It is Friday night and I have just spent 3 hours cleaning in a bid not to notice that I don’t have anything else I want to do. Tala is at a party, Oki is at work. There are things I could do, but nothing that could compare to what we used to do on a Friday…very little. Together.
It is Black Eye Friday in the slammer as it is payday all round: Prisoners are allowed to collect their weekly allowance if they have someone on the outside wiling to send it to them and also their weekly earnings (roughly £8) and so today is the day all internal debts are settled. If you can’t pay for the drugs or other favours you have blagged on tick during the previous week, you get beaten up. Judging by the massive shiners sported by the guy in the cell opposite, he is clearly in arrears.
A big parcel has recently arrived via drone, hooked in through a window with a broom, so the deaths (12 so far this year from Mamba in Uk prisons), debts and beatings can continue to abound. Neither the collapse of a prisoner in Rob’s block this week, nor the massive potential penalties seem to dampen enthusiasm for the lifestyle and so things continue undaunted in Her Majesty’s prisons in the time honoured fashion of releasing prisoners in a worse state of dependency and mental health than when they arrived.
In a bid to stave off shingella the boys have managed to procure some washing up liquid so that they can clean their plates. There is no communal eating arrangement or wash up afterwards: convicts collect food on their trays and take it back to their rooms. Sadly they don’t have anything to keep the precious fluid in except an old washing up glove with holes in the fingers that has to be very carefully managed. I aways find the idea of washing up gloves used for anything except the task for which they were designed slightly kinky, and God only knows what previous uses this glove has had, but you can’t fault the ingenuity.
Rob has also managed to source washing powder so that he won’t smell when we come to visit. The thought of him swapping a weeks worth of choc ices or whatever he has had to do to effect this transaction stabs at me. Now and then I still have enough perspective to find it incredible that this man who is generous, hardworking and honest to a fault, is locked up and struggling to clean his clothes in preparation the 2 hours a week he gets to spend with his wife and children.
Okha comes home from work to spend the evening with me. It’s unexpected and lovely in equal measure. I manage to reawaken myself after unwisely lying down in bed to get Tala off to sleep (the routine I have defaulted to in pursuit of the least possible trauma to her at bedtime), and we plump for “The Danish Girl” as I have the unwatched BAFTA screener. (Rob never could face Eddie Redmayne in a dress). It is rather a traumatic watch but it is the first evening that I have spent doing anything other than writing in some shape or form and I have a beautiful soft skinned daughter in my arms who won’t require putting to bed afterwards or any further input from me, all of which makes it a rare and welcome treat.
Afterwards I slip quietly into the bedroom I now appear to share, undress in the dark and attempt to drape the discarded clothes on a chair which is no longer there, moved as part of an early purge and now functioning as our nightly card writing table. I do this sort of thing a lot -make too much breakfast, over shop, or put his phone on charge out of force of habit. I worry more that these oversights that he is gone will soon stop and I will cease to live pretending that I can carry on keeping this relationship in pole position in my life via letters, snatched phone calls and weekly visits. Who will I become? Will the new me fit with the new him?
By his own admission Rob is also rather concerned that prison is bringing out the macho male side of him (yes uncle Tim, there is one). The steady diet of TV sport was previously something I pitied my brother’s wife for enduring, but I may soon be in her long suffering boat. In his letter which is disturbingly full of tennis and football references, Rob assures me that he will do his best to return to being a non sport devouring male “on the out”, but he sounds unconvinced and we are only two weeks in.
Rob has requested a pair of slippers and a robe when I next visit. Having filled out the prerequisite form he been granted the request, which is something of a coup. Slippers we have, but Rob has never been a robe man so I will need to source one. My instructions are “knee length, no hood and not too flashy,” which seems a prudent brief. Knowing that he has so very little on the inside, I set out on a Saturday afternoon, small girl in tow, to find the perfect robe to convey to him how much I love him.
In my minds eye, I’m envisaging a soft grey waffle print number, luxurious without being showy, perhaps with hidden cashmere, but John Lewis who should never have let me down here, have virtually nothing that isn’t white. Robes are a Christmas line apparently. (I feel sorry for all those fathers, brothers and sons receiving bloody robes in their stockings: If they don’t have already have one, oh well meaning present buyers, that is because they’d rather wear old trackies and yesterdays T shirt. FYI alcohol (copious), diabetes inducing food stuffs and play station paraphernalia are really the only acceptable male gifts on the market. If I had ever ventured to buy Rob a Christmas robe I would have been out on my ear as surely as if I’d exceeded the maximum target weight clause (around which I have been teetering for a couple of years now), in my marriage contract).
Undaunted I make my way down a hot and heavy Oxford Street to Selfridges. Everything nice has hoods, costs upward of a weeks salary, or looks too noncy. In desperation I brave the endless promotional shots of Rosie Huntington-Whiteley looking sultry and demure all in one, and worse still David Gandy looking slightly constipated to find a promising collection at M and S. Tala is beyond desperate to go for the weirdly soft one, but there is no way that material was harvested from any natural source and I dread to think about the potential devastation at HMP Hewell if a stray ember of mamba were to cross paths with that ungodly fabric and so, despite inferior softness that is clearly an affront to her fathers delicate skin, we settle on a grey blue towelling number from the luxury range and get out while we still can.