Four or five pictures

There’s a bread war in Wythenshawe. Three shops in the row near Dunbar Street each has a hand-made sign in the window advertising their bread prices. The newsagents is offering Kingsmill for 85p; it’s £1.25 for a Warburtons at the pound shop and the post office is asking £1.20 for an unspecified brand. Life’s getting tougher.

Frances comes downstairs to let me in and on the way to her flat I ask her about the theft of her ‘piggy bank’. She and Hassan had already saved £200 for Mia’s birthday party in September.

“Sometimes I leave the door open a bit if I’m nipping downstairs,” she says, “so if could have been one of my neighbours. Or it could have been my friend [she tells me her name] who was here last week.”

“Are you happy for me to write about that?”

“Yeah. It’s either her or somebody in here. And if it’s her… she’s not stealing it from me, she’s stealing it from Mia and I will put her to shame.”

Frances points out the security camera in the corridor outside her flat. “The staff downstairs have passed the film to the police. They’re looking through it and will tell us if they see anyone going in who hasn’t been described to them.”

Inside the flat I can hear yelping from the bathroom. “Hassan and Mia are having a bath,” Frances explains. The window in the living room is wide open and some other tenants are sitting on the lawn below, enjoying the first glimpse of sunshine we have had for days.

“What’s that?” I ask as Frances wanders through the room with a smoking cauldron. “It’s like incense,” she says, “it’s an African thing we use instead of air freshener. It lasts longer than those fresh air sprays… and smells nicer.”

Mia and her father emerge wrapped in towels. She looks at me blankly. “Hello Mia, here’s your personal photographer again, come to see you.”

“And how are you, Hassan? You okay with having a picture of you topless in the blog?”

Frances answers for him, “He’s not bothered, he’s okay with it!” Hassan smiles, passes his daughter to Frances and goes into the bedroom to get dressed.

As Mia, still yelping, is put on her mum’s knee for a new nappy, I tell Frances what I have planned for a birthday present.

“I’m going to make a one-off book of pictures from the whole of her first year. But I want to include the birthday party, you know… have everthing. So you won’t get it until later. Is that okay?”

“Oh, wicked,” she says and then, looking down to Mia, “now don’t try and climb off me. What are you doing?”

“There are only about four maybe five pictures that got taken of me when I was growing up,” says Frances abruptly. “I don’t have any pictures of me as a baby. There’s a picture of me when I was about four, and one of my brothers has got one of us all together. And I’ve got one of me when I’m about seven, sat with my brother.”

I find that incredible. Again I think of our own daughter, practically the same age as Frances, and the hundreds of pictures we took of her as a baby. Some are still fading on the dining room wall, others catalogued in those self-adhesive albums and yet more are stacked away, about to be re-visited for the embarrassing 18th birthday party slideshow.

“Have you got any of those here with you?” I ask.

“I think so, I’ll have to check.”

“Maybe you can dig them out for next time,” I suggest.

“And I’ve got one sat with Father Christmas, you know, when you go to the grotto. But,” she says, still with Mia wriggling on her knee. “I want her to have millions of pictures.”

“Why did you never have any photographs taken in your house? Was there never a camera?”

“No, we never had a camera. My mum never even bought my school pictures. I remember, when I got into Year Six I thought, enough is enough. I’d always wanted one and, do you know the ones they put in the classroom window so all the parents can see, well I waited until after school and I nicked them because I didn’t have one single picture of me in that school.”

…to be continued

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