Author Archives: Ellen Bell

About Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.

Awe

He says I shouldn’t listen to them, says I’m too sensitive. He doesn’t mean it pejoratively. He appreciates that quality in me, more than anyone. But I need to hear it. I need to know how other people must live. The TED talks. They are fascinating. Mostly American speakers, they push the boundaries of our preconceptions. Yesterday’s one was the most challenging so far. How to think about about the five major global issues – I forget them all, poverty, food, politics, climate change, I think. And one more. Perhaps I missed that one as I joined it half way through. One of the speakers said that the world is due to ‘run out of food’ in the next decade. Another suggested that the way to deal with poverty is to give everyone a living wage – regardless of the work – a minimum salary or wage to live on. For everyone across the world. Taxation would pay for it. He was passionate about it. Oh, yes the refugee crisis was the other. That speaker quoted the experience of his Jewish grandparents being taken in by a farmer in Brussels during the war. We all should do it, he said. Yes, we should. And in my purest form I can imagine myself doing it. But I fall short of that purity, that goodness daily. The programme was about acting, making a change. Are small steps enough? No, they seem to be saying. Can we change? Can we become kinder, more aware, less selfish, more alert to the struggles of others?

It looks like it’s going to be a lovely morning. Let me change. Let me be less myopic. Become open. Kind.

My writing is turgid at the moment. I’m writing of difficult things. It is a black tunnel that I want to push my way through. Just get it out on the page, he says. Writing is often like that. Yes. It is. But I’ve been given the gift of time so I shall use it. It is precious. As are we. All of us.

Fly

He meets him most days. He’s a driver for the undertakers, taking the bodies to the mortuary. He walks his dog on the Prom. I think they went to school together, but I could be wrong. His dog is a sheepdog, I think, and he is called Fly. When they stop and talk, one going one way the other the other, Fly waits patiently. But when their chat ceases Fly always barks. It’s like he’s saying, get a move on, he tells me.

It’s raining and raining this morning. I wore a double layer of waterproofs today and I took my umbrella. The earth smells divine when the rain comes, especially when it was dry the day before. Rain, windless rain, like snow stills everything. I like that. A few people were out, mostly coatless. And a few cars, not taxis. Several drove down to the harbour and turned round and drove away again. What are they doing?

Five young kids were walking behind me, probably students back early. They were sheltering their heads under their coats. An umbrella, what a good idea? said one girl. I heard another let out a yell. Oh, she said, I’ve stepped into a puddle. They all burst out laughing. Such simple fun, eh? Reminds me of wearing my orange wellies as a kid and stamping in them just because I could. I hated their orange-ness though. They were so conspicuous.

A lovely afternoon yesterday. I took a bag just in case. And there they were. A little small but once you start looking there were lots of them. Blackberries. A bramble that stretches the length of the path. They taste sweeter, wilder than the shop bought stuff. I had some for breakfast. My fingers got stained purple. It took me back.

Something round and floating was coming towards me along Terrace Road. I couldn’t quite make it out in the gloom. A balloon. A helium balloon with 21 written on it. A party balloon, forgotten or lost. It bounced off the tarmac, and floated, moving slowly towards me like an alien craft. There was something magical, other-worldly about it. Something to do with the speed and its reluctance. Sluggish. Slow. It moved me somehow.

Work now. Keep going, Ellen. I was daunted yesterday. I wrote but I was overwhelmed in the end. It’s too big and I don’t know yet what it is going to be. Can I live with that uncertainty? Does it have to be good?

Breathe. And take one step after another.

Ronnie

I often hear her when I am taking an afternoon nap. She is outside, beneath his bedroom window, calling. She is calling to one of her daughter’s cats. There are two of them. The Kray twins, Ronnie and Reggie. I’ve written of them before. They are prize specimens. Grey spotted animals that apparently are worth a fortune. They have some kind of tracking device affixed to their collars. This is connected to an app with a map that shows where they are. They both like to prowl around the undergrowth playing hunt the mouse, the shrew or the tiny bird. They are killing machines. But they are her babies. Her mother babysits for them when she is away. Hence the calling. Yesterday it was Ronnie who she was seeking. She makes a miaowing sound first, then calls out his name in a high-pitched voice. She comes into the coffee shop he goes to sometimes. He finds her challenging, the mother that is, for she apparently talks a lot. Unlike her daughter who is rather taciturn, especially towards him since he suggested that she put something on her cats’ collars to stop them killing things. They are only fulfilling their instinct, I believe she said. And clearly hasn’t forgiven him.

