When asked to describe what his plays were about, Harold Pinter famously replied: ‘the weasel under the cocktail cabinet’. This perfectly describes the sense of unease, even dread, that pervades the seemingly ‘normal’ world of his plays.
Like a Pinter play, without the long pauses, on the surface everything in my world is perfectly normal and everything is carrying on as it always has, but I can hear the scuffling paws and see the sparkling eyes, of the financial threat of E continuing to withholding child maintenance, under the cabinet.
There is, of course, another definition of weasel – someone who escapes or evades an obligation, and time and time again E’s actions remind me of this. He still hasn’t paid any child maintenance, or responded to a single email from me, or my solicitor, and the CMS still maintain that it could take until July for them to start taking payments direct from E, meaning that I’m potentially facing another three months without child maintenance and up to another £5k of debt in the form of mortgage arrears meaning that a growing sense of unease is niggling at everything I do.
It’s not that life isn’t happy, on the contrary, thanks to the doctor doubling my medication a month ago, I’m finally feeling the cloud of clinical depression begin to lift. I laugh every day and enjoy my work, my kids, my family and my friends, it’s just that, a bit like the scene in the final Harry Potter film, where Harry is talking to a ghostly Dumbledore , and nearby, under a bench, is a hideously naked and deformed dying Horcrux of Voldemort, there’s a disturbing, almost, but not quite, hidden, reality that steals any comfort from the even the most lovely moments.
Fortunately, apart from Oldest Daughter (whose allowance I’ve now had to stop paying, meaning that she is struggling to make ends meet at university and shares my sense of unease) the kids don’t seem to have noticed that anything is different yet. I’ve told them that I have no money for extras, but they don’t really understand what that means (I think they assume it’s just ‘Mum moaning again’). They’ve noticed little things like we don’t buy fabric conditioner anymore, and that the weekly shop doesn’t contain any treats (meaning their enthusiasm to help unpack it has waned), but otherwise they seem oblivious. They still stare at the fridge, with its practical contents of basic veg, cheese and cheap ham, and lament that there’s nothing to eat but don’t notice that actually this time, they’re kind of right. They still nick crisps from the ‘packed lunch’ cupboard, meaning that Youngest Son frequently has to go without at the end of the week. They haven’t noticed that the supplies in the cupboards are starting to dwindle (in a way this is a good thing – there was always a risk of concussion when opening my overstocked tins cupboard), or that I turned the heating off in February, or even that I still haven’t got the dishwasher repaired. They haven’t asked why I haven’t repaired the fence panels that were brought down in the last storm, or replaced the vacuum cleaner that now only picks up dust when it feels like it and end up sweeping the carpets as often as I vacuum them (they’ve long suspected I’m insane – I suspect this is just further confirmation for them). They’re still asking if they can go on school ski trips or have a bit of money to go into town with their friends. I’ve done what I can to keep things normal, but I’m now saying ‘no’ to everything that isn’t essential.
The thing is, I’m lucky. There are millions of people in this country worse off than me – they’re forced to use food banks and payday lenders, their lives are blighted by poverty and debt every day. I’m ok. I still have a budget to buy enough food to feed us (ok, so I’m facing the choice of paying the mortgage or feeding the kids, but at least I have that choice). I can still pay (most of) my bills. I can manage until the CMS get their shit together and start taking payments (and hopefully some arrears) direct from E’s salary, so I’ll be fine, but I don’t think the kids have any idea of how tough it’s going to be for the next few months – everything just seems normal to them (and I’ll try to keep it that way as long as I can).
The next thing on my ‘to do’ list is to call the Mortgage company (again) and explain my situation. I’ve already made this call to the Secured Loan Company, so I know what to expect. There will be a detailed analysis of my income/expenditure, followed by an enquiry as to if I’m planning to sell the house (answer: “well, of course I will if I have to, but my ex-partner is not responding to any attempts to contact him – as you’ll find out when you try to call him – so I have no idea what to do next”), followed by an explanation of the charges and damage to my credit record that going into arrears will involve, followed, hopefully, by some sort of agreement as to what I can do until E starts paying child maintenance, the house is sold, or I win the lottery.
I don’t mind calling them, I know it’s the best thing to do, and I know that I’ll sort something out (I always do) but it just adds to my sense of unease. I’ve never missed a payment on a debt in my life. I’ve not always been in credit, but I’ve always managed my money responsibly (and known to the penny how much I’m overdrawn by). To be forced into the position of being in arrears is distressing and humiliating and – actually – really fucking annoying.
It’s also hard not to be aware of, and feel slightly galled by, the fact that that whilst I’m literally eking the last penny out of everything, and have given up everything I can financially to make sure that the kids are ok, that E and P are living in a heated flat, with a fully functioning dishwasher and are probably still enjoying regular bottles of wine and meals out/takeaways. I’m sure E is in debt, but in the 25 years I knew him, no matter what the financial crisis, he never once went without a bottle of wine, I can’t imagine anything has changed.
I’m past the shock of E not being the person I thought he was, but it still stings that he’s weasling out of his legal obligation to support his children financially (actually, it feels like what it is – bullying). The fact that he’s prepared to do this to his kids is beyond comprehension. What kind of a father is he? After he left I pretty much resigned myself to the fact that he was a liar, a cheat, a weasel and, as Oldest Daughter says, ‘just not a good person’, but even so, I never once doubted that he loved his kids and would always support them. After everything that’s happened, I thought he couldn’t shock me again, but the fact that he’s prepared to abandon his children, to leave them with literally no financial support at all, has shocked me to the core. I think perhaps the unease I’ve been feeling is also because of that – it’s not just the worry about the money invading my daily consciousness, its the cognitive dissonance caused by facing up to a new reality – that E really doesn’t care about his kids’ welfare, or at least that he puts himself before his kids. As a parent, who would literally throw myself under a bus to save my kids, that’s a hard one to even comprehend, let along accept.