Author Archives: Ellen Bell

About Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.


I’m not sure what the ethics are about writing about her. She is never named. She is protected. And I can’t imagine she’d ever read this. The details are true but who would recognise them? I sometimes write of our encounters because I want to remember them, to cherish them. I am fond of her. I care what happens to her, though we’ve never met. I just call her once a week to see how she is. It was a volunteer thing initially, a telephone befriending thing, but then they stopped doing it and I continued. I’m not sure what she thinks of it, really. But she is so much better. The first time I called she had to ring off because she was having a panic attack. She is sensitive to life, as indeed am I. Her arena is small, a farming village in the hills somewhere. She lives with her daughter. I don’t know her age but she doesn’t work. Not anymore, if she ever did. There was a husband but he is long gone and I think she raised her child single-handedly. We talk of inconsequential things. Her cat and her new kittens. Her health. Her daughter’s job at a school. I fell again, she told me yesterday. Oh, no. She is bruised and shocked and more and more wary of walking out on her own, which she does every morning. Her voice changes a little when she says goodbye and thank you, always thank you. Her gentle Welsh burr becomes a little posher, self-conscious as if she’s suddenly realised that she’s chattered away and reigns it in. Sometimes she gets my name wrong. It doesn’t matter. I am a mere conduit. A voice of concern, of care. My name, my life doesn’t matter. Be steady. Be steady you dear thing.

He got angry. His anger can feel terrible to me. He climbs the stairs up the kitchen to apologise. There is nothing to apologise for. I understand it is because he is scared, worried. He spat out his bile. It doesn’t matter, my love. You can trust me. I will not do anything foolish. It was the letter that started it. The letter from the hospital. They want me to have an MRI scan of my heart. It is wild-goose chase I fear. But I will succumb. Don’t do it for me, he says. Do it for yourself. Do I want to do it? Not at all. Will my head have to go in? The idea freaks me out. Like being in a tight tunnel. I must be brave.

House all cleaned and washing hung. I shall sew and think today, iron later. It is enough. No news. My breath is held my love. x


They came, the two of them and the book. The skill I wish to acquire is a daunting one to pursue. I’ve never really been trained at anything, everything I have made and done has been by trial and error, a kind of borrowed, hot-potch of things mostly using inappropriate and impossibly fragile materials. I have no recognised skill. Now I want some. I want to do things well, with finesse and then use that finesse to subvert to make small things that upend expectations. Mine mostly. For I make, write and work for myself now. I have no (or at least try to smother) any further pretensions to fame or fortune from what I do. I am content to languish in this far out place and turn inwards.

I walked out alone yesterday afternoon as he was out seeing old friends. I lay on a bench on the Coll fields in my underwear and tried to fight of sleep. I could hear the children in the primary school playground next door. Two women sat on the steps, one of them eating her lunch. A butterfly fluttered above the grass. A man walked past me, too close, as I dozed. I woke at the sound of his steps on the gravel. Had I been sufficiently covered up? I felt a little exposed alone. I’m used to him being there. A protection. A guard against the outside world. The sun was glorious. It heals me. I need some healing. I went to far. ‘Bull at a gate’ he calls me. I need to let it rest. Not do too much. So be it. This morning I can acquiesce, yesterday I couldn’t. Work times two today, so I will snatch some time preparing the samplers.


It’s today. I think of little else. Is she scared? Is she excited? It’s a massive thing that we somehow slot into our lives. A joyous one for some, shattering for others. I hope that this time is calmer for her. Keep her safe. Please.

A beautiful day for it. The sky is clear. When we drove home from Tesco’s it was pink.

He is my wise one. I needed to listen to him and I did, lying stretched out on a bench on the Coll field, my face in the sun falling in and out of sleep and all the time his voice guiding me. He is my shaman. I am blessed. I want to absorb all the love and sagacity he has to give me before he leaves me. Who knows when that will be. I think of it sometimes as I walk. When will he decide to go and how will it be? He takes such care of me and I relish and appreciate every gesture, every touch, every kind word.

I have much to do. My first coffee has been drunk. But I shall write now. That’s it. And do it because you want to, because you’ve been given this opportunity to do so. Relish it, if only for its purging.

Fiddle Faddle Fancywork

I can’t always explain my compulsion to do it. Germaine Greer asked in her article for The Guardian in 2007 why women wasted their time on it, describing it as ‘heroic pointlessness’. Why didn’t they just paint? she asks. Is this where my doubt, my discomfort about it comes from? I need to do it nevertheless. There is an inner quality to it, a domestic, interior-ness that painting doesn’t possess. I am doing it for myself, as no doubt those women throughout history have done. There is something so fundamental to it. I stand on the shoulders of those women, I sit amongst them. And yet I do not have their skills, my hands cannot do what theirs could do, almost without thinking. I want to learn. Do you hear me, I want to learn and then see where it takes me. I want to subvert too, but the skill must be gained first. Always. To that aim a parcel came yesterday. I open it and the red thread is luscious, a thick coil of it. So many new stitches to learn, my back tenses at the thought of it. Stain the linen with tea they suggest. I don’t think so.

