Author Archives: Ellen Bell

About Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.

Reggie

We’ve heard her the last few afternoons.

It begins with a quiet, rather winy voice. Reggie, she calls. Reggie, Reggie. Ron and Reg are her cats. Named after the Kray twins. They are gorgeous animals, sleek, spotted and grey, their bodies as lean as hungry tigers. They are her children, he said. But they are cats, I answered. How do they come when they are called? Does it work, the calling? Does Reggie obey? She keeps it up for quite a while. I am napping on the bed next to him. We mimic her, not unkindly, for I would never willingly be unkind, but gently. Reggie, Reggie. Sometimes she whistles. If she offering a bribe? Why is she calling him? Is it supper time? Do cats have supper? Or is she going out and wants them safely in? We never hear her calling for Ron. Is Reggie her favourite or is he the wanderer, one of the cats I often see pussy-footing their way across the wilderness beyond our window?

There are several cats in the Quad. A favourite is Betty. Have I told you of Betty? Everyone knows her. I even heard the big bearded man who smokes outside C block talk of her. You can hear her coming by the jangle of the bell on her collar, an anti-bird-killing bell no doubt. She has a toy, a furry black and white teddy thing, maybe a panda, that she often abandons on the roof. When she sees anybody she trots after them. A sociable cat without reservation. Not so the Krays. They are suspicious of strangers. Keeping their own counsel, sidling off, under bushes, under fences.

It rained. It wasn’t forecast to do so. I feel my irritation. It isn’t personal and so what, think of those hundreds in India enduring those floods. Get a grip. Eh?

I was moved to stillness, catching the end of it while I did yoga. Sue Macgregor’s Reunion with four Auschwitz survivors. What eloquence. Not mawkish sentimentality, just hard reality. We were displaced, one said. We were told we were free but where were we to go? said another. The miracle of his gentleness, said a third referring to the ambulance man who liberated her. Their voices were cold with the memory of it. Beyond living. It has to be listened to. The British gave them too much food. More died in the three months after than before, said one. Could that be true? Kindness killing. Killing with kindness. There is so much I do not know. Is listening enough?

A milky grey sky. My phone pings. I finished the writing just now, just one more review to go. I will begin tomorrow. For now I am tired. Yesterday was full on writing. A breather, a gathering time. Then begin again.

Just sew.

Sound

I’m walking behind a group of three teenagers, one of them, a girl, is leaning into a boy almost touching him with her shoulder. I called you a sound and chilled guy on Snapchat, she says.

The main street is noisy with clubbers sitting outside or leaving the Why Not? night club. A group of three lads tumble down Great Darkgate Street, no doubt in search of a taxi. Show me the way to go home, one of them is singing, his arms up in the air and waving, I’m tired and I wanna go to bed…he continues, his friends are joining in as they walk. They pile into a taxi further down the hill and I re-cross the road. Yesterday I’d seen a group of kids outside the station. Some of them were Chinese or Korean. They too were a little pissed but not aggressively so, just giggly. There seemed to be a group leader of sorts. Right, he was shouting, we are now going to make our way to the Leisure Centre. I almost stopped walking. What? I wanted to say, at this time in the morning? But it was none of my business.

The wind was strong this morning. And I was hot. I’d borrowed his coat, hanging it in my cupboard the night before but I didn’t need it. The rain didn’t come till later. It was nice to have the comfort of it’s largeness but it was heavy and hot. Too early, it will come soon enough.

So very tired but I’ve a review to write today. Must make a start. Just 250 words. I can do that. I can manage that. The terns were dotted along the Prom. They are sweet elegant birds, far more endearing than the seagulls. They move as if on little wheels.

To work. Pronto.

 

Kierkegaard

I’ve been reading Kierkegaard. Well, dipping my toe, really. I am surprised at how accessible it is. He feels familiar, kin even. It’s for the review. Kierkegaard and Beowulf. I have to start somewhere, find my bearings. My way in. I am less fearful. Other things assail me. I was stupid. I cried over my stupidity. What a boob. What a waste of money. It shames me. But it’s the machines, they do what I don’t expect them to do. I just need to breathe, I know that. Just breathe. I dreamt of a lover. The sex was exquisite but he was married. I knew this. I knew it would go nowhere but just to be with him, near him. It was intense and yet I was detached. A new phenomenon for me.

