Author Archives: Ellen Bell

About Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.

Dump

It had felt like ours. It had been left as it was for such a long time, undisturbed except for the occasional visit from our Chinese neighbour who wandered over there with her little son to let him paddle his wellies in the mud ponds and generally poke about with sticks, or from H who’d stride across to ‘the Dell’ with garden waste, all hail and hearty. It’s gone. That little haven of messy peace has gone. A digger has begun to flatten it. They’re to build a block of flats, apparently. So he’s bought some chairs, you know the kind – light-framed, metal with stripey covers. And we’ll try sitting in the car park instead. It’s a case of making-do. I need to get out and I need the sun. So we make do. Those of us who don’t have gardens. One day. One day I shall. Then I’ll plant sweet peas, lavender and rhubarb. I’ll grow thyme and mint and parsley. I cast seeds of cornflowers and poppies and cross my fingers that they sprout.

She absorbs me as I walk. Is she to be a modern incarnation or true to her time? Who would the book be for? How would she speak? She comes and goes, sometimes I know her sometimes I don’t. I just have to try. That’s all. Simple, isn’t it?

PUMA

It’s been there for a few days now. It’s a white slip-on sandal, a man’s shoe with the brand name PUMA written across the front band. Hasn’t anyone missed it? Our neighbour was at his window smoking when I went off for my walk this morning and asked if I or he knew the number of the top middle flat opposite. I said that I didn’t and waited to see if he would give me an explanation for his enquiry. He did, eventually. I wanted to tell them about the shoe, he said, pointing at it, as I saw it flying out of one of their windows the other day. Was it the result of a row, or a jolly jape? I asked him at breakfast but he doesn’t know the number. He’d remonstrated with them last year because they were making such a noise, but it had involved shouting at them (a few had come to the window) rather than going up to knock on their door. It’s funny how his encroaching deafness makes him less and less tolerant of noise.

A misty morning, very still, very peaceful. I go up and down with my confidence over this book idea. I like this stage in all my creative endeavours, the stage that is before my ideas leave the safety and comfort of my head and offers themselves to the critical eye and commentary of others. She, the young protagonist, begins to flesh herself out within me. I think I shall like her.

It’s been almost eight years now. It feels like a lifetime away.

Marigolds (7)

It’s like looking for the green shoots that herald the return of snowdrops after a long winter. The municipal gardeners have been out for there are new marigolds in the beds along South Marine Terrace. And Coffee# is opening today, only for take aways but it is something. Some kind of normalcy is returning. And yet, there is much that I want to hold on to. Being at home, working at home is the main one. And the peace of not having to engage too much with the outside world. Though I do miss the escaping. My dreams are full of the journeys I am not making. Last night I dreamt of M and how I was to join her and J in the christening of their new puppy. It made absolute sense in my dream. However, it involved a long journey to get there, on various modes of transport that she supplied, one was a strange Quad bike contraption with two platforms behind, the other a moped that got stuck in a waterlogged trench, which I had to drag out. We stopped alot to buy supplies (at one point after admitting that she’d also cut out bread we took a break to buy some salad cream, of which she confessed to being very fond – standing before a great row of bottles she asked me which one I’d like, none I said, they contain eggs, oh, she replied, we always have two large spoonfuls of it). I remember watching myself opening a bag of very watery and dirty iceberg lettuce and beginning to chop it up but then giving up and resealing the bag. I also looked at material, one roll of which was a deep pink muslin but already formed into seams seemingly for a ready made shirt. She also kept disappearing to go to the loo. And her flat was situated in a Hobbs store, its entrance being just a door next to the changing rooms. The store, I’d noticed before I went in was up for sale. I recognise many of the scenarios, the allusions to food and toilets and vehicles – they play out my day thoughts, though twisting them into stranger shapes. They say the people we dream off are really aspects of ourselves. Possibly. She was still M. And as lovely as ever.

