Author Archives: Ellen Bell

About Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.

Business as Usual

There is an estate agent’s sign on the wall of The Shoreline guest house on South Marine Terrace. It doesn’t say if it is for sale or not just that it is Business as Usual. Business as usual, everything carrying on regardless. Gwesty Cymru, as far as I know is still for sale and has been for a couple of years now. How long does it take to sell an hotel or a B&B? Are there that many people on the look out for them? I’ve only seen the No Vacancies sign in the Shoreline’s window once this year and not at all at the Yr Hafod B&B at the end of the terrace. Making a living must be tough. Isn’t it tough for most of us? I thought about abundance as I walked this morning, and how to afford a trip to London to see a friend, and how, if we didn’t go to explain that there isn’t the funds. And then I saw it on the ground. A piece of paper with brown markings and shiny metal circle. A ten pound note. It was lying on a cellar grid. Someone had clearly lost it from their pocket. I picked it up, folded it and place it in my pocket. I felt uncomfortable, someone else owned it and was probably looking forward to spending it. So I gave it to him. It can go towards my haircut, he said.

I’m back in Tess Lohan’s world. It is a beautiful book. The sentences are short, spare. Almost of list of things, of sensations, they are treated discretely, separated. Each with its own integrity.

I always have a frisson of dread before I begin writing. Do I really want to go back there, to be in that world, do I really want to struggle once more with creating something from scratch? Wouldn’t I rather tread water and do something humdrum? And yet, when I’m in it it takes me over, then it is my world, my work, it is truly.

The wind has died down and no proper rain just yet. A lovely walk if a little hot. I took my MP3 player and walked to a reading of  Mary Oliver’s The Wild Geese, and the playing of The Verve’s Bittersweet Symphony, Joni Mitchell, Teach Yourself Norwegian, Boz Scaggs and James Morrison.

The moon was as full as my heart.

I need to climb into the story, to be it. To tell the truth of it as I see it, for it is mine.

Children Playing

I watch them from our upstairs window. It looks down onto their driveway and corner of their back garden. There are three of them, Elephant and her two elder siblings, two girls and a boy. They are all primary school age. Elephant can’t be more than 4 or 5. They play out on the drive or on the grass. There is often a rug laid out on the grass for them. Sometimes they are out on their bikes and when they are bored of these they just drop them on the ground where they lie undisturbed, sometimes for hours. They have a trampoline in the front garden and various cages, no doubt with rabbits and guinea pigs. There is also a family dog, a chocolate Labrador that I saw tied on a leash to the fence. It kept them company while they played, it’s head on its paws. It reminds me of my childhood, watching them. I am watching myself. We played like that. We had dens in the ditches of our fields, in the haybarn. We walked through long grass. We played for hours. The summer felt eternal. The boy will sometimes play on his own, talking to himself, hitting a stick against things. Sometimes I’ve seen him dance. They seem to have an idyllic time. They do as they choose. They are loved. They are free to express themselves. Sometimes I have seen Elephant go to school in fancy dress.

Snail and slug trails glistened on the night-dark pavements this morning. Silvery paths of shining slime. Quite beautiful.

The rigging of the boats in the harbour created a chorus of clanging in the wind. Eerie sounds whistling and wailing, clanking and clinking.

Still tense but I have moments of ease. I just need to yield, to let it be. Que sera, he said, as Doris Day said.

Anxious

My back is taut with it. My worst fears realised. It is a small thing, but to me it is massive. Such are phobias I suppose. And needs. And the fixing of needs onto things. It has all be up-ended, too much change. Small things to anyone else but to me huge. I need to go through it all, make sense of it for myself and breathe. Breathe through it. It is the not understanding. It has always been so. A white sky, empty. I will come through this. This tiny thing, this huge thing and be stronger, more steady. He is kind. Always. I am shrinking.

