Monthly Archives: September 2012

Changing course

“You been getting wet on the way to college this week?” I ask on the phone. Really I’m trying to work out whether she’s been going, without actually asking outright. There’s a short silence.

“Well,” Frances says, slowly. “I’ve not really been going. It’s rubbish. I don’t like the others on the course. I’d rather be back at Openshaw. But there I was just too tired… it was too far.”

This term Frances has transferred from the college across town to a new one in Wythenshawe, down the road. It’s not exactly the course she wants to do, but she has to show her commitment to this one and then she’ll get moved to the Northenden campus which should be perfect: right course on the right side of town.

“But if you don’t go to this one, you won’t get transferred to Northenden. You’ll have nothing.” It’s interesting. The longer we do this blog the more I move from objective observer to mentor.

“I know, I know. I need to get down there and ask to move.”

“I was planning to come over this afternoon and drop off the photos from the party. Shall I take you round to the college as well? I could take some pictures.”

Within the hour Frances is leading me down the corridor to her flat. “It’s warm here,” I say, feeling one of the radiators.

“Yeah, it’s good isn’t it? If I leave my door open I get some of the heat in the flat… and it costs me nothing.”

The flat is empty. “So, where are Hassan and Mia?”

“He took her for injections this morning, but hasn’t come back yet. He’s probably gone to Moss Side with her. I’ve no credit and the office won’t let me use their phone, it’s against the rules.”

“Would you like to use mine?”

After she has phoned Hassan – yes, he’s fine and Mia survived her jabs – she sits and looks through the photos I’ve had printed.

“Ahh, look at little Mia… Ahh, that’s a wicked picture… Look at me, proper smiling… Ahh, I love that one where it’s just us three… Ha! Look, it looks like we’re happy but we’re actually arguing… I know for a fact that picture’s going to go on Hassan’s mum’s fridge.”

When the photos are back in the cellophane: “Come on, get your shoes on. I need to get back for five.”

The college is a three-minute drive away but we get caught up in a temporary one-way system set up to install the Metrolink tram lines. “So what is it exactly you don’t like about this course?”

“I don’t know, they’re just not my kind of people. And I’m not a people-person.”

“I think you are a people-person.”

“Do you think?”

“Yes, I think very much you are, and I don’t know why you think you’re not.”

Clare and Amanda, the friends from the party, are outside the college when we get there.

“How’s it going?” I ask.

“Everything is fine,” replies Clare, still in her decorating overalls. “I’m just full of paint at the moment.”

“So why are you down here?” she asks Frances.

“I’ve come to see about changing courses to Northenden.”

“Changing to another course? What don’t you like about this place?”

“It’s just full of chavs.”

“Yeah,” Clare agrees. “Spotty chavs.”

We all head for reception. It’s the end of the afternoon, the college is quiet. We don’t have to wait long before someone is brought out to speak to Frances. This woman surprises me. She is positive and supportive, takes Frances’ details and says she’ll speak to the Northenden campus in the morning. “If I haven’t got back to you by four o’clock tomorrow, don’t worry, it just means I haven’t been able to get hold of them. I will phone you back.”

We all walk back to my car. “She’s good,” I say.

“Yes, she is dead nice but I bet she’s got a bad side to her as well.”

“You’re always thinking negatively about people, Frances,” I say, in mentor mode. “You need to turn this round and think positively about people…”.

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“Wicked.”

I’ve been trying to get hold of Frances since yesterday to tell her the news. She eventually picks up.

“Are you at home?”

“No, I’m at the doctor’s.” I can hear Mia shrieking in the background.

“Is everyone okay?”

“I’ve just got an appointment with my mental health worker.”

“Now then, I’ve got some good news for you.”

“Oo, Go on.”

“We’ve been shortlisted for the Blog North Awards in both the the best personal blog and best writing categories.”

“Ah, wicked.” It sounds as if Mia is whooping too.

“So we’ll have to go to the award ceremony… I’ve already bought the tickets.”

