Author Archives: Ellen Bell

About Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.

Change (5)

Is it change for changes sake or am I justified in wanting it? I know that it’s an inner change that is needed not an outer but can’t an outer alteration instigate an inner one too? I yearn for simplicity. Is it there already and I just can’t see it? Probably. I am blessed I know this. I have much autonomy and freedom but I don’t have the security, the safety of knowing what is coming and when. My time isn’t always my own. Wouldn’t another form of work bring a much needed certainty? Or am I pie-in-the-sky-ing again? Do I do that? Am I unrealistic? I want to work hard, I want to earn my way but I also need to do my real work. I need space to develop it, to become better. We discuss the options and I still don’t know what is for the best. And yet I long to change. To throw it out and begin again. To order, to sort out. To wipe the slate clean. It’s all the paraphernalia of working for a huge organisation. It is so shabby, so bitty. And trying to log on a moment ago, and having to change my password and forgetting my last and then having to ring up to report it. Ugh! Such a waste of time when I want to be writing. Or am I just procrastinating? Write then. Just write. Let the rest take care of themselves. I am blessed. He is so kind. So patient. I am in a no-mans land of uncertainty. Let it be so.

I saw him sleeping in the Prom shelter yesterday but not today. The wind was strong. Students still milled about, shouting, coatless.

The morning is trying to break through.

My writing was turgid yesterday, slow and clunky. Keep going, write yourself through it.

Nothing is happening. Everything has ground to a halt.

Your copy will be with you soon, she writes. Good. A fantastic issue, she writes.

Find your calm. It is there. It is always there. Stand there in it. Let the rest fall away.

Observing the silence

The train was virtually empty, at least my carriage was, except for a young man and couple in the seats just ahead of me. They weren’t together, that is, the young man was sitting opposite them and had struck up a conversation. He was from Bath and was travelling to visit his grandfather. I usually drive, he told them. The couple sounded elderly, and the man quite opinionated. They’d clearly been to a service commemorating Armistice Day for he was talking about a rehearsal and singing. Oh, said the young man, I didn’t realise you were professional. I was reading throughout all of this. I would’ve preferred silence but was happy to let the sound of their voices float around me. There was also a man behind me who kept rattling and shaking what sounded like a plastic bag of sorts. I was calm. It was a beautiful day, the landscape a myriad of autumnal colour and I was on the move getting closer to home and to him. And I’d used my ingenuity and more than a little cheek by asking the train manager if I could take that train as mine had been delayed. He had acquiesced. Then I realised the time. I texted him. Shall we observe the silence together? I asked. Yes, he replied. He later told me he’d pulled over for those two minutes. However, the three ahead of me were still talking. What should I do? How can I put it politely? With just three minutes to go I stood up and went over to them. Will you be observing the silence at 11.00? I asked. What? said the man, do you want to sleep? No, I said, the silence for Armistice, the hundred years, I continues, a little thrown that he hadn’t understood. Then he did and immediately took umbrage. Pulling his lapel to one side he showed me his badge. I was in the services, he said, his voice sharp now. And then grabbing what looked like a covered pole from his wife, he said: do you want me to get out my standard for you? No, no, I said, embarrassed, I just wanted to check. I’ve been keeping an eye on the time, said his wife. The man from Bath smiled at me as I returned to my seat.

Then just before 11.00 the train tannoy came on announcing the next station. I heard the man laugh derisively. Was it at me?

They all left at the next station. I saw the wife but not the man, had he gone the other way out? The man from Bath lent over to me as he went by. A nice observance, he said, well done.

Fly

He’s still alive. After five days the fly in our kitchen is still alive. He wants to kill it. I want to somehow transport him out of a window. Of course I don’t know that he is a he. How can I know? Can you sex a fly? He keeps me company, usually sitting on the wall opposite me as I prepare food. Is he dying? Is he getting slower? Has he given in yet? Does he long to go outside?

I was happy there. The anxiety lifted for awhile. We had coffee and then tea. And sat and sat. Doing crosswords, talking, with me with my feet curled up or stretched out onto his chair. We had it all to ourselves downstairs, our peace only interrupted by people coming down for a pee. And unexpected gem of a place. I love the mirrors, the 50s/60s furniture, the collection of mirrors.

I have too much to do. My anxiousness urges me to sort things out, to clear up, to make notes, to order. And then breathe.

It was lovely to see her. She is so complex, so often a surprise to me. Her tenderness, the care she takes with her home and her love. Keep her safe. She is not what she seems and all the more beautiful for it.

Milkman (5)

I like seeing him trundle by in his van. It’s an open van and I can hear the bottles rattle as he turns a corner. We used to see him in the supermarket on a Saturday. I think I’ve told you before, he looks a little like Bruce Springsteen. He was always buying the family groceries. Looks like a big family too. A house full of kids and he doing something else with his real time, a writer perhaps or an artist. My fantasy. It may not be true.

