Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Nutty Presentations

Today was the day we had to gather all our fieldwork research and present it to Camden's Children's Safeguarding Board.
Billie, Dee and I were nervous to say the least. Billie and Dee didn't feel we had enough results while I told them that no results were a result in itself.
We had to find out what people thought of safeguarding services in their communities. That was our remit.
"What is safeguarding?" we asked parents at a drop in.
"Never heard of it."
"What safeguarding services do you use?"
"Don't know what you mean."
We'd leave with little information on the diagrams we drew for them to fill in, Dee wanting to make up the answers and me arguing "No, that's valid. No-one knows, why don't they know?"
By Saturday when we went to a children's soft play arena, we'd altered our approach.
"Where do you go for information regarding services in your community designed for keeping people safe?"
Few said social services, many said police.
"What do you think about them?"
Reams of answers.
Today we presented the whole lot.
We were given an hour in which we could organise our thoughts which was a good thing as yesterday I couldn't meet Dee due to my bicycle puncture and her need to take her young charge home for lunch (Dee is a childminder).

Part One
What was our plan?
What was our timeline?
What tools did we use?
What roles did we take?

Part Two
What went well?
What went wrong?

Part Three
What did we find out?

The first group went up. "We are the Happy Group"
Billie and Dee looked at me. I whispered: "Fuck." We hadn't thought of one.

Happy Group's presentation was clearly set out with diagrams outlining where they had been, how many people they spoke to, who used which tool, and how they evaluated the answers.
On large sheets of paper lists were written detailing what went wrong, what was successful, and another large sheet outlined their results in big, bold writing.

We had drawn a map of where we went, a timeline of when we went there and drew a spider diagram of the strengths and weaknesses of our approach. So far so good. We'd left no time to list our results so all we had was the scrawl I'd written last night in light blue ink on a sheet of A4. Better than nothing I guess.

"No-one knew what safeguarding was," said Happy Group.
"See," I nudged Billie. "It's ok."
Happy Group had gathered alot of information from the Somali Group and the Faith Group they had facilitated. There wasn't time to hear what those results were but hopefully we'll see them later.

We were up next. "What shall we call ourselves?" asked Dee.
"Wing It Group," I said.
"Eh?" they chorused.
"Nutcase Group?"
"Nutty Group" said Dee, and that was that.
We were up.

Dee began to describe our map and then began to giggle. This set me off and within seconds there we both were, infront of our 'examiners', unable to stop laughing, and trying to was futile. Billie had no choice but to take control (We did work exceptionally well as a team, I have to say). Pretty soon Dee and I had pulled ourselves together and the three of us were talking one on top of the other as we explained our experiences. Comparitive to the Happy Group, we were Nutty indeed.

I pointed out that in the drop in no parents mentioned the police but in the soft play arena they all did. The degree of negativity towards them were largely based on where people lived and fear of the police was largely based on 'class'. It was also impossible to say all parents felt the same way because there was such a tremendous mix. Some had no English, others were childcare professionals. All this had to be taken into account.

"Did no-one mention Baby P?" asked one of the examiners.

"No. We didn't elicit that information from them and by and large they answered the questions according to their own children and their own children's needs - 'my child is safe because I take him to this drop in'."

The third group didn't give themselves a name. They'd encountered lots of barriers to their fieldwork with drop in managers not allowing them access to interview the parents. Minnie had done her research with her baby group. They passed round their results most of which gave a view of social services. Trust gets families talking about social services, in my experience. There's a real stigma attached to it.

So many people wanted access to more information about safeguarding services.

It was good fun. It was interesting. It was over! For now.... In May we reconvene to discuss what questions we can ask service providers given the information we now have. The police and social services will be top of the list I imagine.

Did you know, according to United Nations research, the UK has one of the lowest scores for safeguarding children?
Time that changed don't you think?

Monday, 30 March 2009

Bicycle Karma

Early Friday evening I was cycling back from the cinema. (I went to see Jose Luis Guerin's In The City of Sylvia). Not far from my house I had to stop for a red light.
Suddenly I was pushed forward and off the bicycle by a car reversing into me.
"OY!" I shouted. "Can't you see what you're doing? Can't you look where you're going?"
He'd opened his door to look at what he'd hit, glared at me then slammed his door and sped off.
"Are you ok?" said an Angel man*. "Did you get the registration number? I saw the whole thing."
I jumped out into the road and glimpsed X6 before it blurred out of sight.
"He works for the cab office," said another voice. I was just in shock, looking around myself as though lost.
Angel man took me round to the cab office and demanded to speak to the manager, showed him his identification and explained to him what had happened.
The manager radioed the cab driver to come back, who on seeing me, attempted to deny what happened.
By this point I'd found my voice saying "he saw you," pointing to Angel man. "And your registration is X6 and didn't you ever learn the basics of the green cross code? Don't you know to look in your mirrors before you reverse?????"
Angel man showed him his identification (he was a chief executive of facial surgery) and suggested to manager and cabbie that I be financially renumerated. If not, he was a credible witness should I take the matter to court.
At this point the driver became very apologetic. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, I have two young children at home..."
"So why didn't you take more notice of the baby seat on my bike? My son could have been in it."
I was furious, spitting bike spokes.
I walked home and he tailed me in his car. I'd stopped to roll myself a cigarette and there he was. "I'm sorry, please forgive me, my daughter's gone to accident emergency, I wasn't concentrating."
"I have problems too but I'm aware of other people when I'm on the road."
"I'm sorry, I'm so sorry."

Later I phoned my cousin. I asked her whether it was morally wrong to charge him for the much needed servicing of my bike, given he had a family to feed."
"No," she said. "He drove off Susie. He didn't stop."

Saturday morning Simpson's serviced it. No damage. £40.

This morning, cycling to therapist in Kings Cross, I got a puncture. I walked the bicycle from the surgery to Kentish Town and the manager traded my receipt for the £40. I then walked to Queen's Crescent.

A glass puncture - £10.50

I can't help feeling that the world wouldn't let me get away with paying nothing for my vehicle. Coincidences you know?

*Angel man. I've read that angels can take human form when they are needed. I believe in angels so I believe in things like that.

Consent questions

Her: Do you have a condom?
Him: Do you have a condom?

STD's, pregnancies, life carnage when there's no consent.


When I told my ex- psychotherapist three years ago that the second time I was raped, I was on a date with a guy and was drunk, she said: "What did you expect?"
SHE, a female psychotherapist who is not meant to judge, SHE said: "What did you expect?"
"Not that," I replied, stunned, and we sat in silence for the rest of the session.

I did not want to return the following week but I did so as I wanted to confront her over what she had said.

