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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Like a diamond in the sky

…continued

As if the mention of her name has woken her up, Mia starts crying from her cot.

“Hello princess,” sings Frances. “Hello princess.” I follow her into the bedroom.

“Let me put the light on,” I say, unable to take pictures in the dark room.

“It’s broken. The bulb doesn’t work.” I open one of the curtains instead.

“You have grown big, haven’t you?” Mia looks bleary-eyed at me. “You still tired?”

“Talk,” orders Frances. Mia immediately responds by making a sound. We both laugh. “I love it when I tell her to dance and then she’ll start dancing. Even if there’s no music on, she’ll start dancing.”

The insurance man has now left and the three of them start to get ready to go out. I am taking Frances and Mia into the Reclaim offices in town so she can design an invitation for the party. We’re dropping Hassan off at the job centre on the way.

“What’s happening about the housing?” I ask as she gets bottles ready. Frances is registered on a website where she ‘bids’ for social housing. There’s no money involved, the bid just tells the housing association of her interest.

“I’ve not told you yet, have I? My support worker told me that Mosscare [the housing association in Moss Side where she wants a house] have a policy of not offering anybody a house until they are 18. And I am in band five.”

“What’s band five?”

“It’s the most rubbish. Well, band six is the most rubbish. And if you’re in band one then you’ll get moved immediately. But as soon as I am 18 I’ll be put into band three and have a better chance of being moved.”

“So, you’ve been bidding all this time for no reason? And no one told you?” Frances doesn’t seem bothered. She’s more excited that she might make progress after her birthday in December.

The bath water is ready. “Mia, Mia… do you want to do splashing?”

Despite the odd jugful of water over her head Mia still manages to sing her version of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star while in the bath. “Are you singing to Mummy? Are you? Where’s the quack-quack duck?” After a verse or two Hassan comes in to take over so Frances can get herself ready. These two work well as a team.

It’s not too much longer before we are all traipsing down the white clinical corridor, Mia enjoying the expanse to show just how far she can walk.

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My comfort zone

We talk quietly in the kitchenette because today I’m not the only visitor. There is some insurance assessor here, sat on one of the sofas with a large laptop on his knee. He is taking statements about a car accident in which they both were slightly injured. Seems they were travelling back from his brother’s wedding ‘do’ and were hit by another car, which sped off.

It’s been over a month since I’ve seen Frances. I’m looking forward to catching up on her news and seeing how much Mia has grown these last few weeks.

“And can you describe the car that hit you?” the assessor says to Hassan as I ask Frances about her grandma who was critically ill.

“We all rushed to the hospital when they said she only had 12 hours but she pulled through. She’s still in, but she’s much better.”

“Is that your mum’s mum?”

“Yeah. And my mum has been out of hospital for a while now. She’s been doing okay.”

“Has she had her prosthetic leg fitted?”

“Not yet. I haven’t seen her for a week or so, I’m going over later.”

For weeks Frances has been planning Mia’s first birthday party. It’s now less than a month away and I assume preparations are well advanced.

“What are you going to get her for her birthday?”

“I’ve already bought her loads of things,” says Frances excitedly. “I’ve bought her a wicked little pair of trainers called Toms. They’re like pumps but they’re hard at the bottom – like proper shoes – so they’ll be good for walking. I was buzzing when I bought them. I never had anything like that. I had Reebok Classics from the charity shop.

“And I’ve bought her one of those plastic things with the different colours that you bang with a hammer. I’ve got her a blow-up Mini Mouse chair and a big keyboard thing, and what else?”

I follow Frances into their bedroom where she shows me the presents, all wrapped up in pink paper. She tips out plastic bags full of party poppers, decorations, prizes for games.

“I need to get a piñata,” she says. “They’re £5 at Asda.”

The assessor is still questioning Hassan – “And what is the name of your GP?” – and so we continue our catch-up in the kitchenette where Frances describes how she has transferred to a closer campus of the same college, to continue her course.

“I’ve opened up my comfort zone, stepped out and now I’ve made it bigger.”

I must have pulled a puzzled face.

“I just walked in on my own and said I’d come to enroll. I was chatting to everyone. I wasn’t even bothered. I was like, ‘You don’t know me. So how can you judge me if you don’t know me?’”

“Why do you think they would judge you?”

“Because that’s what I always think when I go into somewhere new. I think they are staring at me and thinking I’m a bad person. But this time I wasn’t even bothered. And I even walked it back. I was feeling well confident.”

The Wythenshawe campus is just up the road from Dunbar Street. It’s only been opened a couple of years but I can’t understand why she was not referred there when she enrolled last year at the campus across town. Maybe at that time they didn’t offer the course.

