Ellen Bell

November 19, 2017

I watch the man walking ahead of me on the Prom. He is wearing a suit and has his hands in his pockets. It looks like he’s just left the Marine Hotel. Through the windows I saw the bar staff cleaning the tables. There must have been a wedding. The man walks with a slight lean. Just beyond JD’s Diner, he turns.

Are you following me? he asks.

No, I reply. You can put your mind at rest.

He pauses to think and then asks,You, OK?

Yes, thanks, I’m fine, I reply, increasing my speed.

Where’re you from? he calls after me. You from Aber?

Yes, I say to myself, leaving him far behind.

I didn’t want to talk. I never do, not when I’m walking, in fact hardly ever. I want my solitude. I pass through the din of students, of late night carousers. I am just a presence, that’s all, an observer. Mostly I’m invisible to the young, those bare-legged, mini-skirted girls and the brash young men, coatless and reeling. Today there were even people walking their dogs on the beach. I saw two dogs at least and then another along South Road. A strange time to do it, but then who am I to talk? I walked behind a couple along South Marine. Is this your usual route? he was saying to her. No, she replied, I usually walk by the Castle and sit for a bit. They were stiff, formal with each other. Was it a date? Had he offered to walk her home? She wore a tiny skirt over thick, straight-down legs. He was bearded and had on a red, hooded sweatshirt. There was no chemistry between them, no flirting. He was gauche, she sounded bored.

I listen to it most Saturdays. The writing is moving, enlightening. We are not supposed to say good. I like the stories. Real stories. Real lives. I used to listen to it in Bath, but sometimes I had to turn it off. It was too much, rather like being a Samaritans, sometimes I just didn’t want the knowing. One of the pieces on From Our Own Correspondence yesterday was from Myanmar. He began the broadcast by saying that he’d experienced some pretty dire things, but this was the worst. It was the way she described what had happened to her in such forensic detail, he explained. A woman from a small Muslim sect who are persecuted by the Burmese soldiers. They threw her baby in a fire, they bludgeoned her two sons to death, then raped her and left her for dead. She survived, as did her daughter. It is beyond comprehension. The people of this sect are seen as nothing, he said. Non people. I cannot take in such terror, such pain. How can you recover? How can she recover? He talked of the seeming indifference of the woman who now rules Myanmar. That holder of the Nobel Peace Prize. She is under the thrall of the army, he said at dinner, she is powerless. Is she? I’ve heard many journalists on FOOC dispute this. What do I know? Nothing. I thought of the Muslim woman, as I thought of the family who have just heard that that girl, Gaia’s body, has been found. Our bird has flown, said her cousin on the news bulletin. Rest in peace.

A testing day yesterday. I can see the piece in my mind, so clearly, but how to get there? I feel so foolish when it goes wrong, though I understand that that is the learning. I know where I have to go next. Something has come from it. It is enough for now. And it is nothing in comparison. I am so blessed.

As I walk I think about his death. I can’t help it. I need to explore it. Solve it. Which, of course, I cannot. I think about how I would survive. Deal with the practicalities. Get a job. What would I do? I think about being a housemistress. I thought of applying to a few posts before I went to Norway. I remember my own housemistresses. Their names have long gone. I recall the first one. Rake thin, an ex-opera singer with a scar at her throat from an operation that halted the singing. An elegant, woman, cold and frankly terrified of our high spirits. Girls, she’d call in her rasping voice, girls, calm down. And the other one, the one that followed. A gentler, rounder lady. Soft and kind. You’re one of my favourites, she’d say. Boarding school doesn’t suit everyone, she’d say, but it does you. She’d make me cocoa in her sitting room. When I started to see ghosts they moved me. I lost her then. As I’ve lost so many.

The question is can we still love? Can we, amidst all the terror? It must be so. Yes.

Magpie

It was almost instantaneous. I’d emailed them just ten, fifteen minutes before and then someone called. And they said yes. I couldn’t believe it. I even said that to them. I’m flabbergasted. Of course, then comes the worry of making it into something I need or want it to be. Will I be able to take photographs? When do I ask them? One thing at a time. I’m excited about the realness of it. The opportunity to encounter real people, even if they are afflicted. Can I make a difference, make an impact? I just want to be a benign presence, I wrote in the email, a calming influence. Is this just pie-in-the-sky stuff? Can art really do this? We shall just have to see. I’ve learnt to lower expectations, but also to keep my mind open to other, unexpected, unlooked for wonders. They always come. As to what I shall sew, I don’t know. Maybe begin with Proust. One step, Ellen. One step then another. Slow. And breathe.