Adrenaline

My back was rigid with anxiety as I walked. I tried to breathe it out. It makes me tired. I am fighting what is. I am fighting change. It feels chaotic as if the world has been upturned. It is nothing and everything. My arms fizz with it as it begins to subside. I need to let it go. To let it happen and see, to watch myself come out the other side, unscathed. Surviving. It’s a false use of adrenaline. My body is being hood-winked into thinking it needs be alert, that danger is round the corner when it isn’t.

I was walking down South Road, feeling less weary, feeling the power, and indeed pleasure of my stride and thinking about Robert McFarlane’s book Old Ways, that I’ve yet to finish but which I returned to the library cause it was due. And then it happened. A true, a genuine rush of adrenaline. My body surged with it. Is that what taking heroin feels like? I’d been lost in my thoughts when a door had opened just by me, the suction of air from its opening catching me in my face and then there had been a man’s voice. I’d been so taken unawares that all I could do was keep walking, moving. The jolt of it, that split second of fear was amazing. My body came alive, alert and alive.

A gentler morning. Few were around, the clubs were shut, as was ‘Chicken Lickin”.

A nice radio doc this morning about Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library where she sends disadvantaged children a free book a month to encourage better literacy. Its been taken up in Rotherham too. I’d love to get a flat there, Dolly said, to hide-out. Who’s she? asked one of her kids. One of her biographers talked about her need for attention. A bit harsh, but in the end if it does some good – who cares about the motives. We love getting them in the post, said one girl. That’s it, isn’t it? That personal touch, never mind DP’s signature and butterfly motif, it’s the present coming through the post. Real matter, something to unwrap and discover. Nothing nicer. Long live Royal Mail (though may it become a better employer).

I wake to voices, often. This morning, I think it was a woman’s voice (it sounded like ‘Trixie’ (aka Helen George from Midwife) or it could’ve been his. It said: ‘I’m letting them go, sweetie, the spiders.’

Gooseberries (2)

I don’t know why I am so unsettled. Is it just the prospect of my laptop having to have a complete overhaul and possibly loose all my precious links or is it something else? As I walk I try to talk myself into a semblance of calm for I know that none of these things matter, not really. I reach the Perygyl and look up at the stars in the sky and they, it is magnificent, so big, so utterly beyond my conception. I want to let it all go. To let go my tight hold on it all. It is fear, fear of something nameless. I write to get to the bottom of it. And yet, sitting here in my studio waiting till I can wake him and we can drive to work with Radio 3 on and a cup of licorice tea by my side and my laptop still working, at least for now, all is peaceful. Perhaps it is the onset of autumn? It smelt like autumn this morning as I walked. There was the slight damp odour of rain-soaked earth and dead leaves are beginning to gather on pavements. Would that be so bad? Autumn can be beautiful. I am alive. I am relatively well. I have work to do, and whether it is significant or important to the outside world, is neither here nor there, it is important to me. That is enough. I am trying to live as best as I can with the least damage to the planet and my fellow man. I try to be kind, to do what I can to smooth his passage through this life. It is a small life, smaller than I’d pictured for myself but my interior life is huge, boundless, beautiful. I am ready to go inward, to become quiet. I will not fight it anymore. I am happy to be small.

And I did write yesterday. I managed it. I wrote well. Tennessee Williams apparently wrote for 8 hours a day. I can manage about 3 hours, 4 if it is going well. It is enough for me. Else I end up undoing.

Work soon. Then shopping and domestic things before I can be back here and working. I dreamt I was with H. and we were in London. I love to be in London, I told her as we walked up an open staircase in a grand Metropolitan hotel. The bannisters I noticed were made out to look like railway lines and that they were moving, vibrating, shifting. I was struggling to keep my balance as I talked to her. Can I come to stay? she asked. Of course, I said, realising that I must have a flat in London, but he is here at the moment so not now. Another time. An anxiety dream. So many people I have yet to see this year. For the time being I want to be here, home, working, keeping still.