More poems this morning. I had to turn up the radio so I could hear them. An evening of readings, a recording of them with actors like Dan Stephens, Robert Hardy and Damian Lewis, wonderful. I am saturated with the First World War and rightly so. Work has dried up. I must wait. Mercury is going backwards and no one replies. Enjoy the peace, he says. Oh, let it be Ellen. Tomorrow the love of a friend. I so look forward to seeing her. Such a smile and a voice. Honey-ed tones.

Cleaned the flat, did the ironing, walked and it didn’t rain and I was thankful. Off to call her and then down to work. My work. Like the milkman. The proper stuff. Sans pay. Let it be. We have enough. There is always enough. Just trust that it is so. Eh?

Cruise

Reg’s going on his cruise soon, he said as he got into the car. Reg? Which one is Reg? I asked.

He knows them all. It’s always been his way to ask names and become acquainted by people in shops. Is it a small town thing? I follow his lead, often talking more then he does. Mostly people respond. I don’t like to be pushy. It passes the time of day and I don’t like to think that they think we think they are invisible. Though, some might to like to be, of course.

I put the tree up by accident yesterday, she said, as she beeped my apples through the till. By accident? I asked. Yes, a new one had arrived and I got it out of the box and thought I might as well leave it up now. Then I got some new baubles. She laughs. Christmas always begins for her the day after Armistice Day. She loves it. Her face lights up.

It’s stunning, like gold, like yellow fire. What tree is it? I asked him. Is it beech? No, I think it may be a sycamore, he said. It’s a gap in my education the naming of flora and fauna. His mother knew them all. It’s like sunshine, it lights my soul in this grey, dank dark of autumn nearly winter.

It’s shooting, I said with delight as I walked past the window. The geranium that I’d pruned so harshly is coming back to life. I am so so pleased. I didn’t kill it after all, I said. I didn’t think you had, he said.

So many riches this morning. The programme about Isaac Rosenthal – that ‘bantam’ soldier of the first World War, the Jewish artist, poet and pacifist who signed up so that he could send his mother some money, enduring bullying, racism and terrible physical degradation. So beautiful. So tender. And the continuing reading of poems and letters from Wilfred Owen. And then the encounters as I walked. Students out in the rain in t-shirts. One working at his desk in a window up high looking down on the sand-sprayed Prom. Others laughing, shouting. Yesterday a girl was shouting and laughing, no, no as a boy threatened to throw her into the sea. Did I dream of falling into water? Then later seeing a man shining a torch at the little sign with the house name, the one belonging to the electrician who died in Spain. Should I have said something? I ask him. What could you have done? He shone the torch then walked off. His wife and kids are alone now. I think of her often. Then the lad asking where Queen’s Avenue was. I don’t know, I said. Queen’s Road is just over there. We’ll take a gamble there then, he said, and turning to his companion, said: Come on Bro.

She stopped acting for ten years due to what she called ‘crippling anxiety’.

Is it OK to keep working at something that may not be any good?

You do not have to be good, chants Mary Oliver in my head……you only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.

Siegfried Sassoon

There is no literature on the radio in the mornings this week, at least no stories, as such. It is all about the First World War, understandably so. A hundred years, so long and yet not so. I studied Wilfred Owen poetry for my A level English Literature, though what I made of it then, an innocent, unworldly, not yet sixteen-year-old God knows. I remember finding it hard, unrelenting, unbeautiful. And so did he. Listening to the letters he wrote from The Front to his mother – in one he complains of the ugliness of it. The endless ugliness. Scratch the surface and we are just that, a mass of blood, shit and innards. What must it have been like? I cannot imagine, such degradation. And yet, he still finds things to be amused by, be grateful for – such as his sojourns in hospital, the rest in a bed. But the longing to be home is palpable. Home takes on such significance when one is in such despair and so far away. He imagines his mother going to church, the trees in leaf, the bells. The red light on the war memorial touches me as I walk, Owen’s words and now Siegfried Sassoon’s (for there was a programme about him too) in my head. It was a delightful programme, the premise being that an old friend of his, an ex-schoolteacher, Dennis Silk (I think), re-visits Sassoon’s old home and recounts taping him reading his poetry. He recalls seeing him for the first time at a cricket match, his trousers six inches too short. Sassoon’s voice is elegant, restrained. I’m no sound engineer, says Silk. You can hear him draw in breath as he begins each war poem, says Silk, and the tap of his pipe on the fender. And you can. I love such intimacy.

All this in my head swirling mixing with my own inner insignificant wranglings. We are such a mess of weight and silliness, poignancy and mawkishness. Sometimes I cannot like myself and then I turn a corner and there is something like peace.

Kicking Off

Walking past the Pier I see two police vans and three officers, one standing in the road the other two on the Prom. A man is semi-lying on the ground, his back propped up against the railing, another stands a couple of feet away from him. Both carry cans of lager in their hands. The standing man is talking loudly, seemingly at the two police officers near him. I can’t quite catch what he is saying, something about CCTV. The man on the ground calls out to him, his speech a slow, slurred drawl. There’s no point kicking off, David, he says. Then a little louder, calling David! I walk by.

The red light on the war memorial has added poignancy for me after listening to Wilfred Owen’s poems and letters read out on the radio, barely an hour earlier. It hardly lights it, it just spills red over its form – a bleeding.