“Ah, brilliant. When is it?” I tell her the date.

“There’s also a public vote, so you’ll have to get everyone you know to vote for it.”

“Yeah, okay! I’m going to have to go because my appointment is now… I need to go in. Ring me back later.”

“Okay. bye.”

“Bye.”

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Back to normal

Frances writes:

thanks for coming yesterday u was a big help not having much of a good day today though i just got 2 rooms recarpeted today but they didnt even change the underlay it looked horrible then i went down stairs to see if i had any post, and the staff started threaterning me about how i always letting hassan walk round on his own and do the washing and all the other tenants are really uncomfortable so they are passing it on to the housing and it could go against my chances of being re housed and that they will have to inform the benefits people. then when i went up stairs i opened my letter to find the housing are reducing my housing benefits by 14% which would mean me paying £23.71 out of my own money towards the rent because they are saying i have an extra room which is rubish because i only have to rooms which is what im intitled to 1 for me and 1 for mia if i had 3 rooms i could understand but it would only be an extra £12 on top of my rent but i am only entitled to a 2 bed room house even if i have another child if its another girl they would have to shar a room untill they are 16 but if it was a boy i think it 12 then they would have to have there own rooms. so i am not happy at all i have sent a complaint letter to head office of dunbar street and jane [the Family Nurse Partnership nurse] is helping me with the housing letter i got this morning.

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The second party

Mia’s first birthday party, final post…

By the time Hassan’s family convoy arrives at 7.20 some of the other guests have already left and one or two of the resident mums have returned to their flats to put their children to bed.

Plastic bags full of ingredients, saucepans and a deep fat fryer are unloaded from the back of the Zade. Two sisters and a cousin head up to the flat to prepare food while Hassan nips to the shop to buy cooking oil which has been overlooked. When he finally makes it into the communal lounge – where the party has been swelled with aunties, cousins, uncles and nephews – he is berated by Frances and her sisters. “Yes, there might be African time but everyone on British time has already been here since four and are ready to go home!”

Hassan takes it in good humour and, to her credit, Frances moves on. At this point in a stressful evening other couples might have gone off on one but Frances holds it together and the two of them are soon laughing and joking about who’s going to open the birthday card with an anticipated money gift.

But even now the cake-cutting – and more importantly, the cake-eating – is delayed until the extra food is ready. In the meantime Frances introduces me to Hassan’s mother, the matriarch around which this close Somalian family clearly revolves. “He’s the man who takes all those pictures,” explains Frances.

Eventually the moment has arrived and Hassan and I carefully drag the wobbly cake table into the middle of the room. Mia is brought forward and I get the photograph which marks the end of her first year. Their daughter is one year old and from where I’m standing I see a toddler flanked by a devoted mum and dad, surrounded by a loving extended family, and poised to enjoy a childhood in complete contrast to her mother’s.

Jacky is tired now and getting restless. She wants to go home. After a few pictures of Hassan’s family, I pack my things. With Jacky installed with her oxygen in the front, Frances’s sister and her kids in the back and the wheelchair folded in the boot, we set off back to Moss Side leaving the second party to get into full swing.

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African time

Mia’s first birthday party, part 2…

It seems a bit weird whisking Frances off in the middle of the party.

“It doesn’t feel like her birthday,” she says as we join Princess Parkway. “It was months away and now it’s here.”

“A year ago you were in that hospital bed.”

“And look at her now. She’s one, and,” she says slowly as if it’s just sinking in, “I’m her mum.”

“You’re doing a good job.”

“I hope so. I can only do the best I can.”

As we drive we talk about the blog, this online story that has drawn us together over the last twelve months. Her First Year technically ends today.

“People have been asking recently when it will finish. Right here?”

“No, next one.” she says, pointing up the road.

“It would be hard to end it now, abruptly.” We’ve talked before about what might happen but never come to any conclusion. “We should keep it going at least for a few more months, to see what happens,” I suggest. “And then you can continue it yourself if you wanted to. People think your bits are the best anyway.”