This is a short one. A hello. The language is beautiful. I like it on my tongue but the rest, the architecture of poetry I do not understand. Does it matter? I only need to say, to write, what I think. It’s a great pulling up this work. Up by my boot straps. I have no courage. I have no strength, just a willingness to try.

I missed the Prom this morning, the rain was relentless and the wind. I needed the cover of my brolly. So I went where there was no wind. I walked down side streets and saw no one.

Off to the photographer. Another piece finished. I’ve tried something new. It makes me edgy, will it work?

They’re farmers, she said. And they’ve been up to the North of Norway. What’s the name of the wandering people up there? The Sami, I said. Yes, that’s it. I liked them. Open and friendly. One had such a brown face. I’ve got a degree in bullshit, he said, grinning. And it was, from ear to ear. Another told us of her fall from the scaffolding. I’ve five stitches in my head. The only problem is that every sounds to me like they’ve inhaled helium. Bless her. She’s a favourite. Alive and warm.

Soon. It’ll be longer next time. x

The Sheep Farmer

She was stretched out on a reclining chair, a towel covering her midriff, having a pedicure. Her treatment ran over into mine. Trying to still my irritation I joined in their conversation. I should be separating the sheep today, she was saying to the therapist, but I booked this ages ago. It’s lovely to have it done properly, she continued, lying back her hands folded across her groin, particularly the leg waxing, there’s always bits you miss.

She had the most amazing eyes. Black irises set deep in the clearest of pale blue. I couldn’t help staring at her. Do the mothers get upset when you take the lambs away? I asked. Oh yes, she said, but we only take the fat ones. 70 k some of them. (What? I wanted to ask but didn’t for fear of coming across as completely stupid, 70 kilos?) The therapist, who by now was applying the dark grey varnish, nodded in agreement and obvious understanding and then I remembered that she was Swedish and probably raised on a farm. Are they weaned when you separate them? I asked. Yes, she said, though there’s no weaning field this year, what with the weather. We kept talking about separation instead of death. For that is what this is about, slaughter of the fattest. What’s it called, she asked, when they have the fasting? I took me a few seconds to understand what she was getting at. Ramadan? I suggested. No, said the therapist with certainty, that’s gone. Diwali? I said again, the Festival of Light. Yes, said the sheep farmer, one of those, I think. The prices for lambs are high. It must be that. We must’ve missed Ramadan.

The talk moved to long haul flights. When I get old, she said, I’m never going to go on a night flight. No, I said.

Fifteen minutes late and I’m lying on the couch ready for my massage. Pain, pleasure and relief. My head throbbing with the releasing of toxins. Are you sure it’s that? he said in the car afterwards, forever suspicious of what he sees as my surmising. That’s what she said, I said, and it makes perfect sense to me. Hmm, he said.

We’d got there early and watched a one-web-footed seagull across the road. It kept flying up and landing on our car, once it did so carrying an empty plastic bag. Plastic equals food to them. It is now part of their evolution. It had a regal limp but was a little battle-worn, it’s head plumage rather shabby. Non-plussed by the people walking by, it remained on the same patch of pavement, looking at us with its one dark, yellow-ringed eye. A man put a key on a shelf outside the bank.  Boy scout that he is, he first took it into the bank, then after talking to the man who first found it, he retrieved it from the bank and took it to the police station.

He is kind. Picking me up from work yesterday he told me of the Liverpuddlian homeless man who he gave a few quid to outside the 24 hour Spar. I took him in with me, he said, to choose a sandwich which he did and then asked for a packet of crisps too. Then the man asked at the till if he could claim a free Sun. No, they said. So I bought him one also. People treat me like shit, he told him.

A bitty day full of loose ends to sort out. Amen to that and the solving of it.

Less scared on waking.

See what silence looks like

Ideas come when I walk. I love that first initial rush of possibility, anything could happen. At that moment I can create anything. All technology is at my finger tips. No holes barred. Nothing in my way. The concept is pure, unsullied by fear. I want to see what silence looks like. It begins with a library, like the one in Boston. Does it have to be a public library? Yes, I think so. I like their egalitarian-ness. Anyone can go in, to read, to browse, to sleep, to think, to pee…whatever. The cliché is their silence. That imposed silence by wagging finger. A librarian with a tight bun. Are they silent? Are there sounds to capture? Coughing, page-turning, snoring, that glorious sound of the date stamp. I want to capture these noises then try to make a transcript of them. Then get someone to sign those noises. Too complicated? I don’t think so. I’d need help technically. But the idea will be mine, is mine. I even thought about translating the transcript into braille. To read the words takes away some of the abstraction. It is a beginning. Oh, and did I tell you I was selected? Can’t say for what yet. Hush, hush.

