I often get asked when and how I started to draw on shoes. The timeline around that era is fuzzy in my memory because it was a time of extreme stress, as you are soon to find out.
I’ve been an artist since mid 2015, after a 25 or so year break. I got D in design at school and was steered towards more academic subject matter, though I used to spend hours and hours drawing as a teenager. Before I was a mother, I worked as a lecturer in IT. My qualifications are post-grad Computing. I had drawn on my sons shoes before, he likes batman and superhero stuff, so it was a nice way to brighten up a pair of shoes for him and make them unique. I used to use sharpies but they have a tendency to bleed a little into the fabric, so it’s hard to get a good thin line.
Some time around 2015, I had some faded old Toms that still had loads of wear left in them but had got muddy and tired. I dyed them black and painted a little dandelion on them with some fabric paint (I think it was) and stuck a little twinkly bit on them. Way cheaper than a new pair! I continued to upcycle my own things to save money.
Back at that time in my life I began to be aware that I was being stalked. Things had been happening that I couldn’t understand but what I did not know was that my son’s father was stalking me. We were going through the family court system at the time and when the court was presented with the evidence that he was stalking me, they gave him the go-ahead to continue, saying that because of the ongoing proceedings, it was “research”. The police thought differently though and after several breaches of a restraining order he went to prison, for a very short spell.
In 2015 I was working as a blogger and sometime web designer but because of the stalking I closed down that business and would have been out of work had I not painted a few pairs of shoes as a thank you gift to some amazing people who helped me get through the family court and stalking traumas and get myself and my son to safety. The amazing Dawn from thinkitchangeit.com (p.s. she also cured me of my bird phobia) had some friends who had seen my work and they wanted pairs too. She encouraged me to set up an Etsy shop and the rest of the year became busy , particularly around the Christmas period.
While I am painting I am totally involved in what I am doing, so it helped me through this period of extreme stress. The main way that I am being stalked is online (yes, it’s still happening) and it was so nice to be able to do something a little offline, and something meditative. It’s lovely because I can do it while I spend time with my son, and he gets to see how life works. My techniques and skills have refined with practice and my supplies have expanded. I work from a tightly organised 3.5*4.5ft area of my living room.
Phantom Art Drop is a beautiful project akin to the Random Acts of Kindness movement. Rather than dropping notes and acts of kindness, Phantom goes a whole leap further and drops her/his beautiful artwork in a public place with an accompanying handwritten note attached.
The project tickles my soul, and as soon as it stops raining so damned much I am going to join in. Part of my fear of involvement is a fear that someone will trash my hard work, either binning it or otherwise vandalising it. It takes a brave soul and a leap of faith to transcend this.
The Phantom Artist’s concept is beautiful, spiritual and heart blossoming.
So, I asked a few questions:
Who are you? I’m a hopeless idealist. An anonymous artist who believes that through art we can learn to care for each other more. Strengthen the bonds of community and recognize the need for kindness without the want of fanfare.
Where can I find you? I’m found in the Caribbean. I live a life of sand, sea and sun. In a way it influences my art. The people and the island life, it’s all apart of me and who I am.
What made you come up with your unique idea? I can’t attest to the novelty of the idea but the reason behind it stems from the need to truly make a connection with someone. To reach out and provide both solace and inspiration.
How I’ve chosen to do it simply happened as a result of my skill set. Honestly the ‘what’ and ‘how’ could have been anything so long as the ‘why’ was satisfied.
So the art and the handwritten letters were my means of doing that. And that’s really the point. For each to take what they have as a gift or talent and give that freely to another in an effort to touch their life positively.
How can I join in? I encourage any and everyone to take up this cause for kindness. I think we live in a time where it’s desperately needed. Love has become so conditional. Favor and kindness are typically only served if reciprocated with attention and adulation.
This is why I remain anonymous. It’s not about who does it but rather; simply; that it’s done for its sake and nothing more. So to join, do a kind thing for someone for no other reason than to see them smile. Using whatever God has given you. The Phantom Art Drop project is a notion of selflessness and giving… One that I hope we all can embody in our own way.
Note- creatives try leaving a random gift out in the open for anyone to receive. I promise it’ll give you a fresh perspective on life. ?
Can you recommend and amazing art book? Oh wow hmmm, I quite like ‘ The Story of ArtThe story of art‘ by E. H Gombrich*. It outlines how art developed alongside the people it was made for and how it helps shape and transforms civilizations. It forces one to consider just how influential and important art is or can be.
