Author Archives: Ellen Bell

About Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.

Hyacinths (5)

My dreams are so multi-layered at the moment. Mostly lived out in the dark, subterranean, cave-like. There was a marketplace and a table with a few remaining hyacinth bulbs for sale. Yes, I thought, that would give me some pleasure. I watched a woman chose one, breaking off a bulb from a cluster. I walked over to join her. Then David Bowie appeared at my shoulder. Let me buy one for you, he said, beginning to reach over and select one. I hand one in my hand and he took that one too. It’s a shame that they are last weeks, he said, implying that they were not quite up to scratch. He then disappeared and I remembered that he or we hadn’t paid and searched around in my purse for some coins to put in the charity box. (Is that what they are called?) The rest is lost.

A wild morning. I didn’t walk the Prom, they’d promised winds of 42 miles per hour and I don’t want to chance it. The sun shone yesterday, russets, oranges, reds and browns bedecked the trees as we drove by. The town was bustling with people, many army personnel there for the remembrance parades. We sat in the car in silence. A woman walked past talking loudly on her mobile phone. It was good to see her. My other life. I like to be with her, she lifts me, there is so much possibility when I am with her. Outside the light is lifting, somewhat, though the clouds are a murky grey. I shall write today. I don’t relish it. I have no plan. Just begin. Find my way through the dark. There is power in beginning.

She has such a sharpness to her. Just like her. I feel ticked off by it. Hammered on the head by it. Where is her softness, her yielding-ness? I wouldn’t have wanted her to do it. I want love at the end not practicality. And there are enough who love me. Yes. As I love in return.

Cat Food

She seems to keep herself to herself mostly, or so it appears whenever I am in the studio at work. She is self-contained, a tall, long, sylph-like figure who is made enigmatic in her muteness. Then, all of sudden yesterday she spoke. She was on her way out, coat on handbag in hand and I looked up to say goodbye when she stood at the door and turned round. She spoke in English, probably because she could see I was looking. There was one other person in the room and she directed her narration to both of us, though she is used to speaking Welsh to the other person. It was about cat food. She was popping out she said to get cat food. I use mountains of the stuff, she said. I think she has three cats. My mother bought some cheap stuff from Tesco’s, she said, so I thought I’d try it but it made Hank, who’s the fat, greedy one, throw up. Then I realised that the other cats weren’t eating the Tesco stuff and that Hank was eating theirs too. So he was throwing up from overeating. She laughed. So I now have to go and get their usual stuff.

I like these small insights into other people’s lives. I watch them all steadily, making up stories as I do. Do they do the same with me? I don’t know what they think of me. Some are friendly others are not. I don’t socialise with them. I say no to the Christmas Party. It is too much all that, I’ve always find it hard to be in groups. All that forced jollity. All out of context. I listened to Proust as I walked writing about how our social personas are formed by other people’s opinions of us. We have no control over this, prejudices are believed, acted on. We must bear it and try to change them, soften them by gentle degrees. Or not. For what in the end does it matter?

I watched a pale apricot-coloured food carton dancing in the wind, sliding, pirouetting across the road. On the roundabout before the station a gritter truck span round the circle twice, the sand and grit gushing out behind. A taxi joined him in the dance.

She texted me to say she may not be able to make it – though later she said she was determined. Floods and snow. Poor loves. All those mourning the loss of their safe houses. A house behind the Alexandra Hall has flashing lights in its window. First Yuletide comfort I’ve seen. More please, I need to lift this gloom.

Fingers crossed, I wrote back to her. Fingers crossed.

Threads

They get everywhere. Threads. I’ve just tried the quilt ‘so far’ on his bed. I thought I was forwarder that I am. Isn’t it often the way? Still another seven strips to go. I am so slow. How did they ever get things finished? How does anyone? My life is lived in pieces, rather like the squares of the quilt I am fashioning for him. Piecemeal. If frustrates me but I know I need to accept it and indeed cherish it. Two unexpected bookings, last night and first thing this morning. I lost sleep because of the one last night. But we need the money, and I need to keep on working. To keep normal. To keep it together. What if it is all nothing? It makes me a little weary though losing sleep, like now, bleak. I cannot care what they talk about. It doesn’t touch me. But I am home now and I want to sit with tea and sew, just to be steady. Empty. The rain pours. Poor Derbyshire. The River Derwent bursting it banks. Almost biblical someone said. My heart bleeds for them. The destruction of a home is a terrible thing. Our safety, our warmth, our comfort, our privacy, our belongings. Our belonging. There were still too rough sleepers in the shelter on the Prom this morning, and in that biting wind. Do they become inured to it? She offered to help, to pay for me to see someone privately. I am touched. I said no. It is too much. But I love to know that she is there, strong, steady. It may be nothing. And then I will feel foolish. So be it. A journey tomorrow to see a dear friend. How will that be? My fingers hurt with winter cuts. And the nail on the one that was poisoned looks soon to lift. I used to have nice hands. Age takes its toll. It must be something that needed to come out, she said. Yes. Enough for now. Tea. And the Archers.

