Friday, 31 July 2009

The nature of love

My son's gone away. My heart is heavy, weighing down my bones. Until he's home it won't be still. I told my son, if he hears a distant drumming, that's me thinking of him.

He's never gone away for two weeks before. It's never been that long. Sunday I'll wake up and for a moment will think he'll be back in the afternoon. I'll smile and know he's in my life. Smile away that aching feeling. It takes practice but I've had time to get used to it; a day at first, then two, three, four, seven. Fifteen days is a challenge but I know he'll have a fantastic time.

He's made me a card. On the back of the envelope he's written: "please open this when I am in Ireland." I'll open it on Sunday morning.

For now, there's only one thing for the way I'm feeling. Hampstead Heath. I'll go back to the spot I took him to this morning, I'll look out on the pond and the ducks and dragonflies who swim and swirl. Maybe I'll cry; empty all that I won't acknowledge, all that I can't express, all that I can't articulate, into the water. The ducks will drink it and sing - quack quack, quack quack.

My son lives in my heart - boom boom, boom boom.

I'm meeting friends tonight - boom boom, boom boom.

Boom boom, boom boom, boom boom, boom boom, boom boom....

Thursday, 30 July 2009

What is Time?

It was so good to see Sinja, Tuesday night, yesterday. Yakkety yak, we just talked and talked. An old friend of hers who I didn't remember ("if I saw a photo I might!") had invited her to Canada and something very powerful had happened between them. With my recent experience with old shit school aquaintance, I knew what she was saying without her having to say it.

Yesterday as we hung over the balcony having a fag I remarked how our lives seemed to run on a parallel. Our boys have such similar interests and what with her and me and mental health problems past and present and being stigmums both, it was as though time had no bearing on how we'd get on.

Time! It's years you don't see anyone and it's as though no time has passed. You slide back in so easily. It's like that with the gals from school. Can be years and years before we see one another but in no time it feels like last week.

It's a warm, fuzzy, comforting kind of feeling. If you could bottle it, I'd drink it all day!

and the winner is.....


Next weekend I'm going to the Big Chill festival thanks to my friend Annie. It's fantastic, amazing, utterly, utterly brilliant as I'm going to miss my son, I turned down a lifetime trip to India and we'll be on our way just as I'm aching to see my boy again. It is going to be a blast! Bands, camping, great company come rain, sludge or shine! And for free!!! I've never been to the Big Chill before. Been to the bar in Kings Cross, not the festival in the Malvern Hills!!!

Annie sent an email on facebook a week or so ago saying she had a free plus one ticket, who wanted to go with her? If she had many takers she would put names into a hat. I wrote something daft like 'while the child's away the mamma can play! Put my name on coloured paper, everyone else's on white ho ho ho' and yesterday morning, as Sinja slept off her jetlag, I got the news!!!!!! Her email was headed: "and the winner is......" I was bouncing off the walls!

I have that to look forward to when my son leaves tomorrow and my son to look forward to when I come back. And my my my, it will be bloody glorious to leave London for a few days, hang out with her and her mates and Chill Big time!!

I feel blessed. I do! I do....

Tuesday, 28 July 2009


Sinja's coming to London! Sinja's coming to London!
She'll be here soon! She'll be here sooooooooooooooooooon!!
Wa hoooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!

Beautiful friends I have

A couple of weeks ago, my old school friend called saying she's used up all her holiday this year, she's really busy at work, she knows I'll really miss my son when he goes to Ireland, so could she buy me a flight to Goa with her airmiles. She has tons, she told me.

Goa? GOA? INDIA???? I was gobsmacked. I was lost for words. I dreamt of my feet in the sand as waves lick my ankles, I dreamt of India. How incredible would that be?!!! To fly into Mumbai???!!!!!

I'm still gobsmacked to be honest. I'm not going to Goa though. She told me to let her know by last Friday. I er, didn't. Other friends think I'm crazy. I think I'm crazy which is why I didn't let her know but I do have to clear out this sess pit. I didn't let her know because how do you let someone know that you're saying no to a dream???? Oh go on, you think I'm crazy too - staying home to sort out my housing instead of a holiday break of a lifetime in a country I've fantasised about visiting. That's fine. I am.

What a beautiful beautiful gift from a beautiful beautiful friend. I don't have to go to thank her. The thought is the gift. Mwah mwah mwah I love you!!! xxx

My old old friend is coming to stay!!

She's on her way from Heathrow to mine as I post this!! She's just called to say she's landed!! It is amazing, unbelievable, magic!! I haven't seen her for, what, eight years??????!!!!!

I worked with her in Japan. When I travelled home overland I stopped off in Denmark to see her. I didn't see her again for years until work sent me to Copenhagen so I grabbed a couple of days holiday to hang out with her. She's a single mum like me now, neither of us can afford to go and see the other. A friend of hers bought her a ticket to Canada and she's on her way home, 24 hour stop over in London! Her son's not with her, which is a shame, as mine's with me and they're a year apart, but WEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!! Can't wait to hug her!!!!

Can I meet Mr Healey?

I wrote and sent a letter to Dobbie today asking if I can join him and the tenants when he goes to meet the Housing Minister about the council property sell off's. I hand wrote it and sent it recorded delivery, like I used to years ago. Back then my letters were full of religious imagery as I was being evicted by the church. "I've no Joseph to help me carry my load." That kind of stuff, vaguely cringey but also amusing when I look back and read them now.

I did go to see him once at his surgery but he wasn't there. Glenda was. I introduced myself and she said: "Oh, you're the girl and the church." I was abit taken aback. She didn't help me though: "There's no waiting list in Sheffield you know." No I didn't but that's not helpful.

I met Dobbie later, at the opening of a community centre in Kentish Town. He did know who I was yesterday. Yes, I'm still around...

The letter didn't ask for help. He's taking tenants with him, I am not a tenant yet. I've waited years watching my son slip down the waiting list. "Wouldn't you also be interested in what he (Healey) says to me?"

I've asked him to please consider it. I've asked him to please say yes.

I really do want to know what the Housing Minister thinks of children. What the Housing Minister thinks of mine. I didn't get to interview him for the research we did for the council about safeguarding children. This is different though. I can direct questions about valuing children using my own as an example. There is no passion like personal experience. I'd also be with other angry people. I'd be with Dobbie. I quoted his words about sell off's in my letter: "Like you, I take it very personally. Very very personally."

Dobbie said "fight". I hope he says yes. I've no energy left on my own.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Public Meetings

I've just got back from a meeting at the Town Hall about stopping the auctioning off of council flats. I'm in no mood to post about it to be honest but if I don't I never will. All the things this holiday I could've posted about - the plumbing going haywire bonkers, the squatters party my son and I went to, my son's first tooth being pulled out by the dentist, my son learning how to tie laces in just half an hour after I mistakenly bought him lace up trainers after he'd been sludging around in the rain with a hole in his old velcro ones. I may go back and blog about some of it but I'm often too zonked in the evenings. I put my son to bed and just flop.