I dream about food. Is it because I’m hungry or is it a waking anxiety that carries into my dream state? I often actually eat in my dream, though I rarely taste it. Last night it was some kind of plastic wrapped gluten-free bar or cake. I cannot remember what it tasted like, or its texture. Often I’m in a restaurant trying to decide what to choose, or they have nothing I wish to eat. Is it about choice, a choice of nourishment. Is it about creative or soulful nourishment? There had been a clue in the ‘i’ crossword to do with the ovine (I think that was the word) part of a plant. The answer was seed, but we talked about ovine coming from ova=egg. I dreamt of eggs. A great mass of them. Germaine Greer was with me, along with several other women. Most were gay. I think this was something to do with how disturbed I’ve felt over the allegations about Kevin Spacey. I have loved watching him on screen. All is tainted now. It cannot help but be so. His image has turned ugly. Anyway, in the dream I was advising them on how to be discrete about their sexuality in public, arousing much laughter. But back to the eggs. Greer was in turn explaining to me and another woman how to get food. The eggs were the result of some little trick she’d used. I brought her more. No, not now, she said, save those for later. Are the eggs my ideas, my not-yet-born projects? Clearly, Greer, whom I have dreamed of many times, is the wise woman, my counsel. (I saw her speak at the Royal Exchange in Manchester. She was eloquent, funny, self-effacing and utterly charming. Then I saw her at the framers I used to go to in Cambridge. I was too in awe to do more than smile.)

I sent off two other emails too. I’ve been putting it off, waiting for courage. But I need to get things in motion, make them real. We shall see. Sometimes people reply, other times there is that long, forever silence. Editors can be like that. I try to stop myself pestering them. I want to know, want to plan. It is out of my hands, mostly. Let it be. What is for me will come.

More wind this morning then they promised, me and my umbrella gave up, gave in and got wet. It blew at two plastic beakers lying on the Prom. They rattled and rolled. And further along a paper plate fluttered up before sinking down flat on the pavement.

A magpie’s call when I got back home after my walk. I rarely hear them at that early hour. It’s more of a clatter, than a call. Clack, clack. Harsh, rasping. This is no song bird. I start to hear the slightly tinny song of the blue tit now. No robins, as yet. They will come. The leaves have all gone from the trees outside my bedroom window. Yes, he said, but look at the buds. Can you see them? Yes.

Someone else’s clothes

I asked her about her Dad. She told me the same story she’d told him last week, the one about him telling her that her grandfather was upstairs and she’d better pull her fucking finger out. He’s in hospital now, the home couldn’t keep him as he needs three people to get to him dressed. He’s waiting. Bed-blocking, she said. Waiting till someone in the home in Welshpool dies. There’s two in the list ahead of him, she said. The stories make her laugh. She needs to tell them. They were so understaffed in the home, she said, that they had to put him in other people’s clothes. They didn’t have time to sort his own out. I do understand, she said, but he was such a fastidious man, hardly ever wore casual clothes. Polo jumpers, but that was about all. Engelbert Humperdinck on the radio talking about his wife’s Alzheimer’s. You think stars are exempt from such tragedy, such falling apart. I ask how her mother is taking it. She’s grieving, she said. She’s lost him. He has no stimulus in the hospital, she continued, no telly, no radio, nothing. He just stares into space. And he’s lost his spacial awareness, she said. He has one of those feeder cups and he keeps missing his mouth. He used to be a business man, a noise about town. It’s come to this. As it did with him, and with him. Clever men, astute men, men of power and influence, reduced to baby hood. She described a kind of sensory plaything that he’s been given, a ‘twiddle-muff’, I think she called it. He plays with it all day long, he loves to fiddle with the buttons. It is so unbelievably sad.

Radio 4 Extra seem to have things on a loop so that some of the plays and fiction pieces are now being repeated. Geoffrey Household’s Rogue Male is on again. I remember listening to it in our last flat, working at the kitchen table as I had to do then. I love the writing. It is sparse, cool, cold even. But it is more the description of his survival. He keeps going, relying utterly on his own resources. So little detail. No name, no real sense of place, just the ditches he hides in. Calmly practical. A fantasy of course, unless you are Bear Grylls, though I suppose even he must have an Achilles’ heel. Mustn’t he? I only know him by reputation, so I cannot say.

