Ageing Disgracefully

I’m going to make shallow judgements on women and their appearance in this post, which is a crappy thing to do, but we all do it on a daily basis, to ourselves and others, it’s ingrained.

I recently turned 46 and had a moment of “Wow. I’m closer to 50 than 40, now…” which I realise is daft, even arbitrary, but we all age with a mix of fear and fascination, right? We’re changing all the time, mostly subtly, peppered with moments of “Shit the bed, where did that crevice come from?” I’m intrigued and even derive pleasure from my sprawling grey hairs, how some are wiry and spiral vertically, whilst others zig zag sideways like my ‘80s crimpers have been at them. But then I’ll despair a little at the fact cellulite is starting to appear on my arms (the rest of my cellulite has been around long enough to really not give a shit). On the plus side I still don’t have any grey pubes.

As women, ageing is inevitably tied to the tiresome spectrum that is sexism. We ain’t no George Cloonies. We’re not allowed to simply get old, there are a variety of internal and external pressures to ‘fight’ the ageing process. And it’s a double-edged sword, as you’ll be demonised for trying too hard or for not trying hard enough. You no longer get wolf-whistled when you get older (unless it’s from behind then followed by an embarrassed ‘sorry’ when they see you’re old enough to be their Mum) and, even though it’s pretty great not having to decide whether to a) ignore it b) swear at them or c) employ some of the superb tactics shared via #EverydaySexism, it’s also directly linked to being ‘over the hill’ (unless you are cougar MILF, of course, lucky you, eh?). Society doesn’t value middle-aged and older women the way it should.

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Yes, that account is called ‘UK TV MILFS’ FFS…

 

The recent focus on Susan Sarandon’s knockers is a case in point. Some people will say “she looks good for her age” (when in fact she just looks bloody good) whereas others are decrying and denying her natural form. Some people only like to look at fake tits and on younger women, they can’t handle this amazing 69 year old confidently carrying her cleavage. My knockers high-fived each other when I saw those pictures of her, I was so happy. Others were unimpressed, like this article tagged ‘sad sagging Sarandon’ -that reckons “Sarandon isn’t the only, too-old-to-wear-that celeb who has bared it all on the red carpet or gone over the top in inappropriate situations. Other actresses have tried holding onto their youth by wearing outfits that no one wants to see them in”. Pfffft. Possibly even worse than this, Piers Morgan waded in, because we all value his opinion on women’s appearance, don’t we?

I love these women, they’re breaking stupid ageist, sexist rules. I have a little crush on Jessica Lange at the moment. Also in her late 60s, she hasn’t succumbed to Hollywood homogeneity, and wears her own skin with pride, her beautiful arms and hands wrinkled, veiny and strong. She is one gorgeous woman, but I’m guessing plenty would disagree and just see an older woman who hasn’t even bothered with botox (as far as I know, she looks naturally wrinkly and fab to me). Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda are also flying the flag for older women in the sitcom Frankie And Grace, because – Shock! Horror! – women in their 70s can still have sex!  Kim Novak on the other hand got serious stick at the 2015 Oscars because she has gone down the plastic surgery route, which in itself is an issue, as former Hollywood ‘starlets’ probably feel the pressure to mess with the natural ageing process more than anyone. A surgeon – someone who makes shit loads of money out of our obsession with appearance – comments that she’s gone from ‘dainty and feminine’ to ‘masculine and over-inflated.’ Yeah mate, she’s also gone from 25 to 81.

If you’re in or near Yorkshire, go visit Cartwright Hall in Bradford where an exhibition of photographs by Nancy Honey celebrates 100 Leading Ladies – 100 women aged over 55 who also happen to have defied gender stereotypes and made huge achievements in their respective fields. Though I can’t relate to most of them (there are a lot of Baronesses and Countesses in there who, inevitably, are mostly white) it’s still pretty cool, and on until April 10th.

And have you come across Iris Apfel, yet? She’s 94, furiously funny, funky and rocks massive bangles like no one I’ve ever seen. She also advises “I think you can be attractive at any age.” Go find Albert Maysles’ documentary about her, it’s well worth a watch. She’s precisely the sort of inspiration we need to age disgracefully, raising a middle finger to all those pressures and being true to ourselves.

 

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Me Vs HMRC/Concentrix

If you read my blog about being investigated for what essentially boils down to Tax Credit fraud, here’s an update. I sent them all the documents they requested (as best I could) and on January 22nd they sent a letter saying they’d completed their check and no changes would be made to my award. In the meantime, I sent a Freedom of Information request demanding to see the information they claimed they had, information that implied I should be claiming as part of a couple, not a single parent. I waited way more than 20 days and got no response to the FOI, so I re-sent it.

Today I got a response. They have sent me photocopies of all the documents I sent them, including my own bank statements; rent statements; utility bills; the sarcastic letter I posted on my blog, my own FOI letters. The only other documents are standard letters about my claim, which I also already have. In short, they have sent me things I already have, because they belong to me. The only thing they sent that I don’t already have is a glossary of codes and abbreviations that’s six pages long and of no consequence whatsoever.

So the battle continues. I’m pretty cross.

Here is my latest letter to them:

To whom it may concern

Your Ref: xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
NI number: xxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Case no: xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Today I received a package of photocopied documents in response to my Freedom of Information Request, initially sent on 20th November, then re-sent on 11th January after I received no response.

I specifically requested to know what information you had causing you to investigate me, demanding to see private, personal documents so you could ‘get a full picture of my circumstances.’ I have enclosed a copy of your original letter (via Concentrix) and highlighted the paragraph, which states:

“We have information that suggests there might be another person linked to you or your address between 06 Apr 2015 and 03 Nov 2015. We need to check whether this is someone you should be claiming with as part of a couple.”