“Yeah, I could.”

At her childhood home Frances goes in to help her mum get ready. After a few minutes she comes out with an oxygen tank and puts it in the front of the car. “I won’t be long.” she says.

Next she wheels her mum down the path and helps her into the passenger seat. I’ve found out her name is Jacky, same as my mum.

As we set off to Frances’s sister to pick up some more family, Jacky tells me how she finds it difficult to cope in that house in a wheelchair. “I can’t get upstairs,” she says. “They’ve offered me a one-bedroom flat, but I refused. What if I wanted someone to stay?”

It’s rush hour now and it’s 5.15 before we are back at the party. I get my camera out again but Frances diplomatically suggests her mother might not want to be photographed. “You don’t take a good picture, do you?” Her mum nods.

The cling film is off now and everyone tucks into the egg mayonnaise sandwiches and sausage rolls to the sound of Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.

“I’m stressing,” I overhear Frances say to Melissa.

“Why? It’s all going well: the cake’s here, your family’s here, the food’s going down well.”

“I need a smoke,” she says as she retreats to the laundry room next door.

“It’s turning into a bit of a disaster,” she says after she’s lit her cigarette. “Hassan’s family isn’t here and already most of the food is gone. We don’t mind, we know what an English children’s party is like. They don’t. They’ll expected it to look like a wedding. But if he says anything, there’ll be trouble.”

“Just imagine it’s like having two parties,” I suggest. “One party now and another when Hassan’s family arrives.”

Minutes later Igglepiggle bursts through the double doors. Clearly one of the Reclaim team has drawn the short straw. Mia’s eyes widen, transfixed. One of the older boys accuses Igglepiggle of being his uncle.

The mobile phones come out and nearly every toddler gets their picture taken with ‘Iggle’, current superhero to the under-5s. For others it’s too much.

“You like ‘Iggle’ on TV,” says one mum to her screaming daughter.

“Where’s Upsy Daisy I wonder?” asks another.

After equal amounts of delight, incredulity and hysteria, Igglepiggle leaves and I notice Frances taking a call on her mobile.

“What’s the latest?” I ask.

“He says his family are going to make all the food they need and then come. They’re on African time!”

The party continues. In between pass the parcel and pin the tail on the donkey, Ruth gives a little speech. “… Frances came on a project called Reclaim… and we’ve known her ever since… and we absolutely love her and Mia… it’s dead nice to meet everyone… and we’ve got a couple of gifts… the first one is for Frances because you’re amazing and beautiful!”

After mother and daughter unwrap their presents, Frances is handed a large canvas.

“And this is from Ebony,” says Ruth and, by way of explanation to everyone watching, “she was one of the girls on the project with Frances…”

“Oh, it’s gorgeous,” says Frances, clearly touched. “It’s really good. I love it.”

Continued…

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Happy Birthday to you!

Mia’s first birthday party, part 1…

I’m expecting mayhem but when I arrive it’s all relatively calm. Frances, still in her pyjamas, is pulling mini sausage rolls out of the oven while her older sister Joanne is blowing up balloons.  Zane, Joanne’s youngest, is playing with a pink radio-controlled car, one of Mia’s birthday presents.

“Where’s Hassan and Mia?” I ask.

“I’ve told him to take her for a walk… get out of the way for a while.”

Today’s the day. Mia’s first birthday party. It seems Frances has been working up to this ever since I photographed them all in the hospital ward twelve months ago. It means a lot to her.

It’s 1.30 and I’ve come early to help out. I’ve offered to drive Frances to Moss Side so we can collect her mum. Hassan arrives back with Mia and starts to prepare a bottle. “She needs a sleep before the party,” he says, to no one in particular. Frances gives him a big hug in the kitchenette. She’s happy today.