Tuesday night and Radio 3 play a Choral Evensong live from some church or other. It is sublime. I think of Bath Abbey and feel a pang. It calms me. Church music, and the services calm me, though this last one was a Catholic one so it felt unfamiliar. I remember Mrs Eglin babysitting us and singing to all the hymns on Songs of Praise. She knew them all. She’d take her teeth out sometimes. We went to her house once to see her budgie. She had a little dog then too, a tiny one, long before it became fashionable to have a lap dog under your arm. It snapped and yapped.

A cold still morning. A group of kids coming at me out of nowhere along the Prom. A raggle-taggle group. One was playing at being a plane, his friend was laughing at him. Another was in their pyjamas. They had a dog. A foxy looking dog.

I have a yearning for an advent calendar. I know it’s a silly thing. I used to love them. The traditional ones, not the ones with gifts and chocolate. It was just the process of opening the windows. One each day. Shall I get one?

Time to go and call her. The sky is heavy with white-grey cloud. It’s getting cold out there, he says, as he comes in after coffee, his newspapers in a bag in his hand. Cleaning done. All’s well with the world. For now. For now.

And the cross stitch issue. I meant to talk about it. What to say? I want to do it. Something compels me. Is that enough? It’s feels like a going back to something. Repeating them. Doing the Sunflowers over and over again. Is that a kind of practice? It is if I want it to be. Isn’t it? I just need to follow the path where it is leading me. Something like Rilke said. Succumb. Don’t fight. Let it be. Let it be.

Chicken and Chips

There is a scene in Victoria Wood’s Dinnerladies where one of the customers at the counter asks whether the tuna n’ sweetcorn in the baked potato is separate. Is it tuna and sweetcorn? she asks. No, Bren (played by Victoria Wood) replies, it’s tuna n’ sweetcorn. What does the n’ mean? the woman asks again. It means it’s all mashed up, says another of the girls. When she asks to have them separated, Wood’s character goes into a long rigmarole about there being wars and starvation and that this is what’s on offer, so basically take it or leave it. It’s a classic scene. A satire on faddishness, obviously a favourite issue of hers. Vegans, says Dolly, another of the ladies, all those faddy attitudes. Why don’t they just stay at home with a banana? Chicken and chips. Chicken n’ chips. There was a box of Kentucky Fried Chicken on a bench on the Prom this morning. Its lid was slightly open. It was full. The food left untouched. Had they changed their mind? Lost their appetite? Will the gulls find it?

I heard the starlings under the pier for the first time. A kind of keening, screechy kind of chattering. Thousands of tiny voices, a hushing, whooshing sort of noise. Are they just waking? No smell as yet. It gets to reek. All that guano. They will begin their murmuration soon. A magical sight. A great swooping of black, forming and re-forming.

I’ve gone back to the Book of Silence by Sara Maitland. I love having books I can return to, that I know I can fall into, be taken up by, held. I love where it takes me. Those lonely isles. It is a fantasy of mine, I know. The loneliness is at once so attractive and so frightening. How does one reconcile such opposites?

Too much to do this morning. Not much time to be still or write. This will have to do. It isn’t enough. Yoga then back to work. I want to be still. Soon. Soon.

Postman

Our postman wrote us a letter. We found it in our little green postbox yesterday. It was in one of those windowed envelopes, our number and block name written in pencil on the front. Hello, it began and then went on to explain how ‘there’s been some changes at the office and I won’t be doing your round any longer’. He wanted to thank us for being such, and I can’t remember the word he used, for being such ‘nice’ customers? Are we his customers? What is our relationship? We were touched. And we’ve kept the letter. You’ll still see me around, he wrote. I hope so. There is a sweetness to him. He’s young with a young family. Always in shorts, naturally. He wrote the letter in capitals but so neatly. Bless him. He reached out beyond what is expected. Such relationships are small treasures, gifts to be savoured, I think.

Three students walked past me this morning along the north end of the Prom. I caught the tail end of their conversation. One was saying, when she isn’t drunk. When she’s a fucking bitch, another replied. No, no, responded the other.

