Author Archives: Ellen Bell

About Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.

Rampant Rabbit

I don’t know where to begin.

I am home. Weary, flea and mosquito bitten, but I am home. We did it. The job is done. Has she been put to rest? Who knows? The sparrows, the radio coming on sans battery, the stick insect reluctant to leave the bonnet of the car and the laughing My Little Pony imply the contrary.

I behaved like a child. I felt like a child. Hurt, petulance, anger, grief, frustration, fear, panic and loss all of it – held like a ball in my stomach. It had to come out. Poor loves. They felt the same, clearly. And I love them all, even so. I just want to say sorry. Sorry for it all. But the love was there, too. The swim in the sea holding her hand. The offer of a spray of perfume. The smell of the both of them. Hearing them laugh in the other room. Talking about sex and vibrators over dinner. Do you pleasure yourself? Finding one thing after another that burst memories in our heads. The booze. Bottle after bottle in every cupboard. The dirt, those bites, the dust, the stink of furniture polish, the tiredness of the house. And those walks alone. The aroma of the bakeries and the jasmine. The downpours, being drenched and feeling high. My tears at the airport. Never again. I won’t happen again. It can’t.

It is just love. It is just about being human. I can’t make it neat. I can’t always make it kind.

At the airport overhearing two middle-aged women ahead of me with strong Birmingham accents and poodle perms. One of them saying, as she nudges her friend in the arm and looks down at her walking stick: ‘And she checked me stick for drugs.’

The kind men sitting next to me on the plane getting down my suitcase but not seeing me crying before we landed.

Home now to the wind, rain and peace and him. It is enough.


In Transit (5)

I’m off again. I don’t want to be. I want to be still. There is so much work I want to do. And the peace of being still. I yearn for it. Yet, I have an hour before we are off. That is something.

No rain this morning, just a momentary drizzle. A rogue cloud probably. I woke from a dream where I was breakfasting with an old friend. He is dying. His wife had to go to an appointment leaving us to breakfast together. He was a little awkward, as was I. We had to go downstairs in this enormous house. I laid it out ready on a table by two huge red velvet armchairs. He was distracted. There were other people about. Perhaps it was a hotel, or a canteen. Nothing happened. It’s portent seemed to rest on our discomfiture. At one point he directed me towards where to find the coffee and tea. He appeared to know his way around. He was detached, almost laughing at me, as can be his wont.

The sky is slightly pink. The clouds hang in the air, barely moving. No wind. We shall stop for coffees on the way and do crosswords. No hurry, no stress.

I will accept what is. I will trust. Show me how.

A Different Kettle of Fish

I’m irritable today. I don’t know why. I woke up feeling this way. It’s under the skin, a dis-ease, an awkwardness. I drop things, cussing under my breath and I want to snap, to hit out, though I don’t. Best keep away, keep indoors, out of harms way. It’s unbidden. Has it come from my dream world? I remember one where I was literally pulling myself up this rocky, mountain-face by my fingers, grasping at it’s stony surface. It didn’t feel dangerous though, more strenuous, and hard going. I was talking to someone. I had to do it. I felt compelled to. And in another there was a lover. I’d heard a voice I’d recognised on the radio the morning before but I couldn’t put a face to it. Had that inspired the amorousness of my dream encounter? It was nice. I wanted him. And then he had a birthday and wanted a fuss to be made. But before that he’d been locked away, and only I was able to get to him. All very unclear, sorry. Oh, and I awoke with the phrase, ‘It’s not your responsibility’, ringing in my head.

Pissing down again this morning. I wore his coat again with my waterproofs underneath. Try and enjoy it, I told myself, my hands snug in the side pockets out of the wet. It is only weather and we need the rain for just about everything. There were two bodies in the Prom shelter. One man was awake and rolling a cigarette when I walked by. Should I speak? Should I greet him? I called out a good morning. He raised his head to look at me but didn’t reply. Why should he? A couple stood under the Bandstand awning snogging. They pulled away as I trundled past. My hoods squeak as I walk. It is not a silent, calm thing wearing waterproofs. It’s noisy. An oystercatcher peeped in the distance. The tides must’ve been high that night for there was seaweed on the Prom. Nothing happened. I went the back way home, sad to miss the smell of the bakeries. But I got it. Just then, a hint, a positive aroma of bread. It had carried all the way to the station. Nice.

We managed to speak. It is becoming real. She wants to do it. It will be wonderful to work with her. An undercover performance, a subterfuge. It’s OK. The least fuss. The gallery as performance space. And unasked for. Without permission. What harm can it do? Frightened and excited in equal measure. Such is life. Such is being alive. Amen to that.


They were all wearing the same black trousers and jackets, made from a kind of matt, waterproof stiff material. Two arrived in a saloon, another two in a white van, then another two in a Ford Escort.