“We’re just nipping to the Forum Centre,” she says, “I need to get some shoes.” Hassan has hired a car for all the running around, collecting relatives… and last-minute shoe shopping. “It’s a Nissan Juke,” Frances explains, “our dream family car.”

While they are out I try to read Mia and Zade a storybook but the attraction of a room full of balloons and new toys defeats me. Joanne steadily continues the preparations: deep pan pizzas are now in the oven; eggs boiling on the hob and popcorn in the microwave. She puts a plate of tuna sandwiches on the floor and Zane helps himself.

By the time Frances and Hassan return, a couple of her old school friends have arrived and help by taking balloons, party bags and silver foil trays of food downstairs to the communal lounge.

Originally the party was planned for a community centre in Moss Side, close to friends and family. But the room’s capacity was limited and so, only last weekend, Frances decided to change the venue to Dunbar Street where she could accommodate more people.

It’s 3.30, the advertised start time of the party, and Frances is now changed into her party dress and sitting on her bedroom floor as her friend Clare does her hair. “Can you give Mia a bath?” Frances shouts to her sister.

“Are you studying hair and beauty as well?” I ask Clare.

“No, painting and decorating.”

“Try and keep my fringe out of my face,” Frances says. “She’s been doing my hair and make-up for years.”

“So where did you get your dress from?” I ask.

“From Kelly,” says Frances, although I’m not sure whether Kelly is a shop or a friend. “And the shoes are from Asda.

“This is like from Daybreak,” she laughs, and then, as if she were a  TV announcer: “Shoes: Asda. Dress: borrowed.”

“Day: priceless,” chips in Clare.

With the make-up session coming to an end Mia toddles into her mum’s bedroom after Auntie Joanne has struggled her into a new dress. There’s an intake of breath. “She looks gorgeous,” says Clare. Mia immediately heads for the make-up bag and helps herself.

“What time is it now?” Frances asks Joanne.

“Quarter to four.”

We all go downstairs where Frances’ neighbours and their children are waiting. There are gasps as Mia makes her entrance. “She’s beautiful,” someone says. “Gorgeous.”

Ruth and some of her team from Reclaim arrive. “You look amazing,” Ruth says as she greets Frances. As director of the youth-mentoring programme that Frances attended more than five years ago, today is another milestone on a long journey for them both.

Party-organiser Melissa is carrying one of three cake boxes. “I had to have this on my lap in the car,” she says.

“I bet you were well scared,” says Frances. The two of them tentatively assemble the three tiered birthday cake on what turns out to be a wobbly table.

“That’s the bummest cake ever,” exclaims Frances.

It’s now 4.15 and Hassan left some time ago to collect more guests. “Come on, we better go and get my mum.”

To be continued…

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Best feeling in the world

Frances writes:

college is actually abit of a let down i am trying to get on with it tho all the girls in my class are new school leavers and act so imature i actually cant get on with them at all they do my head in with there childish behaviour i hope i wasnt like when i was 16 im only 17 now but there seem like there really younger. also i wont to be a beauty therapist not a hairdresser and this course is classed as hair dressing i need to be doing beauty i hope they put me on the next level beuty at the other campus in a couple of weeks. mias birthday planing is going ok everything is done expt buying food but i will do that tomorrow. the problem at the moment is that there is to many people invited and the venue only holds 25-30 people so me and melissa are trying not to go grey and hopefully find a bigger venue in such short notice if not the birthday party might have to be at mine then i can bring as many people as i wont and i can have it for as long as i want its been really busy this week with college and going to the reclaim office to sort out the last bit that we need to do for the party. not long before my baby girl is 1 her first year has gone so fast and mia has grown so much i always look at the picturs of her as a baby and compare them to now its such a difference she has got loads of personality and becoming a big girl. she is such a pricess and even tho she wont have a clue what the party is for she deserves to be treated like a real princess i love her loads being a parent is the most biggest thing a person can do and no one will understand untill there are parents its life changing but brilliant its gave me expirences and feelings i never new id have it the best feeling in the world

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