Do you know what she said? She said "I never said that."
"Very good," I spat sarcastically. "You're the shrink, I'm the mental health patient, if I complain about you who are they going to believe? He was a boy, I am a girl, if I'd reported it and you were in the jury, you'd have acquitted him. How dare you say you didn't say that."

"You pushed me into a corner. You made me say it."

I never went back. I complained to her superiors with full knowledge that it was my words against hers. She was the 'professional', I was the 'mad' person.

Two years later I was offered cognitive behavioural therapy. Housing dominated the sessions, I didn't venture towards sex. I came to trust this psychotherapist but the nature of CBT meant the sessions had to end. Still, she knew I had been raped and referred me to a sexual therapist.

This is the hardest thing I have ever done.
"Why won't you look at me?" said the doctor as she did a requisite internal examination on me.
"Because I can't look at myself," I cried burrowing my fists into my eyeballs.

She was horrified at how disconnected I was from myself. After the internal examination, when she said I was 'normal' we began to make progress. I began to make progress. I could even touch myself and not be revolted by filthy images of myself.

Then the council turned up before Christmas saying it was hostels for us if I didn't agree to their alternatives and I started turning up at the sessions unable to connect with her, with me, with anything at all. I also told her I've been drinking alot. Volumes every other weekend.

"You are too overwhelmed with the issues surrounding yourself at the moment," she told me today. "They are barriers to you connecting with yourself and your sexuality and barriers to us achieving anything here. Go to your doctor. Make that a priority, sort out these issues and come back in a few months."

She's booked me an appointment in June.

In yesterday's Observer Barbara Ellen wrote that the term 'date rape' "only serves to muddy what are already dark and complex waters."

I was not "too rat-arsed" to say no, repeatedly. But even if I was, inebriation is not a green light.

She argued that if our phones are stolen whilst out on a date, that is not called 'date theft', it is called theft. If we are murdered following a date, that is not called 'date murder', it is called murder. Theft is theft, murder is murder, rape is rape.

Yes it is.

Too many in society believe we ask for it. According to Grace Lally in the Socialist Worker "a third of people believe that a woman is partially or totally responsible for an attack if she was drunk." Indeed, my ex shrink.

She says "at least 47,000 adult women are raped every year in Britain, the majority in their own home by a man they know." (28th March)

We are not commodities, there for the taking. Taking without consent is wrong.

Rape is unwanted sex
Rape is the theft of a woman's sexuality
Rape is the attempted murder of a woman's sexuality.

I owe myself my life back. I owe myself all of me. I will rise from the ashes.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

England - A pint of John Smiths Bitter

A creamy head made up of the nation's wealthiest
and the rest of us beneath.
The creamy head is getting thinner and thinner.
Tis not good.
I wish we were a pint of milk
Of human kindness

Put People First Demo - Hyde Park

It was fantastic. Tony Robinson, aka Baldrick, led the cavalry of passionate speakers calling upon world leaders to end global and national inequality, end social injustice, and push for climate change ahead of the G20 Summit on Wednesday.

Thousands of us turned out for a brilliant afternoon of music and comedy and unity. The recession has hit and hurt so many people it would be great if millions turn up the next time.

I know many of us marched against war in Iraq and were ignored but we can't give up.

There is such thing as a fairer planet. I want to see it happen now. Surely we can make it happen now.

Friday, 27 March 2009

Boxercising Barcelona

Luton to Barcelona - £146 return

Bike needs fixing PUNCH Free room
Teeth needs hygienist PUNCH Hand luggage no cost
Jeans for my son PUNCH Skip insurance
Haircut PUNCH Own set of keys
New Toaster PUNCH Accommodation in centre of old town
Bored PUNCH Sightseeing
Lonely PUNCH Beach
No son PUNCH Old Shit School Acquaintance
Missing son PUNCH Beach parties
Missing son PUNCH Rioja
Shit School PUNCH PUNCH Blow away the dark shadows
Bad Idea PUNCH PUNCH PUNCH break, sunshine, soothe my soul

Should I stay or should I go now (The Clash)

Missing my son 2006

Sitting upon Hampstead Heath July 1st 2006

I feel pain
I should be used to it by now
And feel joy
But it's the same feeling of something
heavy expanding inside me
The pen not working properly fucks me off
like it's allowing my pain to breath
Not flow out until I'm empty.

I should feel happy
But I can't control my heart
Reaching out to him
envying the fun he's going to have
his little hand in his father's.
I want to be part of his happiness
To witness his joy

I get the grind
I get the joy too
I'm lucky
My pain its borne of love
Love is the truth
I should feel grateful


I don't know how the stigmum afforded to go to New York three times last year and managed to squeeze in a family holiday to the Carribbean.

I don't know how the Bangladeshi father I met in the hostel affords to take his entire family to Bangladesh every year.

I don't know how a friend I know afforded to take her girls to Euro Disney.

I don't know because I don't ask. It's none of my business and I know first hand how judged they are being on benefits. I assume credit cards, overdrafts, competition wins, saving for it.

I was telling an old acquaintance recently how badly I am going to miss my son when he goes to Cornwall with his dad over the Easter holiday. He's invited me to stay with him in Barcelona. The funds aren't there but do I stay or do I go?

Tommy the tax payer

Tommy, my housing officer from the Housing Association, has called by to make his six month check. Lucky I was in as I'd forgotten all about it. I like Tommy. We started off quite badly but we've built a solid friendship over the years. I told him the council came round yesterday to tell me to move into private accommodation when the lease expires.

"So Tommy, if I'm lucky, I find a nice two bedroom flat near my son's school with a nice big garden and your taxes can pay for me to live there. How do you feel about that?"

He breathed in, exhaled slowly. "You're an intelligent, knowledgeable, informative person. We can have this conversation but those in the council, those writing the policies, they don't care for what we have to say."

"She asked me if I was a British Citizen and I laughed and said I wasn't from Camden so should have made an application for asylum." I tell this British Nigerian. "I understand asylum seeker needs but this block is full of Europeans too. I ask why I've fallen down the list. New entrants have come in before me she says. New entrants? What's the waiting list about if a new entrant can go before me?"

"You don't have eight children so you are penalised."
"I don't have eight children, I don't have a drug problem, I don't have issues with alcohol abuse, I haven't escaped domestic violence, there is nothing wrong with me."

"The system does not cater for people like you and me. The system doesn't allow for people like you and me to put our brains to good use and benefit from it. We don't want to be entrepreneurs but they don't want us to succeed. Imagine a man, he was a teacher, he WAS a very good teacher. He lost his job and two years down the line he's walking down the street and what he had has no bearing on his life. He has joined the mass at the bottom."

