Author Archives: Ellen Bell

About Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.


I felt almost euphoric yesterday, well a kind of bliss anyway. It was good to be home, to be steady, to clean, to sort out, to be rooted. Today is greyer. The greyness coming on yesterday after sleeping in the afternoon. He isn’t going to go. I have to accept it. He needs to step down from the adventure and I must go alone. He wants me to stay too. I know he does. His eyes implore. But I won’t. Not because I don’t care but because I said I’d go. I don’t want to disappoint, to hurt a dear friend. I will go alone if they will take me. The thought of the journey is a heavy thing, but I will muster the courage. It’s only a week away. I cannot deny myself the adventure, even if the tiredness in me is at times overwhelming. I keep walking forward. I will do what I can for him. I always do. Always will. But I cannot make his mind obey. Just as he cannot direct mine. The money is gone and it doesn’t matter. What matters is that he is free to make a choice. I can smell the fear on him. It has escalated. It is time to rein it in, to set some parameters. The sky is heavy with clouds, static, pressing down. A seagulls soars beneath them. Where would you go if you could fly? Sometimes I want that little house with a garden and clothes line and other times I want to soar, to be free to grasp all the sensations that are offered to me with both hands.


They’re re-surfacing our road. We’d received a letter promising that they would and instructing us to move our cars. Some have some haven’t. Isn’t it always the way? Will they tarmac around them? I love the smell. It is so heady, so industrial, but archaic too. A smell of blackness. The men doing it look like coalmen, they are made so dirty with it. It looks brand new, a black treacle newness. And the machinery looks archaic too. One has great jaws that open up to receive the un-melted tar. Once yellow they now are all thick with grime. They were delivered this morning, spot on eight, in a brand new white transporter. I feel important. It’s nice to have the Council’s attention. He worries that we will lose our space. Maybe we will. Perhaps that won’t be a bad thing. We can park nearer.

A challenging weekend. A mix of extremes. Great joy and discomfort. I’m never sure she will come. I text and she doesn’t reply. I sip my peppermint tea and try to relax. And then there she is. There they are. My loves. My darling girls. She spreads a blanket and the three of us sit on the decking. She has filled out. She is fat with life. A beauty. So serene. As is her mother. So much has changed. I begin questioning, feeding conversation but then she takes over. She is relaxed now. I touch and touch. Cool white skin. And what blue eyes, she stares into me. I fantasise that she knows me. Knows my blood that is her blood. I love them. My loves. My darling loves. Thank you for such joy. Two hours of being at peace with myself. This is OK. All is forgotten. All is forgiven. And this is the gift.

Then the next day and he is wobbling. How to support him? I try every trick. He sinks and I feel for him. But he does it. He does it. He goes through the gruelling small talk. Tries to eat. I don’t want to be there either. I feel trapped by it. And I can’t do the talk. A gentle Japanese lady who I keep calling Halloumi. It is wrong, I know it, but tiredness and stress make me careless. We do our best, he and I. But we are ducks out of water. Clumsy and woebegone and wanting home. She looked so ripe, so happy walking down the aisle. My friend’s stunning daughter. She sits next to me after. Claims me as family. I am touched. I love them all. The girl, the mother and the mother’s mother. She was so vulnerable, so tiny, hesitant now in her nearly ninety years. We left. Did I hurt her? She is accepting. Much more than I. I have to make it OK for him and for me. There were pleasant bits. Sitting in the sun, giving love, talking to him. An opening, a sharing. Was he sincere? I think so. Other people’s lives. The leaning church, falling back into the earth. Having tea on that hotel verandah, and he getting a bit better. And the B&B. She was a delight, taking such care of us. Those little details. The fresh fruit salad, the home-made jam and the cake. You must have tea and cake. And they off to see ‘Oliver’. And the next night a barbecue. And he stewarding in the morning for the Liskeard show. You’ve got to have a life, she says. And the walk in the morning, the mist and the smell of sun-dried hay. And the bird song. And the stars. What stars. See even in the misery of his fear, there is such joy.

Back home and walking this morning. Lots of people about even at 3.00 am. Two girls shouting at another as she walks past. Was it hostile? Looking good, girl, one shouts. And the couple sitting in the giant deckchair on the Prom near the ‘ship’, giggling taking photos of each other.

They sent an email. I bought lavender from them a couple of years ago. A cottage industry. We’re shutting for the summer, it announced, Jackie in our packing department is on crutches. Order now.

And that glorious sleep in the afternoon before work. Waking from a dream where I thought he’d asked me a crossword clue. What is the word for kicking a stranger? I thought he’d asked me. I woke saying, I don’t know darling. He laughed. It was so good to hear it.


