Message in a Marmite* jar

THE WRITER’S LIFE

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As the middle generation of my living family, I’m the filling in the sandwich. Since my benefits were cut (my human rights taken away) by the government, my parents have helped with the humanitarian cause of visits to see my children. With my war on the Department of Work and Pensions looking to last at least another year, my days out with the kids are likely to become less frequent; and with dad’s health not improving (he has a Parkinson’s-related condition), getting all three generations together in one place will be a rare event.

I usually update the mothership with personal news during our weekly phone summit, and she relays highlights to dad, which of course he has trouble remembering. So I thought it might be quite nice if the sandwich filling wrote a letter to one slice of bread from the other; something for mum to read to dad, to keep the moment, and to read again when dad needs reminding of who everyone is and where they are.

Marmite2

THE MARMITE REPORT

I was out with the kids in London on Sunday. They said to say hello and back atcha with the love.

The day started well, when I got to my local rail station (West Malling) and the ticket office was closed. There were three other people there already who’d taken the seating area, so I stood like a hat stand at the ticket window. Eventually the curtain went up, and ever aware of people in the same space and their perception of me, I felt I should ask if I’d jumped the queue (if so I’d surrender the window, but I hadn’t). I was rewarded by a splendidly distinguished-looking headmistress of a lady, who simply smiled at me and said, “Well done.” Rather than increase my paranoia of being followed, studied, monitored and reported on, I felt a little self-satisfied with this approval.

The spirits continued to favour me when I thought to ask if I could buy the kids’ London Travelcards at the same time as my own ticket, gaining a 1/3 discount with my Network Railcard. Usually I buy the kids’ wheels tickets in London and they’re £5.60 each. It turns out, if the kids are travelling with me, I can buy their tickets on some grey market on the other side of that curtain behind the Perspex. I pointed out my lack of children as proof that they wouldn’t be travelling to London with me, just meeting me there. “No problem,” said the wizard, “Your ticket doesn’t say they’re travelling with you, only theirs do.” And that little bit of out-of-the-box thinking, that small piece of human logic, meant I got to ferry the kids around London for £2.50 each.

We went to Spoons for lunch, as it’s always nice to sit down with the next generation and have time to talk (I continued the value day out by not eating or drinking; I was there for conversation and decoration). Both are doing well at school and applying themselves in their respective areas of personal interest. One is taller than all of us, and the other is almost as tall as our shortest.

The eldest is enjoying media studies, especially journalism and screen-writing. He’s looking forward to some upcoming modules, including one where he has to watch science fiction films. Naturally this makes me happy. The littlest is quite the accomplished artist, and has a thirst for language. As well as the three European ones she’s learning already, she has a fascination with all things South Korean, so she’s thinking about learning their lingo as well. This also makes me proud, while I myself can just about hold a conversation in British Sign Language. Handy when standing in front of a mirror.

The littlest’s linguistic timing skills were demonstrated over lunch, when she unexpectedly emerged from one of her existential trances (she stops talking when she’s eating, and switches to deep thought mode): “You know what really pisses me off?” my 12-year-old daughter asked.

The kids’ mum and second dad are fairly liberal when it comes to personal expression, and neither of the young people use expletives for their own sakes, nor because they lack vocabulary; they use syntax appropriate to the prevailing environment, reserving their more colourful language for deserving causes, and often to great comic effect. Anyway, what was pissing the littlest off was lost in the moment and buried in the subsequent outpouring of thoughts from trance mode. At various moments, we were transported in retrospect to North Korea, Japan, and Trumpland.

Both kids have a keen interest in world politics, far greater than I did at their age. They’re much more aware than I was in their technological age. We talk about the planet, about science, the future, and inappropriate humour. I envy the choices they have in education now, but they question its validity when there might be no tomorrow with freedom of choice. I’ve apologised on behalf of preceding generations for everything we’ve lumped on them. But as our sans Les Deux Magots intellectual debate concluded, we all need to work together and bear no grudges for the past.

The younger’s hunger for all things Asia was fed by a visit to a new South Korean food market which has popped up on Tottenham Court Road, then we were off to a Manga exhibition at The British Museum. It was less extensive than I’d expected, but it added to our collective knowledge of art and culture.

Wandering around the West End and Soho, the elder demonstrated something I hadn’t previously been aware of: an encyclopaedic knowledge of cars. Several times he ran down the Top Trumps scores of the various supercars we saw (Ferrari, Lamborghini, McLaren…) and pointed out the many electric vehicles in central London (including police cars), while reeling off their stat sheets. I was impressed, and once again proud.

