Author Archives: Ellen Bell

About Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.

Viennese Whirls & Smoke

They have these running gags in The Archers, if gags is the right word. They are something silly and frivolous that is passed from character to character. They are obvious but they make me smile. This week it was Viennese whirls. Debbie was going to tea at Peggy’s with Jennifer, Lillian etc. and Peggy asked Jennifer to pick up some Viennese Whirls saying that she thought that they were Debbie’s favourite. I find them rather dry myself, said Peggy, but I want to get them for Debbie. Debbie tells Jennifer that she was only being kind the last time Peggy offered them to her and actually she couldn’t stand them. So Jennifer says that she will say she forgot them. Meanwhile, Peggy has asked Lillian to buy some. Get two packets, she said, just in case. You can see where it is going. Well, Debbie finally owns up over tea that she can’t bear them. They are so dry. Well, it must’ve been Lillian who liked them, said Peggy. And before Lillian could reply she’d handed her back the two packets. You take them, she said. Then ten minutes later we hear Jazzer saying how Lillian had given him two packets of biscuits out of the blue. Must be my lucky day, he said, though they are a bit dry. I wanted to cheer him up, so I related the same scenario in the car on the way to Manchester. It barely raised a smile. Poor love. And then on Monday. There they were a packet of Viennese Whirls on top of the fridge.

I’d decided to go for a shorter walk this morning as my foot was sore yesterday. Just to kick the bar and then round and then down Pier Street and home. I walked along North Road as usual, delighted that my foot, as yet, wasn’t too uncomfortable. I turned right along the Prom and went to kick the bar. Then turning round I was met with a surreal sight. Great waves of white smoke were drifting across the Prom by the bandstand and out to sea. Flickering blue lights could be seen through the smoky fog. What had happened? Was it a large beach bonfire gone awry? Dottings of students in pairs, mostly, sat on walls and benches observing at a distance. I walked nearer. There were six, maybe seven or even eight fire engines. Firemen were dragging hoses that had been plugged into fire hydrants on Terrace Road. Where was it coming from? I looked up. It was the hotel on the corner. Ty something it is called and owned by the man who owns The Four Seasons. I couldn’t see much for the smoke. The Prom had been taped off. Blankets had been laid on the ground. Blue lights from several police cars flashed. I turned down into Terrace Road feeling a little shaky. I heard steps behind me. What are you doing? A voice said. I stopped and turned round. It was a female police officer with what sounded like a Scandinavian accent. I’m going to the Spar and then going home. Is that OK? I asked. Yes, she said. Outside the Spar a couple of lads stood watching though seemingly unconcerned. I brought the tale to his bedside for when he woke thinking it might spark him. It’s his hometown after all. But he was groggy, lost in his misery. It passed though. It did pass. Where is the BBC when you need them? he said later.

I dip in and out of books at work. For now it is Richard Sennet’s The Craftsman. I love the detail of his fixations. He moves in close. ‘Craft routines relieve the stress by providing a steady rhythm of work’. I like that. And later he refers to it as the ‘calm industry’. What a beauty. You are doing one already, she said over lunch. You are doing a PhD already. I know. And in another life I would. A the RCA, in the embroidery department. But shouldn’t I break the pattern, this hopeless longing for approval? I’m doing it already. So should I just leave it be?

It was a joy to see her. So steady, so grounded. The calmness of her. Though I know that she isn’t, not really. It was good to cry. I grieve over my temporary loss of him. All will be well. It will return, our joy our contentment. Sometimes life has to be shaken up. It is necessary. Breathe and accept.

A bientot, my love.

In Transit

Soon to be in transit. It always unsettles me. And yet, there is also a part of me that is excited. To let loose the routine that holds but ties me. It is such a journey and I don’t feel as strong as I did. And this constant need to plan to think of every thing from beginning to end. I got that from her. I remember how she was before we went on holiday. Sharp-edged and as tight as a coiled spring. I couldn’t understand it. Why wasn’t she excited like we were? Didn’t she want to go? I understand her now. All the responsibility was hers. She wanted it to work, to be smooth for her and for us. Food was bought beforehand. I recall one trip to Spain when we travelled with a whole cooked ham. She’d snap and bicker with him. All that packing to do. Why did she have such a big family? Why did she want it? To love and be loved? It’s the London bit that unnerves me, all that carrying and then on the plane. Will I have room to stretch out? I want to travel light but I also want to bring what I need. But I don’t know what I will need. How will it be with them? Will we get on? Will my foot be better? Will I walk? Will I eat? What will I eat? Let go. Let loose control and enjoy the peace of that. And I am leaving him to fend for himself. All will be well.

I walk in discomfort. It concentrates the mind. The air was warm, humid. Should I take my stick?

Work now. Not edifying stuff but it pays the rent and I am grateful.