So tired.

I wake fearful. I try to get a grip on it. Today there is nothing to fear. A gentle day. A sorting out day. Then off to meet the Notary for the signature then a massage. Take it slow. Do all those little things. And read. I am enjoying the poetry, though writing the review hangs heavy. Can I do it? Can I do it well enough? Would she have asked me if she didn’t believe I could?

See what it looks like. That silence.

Today, now you don’t need to be afraid. Just read them. Get inside them. Let them get inside you. It is enough. Be true, be simple. What is the poet trying to communicate? Follow your instinct.

We are at least ‘talking’ though it isn’t warm. Not as warm as I’d like. Isn’t love enough? To warm you up?

I heard a girl wailing as I walked home. A group of kids were getting into a taxi. Would they go to her aid? Should I stop? I find myself blaming alcohol and take less notice then perhaps I should. Is it attention seeking, or genuine? I am loathe to break the membrane of my silence. Three of four sleeping on benches, one entirely cocooned in a white duvet. How is it to sleep to the sound of the sea? Are you safe? The benches must be so hard. Do you sleep?

Voices through the dark. They are coming from the little park beneath the castle. A little laughter, the gentle sounds of friendship.

Must work now. A milky grey sky and the rooks have finished their chatter.

Tea.

Knurled

Neither of us knew it. He’d asked me to find out how the windscreen wipers worked. Specifically how to get them to come on intermittently of their own volition. I leafed through the manual. And there it was ‘turn the knurled wheel’. A lovely word. It probably means ridged but it makes me think of gnarled wood or even turned wood. I like words that sound tactile, their stand-alone meaning becomes unnecessary, the context in which they are placed is all.

I woke from a dream in which I’d just seen a book cover. It was all type, bold, black and white, with only the first word in red. It was a flash, a register of the image then gone. The cover took up all my vision, I could see nothing else. Was it attached to a book? I couldn’t tell. OK, the title read. And this was in red. OK, it said, so how happy is your practice?

Is this a book I should write? I thought as I walked. Kierkegaard walked, or so her poems tell me. It was clearly an essential part of his day, as it is mine. For me the critiquing of poems is not linear. I have to find my way into them. My associations. How do I make sense of them? How do I orientate myself into them? My practice is rarely a happy one. I don’t know how to be happy in my work. Think of that? What a nonsense. But I feel nothing I ever do is good enough. This is habit, a default experience. I can change it, if I want to. The new is scary. This is what I’ve always done. I thought by working through the day on it I’d defeat the fear, find some peacefulness, it didn’t work.

I heard singing. I was walking past The Angel, which was shut and then out into the little square by the town clock. Singing. A group of kids outside the Why Not? Singing. That’s a good song, one of them said. And then at the bottom of Great Darkgate Street a young man was dancing in front of his friends. His body was nimble, fluid.

First day back at work and it was OK. I let it wash over me. 145 emails in my box. All about nothing. Flat wanted, baby car seat for sale and so on. Back in in an hour. An intense day. So be it. I can read the poetry and make a relationship, find my intimacy.

I think about her the most. My nemesis perhaps, like she was. And yet there is love. I know this.

I caught a bit of the book of the week about a man trying to find his way through the grief of losing a child. He is setting off on an adventure, camping with a friend, I think. I will listen again when I have time.

I am weary, my eyes long to close.

Surely you can find a free weekend, she said. No, I wanted to say, I don’t take weekends. I work. I just work. K did too. He denied himself the falling, the falling into love, the mundanity of it, the familiarity of it, the goodness of it.

Must go. It’s feeling more like home. It’s taken a week. I was journeying this time last week. And oh, what a journey. It’s good to be home with him. Safe. For now.

Grasshopper

I woke to the sound of heavy rain. That, and the fact that I remembered the review I had to write, brought me low. Should I walk? I decided to borrow his huge umbrella from the car. And it was alright in the end. The rain came and went but there were smells, perfumes intensified by it. And it was warm. I felt cosy under the umbrella, protected. Kids milled about. Three were sitting in the shelter out of the rain. One was shouting and gesticulating with her arms. Phones, credit cards, she exclaimed, I look after all of their shit! One of her companions tried to placate her. That’s cos you’re such a good friend, she said. Later, along Mill Road, I passed two boys talking earnestly, voices slurring, on a doorstep. Then there were lights on in the new Council flats opposite M&Ss loading bay. I could see the form of a woman in the window. Change, always change. And I’ve only been away two weeks. This time last week I was still there, in that heat, that lovely strangeness. Waiting, waiting for the journey.