A beautiful morning. Ah, but there was so much to do. I chase my tail most of the time. But the walk was worth it. The moon is still out casting its silvery beams and no wind, everything so quiet. A few stragglers and Chicken Lickin’ was open emitting its salty smells of roasted meat and one man slept in the shelter. How must it be to succumb to sleep en plein air with no protection from the cold, wind, rain or none-too-kind strangers? He was lost in his sleeping bag, a blue, headless form.

Ah, I’m late. Time to make coffee and get down to writing. It is hard going at the moment. I have to lift myself to reach it. Up those big stairs. I will keep at it. It will become clear where I am going. I am sure. I think.


I love what I learn from crosswords. Did you know that a Talbot was a hunting dog. Extinct now, apparently. Nice, eh?

What a lovely day it was yesterday. And I’d sunk a little in the morning. All that mizzly rain and dreary grey and yet when we got there the sun came out and we sat in it. Gorgeous. Everyone else there was about a hundred and five. Suits me. Suits him. Gentle lounging. And those silver coffee pots. As we left I saw a kitchen porter outside the back kitchen door polishing them. Silver pots on a white doilied-tray (should be linen but I’ll forgive them). Though one of the waiters left something to be denied with his, ‘well, that’s you done!’.

We did crosswords, with the woman doing the hotel puzzle (laid out on one of the desks in the ‘adult lounge’ (think of that, what a bliss, no muzak no kids)) once interjecting. It’s the only one I knew, she said. I watched her. She tutted when she tried a piece and it didn’t fit. I’ve only managed three, she said when we left to go. Me with my hand on her shoulder. I’d watched her. Her jowls, the bracelet of semi-precious stones around her wrist, the elastic-waisted jeans with her ‘pretty’ flowered-print blouse tucked in. Her eyebrows with their black tints (mannish) and the curls at the back of her head. And her husband on the sofa in the corner doing the Daily Mail crossword before throwing it down. I’m going to get my book, he said, as he hobbled towards the glass door, there are too many pop stars. Do you want anything from the room? His ankles were tiny (I have an obsession with ankles due to the fact that I’m frequently losing mine) and he wore beige socks in deck shoes. Many of the guests sat in the sun reading papers and drinking coffee. One of the waitresses, a sweet tall girl in black culottes, had the word ‘trainee’ emblazoned on her chest. She blushed when she made an error. It takes me back.

The moon was joy this morning. It lit up the Perygl and the roofs as I returned. They looked like mother-of-pearl. Nacre. It shone in my studio. A blessed silver light.

A day in which I felt something akin to joy. Thank you.

And all the way home I kept thinking about those red stitches.

Village Show

She’s an academic at the University, a reader. She’s often in the studio. A bright woman, who speaks articulately. And she bakes. Is it waffles this morning? I asked her yesterday as we parted. No, she said, I’ve baked a cake this morning and will make another this afternoon. I ask which ones. Lemon Drizzle this morning and a gingerbread this afternoon, she replies. She is trialing them for her Village Show cake competition. I don’t ask what village. I wouldn’t know it and couldn’t spell it. But I love the cosiness of it. That belonging, the making, the lovingness of it. She is a feminine woman, her hair a soft blonde foam. And she has tiny feet. Your house must smell divine, I say.

A mizzly day for my birthday. I don’t mind. We bought some lilies. I take time putting them into two vases. They are still closed, but will open soon. Two texts, an email, a card and a FB message. I am remembered, that is enough. We don’t exchange presents. We used to. Always three. It was a bit of strain, though I do love giving. But it is unnecessary there is nothing to prove. We care, that is evident daily. It is enough.

No bookings today so far. We will go then. Finally. To sit and drink tea and stare at the sea. What could be nicer?

Thank you for everything. x


A rushed morning. I didn’t want it to be but all the stuff rushes in. Not important stuff but it’s a race against time with my body at the moment. I tore a hole in my life-saver tights and am now without and the water begins to collect. I try to be sanguine, like he is. Though, like he is with his drug-induced belly, I do get low with it. My legs get so heavy and my knees rigid. Let me heal. I have an arsenal of things to try but I’m in the dark. Should I just succumb? We talk about the menopause, is this the root cause? The doctors can’t find any other reason, at least not yet. I walk with a stride. Movement seems to help perhaps I should walk twice a day or even three? But how will I fit in work.

A nice morning, gentle, a little breeze. A form was sleeping by the base of the bandstand. A form ensconced in a sleeping bag. A radio blasting out dance music was on next to it. The students are back. There are more cars along the Prom and behind Alexandra Hall and more and more bodies oozing out of Pier Pressure night club. One lad was on the ground slumped his arms gripping the railings, a trickle of water emitting from his jeans. Two of his friends were calling his name. Another two lads were calling out to their mate. Was he in the sea? Adrian, they called. Adrian, they shouted, your life is worthwhile. The girls were resplendent. One wore a sequinned sheath, shimmering gold and brown chevrons. Another was in a wide ethnic skirt with a red waistband, a pair of black suede platforms on her feet. I’m touched by the trouble they take. Did the night disappoint them?