Two cellophane-wrapped bouquets of roses have been attached to the railing at the end of the Perygyl. I saw them there this morning. They are understated, just a few long stem roses. I couldn’t tell if they were white or yellow in the dark. Was it for the fisherman who’d drowned in Cardigan Bay last year? Or for his friend who took his life a couple of years back? I think there was another aged man who did the same. Someone is remembering them. That’s a warm thing.

There was a page torn from a girl’s magazine lying on the little bench on the wee hill that takes you down onto Llanbadarn Road. It was a pin-up of a pretty boy face’s with the word ‘wanted’ above it. Perhaps ‘wanted’ is a boy band.

I keep meaning to quote Richard Sennett. I’ve been re-discovering his book, The Craftsman. He’s a true polymath. And it takes some concentration to read it well. I dip in and out between work commitments. The chapter about the hand is captivating and so relevant to me as I try and try to discover what I’m about with my work. ‘We might think,’ he writes (describing work), ‘of routine as mindless, that a person doing something over and over (like sewing, I’m thinking) goes missing mentally…….’ (so interesting, it is the opposite for me). ‘Doing something over and over is stimulating,’ Sennett continues, ‘when organized as looking ahead…..the emotional pay off is one’s experience of doing it again….it is rhythm.’ So good. And now I have it.

He is low. He may not go. We’ll keep the door open, I say. We both will, he replies. I need to let him do what he needs to do, no matter my disappointment and grief at the loss of a shared experience. It will just be different. He looks so sorry for himself. I need to let him be. No bullying, no cajoling. Let him be.

And me, well I want the experience. I want what life has to bring.

No prize. I haven’t been chosen. So be it.

Give me grace to accept what is.


I’m not good with spontaneity. I’m not good with the unexpected. I rise to it. I’m a stalwart. But I’d rather know what is coming, so that I can plan and be ready. And yet I have a job that is all about the moment, responding to the now. The boys are out. They are safe and the media is in a flurry even here in the sticks. He is the top man, a spokesman and they all want a part of him. For now. It will die down, it always does. It was TV last night. He was nervous, his voice breaking a little. Understandable, it isn’t easy talking down the line to a faceless camera in a noisy office. I tried to wish him calm. I’m here, I wanted to say, you are not alone. And then the threat of another late one. Newsnight. My heart sinking. What of my sleep? And then relief, they’d booked my colleague. I would’ve done it. I’m a stalwart.

I want to write today. Not for anybody but myself. I saw the show. It surprised me. I thought I knew his work. I didn’t. I don’t know what to say, not yet. It will come. He said hello. I don’t know whether he remembers my name or not, it doesn’t matter. He knows me. And that felt good. I was making sketches of the work and he led me into the other gallery to talk about the ceramic show. Even lifting up a tiny porcelain pot for me to hold. I love porcelain, he says, I love it’s unevenness. I didn’t have long, but didn’t want to be rude. And I was pleased to be noticed. He followed me back into the other gallery and we talked about his work. He left me only to come back again with a signed book. You get it, he said, it’s because you get it. We discussed collectors. They’re all getting old, he said. The young don’t buy. They don’t have the money. Yes, I said. He told me of a tea set he had and some cups by Walter Keeler. The tea set was expensive. I asked if he used it. For special occasions or on a Sunday, he said. It depends on what I’m drinking, he said. If it’s herb tea it’s always a Walter. He waved when I went. It felt good. I felt good. Happy. Yesterday was a happy day.


I like our trips, he says. But he is tired this morning, so I have relaxed my rigour and suggested he sleep for an hour before we set off. I am eager to be gone, to be off, to be on the road. I didn’t think we’d make it. Work has been busy but no phone calls so far, so we are to go. The exhibition closes this week so it is the last chance. Shall I write about it? I’d like to. At least have a go. The choice is mine, and that is nice. Though I rarely write for money. There is nothing in it. But usually I am encouraged to do it by being commissioned, there is someone expecting it. This way is different. We’ll see.

I saw her again today. A large girl, tall and broad in a summer dress and flip flops. She was walking as I do in the early hours, on the Prom. I saw her near the newsagent just up from the castle. She was wearing the same cotton dress. She looked a little distrait. Aimless, even. I often see wanderers at that time. Wanderers like me. Insomniacs, the homeless, students, night-workers and revellers. There is the woman who always wears a hoodie and carries a plastic bag. She smokes as she walks. And the homeless man in the blue cap. And the one with the crutches. I wish them well, muttering salutations quietly as I pass them. Mostly, there is no eye contact.

A short one today. Safe journey. The day bodes well.


Rush, rush, rush. It began with a text followed by another text and another last night. Breaking news. The Today programme then Good Morning Wales. I understand it is beyond their control and that David Davies’s resignation was unexpected, as was the death of that poor woman. And I know it is petty but my plans go awry. It is better that I don’t make them, perhaps? Just let life be. Here it is, throw it to the wind and see what happens. Nevertheless it is almost all done, but no time to sit and stare. The Chinese grandfather was out again this morning as we rushed to the supermarket. Staring at plants this time. A meditation? I love their quietness. A cultural thing, I think.