I love the style of the Phantom Artist, what do you think?
In early January, HMRC had requested a set of very specific information from me – accounts, receipts, that kind of thing and I had sent them exactly what they asked for. At the end of January, I went to check my bank balance one day, expecting to see my working tax credits and…nothing. No working tax, and no child tax credits. I rang the office, expecting for there to have been an error of some kind, only to be told that I had failed their tests and that they would be taking my child tax credits – the money meant for my son – to repay the alleged debt that I owed them.
Devastated, I asked for further information but they could only tell me that the decision-maker’s word was final. No advice, no word of where I had gone wrong, nothing.
Back in 2015, the rules changed for self-employed people claiming working tax credits and anyone that didn’t meet the new criteria would no longer be eligible. I thought nothing of it, after all I worked regular hours, was profitable, and my business had a future. Someone, somewhere, had decided otherwise, and nobody could tell me why.
Ten months later, I have won my appeal against their decision in a tribunal. It has been tough, stressful, I have used food banks and borrowed money for bills, my son has gone without clubs and classes but we have won, just in time for Christmas.
I could not have done it without some key information, which is what I am going to share with you now, for if this abrupt removal of your lifeline happens to you. It is cruel and inhumane what they are doing to us self employed people and if you are a) in a creative business and b) universal credit is coming to your area, you are at risk.
To avoid all of this, to exempt yourself from the profitability and commerciality test:
Register as a limited company. As company director you will be an employee not a self employed person so the new punitive rules no longer apply. Be aware though: as a company director, your name and address will be available to the public. This is a risky move for some people. Do your research. Be safe.
Prior to your tax credits being stopped:
If they ask you for a set of information, receipts etc., know that you are being assessed.
Send what they ask for, plus: a business plan for the financial year in question, future financial forecasts for the year in question, flyers, business cards and a comprehensive explanation of your business. They need to be reassured that you have four weeks’ work in the future to do.
Send photocopies only, because I hear they lose a LOT of information that is sent to them.
Send it all by special delivery, so that they cannot deny receiving it. This will all cost quite a bit of money, but trust me, it is worth it. Losing your documents is a common occurrence.
I can’t guarantee this will, help, but that is the kind of thing they look for.
If you wake up one morning and have no cash, if they have stopped your money:
Ring and ask for a “mandatory reconsideration”. You need to send them anything that you think might add to your case. Tell them you can’t feed your kids and they need to start paying you your child tax credits back.
Citizens Advice can help at this stage.
IMPORTANT (because this takes a long time to come) put in a Freedom of Information Request asap. This is VITAL, they will not tell you the exact reason that your claim has been terminated, you will have to scour the information here and find out for yourself. Within it is a score sheet. This will tell you more. You won’t get this in time for your Mandatory Reconsideration, but you will do in time for your appeal.
If they turn down your Mandatory Reconsideration:
Citizen’s advice cannot help you here, they are not qualified enough. If you are lucky and live in the right place, see if you can find a Law Centre. If like me you don’t have the right postcode to get “free” help, you have two options: pay for a solicitor, or, do it yourself. As I had no cash for a solicitor, I took the latter.
Begin your appeal straight away. Revenue Benefits has loads of information about how to do this.
TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE. You have a tiny window of time to appeal in and chances are any letters they send you will be dated several weeks before you receive them, so you have to work fast. Don’t worry, you will have plenty of time to prepare your case – between three months to a year before your case is heard in the Tribunal court.
Use this time to go through your FOI with a fine tooth comb to find out how they have marked you down on their score sheet and find evidence to disprove their (what are likely to be) assumptions.
Back this up with evidence that you’ve been working hard in the meantime.
Keep a time-sheet, make sure your accounts are kept up to date etc, because when they call you to court, you’ll have maybe two weeks notice.
Make a formal complaint. For me, this confirmed what I had discovered via the FOI, that they had marked me down for information that they hadn’t actually asked for! if you’d like an email address, ask me.
Check case law.
Try to find someone to go with you. This availability varies drastically area to area, so you’ll have to do your own research here.
It was a nice sunny day. We had met with some friends to play at Riversley Park in Nuneaton, a place that I had taken my son to when he was just a toddler, for the first time, and had always had a great time at. I take my dog with me most places that I go and prior to the 1st July 2017, dogs were allowed in the sandy play area of this park. I was standing under a tree supervising my son to the edge of the play area. My beautiful well-behaved dog was on a lead and resting peacefully. I had just had to intervene in some over zealous play where kids were getting hurt and wanted to stay nearby to stop it happening again.