Anyway, the public meeting. It was good! I've never been to one as they're in the evenings and my son's always got school the next day, but tonight I thought bugger it and bless my boy, he was stirling and not a whimper or tantrum as I put him to bed a few minutes ago.

Frank Dobbie Dobson was there, MP fighting the corner for the tenants and non tenants like me. A member, or a few members of Unison were there, the public service trade union.

Dobbie said what I think; that the flats sold off are the most attractive leaving people on the waiting list placed in 'less popular run down blocks'. Said it was 'a daft idea' selling off flats when the market is going down, that concerning the cuts in public expenditure, the situation was 'to start investing not disinvesting." He said "I take sell offs very personally. Very, very personally." Me too Dobbie.

He said we have to fight. "If we don't put up a fight we will certainly lose. If we do put up a fight we might win. But we won't win if we're all slinging bricks at eachother."

Big applause.

Unison were very good at pointing out that Camden is "one of the richest places in the world". I learnt of massive building programmes of social housing in the 1930's and just after the war in 1949. "Did we have more money then?" It was a rhetorical question of course. The government will bail out the banks but not the people.

My son stole my pen after that. Can't blame him really, six years old in a public meeting and all he bought with him was a Darth Vadar cariacature and a small model car. So my notes suddenly read:

"I love you mummy loveley beauteful pritty mummy!!!"

They opened out questions to the 'tenants'. There was a lot of anger about the privatisation of caretakers. (I never do post about my caretaker - the Good Man - do I?) A few people were representing homeless people. I wanted to feel fired up by the fury in the room but all I felt was sick. So what did I do? I stuck my hand up to say something. The man didn't see, so my son stuck my hand up to say something. In a daze I said:

"I have just a couple of thoughts. The first thought is that earlier this month the council auctioned off a house, kitted out as a hostel, the day after St Mungo's released research saying street homelessness has increased by 15%." I heard murmers of support. "My second thought is that PRS actually stands for Private Rental Scam because it allows the Government and local councils to say they have reduced homelessness when this isn't true." People clapped. I forgot to thank them. I wish I'd added "they've made it worse." Still, I spoke. Better than actually being one of the voiceless no? It's just lots of us voiceless are too scared to speak. Though not the mother opposite me, also with her young son, who said she was in a hostel, being bounced from one to another. My son had asked if this Council Chamber was the Chamber of Secrets as we walked in and I'd said "Yes it is." Best not to know stories like that mother's and mine.

Dobbie said he would take tenants to see the new housing minister - John Healey. Afterwards I went up to him to ask him if I could go along. He greeted me like an old friend, which served to remind me that he is a politician and he's probably like that with everyone. He said Healey only wanted "5 or 6 people" at most. "You could have some tenants and a non tenant like me!" I said, but nah.

Well, this post is long enough. It's been a long day. But at least now I can have a bath!! Yesterday my kitchen sink got blocked so I plunged it only to hear my son wail: "Mummy, the bath's filling up with water." Bilge more like but Lady Luck was on my side. The landlady had rung me that morning, so after that, I rang her back. Plumber was here this afternoon, he's coming back in the morning. I will blog it, but don't hold your breath. It's the holidays! I'm out enjoying myself with my boy before he goes away. How I love him, how I do.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Bidding day

Nah. Four properties blah blah. My points have gone up though, it seems. Though sadly nothing to jump up and down about in gleeful excitement that the end is nigh. Just a reminder that another year's gone by......

Friday, 17 July 2009

The Death Card

How did support worker and I get on to the subject of spirituality yesterday? It was as he sat on a clear space on my sofa surveying the utter mountain of mess in my flat. He offered to help me tidy up. I told him only I could do it but had honestly set my mind to doing so after reading about the Death Card in Spirit and Destiny last week. Just life got in the way.

Spirit and Destiny are running a masterclass in Teach Yourself Tarot. In this month's issue they were looking at The Hanged Man and the Death Card.

You may or may not know that the Death Card means a symbolic death, not a literal one. In life, the old must die to make way for the new. Clarissa Pinkola Estes describes it as the life-death-life cycle in her book Women Who Run With The Wolves. Something must end in order to make way for the new. (I always thought space would save my relationship with the foca, for example, time away to think, then come back and make it work. He didn't agree.)

To describe how to connect with the card in Spirit and Destiny's Masterclass, the teacher, Michele Knight, uses her own experience. I shall transcribe it for you. If you have a burning desire to move home, it may say something to you, as it did to me:

"Get de-cluttering! As I write this, I'm planning to move house. My wife Margi and I haven't yet found our new home, but we've already begun sorting through our stuff and have sent a message to the universe that we're serious and expect to find the dream home that I've cosmically ordered. And to prove even I'm not immune to the wonder of magic, I'm amazed at how the energy round our current home has lifted. So be as ruthless as Death himself and scythe through whatever's adding weight to your journey. That goes for behaviour and habits too. Cleanse your home and cleanse yourself, and when you're done, walk about, clapping your hands (a fantastic way of dispersing energy), and burn some sage, which is also great for clearing."

I've been thinking of giving it a go, hand clapping 'n' all, and really should do now. But I have to go into Camden. My son's got two birthday parties , today and tomorrow, so I've got to scour that Catalogue of Laminated Dreams which is Argos. I do love Argos but how I miss Woolworths - Camden's only one-stop-shop for children.

Afterwards, or before, depends when I get there, I'm meeting Milly for a coffee. The de-cluttering can't wait, but it's just going to have to!

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Let them eat cake!

Oh Nigella, it is the most divine cake to pass the lips of a mere mortal like me, but my how it takes so long to make.

Today is Fancy Dress Day at school. My son has gone dressed as a cowboy. In the afternoon there is a school tea. I began to bake the cake for this at 9.30 last night. It was iced and ready to go at 1.45. (OK, I could have finished it abit earlier but would have missed the ending of The Mother, a film on BBC 4, which I was enjoying despite its multi-layered themes of loss and loneliness and desire and betrayal and and and.... back to the post..)

In January I volunteered to be the school's Class Tea Queen. I'm a great believer in cakes, it seemed fitting. However I didn't like this title so renamed it the Queen of Tarts. There's something abit more risque about that; a pun, a play, a parody, a pretence, whatever, it was received as it was intended; lighthearted and fun.

Duty comes with being the Queen of Tarts however. Not just making sure that classes know when it's their turn, or printing out fliers, or posting the event on walls and windows. When it's my son's year's turn, I feel duty bound to make one. It's a school effort today, I feel duty bound.

Why Nigella's time gobbling chocolate fudge?

Why, because it's the best!

Homemade cakes you see, fetch the highest price. Prices range from 5p to 70p. Nigella's chocolate fudge goes at 70p a slice.

Now I must go to set up and serve. I never get to eat my cake, it disappears so quickly as I or someone else dishes it up. I always remember though, always remember, my son's implorations. "Save a slice for me mummy!" Yes my sweet, you shall eat cake!