On the shoreline a cluster of oystercatchers called through the dark. There was a fluster, a blustering of bobbing black and white bodies and a high-pitched peeping. They’ve massed on the beach and on the rocks these last few days, oystercatchers and gulls. Is it a portent of some change in the weather, or is it a protective mechanism? Sometimes they are totally silent, just pointing with their heads, either inland or out to sea, other times they fuss and call.

It was a mizzly morning, but mild. A mist hung heavy, though I could still see Aberdovey. The war memorial is still lit blood red. Is it to be so through all of November perhaps? There is a Christmas tree in Waterstones’s window. I missed my coffee yesterday. Tea is not quite the same, unless from a metal pot in the hotel in Aberdovey, then it is a real treat. He is to buy me some today. I yearn for Christmas coffee, just the thought of it, a special blend. But I know it’s all bollocks, just marketing.

All was chaos at work yesterday. They are putting in a new POTS studio. Boxes and crap and men in striped shirts on laptops everywhere. God knows how it will be today when I have an actual guest. Ho hum.

A real November day yesterday, the rain didn’t cease and then came the dark. At least with December you get the lights, I said. I’d happily dispense with the lights if it meant no Christmas, he replied. I know what he means. All that fuss, all out of proportion. All those expectations and yet, I get these little bursts of anticipatory delight at it all. It is just childhood programming, I know, but I love it. The snow scenes, the carols, the Xmas songs, the decorative lights, the smells, the cosiness. I think about just pleasing myself on Christmas morning. Will we have it to ourselves? The invitation is out there, if she wants it. She would be most welcome. It doesn’t matter, the important thing is to let them know, all of them, that you are there. That’s all.

I wrote it. I sent it. I don’t know if it is what he wants or imagined. It is often the way when I write something, it takes on a life of its own. So be it. I wrote what I needed to write for myself. It is enough. We shall see.

She smoothed out all the tension, my head filled with the held-fast toxins only for them to dissipate, just like that. She is good. And then, bit by bit it creeps back in. My default. To be tight, stiff, afraid. So be it. Let it be. Let. It. Be.

Lidl Lorry

I read the strapline emblazoned across the Lidl lorry as it slowly curved its way around the roundabout, passing the station towards the retail park. We’re committed to keeping the highest of standards……yours, it read. With that pause of dots to create maximum effect as its meaning sinks in. It was a big truck. I thought of it and all the others that thunder up and down the mountainous roads to bring stuff to us here. And through the night, as this one had done. It’s all bumf, of course. (I had no idea that bumf was spelt that way, I always thought it was bumph, until it came up as a crossword answer.) Advertising twaddle. And yet, it is somehow comforting to read in the dark, wind and rain. Someone cares. Someone cares about what I think. The advertising industry sells comfort, safety, havens. It is not real. Nothing is. There is no planet, the voice said. I know. But then what is? What is real? Such are the conversations going on in my head as I walk. Today, of course, I was writing as I always do when I’m mid piece. Not yet solved, they niggle away at me, pushing for, urging towards a resolution.

I saw the milkman again in his truck. I thought about its shape. From the back it looks like a de-curtained four-poster bed on wheels. It rattled with bottle crates. He’s a little man, rather like a younger version of Bruce Springsteen. We used to see him in Morrison’s on a Saturday morning with a loaded trolley, sometimes with a couple of children. Does he like his job? Does he like being up early in the morning? There can’t be that many domestic deliveries these days. (Another crossword clue – Pinta deliverer? Long gone, these days. That sound, a clinking of bottles jangling, the peak cap, the jaunty air, or is that a TV perpetuated myth?) Sometimes I’ve seen another milkman delivering on North Road to the sheltered housing flats. That makes sense. Nice to wake up and it’s there on your door step, with the paper. A perpetual circle, a marking of time. Reliable. Safe. Known. So where does he deliver to, Bruce the milkman? The cafes in town, I suppose. All very jovial. They get their pitches, no doubt. I like the hub at that time, 7.00 am when they all open, well not all. I like being part of the work-a-day ritual. Shall we go today? Not today, work to do, soon. Just getting warmed up. Ready.