She’ll do six weeks here and then, if she progresses well, she’ll start Level 2 at the Northenden which is a little further away but still on this side of town.

“But you passed Level 1, didn’t you? Why can’t you go straight to Level 2?”

“One of my tutors marked me down on her reference because of poor punctuality.”

“Did she not realise you have a baby, had to get up at six and had a series of bus journeys that took nearly two hours!”

“And what about Mia?”

“She’s going to nursery!” Frances exclaims, clapping her hands together. “I’m going to send her to the Forum Nursery. But I need to get the forms first so she can get funding. She can be there from 8 o’clock in the morning all the way until 6 o’clock in the evening while I’m at college.

“It’ll be good because she’ll be playing with other kids and she’ll start making me pictures. I can’t wait! I’ll just put them all over the walls. Everywhere.”

Continued in ‘Like a diamond in the sky’…

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Not up to much

Frances writes:

not relly been up to much since the last post mia is good she has 4 teeth now she is such a big girl she is always out playing with her friends. Its her 1st birthday in less then a monthcant wait not really had much contact with mellisa [from Reclaim] but im, going to get in contact with her im hopeing we can find a place to hire for it if not it will be in the big communal area at mine. Ive been buying bits and bobs and a few presents. ive been got to had some good days and bad days i have to go and enrol at college again this week but i want to transfer campuses to the 1 near me so its easier and i wont have to wake up so early and will get home in less then half an hour instead of an hour and a half. Ive benn to see my mum quiet a bit to help her out and taking her to appointments she is doing very well, unfortunatly my nana has been in hospital seriously ill i had a phone call a couple of weeks ago to go to the hospital because she didnt have much time left. the drs give her 12 hours that day but since then she has managed to get better and she is recovering but she is still in hospital. me and hassan have been spending lots of time together at home he is good nothing has really changed in his situation. had some bad things happen like no change in my housing im still bidding i found a 2 bedroom house on the next street to my mums i bid for it and i wanted to send a letter but everytime i asked the staff to help me they were toobusy and tell me to come back and that would take to long they should have helped me thats what they are here for so they are starting to dissapoint there. But i ended up sending an email to homefinder to try to get a better chanceof getting it but i havent heard anything back. i have also sent an email of complaint to the head office telling them that i am very angry that they havent changed my carpet and i have had enough with it and if they dont i will be forced to go to a solicitor. do you think thats a bit harsh? i dont the carpets are discracefull also said how much they have let me down helping me recover mia ‘s stolen birthday money the police have denyed me chance to find out who took it to they have told me that they are to busy to look at the camera now so thay are closing the case there just as bad they are suposed to be FIGHTING CRIME, PROTECTING PEOPLE. but there not no wonder y people take the law in to there own hands bloody ridiculous it unsecure here and they dont actually help u since i have lived her my mental helf has gotten worse but im staying stonge and waiting for my time im just trying to do everything that needs doing in order to get me moved on pritty hard with no help but im getting there

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The egg and spoon race

Frances writes:

hey len hope use are all good, thanx again for the picture if it wasnt for you i wouldn’t have many pictures of mia so thanx. we had a good day today there was an olympic event at mine today bit like sports day mia was playing in the paddling pool all day and eating bbq i won a few things i played pepper pig snakes and ladders and won a chocolate bar for mia. i won a egg and spoon race to and won a clock for mia’s bed room. mia has been so good we are having such a great time doing mother and daughter bondin its so fun and so enjoable i love my little princess she is the best thing in my world we have had are little family time to going out for walks and watching movies together. my mum is ok to she is at home still and on the mend thank god, i do worry about my mum sometimes im scared of anything extreamly bad happening. going to start going to mother and toddler groups at the community center near me and going to take mia swimming too soon she loves water she sould play in it all day. im still not having no look with housing i keep bidding but not had nothing yet 3 people in here that i have got to no pritty well are moving out in the next month or so but they have been her 2/3 years. im trying to find a nice place to go on holiday in wales i can get a grant off jane for a holiday so im looking. it will be nice to go on our first family holiday and get some fresh air and new cenary evenif it is still in england.
p.s hopefully catch up soon take care all off use

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Good days and bad days

…continued

After the photo shoot Frances, Mia and I go back up to her flat. Mia needs her bottle and I’ve been offered a cuppa. While her mum is brewing up, Mia sits on the floor sucking at the plastic teat. Her eyelids flicker and then close and she slowly keels over, her head touching the floor. “Ah Mia, you sleepy?” exclaims Frances, picking her up and whisking her off to the bedroom.

With Mia in her cot I can sit and talk to Frances without any interruptions.

“How do you feel about the responsibility? A 17-year-old with a young daughter. You make it look easy.”