Remember my name

I wasn't going to post whether the CNJ printed my letter. I was going to be as discreet as I gave them the option to be. If they didn't print it, it didn't matter. If they did then they would have honoured my anonymity.

Following my two earlier posts, I needed to get out. I needed air and sugar. Off I float to the local newsagent to get a coke. It has a stack of Journal's so I pick one up. I decide there and then to have a brief flick through, to check. I often do this so am delighted, in my shattered, knackered state, that it's there! Name and address supplied!

I tell the newsagent because I always chat to him and his wife. I tell him I'm going to tell Supermario next door. Supermario believes my life is going to get better.

As I walk into the hairdressers, Irene Cara is blaring out her lungs on the radio.

"Remember my name FAME!
I'm going to live forever
I'm going to learn how to fly

That's why I've blogged this. No-one in my community, not the newsagent, not supermario, not even the odd parent in my son's school, knows that I write a blog.
If I tell anyone else it's been published, they will of course think it's by me, not Stigmum. I have no proof, they only have my word. Fame?!

What the CNJ did was perfect. The words are important, not who wrote them. "Do people have to die?" is their headline. (And yes, I am rather chuffed my words weren't edited; that's an occupational expectation.)
Name and address supplied!

I can tell you about the way she looked
The way she acted, the colour of her hair
Her voice was soft and cool
Her eyes were clear and bright
But she's not there! (Zombies)

I really ought to thank the Journal but first let me post something about cakes, just to round off the morning's blogging.....

Bidding time again

Six properties this week, all of them on estates. I don't want any of them, except perhaps the one on Dartmouth Park Hill because that flat has two double rooms, not a double and a single, which makes me think it is a fat, not a narrow flat therefore the bikes can live in it too.

They are all on estates, they are all a few floors up (hence bike carrying) but the message I am sending by bidding for the three that I do, is that they are all commutable distance to my son's school. You know, if the bike gets a puncture and is having a sleepover at Simpson's, and we must walk.

Am I boring you with this weekly bid update thing yet? I'm hoping so, because then you might have some idea how bloody boring it is.

Visit from support worker

When the doorbell rang I had my eyes closed lying on the sofa. I didn't tell him I went to bed at 2 am last night having made a cake for my son's school's tea party later nor did I say I was drained from blog writing activities this week. He knows I'm tired of this situation. That's what he has to take back to the council.

He's a super nice guy my support worker. He's just finished doing a part time HND and wants to do a part time Bsc in the autumn so that one day he can become the chartered surveyor he's often dreamt of being.

We chatted about alot of things; life after death, spirituality, remaining positive, doing volunteering, council waiting lists, all kinds of things. It turns out we're the same age. "We'd've been in the same year at school!" I said.

He said he regretted not doing well at school. He was 13 when his parents migrated here from Bangladesh and he didn't speak a word of English. He had 3 years in which to pass his O'levels. "I didn't do very well," he said.

"You did," I said. "You sat the same exams I did without the advantage I had."

Then we got chatting about where we'd gone 'wrong' in our lives and I decided I had no regrets. I've done what I've done. I'm doing something about it now.

He told me to go and get checked out by a doctor. To get my therapist to write a letter of support. "They've written letters, it doesn't work," I say again. "Do it, keep trying," he answers.

As I stand up to see if the shrink's letter to me is on the sofa I feel dizzy. In a spell of stigmum madness I say "Ooh I'm dizzy," and start singing:

Dizzy, my head is spinning
Like a whirlpool it never ends
And it's you council making it spin so

He leaves saying he'll come back soon. "I like talking to you," he says.
"I wish the council liked listening to you trying to help me," I replied.

Like Sisyphus, I must push that rock up the fecking mountain. Again.

I get knocked down, but I get up again..... (Chumbawamba)

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Storm in a thimble

Several journalist friends, who I texted for advice on Monday night, called me yesterday. A mixed bag of responses when it came to giving my full details but a couple of them asked why I didn't write the letter under my own name given it wasn't about housing.
Well the answer, I suppose, is in the post 'Why ARE cigarettes always the answer' but to expand on that a little bit, anything I write that even remotely mentions a politician's name, has to be written by Stigmum. This is because enough people in the council know who I am, or know of me and they have it within their power to send my life into the pits. Already I'm much further down the waiting list than I used to be.
I did email the CNJ yesterday, said my link was my address, I would leave it all at their discretion. It was the best I could do.

It's funny and not funny, but in my twenties, one of my favourite quotes was:
"I might be going to hell in a bucket but at least I'm enjoying the ride!"

Now I feel I really am going to hell in a bucket, and I'm not enjoying the ride. I have my son, I want to go to heaven in a chariot.

I guess it's time for another letter to the council. About overcrowding this time?
We gotta get out of this place, if it's the last thing we ever do, cos boy there's a better life for me and you. (The Animals)

Doors that swing

It's been a merry little mental/emotional upheaval for me the last few days so what an absolute delight, to go into my inbox and read two very opportunistic emails.
My participatory appraisal people have asked if I would like to write in the report about our community research ; a parents' perspective of the training. Would I? Would I?! Give me a deadline sir! He even said I might get paid. £50! Do you know that's the cost of becoming a temporary member of the NUJ?!
Jab has also sent me information regarding a basics journalism course. It's set up by those working for the council's parent magazine. It says its for those with no experience. I have some, and I've just finished a journalism course as you know but I'm going to call the woman anyway. Nothing like starting again, nothing like moving forward, nothing like opportunistic emails in one's inbox!!

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

School reports

My son got a mighty fine report from school. He's done exceptionally well in most of his subjects. They say he's caring and intelligent, has good friends, participates brilliantly and takes learning seriously.
It also says "he can sometimes become a bit distracted in his independent work."
Ah, so he is his mother's son after all....
Yes, I burnt the shepherd's pie last week and today put the fairy liquid in the fridge.... but still, I got some posts written didn't I?!

Educating Children

Sitting on a bench in the swimming pool changing rooms, 5.45pm, yesterday. My son is getting dressed.

Me: Sorry, what did you say? I was a million miles away.
My son: No you're not mummy, you're here!
Me: It's an expression. It means my mind is a million miles away (gesticulating to the ceiling), it's not in my head (pointing back at it), it's far away (hand sweeps the distance)
My son: I bet it's 12 steps for me to climb from your feet to your head! Let me try. One! (he steps on my foot) Two! (clutching my shoulders with his hands his foot is on my shin. He continues to clamber up me but I've stopped paying attention) Nine!
Me: Aargh! What are you doing? (as he lands a foot on my shoulder)
My son: Ten! Ten steps to your head mummy! (As his sole touches my crown)
Me: Ha ha.
He tumbles down
Me: There's another expression that means the same thing.
My son: What's that mummy?
Me: "The lights are on but no-one's home"
My son: I don't understand mummy.
Me: The lights are on, I'm here, awake but no-one's home (pointing at my head) - my mind's far away.
My son: Oh


I went to the Greasy Spoon on Queen's Crescent this morning. I needed to get some air and I needed to eat. When I'm fearful of something, or stressed, I do not eat. I have no appetite, therefore I do not eat. It might be heaven on the girth but plays havoc with the guts.