Intimations

I keep getting these intimations of something like Christmas. Not the present-stuff or the family-obligation-hype but the sensations of warmth, of plenty, of safety, of being tucked-up, lights and candles around me and that anticipation of something like joy. That’s it, that something like joy, a throwback to an innocent-er time (for I was never truly innocent of bleakness, of darkness). It comes in unbidden, even through the mire I crawl through in the morning. That dark. I love when it comes, it sustains me. A gift. It is a gift. Unbidden, unexpected but oh, so welcome. Happy Yuletide.

Patchouli

I wanted it too much perhaps. It didn’t smell like hers. It was cheap, nasty and made my skin itch. And once it was on me I couldn’t get it off, for all my scrubbing. Throw it away, he says. No, I reply, I will return it. How like me. So pedantic, so thorough, so finicky. But it about neatness, order. Putting things right.

I can’t put it right. Not with her. It made me cry when I got in the car. I needed to get it out. So be it. They are drains, I remember her saying. Big organisations are drains. Drains not radiators. I have to let it be. To accept it with grace. There are benefits and as always I am grateful for the work.

‘She has. No. Plan.’ A quote from Vinegar Girl – a book that I’m reading by Anne Tyler. I’ve read it before, I think. No matter. It is so gentle, an ease. I read it at work. I have no plan. Just a tangle of mess. Like the state of my plan chest drawers, too many things awaiting completion and not enough time. I think about suggesting a writing residency. Would he be interested? But, more to the point how would I fund it and where would I find the energy? That is my greatest fear, this draining away of energy. My physical life, my vital life is ebbing away from me. I feel it.

Ah, the day has lifted somewhat. And soon I have to go out again to work.

She is a sweetie. I get her talk about herself. I like to hear it. About her Dad, missing her Mum at Christmas, (‘she meant the world to me’), going to Chepstow in the motor home, just her and Wayne and their dog. Her Dad being so taciturn, the home-truths that came out with her sisters when they went to watch the rugby and had too much wine. She’s all teeth and hair. A sweetie. Another world. So much love, so much trying to be happy. Bless her. Bless all of you. Amen to that. And the grief. Will it ever ease?

6 months

The hotel was busy, busy than we’d expected. People came in and out of the adult’s lounge, many of them to sit down in front of the communal jigsaw which was almost finished, to attempt to add another piece. A man in a pair of red corduroys was the most interested, even looking over the shoulder of another resident who sat before it an hour or so later. It was a chocolate-boxy image, but the remaining pieces to be found were all representing some kind of berry-bush. Do you think some might have fallen on the floor? the red-trousered man asked another woman, as he bent over to look under the table. The same man joined a group of about five people eventually who took over two tables at the other end of the room from us. It was pleasant to hear their chatter. Clearly well-heeled, they were planning where to go for lunch the next day. The red-trousered man elected himself drinks monitor and kept coming back and forth carrying large glasses of red wine and G&Ts. A bridge table was laid out ready, though no one took notice of it. What bliss. What bliss it is to step into another kind of life and to not matter, to not be noticed or interfered with. We did crosswords, as is our wont and drank tea (too much in my case) and wasted time staring at the view of the sea and the golf course. He tried the number again while we were there. The second time someone answered. Six months, they said. It will be sixth months before an appointment for the MRI comes available. He thought it would be imminent. Has it helped to know this? Somewhat. It’s real. It’s how it is. Nothing till April. We have to wait. I can wait. There is life to be getting on with after all.

South Beach was a state. Or at least the Prom alongside it was. The bins overflowing. There must have been parties, Guy Fawkes night parties. There was a sign at the hotel advertising a firework display with the proviso that it could be watched ‘safely’ from inside the lounge. Ideal. My favourite. Who needs the cold, the wet and the wind? We heard them last night. Bang bang but I still slept.