It was a gentle morning, only a few kids outside the Why Not? club chanting, John, John, John. Who or what John was God only knows?

I listened to Philip Treacy on DID yesterday. Such a gentle being. I loved his statement about wanting to sew as a child, grabbing moments at his mother’s sewing machine when she went out to feed the pigs.

And more about sewing, or hands to be more specific in Sennet’s The Craftsman. He writes about monotonous tasks and about their process in our learning finesse. It’s about rhythm, he states. Yes, that is it. I want to deconstruct it. Why do I want to sew? What is the calmness it induces? Monotony, no, familiarity, yes. Treacy talked about the pleasure of joining two pieces of material together. For me it is the in-out, the flow of the hand. Always.

Time. I clutch at it. He is calmer today. I hold him. I hold him fast. It will be alright my love. I promise.


I was thrown a little yesterday. It is always the same when I have to work at the weekend. The usual world-order is cast awry. I felt out of sorts. They were nice enough, but I was an oddity, and the language separated us, as it usually does. I did my sewing regardless. After a while it balanced me, grounded me. But my foot swelled. Then there was the football game. He watched it during supper, his iPad resting on the table in front of him. So I did the crossword alone. There were just three we couldn’t do. (England’s win meant he could take over halfway through.) One was a music one, ending in o. The other two were a doctor who works directly with patients and something that separates. We couldn’t get them. Surely all doctors work with patients, he said. Not if they’re doing research, I said. No, I suppose not, he said. I was in bed when they came. He’d just left me and I called out to him. It’s clinician, I said. And spacer.

The Prom was busy this morning. People leaving the clubs. Mostly middle-aged couples though there were a few young ones. A strong smell of fried chicken hung near the Pier Pressure night club out of which the music throbbed. A group of kids walked past me. A blonde girl in an orange boob tube was shouting to her friends. Do you remember when we went on a club-crawl and then we had a fight….

Someone had pitched a tent on South Beach with a wind sheet next to it. Voices were coming from the tent. Oh, my God, said a female voice, that’s amazing.

The perfume emanating from the honeysuckle, elderflower, lavender and petunias carried me along. I hold myself so tight with the discomfort of my sprained foot. But I need to be out, moving and experiencing the dawning day.

Turning down the road towards the station I can hear someone running behind me. I look round several times. Its a man in a hoodie. Is he out jogging? I let him run ahead of me and then watch as his foot misses the pavement and turns over.

Are you OK? I ask, stopping.

I think I’ve twisted my ankle, he says.

Have you far to go? I ask.

No, he says. I was just fetching some wood for our fire, he says as he hobbles towards some bags of kindling that had been laid against a wall. I’ll be alright, he says.

When he said fire I’d imagined a wood burner in a kitchen or living room. Then it dawned on me, he meant a fire on the beach. I’d seen a group around some embers, one with a grey trilby.

I’ve printed out Psalm 23. We listened to it on the Midwife. It is beautiful and so comforting. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

The rooks scrap and screech outside. We hear them scratching on our roof.

The morning breaks and the day is going to be lovely. Sewing and HT’s quilt beckons. As always I’ve no idea what I am doing. But it is a gift. It is what I can give. My time. Make it lovely. Make it divine. Amen to that.

Seagull Fledgling

We’ve seen him a few times now. How do you know he is he? he asked as we sat on our bench on North Road looking down onto the bowling green. I don’t, I said, but I’m am assuming he is. What shall we call him? he asked. Frank, I said, Frank Fledgling.

We first saw him a couple of days ago, shading from the sun behind a flowerpot that had been placed along the edge of the green. He was making a racket, wailing and cawing for it’s parent. One came eventually, though whether it was mother or father, who can say? She or he didn’t seem to do much. It came to rest by the fledgling for a while before wandering off. I didn’t see it feed the youngster, or comfort it. The players seemed unconcerned. Perhaps the parents nest there every year. Frank wasn’t crying when we saw him yesterday. Though he was at his usual spot, shading himself in the shadow of the pot. No parent appeared. Is his adolescence now complete?

The green is no longer green. They were playing a match yesterday. Two players and a referee and one spectator. A wife, probably, he said. One was a real natty chap. Do they have to have special shoes? I asked.

One day we saw a white dog bound onto the grass when a match was being played. It’s owner was sanguine, the dog’s lead hanging, nonchalantly from his neck.

He was standing looking at a heap of builder’s rubble that had been taken over by weeds. He was still in his pyjamas. He didn’t raise his head when we walked towards the car. It’s the Chinese Grandfather, he said. He remained still, his gaze caught. Is he meditating, do you think? I asked. They are a nice family. One little boy and an adoring mother. She’s made a little garden outside her flat’s front door. A large oblong planter serves as washing line too. Everything is neat, just so.