His mother was OCD he said. She made him, as a child, hoover his bedroom carpet with the nozzle bit over and over again, insisting that she saw the lines in the pile.

She doesn’t live her life easily, said Peter Hall of Maria Ewing.

A good day yesterday. Was it the tea? Or Sherlock Holmes?

Feet

A crying day yesterday. It had to be. All that tightness had to find a release. And it did, outside on our tip, in the sometime sun. He knew. He always does. Saying what was already in my mind to share with him. He is tireless in his support, in his listening, in his trying to understand my fearfulness.

The dream came as a gift. I was at work, though it wasn’t really work. It was an office and C was there. I’ll try to get you some work in local radio, he said, shuffling through some papers. Kind man that he is, even in my dreams (why should he be any different?). There were other women there, secretaries mostly. I’d had to go through a safety door before being admitted, one in which a button was pressed and you had to dash through before it closed behind you. My sister was with me and she was reluctant to come through, I persuaded her. But then she was gone. Did she come in with me? Was it my sister or another side of me? Anyway, one of the women in the office started to stare at me. You’ve got the most amazing feet, she said. And then proceeded to describe what she could see in them. It was the equivalent to reading a palm. She talked about my specialness, my deep self-knowledge, and how she’d never seen anything like it. Then she seemed to grow bored, the message had been passed on and she was back to her normal distracted self. I felt I had to return the compliment or at least be friendly. And noticing a matching series of cups and flask on her desk (rather pink and gaudy) asked if she’d got them for a Christmas present. Yes, she said, bored now. Then I was trying to get out. The office had become a rather faceless hotel with terrible carpets. I asked a waitress serving breakfast where the exit was. I dunno, she said, I’m new here. I asked her colleague who gave me a long description of how I was to go up one set of stairs then down another and so on. But then I was out. And walking. I’m going to get paid anyway, I thought to myself and took off at a leisurely pace down a path, the sun shone and there was birdsong and I felt free and happy. I woke then, ten minutes before the alarm.

I write these for myself. I’m sure my dreams are of no interest to anyone but myself. It’s a good exercise nevertheless. And one day I may wish to reread them. They come back then. The words are a key. He gets flashes of old dreams sometimes, some might say it’s just deja vu. Who knows. It’s all knowledge. A step closer.

Tea now. House has been cleaned, rent paid and now it’s time to work. I feel better.

The Clock Struck Long Term

It sounded like a title for a novel or a poem. It came into my head in that time between sleep and waking. The alarm had sounded, and I’d just switched it off and then fell back into an almost sleep. The phrase came then. They make no sense those pre-waking sentences. I get them alot. Mostly they are forgotten, lost a grip of.

A blustery, blowy day. The wind seemed to be coming from all sides as I walked through the town. Things clattered and battered and seagulls were jettisoned across the sky, their whiteness soaring. Ah, now the sun makes an appearance, lovely. It is needed.

I’m tired today. A gentle day researching the babushkas, it is enough. I think about writing to her. I find it hard to let go. Is it still a friendship? We know so little of each other’s lives these days. It was such a long time ago, wasn’t it? I feel a debt to her. But I sense her interest has waned. And it hurt that time when I was due to visit and she’d either forgotten or needed, or preferred to let out the room. Shall I let it fall away? Will you guide me? I dreamt of EG last night. The biography still engrosses me, though the amount of people mentioned in it does make it a slow job. She writes in her diary of her temper and impatience. Ah, me. And then of the diary she began to trace the early life of her daughter. I felt a pang and go to her FB page just to look. They are all there. My loves. My little ones. I claim you from a distance. With love. Always.

