“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…”.