A bonfire is still ablaze on the beach. I love that smell of burnt wood.

Slater’s Bakery emits a gorgeous smell too. I need the comfort these mornings, the anxiety has taken hold of me. I try to breathe it out, rolling my back and shoulders. Just let it be. It will pass eventually, even if it is to be death that finally takes it. So be it. My pain is nought. My fear an illusion. I know this.

Private Havoc

I walked with my music in my ears this morning. I’d woken with that familiar tightness in my back and thought it would distract me. Words fix themselves in my head. James Taylor’s song New Hymn, a gentle acapella piece that speaks of a private havoc and ends with a plea to be here, be now. And then his name as a crossword clue last night. Here is comfort, here is relief. And here. And here.

They drowned in their own house. Their home, their safety, deluged by water. And then the seemingly inconsequential as part of the news bulletin. Two were saved because they went for some sweets. All the rest gone, a one-year-old baby, the grandparents. A river bursting its banks. What an image. You can hear the roaring, see that ugly brown swirling mass of water taking over, breaking, flooding, taking over. All gone. Sicily that land of heat, white sun, lazy joy. Drowned.

And then his voice. I haven’t really heard it before, talking of barbed wire being beautiful. Chilled. Chilled to the bone.

It’s his birthday today. We don’t do much. He opens his cards. A smile. Then gone. How old do you think he is? I ask her at the till. Sixty-four, she says. What? he says, what about fifty-two? He looks well. He is well. Stay a while, my love. Please. x

Pop Star

It is 3.00 am and I see four lads coming towards me along North Road. I don’t have my music with me so I can hear that they are talking about watching people. As I pass them, one of them, (he walks under a streetlight and I see he is blonde) catches my eye and calls out: What are you fucking wearing! I walk by. Was it to me? Was he talking to me or just continuing the conversation that they were having? The violence of his shout and the import of his insult rolls off me. It doesn’t touch, doesn’t penetrate. And I must look faintly ridiculous, after all. It had rained in the night so I thought it best to wear my new coat. A cheaper version of a Barbour it is long, virtually touching my ankles with a funny little cape thing that flaps around my shoulders. I don’t care, it is waterproof and I feel cocooned in it. Then passing the paddling pool which has now been turned into a sandpit, there are three boys hunched up together sitting on one of the giant deckchairs. One of them also calls out to me. Alright mate? I don’t reply, just keep on walking. You look like a pop star, he shouts. Then in unison, they all shout: And you sound like one!

What? he says when I tell him. I don’t like it when they abuse my baby, he says. Later he laughs as he recounts it from the shower….Alright, mate? I’m not really a ‘mate’ kind of person, I reply. No, he says. It doesn’t matter, any of it. I am not unsettled by them, at least not often. They are in another place to me, drunk mostly and showing off. I am an easy target.

A simple day yesterday, though I got a lot done. Top-to-toe cleaning of flat, followed by meditation, yoga, cutting out patchwork squares for his quilt, then baking shortbread and scones, making lunch and then a nap before supper and the ‘big one’ crossword. Other lives taunt me with their seeming bigness, but this is enough for me. I have my dark walks, my writing, my making, my radio and my love and this continual trying for peace. It is enough. And soon I will be away, for now I am happy to be still.

More than happy.

Starlings

The starlings are here. I’ve seen them do their murmuration several times now. I hear them too, a humming chattering under the pier. And even this morning with all the din of the night club music pounding, they could still be heard. And smelt. That salty brackish smell of guano that gets into my nostrils, so much so that I try to hold the shut as I walk. It is too much. And yet it is life. Life in its richness. Don’t judge, neither pleasant or unpleasant. It just is. People put it on their gardens as manure. What a thing. How do they collect it?

They have put a red light on the war memorial. I’ve noticed it over the years, made red during the month of November. That’s nice, he said at breakfast. Yes, it’s a subtle tribute. A hundred years. How could they bear it, such hell. And me consumed with my little troubles. Ah, me.

I heard a boy retching as I walked down Great Darkgate Street. Another lay on the ground resting his head on his friend’s shoulder, his face covered in green lines. At first I thought it was blood. Had he been in a fight? No, it was make-up, the residue of yet another Halloween party. I heard fireworks last night. Did they keep you awake? he asked when I went in to rouse him. Briefly, I said. But I slept anyway, eventually. Nothing can stop the falling.

I saw my first lit Christmas tree on North Road as I headed towards the Prom, though there is one in a flat above the road that leads up to the back of Alexandra Hall. It does give me a fillip, those sparkles. The flat is clean. I shall sew and bake for the rest of the day. It’s all about trying to stand still, to pay attention, slowly.

The writing was hard yesterday, I was assailed with such feelings of stupidity. He is so kind, so generous. He bids me onward. Yes. Just finish it, he says. Yes. That is all I need to do. Write it. Write it out. Then wait and see what it becomes.

I walked with you this morning, holding your hand. You are a fiction, a memory. And then I was inside you. Me, my five-year-old self. I would’ve mothered you not better but kinder. It wasn’t her fault. It was all she knew. Rest in peace.