The tea made me crotchety. Is that all? I heard myself saying to the waitress when she brought my salad. It was a pathetic attempt at one. A tiny pile of leaves and an assortment of tomatoes and horrid green olives. But I shouldn’t have said it like that. I was hungry and cross. I always am when I have to eat other people’s food. It is rarely palatable. What a fuss-pot. I never used to be. I think about food all the time, not because I want to eat necessarily but because I need to control what I consume. She talked about my appetite, he does too. Do I have such a huge one? I try to manage it, it scares me. Curb, curb. I have to let it be as he has to let the insomnia be. Accept and it will either pass or lessen. I think. Nevertheless, it was a lovely day and the landscape looked superb in its autumn colours. What a joy that was.

Wanderers

It is his birthday today. Seventy-two years old. Happy birthday my lovely love. We are going out for lunch. Though the food is not what it is about but sitting drinking tea in the adult’s lounge with the residents sleeping around us. And the view. And the drive. And the getting away.

He was loping ahead of me as I walked. A shuffling figure. He is one of a few of this town’s wanderers, a tramp, a hobo, a vagrant – like the other man who rifles through the dustbins, they are the un-cared for, the overlooked. I crossed the road. I was ashamed but I didn’t want to disturb him. He is lost in his own head. Does he eat? Does he sleep? He wanders night and day it seems. Do they know of him, the authorities? Does anyone take care of him? He looks like Rip van Winkle with a beard down to his crutch. Sometimes his shoes look new. How did it happen? From where and how did he fall? I am sorry. I am sorry for everybody’s misery. Truly.

The red light was shining on the war memorial again. A November gesture, I think. Blood-red, poppy-red.

He woke for a pee just before I went out. The smell of his Old Spice deodorant is always a comfort to me. One of my perfumes is running out and I’ve a hankering for some Patchouli scent. Will it overpower me?

It rained a little as I walked. It never rains on my birthday, he always says.

Keep on the pavement, reads a paper sign sellotaped to a lamppost on the Prom.

My dreams continue murky, multi-layered, tiring, dark. A waiter at the end of the night sitting with us at our table and refusing to get me a coffee. Climbing some stairs in this emporia – designer stairs, black slats – to look at some designs and two elderly, elegant women following behind me talking.

Caught Amanda Palmer talking about crowdfunding and compassion on TED interview and then a series of women discussing OWCH – a community for women where they share a communal space but have their own flats. Sounds nice. Will I ever get my home? A pipe dream. Will I live long enough to find my island? What is it about islands? I listen to Robert Barr’s marvellously dated Dark Island and fantasise. And yet I know how hard it would be. All that darkness inside and out. Coffee now and then fly.

Passports and Fire Eaters

It woke me. I’d slept right through and my alarm was due to go off. It wasn’t a nightmare, as such. More something that unsettled me. I’m glad I woke from it. It wouldn’t have had a good ending. I’d travelled to Norway with him. He was going there on his own and I’d gone with him for company. It was only when we’d arrived at the airport (which looked more like a train station) that I’d realised that no one had asked to see my ticket or indeed my passport for I had neither with me. It’s funny I remember saying to him in the dream that I thought him intrepid for going alone and yet I’d gone with him. My intention was to return home straight away and headed towards the departures – which involved crossing an open square full of pigeons – and then down an iron staircase. I watched him walk away from me into the pigeons and as he did the birds and he just flew away. It was then that I realised that I had no ticket or documentation. I began to rifle through my bag. Perhaps I had my passport after all. But no, there were passports but they were hers and others, childrens’ mostly – for they’d drawn on and etched out the purple front covers. I also realised that I had no money. I just stood there rooted to the spot. What to do? I went through the inevitable, the questioning, the suspicions, the interrogations, the eventual deportation. Could I call on my friends for help? I felt the loss of him but the practicalities of my situation dominated. I felt so foolish. And yet, I was calm, sanguine even. I’d been carried away by wanting to make his journey smoother that I’d forgotten to put things in place to ensure my safe passage home. There had also been a scenario where he and I had looked at coats, he’d brought some coats from his past, one was a woman’s coat, a green suede with a nipped in waist. I didn’t recognise these clothes and far as I was concerned it was just more baggage for us to carry. And there was so much baggage as it was, nothing in suitcases, just loose clothes. I was weighed down by it.

I woke unsettled and I’ve been wobbly ever since. Walk done, breakfast done, and shopping done nevertheless and my admin and an hour of Norwegian. God, I find it hard learning a language, I feel so slow, so clumsy, so awkward with my mouth. I wish there were classes somewhere. She is a sweetie but won’t she get so dreadfully bored listening to me read? Ugh, it takes me back to Primary School days where I followed the words on the page with my finger, not knowing them, trying to decipher their meaning.