I’m off to work soon. A three hour stint. A busy morning and I am tired, already.

I shall take my sewing in. Will I be self-conscious?

He talked such sense yesterday. I am grateful.


He doesn’t want to go. I knew this but hadn’t really acknowledged it. I am sorry for it. I want to make him feel OK. He was worried about telling me. The worry turns into anxiety, too easily. We are not so different. I too want to stay still, keep within the tracks of our routinous life. Although it isn’t really, any moment our plans are upended by work. But mostly it is still. I understand. Travelling is a challenge, as is unfamiliarity and being out of control. I understand, I feel the same way. But I need to see through my promises, I won’t let people down. I have to move, to go forward and mostly I see the adventure. Nothing is still, not really. It is always shifting, tiny steps but life is moving. Better go and greet it than have it take you unawares. Put it over there, I say to him. It is weeks off. Put it in a box. And keep a door open for the possibility of it happening, of it being alright. He might not go, or he may. I must support him in whatever he chooses. With my fingers crossed that he will come, with me and see life.

I am so indecisive. Shall I do this or that today? I try to impose some order on it. There are no deadlines, no exhibitions, no buyers, no urgency to finish. And yet, I need to see ends, to see completions, if only for the satisfaction of them. I want to complete them. I am uncomfortable with drawers full of half-started projects. Else how can I know that they have worked? Is there an answer? Shall I finish them all and re-perform them? Is this a giant, waste-of-time cul-de-sac? How will I know? I cannot know. Just put one foot in front of the other till an answer comes. And if it doesn’t? Do it anyway.

Find the joy in it. Even if it is just the thread weaving in and out. Honour it. Honour the work for where it is taking you. And pay attention.


I spend so much of the time in my head rubbishing myself.

What is that about? Where did I learn to do that? Many believe that it is a waste of time trying to unearth the beginnings of such negativity, that is much better to concentrate on changing one’s attitude. I can see the efficacy of this. I know that I learnt it from one who’d learnt it from another. A chain of self-loathing. And yet, there is a core of me that is at peace with myself, who does in fact like who I am, who I’ve become and indeed, always have been. I think about myself as a child and often invite her to walk with me. I like her. She is reserved, self-contained, serious but kind. Acutely aware of others, she listens, pays attention and does what she can to make everything OK. She is not demonstratively brave but is quietly courageous in her endeavours. She is my source, my beginning, she made herself. The rest is borrowed, a hand-me-down bag of fears, self-consciousnesses and uncertainties. Am I good enough? Is what I am doing good enough? Am I loved? Am I loveable? My inner voices and no doubt hers. Though she displayed her fears differently to me. She hit out, defended while I hid, cowed.

This is it. This is the sum of my life. So be it. It is enough if I look at it deeply enough. If I pay attention. I had hoped for something bigger, and yet, I know that in creating the bigger, the wider much of the detail would’ve been overlooked. I want to be good at everything from the inner world to the outer. And I need time. I need quiet. And I need to be at peace. I learnt to strive, to push myself. I know nothing else. And it is this that I need to unlearn. ‘A quiet and modest life brings more joy than a pursuit of success bound with constant unrest’, wrote Einstein. Yes. But how does one yield to the modest, when the ego cries out to be noticed? A life challenge, I think.

So I pay attention. I see the moth resting on the outer side of the window, its wings fanned out, pressed flat against the glass. I hear the voices from the dark beach as I walk in the late night hours. Those clusters of youngsters, huddled in duvets, daring the night with their vigils. The air smells good, everything is intensified, even the petunias by South Beach smell sweet. I listen to the radio, just as intensely, and the dramas become my own. L. P. Hartley’s short story, Night Fears, about a night watchman dogged by a dangerous stranger, Val McDermid’s crime story about a ‘Fat Club’ with its wry narrator and the trilogy about the land girls. They all play into my work, literally, as I write them out in cross-stitch.

We are re-watching the Midwife, and my mind harangues me for not doing something more useful. I jump from longing to be a baker to being nurse. How would I fare? How would it feel to spend your day being kind, saving lives, preventing pain? What do I do for others? You won’t be disappointed, he said. Am I disappointed? My longing for bigness is an ego thing. That searching for rightness. And yet, the peace, the serenity is in accepting what is. And this is what is. I have time. I can write. I can make. I make some money. It is enough. I care for him. I tend to our needs. I keep a gentle momentum. I please him. Is that enough? It is more than most have. And my work? I carry it within me. I am writing it out. I am making it out. Does it matter if it isn’t seen or read? I feel my time, my allotted days and wait for wisdom. That greater knowing. That perfect understanding that all is as it should be. And it is.


I dreamt of a diamond ring. I’d put it in my mouth. I carried it in my mouth, feeling it on my tongue.