He said I should become an advocate, make my situation work for me, use the situation I am in to bring about change.

Regarding my housing options he suggested I leave London. Make a bold move and see what happens.

I love London. It's good to single people. I do worry for my son though. I spend alot of time worrying for my son. The odds that we end up being housed on some big, shit estate are quite high.

I need a drink. The little one's going with his dad this afternoon. Fortunately I've made no plans with friends tonight so I'm going to go to the cinema. Duplicity doesn't tickle my fancy. There are some interesting sounding independent films at the Renoir. The ticket costs a little over the price of three bottles of Budvar. I like drinking in films by myself.

What do you suggest I do taxpayers?

Council support worker came round bringing with him his manager. She was open faced and friendly enough but I knew why she was there - to hit the council's target of reducing homelessness.

She said my flat was too small, a health and safety risk and a fire hazard.
Sure, move me then.
Usual dribble of few council properties left, my position on the waiting list, my low number of points.
A private rental property on the other hand would be bigger, as we are very cramped where we are now and my son needs space to play, she said. I could move and bid from there and with 'extra' points, be in a stronger position to do so.

Hang on, I thought you said there were very few properties, and there are 18000 people currently on the list. How would I be in a stronger position? There are only 1500 families on the "homeless" register. Only 30 families whose leases expire with the housing associations. House the 30 who are having their lives upturned again.

"I've told you. I want to stop moving my son around, I want a secure tenancy, I want affordable rent in order to go back to work."

"You'll get housing benefit," she smiled.

"So the taxpayer picks up the cost, even if I'm working?"

"Give it a chance," she said. "Come and look at one. I've got a flat, the address is in the office, tell me you're interested now or it might be gone when I get back."

What is this? A new tactic? If I don't take the 'private' flat they find for me I have to find one myself? I've written about how hard that is in my 'book that will never be published'. She's not talking of a council property, which is why I don't jump and gush "oh wow thank you, yes yes YES!".

She offers no satisfactory answers to my questions. The reason, for example, that I have fallen down the list is because new entrants have come in above me.
Why??? What's this 'time waiting' all about if new entrants can come above me?
"They obviously have different needs."
What 'needs' do I need to have?

Towards the end of the meeting she asks if I'm a British Citizen. I laugh. "Yes, but I've not lived in Camden a long long time. Perhaps I should have made an application for asylum" (I am an immigrant from another borough as well she knows if she looks at my 'notes')

"You're clearly intelligent and frustrated," she says. "Think about the private sector."

"And be back at square one, on the list with 18000 others, the threat of facing homelessness again a reality and exceptionally high rent in the mean time."

It's good news for the private landlord but you're paying for it taxpayer. What do you suggest I do?

Monday, 23 March 2009


I heard on the news last night that Jade Goody died of cervical cancer. Unbelievably sad. I voted for her to stay in and win Big Brother years ago. There was something so honest and 'what you see is what you get' about her.
Of all the days to die in the yearly calender she's taken on Mothers Day, leaving her mother daughterless and her sons motherless but that adds tremendous power to her legacy to go on saving countless lives.
Last week I was invited for a smear test. I tend to avoid them as I don't like them. I told myself to grow up and rang the doctor's surgery to book an appointment but it rang out every time I tried. I will keep on trying.
Thank you Jade. You were, and continue to be, an inspiration.

Mothers Day

Once upon a time there was a little boy who farted alot. His mummy burped alot so they called one another Whoopee Cushion and Wind Bag. They lived happily ever after rolling about and laughing away in each other's stinky air!

Two guesses who made up that little story while picnicing at Kenwood House following a glorious tramp through Hampstead Heath!

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Small beginnings

The Camden New Journal, bless its paper socks, has published my words! It has taken half of the lighthearted letter I sent it and contributed it to the end of its buggy article on page 3!
I cannot describe the joy. There she is! There I am! Sue de Nim! It's like getting a first byline, quite astonishing!
It's a beginning, a small one I avow, but a beginning nonetheless. A beginning of what? Who can tell? How exciting!
I could kiss Mr Wroe for using it. On the cheek you understand!

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Letter I've written to the council

Doesn't matter what you think of the letter, I've yet to write one that alters our situation. I've flagged my questions up in bold print.

18th March

Dear Housing Chief,
Thank you for dealing with my request dated January 28th. I received a response two weeks ago, on the 4th March, from your Acting Assistant Director (needs and access). I respond to you as you are already quite familiar with my case and I feel you may be in the best position to help me. I enclose the AAD's letter incase you haven't seen it.

Firstly, I am provided with temporary accommodation on behalf of Camden Council, not Pathmeads as stated by AAD. As you know the lease agreements between the Council and the Housing Association will not be renewed next year because, I am told, they are "too expensive".

It is not Pathmeads' responsibility to fix the lift in my block as AAD knows and Pathmeads confirmed to me. I and other residents call the council whenever it breaks down so it is well aware of the problem. None the less, my flat is temporary and because of my bicycle, I have to consider it and my son when bidding and I ask the council to take this into consideration, as one of my 'needs'.

Regarding Oseney Crescent, I still do not know why I went from being 5th on the list to 128th. Why in recent years have I slipped down the list?

Three years ago the Council did not withdraw the property. This is why I could see I was under consideration for it. My own enquiries led me to the understanding it was being repaired. There was no apology then. There was this time.

This time the Council chose to "make an urgent and unexpected offer to a housing applicant". Direct lets are made in "exceptional" circumstances. Could the Council define what it means by "exceptional"?

I ask because I am currently doing training with a young mother on the transfer list, who has fewer points than me. She is viewing two bedroom properties with her social worker and I am pleased for her. However my needs and my son's needs are no different to hers. I do not have a social worker but I do have a mental health support worker. My Council support worker says my flat is a "health and safety issue". I clearly need a bigger space, my son a space of his own.

My son and I are in insecure accommodation, our future is insecure. This has had a detrimental effect on my mental health which in turn impacts my child. Why can't we be seen as "exceptional"?

Also, could you tell me how many properties are set aside for "direct lets"?

As you know I do not wish to accept the Council's Private Rental Scheme as I outlined my reasons in my last letter. When the council reduced my points in 2005, it defended its actions. My points were reduced, not increased and whatever the legalities of those decisions, it doesn't mean those actions were right for me or my son.

The "prevention points" under the PRS will merely replace my "homeless points", will not be added on to them. My points may stay the same, may even reduce again. I will not be allowed to bid for six months and then I can resume bidding. I'm no longer "homeless" but my life has not changed.