I specifically requested to see this alleged ‘information’ or at least be given an explanation as to what it is. And WHO is this mysterious ‘someone’? You have not answered my question, instead you have sent me, presumably at the expense of the tax payer, photocopies of documents I already have, including my own bank statements and the letters I sent you. You have not responded to my request.

If your initial letter of 4th November 2015 was in fact a ruse to gain access to my bank statements, bills, rent agreement, etc, with no real grounds to investigate me and threaten to stop my tax credits, at the very least you should admit this. Otherwise I demand to see the ‘information’ you claim to have on me.

My Freedom of Information Request stands. I expect a response within 20 days.

Yours faithfully

Maria Spadafora

Jumping through Tax Credits hoops

I had better things to do today, but this morning I received a letter from Concentrix* – a Business Services Company – on behalf of HM Revenue & Customs Tax Credits department. The letter says they “have information” that suggests someone else is living with me. They’re basically accusing me of co-habiting without informing them (I’m not). So I’ve had to sift through various documents and gather loads of shit together, otherwise they’ll stop our (my son and I) tax credits.

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I’m pretty furious. E’s Dad and I split up 13 years ago! I resent the accusation, am baffled as to where this “information” has come from, and, as I already said, I’ve got stuff to do! So, because I’m me, I’m sharing with you the letter I’ve written in response:

9th November 2015

Dear Concentrix on behalf of HM Revenue & Customs

REF: ******** case reference ***************

I received your letter this morning saying you have received information there might be another person linked to me or my address between 06 April and 03 Nov 2015. I request that you clarify what this information is, please, because I am baffled.

I have lived at this address with my son – E****– since September 2012. Have we ever had visitors sleep over? Yes, of course, but no one else has lived here.

In response to your request for information, I have enclosed the following:

  1. Bank statements for my current account for the period 24th March-16th October 2015.That’s as far as they go up to, to date. There are 21 sheets of paper (I counted them twice). Have fun looking through them, I shop at Morrisons a lot, don’t I?
  2. Cash ISA statements for the period 11th December 2014 – 5th November 2015. There are 3 sheets of paper. As you can see, I’m not very good at saving money.
  3. Notice of Rent Increase from Leeds City Council dated 26th Feb 2015, effective from 6th April 2015. I don’t have a tenancy agreement as this is a council rental, so this is the most recent statement/letter I can give you. 1 sheet of A3 paper, folded.
  4. Council Tax bill dated 2nd March 2015, for the period 1st April 2015 – 21 March 2016. You’ve requested one dated ‘after April 2015’ but it doesn’t work like that, which is good, because I like to get notifications in advance. (1 sheet of paper).
  5. Yorkshire Water bill, dated 6th February for the period 1st April 2015 – 31st March 2016. Way too expensive by my reckoning. It was less than half the price in the last place I rented. (1 sheet of paper).

I cannot supply telephone bills at this time because I am with Talk Talk. And yes, my account was hacked. I don’t receive paper statements and can’t access my online account, but you can see from my bank statements the monthly direct debits.

I also cannot supply gas and electric bills because I have pre-pay meters which involves putting money on a card via the local pay point (whose machine is often broken, it’s rubbish).

Finally, I don’t have any court or solicitor letters such as legal separation documents, decree nisi etc, because I’ve never been married. Some people tilt their head and ‘ahhh’ slightly pitifully when I tell them this, but for me it’s something to celebrate.

Hopefully you have everything you need here (27 sheets of paper containing all sorts of personal information. I’m embarrassed to see a purchase at Caffe Nero in my bank statements, as they are tax dodgers and I usually boycott them, but I was treating my Mum and Boston only has two coffee shops).

Please let me know if you need anything else. And please return my documents in good time.

Yours sincerely

Maria Spadafora

(*means circles, doesn’t it? As in running around in? Apt.)

A Couple of Firsts

So, I had my first taste of wedding photography. It also happened to be my first Sikh wedding (Anand Karaj). Wedding photography, rather like marriage, has never appealed to me. Much of it is standard and staged, which is fine if that’s what you want, but if it is, I’m not your girl. And there are way better photographers out there.

Rangoli & Maiyan

Rangoli & Maiyan

The bride, the lovely, super-talented Seetal, who I know through my work with South Asian Arts UK, asked me over a year ago if I’d document her wedding to Kaviraj, another awesome human. (When not creating dance or music, Seetal runs the brilliant Two Brown Girls blog with her friend Aaminah, you should check it out).  They both know my pictures, and how I work, and I was enormously flattered. They wanted to capture everything naturally, as it occurred, keeping poses to the minimum – and that’s my thing, so I was up for the challenge. I approached it in the same way I would any event, capturing characters, details, moments, and movement as stealthily as possible. (Two people commented on my Ninja skills, so it seems I achieved that!). Having said that, I was crapping myself, it was a huge responsibility…

Mehndi & Sangeet

Mehndi & Sangeet

Seetal and Kavi briefed me on the different celebrations and ceremonies I’d be documenting from Seetal’s side. Another photographer covered Kavi’s end in Leicester, and we were both there for the main event. It was full-on hard work, but enormous fun.

Chura

Chura

Personally, artistically and culturally this has been a wonderful experience for me. My congratulations to the Dynamic Dhadyalla Duo, and my thanks to all the friends and family, particularly at Beeston Gurdwara, who are always so welcoming (and make the best dhal).

Anand Karaj

Anand Karaj

This is just a small selection of photos, but you can see more on my Flickr.

I used my trusty Canon EOS 60D, mostly with a 55-250mm lens, and newly acquired 70D, with a 18-55mm lens. Occasionally I used a wide 10-18mm lens. For better or worse, I always use natural/available light.

Doli

Doli