When I'm feeling quite content, I stuff myself. This plays havoc on the girth and the guts.

Billie is like me. Her life is so stressful, she's become wafer thin.

I tell her to eat with her child. She can't even do this.

I force myself to eat with mine.

Fish pie from the freezer last night. Same sized portions. Breakfast is too early for me but I bought myself some muesli this morning.

My son picks the menu when I'm feeling like this. He wants tortilla tonight. "I thought you didn't like it," I said, balking at the hour it takes to make. "I do now," he says.

I bought some eggs and some spuds at the market.

Thank heaven, for little boys la la laaaaa

Such is life

I contacted the National Union of Journalists last week after Mary told me they gave advice to journalist bloggers. They told me to call the freelance department and I didn't get round to it. Yesterday seemed like an opportune moment.

I needed some advice because the local paper said legally it could only publish my letter if I gave my full details. I told the man I didn't want to do this; they had the blog link. I was feeling abit vulnerable...

The man said: "I wouldn't think you have to give them your real name but I don't know the legalities of that." He suggested I get myself temporary membership and then I could ask any question I desired. He put me through to the temporary membership people.

I cancelled my full NUJ membership about 2 years after I was made redundant; when I realised I couldn't afford the subscription. When I did my journo course recently, our tutor suggested we get a student membership. I didn't do this. (I am apt to look into the future at the wrong things)

The lady on the phone was very nice. She said I needed to be earning to get a membership. "Oh," I said. "I may have a problem with that. The name I write under never wants to be paid. It'll upend the benefits."

She suggested I try and get paid for something, however little, I could earn better money later. The conversation was quite funny actually because I told her I'd called the Big Issue asking to do 'anything for nothing'. Given that in past I swore that I would never work for the media for free again, it was quite funny that now, as an ex professional, I was offering to, with little luck.

"They probably think you're a hoax," she said.
We both laughed at that.

Why ARE cigarettes always the answer?

Yesterday, on a whim, I sent a letter to the CNJ. Totally unrelated to housing, it was a thought that somehow entered my inebriated mind as I slept at the weekend. The CNJ's been running a story about the shambolic state of Camden Tube Station. I rarely use the tube, why on earth would I have an opinion about that? Well with utter consternation, I've come to realise that Sue and I are not the same people. Myself and I are separate entities.

Here's the story. I'll start with my letter.

Whilst millions of pounds are being funnelled into the transport systems of the new Olympic Village, why can't cash be cobbled together to renovate and repair Camden tube station, one of the busiest and most popular destinations in the capital? It's a safety issue above anything else, as Frank Dobson states. Do people have to die first?

Send, forget about it, go to blog, post navel gazing vignettes of life as a stigmum.

Later I go back to my email account and I have a message, from the paper. I rattle off letters all the time (which they don't publish, which is fine). This is a first.

Thankyou for your letter, it states. For legal reasons, you must supply your full name and address for your letter to be printed. However, should you indicate so, we can withhold those details from publication. Thankyou.

Nothing wrong with that. That is normal procedure. So why did terror enter my soul and reach for one cigarette after another until it got to 5.30 and I realised I hadn't eaten a thing all day?

I am a chicken. I have a fridge magnet that reads "We can all FLY as HIGH as the DREAMS we DARE to LIVE, unless we are a chicken." (Edward Monkton)

Sue de Nim is Stigmum. Stigmum is brave. She divulges the secrets of her soul and she couldn't give a flying fairy cake. Pain, anger, fury, love; she doesn't stifle these. She rattles off articles and letters to the press, forgoing the usual formalities of pitch and payment enquiries and doesn't care whether they print it or not. Sue the Stigmum is a fully paid up member of the School of Doris.

Many people know that I am Sue. I sent my book to a handful of publishers using my name but written under hers. Using pseudonymns are an age old tradition. It is also why the book is called "The Book That Will Never Be Published." That is what I was told.

The CNJ doesn't know that I am Stigmum and it doesn't really matter if they do. They will print her name and keep mine on file. It's what all newspapers do.

But the CNJ has this link now. The CNJ also know that a girl beetled to their offices last week asking where the auctions were taking place so she could bid on a flat. It doesn't take Einstein.

My personality has become so entwined with hers, her personality so enmeshed with mine, that the result is utter confusion.

I could ignore the CNJ's email. It doesn't really matter. There's no desperation to see my name in print. No money is changing hands.

Stigmum is an altogether different creature. She wants to respond. She will not leave me alone until she does. She needs me you see, I am her conduit. She is nothing, she is no-one, without me. And I have to admit, I am rather fond of her.

Now breathe. Light another cigarette if you must.

Monday, 13 July 2009


It was so good to see my son last night when he came back from his dad's. "I cried on Friday because I missed you mummy," he said. All he wanted were hugs. I was more than happy to oblige.

Recently he's drawn several pictures with three people in them. "Who are they?" I ask. "You, me and daddy," he replies.

This morning he drew me a picture. He drew a star, a ladybird in a pink circle with the words 'well done' around it. He stuck on a ribbon on which he'd glued a red 'jewel'. There were also two stickers; one of the starship enterprise and the other of a sea eel.

On it he wrote:

You have been a star at looking after me!"

I am one very fortunate mother. I'll miss him so much when he's away for two weeks in the summer. I'll have him with me for five though.

Love. How I love him.

Method in madness

On Friday, as I'm writing "the weight of ideas", my support worker phones me. "I haven't heard from you in a long time," I say. He asks me how I am, and as I am in the midst of posting my housing thoughts I say "Not good, I'm tired of being in this situation."

He asks me if I've thought of getting a letter from a doctor, it might help my case. I tell him I missed a psychotherapy assessment two weeks ago. "Why is it, why is it I have to be mad to get housed? Doctors and therapists have written letters, it hasn't helped." I tell the support worker about my history in the private sector. He knows all this. He arranges to come and see me on Thursday.

I missed my second shrink assessment. I got the wrong day. I thought it was a Friday but it was the day before. Perhaps I should call them, make another appointment. At the first assessment she said "We don't know how to help you. How can we help you?" Between you and me, I've had enough of therapy, therapy has had enough of me.

Still I should call. Get them to write another letter. Tell them I'm going to bid at auction if the opportunity arises. I'm not entirely happy about seeing a shrink, particularly if I invite the press and the press come along.

Still I'm not unique. If that's the story they want to focus on, it might just give an idea of the hoops we have to jump through.

Over in Dagenham the waiting list isn't so long apparantly. A report came out last week that only 2% of immigrants get housed, indicating they are not given priority over nationals. The parents interviewed in the news report were already in council flats. The single man they interviewed only waited three months.

I should move to Dagenham you say? I don't know anybody there. There are many reasons why I want to stay here. Why am I justifying myself anyway?