Furthermore I either move my son again in order to go through this process or he continues to sleep in my bed. Why does the Council insist I do this to him? What does the Council think this is all doing to him? These are not rhetorical questions Chief. I do want and need to understand.

The Camden/Pathmeads lease arrangement collapses in August 2010, in 17 months time. I'd like the Council to pay attention to us now. I've been through all this before. It's mentally and emotionally crushing.

Once again I ask for your help Chief for my HHSS worker is not able to, not because he's ineffectual, just because he can't.

Thanks for your time. I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely

Sue De Nim

cc AAD

I'm not into threesomes

I got a letter from the housing association which unsurprisingly says it is not its responsibility to fix the lift, it's that of the "property owner". Both groups will say therefore it is the landlady's responsibility to fix the lift. The landlady will say it's the council's, the block has nothing to do with her.

Round and round I go. Only I'm not going to bother going round, not for that.

When I told you it was a pain in the arse to be caught within this threesome of council, housing association and landlady (Housework) I didn't expect an example to come up so soon.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009


My landline's been fixed. Finally.
"Excuse the mess," I told the engineer as he stooped under my hanging laundry to enter my living room.
"Your flat's too small," he replied.
"Thanks for saying so," I said.
He hopped onto the roof, dodged back into my flat, then left.
I phoned the billionaire's hotline.
"I was told to call for compensation."
"We'll take £5 off your next bill."
"£5? My phone's been out of service for over a month. Your company can do better than that."
"I'm sorry but that's the best we can do."
Better than a kick in the teeth I guess.
I then spent the money phoning the gas and water companies begging them to reduce my bills.
You can't blame a girl for trying but you can make her pay.


The Participatory Appraisal training is over. Now we have to go out and do fieldwork. We have to go out within our communities and find out what people think of safeguarding services. Safeguarding, if you don't know what it means which is fine if you don't as before last week I didn't, is the protection of vulnerable people - children, old people, lots of people. In PA, teams of three work best - one facilitator, one observer and one 'anti-saboteur'.

Billie and Dee, long term friends, grabbed me, presumably on the assumption that I look like I know what to do. In theory I should; ex journo, ex masters, research is my middle name.... Though most probably they reached for me because we have things in common, we listen to one another, we empathise or laugh.
I bump into Billie in the loos after we've done our planning.
"God I'm nervous," I tell her.
"Yeah me too, I'm so nervous, why is no-one else nervous?"
"Mad isn't it?" I laugh, nervously.

There's a fourth in our group because of the odd number in class. Beth has done it before but the mum of three works so won't be around when the rest of us make tits of ourselves.

No we won't. We'll be fine. That's the good thing about teamwork; one person's weakness is another person's strength and this kind of thing, armed with sheets of paper and strips of stickers, post-it notes and coloured pens, at least holds the promise of being good fun.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Exceptional cases

I told Honey I'd written to the council asking them to define "exceptional". She laughed: "Yeah, we'll house exceptional people, exceptional abuse, exceptional harrassment. I've been raped, abused, run away from domestic violence, live in a hostel, what more do they want for me to be 'exceptional'?!"

Honey has an injunction out against her father. She is the one who set up the residents association in her hostel and asked for funding so that she might defend the rights of children. She's quite a woman.


Honey has discovered she's pregnant by her son's godfather. He is married with a daughter. She does not wish to be pregnant but does not believe in abortion.

Today she told me she'd decided to move into Private Rented Accommodation. She said she feels selfish forcing her son to live in a cramped room. She said she needs somewhere with a bath as her boy has severe eczema and has to be soaked twice a day.

When she said she was thinking of moving outside the borough I said: "You are aware you'll lose your residency points after one year and you'll no longer be Camden's concern?"

I remember when I was pregnant and the Foca and I were looking for somewhere to live. I wanted somewhere with a bath, he said a baby didn't need one. I said a baby did, a toddler did, a bath was a space where a child could play. His sister in law backed him, her husband, his brother, backed me. We moved into their flat-with-bath as they were relocating to America. Foca was my landlord.

Both rooms in England's Lane that I was shown and those I later visited for my thesis research, didn't have a bath. In many hostel rooms there is no space to play. That's one reason they are not suitable for children, no matter what the policy dictates.

So Honey may move. Minnie's staying for now. "It's swapping secure accommodation for insecure accommodation, why would I do that?"

Don't ask me Minnie, don't ask me.

Voices of others

Molly, in hostel accommodation for six years, two children:
If you come from abroad you get the privileges, the people that are born here, that's as far as the privilege goes. Immigrants are on the same level. White middle class people think they should be prioritised and that creates anger. I'm like "Why has she got more points than me?" It's wrong but it's how the situation makes you feel.

Matt, in hostel accommodation for one year, pregnant girlfriend and one daughter:
Because we're normal, can go to the shops, can maintain our house yeah, we're left on the side because we can manage. So the government prioritise crack heads, mental people, people with issues, someone who harms themselves quicker than I would yeah. Why would someone who harms themselves need a flat? They do even worse; they've got their place, there's no rules, no supervision. The justice system's upside down.

Mohammed, in hostel accommodation two years, then temporary flat for one year, then hostel another two with wife and two children
A few weeks ago someone got a flat with 365 points, less than me, and I wasn't called to view. I ask downstairs "What is this?" and they say "people need it more than you do"... Probably those people in temporary flat. I should get priority.

They are not alone in thinking what they think. It's noisy down here

Melting pots

We are two facilitators and 14 parents doing the participatory appraisal training. What I love about it is the ancestory in the room. In the pot you'll find America, the Bahamas, Bangladesh, England, France, Jamaica, Mauritius, Nepal, Portugal, Scotland, Somalia, Syria and Uganda.

Some are parents born and bred in London.
Others are born and bred in the UK.
Some are not born here but bred.
Some neither born nor bred.

For me this is England.
I got culture shock when I went to visit my friend Emma in Hertford and all the workers in Sainsbury's were white. I couldn't stop staring. It seemed like another country.
I won't be voting BNP anytime soon, ever in fact. This despite the housing crisis I am caught in, despite the jealousy I sometimes feel towards those who go before me.
Jealousy is not one of the seven deadly sins. We are all entitled to a decent home.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Ideal Worlds

Where one half of a couple can babysit for another couple so that they might go on a date together like they used to do before the babies appeared.

Having such a great relationship with the Foca that he'd agree to babysit so I can go to my friend's midweek birthday celebration. Agree to babysit whenever I asked him to. Agree to babysit. Agree.