A beautiful clear sky today. The stars were out. I saw a moving one. I think it was a plane. I thought of them all up there fast asleep. Trusting that they will be delivered safely home. A fishing boat was all lit up in the harbour ready for off. I love their lights. A great traffic light system fixed to the mast. I saw another out at sea as I came down the hill to the bar.

Hermione Gingold was the guest on Frankly Speaking this morning. A repeat obviously, I think it was from the 60s. She’d clearly just moved to New York. She loved it, she said. I hate the early nights people keep here in Britain, she said. In New York she could entertain into the wee wee hours and ‘if you get hungry’, she said, ‘you can call down for some chicken. Where would you get food on a Sunday night in England?’ she said. She talked about the early years as an actress and having no money. ‘You had to choose between a bus ticket or a welsh rarebit somewhere,’ she said. I love the detail of peoples’ speech. Where did the welsh rarebit come from? She was glorious. What would be described as a real character, I suppose. Not difficult but opinionated. And classy.

I shall write today. I am nervous about it. I’m not sure where I am going with the next ‘scene’ (for want of a better word). I suppose I just need to write and see. Suck it and see. But it is a good stretch of time. Till 10 am. Till the Archers. Or not. We shall see.

Hesitant Witness

I’ve been listening to a radio programme about charisma. It’s been on daily, early on while I prepare breakfast. It was the last one today and they were discussing whether being charismatic is necessarily a good thing. Not for the person themselves but the recipients of it. The Reverend Coles (ex-Bronski Beat) talked about preferring, trusting, being more comfortable with what he called a hesitant witness. Strength, or at least what we see as strength – self confidence, certainty, arrogance, braggadaccio – is lauded in our culture. Perhaps, as the Reverend suggests there might be another way of being, of seeing.

Domestic duties done. It feels good. I find the physicality of it more and more testing as I age. I want to keep doing it for as long as I may. I like to keep my own home clean. I want no maids or servants. At least not yet. Our neighbour passed me yesterday in the hallway. She is amazing. She is a hundred and she still walks into town each day, usually with some dapper hat on. Yesterday she was carrying the recycling to the bin. She is very deaf and her eyesight isn’t good, but she is still open and engaging with the world. I take my hat off to her. Though, please, please take me before I get to that age. In my sleep preferably. Is it too much to ask?

A new poppet on the way soon. I write to ask how she is. I await a reply. I send love regardless. Through the ether. Always.

Terns

The wind was not as strong as they promised, though it was still an effort to walk into it. I wore too many clothes and got hot. Tomorrow I will wear less. The path down to the main road is strewn with beech nuts. They crunch under my walking boots. A man was staring into the window of Andy’s Records shop on Northgate Street. As I got closer I could see he was looking at a particular CD that was on display. He was talking to himself, quite animatedly. It had just gone 3.30 am. I always want to ask the people I see walking the streets at the time that I do, what are you doing up at this hour? never stopping to realise that I am worthy of the same curiosity.

The wanted to do the whole shebang. Weight, height, blood pressure and ECG. Ugh, I hadn’t expected that. I thought it would just be a chat. They don’t make a meal of it in hospital. Just in and out, no soft pillow under the arm. It threw me. And then we went in and she was lovely. A Czech. A gentle woman who was respectful of me and my body. She couldn’t find anything wrong with my heart, it beats a little fast, at least it did when they did the Echogram. Now she thinks it might be something to do with protein in the blood, or lack of it. We shall see. Letters have to be typed first. Protocol followed. I felt embarrassed. I was, am well compared to those who sat in the waiting room, well alcove, with me. Several old ladies, one with greatly swollen ankles that have clearly been forced into tiny t-bar patent leather shoes. Another old lady was so thin, her bony legs, encased in loose fitting American tan tights, jutting at odd angles from the wheelchair. Both were with what looked like daughters. They, looking equally tired, perhaps more so. The rest had clearly come for the fracture clinic and sat there, their ankles and legs strapped up. He was patient with me. Held my hand throughout. I find it difficult. I struggle to yield.

They covered the rock. The tide was coming in. Hundreds of white birds. A flock. Amassing. Their faces all turned towards the south. What were they waiting for? And not a sound.