Can I have your number?

Jab has a friend who is in a band. A nice guy, good company. Last week Jab sent me a text saying he'd asked for my number, was it ok to give it to him? I replied "Sure, just as long as he knows it's friends."

I've not heard anything.

Men and women. Discuss.

Stupid risks

I got into a cab with a man I didn't know on Saturday night. Just before I did so, I said: "Just so you know, I'm coming with you but I'm not going to shag you."

He looked at me, mumbled something and we stepped into the waiting car.

The evening started quietly enough. The plan was to go to Kenwood House, sit on the grass and listen to the Gypsy Kings but that idea got rained off.

I met Steve and his friend Russ in The Flask in Hampstead around 6. An hour later my anthropology friends joined us. Issy came with her friend Mandy and Annie came alone. Issy works with victims of domestic violence, Mandy with refugees and asylum seekers and Annie on the Age of Stupid. Steve and Russ are actors. All of them professionals, except me.

The plan wasn't to get messy but how quickly things unravel.

At around 11 the girls and I got a tube into Camden, looking for a late night bar. I'd had enough to drink but what the hell, it's not every evening I get to go out.

We went to the Barfly. Shots? Sure! They downed a tequila, Vodka's my poison.

Issy and Mandy left so Annie and I went to The Marathon Bar, a kebab shop come late night drinkery often playing live music.

I got talking to some guys who I was convinced were musicians. Were they? Who knows! Did I ask them? Nah! For some reason I decided that wouldn't be 'cool'. (I have trouble understanding myself sometimes, after all, I didn't consider myself uncool to gawp at Jude Law at Treetops, the indoor kiddies playcentre a few years ago, whilst all the other mums casually pretended there wasn't a superstar in our midst).

I found myself talking to Mr Grey Quiff who invited me to his house. "There are a few people there," he says and I'm thinking "Yey! Party!" Annie had left a few minutes earlier and I'd told her I wouldn't be long in doing the same.

It's as we're standing on the roadside about to get into the minicab, just me and him, that I find myself saying: "Just so you know, I'm coming with you but I'm not going to shag you."

So off we go, we're chatting about this and that and he keeps mentioning that there are people at his house and I keep saying "yeah you said, that's ok!"

It' s when we're on a wide, deserted expanse of Essex road that he suddenly says to the cabbie:
"Stop at the next bus stop and let her out. You can get a bus home," turning to me.
"You can't do that!" I say."Leave me on the side of a deserted road in the middle of the night!"
"Stop at the next bus stop," he repeats to the driver.
"I'll drop you home Sir, and then I'll drive the lady home," says the cabbie and I'm thinking "thank God for that," rather than seeking an explanation.

The cabbie doesn't drop Mr Grey Quiff at his front door. Mr Grey Quiff asks to be let out at the end of a road. The cabbie turns to me and tells me it'll cost me £10 to be driven home.

I consider it an absolute bargain, especially considering the cost of what I might have gone through.

Why am I telling you this? I don't know. Perhaps objectively I find it quite interesting.

Men and women. Discuss.

Saturday, 11 July 2009


I've been rereading about angels this week. For many many years now I've asked the "World" for protection, particularly when I'm in a spot of bother. My belief in angels isn't a new thing but a few months ago I ordered a book on it from "Bethea" on the internet. It wasn't arriving and in the past, things I've bought from Bethea arrive quite quickly. It arrived on Tuesday, the day after I went to auction. Perfect timing you could say.

After I finished posting on here yesterday I felt I couldn't do anything but take myself to bed. The flat really does need de cluttering but I thought it could wait. I'd lie down and try and communicate with my personal angel. We all have one, according to the book. I wanted the angel to give me a sign.

I fell asleep.

When I woke up I thought I really ought to text a friend and go out that evening. I'd spent far too much time on my own. I thought of texting Hus, Milly, maybe just go to the cinema with Em? I fell back to sleep.

Some time later my mobile rang. It was Sam, a fellow stigmum. Did I have my son with me? She was thinking of taking her two children to the Heath and she really needed a drink as well. I told her he wasn't but I'd be happy to meet her. We arranged to meet at the Bull and Last on Highgate Road at 4 o'clock.

I didn't have any money so I went to the cashpoint in Queens Crescent. Then remembering my post on facebook this morning: "Why is it cigarettes are always the answer?" and a friend responding with "I thought smarties were always the answer", I decided to pop into the shop and get Sam's two kids a tube each. I couldn't see any, but there were "the Milky Bars are on me!"

A man with a basket of goods let me go before him and as I paid for the chocolate I became aware of the music playing. I focused on listening to what it was. "I'll stand by you, I'll stand by you. Won't let nobody hurt you, I'll stand by you. Take me in, into your darkest hour and I'll never desert you, I'll stand by you." (Girls Aloud version)

Angels send signs in all kinds of ways and it's true, when you receive one, you do feel a wash of calm.
If I bid at auction, I'm not going in on my own.
And as it turned out, Sam was ideal company.

Friday, 10 July 2009

The Big Issue

I emailed them recently, followed it up with a phone call, asking if I can do 'anything for nothing'.
I'd even sell it whilst holding up a banner which reads "It's not just about homelessness you know, it's a bloody good read!"
They said they'll get back to me.
Que sera sera

Class Action

Celebrities who have had their phones hacked by the News of the World are apparently talking to lawyers to take class action against the paper.
On This Week last night Selina Scott was saying that they've printed falsehoods about her in the past but because of the mighty weight of the media, she and other celebrities don't have the resources to take the paper to court. You can almost taste their revenge.

Hundreds of people in Camden are taking action against politicians and councillors promoting the auctioning off of council flats and are being ignored.

Hmmm, well that fell abit flat didn't it?

Hacking phones for a story

The News of the World is in a bit of hot water after disclosures that its journalists hacked into phones belonging to celebrities (actors, actresses, football managers, models, pop stars and politicians, those kinds).

Are the press really so hard pushed for a story they have to resort to criminal voyeurism (is hearism a word?)

I guess some people live and breathe celebrity gossip and where there's demand there's supply.

Oh I dunno, I read Spirit and Destiny and the Big Issue. What do I know?

The weight of ideas

Ideas are all very well to have but to be executed with any success the heart and mind has to be in compliance or maaaaaaaaaaaaan, the thought of it is hard. That's where I am. I'm trying to chill out, take rescue remedy, anything to quell the emotions that crash and bang and swirl within me.

My heart has long desired a two bedroom flat for my son and myself. A garden would be nice, not having to haul the bike up and down, nicer. Has long desired to be out of this situation, off the waiting list. My heart has long desired to go home, the bricks and mortar kind.

My head has told me to write letters, which I've done, talk to people who might help, which I've done, talk to lawyers, which I've done, all with no success. Now my heart is telling me to bid for a property and well, I don't know where the law stands. I don't know what kind of trouble I might get into, I don't know, in truth, what might happen if I go through with it. I don't know how it will affect my son.