The cost of access

Because Honey's father of child abandoned her and their son she very rarely has an opportunity to go out. With no family, she occasionally leaves the boy with his godfather. She's 23, all her peers are out enjoying themselves.
I envy that she never has to deal with missing her child, never has to argue over who gets Easter, Christmas, bank holidays. She never gets cross because her son is late back from his dad's. Again.
I don't envy that she can never go out with her girlfriends for a drink or to the cinema, even if staying in means she's saving money.
Last night I took a bus to The Albany to support the Reilly Peacocks. My friend is the bass player. I often miss their gigs.
Afterwards I took a bus to the Crown and Goose and met up with my mum mate Milly and her boss. They'd just knocked off work. At the end of the night Milly paid for the taxi she poured me into as I'd drunk all my cash. She wouldn't see me get the night bus.
Years ago I asked the Foca if he'd pay for access and he laughed liked I'd cracked a joke or something.
Foca's wife goes out sometimes leaving him to watch their two year old. Lucky her.
I care little if they rarely go out together but I mind that Milly and her husband can't.

Buggies on buses

Yesterday I sent a letter to the Camden New Journal.
My son had gone with his father a day later than usual and I wanted to blog something about the cost of access. I was thinking myself into a black hole.
Suddenly, I saw hanging from the mouth of the black dog who's been stalking me these past few weeks, a golden idea.
A few weeks ago in the CNJ, a woman wrote in blasting a mother who'd boarded a bus with her buggy and refused to fold it. The following week, the mother in question wrote in defending her actions and a flood of support came through castigating the buggy free complainer. This week a bus driver has had his say and throughout it all I've found it most entertaining.
Because the CNJ invited me and others to comment, I sat at my computer and thought: "Why not?"
This is what I wrote:

Oh you childfree buggy on a bus moaners, get a bicycle so you don't have to deal with it.
Mammas, have no fear, get a bike, stick your child on a seat behind yours and pedal away. My son loves it.
If you have several children, fret not, I saw a nutty blonde cycling up hill with her three in a trailer in front of her and often see an Asian mum who lugs her crew behind.
It's arduous work ladies, I'll give you that, but works wonders for your derriere.

I giggled as I wrote it. I like writing light stuff but it seems I can only do bleak on the blog.
Will the paper publish it? Who knows, with such things I subscribe to the School of Doris, que sera sera and all that and I did ask them to make up an address for me. We'll see ey?
Afterwards I went out and got right royally wrecked. Doris collaborated with Cindi. You know the one, Stigmums just wanna have fun.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

State as symbolic husband

It strokes you with one hand
It slaps you with the other

Maintenance - A song

And the living's not easy
Fish are dying
The bills are still high

Daddy's rich (ahem)
Your mamma's on benefits
Hush little baby
Don't you cry

One of these days
You'll go stay with your daddy
He'll spend money on you
Take you up to the sky
Your mamma, she simply loves you
Hush little baby
You'll be fine

(Stigmum thanks Ella Fitzgerald, you da best Bess!)


I am committing benefit fraud.

I discovered last week that my son's maintenance money I'm spending isn't mine to spend.

The CSA has been replaced by ACT. I've been receiving the full payments, an extra £70 a week. It's made a difference. I'm no longer overdrawn. I've felt normal.

Apparently I have to declare it to the jobcentre so they can work out how much I need to live on. Failure to do so will see me in court.

I'm allowed to keep £20 of it (it was £10 under the CSA, Lorraine's two sons got £5 each). The rest will go back to the treasury and funnelled back out as benefits.

How much of my son's money will they make me pay back?

England DDR
The Lives of Others (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck)

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Well done Dobbie

You've got to love Frank Dobson. In this week's Camden New Journal (5th March) he called the borough's housing policy "a cock-eyed lunatic policy."

Thank the air that we breath that there is someone within Government complaining on our behalves; puts into one sentence what at the very least, 18000 of us already know.

You do not hear our voices. You cannot. We are trapped behind an iron wall of grey, non-transparent policy which fails to take into account our needs and particularly the needs of our children.

We need security, we need affordable rent. He recognises and bellows that the cheapest, quickest, most affordable way of providing for social need is council housing.

He's not saying it to gain kudos. He knows that the system helped him out once and enabled him to be where he is now. He knows that auctioning off existing stock is not the answer to the growing crisis.

I for one thank you Mr Dobson.

Complaining caterwaulers

Winge, winge, winge, moan, moan, moan. We're a nation of complainers according to ex support worker.

In a conversation about families in hostels last summer, he said that some people make a "career out of complaining", whilst for others, and he flagged up the Bangladeshi community, complaining wasn't in their "culture", they were more than likely to leave things to stagnate in fear that a complaint might jeopardise their housing.

There is truth in this but Bangladeshi's have a long history of speaking out, as do of course native English families. In their book "The New East End" of Tower Hamlets in the 1980's, Dench, Gavron and Young argue:

"There has... been a contest for housing in which both groups feel badly treated. Bangladeshi's are over crowded and many feel that the promises made by the official points system are not honoured. Whites are hard pressed to make any case at all under current procedures and maybe inclined to subvert the system to get what they want."

Today, everyone is hard pressed to make a case, such is the crisis within housing. Molly, my Camden mum, ran out of breath. Mohammed couldn't follow his friend and go to the Camden New Journal. Not that the Camden New Journal would take a story now, so many thousands and thousands of people there are clamouring for a council flat.

The only way to make any headway is to complain. You have to make a career out of it. Billie would not be viewing those properties if she did not complain. Hannah would not have got out of the hostel had she not complained but she is in temporary now and if she ever wants stability and permanence for her children, she's going to have start all over again.

Complaining is time consuming and exhausting. You literally have to make a full time job out of it. Over and over you are told that your points are too low or that others are in greater need.

I'm shattered just thinking about it. But if I want my son to have his own space, if I want secure foundations where I can raise him, if I want affordable rent so I can work myself off benefits, well then I have to complain. I have to become a complaining caterwauler. What fun.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Advice Billie gave me - Do as I've done

Billie has told me to go down to the Council and demand a personal advisor and to keep going back until I get one. She has also told me to get a doctor's note and a social worker.

Oh Billie Billie, I've done all this to no avail but yes, I must do it all over again.

Advice I gave Billie - play the game...

Billie was viewing two council properties this morning and I told her that no matter how awful the flats, to accept them both. I told her to play the game.

I for one refuse to play the game. Why? Because I refuse to play a game where my child is the pawn.

The rules are quite simple. Bid for everything no matter where it is. Accept the property, no matter where it is or what condition it is in or how disreputable the estate is. Who cares if your child might get stabbed in a stairwell? Take it.

At this juncture you might want to know how bidding works.