I borrowed his coat again. It was raining. It wasn’t a pitter patter on my umbrella, what was it? More like sand, grains being poured onto it. I stood still and listened. At the top of the little hill, from the top of which I can see the town stretched before me. It looks down onto Llanbadarn Road, the flats where we used to live, and the little blue door-ed house with the circular window. I know it’s inhabitants from work. A gentle couple, very Welsh, he would say. The house is much loved, cared for, even though it is flanked by student houses. I imagine their happiness in there. He with his tightly curled red hair, and her with that very singular way she has of blinking behind her glasses when she speaks. I see him sometime with their children, riding their bikes on the pavement. Is there two or three. I bumped into her once in Ruthin, at Rhug’s Bison café (rather off-putting that smell of charcoaled meat when you just want a cup of tea). She smiled and said hello, what are you doing here? I didn’t recognise her at first, it took a while, out of context you see. And I don’t expect to be known in Wales, not ever. Hardly ever. I got it eventually, and was touched. Her name is nearly the same as mine, but with an ‘i’ not an ‘e’.

Why do I get so scared of writing? Everyone does, he says, it’s because you want it to go well. And I do, but mostly I want to get it right, for me. That’s it. Right. And I will. And the restricted word count is good. It is rigorous. Sharp. Perfection is when there is nothing left to take out. Amen to that.

Fish Lorry

It was waiting there, at the harbour, purring loudly when I arrived. The lights outside the sea rescue centre were blazing but the truck cab was dark. How can he sleep with such a racket going on? The refrigerator in the lorry has to remain on, obviously, else the fish would go off. But such a noise. A purring sound, as I said, but from a large cat, a happy, satisfied cat, whose talons are digging into your thigh. No sign of the fishermen either. Have they been out all night? And in this cold? It was below freezing. The car had it at -5 at some point while we waited for the frost to clear from the windscreen. The cars in town were all coated with it. It glistens in the yellow light of the streetlamps. Beautiful. As is the hush that the cold engenders. There was no one shouting, no high jinks. A few shapes. Two men in black coats, hoods up, leaving houses in North Road. Different houses, but they left at the same time. It was rather dramatic. I caught my breath. Why leave home at 3.30 am? Where were they going? Even my double-layered gloves weren’t sufficient against the cold, my fingers stung with it. Into my pockets they went, making walking less free. It’s enough, just to be warm. Yet the cold on my face was lovely. And then I saw a tent. Someone was sleeping in a tent in the Castle grounds. A tiny little pocket-size tent, the curved type. It was pitched on the grass but even so. So cold. Is it by choice?

He called me from the car. The battery’s flat, I’ve called the AA, you stay in the warm. Don’t worry, I’ll sort it. It was amazing, he said later, he changed the battery, just like that in all that rain. It poured. Hard, sleety rain. From the radio London sounded dry and sunny. I listened to the Remembrance Day parade. Don’t call me, I said, I want to do the two minute silence. He did it too. I said that poem in my head, he said. I can’t remember it now, something like – in going down with the day, we will remember them. I said it in my head. I cried the day before, on the proper eleventh day, eleventh hour. It’s the brass bands, they always make me weep. I’ve cried in the street before now. We used to stand together in Cambridge, in silence, holding each other. Too easily moved, he and I. Too easy.

I think about going to see her. I’d like to. I want it to be good between us, or at least peaceful. He calls her a witch. She is not. She just saw a possibility for love, that’s all. I tell him of the plot line for Homefront. That’s a bit far-fetched, he says. How can it be? I say. It’s true. They are true stories. But to steal a baby like that, in broad daylight. It happened. It obviously happened. In war, anything can happen. Anything. I am humbled by the stories, as I was listening to the veterans on the radio. And that widow, the one whose husband killed himself to escape PTS. They are so scared that they are going to lose control and hurt someone, she said.

We turn them an eighth every day for two months, she said. Thousands of bottles of Cava in a cellar in Catalonia. We keep them lying still for seven years. What a commitment of time. A time of waiting. Waiting to see.

I am to start writing today. There is power in the starting, said Goethe. So be it. I have the first line. Just remember how much you love to do it. Waiting for the words to come. Just start. There is time. There is time for it to happen. For the story to appear. Go to it.

