Austerity bites

I admit I’m guilty of the odd rant. Mostly it remains in my head. Sometimes Janet makes eye contact and immediately wishes she hadn’t. Occasionally it spills over onto Twitter, and rarer still onto my blog.

 

This one falls into the latter category so I can only apologise, but it’s for good reason.

 

You see whilst sat amongst a mountain of washing and with housework to be done I decided instead to read Trafford Council’s budget proposal for 2015/16, because my procrastination knows no bounds.

 

It made me angry, and the more I read the angrier I got. Angry with the council, angry with the government, with society and with myself.

 

To add some context we fall under the label of ‘working poor’. An oxymoron so entrenched in our psyche as to be accepted as an actual class?

 

Janet works full-time and now the kids are both in school I’m about to start a degree and work part-time. We’re lucky. We survive, albeit with state handouts. We get by where others don’t. Close enough to the breadline to empathise with those below.

 

So as our Council Leader Sean Anstee requested, I read the proposal with an open mind. Considered the wider context and appreciated their bold and brave approach. Took it on face value that he genuinely cares about each pocket of our community, and when it comes to austerity, we’re all in this together.

 

Now in their defence they do need to make £24M worth of savings next year, which in anyone’s language is a lot of cuts. I say anyone, except the council it seems who don’t make one single mention of the word cut. They have however found over a dozen synonyms thereof. Disestablish, reshape, refine, reallocate, revise, restructure, reduce to minimum statutory requirements to name but a few.

 

But there’s a pocket of our community that seems to be cared about less that others. A pocket without a voice. A pocket who bare no responsibility for the financial mess we’re in and perhaps more pertinently, have no vote.

 

Children.

 

Because £18M of the savings are to come from the Children, Families and Wellbeing budget. That’s 75% which will directly affect the young and most vulnerable in Trafford.

 

For example:

 

37 out of the 97 school crossing patrols are to be cut disestablished. But worry not, any school affected has the opportunity to fund it themselves.

 

Really? From a budget already subsidised by parents weekly contribution towards early years provisions? A budget that need regular fund-raising to replace old equipment. Whose resources are so tight that a broken boiler closed the entire school for a week because they can’t obtain funding to remove the asbestos from the pipes?

 

They’re closing four of our six children’s centres. Surestart centres. Centres specialising in early years education and childcare for under five’s. Centres that I depended on when I first became a stay-at-home dad and whose support services are fundamental to improving the prospects of disadvantaged children and their parents.

 

Removing early years activities and Holiday Play Schemes. Opportunities that would otherwise be out of reach for most low income families.

 

Closure of our six open access youth centres. Local centres that offer affordable opportunities for teenagers to develop personally and socially. To be creative and learn. Teenagers who without such subsidised centres have little else available.

 

And a further £700k cut from the libraries budget. Libraries depended upon by young and old alike. A service already heavily reliant on volunteers and yet still not considered to be offering sufficient value-for-money?

 

So when Cllr Anstee says ‘change is difficult and can sometimes be hard to absorb initially’ he’s right. For the middle and upper classes will absorb the changes, dig deep into the their pockets and pay for alternatives. But for the poorest and most vulnerable in Trafford there is no ‘initially’, it’s open-ended. Without the support of their community there’s nothing. We might all be in this together but for every person dipping their toes into austerity there’s many more up to their f*cking necks already.

 

And none more so than the children from the poorest families. Children of whom we have a duty of care, a fundamental need to support, and surely a degree of immunity from the cuts to which they bare no responsibility?

 

A copy of this budget proposal should be handed out to every child in Trafford, because this betrayal of their generation should never be forgotten.

 

But I’m also not naïve enough to think this is all the councils fault. I understand they have to make savings. I’ve looked through the entire budget and admit I can’t suggest where these savings could be made elsewhere, and nor can the Labour councillors in opposition, because for all their faux anger they’ve yet to come up with an alternative budget.

 

So I’m angry with the government too. Because behind the austerity sound-bites and ‘all in this together’ rhetoric our society is rich to vulgar proportions. We have the necessary wealth, only for it to be hidden away off-shore or within the pockets of the few, but that’s a broader rant for another day.

 

But most of all I’m angry with myself. Because after tweeting my frustration, Facebook messaging my annoyance, signing online petitions and writing this blog post what have I actually achieved? Nothing.

 

I’m the epitome of the modern-day passive activist. I tweet an opinion then smugly sit down on my moral compass like I made some sort of difference. ‘Like’ a protest march on Facebook without ever leaving the sofa. Share a good cause without looking up from my phone.

