Tuesday, 2 August 2011


I suppose my 9 year old daughter leads a privileged life.  At the moment we are in a position where we are able to send her to Drama School and pay for piano lessons.  She is in the Cathedral Junior Girls choir, has a garden of about half an acre to play in and can spend the afternoon sitting in a tree in the paddock, just reading a book.

Some people may think that my daughter and I live in a rarefied air - but I know and appreciate how lucky I am, because life hasn't always been that way.

Not a million years ago I was working full-time in a stressful job while struggling as a single parent of two daughters.  I had nothing but toast for my tea so that the girls could eat properly and I could keep the roof over our heads.  I have lived at both ends of the spectrum and, to be perfectly honest, I know which bit I prefer.

Which brings me to something that happened earlier today.

This morning I had just been in the coffee shop with my daughter.  She had been drinking a babychino whilst reading Harry Potter. All very civilised.  As we came out we heard a woman raising her voice and cussing quite loudly (which is unusual in Bury St Edmunds - because even the wearing of a loud jumper in the town square can lead to letters being written to the Bury Free Press).  Anyway, this very large, angry woman was shabbily dressed, wearing a dirty pair of leopard-print slippers and wedged into an ill-fitting NHS wheelchair that had obviously seen better days.   And in-between the puffs of her cigarette, the loud diatribe went something like this:

"Get a f*ckin' move on.  We're 45 minutes late.  You keep f*ckin' messing about - what's the matter with you?  It's me that's gonna get a gobfull when we turn up late, not you.  F*ckin' move Stephanie!"

Poor Stephanie was trying to push this haridan on wheels up an incline in town.  It was very hard work; her head was down and her arms were held out straight as she tried to manoeuvre the unwieldy machine.  The temperature today was in the 80s, the invalid was heavy (and I'm being polite here) and wasn't helping at all.  In fact, she was leaning back in the chair, smoking a roll-up whilst laying the law down.  On top of all this, there were 2 Argos catalogues hanging from the handles (and they're not light).  Poor old hapless Stephanie indeed.

The thing was.......Poor Stephanie was also only about 11 or 12 years old - roughly 2 or 3 years older than my daughter.

The child didn't answer back.  She just kept her head down and went right on pushing.

The striking difference between the lives of Stephanie and my daughter made me so angry that I was near to tears.  Stephanie was obviously the carer for her mum and the whipping boy for all her ills.  I could not believe that Stephanie could be the cause of her mother's disability.....but she was certainly paying for it.

And in this so-called Big Society, no-one helped.....including me.  My instinct was to give the mother a piece of my mind, sling her fags in the bin and park her at the bottom of a big hill while I took Stephanie for a babychino and 2 chapters of the 'Deathly Hallows'.  I wanted to get whoever had supplied that totally unsuitable wheelchair to sort the mother out with a self-propelling chair with the right sized wheels.  The NHS has no excuse when it comes to providing someone with the proper wheelchair (especially if that person cannot afford to buy one specifically suitable to their needs).  I used to work in the Artificial Limb Fitting Centre in Roehampton and I get very antsy about stupid, basic wheelchairs - they're not for long-term use - but I see (mainly) old people being pushed around in them all the time.  I wanted to push the chair up the incline myself - just to help the child out - and this from a woman who cannot pick up a 2L bottle of milk.  So what did I do?

Yup, you guessed it, I did nothing.

No, not exactly nothing... I got angry that Stephanie's life could be like that in this day and age - her childhood was fast disappearing down the throat of her mother - and anyone who has read this blog will know I tend to get on my soapbox about the rights of children.  I got angry that the problem of child carers is not one that gets raised very often  by the media.  The BBC says that there maybe 4 times more young carers in the UK than the 175,000 officially recognised and many live without the proper support from Social Services/Agencies*.  I can (and do) give money to Children in Need and sit in front of my tv watching Pudsey and the gang plead for their cause.  I can tut and shake my head, but the pictures on the tv screen are sanitised, the glass of the telly protects me from any awkwardness I feel at the plight of those children.  When you come face to face with it in real life, it's a different matter.

Now, I don't know Stephanie or her background and the situation may not have actually been as bad as it looked.  I may have been influenced by the disdainful lack of respect the mother showed her child - the effing and jeffing, the cigarette smoking and the apparent total selfishness.  But then I don't know the mother's background either.  I only know that I didn't feel able to confront them or "interfere" and it doesn't sit right with me.

I got angry that every child deserves a childhood and I stood by and did nothing.

 Big Society my arse.

*source http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-11757907