Come and go

They do, they come and go. I often don’t know they’re gone for months. Like the two nurses opposite. I don’t know for sure that they were nurses, it was my guess based on the hours that they kept. Like me, really, they were up at all hours of the night. I can see their window, or what used to be their window, or should I say windows, from my studio. They looked like twins, both quite rounded, small and with rainbow-coloured hair. They had a two pugs. I think there were two. Mix and match. They may have been sisters or lovers perhaps or just close friends. I tried not to spy on them, and I’d discreetly turn away if I happened to catch a look and they were in their underwear. I’m just interested in the goings on of my neighbours, well a little. Like the man in the flat across from them. He with the long hair and beard. A smoker, like many of the inhabitants of these flats are. He is often out before 7 am sitting on the bench in the quad, in the sun if it’s shining, smoking and reading from a paperback, his glasses perched on his nose. I think a man, or young lad has taken over the tenancy of the ‘nurses’s place. I can see his arm through one of the windows and the other morning when I went into the studio for a match he was walking about in his kitchen bare-chested. It’s an intimacy I baulk from overseeing. It’s not for me. I turn away. I wonder where the ‘nurses’ have gone.

He sends me a video of him and his grandchild playing with a ball. Funny that desire to share such things. It is sweet but I have no connection with that part of his life. We are of the past not the present. I inadvertently deleted your message, he says. Yes. I can imagine you did. This is no two-way conversation. It never really was. I wish him well. He is still a handsome man.

I think about writing as I walk. Yesterday it was art. I am pulled this way and that. Betwixt and between. My back grows tight from the fear of doing, of failing in the doing and then in the not doing. How best to manage it? Try it? Perhaps. The sunrise was lovely, not magnificent but gentle, a trace of pink. There are more people about. A family of three walked from the beach as I went past, still in shorts and bare-foot. Bins spew out McDonalds detritus and there is a lingering smell of barbeque smoke. It’s the small things that comfort and sometimes delight me. As he does. Such kindness and care. Going off for his walk in his shorts, bag across his chest like a paper boy. I am blessed. Truly.

Washing-line

An ex-love sends a message via FB and it takes me back, what almost forty years ago. To that top-floor flat in West Kensington (just down the road from the ‘Scrubs’). My first home away from my family, shared with him. There was Esme the feral cat, the Irish ex-merchant seaman landlord who’d come up for ‘chats’ about the sea, and the little ‘balcony’ the cat and I would clamber through the window to perch in looking down onto the scrappy square below, the kitchen cabinets I painted red and the pervading reek of dirty litter tray. I loved it though, as I loved him, passionately, painfully.

A stunning morning and it was almost up when I walked. The washing was still out on a line in the back garden of one of the houses along South Marine Terrace. It had been propped up by a wooden prop and it swaying precariously but safely in the breeze. It made me happy somehow. Seeing washing drying often does. It’s the regularity of it, the domesticity.

The chinese woman in the flat around the corner, with her one son and husband (no doubt an academic at the University), tends a lovely little patio garden. Tomatoes, onions, potatoes and herbs grow marvellously from plastic washing up bowls all arranged in neat lines in the sun. Everything she buys is leant against the house wall, in the sun, vegetables (often very exotic, I thought I saw a mooli the other day), toys, children’s books, no doubt to ward off any contamination. The paving stones are often replete with chalked drawings by her son of smiling faces and spaceships. She takes such care. It warms my heart.

The hairdressers along Northgate Terrace looks like it has folded. All the window signage has been removed and a hoover is on the floor, plugged in in the middle of being used. I am sad. She tried so hard.

The Pelican Bakery seems to be holding up. It looks so welcoming as I walk past at 4.30 am. I see the blonde, ponytailed woman in there marking off orders, apron on, pencil in hand. And the smell. Long may it continue. The bread he bought from M&S still smells of yeast, what a joy.

Enough. I have work to do. Her letter was a joy. I want to get into the habit of writing more letters. Mrs Gs are a delight to share, rich with incident and detail. And our lives reflected back and shared are the better for it. Email and texts are nothing to them.