We were sitting in the car waiting for Ta Med Da to open.

They’re police, I said to him. Look they’re all dressed the same. There were no markings or badges, though. The uniform but not the uniform. There were women and men. Oh, he said, I’ve seen them here before, loads of times. They come here for breakfast.

I looked down the hall and there they were all seated at the same table, eating. Do you suppose that they have to socialise together outside of work? I asked him. Or do you think it is just what they do? Dunno, he said, maybe.

Coming back with our coffees he told me that he’d told L. that they were coppers (I’d seen his head jerk in their direction). Oh, she said, unimpressed, once a copper, always a copper.

My dreams feel portentous and more than a little alarming at present. I only caught the last frame or so. I was watching from a short distance as a woman ran after a couple of dogs. She was wild with fury, screaming and shouting. She was running and the dogs were running, seemingly away from her. She caught up with them and grabbed one by the scruff of its neck. Then she stabbed at it, driving the knife into its neck. The dog acquiesced, didn’t cry out in pain, or bite or snarl at her. It seemed to accept the punishment, submitting to it willingly even. I was horrified. Such anger, such revenge. What had they done? There was no blood but I felt the wounding as if it were done to me. When I woke the word idiocy was in my head.

The rain was relentless as I walked. I’d heard it through my open window as I dozed, trying not to dread my encounter with it. I attempted to find the pleasure in it as I walked. It kept everyone indoors. I was alone, seeing only the homeless man sleeping on his cardboard box in the Prom shelter and a couple of kids hanging around in the doorway to The Angel. I like the rain on my face, it feels clean. I like to wear his big coat, it envelopes, drowns me with its heaviness. The sound of the rain on the trees, on the roofs and rattling the rigging on the boats down the harbour is beautiful. And my big boots kept dry even when I stepped into several puddles.

A busy day yesterday. It is beginning to feel real. The filmmaker got in touch and the costume is also seeming possible. I fretted a little when I went to bed. Ideas taking form, taking shape are always exciting, if a little alarming. I shall have to do it. Will I find the courage?

Butcher Benny

A fretty morning. You’re a born worrier, Nanny used to say. Our lovely Nanny whom I think of so often. Her with her big, masculine face, dark, heavy eyebrows and good, solid, steady kindness. And she is, was right. I am. All the time. Mostly about minutiae, sadly. I worry what people will think of me, I worry about what is best to do, I fret over what to eat, what to wear, what to say, how to make money and where to direct my creative energies. There is no right or wrong, not really, not with the small things. And there is no certainty. Nothing is certain. Except death. That is. That surely is.

And then I am chided by hearing of the big things. The real stuff of life. The life and death of life. Such as those who spoke with Sue Macgregor on her Reunion programme yesterday. Just voices. Voices recounting the terrible atrocities of Sierra Leone’s civil war on the 1990s. Beyond comprehension – public rapings, eyes gouged out, limbs cut off, maiming and child soldiers forced to kill. The ex-High Commissioner spoke. Seemingly a bit of a stereotype at first, worrying about his highly-polished dining table when the rebels came to call with their Kalashnikovs, but then turning into a good man who still visits out of a true love for the people. Two women also spoke, passionately, one who was at the forefront and the other who cares for the ex-child militia. How do you ever recover? How do you find your way back to any notion of safety? And yet amidst such horror there is always kindness, someone steps out from the shadows full of light and love. Is that what it is about? Or is that kind of knowing, understanding beyond our reach? I can but marvel at their lust to survive and to do what is good.

I woke from a rich tapestry of dreams. I was walking first through a city, then a town then out in the countryside. I was trying to find a place to meet my friend H. There was a café I popped into. But it had no coffee and only seemed to offer boiled dumpling-like breads. A woman called out and pointed to the board, indicating the range of teas. She seemed to want my company. Should I stay? No. I opened my rucksack and it was full to the brim of white sticky rolls. I didn’t want them. I was hungry but didn’t want to eat them. But didn’t want to throw them away. Then I was out on the road. There were two paths. One higher than the other. I opted for the wider more popular route for there were birds to see and lovely landscapes. Then I was inside and I had to go down through a hole to continue my journey. I was a tiny hole, and I couldn’t see how I’d get through it. There were metal pipes hanging down inside it. Then people started to come through the other way. A large man, then an old woman. Thanking me for letting them come through first they shook plaster dust from their hair and walked on. A woman sitting behind me, apparently on a bus seat, told me that she’d asked them to make it easier for her. You can apply for them to remove some of the pipes (the obstacles), she said.

I woke with the words ‘Butcher Benny, the gift of Denmark’ in my head.

It made him laugh. How does it go again? he asked.

It’s the two worlds not matching. Lost in translation. A tower of babel sort of babbling.