I'm no stranger to ideas. In my twenties my heart was set on going to Chile but suddenly Japan popped into my head. Japan? I didn't want to go to Japan! What did I want to go to Japan for? But the thought, it wouldn't let go. I fought the thought, flipped a coin. Best of three.

Before I flew out I felt much like I'm feeling now.

Same with the idea to return home overland. On my own. Through Asia. On my own. Through China. On my own. Russia, Eastern Europe. On my own. Here my head told me to take a plane to London but my heart wanted to walk, take buses, boats and trains but I was scared. I was so scared. I didn't eat the whole week before I flew to Bali. I couldn't. I was crapping it.

This is different though. Back then, nobody cared what I did.
This time, I know that's what happening in the borough where I live is wrong. Wrong wrong wrong. I care what I do because it could have positive repurcussions on the borough. I care what I do because it impacts my son. Whether I succeed or fail it impacts my son. My Son my Sun my Son.

What's the alternative? To remain living with rent I cannot afford with the threat of eviction hanging over my boy? This journey has to stop, it's time for this journey to stop. I so desire this journey to stop. This is a way of stopping it.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

The point system

Points are the currency with which we bid for a flat. As a human being you are given points if you have a medical problem, addiction, a victim of violence or harrassment or have refugee status and if you have none of these problems, a human being with a child is given the same priority. When I didn't have a child, I didn't apply for housing. Council flats in my mind were for those who needed one. I didn't need one then, I do now.

According to policy, those with the highest points are shortlisted to view a property and he or she with the highest points, gets it. In theory.

In practice I am not alone in seeing someone get a flat with less points than me. I met Mohammed when I was researching hostel families for my masters. He said:

"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." (Laughs) Probably those people in temporary flat, I should get priority."

My last post I told you, 308 they got it for.

The council does what the council wants to do. It says its policies are "transparent". Yes, as transparent as a slab of iron.

I won't play the game

Nothing to bid on for me this week. There are four properties for hundreds and hundreds of people to choose from. I'm not bidding on any. Last property I bid on I was 156th out of 346 bidders. Don't know how many points they won with. In March I was 154th out of 403. Winning bidder had 308 points. I have 319. Go figure.

There's a maisonette in Regents Park, ground and first in a tower, £102.44 a week.
There's a maisonette in Swiss Cottage, 7th floor of a tower, £96.70 a week
There's a conversion on a street property, ooh! but sadly in Covent Garden/Holborn, at £188.57
The other is a conversion in Primrose Hill but it's Housing Association at £124

Location location location, I want to be near my son's school. The staff are exceptional and have always been so supportive when something's gone wrong in his life or mine. It's a brilliant community school anyway offering music and sport and art and ICT and all those things a child needs beyond English, Maths and Science. It also feeds very nicely into his secondary education. Why pull him out? Why be forced to pull him out?

I'd go housing association but I don't trust it anymore. In Posh Street where I lived before, all the empty properties were housing association and when I called and wrote and pleaded for one to move into as we were being evicted, I was asked "Do you have a job?" and I said "Yes, I'm a mother." They replied: "Not that kind of job" (That was a phone call obviously, I never got it in writing) I'm also Housing Association now, and it's no picnic I can tell you. No security either.

The rent is cheap you might say and yes, it's certainly cheaper than the private sector. £250 a week for the tiny one bed I live in now? A two bedroom is anything up from £300. However, council wise, I can't afford £188 on my own on top of everything else. Couples can at least split the rent. Still, if it's near my son's school, sod it, at least there's security.

The council says "bid for everything". That is how you play this game.
I've become the Fussy Mother I wrote about in 2005. I haven't sent my Book That Will Never Be Published to the publisher who said he'd publish it. Yet. When I do and if you want, you can read the chapter then.

Keep struggling down those steps great granny

There are perks to being late for school as you discover what you're ordinarily to busy to see.

(This morning I'm at the front door when my son says "mummy, can I bring Spike and Cutie to school?" and I reply "yes and your book bag and your water." I stare out at my wonderful view and when I look back my son's in the bedroom taking off Cutie the rabbit's jumper. Spike is the badger. "I said book bag and water not dressing your toys. Quick!")

I call the lift deliberating if I should just walk down but it comes quickly. At least today the 94 year old doesn't have to struggle down. My son and I squeeze in with widow, her two son's and her mum. I shouldn't call her widow. I know two here. My point in calling them that is that some people seem to think stigmum's are all teenage girls (see an earlier post about Mr Ketteridge). She can be 2boys mum and the other 2boys and a girl mum, incase I mention them again. Anyway, I digress.

The conversation turns to the broken big lift and I tell them I spoke to the engineer yesterday who said it was Camden's responsibility and his company had been asking the council for five years to do something about it. 2boys mum knows all about it and tells me that of the 500 lifts in Camden that are coming up for renewal, only one has been replaced. The other 499 aren't getting a look in. So there's no cash in the pot for Papier Mache Towers. There's none in the pot for anywhere else either. Apparantly.

If there's money to clean a moat there's money to fix a lift. If there's money to give an MP a second home then there's money to fix a lift. Nearly £2 million was made from auctioning those flats on monday whilst I was there. They made more after I left. Where is that cash going?

She found the information on the minutes of a DMC meeting on Camden's website. I haven't the heart right now to go digging and investigating. To be honest, I rarely do have the heart as I find it so utterly depressing. I'm glad though that others, like 2boys mum and also Hannah, do make it their business to expose the flaws. 2boys mum said she regularly emails the local press, gmtv, all media bodies to have a scream. One of us will be successful. One of us has to be. We all have to be. Meanwhile the Camden New Journal's doing a great job on our behalf.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Police chief on illegal immigration

Ceci was very interested in this one.
When she first asked how police would safeguard illegal immigrants both Clout and I laughed. An illegal immigrant wouldn't go up to the police was what we were both thinking.

This had followed a discussion on ethnic minorities generally, that there was a deep mistrust from some groups, most of which he said was cultural. There are parents who want to discipline their kids how they want to, he said and police do go into parent groups and explain that the British way is different. (A report of our research is coming out in September and some of our team interviewed the Somali community. I myself don't know enough. But then that's what our research is about; building bridges, creating greater transparency between the community and the service providers of that community)

Ceci rephrased her question and focused on the abuse of illegal immigrant children. What solution did the police have for that?

Often you don't know what a difficult question a question can be. Very often the most simple questions can be the toughest to answer. Illegal immigration is a political hot potato, controversial and inflammatory.

He said the police had set up (needed to set up? bugger, sorry) a Third Party Plan. What is needed, he said, is for the volutary sector to step in. The protection of these children can only be implemented with the support of voluntary groups.

I am sure volutary groups will jump at the chance. Ceci could barely contain herself! For me, I felt the seeds of change being planted in the ground.

The research we're doing is in its early stages. Pilots have been done in Hull and have been successful. There is a real possibility for change. Where people's voices can be heard and policy can reflect their, our needs.