Wind (357)

It so often happens. I use a word or a phrase, or one comes into my head, and there it will be that same day or the next as a crossword clue or answer. It feels like a subtle game, a play, a frolic with words. Someone or something connecting in with me. See we noticed, or heard you. You are not alone, it is not what you think. You are being acknowledged. You count. Is this fanciful on my part? Some would say yes. I like to think that there may be a possibility for such a connection. Beyond the veil, so to speak. He would say, why not, if it makes you feel better. Does it? Not always. Connections like those also require a responsibility, an awareness, a culpability for one’s actions. Either way, I remain open. Yesterday it was the title of my journal. To and fro.

The wind howled last night. Furious. I had to shut my window in the end. I don’t like doing so. I love the sensation of fresh, live air coming in as I sleep. But last night it was making me agitated. I remember our horses in the wind. They would chase around the perimeter of the field, legs kicking out, manes flying. Walking into it was hard going this morning. It is wild, frightening at times. It is abating now and the sky is blue. Though the clouds are still sailing by at quite a pace. The first morning with the heating on. Winter is coming. Too soon.

My writing is just as hard going at the moment. Sometimes it is like that, he says. Don’t give yourself such a hard time.

Listened to Peter White on the radio, in his Blind Man Travels the Globe series. I like hearing him so much. What must it be like? I rely on my eyes too much sometimes. He is so courageous. Or at least so it seems to me. He was in San Francisco. He gets to know a city by it sounds, it smells and its people. He talked to a homeless man. People are at ease with him. He asked why he was homeless. My parents sold the house, he said, and bought a SUV. Just like that. No self pity, no recrimination. He gets by. Bless him.

Dentist this morning. Then work. Another toing and froing day. Not much time to write today. Heigh ho.

To and Fro

It’s a constant, the to and fro between certainty and uncertainty, knowing and not knowing, strength and weakness. A constant adjusting of ideas, behaviour and endurance. Often it is down to tiredness, lack of resistance and fear. Certainty is rarely with me these days. Perhaps it has never been. I’ve always seen both sides. I am biddable, like a tree in the wind or a feather carried where it may. (There is a feather on my bedroom floor and however often I pick it up and put it in my dressing gown pocket it is returns to the same place as before.) And I am all too easily intimidated by what I see to be other people’s talents. I cannot match her in story or drama, but that doesn’t mean my story shouldn’t be told. Isn’t worthy of being done.

You don’t know what it is going to be yet, he says, with never a trace of frustration, even though we return to this time and time again. And he is right I don’t. I don’t know what it is going to be, if anything. I just need to write it. To see it through. Even through the turgid times like now when nothing is coming easily. Where every word is weighed.

Two last minute sessions yesterday which meant I didn’t finish what I’d intended. Frustrating though it is I must and do acquiesce. It is a necessary source of money and not a difficult job by any means. I am grateful. And I can read. Which I do, exhaustively.

A breezy morning. The sea was alive. It is exciting when it is like that. I could hear it from North Road. He is just gone out now in his big coat with its ‘lid’. No day off in sight. Not yet. And how I long to sprawl on that sofa. Though tea isn’t the same since turning wholly vegan. The taste isn’t right. Coffee meanwhile is better. I yield. I accept. And I am thankful for all things.

Meanwhile, I await the phone call.

Stoicism

He encourages me to be stoic. He is. He reminds me how he wakes each morning realising that he will never see properly out of his right eye again. It is all misty. It has gone, died. I have forgotten his loss. I have forgotten to remember how it is with him. I am sorry for that. There are his hands too, with both his little and third fingers bent and rigid. And the drugs that give him a belly that he doesn’t want, cannot bear, that brings him down now and again. But he does bear it. He is sanguine when I am not. He is my role model. He takes care with his appearance, makes the best of things. I shall do the same. He cannot see what the problem is, not really. He loves me as I am. Now isn’t that a good thing? And even as I fret I know of others’ problems. He has a friend who has to have dialysis, a man who has been unwell most of his life. He is stoic. He drinks a little too much but so what. That’s not to mention the starving, the disenfranchised, the lost, the needy, the dying, the poor, the abused, the incarcerated. I carry them with me and am ashamed of my smallness of mind.

I’ve begun to read about the poet Anne Sexton. It’s one of her daughters’s account. It is a harrowing tale. I find a blog that someone has written about this book and they admonish her for writing it, her sister, they say, hasn’t written a word. Does she have the right to write it? Is she not allowed a right to have her say, to tell how it was for her? Her mother is dead. Her father too, I suspect. It is a tricky one. So much is being revealed, truly uncomfortable things, but she clearly needs to articulate them. The question is is whether a published book is the best place to do it. I cannot answer it? I am caught in the same dilemma.