 

So I’m getting off my backside and going to the public consultation next month with a list of questions. I’m writing to all concerned, and I’m making a concerted effort to at least hold those responsible to account. It probably won’t make a jot of difference but so long as I just cynically mutter to myself or vent my anger in bursts of 140 characters or less then I’m in no position to apportion blame. At best I’m tweeting to the converted, at worst, I’m constitutionally part of the problem.

 

As an aside, Council Leader Sean Anstee has just been awarded a 30% pay rise to recognise his ‘increased workload’. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt on this and look forward to hearing how he gets on running the voluntary baby massage classes I assume this workload includes.

Sibling rivalry

If shouting ‘someone’s going to get hurt’ whilst not looking up from your phone qualifies as parental responsibility then put me down for Dad of the Year.

 

It’s my default disclaimer for whatever follows. A verbal liability insurance.

 

(I’ve not tested this in a court of law so if you’re thinking of doing the same you might want to seek some legal advice first).

 

The kids fight like cat and dog. Literally. When one gets cornered they will draw their claws and hiss.

 

The problem is I don’t know when they’re play fighting. Many a time I’ve intervened only to find their weapon of choice was a tickle. Interrupted a chase through the house only to be accused of ruining their game. Confiscated swords when it turned out they were on a joint quest to slay the monster under their bed.

 

That’s not to say I’m shirking all responsibility. Look behind their wardrobe and you’ll find a bow and arrow set, Nerf guns and lightsabers, but I did underestimate their ability to improvise.

 

A soft toy? Maybe by night, but when swung by its tail above Luca’s head it becomes a deadly mace!

 

Chopsticks? Not when coupled with the phrase ‘en garde!’

 

Toilet rolls? When launched from the top of the stairs via Janet’s knickers it becomes a bloody ambush! Those Angry Birds have a lot to answer for.

 

And it’s not just fighting, they’ve also discovered the joy to be had from a good scare.

 

On the face of it quite harmless, but the lengths they’ll go to is more troubling.

 

After Sonny jumped out from behind the sofa I found he’d been holed up with a banana and duvet. How long was he prepared to wait?

 

Luca filled his bed with teddies to make it look like he was hiding there. He wasn’t. Classic double bluff, he was under Sonny’s bed!

 

And if my attitude appears apathetic then that’s because it is. You see I grew up with two sisters. I know what’s to come and I’m not getting involved.

 

I still have a nervous glance over my shoulder before climbing the stairs in case I’m about to be chased.

 

I wrap myself up in the duvet at night because my little sister once hid under my bed for what must have been an hour just to garner maximum fear when grabbing my foot as I drifted off to sleep.

 

And I still hate the smell of Marmite. Something my big sister discovered at an early age so would pin me to the floor, smear the stuff all over my top lip and stick her sweaty gym socks in my mouth so I had to breath through my nose.

 

I’ve been the tormentor and tormented, and it’s a vicious circle of which there’s no escape. A lifetime commitment. Even at forty I’m still looking for opportunities for a scare, and I know all too well my sisters are plotting the same.

 

So when it comes to the boys fights I make no apologies for not getting involved. I’ve served my time and have the mental scars to prove it.

 

In the words of Dragons Den,

 

“For that reason, I’m out!”

Growing Up

growing-upThere was a time, not that long ago, when I was at the centre of the kids universe. Their worlds revolved around me. My attendance at their every breath mandatory.

 

Maybe it was because I was the stay-at-home parent. Maybe my mid-life girth held their orbit. Either way I was involved in everything they did.

 

They’d fight over ownership of my knee or duvet. A trip to the toilet was never a solitary pursuit. “DADDY!” echoed long after they’d left the house.

 

And even as their independence grew I was still needed. They’d play together so long as I played too. They still wanted me to sit in their bedroom until they’d fallen asleep. Even when they could wipe their own backsides I was still expected to wait for them on the landing.

 

I was their middle-man and mentor. Witness and point-scorer. Arbiter and get-the-last-bit-out-of-the-yoghurt-er.

 

Sometimes it was frustrating. Sometimes I wished for nothing more than five minutes peace. Sometimes I watched their ‘watch this daddy’ antics purely because I’d be damned if after so many years I missed the one occasion they did something that was actually worth watching! (That wait still goes on).

 

But recently things have changed. They’ve become best friends. They often don’t *gulp* need me!?

 

And I can’t believe I’m saying this but …. I miss it.

 

Their conversations are passing me by and they now make each other laugh more than I do. I’m becoming little more than a drunken clown jumping around in the background desperate for some attention god damn it!