Blackberries

The blackberries on the bramble bush down the lane towards the ‘coll’ field will be ripe soon. I want to pick some for my breakfast, they taste of childhood, of warm late August days before the return to school, so different from the shop bought ones. He thinks others will get there first. Really? Do people still go blackberry picking? How nice.

The flat smells of fried butter, just like it does when I make him pancakes. It was croque monsieur last night. The fire alarm went off in the early hours in the block opposite. I could see them all out there in their smalls, in the rain, waiting for the clamour to die down. Did someone burn the toast? Were they cross?

I dreamt during my afternoon nap that we were both sitting upstairs having supper. In my dream I told myself that this was a dream and that I was really downstairs lying next to him. I made myself return to my body and woke up.

The wind was wild. The flagpoles along the Prom leant and bent with it. The noise down by the harbour was almost mythical. A screaming through the hollows, a rattling of rigging and bashing of boats against buffers. It jars, it stirs one up, making one edgy and nervous. And yet it is also quite magnificent. The sea was alive with it. Back in town a lad slept outside Wetherspoons Free House. A police car flashing blue overtook a car on Mill Street who had pulled in to let him pass.

I am tense about writing. I make too much of my fears. Just do it. Just write it. Get it down. Simple. A thousand a day. That’s all.  

Snogging

They were standing outside the Pier Pressure nightclub. She was pressing his body against the wooden fascia of the Ice Cream Parlour, a lit cigarette in her right hand as she did so. They were kissing hard, their faces pushed up close, hungry, urgent. As I walked passed they must have pulled away from each other for I heard him say something. His voice was casual, talking as if to an acquaintance, or someone he had just met. There was no intimacy, no secret code. A stealing.

It wasn’t what they promised. The wind was not so strong. I walked my usual walk. And even the rain didn’t come.

Most of my domestic work is done. Good

I think we have found someone to help. I need to accept what is. I’d like to keep it a little longer but if it is too old, then so be it. Let the abundance come to cover it. For all is stagnant for now. No work. Just this. And this is enough. I think. I worry over it. Is it worthy of my time? Is it well written enough? I’m learning, I told myself as I walked, I’m learning to write. Let that be enough. That is project enough for a life. A life time, I think.

Empty Room

I’m discombobulated. My laptop still hasn’t been fixed and the alternative of having it’s precious memory, my memory, swiped clean appalls me. It would be like a lobotomy. All that history. It spent a night away from me (is this how people feel about their phones?) and I longed to bring it home. He went for it early this morning, bless him my absolute love. It was away and I couldn’t write. I suppose I could’ve written it by hand but I’m used to this way, used to watching the words play out before me. And my other writing, I need the daily purge now. So I sewed instead and got little solace though the listening proved inspirational, namely a radio adaptation of Lahr’s biography of Tennessee Williams. I remember doing some ideas for one of his plays at Wimbledon, I think it was the ‘Milk Train’, marvellous, even to a very naïve eighteen-year-old. Dare I admit to an affiliation with writers these days, it is presumptive?  I see my failings all to clearly but I am trying. That is all I can do. On Williams’ writing, Lahr writes: ‘His mess was (now) outside him’. And when he had writer’s block in Italy, ‘he had fallen under the moon of pause.’ Isn’t that stunning? But no, writing isn’t meant to be beautiful. I try to ape Camus. Just tell the story, simply. I’m rambling. Too much tea and a longing to do this.

The empty room in the flat opposite was still lit. Someone had forgotten to switch off the light, clearly. An empty room and the emptiness of my desk this morning. The room offers possibilities the desk, as it is, none. I love the clarity of empty rooms. I could dance in there.

The rain was torrential this morning. Downpipes gushed water, rattling with the force of it. A coastguard boat was out at sea, its green light a beacon of something like hope. A broken umbrella left on the street. The smell of someone’s perfume, a cloud of it, hanging as I walk through it. A trace a memory of a presence.