A lovely dream. She was making something (something out of cloth with words that I couldn’t read on it) and he was planning his speech for her wedding. She was me and vice a versa. So you have a degree? said this woman looking rather like Cecilia Imrie. I shall look you up, she said. Then I was trying to climb these stairs. They were outside and affixed to the side of a building. White stone, painted white but there were children’s toys blocking them. I had to climb over them. Why have they been put here? I asked before I awoke.

He was better yesterday. Lighter. So was I.

Blow Job

Town was spattered with revellers again. The residue of students reluctant to go home for the summer, perhaps. Four lads are sitting on a bench on the Prom just along from Pier Pressure, their legs stretched out. They are eating fried chicken out of cartons. Blow job, one of them says as I walk past. Was that for my behalf? Who knows? I am sanguine.

I woke from a dream in which he’d been handing over some blood samples that he’d taken himself. He was passing them through a sort of hatch. And then he became me. It was I who was passing over those little plastic tubes.

I forgot to mention what I saw yesterday. A young man, black, tying a lobster creel with a long rope to a bench on the Prom, just opposite the Cardigan Bay B&B. He was fixed on his task. Round and round went the rope. Tighter and tighter. Had he found it in the sea? They usually belong in the harbour, piled up like mountains by the wharf edge. It wasn’t there today. I looked for it but it was gone.

The light mornings are passing. No blue sky as I walk home. We were rancorous yesterday. Neither having patience with the other. I was most at fault. My back was tight and I couldn’t take his long face any longer. I know it’s irritating, he said. No, no, I said. But it was. I was unkind.

Light played across the buildings on the other side of the harbour. I’ve never seen that before. The sea lapping and reflected on the white walls. Rather beautiful.

We just do our best. He isn’t brave. So be it.

I wanted to write about my sewing. It gives me such stress. My head rubbishes it and yet I want to do it, so much. It is a nothing and yet it is something. The flow of it. The forming of the letters, the words that become unrecognisable even after each stitch is placed. It is an experiment as it all is at the moment. But still I want some form of completion. To see it through. To see them all through. This one, the list of radio programmes I have listened to while sewing, pleases me from a distance. I like the black on white. The way the thread bleeds into the white. The knotty-ness of it. It reminds me of old typeset books, that same unevenness. That same bleeding. I had a series of old Latin bible pages just like that. What is the Japanese word for mistake, error in ceramic? It’s something like that, that handwork thing that both pleases and unsettles me. Do you want to do it? he asks. Yes. I say. Well that is good enough reason.

I’m listening to an audio of my walk as I write this. Fascinating. I want to write a soundscape. The swish of my waterproof trousers and something else a scraping sound, could be the machine against my thigh. The seagulls, the shout of drunken kids. It has potential, I like the rhythm of my walking.

Outside a magpie clackety-clacks.

Damp Squid

I’ve got a bladder infection. You get them quite a lot, he said at breakfast. Yes, I do, don’t I? It’s an age thing I think. I read somewhere that this was the case, particularly with women. She is always getting them, though she is brought lower than I. She answered the phone yesterday. It’s been a couple of weeks since we spoke. Her voice is croaky. It’s not to bad, she said, running the ‘to’ and the ‘bad’ into one word – t’bad. It’s hay fever, she said, though I don’t get runny eyes or nose it’s my chest and throat. She appears better though, more cheery. I’ve got a cat, she said. A stray cat appeared at her house, she tells me and has taken to sleeping in the shed. She is delighted. And then there’s the neighbour’s dog. It’s a menagerie, she said, laughing, delighted.

I’m made low by it and so weary. I went swimming again yesterday but shan’t go again, at least not for a while. I find it dull, exercise for exercise sake. I want more than that. So walked again but wearing my boots this time. It was good to be out but I’m not relaxed. Too watchful of my foot. I walk through membranes. Membranes of noise and then silence. Is it ever silent? There is always something, if not the rush of the tide, there are screeching gulls and peeping oystercatchers. Coming up through the Castle grounds then up past The Angel, the clamour of young people shouting hits me. A wall of it, that hems me in on either side. Fragments of sentences fired out into the ether ricocheting of buildings assail me. What you fuckin’ lookin’ at? shouts one boy sitting with his friends on the steps of The Academy re-telling a story of an almost-fight. I said I’m sorry, says a girl, her hands on her hips, as she argues with her lover. And three boys striding up Great Darkgate Street, one of them saying, you know… they’ve got funny hair.

Town is full. Even some of the B&Bs are full. It’s been graduation week. You see them all those parents dressed in dresses and suits, a little out of place. All that hanging around. But proud. For some this is the first generation who’ve gone to University. So proud.

He was better yesterday though sleepy. He slept and slept. It has to be good that, doesn’t it? I long to do the same but I want to do things too. Some work. Some sewing. Get back into the flow of things. Enough. Time to work. Anon.

A damp day, muggy but wet. I must tell you this, he said when I got into the car. He’d been for a coffee and one of the girls behind the counter had chatted to him. It’s raining, he’d told her. Well, she replied, all I can say is I hope August isn’t going to be a damp squid.

