True stories from my youth: DSS
Aged eleven sitting in the living room on a school night my mother informs me I won’t be going to school in the morning (Primary year 6). When I ask why, she states she needs me to translate for her at an office in Stratford tomorrow. I think nothing of it and carry on watching the box. Come morning my mother and I head off to Stratford via bus and walk towards the blue building. For those not from Newham, this is the DSS office. And as with all DSS buildings the queue snaked all the way outside. After an hour or so of cuing my mother and me reach a windowed clerk of sorts. My mother speaks to me in Gujarati and tells me to translate.
Mrs Bad: *Gujarati* Tell him we want a grant for school uniform
Bad: My mother’s enquiring about the school uniform grant
DSS Clerk: who is it for?
Bad: *Gujarati* he asked who’s it for?
Mrs Bad: *Gujarati* tell him it’s for you when you start secondary after the summer
I just froze, here I was asking on behalf of my mother for a hand out for a school uniform. I felt sick to my stomach and urged for the ground to tear open and swallow me, I wanted to cry, I wanted to run away screaming, but I couldn’t move. I was poor, we were poor, and I was the intermediary for my families begging from the state.
Mrs Bad: *Gujarati* don’t just stand there tell him
Bad: *voice all horse* the uniforms for me, starting after the summer
DSS Clerk: We no longer do grants, we can do a loan.
Bad: *Gujarati* he said they longer do grants, they can do a loan.
After what seemed like an eternity of back and forth between me and my mother, mostly telling me off feeling it was my lack of ability to translate we didn’t make the grant happen, we headed off home. I spent the rest of that day and many others pondering on what life would be like if my father was around.