This is how we are humans

I typed and retyped the first line of this about a hundred times, the way I usually do with my novels. Where to start? With a book, it’s not always at the beginning, but usually at the most interesting point.

What a week. I was very sad at the election results. I still am. Sad and angry. But despite that, I accept that 43% of people voted this government in. I don’t like it, but I accept it. I tried to vote based on my own experiences and what I have seen in the world around me, not just read in the newspapers or online.

And this is what I’ve experienced.

In the last nine years I’ve seen my daughter’s disability benefit not just slashed but entirely cut. I’ve seen her NHS care drop catastrophically, resulting in debilitating complications with her condition. I’ve seen funding given to a fantastic organisation I volunteered with cut so harshly that the children in care who benefited from it now have nothing. I’ve seen my husband’s regular eye appointments (he has a disease where he’s slowly going blind) diminish from three-monthly to non-existent. He now has to ring them repeatedly just to be seen, never mind receive the essential laser surgery. I’ve experienced first-hand the dying mental health services, the lack of beds, the lack of help available. I’ve seen more people living on the streets. I’ve seen foodbanks open. I’ve had to fight a little bit harder every year for the most basic things. I’ve seen my young friend with special needs in abject poverty because of the new Universal Credit system. I’ve heard teacher friends tell me of children coming to school hungry.

So when it came to the election, I read the manifestos of all the parties. Then I made my choice based on the party that closely represents what I believe in and want. The one it turns out I’ve always voted for. Had they got in, they may not even have done the many things promised, but the fact that they want these things to happen mattered to me. They didn’t win and I’m disappointed but as one profound tweet I saw this week said, just because you lost, doesn’t mean you were wrong.

Of course, not everyone is me, or has my life.

Not everyone thinks or feels how I do.

This piece isn’t to persuade anyone to vote the way I did, I just wanted to explain why I made my choice, in a rational and diplomatic way, before I get to my ultimate point. These are just my reasons. Yours might be different. This is good. This is how we are humans. I’ll listen to yours too, any time, if you speak to me with the same consideration. Because I won’t block or unfriend anyone just because they voted differently to me.

How does that help any of us?

I work with people who voted differently to me; people I get along with. On my street, the windows have had a mixture of blue and red posters in windows. I won’t ignore neighbours I’ve chatted to for sixteen years because their choice of colour wasn’t my choice, though I bought fewer Christmas cards this year (just jokes, people). They may have reasons that I don’t know or understand for making their decision.

I’ll only call out hate when I experience it directly.

I’ll only call out any sort of extremism when I experience it directly.

This week I’ve seen (shared by others because I don’t follow her) far right, extreme hate from a certain conservative ex-Apprentice contestant; things like ‘God bless the white farmer’ and her telling a British woman of colour that the party is OURS now. I’ve seen similar from prominent so-called journalists. It began trending on Twitter that Tommy Robinson (far right activist) was joining the Conservative Party, but there are no credible news sources to back this up. I’ve read comments to this ‘news’ that we can now take back our country. Our country is here, you fools. It’s right outside your window. There. Look.

But these extreme examples are not everyone.

They are not all people.

Because I also saw a band on Twitter telling their 20k followers that anyone who voted conservative should not buy their records or come to their gigs anymore, that they ‘don’t fucking want you’. I saw people online saying they would block or unfriend anyone who voted conservative.

Block those who are hateful or extreme, yes, but it’s ridiculous to block 43% of the country. Democracy has spoken, whether I like the results or not. And I just don’t have the energy in me to hate 43% of the country. What good would it do? Most of them are probably as human as I am. We can protest further cuts if they happen under this government. Protest if we disagree with policies implemented. Protest if the NHS isn’t protected. But the election has been decided. Be the change you want. As we go into a new decade, I’m going to make the effort to be kinder. To look out for that elderly, widowed neighbour. To talk to those who are homeless a little more. To give more.