I wish it could happen overnight, well well before the next general election....

We could light up the world if we stayed side by side (ok, I've deconstructed a line from a Take That song, who cares, I'm suddenly feeling optimistic!)

Police chief on dispersal orders

I asked chief superindentent Clout what he thought of the borough's dispersal orders and whether he thought they were successful.
He told us "they're brutal but we they have to be used." Enforcing them was a last resort, he said, but also necessary in order to tackle gang crime. He then asked me what I thought. (He clouts with kindness this one)
I told him: "No, I don't think so."
He asked me why and I said: "Well, they all just come round to my place."
"How do you know?" he asked.

How do I know indeed? I keep myself to myself. I come home, close the door, cook, clean, read, write, play, listen to music, anything really. If see teenagers sitting on the wall I think, they are teenagers sitting on a wall. Once when I was locked out they offered to climb up the first balcony to let me and my son in and they were in the process of doing so when a resident arrived, was able to let me in and I could run up to a neighbour for my spares. By and large, I don't see anything. How do I know?

"Well, not so long ago they assaulted a security officer and they kicked out a glass panel from a top floor balcony and..."

"Right, OK, there may be instances where they move on elsewhere but there are dedicated safer neighbourhood teams in every area who are there to respond to any problems." I was abit thrown because his whole demeanour, the slackening of his body, the relief that seemed to wash over his face told me that he knew exactly where I lived. We've had riot police here and all sorts. There is a Safer Neighbourhood team here, I personally have no complaints. I let the matter drop.

Indeed, as the mother of a small boy, I have to trust what they do. Ages ago, a year or two ago, I read in the CNJ that teenagers were regularly assualted, beaten up, for fun and for mobile phones etc on Hampstead Heath. I want my son to go to secondary school around here, the article frightened me.

Clout told us there was a police officer in most secondary schools. That teams work closely with the school, with pupils. If they hear of a planned fight between rival schools, they will intercept that and use their stop and search powers.

I'm still unclear how they hear about these fights, I asked him how do they decide who to stop and search, do they stop them all? (My 12 year old nephew carried a knife for a while, to "defend"himself, until my brother rumbled him. I didn't say this to Clout).

They've taken lots of knives off kids he said. "We view it as protecting them, not harrassing them." He also said Camden Police are one of the best in the capital for tackling crime. He would say that of course but I've lived in Lambeth, I've heard a man being shot in the head with an air rifle right outside my flat. I chose to believe him. Well what choice do I have?

Ten storeys for the 94 year old

I walk down the stairs this morning as both lifts are out and I encounter my 70 year old neighbour a couple of floors down helping her 94 year old mother down the steps. They are taking it very slowly, obviously, but then my neighbour says "It's easier on the way down. Going up is harder." Fear of personal issues is immediately replaced with fury that this shouldn't be happening to these pensioners.

I offer to help but we're going to be late for school again ("Just let me finish this lego car mummy.") but they understand and thank me anyway. An ambulance is waiting at the bottom to take great granny to hospital for a routine checkup.

On the way back I run into the lift engineer. "Are you going to fix both?"
"Well we're going to do the small one for now, get that running."
"Great but people need the big one too."
"There are too many problems with that one."
"Like what?"
"There's flooding, water runs into it, don't you hear it splashing around when you're in it?"
"You can do something though."
"It's not our problem, it's Camden's. We've been asking them for five years to sort it out and they don't do anything."
"Can't you do anything?"
He shrugs his shoulders and swings his head in that gesture that says 'where do I start?'
"I'll try later."
"Thanks, thanks alot."

A little way up the block I pass dad carrying his three year old daughter.
"It's a joke, isn't it?" I say.
"Kids apparantly. Yesterday. They were down at the bottom messing around with them. Someone called the security services, you know, and they called the police and they came in a van."
"Was this last night?"
"No, yesterday morning when I came back from dropping her off at nursery. They were all there."

My turn to swing my head. As time goes on I'm speechless.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Hannah and Tim are being evicted

Hannah and Tim are in the same situation as me. In a temporary flat where the lease agreement between the housing association and the Council will expire next year.
I saw Hannah on Sunday at the Alma Street Festival and she told me they were being evicted, that they've had a court order through. I don't understand and will have to talk to her more.

I don't understand because this flat I'm in was sold two years ago. One couple came to view it and said if they bought it, I would have to leave. The council assured me that while there was an lease agreement between the housing association and the flat, my tenancy would be secure and that tenancy (and security) would expire in 2010.

I was lucky, the people who did buy it, bought it with me and my son in it. So you see, I had assurances so I don't understand how this is happening to Hannah and Tim (again.... they were evicted by their last landlords hence the situation they are in now).

I told them to get a lawyer. I didn't know what else to suggest. A lawyer didn't help me but here is an eviction order. They must be able to get help.

The council has told them they will go back into a hostel or into temporary accommodation in Haringey. Haringey? Their son's are all settled at their school in Kentish Town.

Lives are simply overturned with no thought for the children. Do you think it's right? Do you?

You need an alibi as though you're up for murder

Just over a week ago I waited at home for Tommy the housing officer's visit and he never turned up. On Friday I received his letter which I replied to yesterday (by email, not phoning on this one)

His letter said: " I am very sorry you were unable to keep the appointment made for me to visit you to carry out a routine inspection of your property on Friday 26 June2009."

I emailed: "I've received your letter where you say 'I am very sorry you were unable to keep the appointment made for me to visit you to carry out a routine inspection of your property on Friday 26 June 2009.
"Tommy, I was there. [The housing association] had sent a gas inspector for that morning and I also had [Matt the mental health worker] come and see me. He left just after 12.30 and can verify that I was there the whole time.
"It is you who didn't keep the appointment. I am reluctant to sit in my flat for a no-show this Friday.
"Also, please in the future, do not imply that the fault is mine, that I am the one who doesn't keep the appointment. It is also what the council has done in the past and it's very unpleasant.
"I shall hear from you soon

It BUGS me no end particularly as I like Tommy. I don't want to have to write emails like that to him. The council no-shows were a support worker two years ago just before I got ex support worker. Aaargh. In this bucket you need an alibi as though you're up on a murder charge. Nothing is ever their fault.

£1.1 million enough to fix the lifts?

The lift's been out of action for ages now. I saw the widow from upstairs who recently bought a bed but has had to cancel its delivery twice. In the smaller lift on the way to school my son and I managed to cram in with the Kosovan mum, her two boys and her baby in the buggy.
All our boys were late. Kosovan mum had waited 10 minutes for the lift. (That wasn't our excuse today... oh you know what it's like: "What do you mean you haven't got your trainers on? We have to leave! NOW!"

Yes, so they are selling the council flats to pay for the refurbishment of existing properties. Here at Papier Mache Towers we've been told that nothing can be done about the lifts as the parts are so old they are irreplacable. So install new ones! No cash for that? What do you mean?

Monday, 6 July 2009

Off I go to auction

I went to the public auction of Camden's council houses and flats today as I've been thinking of bidding for one.

