Hazel was born in London and moved to Harlow in 1963 with her husband. She has two daughters and three granddaughters.
Hazel joined HWW in 1986, and attends regularly. She finds it particularly helpful, as she is dyslexic. Each week she produces a short story, a piece of poetry or a chapter for a current novella.
Each Thursday Workshop members read their work to the group. Hazel enjoys listening to other people’s creations, and says that her own writing definitely benefits from the comments and constructive criticism she receives. Indeed, she says the group is supportive, inclusive, cheerful and educational.
Hazel edits her Church magazine, and frequently contributes articles and prayers.
We look at the scan. She seems to have a hazy wing behind her tiny form.
‘What date would you like the termination?’ The bored voice cut the air between us. ‘Your sector has had its quota of females for this quarter.’
‘We may go off-grid.’ My partner’s voice is almost a whisper.
‘Have you looked up the details. It’s not easy. A whole year from the eighth month without state help, or work. And whatever you’ve been told, you’re on your own, and ostracised by anyone who finds out what you’re going to do.’
‘We want this baby,’ I reply. ‘Is there no other way? Could we move to another sector?’
‘Against the rules, sorry. Your time’s up. I have the next parents waiting. If you want a termination – complete the form on the screen in the waiting room before sun-down tomorrow. I warn you, off-grid is hard. And the babies often die anyway but you can’t come back You lose your flat, food ration and employment.’
‘And then …?’ I say. Everything about off-grid is shrouded in mystery.
‘After a year in the off-zone, you can register again, at least two-days walk from your last sector.
We go to the tree-space to talk. We know a spot where the listening cones don’t reach.
‘We’ll call her Angel,’ I say, when we’ve made our decision.
At sundown the next day, we light a candle and sing to our child.
When I can’t hide her existence any longer, some colleagues presume I’m carrying a boy. Others whisper to me when the music is very loud. I flout the rules and tell them. They look in wonder but don’t speak of it again.
We prepare over the months. We manage to get a map of the off-grid sector, with the huts marked. We snuggle together to keep warm in our flat during dark winter nights, and feel Angel’s kicks getting stronger.
At last, we have to tune in to the off-grid information. ‘You can only take what you can carry,’ a small robot tells us. Why do they always grin when imparting life-changing information? ‘If you find a hut occupied, you must continue until you find an empty one. Don’t come back before the year is up. It would be registered on your work permit and go against you for your life-span. That’s one of the few non-removable sins.’
We weave light-weight baskets, one as a crib and another to keep our baby’s essential items in. I sew bags to carry our clothes and cooking things. Someone pushes a note under our door.
If you can take a wheel with an attachment shaft hidden in your luggage, when you’re over the horizon it will help you carry the load. Good Luck!
I keep looking at our friends and neighbours. Which one, I wonder, went off-grid? We’ll never see these friends again. We have to leave when the eviction notice arrives on the screen.
My partner finds a wheel in the recycling bin near work. We fashion a shaft and I sew rings onto the largest bag and make sure it will work. We can drag the heaviest items. It’s second nature to do anything secret with the music turned up and communicate by notes and gestures.
My ankles are swollen now, as well as my womb. Work is tiring and the long walk each way is exhausting. The pregnancy can’t be registered so I haven’t been able to get reduced hours or extra vitamins.
We receive the eviction page one bright spring morning. We have 48 hours before the deadline but we’re ready so will go when the sun rises tomorrow.
We don’t look back as we head towards the hill with the high fence and red gate. They say that it only opens one way. Once you’re through, there’s no way to return.
‘I can feel Angel kicking,’ I say, as we walk down the hill on the other side.
Diane stops and puts the baskets and bags down. ‘This is the start of our new life, the three of us together,’ she says, as she gives me a hug.