Camden operates a Choice Based Letting System. Families accumulate points, the bidding currency, in order to successfully bid on properties advertised weekly, every Thursday, via the Home Connection website. According to Camden's Full Allocation Scheme (section 1.3): "Generally, under the scheme, social housing will be let to households with the highest level of points and those who are in the greatest housing need."

The council shortlists the six applicants with the "highest" points and they all view it together.

Billie has no points, so therefore I assume she must be in the category of the 'greatest housing need'.

You must say whether you accept the property there and then. You are allowed five to ten minutes to think about it; think about the rest of your life and that of your child. This is not 'Location Location Location' you know, you won't get a chance to look at another tomorrow. There is only an average of three two bedroom flats listed weekly that an average of 300 people bid for, and these are mostly on estates. It's an ugly ugly process.

If the first bidder refuses the flat, it's offered to the second and so on. This can be good, this can be bad, depending on the flat and its location.

Under the choice based system, you are allowed to refuse a flat as many times as you like. So the council says.....

The first time I viewed a flat, three years ago, I was number six on the shortlist and Number One accepted the property. I'm not against small properties as I believe in the supernatural and I am scared of things that go bump in the night. My Clapham bolthole, the private sector studio I lived in pre move in with the Foca (Father of child and anything else you might add) was miniscule.

This property contained a small room for my son, a small one for me, a small living room to share and entertain friends, a tiny kitchen and small bathroom. However, it was up three flights of stairs, too narrow for my bicycle and no space for it up at the top. I ticked the 'no' box and thought nothing of it, particularly as it had already been accepted by Number One.

One year later I was called to view another. I can't describe the excitement, the hope, the desire. It captures in your throat so you can barely breathe. Twenty five people had turned it down before me, I had first refusal. The location was excellent, the flat was small but again, it was three flights up, and no room at the top in its narrow rectangular hallway. Damn damn bicycle. I didn't cry, I howled, hyperventilating on the top step.

I haven't viewed a flat since, I've gone from being 25th on a waiting list to 300th/ 250th.

During my dissertation research Mohammed told me:

"A few weeks ago someone got a flat with 365 points, less than me, and I wasn't called to view. I ask downstairs "what is this?" and they say "people need it more than you do"."

I asked Mohammed if he'd viewed properties before. He too had been sixth on one list, third on another and both had been accepted by others infront of him. I asked if he'd turned them down. After a while he admitted that yes he had. "My biggest worry for me is my kids," he said. "Kentish Town is not nice, so much drug dealing. If he grew up in this area (Swiss Cottage) my son would be different than if he grew up in Kentish Town." He now knows better than to be so picky. These fussy parents, these fussy fussy parents.....

The council vehemently denies that by turning down a property an individual will slip down the list and they've never answered why I have. However, it is because of my experience that I know how to play this wretched bidding game. There's no degree of success playing it, but there's more chance than not playing it at all, like me.

The council tells families to "keep bidding" and to "bid for everything". We must do this, even if we have no desire to live in the area where the flat is situated, no desire to uproot our children from their school. To bid in this way however, provides the council with conclusive evidence that we are as desperate and eager to move as we say we are, and gives us leverage to complain.

We exist in an ambiguous liminality playing this system and being played by it.

Billie didn't get either of the properties she went to see. One was really nice, she said. "All the rooms were big, the kitchen was big, so nice.". The other "wasn't so nice, it was small, things were broken." She accepted them both, although both had already been accepted. This could have potentially thrown her into another depressive episode but she has her social worker, and will be viewing more soon.

For the rest of us, the process is soul destroying. Our children can only sit by and watch how we deal with that.

Monday, 9 March 2009

All in the same boat

On this course I'm doing I've met two fellow stigmums and a married mum in our situation.

Honey has an 18 month son and lives in Englands Lane Hostel. She doesn't like it and she doesn't like what she sees. She recently stood down from chairing a residents association she'd started up there as the hostel would give her no funding for it, nor for courses she wished to take in Child Protection Rights and Advocacy.

Minnie has an 18 month daughter and also lives there with her husband but doesn't mind it. She says it's much better than Ivy House, where the council originally placed them, where an infestation of cockroaches and ants were quite at home in the filth. Like me, she refuses the private rental scheme which she sees as 'going back to square one'.

Billie is in a permanent one bedroom council flat with her five year old daughter. Tomorrow she is viewing two two-bedroom properties. She is 6th on the list to view both despite having no points she says. She has no points but she does have a social worker. I am happy for her, genuinely so. However, we all want the same, I want the same, why can't we have the same for our children?

I've asked all three if I can raise what they say on this blog, use some of their stories to back up things I say.

I row row row our boat gently down the stream
Hopefully when the time is right
I'll know just how to scream

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Tarot Cards

A couple of months ago I asked a friend to read my tarot. My question was about housing (zzzzz). The card that came up was the Wheel of Fortune.

"You need to let go," said my friend. "All the elements are coming together in your favour. You will reap what you've sown. It's time to let go and let fate take its course."

Two nights later I had a dream. The Wheel of Fortune was whirling in space and I was hanging on terrified, my body flapping in the wind. I wouldn't let go. I couldn't.

Just then I felt my son on my back, his arms circling my neck, his legs clasped around my waist.

Round we went, the stars glistening and winking as we flew, round and round.

"Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeee!" sang my son.

Fear abandoned me.

I thought of letting go but woke up before I had the chance.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

One council, two interpretations

In his letter the Council's Quality and Review Officer writes to my local councillor:

"As you know, Stigmum is living in temporary accommodation provided on behalf of the Council"

In her letter, on behalf of the Chief, the Council's Acting Assistant Director (need and access) writes to me:

"I note that you are living in temporary accommodation provided by Pathmead's Housing Association."

The Quality and Review Officer is right. The Acting Assisant Director (needs and access) is wrong. Her letter is full of flaws and that's just the start of it. I have to respond.

Last night I held my son's hand when I went to bed. Sadly we are in this together. I am in this for him. He sleeps with me because he's outgrown his cotbed and there isn't the space to replace it.

Thieving liars

When the lease agreement between Camden and Pathmeads expires next year I have been told that if I don't go on the private rental scheme, (PRS) I shall go in a hostel. If my landlady agrees, I can stay here under the council's PRS.

So, for arguments sake, let us assume I stay here. (The same applies though to everyone moving from "temporary homeless accommodation", into private accommodation. In February 2008 there were 1,453 homeless families. I don't know today, and that figure did not include individuals. The figures are all bollocks though, as you will see).

Overnight "the LBC (London borough of Camden) will discharge duty to provide [me] with temporary accommodation & invite [me] to make a new application." (PRS & Qualifying Off Procedure for Officers 2008) My points will be taken away and I will be suspended from bidding for six months. I can currently bid every week, now suddenly I can't.

