Tuesday, 21 November 2017

The Seven, Or So, Ages of Man | a 'story'

I am more than 2/3rds of the way through a November writing challenge: write a short story every day of the month. I few of my pieces have an overtly political focus including this one I wrote yesterday. It's about austerity and other injustices. 

The Seven, Or So, Ages of Man

On the morning Robert (Bobby) Adam Wilkes is born the mid-Manchester hospital where he is delivered is feeling the strain. With winter on the way there has already been a rise in admissions, with the growth in need likely to increase even further in the coming weeks.  In addition, as it’s early on Saturday morning, the hospital has not yet recovered from the Friday night rush. To add even more to the pressure – with more and more healthcare professionals leaving the NHS plus a serious problem in recruitment, including of midwives – the maternity unit (in line with other departments across the hospital) is understaffed.  Despite all of this the staff pass none of the strain they are feeling onto Bobby’s parents and by breakfast time the proud new dad is ringing round to let family and friends know that ‘mother and baby are doing well.’

Robbie Jones can’t think of anything worse to do on a Saturday than visit a new baby in hospital. But mum has promised that they can get a taxi to the pitch after they have coochy-cooed (why do adults do that?) his new cousin who is named after great grandpa just like him. So he shouldn’t be late for the match. Well he hopes not. Everyone thought that the school league wouldn’t happen this year but the dads and mums from schools across the city all chipped in to buy kit and pay for the hire of the coaches needed to travel to away-matches. Robbie saw his mum give some money to Ms Kelly the other day. He thinks that was for art stuff. He doesn’t like art much but his brother does.

The hospital pick up is Robeel Baqri’s last fare before he can get some much needed sleep. The Friday overnight shift is a good one because he has only one lecture that day and can get a bit of kip beforehand. He has an essay to write this weekend and so could have done with not working but he doesn’t want to end his degree with any more debt than what he will owe for his student fees. He wasn’t on the rota the night of the attack at Manchester Arena but like most of his cabbie colleagues he got in his car and ferried young concert goers and others around the city and beyond for several hours. His weariness, coupled with the sorrow he felt, nearly reduced him to tears, when on his way home a group of lads, not much younger than him, shouted: ‘Why don’t you go back where you come from? We don’t want you here.’ Right then Robeel would have given anything to be ‘back home’ in Bradford giving his little sister a cuddle. Walking on with his head down he flinched when an older man touched his shoulder. ‘Sorry mate, sorry, just wanted to say, take no notice of that lot. Ignorant, absolutely ignorant.’

Running a little late after stopping for a chat with his mate Robeel, who he met the morning after May’s horrific terror attack, Robert John Phillips (R. J. for as long as he can remember) hurries into school to change into his shirt and boots. He loves his primary school teaching job, including all the extra-curricular activities and is enjoying all the preparation for the Winter Festival as much as the Kidz League refereeing.  He knows he is one of the lucky ones, having secured the position before graduation. R. J. is anxious for the future though, for even on his, and his police-officer partner’s, comparatively good wages, he cannot imagine how they will ever save enough for a down-payment on a home of their own.  Not surprising the seven year public sector pay gap and its impact is a regular, if not popular, topic of conversation in the staffroom.

After cheering on the twins at their Saturday morning match Rob Grannum drops them home and travels straight on to work. His two jobs – fulltime on the building site and three evenings a week in a local pub – plus the hours that Louise does at the supermarket means that this year they will be able to afford a few Christmas presents for Jenny and Paul. This is a huge relief after last year when his zero hours contract for a rival construction company was often close to just that: zero hours. Counting his blessings Rob thinks back to the conversation he had last night with the Scottish guy he’d not seen in the pub before. Life is so shit for so many people right now.
Rabbie Campbell is worried. Yesterday was his last day at the factory and he has very little left in the bank. He’s heard others say that everyone is only ever one pay-check away from homelessness but naively never thought it could happen to him. Good at his job he’d risen to floor manager but this could not protect him from the ‘Brexit effect’ already impacting on some industries. He went online last night to put in his application for Universal Credit and was shocked to discover it can take up to six weeks for first payment to be received. With this in mind he probably shouldn’t have gone to the pub but the drink dulled his fears for a little while and he’s slept quite a bit of one day away. Opening his post Rabbie comes across a flyer from one of the city’s homeless shelters asking for a donation, the irony of which is not lost on him.

Feeling the cold just a little Bob Bolitho puts his collection tin down in order to rub his hands together. Having recently retired he is keen to do his bit for society. If he’s honest he’s not sure how he feels about charity donating. Given that the UK has the 5th or 6th – the politicians can’t seem to make their minds up - richest economy in the world shouldn’t the state be providing for those in need? His friends know not to get him started on this topic nor the issue of tax avoidance and evasion.  But having paid his dues throughout his working life Bob feels justified in his anger at this, and the threatened closure of his local library, and the reported rise in people both attempting and completing suicide, and the rising number of people living on the streets, and so on and more etc. etc., blah di blah di bloody blah. This is why he’s doing what he’s doing today. It makes him feel just a little bit better.

Having given a small handful of change to the chap collecting for homeless folk Robert Kowalski enters the bank to deposit a portion of his pension. When his beautiful wife Margita died last year he’d expected the pain of her loss but not the penury from the cost of her burial. Of course they’d seen the adverts on telly for funeral plans but had preferred to save as they’d always done. He’s pretty sure that the pay-out from any one of the celebrity promoted plans wouldn’t have covered the bill anyway given that -  he knows now but didn’t then - funeral costs have risen every year for well over a decade and in just one year between 2015 and 2016 increased ten times more than the cost of living. Not wanting to burden his children with a similar financial responsibility Robert – he’s always corrected anyone who has tried to shorten his name – has, for the last few months, been putting by a little extra each week.

Bert Edwards picks the already read but carefully refolded copy of the Manchester Evening News up from the hall mat. Mr Kowalski – they’ve been neighbours for years but remain on family name terms – always drops his through his letter box towards the end of the afternoon. Increasingly Bert’s not sure he really wants to read the paper as it seems that every day there is more bad news. Today, the local items on cuts to public services, on cases of crime motivated by hate and the list of items required by the city based food-banks upset him a lot. On the day on which he becomes a great grandpa for the fourth time he should be celebrating Bobby’s arrival not fretting about his future and the world in which he will grow up in. Putting the paper aside Bert picks up the paperwork he was previously reading. It looks like the only way he can cover the costs of the care home he’s considering is to put the house on the market. . . . 

*****
Today's effort isn't as explicitly political but .... My prompt for this one was Anti-Bullying Week (13th-17th November) and you may recognise the title from the late Jo Cox MP's maiden speech. Here's the link if you'd like to read More in Common

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