’s the only person I’d get it off.”

“Why her?”

“I don’t know. I’ve always had money off her. She looks after me. She used to babysit me the whole time when I was younger. If we went to town, she’d end up buying me something.”

“How old is she?”

“28.”

“So it’s a bit like having another mum for you, isn’t it?

“Yeah.”
To be continued…

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