Framed

My mother and I were both involved. Both of us framed. Both victims of a frame-up. But separately. We’d eaten at a restaurant. We weren’t together. She’d gone and I’d gone on different occasions. And incriminating cash had been planted on us. Loads of it. All in notes. The money was evidence that we’d acted illegally. But we were innocent. I think it was to do with prostitution. If the money was found we would be branded as prostitutes. We knew the money was there in our things but we couldn’t get rid of it. And we needed to travel, to go somewhere and we’d be checked. The dream involved looking in cupboards, dark corners. It was about fear. Fear of the inevitable but held off, suspended. I woke before any resolution.

No rain again this morning. The sea was a gentle lapping. I thought about how else I might earn my living. I want to stop that job. The thought of returning sinks my stomach. I’ve eaten too much muesli, my gut is heavy with it. Let it be. I thought about making work to order. How would that feel? I thought about what I would like to illustrate – Lear or Peake, perhaps? Is making less anxious-making than writing? I’ve also got some ideas for a series of short stories about sewing. And I want to finish the tapestry. All these half-finished tasks. It’s unneat. She is rarely effusive when she gets the work. That’s OK. Isn’t it?

80

I walked past her house this morning and saw the shiny metallic strip stuck in her window announcing Happy Birthday. It was stuck there in front of her net curtains. I knew her from years ago when she used to waitress at The Belle Vue Hotel on the front, when we’d go in the three of us for a drink, and a meal sometimes, and to watch the sunset. She walked with a rolling gait, still does, and most of her teeth were missing. She has a lovely name that, like our next-door neighbour in Cambridge, was perhaps more fitting when she was young, vital and pretty. She’s warm. She remembers him, and his mother, more than me. I don’t think she even knows my name. There was a number 80, hand-coloured, fixed to her front door. I thought she was older. She’s always worked. Her husband must’ve died quite young. And yet her ankles get water-logged and her legs heavy. She keeps going, as so many women do. Is it more of a female thing than a male one? Perhaps. Happy Birthday (was it yesterday?) and may you have many more if you choose it to be so.

Almost finished. I am slow in writing. Is that OK?

Tired this morning. The rain unsettled me. I wanted to enjoy the sound, safe in my bed, but I thought of floods and fear and I lay there fretting. So be it.

Perfume

Do you mind if I tell you of my dreams? It helps to write them out. They are prosaic mostly. Last night it was principally about my sister, my youngest sister. I was staying with her and moving through the house. At the far end by a winding staircase were lots of babies, at least five, babies, children whom I didn’t recognise. How could I not have known she was pregnant? I asked him later, when he eventually turned up. I’d tried calling him to say that I was no longer at work but either my phone wouldn’t work or I couldn’t make it work or he wasn’t answering. My sister was tidying up, taking things out of cupboards and rearranging. She was busy, distracted, unwilling to talk. I woke in the night with a sore on my leg, the wound was open and seeping through the cotton wool and bandage I’d wrapped around it. I heard voices in the landing. My sister was still sorting out even at that late hour and had handed my other sister, who was there suddenly, a present. I felt a pang of sibling jealousy about being left out. I told her of my wound. It’s better now, she said, looking at it. It had gone, my leg was healed. She asked if I too would like some perfume, for that is what she’d given my other sister. So you have bottles of perfume that you’ve never opened? I asked. Yes, she said, unphased by my suggestion at her profligacy. The cupboard in front of her was full of sealed up, unopened bottles of perfume. She handed me one. It was a Chanel No 5, I was delighted. And then I woke up. Is the symbolism worth investigating? I miss her. I miss them both. I long for a closeness and yet I run from it too.

It rained a little, as I predicted. The earth gave up its scent to the rain. A lone police car roamed the streets. Will they stop me? No. The EG book is stuck on Mary Barton. I will read it. Has much changed? No TV or film adaptations. Strange. The same with Ruth. Is she out of favour? North and South grips us of an evening. A classy adaptation. Tim Piggot Smith is glorious. Much work to do today. I will master it, and find the words. Onwards. Tea first, I think.