Six months later, under the new PRS system, I will get "prevention points" which will replace my "homeless points". I will once again receive my "residence points". My "time waiting points" will be carried over. Points wise, I won't be better off, but I can resume "bidding".

I may lose my medical points as I will be considered "better off" (PRS & Qualifying Offer Procedure for Officers 2008). So my overall points may actually reduce, as they did when I was first made homeless by the private sector.

If I move into a neighbouring borough (which I know not to and don't want to now my son's school settled and my friends are nearby), my points will be "honoured for 12 months, but automatically removed afterwards". In other words, Camden can relinquish its responsibility to me, I'm another borough's problem. Yep, a year later, another borough's problem. You have to be in a borough for two years before they 'care' for you....

What this all means, in a nutshell, is that overnight I go from being a "homeless household" to being a "private household" but my life, my situation, has not changed, only council rhetoric.

It means the council can say it has hit its targets in reducing homelessness.

It means the government can tell the nation that it has "reduced homelessness".

It is a lie my friends. The goverment spends billions of pounds a year, keeping families and individuals in poverty, touting this lie.

Do you understand now why I don't want to go into private rented accommodation? It's insecure and I don't want to keep playing 'bouncy bouncy' with my son. It's expensive and keeps me on benefits, and it propagates the lies the council and the government insist on telling you.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

The cost of collapsing arrangements

The lease arrangements between Camden and Pathmeads are terminating next year because they are too expensive to maintain. This is what the girl from the council told me on Saturday and the girl from Pathmeads told me today.

My rent on this one bed is £225 a week. The landlady gets £180 a week she tells me, Pathmeads increases it by £45 to cover 'costs'. The taxpayer pays the full £225 because I can't afford to.
A room in a hostel costs over £300 a week plus 'costs'.
Private rented accommodation would cost the benefits office £265 a week for a two-bed, minimum

Yes, a room in a hostel, 3msq by 4msq costs over £300 a week. Hannah's studio on the top floor of the hostel where she lived with her four kids and husband cost over £400 a week. It was no penthouse my friends. The walls were scabby, the floor was stained, a double bed was in the kitchen where two children slept with mum and dad, right next to the cooker ( health and safety issue? Nah!) The two older boys in an alcove in the corridor. £400 for such splendour!

They're in temporary now, like me. I must call her.

Calling the housing association

When the lift breaks down I call the council. I say that there are pensioners at the top, one of whom is in a wheel chair. I ask them to sort it out.

In the letter that came from the council this morning, the Acting Assistant Director (needs and access) wrote that the council wasn't aware of any previous complaints about the lift and because I'm a housed by Pathmeads, a housing association, it is up to Pathmeads to 'take the necessary action' when the lift breaks down. (I'm actually housed by Camden into a housing association flat and that agreement collapses next year. I should be Camden's responsibility)

The letter goes on to say that next time the lift breaks down to contact Pathmeads directly "so they can take prompt action to remedy the situation."

Pathmeads won't take responsibility. The council knows this and the Acting Assistant Director is simply giving an inadequate and misinformed response to fobb me off. To prove Pathmead's won't take responsibility so I can tell the council in my response, I phone the housing association. This call is not free.

Press 1 on your keypad for repair issues
Press 2 on your keypad for housing issues

Sorry to keep you waiting. All agents are busy. Please hold and your call will be dealt with as soon as possible.

La li la li laa la li laaaa music, you know, you've been on hold before.
You are 6th in the queue la li la li laaaaaaaa, 5th, la li laaa 4th ,3rd,2nd, First
First!! La li la li laaaaaaaaaaaaa, li laaaaaa, li laaaaaaaaaaaaaaa
Please leave your name, number and message after the tone. Boooooooooooooooooooooooop.

Fuck them fuck them AAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRGH. Thank god my son's in school. That's nothing short of theft, of my money. I leave my name and tossing number.

I go to Camden. Buy a book for his friend whose birthday party it is tomorrow (alas Woolworth's why did you go?)
Come home. Try again. Successful this time.

Guess what? Pathmeads won't come and repair the lift. "We wouldn't be responsible for fixing that," says the girl. It feels like such a pointless phonecall, but it's what I need to hear.

I ask her how many of us have this lease agreement between them and the council in my block. She says there are two. There are over 50 flats in my block, private and council owned.

She is a nice girl. She's going to ask the housing officer how many lease agreements the housing association has with Camden so I will know how many households are affected next year when the arrangements all collapse. At the weekend, a girl from the council said there are 30 of us. "Only 30?" I said (quite surprised as we wouldn't be many to rehouse permanently).

Anyway, now I have the quote from the housing association, I can write back to the council.
Don't you wish you had my life?

Calling the council

To enter the portals of Camden Council is to enter into a labyrinth, a plethora of tunnels not unlike a maze. It is nigh on impossible to look into the eye of the Minotaur you wish to speak to so the easiest way to reach them in by telephone. That in itself is no mean feat. A few weeks ago I went down to the housing office to make a call to them because it's free.

Press 1 if you know the extension number you require. No idea, no flipping idea.

Press 2 if you are a private tenant and would like advice about your tenancy. No, I'm not that.

Press 3 if you are a non Camden resident. I am one. How about 3 if you are a Camden Homeless Household? No such luck, we don't exist.

Press 4 for all other general enquiries. Punch.

Once again, I knew my problem. A month or so ago I bid on the exact same property I bid on three years ago, 7a Oseney Crescent in Kentish Town. A basement flat with a room for my son and garden for my bike. For three years, on the Home Connection's website, it has stated on my bidding account that I'm under consideration for that property in 5th position. Suddenly it goes up again for open bidding and I'm in 128th position on the waiting list. Surely I should be first on the list by now?

The girl on the other end of the phone tells me that I haven't been under consideration for that property. What? Then who? My number? No, she says, the property is under consideration to be let. Well yes, to me. She's making no sense and parroting what's been parroted to me for five years: "Keep bidding, keep bidding," so I ask to speak to her manager. Yes I'll hold. Eureka!

Manager says it's a computer glitch, it happens sometimes, the 'under consideration' terminology is misleading, people complain. I shouldn't have been able to see the flat was under consideration, she continues, when it has, in fact, had tenants in it.

Tenants? No it hasn't, I tell her. It's been empty. Ex support worker told me it was being repaired. She checks, I'm vindicated, my fury abates a little. I quite like this manager. She is the first person who hasn't pretended the council isn't auctioning off its properties.