All of a sudden, an unpleasant young man with some kind of clippy thing on his collars marched up to me and said he was from the council. He told me I was committing a criminal offence being in the park with my dog. I replied I wasn’t aware of this, I’ve been going to the park since my son was very young and people always take their dogs in there. I asked him to show me the sign. He did, but it was a small sign, low down and wrapped around a post near an entrance that I had not used (evidenced by my fitness tracker). The sign was unclear, and I told him so. I wear varifocal glasses and even if I had used that entrance, the sign was low down and in my fuzzy area of vision.
He was demanding my name and address to issue me with a fine. I asked what law I had broken and what the fine was, both questions that he did not know the answer to. I refused to give my name to a stranger and asked to see his ID with his name on it. He refused and eventually showed me it, with his name and the company he worked for covered up. By this time I felt there was something not right so I started videoing him.
I continued to refuse to give my details to a stranger. He claimed to be from Nuneaton and Bedworth Council but was not in a uniform and he would not show me ID. Council employees are obliged to do both.
So he called for a colleague. I explained my situation as a vulnerable adult and continued to refuse to give them my name. The second guy showed me an exercise book from the council which he claimed was his ID and read me what he claimed to be a street caution and told me he would call the police. I said fine, I will give my name to a uniformed officer but not to a stranger with no ID who was going to keep my details very unsafely in a notebook. I waited for half an hour, the police didn’t turn up, it was dinner time and I needed to get my son home so we just left. The older man followed me back to the car and my son photographed him in the car park as we drove away.
Watch the video. I have edited out members of the public and my son.
The older man claims that most people in the park are probably vulnerable adults – in which case he should not be approaching any of them. Guidelines are that they should not give fines to vulnerable adults. He openly laughs when I tell him I am a victim of domestic abuse and stalking.
He lied about how they did not carry ID – I had already seen the first mans ID, although key details were concealed.
Nuneaton and Bedworth council have very clear guidelines to how their staff must treat customers. See the “style of service” section here.
I was so traumatised by this event that I spoke to my safety team the next day. They were extremely concerned and told me that I absolutely had done the right thing by videoing and refusing to give my personal protected details to a stranger. They called the council on my behalf and the council were unaware of the dog exclusion order in the park. They also stated that the men were NOT employed by the council as they had claimed and that council employees always wore uniforms and carried ID. They advised me to call the police.
By this time, given my history, I was extremely distressed. The police investigated for me and came back to me with a crime number.
These men are employed by a firm called NSL. They have no more right than you or me to approach people and demand their personal sensitive details. They have no right to detain anyone and the caution that they read is a scare tactic. They are low paid jumped up parking attendants trained in intimidation tactics.
You are NOT obliged to give your personal details to anyone. A quick google search reveals that they are NOT allowed to use the DVLA database to look up your details unless you are littering, dog fouling or flyposting.
My son and I have taken days to recover from this alarming incident and I am posting it here to educate you, and to let people of Nuneaton a) be aware of the new dog exclusion zone and b) about the scare tactics that NSL ON BEHALF OF NUNEATON AND BEDWORTH COUNCIL are employing.
I have friends in Nuneaton, NONE of whom were aware that dogs no longer are allowed in the sandy area. The friend I met up with goes there daily with her children and says that people bring their pets in there all the time. The local newspapers have not informed residents of the exclusion.
Bully number two told me that the information is available “on the website”. It is not. The website provide a PDF form which must be downloaded to find out that the exclusion order was put in place from the 1st July 2017. I would not have been able to find this out if a) I didn’t have the internet at home, b) be computer literate and c) know how to open PDF files. Many people do not have this privilege.
Do you check the website of the park you visit prior to every visit? No, I didn’t think so. The front page of the council’s website says NOTHING about it, nor any parks information.
Are you happy that un-uniformed men WITH NO ID are patrolling a children’s play area? Is this not a child protection issue?
If you are outraged by this incident, please share this. You can contact Nuneaton and Bedworth Council here, or on twitter or on facebook.
I am calling on Nuneaton and Bedworth Council to:
To install clear and noticeable signs in areas where dogs are newly excluded.
The private companies employed to give the fines out need to be uniformed and carry ID, which they are willing to show.
That personal data is collected and stored in a secure encrypted manner. Data protection does not protect victims of domestic violence, where personal details are known to the perpetrators.
