Shared Experience

Ellen writing (3)

This journal is an exercise in containment, experimentation and order. So many things – ten thousand things – spin around inside my head and I need to get them down, be still with them for a while. For instance, we were walking one afternoon this week on the prom talking about singles. You know, the old 45s. I used to play my father’s ones on a small dansette I had in my room as a child. I loved it. I remembered one called ‘Bony Moronie’. I gotta girl named Bony Moronie, it goes, she’s so thin, like a stick of macaroni. I can still recall the feel of them, the thrill when they dropped down under the stylus and the music came.

I found a dead squirrel down by the boat club early this morning. It had been left spread-eagled on the pavement. It seemed an ungracious act to leave it there, in the wind and rain. Dead but flying. Poor thing. What was it doing down by the harbour? There are no trees there. Had someone carried it there and deposited it on the ground? Why? Years ago I picked up a squirrel that had run into the road and been knocked by a car. It was still alive but in shock. It died in my arms. I was profoundly moved. Did I help its passing or hinder it?

I saw a hologram postcard of Jesus in a junk shop in Amsterdam eons ago. I’d like to find one again. He looked so peaceful.

Ah, the radio. Such a source of joy. I have to turn it off to write. I succumb to the silence, willingly but I miss the voices, that sense of belonging to something rich. There was a programme yesterday about the composer of light music Eric Coates. Apparently, he could only write once he had his tweed jacket on and a Sobranie cigarette in his hand.

The Shared Experience Theatre Company are doing a production of Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid. I have been lucky enough to see many of their productions. I yearn to see this one but time-wise it is tricky. They are physical, passionate, stripped-bare productions. They make me gasp. The Magic Toyshop and Bronte were particularly fine. The Little Mermaid gripped me as a girl. Love in silence and pain. Mermaid to maid. Then to loose it all and become sea foam and then spirit. I cried and cried, lingering on the illustrations for hours.

Death. 10,000 are feared dead. We do what we can. Pray for us, they say. Of, course. Always.

Life. Lauren Imogen Pool born last Friday. Seven pounds seven ounces. Bless her. I wish her a joyful life.

Life and death we straddle the both. Tightrope walkers balanced by grace.



Pip's images 016

The blueberries I bought yesterday are called ‘snowchaser’.

We talk of Cis often. Some of her ashes lie on the council rockery that looks out to sea, just up from the crazy golf. He tells me she loved that spot, parked up, sitting in the car staring across the water to Aberdovey. Lovely, she would’ve said, lovely.

The man from the RSPB said that it is the birds with the biggest eyes that begin singing first. The blackbirds and song thrushes, then a little later when dawn is fully breaking, come the robins and blue tits. I walked out with my recorder the other day, just to capture it all. Was it loud enough? And of course, their song is never without human interruption – cars, carousing students, alarms and my footsteps. Then there is the sea. I have yet to listen back. A treat for later, possibly.

It stills me that first walking out, that first intake of morning air. Perfect. And the birdsong. It feels like it is just for me.

We watched Saving Mr Banks last night. A little schmaltzy, as is to be expected with anything Disney, and yet, comforting and pleasing. Ms Thompson is exemplary, as is Tom Hanks. It is enough to be in such good hands. He has never seen Mary Poppins. Funny that. The songs are in my DNA, though much of the film left me unmoved as a child. I needed comfort last night.

Sitting in a café in Oswestry I look through the window at another window. There is a butterfly trapped inside fluttering at the glass.

Sunday morning and the sky is a perfect blue. On the radio they talk of wisdom. Like love to be felt not understood?


64 words

Oriel Davies outside

I dreamt of Mum last night. She was young and still beautiful. Turning to face me she had smiled and kissed me. Oh, yes, she had said, we don’t kiss on the lips, do we? I had been sitting behind her sewing. Repairing a white shirt. Our relationship  and the dream been suffused with warmth. I’d asked her about a fair-haired man who was also present, saying that I’d thought he was Geoffrey’s friend. Oh, no, Mum had said, he’s mine. After all, she’d said, every one needs a token Ginger at a wedding.

I have been distilling my text. Cutting it down and what he calls ‘murdering my favourites’. 64 words from 4400. 64 words in nine sentences. So many of the sentences I’d collected made him laugh. But that isn’t just the point. It isn’t just about laughter – there are other stories to tell. It will be a minimal piece. I am a minimalist. It is scary being so sometimes. Less is more, less is more, I chant. It will be a white room. A white space. The viewer will have to trust, to go into the space to find the words. It is how I want it to be. I’ve cut out any reference to people’s names. It felt better to do so. I want it to be universal – to belong to all. To be specific in detail but not particular to a person. I hope it works. At this stage it is impossible to tell.

64 words. Will it be enough to tell the story? It is all about associations in the end. Triggers. It is what I do.


At three in the afternoon we see a homeless man lying in a sleeping bag on the beach. He is lying close to the wall, a little out of the sun. His beard is long, matted and grey. Beside him in the sand is a brand new silver transistor radio.