Crimson Rhino is shut. I am sad. I never went in. Have they gone on to better things? I hope so. So much enthusiasm. It all has to end in the end. All of this. None of this will matter.

Till then. Well, just do the best you can, eh?


Something Proper

The radio is the fabric of my life. It weaves in and out, leaving behind traces of words, stories and ideas that resonate deep within me. Such as the artist Ken Howard this morning on Inheritance Tracks talking about his mother not appreciating his chosen career. His father was more sanguine. I haven’t any money, he said, so you’ll have to make it, and the only way you can do that is to become a Royal Academician. Just like that. I was exhibiting with them at 15, and joined the Academy at 19, Howard said. Is it that simple? To just want something and get it? His mother was a different matter. Even after painting (or was it meeting) the Queen, she still said, I wish you’d done something proper.

I fantasise about other lives I could’ve led. A baker, a cabinet maker or a cheesemaker perhaps. Something to do with the hands, some real, something tactile, something needful. And yet, this is what I am, this is what my mind does, and my hands. I loved making H’s quilt yesterday. It was rhythmic, absorbing. I thought of other quilt projects, something to do with using old clothes, a memory quilt, but using the collars, the cuffs, the buttons, the pockets. But it is so easy to lurch towards the mawkish, the maudlin the cutsey-pie with such things. I still think about making a project for the Foundling Museum, I have something to say in there but I need to get at it.

I am too many things. Am I not? That jack-of-all-trades.

Then another radio programme – From Our Own Correspondent – wonderful radio, wonderful writing. A women writing about the female rickshaw drivers in Jaipur. Jaipur the pink city. They get a lot of abuse from the male drivers. It takes courage for them to continue. Maybe we should do something else, one of the women tells the journalist, like sewing.

Is this what I am supposed to be doing? Is this it? Is this me?

Is it enough?


I can do more than five.

They are ahead of me on North Parade. A girl and a boy. She is barely dressed for the rain, jeans and a tiny red boob tube. He is broad, she is tiny. Every now and again she squats down and bounces up again.

I can do more than five, she is saying. Can we go home now? he replies, his voice betraying his frustration and tiredness. Only if you agree that I can do more than five, she says. There is a trace of something foreign in her voice, is she Polish? She looks like a dancer, I think to myself. Her movements are lithe, light, springy. Her voice wheedles, it is a child’s. You can do more than five, he replies, bored now. Now can we go home? She lets him take her hand and she swings it as they walk. I can do nine, she mutters.

She was clearly inebriated. I see more and more young girls in the same state. There was another one on the Prom. A beautiful girl who could hardly walk. She too had a gentle man propping her up. She looked at me as I walked by. She reminded me of someone. Three boys loitered under the canopy of the bandstand, out of the rain, hoods over their heads. I saw them later walking towards the castle away from The Angel. It’s shit in there, one of them said.

I walked home along Llanbadarn Road on the road, avoiding the now slimy pavement. A cyclist was suddenly beside me, cycling slowly. I felt a frisson of disquiet but he meant no harm, and I let him go ahead. Turning into St David’s Road I heard a man call out to him. There were two of them across the road. Hey, the man called, do you know where we are?

She is so much more confident on the phone these days. She chats away. She talked of her daughter who is due to go to a wedding today. Is she looking forward to it? I ask. Yes and no, she replies. We talk of her outfit, the navy blue dress and the pink fascinator and pink shoes. She worries about the little things, she tells me. Not the big things. She used to be rake thin, you know 10 to 12. Now since taking the pills she went up to a 14 and a 16. It makes her unhappy. And the food is an issue. I tell her to take something in her bag, a rice cake or that almond cheese.

I love her chattiness. Thank you for calling, she says. I want to know she is OK, that she is cared for, safe. The handyman came today, she said. He looked tired, I made him tea. He has his problems with his marriage. He is a friend.

I’m glad. Yes, I’m glad.

I woke from a potent dream. It doesn’t make sense when I write it but when I lived it, dreamt it it was. There were three goddesses and I was one of them. And at one point I stole the scalp, a long head of hair, from a dead one. I pulled it from her, out of the water that was keeping her fresh, embalmed, I suppose. The crowd let out a shocked cry at my audacity. Then I was reading from a manuscript, a list of rules, spells even. Then I wanted to go on my way but it was blocked by a bridge, a kind of checkpoint (perhaps it is sparked the police cordon on the Prom), I had to go the long way round. I was outside. My dreams have been out in nature recently, a new development. There were too many details. A Simon Callow character featured. He was a friend whom another wanted to me to invite to dinner. I can’t, I said, he lives in Sweden. Where do such details come from?

I lay in bed trying to remember it and promptly slept beyond my alarm. I was sanguine. It is OK. The sleep was a gift.

Outside it pours. Flat has been cleaned. Work now. A bientot.