That employees of Nuneaton and Bedworth Council and anyone contracted to work for them are mandated to treat members of the public in the style of service that is promised to us within the document “Customer service and complaints policy” here.
That a first warning be given before any fines are levied.
People ALWAYS say (amongst other things)”but don’t you miss [xyz animal based product]”. I have to admit that prior to the full swing to Veganism, I was worried that I would miss cheese, and a nice portion of fish and chips. Ice cream, cream, I thought that I’d miss them too but as I age I find that my body is less tolerant anyway to fatty foods, particularly dairy based, so no, i do not miss eating pure artery-clogging animal fat. My health and the planet are way more important.
I first went vegan twenty-plus years ago and back then it *was* hard – all nut cutlets and expensive specialised health food shops. Now, you can buy vegan ice cream for about two pound fifty in Aldi and cheap fruit, nuts and seeds there and in Lidl. Frys and Linda Macartney do amazing reasonably priced stir fry strips which go far as long as you are modest with the servings and combine them with ample veg.
But then there’s the cheese thing. That was a major thing to give up for me – after all what is more comforting than a nice cheesy baked potato or some macaroni cheese? For lush melty cheese-alike and for a slice in sandwich or melted in a toastie pocket I got for Violife. It’s more expensive than dairy cheese but any cheese is not great for the health so it’s a reminder to eat less of it..
For a home made recipe that is great with everything from nachos to macaroni cheese, I use this recipe, from Veggie on a Penny. Nobody can believe it’s mostly made from carrots and potatoes! The bonus of vegan cheese is that it lasts a lot longer than dairy cheese in the fridge.
But a nice chippy tea is hard to beat right? The Avant-garde vegan made my tastebuds beam with happiness (if that is even possible…probably not!) with his vegan fish and chips recipe. The fish is made from tofu and noori and is every bit – if not more – melt in the mouth than battered cod. With the added bonus of not destroying the oceans and hurting sentient beings.
Being vegan is not hard these days. Eating out is not withing my meagre budget so is not an issue but I am told that restaurants and chain pubs offer an ok selection these days.
So, what are you waiting for? Give up animal products for your health, the animals and the planet. Make this next month Veganuly and take an exciting leap into new cuisine.
Following my previous posts about my HMRC Working Tax Credits situation, I have had a promptish reply to my Mandatory Reconsideration appeal. From the reply they have clearly done nothing but cast a cusory glance over the information that I sent them. The have glanced at it, ticked or crossed whatever boxes they have, and stayed with thier original decision.
Since talking about my situation I have learned that I am far from the only person that this is happening to. Tax Credits seem to be targeting self employed people – I suppose we are nice easy targets for them to knock of the government expenditure bill. I wonder what happens to the other people. Myself – it has definitely affected my health adversely, so I could claim ESA, but that would take months and involve degrading assessments where assesors routinely ask claimants questions such as “why haven’t you killed yourself?”. This has recently been exposed by the media but friends have verified that such questioning is standard.
My alternative would be Jobseekers Allowance, but I work too much to find the time to jump through the hoops required to qualify for thier contract. I have had experience with DWP staff and the experience is always difficult, stressful and degrading.
What this means for me is that my son and I will be living in poverty for a lot longer. The law is on my side, but they have failed to undersand the nature of my business or – I might be so bold as to state – of any business even. I have to appeal to an independent tribunal who I am relying upon to be a little more educated on the matter. I have been informed that the tribunal can take between four to eight months to be heard. That takes us to November. It’s a good job I have a food bank I can use bi-weekly here.
And so the saga continues. In The Yin and Yang of Life I mused how incredibly bad and painful situations can also bring out amazing light and kindness. That people who I know and people who I don’t – people who are not even family and have no ties to me – can show such incredible kindness and love has brought me to tears many times. One minute I can be sobbing in despair on the kitchen floor, the next my eyes are streaming and my heart is full of hope. That anyone could even care that much about little old flawed me is kind of mind blowing.
A couple of days ago I watched I, Daniel Blake. You must have heard of the film, it has been much talked about and highly acclaimed. It’s ironic that the people that the film is about are unable to afford to go to the cinema to watch it (like me). It’s probably better that way, because it broke my heart right from the first few scenes with it’s very true to life situations and characters. I should advise – if you haven’t already seen it – that if you have ever been unemployed or sick or have ever been through the welfare system in any way you might choose not to watch it unless you are totally healed and buoyantly happy.