The smell of him was too much. A wall of garlic. He’s a kind man. He talks fast, a rushing of stuff. We both were overwhelmed by it. He couldn’t mend it. I am stressed. I cannot see how to solve it. We were both wearied by it yesterday. Can’t you support me in this? I asked. He was tired, and worried about offending him. This morning he is charged. I will sort it, he says. Leave it to me. Gladly, my love. Gladly.

Hopper’s Windows

A light had been left on in one of the ground flats opposite. An oblong of yellow against the black of night. Across the quad two of the upper floor windows are also lit up. It is the flat of the man we assume is a PhD student. He is awake at all hours and will come out, his hood over his head, and smoke by the path, reading his phone as he does. I love seeing lit windows in the dark. A Hopper-esque scene, that custard yellow against black. It is a comfort to us night-time wanderers, not just the warmth of the light but the idea that someone else is awake. Lit windows dot the town. Student-living, no strict pattern, no strict code.

We talked till late last night, well, late for us. I hope I have eased his worry. I will be kind. I am not in this alone. Of course it matters to him and it distresses me to think he has been concerned. And that letter in his bottom drawer. I haven’t been kind. But I cannot always explain it. My feelings are not logical. It swirls around. All this change. And yet this need to control. Control the impossible. The impossible that will not be controlled.

He is coming to mend it today. Well not mend but put right. It makes me nervous. This is my communication tool. I need it to remain steady, trustworthy and true. But he is a kind man. Shoes off and licorice tea.

Another appointment with the nurse. More blood. Oh, you’ve got good veins, they always say. He used the word modest in the letter. A slight aberration of the heart. Will it take me? They’ve all said that I will live long. And she said there is nothing wrong with my heart. Who speaks true? It was horrid to read about myself being described like that. I am odd, no question. A little mad, perhaps? No, he said, I prefer your word, singular.

Love, need, fear of loss makes him angry. Doctors, female doctors in particular get his goat. They’re always away on fucking holiday, he says. I am shaken sometimes by the fierceness of his concern for me. You saved me, he said. Did I? I am small thing, a fleck. I love him too. But it isn’t a raging love, like his can be sometimes. I hope he knows how much I cherish him, nevertheless.

No sun yet.

Spleen

She completely overwhelmed me. I hadn’t thought this would be the case. You don’t have to do all she says, he said to me as he left this morning. No, I know I don’t, but it was sensible advice. I know this. And I trusted her. But I get so stuck in my ways. I am so stuck in my ways that change is a stress in itself. All those things I am supposed to excise from my diet, good things. Spinach, grapefruit, sunflower seeds, yoghurt, cabbage – what will I replace them with? I could look on this as an adventure, a way of trying new foods but it unsettles me terribly. And there are all the other actions she wanted me to take like body brushing and wrapping a compress of castor oil around my liver and my darling, weakened, sorry little spleen. All good sense. All perfectly valid but where do I find the time? And she also wanted me to take a sleep at between 9-10 am. I need to breathe and approach all this calmly and methodically. One thing at time. The Bach Flower remedies I can do, and the other tincture and the drinking of 2 litres of water a day. That too. But the changing of all my skin and hair care products to non petrochemical ones, that’s going to be quite a shift. Let alone the expense. Bit by bit. Breathe. Keep breathing.

It’s my spleen she said and my small intestine. They are depleted, under par. I know this. They need some nurturing. So be it.

I feel unsettled, shifted. And my laptop needs some attention. He is coming tomorrow to help. Shoes off and licorice tea. A nice man. But I do struggle with strangers coming into my space.

I keep writing, sometimes it is all I can do.

We had a long discussion about Christian Scientists. He got heated. I tried to see both sides, and wound him up in the process. And I get it, some of it. We are not just a body, and our soul, our precious marvellous souls do get forgotten.

I send out feelers for work and nothing comes back. So be it. I am meant to be here writing. So take the chance and do it. You will feel better for the purging.

No rain this morning. And no barking dogs. Just wind and a majestic sea.