 

Last week Sonny had to draw a picture at school of his family. He told me he’d labelled them as ‘mum, little brother and bearded man’. BEARDED MAN?

 

I still don’t know if he’s winding me up? Judging by the way his teacher sniggered when I picked him up, possibly not. Either way both he and Luca found this hilarious.

 

Luca recently hid a whoopee cushion under my pillow. He didn’t tell me. He didn’t need to see me lie on it. The joke was for his and Sonny’s benefit alone.

 

I’m no longer in on the jokes, I’m the butt of them.

 

But selfishness aside it’s wonderful watching them grow up and develop their own personalities. Building a sibling bond and loving each others company.

 

And just because I’m slowly being sidelined it won’t stop me postponing the inevitable.

 

So I’ve moved the fruit and snacks up a shelf. Lets see if they can reach them now without asking for my help.

 

I’ve bought some games for an age group way beyond their pitiful years. Good luck getting to grips with those rules. Good luck finding the rules (I’ve hidden them, I’m not proud).

 

I’ve bought them shoes with laces, and when they’re not looking I’m going to take the stabilisers off their bikes.

 

This battle is far from over.

 

And if all this fails I’ll resort to the lowest common denominator. Flicking bogeys and farting. Well, if you can’t beat them …

Back to School

I suppose I should write the obligatory back to school post. As a parent blogger I think it’s in my contract. I also have a confession to make, but more on that later.

 

As of next week they’ll both be in school full-time. Sonny is already there, Luca however is still within the graduals stage.

 

A week in and we’ve just progressed from ‘finding the school on Google Maps’ to the ‘slow drive past the gates'; or so it feels. OK, so he’s now in until lunch-time but still, just how long can they drag this malarkey out for?

 

And as the fateful Monday approaches where I have a full five hour window between school runs, so Janet’s list writing becomes ever more frantic. She has more than one list. She has a list of lists. By the weekend I’m expecting a spreadsheet to drop into my mail-box. It doesn’t bode well.

 

I caught a glimpse of one of these lists. I saw duvet and laundrette in the same sentence. I saw decorating. On a section titled ‘deep clean’ I saw rooms I didn’t even know we had!

 

loose-womenNow I admit to not helping my cause when she asked me to send her a photo of their first day.

 

Turns out she wanted to see them in their school uniforms, and not as I’d assumed, a photo of me spending some quality time with them there Loose Women and a cup of coffee? Because it’s all about the kids apparently!?

 

But now to the confession, for which I need to take you back a few weeks to the end of last term.

 

On Luca’s last day of nursery there were tears. Lots of tears. Parents and teachers exchanged gifts and hugs, and outside I discovered Urmston’s equivalent to the wailing wall. Now I admit that I don’t get it, although I may just be dead inside?

 

Nothing of their educational journey thus far has made me emotional to that degree. The closest I came to tears was when I had my last cooked breakfast at the local cholesterol café before the summer holidays.

 

That was until Luca’s first full morning. You see I’m used to tears from Sonny, he’s the emotional one. Luca has his mothers heart of stone. A stubbornness and cock-surity(?) that I assume comes from being the second child?

 

And yet, as he lined up on the playground with the older children towering above him, he looked frightened. For that brief moment he looked like the barely four-year old child he is. Wide eyed. Scared.

 

As they were led inside some of the children were in tears, some refused to let go of their parents leg, and I watched on as Luca took two big deep breaths before giving me a timid thumbs up. He was being brave and I’ve never felt more helpless and yet proud at the same time. There was a brief glimpse back with nervous smile, and he was gone.

 

Now I admit it. I welled up. I welled up and but for nearly getting run over by a car outside the school gates probably would have burst into tears. You see it turns out I’m not dead inside after all! I may be on an emotional life-support machine but still, there is definitely a pulse in there!

 

And it made me realise something else too. I treat Sonny and Luca the same. I bundle all of their emotions, experiences and expectations together. Everything Sonny has gone through I subconsciously think Luca has too, and it’s not fair.

 

Somewhere along the line I’ve forgotten Luca is a year younger, and a year less mature. I’ve forgotten that although he’d been at the school nursery, and despite his bravado and confidence, he was still going into big school for the first time. And I’d forgotten just how damn scary that can be.

 

So when I picked him up that afternoon we stopped at the shops. We bought a big bag of sweets, came home, and watched Sooty. Together.

 

And I listened to him tell me all about his day, as if he was the first child to have ever had a first day at school. And I also made a promise to myself. To never forget he’s the younger brother.