Like all days out with the kids, it finished with a heavy heart as all good things must end. I made it like that, but I can never stop being their dad. They’re a credit to their mum and other dad, which is why we enjoy such engaging, intelligent and witty conversation on the odd day out. What makes me most proud, is that both of the kids ask me questions, about life, the universe and everything, and they note my answers. They bear a great burden, but they don’t begrudge it. Our children, and their children’s children, can teach us a lot. I have a faith, not in some human construction of a false deity, but that the next generation will see their own grandchildren, in a world which we’ve repaired. We can never stop being parents.

They send their love (again), but still refuse to pose for anything other than school photos. I admire their freedom of choice, as I know how much I hated having my photo taken as a teenager. Now we have social media. 

Times change and people change, but we’re all in this together and grateful of the past, when we wrote letters and closed personal sentiment in an envelope.

Marmite leafMarmite on toast recipe on BBC Good Food

So there we all (and you) are. Just as my parents used to read bedtime stories to me, and me to my children, now I’m writing stories for mum to read to dad. An occasional budget travel and social culture dispatch, whenever the reporters are free to roam, The Marmite Report binds the sandwich.

*Other yeast extract products are available.

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A wish upon a turkey wishbone

THE WRITER’S LIFE

The shit sandwich finally arrived in the post last Thursday, and it’s taken me this long to compose myself to address it. This benefits process is exhausting by design, and it’s exacerbating my anxiety and depression. I haven’t quite lost the will to live, as that would validate the Tory social cleansing machine’s purpose. It actually says in the rejection letter, “Personal Independence Payment is not for visiting relatives.” I’m appealing, so there is much more writing to do.

NovaNaked Lunch, David Cronenberg

It took nine and a half weeks for someone to decide I wasn’t deserving of my Personal Independence Payment (despite being in receipt of it for the last four years), so denying me much of my liberty and ruining what might have been mine or my parents’ last Christmas. On behalf of myself and my family, we’d like to wish upon the bone of a turkey, a Christmas free of guilt and conscience to the Department for Work and Pensions. With nowhere to go, I’ll be an empty box, a vacant chair; I will haunt their Christmases.

With my benefit payment reduced to a statutory minimum, I’ll have to borrow money to buy my kids’ Christmas presents (why should they go without?) I can no longer afford to visit my parents (nor buy them gifts; they say the children come first), so I may already have seen my dad for the last time while he still remembers who I am. Last time I was there, he said how good it was for him to have me around. Now all we have is memories of Christmas past.

There were past Christmases when I was estranged from my family, after I’d steamrollered through their lives like a drunken shopping trolley, and when I’d be represented by an empty chair at the dinner table. My sister still bears a grudge, somehow having it in her head that I’m the cause of our dad’s Parkinson’s. So while she won’t pick me up on her way through to my parents, my Christmas will be spent with a turkey baste on a true story: That I couldn’t afford Christmas dinner.

I could do as I did in those years of estrangement, and volunteer to help at a church homeless do, provided I can get the transport. But that would involve other people, and this dehumanising process also threw fuel on my social anxiety. The signpost to Christmases future.

Christmas will be cold, because I can’t afford heating. And it’s all thanks to the Scrooges who’ll be stuffing their faces at Christmas dinner, and counting all the money they saved through social cleansing. I’ll be present in spirit, at each and every table, wishing upon that wish bone, to stick in many throats.

Simons CatSimon’s Cat

Crosswords and headwinds

THE WRITER’S LIFE

Among my sideline interests, I compile cryptic crosswords. Some of my favourite past clues for flavour:

1. Powered flight? (9)
2. GESG (9, 4)
3. DIM (5, 8)
4. (4,3,3,1,4)

The answers are in this meandering post…

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Today is nine weeks since I had my PIP assessment, and still I’ve had nothing in writing. I eventually got to speak to someone at DWP last week, only to be told that my application was still being processed. At least I haven’t been forgotten. Still I’m on a statutory benefit, sans a payment which permitted me some independence with my special needs. One of the freedoms taken from me is the ability to visit my parents, where PIP used to cover the train fares.

Dad says it’s good to have me around, and I know that contact with others can help with dementia and other degenerative conditions (he has Parkinson’s). So if I’m denied my independence, the system has already made me much more unwell, and quite possibly my dad too. If I’m declined, I’ll be unable to spend Christmas with family (and it could always be the last for my parents or me), no gifts for my kids, and unable to see my dad while he still remembers who I am.

I borrowed money to make the monthly visit to see the kids yesterday, but without my PIP payment, those trips may have to be reduced in frequency. A life is not a singular thing and there are people denied (or spared) my company. Despite winter approaching, I’m eating less and heating less.