“Do I? That’s not good. It is how it is. You get your good days and your bad days. The good days are twice as good as the bad days so you don’t worry. You know they will be a good day along soon.

“But, you know, I shouldn’t have done it too soon. I should have waited a bit. But I didn’t want to wait. If I waited I would’ve been more grown-up and able to do more stuff without thinking too much about it.”

I remind Frances that had she not got pregnant she might still have been living with her mother.

“And I might have not grown up as quickly as I have. I’ve matured, and yeah it’s Mia who’s matured me. I used to think I knew everything. Don’t worry about me I’ll be fine, I used to say. Looking back I didn’t know what I was talking about. I didn’t know anything. There were that many people who were saying don’t do this, don’t do that, wait until you get older. There were that many people, I should have just listened. But I did it anyway. I like to do the opposite of what people say. I like to prove people wrong.”

“But that’s just about being young.”

“But,” she says, laughing, “if Mia tries to prove me wrong there’ll be big trouble.”

Frances has got plans to keep Mia on a short rein so she doesn’t turn out ‘bad’.

“How do you think you have turned out?”

“I’ve turned out all right,” she says, “compared to the way I thought I might turn out.”

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“Hiya Gorgeous”

“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?”

“No.”

“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’…

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What she never had

… continued

Mia is dressed and now I’m keeping an eye on her as her mum and dad get ready. Frances is in the kitchenette, straightening her hair and brewing up, and Hassan is in the bedroom.

“You don’t take sugar do you?”

“No thanks. And quite milky please.”

I’ve picked Mia up. She’s getting really quite heavy now. “Shall we have a look out of the window? What can we see? Can we see some blue sky. Can we? Can we?”

Mia’s first birthday party is a big deal for Frances. The Reclaim team are helping out, finding a venue, possibly somewhere in Moss Side. She wants lots of people. She’s even going to invite readers of this blog.

“Tell me about birthday parties when you were younger,” I ask once Mia is playing on the floor.

“I never had any birthday parties,” she says, matter-of-factly.

“Ever?”

“Ever.”

“You don’t remember one birthday party? What about your siblings? Did they ever have parties?”

“We never had parties. We never went out.”

“Was your birthday acknowledged? Did you get a card or a present?”

“Yeah, we’d get a present from the pound shop,” she says, laughing. “Some perfume or a bit of make-up.”

“Did you ever go to your friends’ birthday parties?”

“No. I never got invited.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know. I probably wasn’t liked.”

“So were birthdays a time of sadness for you?”

“No one bothered.”

“And Christmas?”

“No one bothered. My mum brought us up to not really care about stuff like that. But I’d always make decorations from bits of things, maybe buy stuff with my pocket money. We did make a Christmas dinner but there was nothing else.

“Last Christmas I invited all my family down here so we could actually have Christmas together but only Joanne and her children came. She’s the same as me, she wants to give her kids what she never had. And that’s what I want for Mia.”

Hassan comes out of the bedroom, smartly dressed as usual. “Now that you are both here,” I say, “come and sit down, I’ve got something to tell you. Don’t worry, it’s exciting news.”

I tell them both about the email I’ve had from the Guardian. That they want to do a feature in the Weekend Magazine. I’ve brought last Saturday’s to show them: “Four to six pages,” I’m saying, “with pictures and words from the blog and some sort of introduction from one of their journalists. Some time at the end of September. You okay with that?”

“Wicked,” says Frances. “I’ll be famous. More famous.”

Once Hassan has had some noodles and everyone is ready, we all get into my car and I give them a lift into town. They are going to see her mum who is still in hospital, although, Frances thinks, she may be coming home today.

On our way in we pass some brand new flag poles in the middle of the dual carriageway. There must be 20 or more with colourful, vertical banners promoting the London Olympics. ‘Inspire a generation’.

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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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Saving up

Frances writes:

just been a bit peed off this week and stressed my mum wasnt well again but she is ok now she is at home still. the bank has been messing me around disabling my online accound and freezing my card till i confirmed the transactions i have made. im waiting for loads of repairs to be done at mine that i have been waiting for for a long time i need a new bath, my toilet is leeking, i have a hole in the wall bihind the door, my hot water goes cold after you wash a set of pots, need new carpets. the list goes on and on im still waiting to be ofered a house i keep biding but not heard nothing back i might just go privet but i cant find 1 where i want it. mia is good she is practicing her walking. i was saving up for her birthday had about £200 and someone came and stole it so i have to start again and i only have a couple of months. hassan is good to but still has’nt been offered any jobs he has applied for.

…and a message to me:

p.s i’m not sure what i’m doing this week got no money to go anywhere so i will proply be stuck in but feel free to come and see me if i decide to go out or have money to i will let u no so you can come along

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