I tell her that when my lease runs out my son and I will be placed in a hostel. "Well, if that's all we can offer," she says. My bile rises. "And you think a hostel is appropriate for a seven year old?" I ask. "Well, we have..." and she stops, because she knows I know there are hundreds of 7,8,9,10,11,12 years olds living with depressed parents; hundreds even younger too.

"We have no control over council policy," she continues. "It changes according to Government directives and their long term goals."

It's a fantastic example of 'buck passing' that the council are very good at. I don't ask her what the directives are because I know some of them but I try not to read them. You know the kind of thing: Only give flats to those with jobs because existing tenants are 'work shy', put an end to lifetime tenancies, get people to move on when they start earning a decent wage (wow, that's encouragement to stay off work if ever I heard one but no, we'll be penalised, best keep trudging on the minimum wage). There's more, read the papers if you're interested.

She then said the flat had actually been offered to someone else in a 'direct let' and you know what I said. "Oh". I let it go, I was exhausted of keeping my emotions in check.

I was so spitting angry when I got off the phone, I sent her a ranty email. "Work shy? Every single mother that I've met working, I've felt compelled to ask "how do you afford to?" and they've said "I live in a council flat""

Then the penny truly dropped about her direct let comment. It was up there for people to bid on, so why was it simply given to someone else in a 'direct let'?

That's why I wrote to the housing chief. So he could answer that. I mentioned about the lifts and how difficult our lives are. I asked him to help us. I got the reply to that letter today. From one of his minions. I have to respond to it. The assistant minion has told me to talk to my support worker about any issues I have. There is no point. I'm writing back to the chief. Well, he's who I contacted in the first instance. He can be my Minotaur.

Royal Mail

Friendly postie delivered the mail this morning. Two brown envelopes. Two responses from the council. At last! One from my local councillor with a letter inside from Camden's Quality and Review Officer. All repetitive shite I've heard before so I'll get back to local councillor. Very kind of him to be helping me.

The second was from the Acting Assistant Director (Needs and Access) writing on behalf of the housing chief to whom I addressed my own letter over a month ago. It contains lots of wasted words and I must sit down and think of a reply. For example, she says if I have a problem with the lift, I must contact my housing association. I'll do this, but you know as well as I do what the housing association will say: It's Camden's responsibility because the problem is with the block and the block belongs to Camden. There are other questions in there, relating to 'direct lets' that aren't answered. I ought to get to work.

Friendly postie did not deliver the parcel my mum sent me last Saturday containing my scarf, some treatment for chilblains I've been itching to get rid of, and my son's book, which I left at her house the last time I was there.

Friendly postie did deliver a postcard from Fletch. He got back from Guatemala last week so I've no longer any need to be jealous. In it he does write 'wish you were here'. Yes, me too but instead I'm here having to write again to a part of the the hand that operates the hand that feeds me and wants to continue feeding me forever. Woo hoo.

What I could do with my £100 voucher

What I could do with £100
Go down the pub and buy some rounds
Or down to Simpsons I could hike
Get essential repairs done on my bike

Buy a nintendo for my son
He's been begging me to get him one
He's been baying for the Arsenal kit
And it's his birthday in a bit

I could buy him trousers, jumpers, shirts
Shoes for me, tops, jeans and skirts
Lovely treats for my sagging skin
With expensive labels on the tin

We could take a train, go far away
Or leave that for another day
For £100 is not enough
to cover tickets, b&b's and stuff

My photos could go in a frame
With his pictures do the same
Pots and blenders for our kitchen
Storage for which my heart's been pitching

Get a haircut, something cool
Send my boy to martial art school
I could scale the mountain of nasty bills
Turn them into little hills

But oh my son, this is what I'll do
I'll buy some food for me and you
Organic chicken, Basmati rice
Pricey good things I know are nice

I don't know what the vouchers are for
But I'd so love to get some more

Tuesday, 3 March 2009


At the weekend I went along to a forum where housing was being discussed. It was interesting. A few delegates from several divisions within the council were there to answer our housing questions. Mine are still unanswered. Whilst there Jab asked me if I'd be interested in going along to a training programme to learn interview skills for which I would receive £100 in vouchers.

I heard: Training. Interview skills. £100 in vouchers. £100! One hundred pounds in vouchers!! Interview skills. Training. I didn't ask much more but blindly said 'yes!'

At 9.30 am yesterday morning I whipped down to Camden, bolted the bike, rang the bell and went up to the room. It was at this point that I wondered what I was here to do.

Now on Sunday I told a friend that I wasn't an activist, I wasn't a campaigner. I didn't know what I was, perhaps I was a teacher. I like to research. I write to inform. That's what I like to do.

This course that I have joined is all about participatory appraisal. It's all about forging links between the community and key figures within that community, be they the police or social workers or health advisors, or yes, councillors, MPs. It's about asking these people the right questions in order to bring about positive change in our society.

You know what I thought? I thought 'fuck'. Not 'fuck' in a bad way, as in 'what the fuck am I doing here, this has no relevance to me or what I want to do with my life'. No I thought 'fuck' in an 'oh fuck' way. No more hiding, no more navel gazing, no more being afraid, no more cowering under a cloth of no confidence. It was an 'oh fuck, now I have to be who I am.' I am still reeling from this. You may think I'm sad. I'm not sad, I'm tragic.

I went back today. This isn't a one day thing like I assumed it was (these misunderstanding come when one doesn't ask the question). It's a six day programme spread over three weeks and at the end we have to conduct some fieldwork after which we get a certificate and our £100 voucher (It means alot, but it's meaning less and less). I did fieldwork in my masters. I did my fieldwork on families in hostels. There is a hostel mum doing this. I've already been given advice by mums on the transfer list. This blog is fieldwork on myself.

Yesterday we had to write down what our expectations are. I wrote: 'I have no expectations'.
The group is made up of parents and we are stigmums and married mums, volunteers, students or just mums; dad didn't show up today.

Today, discussing ground rules, I said 'no kicking, punching, spitting,' as a joke and another mother said 'what's said in here, stays in here.' The facilitor mentioned the 'Chatham House Rule':

"When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker (s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed." (chathamhouse.org.uk)

I write about me. Me me me me me. Me and housing housing housing. Me and things I find in my navel. Me me me me me.

I should tell them I'm writing this blog.

It's hard when my priority isn't to save the world, it's to house my son and myself. House my son and then save the world (well, my community, same same no?).

You know what I think? I think 'Fuck. Fuckety fuckety fuck.' But this course is a fantastic opportunity.

Like my 2005 "book that will never be published" (only there's a chance that it will be!!!!), all names I use are false, especially my own. I could be anyone in my situation.