The first few walks felt odd. I felt exposed, a stranger at home. The homeless man who sometimes sleeps under the castle was peeing into a drain when I walked past. And later, when I was returning home along Llanbadarn Road a taxi drew up to the kerb. A girl got out and then the driver also got out and rushing round to the passenger door to pull out a boy. The boy was promptly sick. I heard the retching. You follow the road to Llanbadarn village, the taxi driver was saying to the girl, and then turn right. Good luck, he said, bye. Did they still pay him? I thought as I turned the corner.

Yesterday was a wash out. We got drenched. And the work brought me low. What shall I say? How to be true but kind. Will she want it? Enthusiastic amateurs, it probably means the world to them. Guide me. The weight is heavy.

Must go. Work. Must begin. 250 words. A start. Make it less daunting.

I found a grasshopper on my bathroom wall. How did it get there? I brought it to him to put out of the window. He tried. I’m sorry, he called out to me, one of it’s legs has come off. Later. It died, he said. It was in trouble, I had to kill it.

My love, watching you walk behind me in the rain filled my heart.

Hotel

The fire happened before I left. I asked him about it on my return. Had they found the missing person? No, he said, he’s still in there. A Lithuanian man. They took ages to find his family, he said. Why haven’t they got him out? I asked. It’s unsafe, structurally unsafe, he said, they can’t go in. And it’s true. It’s all cordoned off. Even the hotel next door is shut. Dark windows. A police van parked permanently outside within the tape. And this is their busy time. But that isn’t important. What about the missing man? Alone in there. From the outside it looks normal. The curtains hang in the window, apparently still white. And the smoke, I remember wasn’t black and ominous but a pale grey. It doesn’t seem real. Nothing does today.

There is always something, I thought as I walked. Three kids straight out off the Why Not? club hanging from the scaffolding surrounding the opticians. I pass the Greggs lorry just as the driver wheels the trolley back. It’s a different guy. There were fewer people about. The smell of baking bread from Slater’s was strong, delicious, comforting.

I think about her. She is so unwarm. She cannot soften. Must not soften. No, no, no. A grey sky. They promise rain. My back is tight again, fearful and closed-off. We began watching Amelie last night. A joyful, colourful distraction. I have a notebook full of ideas but I need to wade through this experience for now. A closure of sorts. But she was kind. We shall share your birthday, she said. That would be nice. That would be nice. There is always something. Always something warm in the coldness. Don’t you find?

Near Limbo

Home but not quite. It’s beginning to feel familiar but my dreams are still of the US. I wake in the middle of the night all at sea. Where am I? I miss the space, the letting the day be what it is, the yielding to other’s whims. So restful. Home hits me with its demands. Or the demands I connect with it. All will be well. There is time to breathe now. Now I must just wait. And the other thing? Well it has to come. And with it all her antagonism. She is a fighter. She attacks, just like she used to do. No trust. No softness, no yielding. No, no, no, she said, her hand cutting the air like a cleaver. I think about her and her. Trying to understand, to feel safe with the both of them. They listened. I appreciated that. Nice things come. Requests to write, to use my images. I am touched by that. There are the failures too. You haven’t been successful this time. There were so many applicants, blah, blah. But that is OK. I must and will accept that what is to be mine will be. Now and always. Let it go. Let it go, he says. But I love her, too. I know this. I want her in my sight. It is better then, as it was with her. But then there is the other one. A lovely girl. She fills my heart. I miss them. I miss our conversations, I miss being in their world. What will they buy for dinner, will he cycle to work? Did she finish that novel? Did they buy corn?

Soon.

And then there is he. I am held by such love.

Home

Still jet-lagged. Too much to do and too much to say and my head won’t work. Small steps, he says. Small goals. Keep them small. Sun replaced by rain. An email account full of news and things to do. Not yet. Breathe. Take stock. Breathe. Clean. Walk. Sleep and find your way back. To him. To me. All will be done. All will be managed. Enough for now. A bientot.