“She likes playing with the toy kitchen,” says Frances. “Are you cooking Mummy something to eat? Are you?” They have the lounge to themselves, no other residents are about and the staff are all behind the closed office door.
“Peek-a-boo,” she says to Mia, “peek-a-boo, where’s he gone?”
The forecast today is badly wrong. Had it predicted blue skies and white clouds I might have gone instead to photograph for some of my commissioned projects. So I’m feeling vaguely guilty that I should be somewhere else.
“Shall we go outside?” I suggest.
“Shall we go outside?” Frances repeats to Mia in a sort of singing voice. “Shall we?”
“What happened about the £200?” I ask as we make our way across the patio.
“The police haven’t been to pick up the tape yet,” says Frances. Probably not high on their priorities.
Mia is yelping as Frances leads her onto the lawn. She plonks herself down and starts pulling at the grass which needed mowing last week. “Have you picked a nice flower for your mummy?” asks Frances.
We are off on holiday in a couple of weeks and this will be the last time I’ll see Frances for a while. As far as I know, she has no plans for a break.
“When you were a kid, did you ever go on holiday?”
“There were days out with my mum and sometimes my brother. On the train or the coach to North Wales. Prestatyn or Rhyl. You have to be careful, there are red ants on here,” she says as I settle myself on the grass. “But we never stayed overnight. I can never remember much about those days out.”
“You don’t have any fond memories of it?”
“Hiya Mia. Hiya Gorgeous.” One of Frances’ neighbours is calling to us from an upstairs window. “Shall I bring Joshua down?” the young woman asks.
“Joshua is like Mia’s boyfriend,” Frances explains. “Him and his mum live next door and Mia is always knocking on. They have a love-hate relationship: robbing each other’s crisps and stuff.”
Within a few minutes four or five young mums are outside with their children. All the toddlers are girls apart from Joshua, he is the only boy in the whole place.
I realise that, for the last nine months of calling round, I have barely seen any of Frances’ neighbours in this supported accommodation for young mums. Now it all comes thick and fast. I’m soon trying to match the names of the mums and their children as I get introduced.
Jasmine is desperate to get hold of my camera. “Mine, mine,” she says each time I put it up to my eye, refusing to allow me to point the camera anywhere other than in her direction.
“Would you like me to take a photo of you all together?” I suggest, thinking that this group of new parents will, before long, be split up and all go in different directions. “I can make some prints and send them over.”
“Will you?” someone says.
They all sit together on the grass, some more enthusiastic than others. “Smile, look at the man’s camera,” one of the mums says.
continued in ‘Good days and bad days’…