I didn’t see him at first. He was sitting on the ground just outside the toilets down by the harbour. He called out to me in the dark as I walked by. I couldn’t hear what he was saying against the wind and rush of the tide. I stopped walking. He was wearing a white woollen hat pulled low over his face. Pardon? I said. Again it was hard to distinguish his words. Was he getting a little frustrated? Chips, he said, do you want some chips? He ate as he spoke, his hand digging into a white paper bag. I was touched. No thank you, I said, you enjoy them. I couldn’t see his response. Did he shrug?

I’m a Martha not a Mary, said the character played by Emma Fielding in the radio play The Organist’s Daughter. She was Buxtehude’s daughter, destined to marry the man who took over her father’s position. Martha was Mary’s sister, the practical one, the one that did around the house.

I’m a Martha not a Mary.

I dreamt of people beginning to gather for an event. They sat in pairs, singly or in groups of three on a grass bank. Some ate, some talked, some looked at mobiles. Waiting. Waiting for what?

Off to work now. They called finally, and with two. I am grateful.

She promises a good day today. We shall see.


There he was bold as brass pissing onto the pavement. Not in broad daylight but in the semi-light of the street lit early morning dark. He was talking as he pissed to a girl who was huddled under a white jumper against the rain under the eaves of the Prom shelter. He let out a laugh as the arc of yellow continued to spring from his flies. It had taken me a moment to work out what it was. It looked rather beautiful. And then I realised. Was I shocked? Outraged? No, I was curious, even a little delighted at his audacity, for there is still a police watch outside the hotel just 500 yards away. He was drunk clearly. And I too like to pee in the open air. Is it the same for men? Probably not. Peeing makes the male organ rather innocuous I often think. That’s all it is, a peeing tube. That is all. All that fuss over such a small thing.

I tried to keep the anxiety at bay as I walked, or at least under a leash. Let it be, I chanted to myself as I sat still for half an hour last night. Let it be, I said to myself as I walked, as each little potential worry rose up to unsettle me. Let it be.

It rained. They’d promised a dry night. So be it. I went and got the big umbrella from the car. Listen to the pitter patter on its taut canopy, rather lovely. And then later as I stood for a moment at the top of the little hill I heard the drip of raindrops falling of the leaves of the shrubs and trees. There is never complete silence, there are always the hums of generators, the clunk of heating systems, the dripping of downpipes, the piping of oystercatchers and the rush of the tide. Sitting last night in silence I could hear the pulse of my blood in my head. I sat in the sun, the sun coming through my studio window and became almost nothing. For a moment. Just nothing.

Will it all be done soon? Will there be peace then? Will she let us go?


They never get it right. The tea pot was huge but there was no extra water. We thought that someone wanted weak tea, said the waiter with a grim face, two tea bags in that pot is going to be really weak. Can you bring some more? I asked, and some hot water? Why is it so difficult to explain what we mean? he said, when the waiter had gone. Who knows? It was lovely anyway. And I talked and talked. Talking it out and coming up with a plan, a way to keep going, to fire up my work. The other guests dozed in the sunshine that flooded the lounge. We spoke quietly in our corner while he munched on shortbread. Afterwards we too sat in the sun. My back’s tightness eased and I felt almost high. He had celebrated me, cherished me and anything felt possible. Coming home to a text and having to rush off an email in response and my bubble was soon burst. But that’s OK, one can’t float for long, that’s gravity. And now I have to put it all into place, make it manifest. I send off emails and messages. Might you be interested? Can you help? Are you still out there? We shall see. He is proud of me. I am not used to it. It is a lovely feeling. That inkling of limelight.

He told me he found it excruciating. I didn’t know. I hadn’t seen – too wrapped up in myself. I honour. I take it on board. I will not ask it of him. Not any more.

I waited in the car while he went to buy the papers. A man came along the street. A figure from antiquity. A ragged man, hunched, his hair in dreadlocks, a dirty anorak on his back and his feet in too-big boots that curled up at the toes and no socks. He carried a carrier bag, that looked too-modern, too incongruous for this nineteenth-century figure. Spying a piece of paper on the road he suddenly dashed out and snatched it up. Scanning it briefly he shoved it into the pocket of his coat and shuffled on. Where was he going? How does he live? Was he old or made aged by destitution? Who was looking out for him? How can people be so alone, so bereft in our modern age, in this first world country?

What can we do?

Halfway down North Road and there is a distinct smell of TCP. A smell of my childhood. A cure-all, a clean-all, the smell was insidious, once opened and applied it never went. And yet, it is comforting, a smell of caring, of fastidious motherhood and bathroom cabinets.

My work is my life.

Why do you paint? Manet asks Berthe Morisot in the radio programme aired this morning (and I paraphrase them). I love it but you don’t appear to, he continues, why do you do it?

Because I have to, she replies.