A huge lorry drove ahead of me down Llanbadarn Road. Then without warning it switched on an array of red lights that lit up the back of the engine – it had no trailer. I could just make out the signage on the back – In Health, it read, Medical Unit. Was it going to the hospital? The red lights in the pitch black was friendly somehow like the white bulbs in the lit arrow in the junk shop on Northgate Street that I saw on my way home. I stopped in front of the window, wanting it. Wanting the white light. Now.

The girl with the purple hair was at the till this morning. And lo and behold she is a fire eater in her real life. She and her husband. It makes sense that there is something larger to her. We talked about how you don’t swallow the paraffin and how sometimes your lips get burnt. Sometimes I’ve seen fire eaters practicing on the beach at night when I walk. It is a magnificent sight. Isn’t life rich?

Completed

When I woke I started to harangue myself. I haven’t done that for a while. You know, it was the usual thing – what am I doing with my life, I’ve lost all motivation, direction, ambition etc. – that sort of thing. But this time I didn’t drown myself in it. A sensible voice came through, straightening out the strands of panic, of self-doubt, of self-loathing. One thing at a time, it said. You are waiting to see what will come. You are biding our time. Waiting. Watching the wheels go round. Your writing continues. Some paid, some personal. And you’ve just had a break, that’s all, from the personal stuff because it got so heavy, so bleak. You will return to it soon. And the professional writing does satisfy you somewhat – it is good, it is good to write of others’ work when your own is not yet formed. It is done lovingly, it is movement, it is something, it is something to send out there from this waiting room. And then there is the sewing. You have much you wish to complete, to learn, to master. And the ones that you are doing for her. Well, that is worth something. It is you way of articulating what you feel. They are acts of love. Every stitch, each one. All of them. They say what you cannot. That is worthy work. Always. And the rest, like your writing will come, slowly, but it will come. Wait. Just wait. Bide your time. Watching.

He needs others to complete him. I do not. That is the difference. And therefore, I need to be mindful of this, to support him in his panic. When it rises once more. As it will until this unknowing is over. Other people’s families, his mother, me. We all closed the circle for him.

Some people were sending off fireworks from Constitution Hill as I walked this morning. I heard the noise, the banging, their voices and as I turned I saw a green flash, like a flare. Might they rain down sparks upon me as I kick the bar? A deflated red shiny helium balloon lay in a puddle outside Pier Pressure Nightclub. The parties are over for now. The sky is clearing after all that rain. He slept OK again last night. I am glad. Grateful, even. A gentle day today. Stories and sewing and coffee.

Sulphurous

The sea smelt odd as I walked. I couldn’t at first put my finger on what the smell was. Then I got it. Bad eggs, sulphur, sulphurous. Was it coming from the water? Had something been churned up. We associate what we consider bad smells with something dangerous, something to be avoided, maybe even poisonous. But I am not so sure. It smelt like brimstone. Something agitated in a portentous way. The weather has turned. The wind was strong, carrying the stink further. The smell of baking bread softened my nose. How comforting that is. I think of the approach of Bonfire Night, his birthday and the repository of so many childhood memories – encapsulated in tastes and smells, at least for me. Oh, and the discomfort of standing in the rain, usually, the back of me wet and the front dry and hot from the bonfire. The tastes? Well, baked potatoes wrapped in tin foil and cooked in the base of the bonfire, Lancashire Hot Pot and beetroot, treacle toffee (which I thought so adult, so grown up as the treacle got in the back of my throat) and parkin. Gorgeous, gooey, malleable parkin. And then there were the sparklers, and the marks they left behind momentarily in the ether. And that smell of them too. Like sulphur too, like a spent match. Gunpowder, a smidgen. Wonderful. The fireworks I preferred watching from the warmth of home, behind glass. Will we see any this year?

More dressed-up ghouls and ghostesses in town. The last of the Halloween celebrations. They are growing tired of it now, I think. The pavements were shiny with rain. Phrases stay in my head from the music I listened to as I walked (a ploy to stop my mind dwelling on the discomfort of my toes) – Joni Mitchell and ‘a warm arrangement’ and then John Lennon ‘sitting here doing time’. All this admin stuff to do before I get down to the nub of the day – sewing. I’ve much to do. And much to listen to. He slept better. My poor love. Trust. All will be well.