Twenty Four Hours Can Change a Life

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Poem 5.  A continuation of the Tenter Hooks series. Very often women flee their homes in a moment of crisis. They will leave with very few belongings and little to no money.  This poem is about my first contact with the social security office less than 24 hrs after fleeing in fear for my life. 

It’s a 20 minute walk to the office

The weather is foul

But there is no choice

If you want to eat you have to go now


Wrapped up as best my limited wardrobe 


I push the buggy out

Into a wind that howls

Akin to the the rage I feel inside


A sense of relief washes over

When I congratulate myself

For having left the the rain cover

On the buggy


Looking at her all snug and safe

Gives me a feeling of warmth

And pride

It’s a feeling that

I cannot hide


The office is busy

Someone is angry

But I think that it is more

They are scared

And that makes them upset


I take my ticket

Find a seat

Not easy in a room

That’s already complete


The air is thick

With desperation

Waiting it’s turn

A mother has stormed out

Leaving her children

“I can’t feed them, so perhaps you can!”

There’s a man

Clearly angry

His money is late

He has kids to feed

Don’t call him mate!


Two hours in

And my number is up

I steel myself for the questions

A straight faced woman

Greets me from behind her

Perspex shield



National insurance number?

Questions seem pretty inane

Aware of all the people behind me

I try to keep my voice low


“There are just a few things that we need to know.”

“No, I can’t go home”

“I don’t like to say, it’s a bit public.”

“Well, if you want our help

You’ll have to speak up!”


“We will let you know when you’ve been processed.”

“How long? Maybe two weeks.”

“But I have no money and I need to eat!”

“Emergency loan?”

“That sounds ok.  How do I go about that?”


More dignity is stripped from me

But I walk out with my head held high

While deep inside

I just want to die


I am relieved that it is still raining

At least those passing by

Won’t see me cry.   


I wish I could go home

I wish my home was safe

I miss having my own space

Baby is unsettled

I wish I could put her in her bed

I wish she had her bunny tunes

I yearn to see a friendly face


Twenty four hours

Your whole life can change

From a private life

To a public space


“Hi, did you have a good day?”

“Yeah, it was ok.”

“Good to hear it.  Don’t forget to make an appointment with housing!”

“Oh … no, I won’t forget.”

It’s the end of the first day

But it’s not over yet. 















◄ Kind gestures and suspicious looks. (The First Morning)

Kindness. ►


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John Botterill

Sat 13th May 2023 19:25

Your poetry is truly amazing, Clare. Spare, succinct and absolutely on the money. I am fascianated by this series of poems. Great!

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Stephen Gospage

Sat 13th May 2023 07:36

I was deeply moved by this poem, Clare. It has real quality in its spare but flowing style.

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Fri 12th May 2023 21:03

Thank you for sharing this story with us. Your grandfather was a good man and he taught you well.

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keith jeffries

Fri 12th May 2023 20:56

Clare, this poem resonates with me. When I was a school boy an aunt turned up in the middle of the night, dishevelled and in her bare feet. My uncle, who I thought was a good bloke had beaten her up and she fled the house. The door was opened by her father, my grandfather. My nan put her to bed as she was distraught. My grandfather, a veteran of the Great War went to see my uncle the following day. He took me along. As my uncle opened the door my Grandfather pushed his way inside and pulled a huge carved knife which he had concealed in his waistcoat. He threw my uncle against the wall and placed the knife at his throat. My grandfather said quite calmly," do this again and I will kill you." I learned something new that day and your poem has brought it back to life. This kind of behaviour needs severe punishment.
Thank you Care,

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