The day with the children was very much as usual: lunch and interesting conversation, then shopping and further debate on matters of the world, of nature, medicine and science. We question things, and yesterday I wondered how the Romans did maths, if they only had Roman numerals. An interesting aside too, as we noted that as well as having alliterative names, my eldest is taller than me (not difficult) and therefore the longest Laker; the youngest is just a little shorter than my mum, and the littlest Laker for now.

It was a day punctuated by escalators. The first was one I’d ridden hundreds of times before, and its brothers and sisters around the London Underground estate, possibly millions. And yet, after more than 30 years of working, living and just being in London, something occurred to me for the very first time: ‘Dogs must be carried’. I don’t have a dog. It’s a terrible sentence, implying that carrying a dog is compulsory for riding the moving stairs, and it will haunt this pedant for the rest of my days and every time I see it.

Back at Euston later, ‘Stand on the right’ is the first on the list of London Underground’s levitation instructions, and invariably some people don’t. I tend to walk down and float up, but I was anxious of time and chose to walk up the left of the escalator, to be greeted by a backside, talking to her friend on the right. “Excuse me,” I said, perhaps impatiently with someone too ignorant and arrogant to read signs. “How rude,” I was told.

I apologised for having excused myself so that I could travel freely and not hinder the transit of those behind me, but apparently that was rude and I should be more patient. I passed this down the line behind me, asked if she’d rather have my blood, and told her to get over herself, which elicited a tut. Finally I pointed to the signs at regular intervals on the way up: “Stand on the right,” I read aloud, and added “like fascists”. I was tired of walking by now, so I stood on the right of the escalator, in front of my verbal assailant. As I rose to ground level, I let one go silently and shared the scrambled eggs I’d had for breakfast.

I can only hope that more than nine weeks of stressing and growing more anxious by the day is enough for the dehumanising machine, that nine weeks is considered sufficient suffering, and now I can be returned to an independent life with sufficient funds to live it. If not, if I’m found undeserving for some reason (even though I’ve been on PIP for the last four years), that’s a pretty sick trick to play on someone. Those days out with my kids are about all I have now, and that may be denied by the Tory government’s social cleansing machine.

Life has changed over the last few months, ever since this benefit reapplication process started. Even if I am forced through the tribunal process again, knowing where I stand would be better than where I am at the moment. Right now I have not got a clue what the answers are.

Did you find them all?

Lifestyles of the disposable people

THE WRITER’S LIFE

It’s now eight weeks since my reassessment for PIP and I’ve still heard nothing. It could be that the Department for Work and Pensions are still processing me, but my money was cut to a statutory amount a month ago, when my last two-year benefit period expired. I’m surviving without the money I used to live an independent life (the whole purpose of the benefit), but I have nothing beyond essentials. Everything else, I can no longer afford. I’m disabled, dehumanised, and it feels, disposable.

Broken Dolls Heads

The timing couldn’t be more cruel. If I’m forced through the tribunals machine, the process could drag on for another 4-6 months. During that time there’s Christmas and my kids’ and parents’ birthdays. I can’t afford anything more than token gifts. I have just about enough money to maintain my monthly visits with the children, but little else. I’d like to visit my parents more, but I can’t afford to.

My dad’s diagnosis has changed. For the last six months, doctors thought he had hydrocephalus. He had fluid on his brain, which was drained, and everyone hoped he’d get better. But he got worse for a while. His condition was complicated by a serious neural infection requiring powerful intravenous antibiotics, and a fall resulting in three cracked ribs. All of which seemed to explain his long recovery. But although he’s better, he’s nothing like he was before this all started, when he got lost driving at night and I reported him missing and vulnerable to the police.

The latest prognosis is that dad probably has Parkinson’s, and I’d like to visit him while he still remembers who I am. But with my independence payment taken away, I can’t afford to. What a shame, that the UK benefits system is designed that way, to deny quality of life (independence), to aggravate mental illness with all this anxiety, and take away what was left of a life. A life is not a singularity, and each affects many others.

Shame on some of my so-called friends, who I loaned money in their times of need, but who never repaid me. I hope they enjoy their family Christmas, but that it’s marred by the prickly guilt of knowing they denied a friend what might have been his last. If a house is exorcised and you don’t pay the priest, will your home be repossessed? Karma can be a bitch of a haunting, but exorcism is easily arranged by settling debts (There’s a ‘Donate’ button on this blog).

Like most social tenants, my electricity is on a key meter, so like most poor people, I pay more for electricity and have to pay in advance. I won’t be troubling the meter too much, just putting on extra layers of clothing. A cynic might call it another social cleansing measure, by a fascist Tory government intent on population reduction by writing off costs, like disposable people.

I’m struggling, but I’m still here, hoping to find some humanity in the Department of Waste and Recycling that’s the benefits system. I’ll keep fighting to get what I’m entitled to, and hopefully regain my independence. Don’t forget me dad.