Back from work. Archers now. Coffee. And rest.

Something Beautiful

I took me over all of a sudden when I was lying there on the salon bed and she was stripping me of all my unwanted hair (what a ridiculous process – nature doing what she does for probably all the right reasons and we wax and pluck it away – so be it). I thought how I long to make something beautiful. Something small, something for me, something so exquisite it is breathtaking. Is this desire about the object itself or the feeling it would give me about myself? Is this about pride, about a sense of self or the process of making? Everything has felt so drudge-like over these last few days, grey, shoddy, nothing that has come out of me has been worthy of note. Ah, you see it comes out now that need for congratulation, if only from myself. Can I not escape it? The desire for beauty is innate, I think. And the desire to construct it for myself lifelong. Perhaps it shouldn’t be about beauty but the necessity to be make. He was always making things, said Peter Lanyon’s son of his father on a radio documentary aired recently. Lanyon was a friend of Mark Rothko’s – imagine that. Perhaps this is just my inner workings wanting a balance. I’ve done so much thinking and writing recently that maybe my psyche wants to even it out with making. Whatever that making could be? I am not one thing. I am in constant flux with my creative life. Is that OK? I used to long to be one thing, to be defined by one medium, one metier. How lovely that would be, I thought. To know myself, to do one thing exceedingly well. But I never achieved it. I have a magpie mind or is it a butterfly one? I’ve always sought out new modes of expression. More Beuys than Rothko. I seek the immersion painters talk of. Can I have some of that? Meanwhile I shall keep writing. I need to see where it takes me. To take one another project now would be foolhardy. Wouldn’t it?


A misly morning. They are promising finer weather. May it come soon. I’m in a little of a grey fug. A late (for me) phone call from work woke me and I struggled, wrestled to get back to sleep. My writing is taking me to dark places and my reading matter of late has been grey. I had to put it down in the end. Anne Sexton wonderful poet but challenging mother, it seems. I’ve tried to lighten it on his advice and am now reading The Living of Charlotte Parker Gilman, famously the author The Yellow Wallpaper – but it appears, of so much more. She was born a hundred years before me. We have one thing in common. It’s nice to read, easy, almost chatty. The introduction was fascinating too. With one quote that stood out – “autobiography is a ‘mode of reading’ as well as a ‘mode of writing'”. That ordering again, that Marina Warner spoke of. It’s truth, it appears, is neither here nor there. We make stories of our lives all the time, after all. The writer of the intro claimed that Gilman ‘didn’t not want anyone ….to delve into her dark places’, and it seems she took little pleasure in it either. I’m with her there. I need some fun, some lightness, a gentle escape. Is any in the offing?


He said he’d bumped into her the other day. She used to be a waitress at a hotel on the Prom that we used to go into for a drink on summer evenings with his mother. The low sun would shine in through the window of the hotel bar and warm me as I sat in the window seat. The one at the far end in front of the mirror. It was a nondescript kind of hotel. It’s gone down since the owners that we knew left. He was a drinker, it killed him in the end. Daphne was like an old retainer. Not many teeth, but such a spirit. Dogged. We saw her recently, she was working in another hotel just outside of town. She must be well in her seventies by now and still on her feet. When he saw her she told him she’d had a new hip.

Rain today. I went out prepared. It was warm which was some consolation. Not many people about. A couple were walking their dog. It looked like a puppy. It pulled a little at the lead, its legs were floppy. A spaniel perhaps. Curly-haired and black. No, said the girl pulling on he lead, as I approached. The dog looked a little alarmed. You don’t like people, she said.

Marina Warner is hosting a radio programme about stories. It’s a repeat, I’ve heard it before. She is very erudite, a joy to listen to. Story writers, she said, make ‘something shapely out of the mess’. And so do I. At least that it what I endeavour to do. Though for now the mess is ever present. So be it.

I dreamt I was living in a tower block. A huge thing. I travelled up it to all the floors. It was full of creative people, painters, potters, writers and artists. They all cohabited. I walked through their rooms trying not to disturb them. It was night and they were sleeping, mostly. There were artists there that I’d written about. Painting, there, in the same building I was living in. I was in awe. Also the edifice awed me. I looked out of the window and we were above the sky, it was so tall. We were living on the ground floor and running a grocery cum convenience store. It was a little makeshift. The fridge was falling apart. We shared it with an Asian couple. They were nice and pro-active. Nothing much else happened. It was about discovery and knowing that this wealth of talent and energy lived about me.

He woke with indigestion, poor love. These small hurts assail us. Work for tonight has been cancelled. I can’t say I’m sorry though the money is always welcome. My sleep for now will be preserved. Amen to that.