You don’t have to read it, he says when he drops me off after work. I know. I know I don’t but I want to, I want to learn how you write such things. I want to learn about that process of detachment. For that is what it is, detachment from the core of it. The pain of it. All because you want to see it more clearly. She, the daughter admits to not being sure that she always has the truth of an event and then quotes her mother: ‘what actually happened is not nearly as important as how you feel about what happened‘. It’s a tricky one. After all who owns the real truth? And is one person’s truth more valid, more right than an others? None of these things come easy, perhaps they are not meant to do. I am looking for catharsis, an end to something, a neatening. Perhaps it won’t come, perhaps it cannot be.

I just need to write it, as honestly as I can. That is all.

The woman with the bag was back this morning, walking ahead of me towards the harbour.

The fairy lights the hang from the ceiling of the sea-front breakfast room of the Shoreline guest house along South Marine Terrace had been left on. I could see them flashing green, pink, yellow and red from Castle Point. They cheered me.

Time to work. Jobs done. Coffee first, then write.

Volcano

I dreamt of a volcano. Or at least there was one in my dream, just to the side of where I was walking, in the distance but near. I saw it as one sees a mountain in a Japanese print, slightly stylised. It was dormant, a curiosity rather than something to fear. I was walking up a muddy track with a group of other people, one of my sisters was with and friends from Norway and the US. I was carrying a ceramic bowl in my hand, I think it was the Rupert Spira one that I have upstairs. I believe, or at least I thought in my dream that I was in Hawaii but it was cold and wet. Then we were all inside a large house. My sister went outside for a massage. I don’t know where she went. She was as she was when she was a young woman. I kept to myself. My friends were at a distance to me emotionally.

I’ve an early shift. A paper review. Everything must be brought forward. All done now. Just waiting for him to shave then he will take me up there. We will breakfast apart. Me from my tupperware and he in the coffee shop getting butter and jam all over his fingers, sweet love. I’ve taken him his pills and two oatcakes to have with them. I takes my ministrations willingly.

A lovely walk. My legs though full of water felt stronger today. I only saw one man, no two. The first walked behind me, the soles of his shoes clattering and then scraping against the paving stones. I’m not comfortable with people walking behind me in the dark. I walk faster. I haven’t seen the woman with the bag for life for a few days now. Our neighbour was at his window again when I returned home. I felt my heart sink and I was sorry about it.

A busy day. Let me find time to breathe.

As I walked I thought of emptiness. Is it so frightening? Must I always try to fill it? Why not try and let it be?

Cheers Now

Our neighbour is standing at his bedroom window when I return home from my walk. It is not yet 4 am. He is a night owl. He sleeps in the early hours waking in time for lunch which he has with his hundred-year-old mother around 12 pm. He is smoking. I see him as I climb the stairs at the end of the raised walkway. I have to remove my headphones from my ears. Good morning, I call, not too loudly so as not to wake the other flat dwellers. I prefer it when I don’t see him. Don’t get me wrong, I like him. He is amiable and was kind when he fell. But I prefer not talk to anybody at that time. I am in my head, my thoughts and having to make small talk is an effort. As I am sure it is for him. He asks how my walk was. I tell him it was a little breezy but at least it didn’t rain. He says that there are flood warnings in other parts of Wales, but that they seem to have missed us. I say that is it set to be fine today. And that he’s at least had his bit of sunshine (he’s just come back from Crete). Yes, he says. You’re lucky, I say as I put my hand on the door handle, see you later. Cheers, now, he says.

The water gathers in my legs. I try to find ways of combating it sleeping with my legs in two pillows in bed, whenever I am standing still I stand on one leg or clench buttocks or stand on tiptoe. It is quite a challenge, like trying to rub your tummy and pat your head at the same time. I watch it keenly. I do not recognise parts of my body anymore. Is this what getting old is? Before she died from lung cancer, the marvellous author, wit and critic Jenny Diski went from 8 stone to 11 stone due to treatment. Her body changed immeasurably. She called it her fat suit.

I know it is nothing to compared to what so many people have to endure. But sometimes I get frightened of losing control of it. Of drowning. I listen to From Our Home Correspondent to give me some perspective. So many tales of strife from Afghanistan from Costa Rica. Poor loves, I listen attentively. Their stories must be told and acknowledged.

Blue sky this morning with white tall clouds. We shall sit out later, he says. Yes.