Tinsel

It’s the first Christmas decoration I’ve seen this year. Seen, through a window, at Alexander Hall. A string of red tinsel looped around a window fitting in an upper floor kitchen. An afterthought. Perhaps it was worn around someone’s neck first, for a night out clubbing. My mother used to have some lovely tinsel. She kept it year in year out. It wasn’t that cheap thin stuff but thick and lustrous. Fat coils of red, gold, silver and white. Let me! Can I, can I? I loved decorating the tree, I loved decorating the table, I loved putting out the little Nisser hut. I had to stop myself from tearing open the boxes, so eager was I to get my hands on them. It has always been so, a mixture of impatience and a wanting to go slow, to savour, to treasure the touch of something. She kept all those decorations with such care. The exquisitely thin glass baubles, circles, stars and bells, the Nisser figures in wool and wood, the angels, the snowmen. Each one tenderly wrapped in tissue. The tiny, tiny ones in cotton wool and squeezed into a Tampax box. Ugh, said my father, dropping it with disgust. Where are they now? Who has them now? I don’t know.

Where’re you going? A girl in shorts running from the Pier Pressure nightclub along the Prom. She stops in front of young man, putting her body in front of his, halting his progress, her hands on his chest. Where’re you going? she shouts, her voice carrying in the wind. What’s it fucking matter to you? he replies, his face jutting at hers, tight with anger.

Walking home past the station I hear a beer can rolling and crashing against a bin, then the smash of a glass bottle as it is blown off a table outside Weatherspoon’s.

I prayed for her last night, if pray is the right word. The papers talk of her torment. He husband on the TV, in a news interview, talked of her anguish and how it has made her unable to walk. I asked for some kind of action. For someone to do something so that she may be released. They have the power, it could be done today, this moment. It is all about diplomacy. Let it be so. In my mind I am in that cell with her. I offer my hand. Let her be released. Let her come home.

It will come. The story will come. The fear is of the unknown. When I’m sitting in front of the white space ready to tell my story it will come. It always does. It is only 500 words, I write that everyday, here in this space. I let it come and it does. Always. I dreamt I met Clint Eastwood. It was meant to be Robert Redford but in my dream he’d died. So Clint Eastwood was standing in for him. He looked a little lost, was waiting for filming to start. It wasn’t his face. He was warm, funny, easy to be with. We talked of the weather. He was in a place I knew well. The sunny end. The summer end. It was a nice dream. I felt special, singled out.

The wind was strong this morning. A howlin’ gale, he always calls it. It’s blowin’ a f*****g howlin’ gale out there.

I want to do the other one. I am into it now, at ease with the flow but it feels right to keep them all going, all alive. I will find my pace with it. And if I don’t do it I will feel bad. There is no way round it. Do it.

Brooklyn tonight. We are both lapping it up. A glorious film, soft, tender. We go slow, savouring it, unwrapping it like Mum’s glass baubles.

Shining.

 

Relentless

The rain was relentless.

I’d borrowed his coat. I felt like a child, tiny under all that weight. It was warm though, and it kept out the wet. The wind was too strong for an umbrella, though I’d brought it anyway. It was his umbrella, a long, golfing one from out of the car. It’s just about endurance, walks like that. One is buffeted, pummelled. Relentless. I think about explorers, Scott, Fiennes, trudging through impossible icy terrain. Head down, just getting one with it. It isn’t personal, it’s just weather. It isn’t designed to piss us off, or hinder our progress, it just is. That’s all. Don’t go, he said the night before, stay. Come back to bed with me, he says. But I want to be out, out in the air, so accepting it as it is is the only way. There is a calmness in that.

Few people were out. A couple without coats walking along South Prom. Then on my way back, a man ahead of me, swaying along Mill Street. Lurching and then kicking and punching at doors. Along the street, just bashing them, his legs flailing about wildly. I hung back, weighing up my options. I crossed the street, walked slower. He seemed to have gone. A police car, Heddlu, drove past. I started to breathe again, taking it slow. Two lovers ahead, their heads touching. Up the hill, striding now. Then home. You been away? asked our neighbour from his window, his fag nearly finished. No, I said, last week, yes. Oh, I covered for that, didn’t I? he said. No, it’s just I saw they’d left a parcel at your door.

I have a slither of fear, like ice in my belly. I want to write it. I have asked to write it. But there is always this fear of the nothingness. The starting from nothing. There is no escape. Just take yourself to the page, she says. And just write. I will. I will.

He tells me of her father. She talks as she does his feet. His podiatrist, mine too. It helps her to talk, to make funny stories from the heartbreaking tragedy of it. Her father and his Alzheimer’s. He’s in a home now. His wife, her mother, has been a saint. She usually goes in every day but has stayed away due to a cold. I thought you’d finished with me, he said, when she turned up the other day. My father was such a gentleman, she told him, never swore, never any sign of temper or violence. When she went to see him in the home recently, he shouted at her. Your grandfather’s upstairs so pull your fucking finger out.