One of the six properties up for grabs to private developers was a six bedroom house near my son's school. Location perfect as it wouldn't interrupt his education but we don't need six bedrooms. What a political point that would make though. Can you imagine? The council says it doesn't have any large properties for big families and there I am having just bought one.

Just prior to going I went to the local press and asked a journalist I'd met before where it was happening, at what time and also what I planned to do.

"You're not planning to use the press to do this are you?" and I told him "there's a part of me that doesn't want the press there at all."

The auction was taking place in Piccadilly in the Bafta building. Things are never as you imagine. I imagined a room full of men, slick property developers (though where I got that image I do not know). I walked in and along one table were all print outs of the 'lots' for sale. I looked for Roderick Road. Lot 12. I had plenty of time before picking my son up from school.

Men and women of all descriptions milled around. Of course this wasn't just the sale of council flats, there were all those repossessed properties, whose previous owners were no doubt gutted they couldn't buy back their homes at a bargain price.

I got chatting to two private developers and asked them what they thought about the council auctioning off its properties. "If people want to buy it they should be able to buy it," he said. "It's no different from the Right to Buy."

"Yes it is!" I said. "Right to buy is symbolic of a secure tenancy for people. What do you think of these sales given that there are 1000's of people on the waiting list needing these homes?"
"Haven't thought about it to be honest," said his pal.

There was free tea and coffee but I was already zinging from the espressos I'd drank as I'd thought and thought and thought again whether what I planned to do was the right thing to do.

The bidding began. One bearded man with the hammer and two either side of him who would field the bids.

The first council flat up for grabs was a one bedroom garden flat. "Lot 3". Up the bidding rose, £150,000 and soon to £176,000. "Are we all done?" said the auctioneer. "Is there any better than £207,000?" It seemed so, the hammer went down at £209,000.

Lot 9 was the next Camden property, a six bedroom place with a garden and cellar. "We're opening the bidding at £500,000, £500,000..." It was like watching a game of ping pong, two people pitted against one another, then as one said "no" another bidder would pop up and keep the game going. 910,920, up up up, I looked to my left where I couldn't see the bidder then back to my right where he was tall with silver hair. He stopped at £1,000,000. The flat went to a couple for £1.1 million.

I approached them afterwards and congratulated them on their successful bid. I asked them what they'd do with it to which they replied they'd develop it for the rental market. They said they weren't allowed to live in it - a condition of the sale. I didn't know they weren't allowed to live in it themselves. It's so the council can put the likes of me in there afterwards under its Private Rental Scheme. A sweet deal for these developers and private landlords. The state will pay the mortgage and give them a little extra for taking us in the first place.

When I asked what they thought of what the council was doing, the woman said "no comment". I asked if they agreed with the council continuing to auction flats with the vast numbers on the waiting list and must have pricked the man's conscience as he said "I didn't know, I've never done this before. The council got a good price, they made £200,000 more than they would on the private market." And that makes it ok does it? I didn't say that though. That's the argument I should have with Nail'er.

Lot 12 was the one I'd had my eye on. I thought it was a six bedroom house but the auctioneer said: "This one's been kitted out as a hostel." My instincts went all over the place. I couldn't bid for this. I would be saying it's perfectly alright to have children living in hostels. I was tempted to raise my hand, see what that felt like, but the bidding was progressing so much slower than Grenille Road that I was quite afraid it would stop with me when I didn't want it.

"£690, a very cheap house, any advance on £690?" It went for £725,000 in the end. A 'middle class' woman got up from a seat saying "I wish I had money, a bargain that one," to which the younger man who'd been standing beside me said "It would've got more if it were empty."

I kept thinking they've just sold a hostel when yesterday St Mungo's released research that street homelessness has risen by 15% in London.

I am tempted to go back and bid for one. I will do as the journalist suggested and get some advice first. When I do it, I will invite the local press. Earlier when I was waiting for him to come downstairs with information about the auctions a song popped into my head.

"I'm just a soul whose intentions are good, oh Lord, please don't let me be misunderstood (Nina Simone)

I smiled to myself. Is that my song for this? It won't be easy. I will have to be incredibly brave and incredibly strong because the auctioneers will want me led away like a nutter. If I don't win the lottery then I have to do this. And if I do this, I have to make the point for everyone else.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Interview with Camden's Chief Superintendent of Police

As part of our research on safeguarding children, Ceci, Pete and I interviewed Camden's Chief Superintendent of Police on Friday.
What a nice man!
I was quite taken aback if truth be told. I thought he'd be up his own bottom. But no! He was laid back, dressed in his civvies not uniform, incredibly friendly, open and attentive.
The interview was meant to last 45 minutes but he let it carry on for well over an hour.
In my notebook I did write out an entire diatribe of what I'd post on this blog but as I like to write short posts I'll recount some of what he said over the course of this week.
One thing he said though was that people don't trust the police so I simply had to ask him "does the police trust people?"
He asked for an example and I gave the easiest at hand, the G20 demos. Well yes, compared to the Iranian police you are more gentle but.......
He admitted it was difficult, "people don't have 'criminal' tattoed on their foreheads."
Yes, my point, trusssssssssssssssssssst.
Like I said, I liked him, nice man. Do I trust him? He asked us that. I said "it depends where I am." In the interview I did and well, we were council volunteers asking about safeguarding children weren't we, though I'd like to imagine he's always that candid.

Toilet Etiquette

In a bar, off Alma Street, at the Alma Street Festival.

"Is this the queue?" I ask, and four people nod in the affirmative,
"For the loo?" (you know, just to make sure...)
"Yes," comes the reply and more affirmative nodding
"I'm after you?" I ask the woman before me.

"There's something in that," she says. "I could use that.. is this the queue, for the loo..."

" am I after you?" I counter in a jokey fashion.

"Yes, this the queue,...for the loo... after you..."

I laugh, as you do, when you're waiting for the loo, and think nothing of it. She disappears and another woman appears and says "Is this the queue for the loo?" and I say "Yes, and am I after you now?" I ask the man who was before the woman who was before me before.

He looks around him, as though looking for the woman, who has disappeared, and says "yeah."

Then just before it's my turn the woman comes back and I say to the girl who came after me "I'm after her," and to the woman "after you."

Then the woman says to someone near her "I went to write it down. I might use that in a song somehow."

And I'm like "Oh, you sing? What's your stage name?"

And she says "I don't have a stage name, I use my real name, Dawn Penn."

"Oh you're Dawn Penn who we're waiting to see!!!"

No no nooooo, you don't love me and I know now.....

Eh. you say you'll credit me if you use it?

Her set was incredible at the Alma Street festival. She transcended all the problems with the speakers and sounds.

My son, who'd been agog at the front watching Rough Science perform their fantastic rock, then restless listening to hip hop, was again swept up and stilled by the sound of her voice.

No no no, you don't love me
is a great track
by a great woman
who I met
in a queue
for the loo