Did you say anything? I asked. No, he said, I left it. Quite so.

Swimming

I did it. I went swimming.

Isn’t it funny how new things can make one edgy? He picked up on it. He was to take me, drive me so that I would do less walking. I’m nervous, he said, and I’m not even going to be swimming. I understand. We are out of our routine, out of the framework that holds us steady. And he is allowing his mind to tell him all is not steady. All this from just a sense that going to the US would be too much. An unravelling. That is what it feels like. And now the slow re-winding. It takes time. It will take as long as he allows it to. It is all about confidence. I’m not resilient, not brave like you, he said as we sat on our seat opposite the bowling green watching a man play alone. I know this. But it will still pass. Everything does. And he will feel better. He will get his equilibrium back. I do what I can. I try to be as solid, as unwavering as I can. The days seem circumscribed by it but still I get things done. I try to manage my grief over not walking. I do more yoga, I stand on one leg when I can. It is familiar, I used to do it a lot particularly when preparing food in the kitchen. She found it particularly disconcerting, me with my leg up on the counter. Is it hygienic? she asked. Probably not.

I went swimming. And I survived it. I wasn’t prepared for the sense of exertion it gave me. I don’t usually use that part of my body. Ten laps. I did ten laps and then got out. I was getting cold. Tomorrow I will try twelve. Mostly elderly ladies, some who didn’t even enter the big pool preferring to stay paddling in the little one. It wasn’t busy, no screaming kids. Gentle. He watching from above, waving. I did it. We did it. And then I got that application done. It’s alright. And there is pleasure in between. Sitting in the sun, watching butterflies. The smell of elderflower. Crosswords. Watching him getting better, slowly by degrees.

Foot

I’ve agreed to rest it. My foot. My injured foot is not getting better. The swelling is less but the discomfort is not. I’m not good at resting. I like to move, to keep moving. And that hour of energetic, contemplative movement is important to me. I walk out into the dark and come back with the morning. But this morning I haven’t gone. I took his advice. And it made me cry. To let go of it is hard. You could swim instead, he said. Yes, I said, I could. So that is what I will do. Starting today. A week off. A week of not walking, of not putting weight on it. But what a struggle it is. To step out. To step out of my regime. So rigid. I follow the lines and without them I am a little lost. A new thing. A new thing to get used to. I called them. What do I do? She told me. Times, costs everything. He will have to take me. If I’m not to walk I will have to be taken. I haven’t swam for a while. I’m not a strong swimmer. l like to be in the water but I’m not confident. I will become so. I will build up my strength. We are resourceful, he said as he kissed me goodnight. Yes, I said, we are. There is always a way. What can I learn from resting? Do more yoga, take more time over each pose, feeling each pose. It is always about time. How to fit it all in. I breathe. So alert. So acutely aware of everything.

A little pampering. I’d booked it a while ago for the holiday. To have nice feet. It was lovely. I didn’t want her to stop. And how I love their chatter. Both of them. Inconsequential chatter about weddings, dresses for the flower girls, favours and then family holidays, cats, feral ones and fledgling seagulls. She fed them strawberries, she said of her colleague. I like them. They are restful to be around. Simple pleasures. And her boyfriend, soon to be husband, going up inside those wind turbines. How I’d love to do that. Shall I ask?

I am a little lost. It is all awry. But I will recover. Even now, I feel it healing. My foot. My precious foot.

Sounds

I decided it last night. I was both excited about it and a little nervous. I put it out ready. Would there be enough battery power for the whole hour? I’d wait and see. It was only a trial run. I’ll carry it in my hand, I thought, as I walk. Did I still need my stick? No, I’d try without. I didn’t want to draw attention to myself or it. Just hide it a little with my sleeve. Yes, that would do. I wanted to capture all the sounds right from the beginning. Did I get the key in the lock? No, I don’t think so, next time. I did get the sound of my steps on the wooden stairs, and the door shutting behind me. Would it pick up peripheral sounds like the seagulls crying in the distance or just the swoosh of my waterproof trousers as I walked? It was fascinating how different my walk became as a result. I heard everything, acutely, as I wondered if the machine had picked it up. The sudden noise of the sea as I came down the little hill by Alexandra Hall, the chatter of voices on various benches along the Prom, the pounding of music from Pier Pressure, car tyres, the hum of the generator in the Old College and the wind. Not strong but it was there. I haven’t listened back yet. The memory of it is enough for now. We shall see. Would each day be different? What possibilities does it hold?

I listened to two of the Pursuit of Beauty recordings on the iPad, one on Virginia Woolf and the other on ephemeral art. Fascinating. The first for its poetry and association of place and the other for the integrity of the artists who make work that won’t last. The immediacy of it was like my experience this morning. Each step had merit, each breath, each roll of the tide. This is now. This is me here now.

We have reached a place of peace with it. He isn’t going. I shall go alone. It will be OK. It is OK.

Rain

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.

Tar

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.

Bouquets

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.