It’s that dog again. I hear it before I see it. NO! I shout, my hands out ready to fend her off. I turn full circle keeping my eyes on her as she skids into some wet leaves, crouched down ready to pounce. What does she make of me, all that shouting? I get so edgy. I don’t want it. I don’t want her jumping up at me. The owner walks over, avoiding eye contact. Two neighbours, with whom he’s been chatting, are standing by the steps. She only wants to play, the woman says, smiling. What a fusspot. I can’t help it. Such feral-ness is beyond my comfort zone. He’s trying to train her, he says later. I saw him outside the other day. He’s doing his best. Yes. I should try harder. Relax a little. She’s only a pup.

She was out with the dog when I called. Bonnie, a sheepdog is nearly fifteen. She sounded better. It’s started to rain, she said, and I’ve put the washing out. Still better out than in. She walks in wellies, she tells me. Wellies that make her infected ingrown toenail sore. She sounds better, more alive. I like to hear that she is walking. Bonnie likes to be out, she says. Bonnie has adopted her. It’s been over two years now. She came over from the farm and stayed. She has a bed and a blanket in the passageway. How can I say? she says. It’s her little quirk. How can I say? With a mother tongue of Welsh, English words sometimes take a little time to come. I like to speak to her. There is a calm in it. I like her. I am warmed by her. Thank you for calling, she says. It is kind. A good woman, a gentle woman. Modest. She has much to teach me.

A course of study

He was an ex-work colleague of his. We met him in the street as we sometimes did in Cambridge, years ago. He’d just retired and was off to live on some remote Scottish island with his partner. His subject had been English Literature and he told us how he was going to use his time to read all of Shakespeare’s works. A course of study. It has a nineteenth-century sound to it. Men of private means did it, women of leisure did it, at least those who had access to their father’s or husband’s library. A course of study. There is so much I want to learn, to immerse myself in. To learn for the sake of it. To educate oneself. He read a quote out loud at breakfast from the paper. I can’t remember the exact wording but I remember it was from Aldous Huxley. Something about the only thing you can change is yourself. Does education do this? Partly. I love to learn. I love to stretch myself, even if there is fear in the doing of it. By taking it on, after all, one is admitting to not knowing. There is a vulnerability to that. An exposure of nothingness, a nothingness waiting to be filled. But I do love the stretching, the encountering of ideas. Though it does highlight my smallness, always.

Two mornings running I’ve seen the milkman. He drives a truck not a float. An open truck, rather rickety. He was ahead of me on Llanbadarn Road when I walked home. I swiftly mounted the pavement. He was on the wrong side of the road with his lights off. It took me a moment to work out that he’d been delivering. I’m sure that I’ve talked before about Nanny’s milkman and how he used to arrive on a horse and cart. The horse was inevitably called Dobbin. I loved hearing him coming down the hill. You could hear him through the shut window. A slow pace. No hurry. Taking time to chat. That chink of glass on glass. Housewives on their newly washed front steps, slippers and apron still on. The milk was cold. The cream from the top of the milk on my cereal. I loved it. All homogenised now. And the punctured bottle tops in the winter, from the birds. Blue tits mostly. It seem to me then to be straight out of a Janet and John book. How I loved her. I loved her stillness, her it-will-be-alright-ness. You’re a born worrier, she used to say. Never with her. Never. She wasn’t our grandmother. She was my father’s Nanny and became ours by proxy. They didn’t really get on, she was too stuck in her ways as far as she was concerned. I can see it now, it must’ve been difficult coming from a foreign country to all that. I wish I’d been kinder back then, tried to understand, even just a little.

My dreams have been so lucid these last few nights. Last night, an old woman encased in glass being given an award for her part in a theatrical production. She stayed the course, kept calm, kept steady, was a peaceful presence. It was enough, she was chosen for the accolade. He gave it out, gave a speech. She was a small woman, grey-haired. She looked familiar. An accolade for calmness, for diligence, for staying the course, for being at peace. Imagine that.

Time to go. I’m glad I got a chance to write. She is right, I miss it when I don’t .

A blowy day, big clouds. Cleaning done. I am at peace.