Of course, I didn’t feel quite as calm as I seem now when I first saw the results on Friday. I’m only human. Of course, I ranted. Of course, I conjugated the words cunt and fuck in ways they have never been conjugated before. But I didn’t take that online or out of the house. (Poor husband. That is all.)

Come at me with your thoughts, and we can talk.

Come at me with discussion, and I’ll engage.

But if you come at me with hate, be ready for my cuntery.

Whatever you voted.

How I Became A Single Parent …

I was nineteen and in the second year of my A levels when I found out I was pregnant. To say it was a surprise, would be an understatement. My boyfriend of two years – a soldier who was frequently away – was equally surprised, but initially supportive. I decided – in the iconic words of Madonna in ‘Papa Don’t Preach’ – hmmm, I’m gonna keep my baby. As she also sang, I decided, we can raise a little family, maybe we’ll be all right, it’s a sacrifice. Then my boyfriend changed his mind when I was six months pregnant. Aside from five minutes in a courtroom a year later – trying and failing to get maintenance for my son – I have never seen him since.

And so I became a single parent.

Just like that.

I lived at home with my single mother and three other siblings, in a small council house. I had no savings. Of course I didn’t. I was nineteen. Though I’d had summer and evening jobs since I was fourteen, I’d never expected to be a mum so young, and so suddenly, and on my own. I put my name down on the council housing list as it was the only way I might be able to move out and not have to pay a huge deposit. Nothing happened. No offer of anything. I wasn’t ‘desperate’ enough, which is absolutely fair, since I had a roof over my head, even though I was sharing a bedroom with my mother – not the best experience with a heavy drinker – because my twin sisters shared a tiny room and my brother, being now twelve, had to have the other.

My brother with my newborn son, January 1991.

My son Conor was born at the beginning of 1991. I fell completely and utterly in love. Despite a thirty-six-hour labour, and a whopping 9lb 9oz boy, it felt like magic to hold him in my arms. I’d been looking after my siblings since I was four so, really, it was the most natural thing in the world to me. He slept in a Moses basket baby on the landing. (My mother didn’t want to be disturbed by him in the night.) In January. In a council house with no central heating. But I’ve always felt this made him the hardy creature he is, very rarely ill. I’d often fall asleep there, next to that basket, feeding him in the night on the landing, both of us wrapped in a duvet, the sweet scent of him something I can still smell now.

Eventually, when Conor was nine months old, I’d saved up enough for a deposit and got a cheap rented property. There was no heating apart from one small gas fire in the living room, and no double glazing. But I made it homely. I looked for work. This was a time before the CSA enforced maintenance from absent fathers and so I had to pay for everything Conor and I needed. It was also a time before Tax Credits at least topped up low incomes and helped with childcare. Whatever I earned would have to pay the rent, childcare, bills, food and clothes – for two of us. There was no job I had a hope in hell of getting that would cover it. I had no experience. So I went on benefits. I got £80 a week. That was for everything. I wasn’t a scrounger. I wanted desperately to work. I went every month to the job centre to see if there was something that paid enough.

My gorgeous, smiley boy, aged about five months.

At times, I was lonely and depressed. All my friends were at university or travelling the world. My own father had not been in life since I was fifteen. Now I had a son with no father too. I had zero self-pity though. I’d made the decision to have my child, and that came with all the risks of ending up alone. But very few single parents end up that way by choice. Very few are scrounging or lazy. I used the words single parent rather than single mum as I know it can happen to anyone.

Once Conor went to nursery and then school – when childcare was therefore minimal – I went back to college and then got a job in a hotel. I eventually met my husband and had our daughter. And finally, when my son was eight, I got maintenance payments from his father.

My sister, me and Conor, aged five months.

Now, when I’m on the bus and see a very young mum with her baby, I feel huge compassion for her, and if there’s a chance, make a fuss of her child. She may not be alone. There may be a partner. I don’t know the full story. And this is the thing. We never do. But the fact is that behind every single parent there is an absent parent. And which is worse? A parent who is there – or a parent who isn’t?