That set my mental health back a few days. I might add that Katie, when she was hungry and went to the food bank and then chose to follow her alternative career path was already at least sixty quid a week better off than me since my tax credits were completely cut. She would still have been in receipt of her child tax credits – the payments meant to keep your children fed and clothed.
Working and child tax credits are two payments – the working element is paid if you work for 16 or more hours a week and the child ones are received by (as far as I know) by anyone with a child and below a minimum income. In my case, the working tax credits were cut (apparently I have not earned enough – go figure) and my child tax credits were cut to pay back the alleged “overpayment”. Katie would have had circa £100 a week still coming in (still not enough for a secure healthy life for three people). I have less.
Daniel’s situation was one I am trying to avoid. The CAB suggested that I apply for jobseekers allowance or ESA. I work too much for jobseekers and even before I watched the film I was aware of the hoops that poorly people are expected to jump through for ESA. My health condition would mean I was eligible but I am not strong enough to fight unqualified assessors and I don’t have enough money for endless phone calls and trips to assessment centres.
I had a letter through on the Thursday, telling me I was allowed hardship payments. There was no mention of how much, or for how long, or with what frequency, or whether or not they are a payment or a loan. So I checked my bank account and found £65. I also found out that my broadband and phone direct debit had gone out and it was £10 dearer than expected, so I didn’t dare make another phone call to find out more.
So I’ve been allowed £65 for the past three weeks. My phone calls to HMRC to find out what was going on cost £10. I topped up my mobile £5 to make calls when my credit ran out. I’ve sent two letters to HMRC (the first one didn’t go to the correct office), and three to my local council to beg council tax assistance. I’ve sent another the the NHS to apply for help with my prescriptions because I realised that if my tax credits had stopped, so would my free prescriptions, opticians and dentist. Six recorded delivery letters at £1.72 makes £10.32.
So out of that £65, I had £39.68 left after the essential spends associated with this termination of my income. This is without counting my loss of business that I have incurred with the effects that it has had on my mental and physical well-being, which is ongoing. I also learned from the film that there is no time limit on a “mandatory consideration”, the appeal process that I have started.
You might be wondering why I am airing my dirty laundry in public. It is embarassing to be this poor. It is heartbreaking to explain to your child that you can no longer afford things they would like to do. If I can tell my story and help one person, it will be worth it. What cauuses me great outrage is that HMRC can get away with making families hungry and cold and yet companies like Vodafone and Goldman Sachs have tax debt written off. People need to know what is happening!
Thousands of normal working families like me have sent HMRC tax credits timely and accurate information and have found that they suddenly and inexplicably owe thousands of pounds of debt. We are shown no calculations or reasons for this, we just get a letter one day telling us “tough luck mate, we worked it out wrong and we are taking it back”.
Tax avoiders cos this country billions of pounds and working families have no choice but to be devastated by the miscalculations of the far away civil servants.
I am trying to be positive and am going to do my best to start creating again tomorrow, though I am actually scared of the post at the moment. I’m hoping postie doesn’t call and I can start the week with a clear head. I’ve got so much to do, and so much to finish and make and I’m still in limbo. My cupboards are at least full enough thanks to some amazing local food banks (the three families waiting together just in my group were ALL working families) . I can only wait now.
UPDATE: I have had a letter now that tells me I am to receive £65 a week until April, after which time we will receive £57 a week. For two people. Apparently it is because (I deduced, from reading many websites on the appeals process, because they haven’t told me directly) in the year when I was being stalked and had to change my business and set up a new one, I over estimated my income and as a result of that, they are taking back over £3,000 from me. How can this even make sense? It’s like a “small print” clause they do not publicise. I was careful to share all my information with them in a timely and honest manner and have been punished for it.
Welcome to ShoeDoodles’ new blog. A customer, over Christmas, asked about me, who I am, a little about my life and so it occurred to me that a way to answer questions such as this might be to begin a brand new shiny blog and then you can read it and find out about the intricacies of the ShoeDoodles household, our interests, life, and anything else that might crop up along the way.
So here we are, at the beginning of 2017, and at this moment in time I am:
a whole life unschooling mother
an animal lover
a believer in a fair and equal society
I love my work and beleive I have finally found my calling in life. The happiness I feel from my customers makes my heart shine like sunshine. My son is amazing and inspires, supports and lifts me every day and everything I do is to make his life as happy as humanly possible. Our pets (one dog, one snake and two gerbils) are all rescued animals and make our home even more full of love.