A Repainted Angel

kids drawings (2)

I forget things so easily these days. Thoughts, ideas just fade away like vapour trails in the sky. So I make lists. The same applies to this journal. I write down titles, words, ideas on little post-it notes so that I remember. My life as a hot-potch. None more important than another. All are included. A rag-bag of incident, of experience, of joy.

So how did it go? The residency. I had a ball, I wrote to Alex, the curator. A ball. And I did. Everyone so friendly, so accommodating – humouring my being there, my overhearing, my presence. The sun shone. The Oriel Davies Gallery was light. Full of light. I wrote and wrote. Too fast sometimes, so that I couldn’t always read my handwriting. Four thousand four hundred words I typed up yesterday. How will I select from all of that? And over two hours of audio material. Too much. Always too much, it is best to have too much than too little. Don’t you think?

Conversation is like a meteor, Johnson was supposed to have said, like a flash soon gone (or something like that, I heard the quote on the radio but subsequently couldn’t find it on Google – do you ever get that, a gift offered but then lost?). I was trying to capture those flashes last week. Some profound, some not so. All equally valid as a representation of what was being said, shared, thought about it in that most amiable space in Newtown.

How did it feel to snoop? For that was what I was doing. I was listening and recording what people were saying to each other. It felt odd. I felt often like I was stealing something. Is this how other artists feel? Did I have the right? I was open about it. I had my recorder in full view and I wrote overtly too. But people don’t notice others when they are deep in conversation, do they? I will be cautious, I will protect anonymity – names will be changed. What did they talk of, those gallery visitors? Death, illness, holidays, weather (not so much), art (hardly at all), politics (a little), work, family and mutual friends. I heard no mention of sex (though it is perhaps not likely that I would). Mostly it was prosaic stuff, the stuff that I find so fascinating – the stuff that fills in the gap, that makes noise. Have you locked the car, what’s for supper, you’ve lost weight, nice blouse, how’s Jean? After all, it isn’t about the conversation per se but the noise, the noise of living, of mutual existence. This is what we murmur when we are together now, right here, in this space. Several couples did crosswords in the café. As did we. He and I. It was nice to see our habits reflected like that. Patterns of familiarity – a definition of sameness, of continuity in the chaos.

The space is small. I like that. But I need to honour that smallness and not crowd it. It isn’t after all about quantity but a taste, a flavour of a particular time. And much of it is lost. I had to strain to hear. A clamour, particularly in the café – a cacophony of radio sounds, of banging, of several conversations all coming together. I had to strain to pick things out. That is what I want to communicate – the floating of sounds, of made-out words. So there may not be much, I want to warn them, don’t be disappointed. How much would a wall absorb if it had a choice. Would some be repetitious? What’s that? A child kept asking. Oh, what’s that? And there was a little Welsh too. Not as much as I’d thought. It was a good week. I liked the patterns, the rhythms. I like to watch, to breathe it in – to become invisible. I wasn’t of course, though I hope that my impact wasn’t too detrimental. Now the real writing begins.

So back to my list. The Angel pub has been repainted. A terracotta-brown. It looks earthy, more wholesome than before. He said it used to be a rough pub when he was young. There is the usual vomit outside of a Saturday night Sunday morning. Walking through the park I drink in the smell of hyacinths. They will soon turn. I thought that ‘Miss You’ had gone. The only boat still on stilts in the harbour. But no, it was still there. Had I imagined its disappearance? The dawn chorus is an unruly choir these mornings. A heard someone say in a radio play that there is a sequence – blackbird first, then robin…Is this true? Do they wait their turn? I walk to its melody. Glorious. The days are warmer and students celebrate the fact by burning bonfires and barbeques on the beach. The odour of smouldering wood is a perfect joy. I don’t know why. A memory of comfort, of warmth, of fire? Just like the fresh basil I had in a pot. It doesn’t last, it wants a Mediterranean sun not this Welsh one. Nevertheless, for its brief life I had pleasure. Thank you.

We began watching The Railway Man but didn’t finish it. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t cope with it’s misery. It was too harrowing. I am sorry. I wanted to acknowledge what they went through, sit with their story. I followed it up. I sought out Eric Lomax. Brave man. Good man. He went to meet his torturer. Fifty years on. A video on YouTube. The Japanese ex-officer with tears rolling down his face. Can I take you hand? He strokes it.

There has to be revenge, he said in the car. I tense up. Does there? There has to be punishment, he says. Yes. But not an eye for an eye. Not that. Forgiveness and reconciliation. Surely that is better. If it is possible. If it is possible. Amen to that.



Talk to Me - book installation R D Laing

I like listening. I like listening to people talk. I do a lot of it. Next week it will be my job to listen. I will sit in a gallery and listen to its visitors. I don’t know what I will hear or indeed if there is anything I will be able to use. This isn’t my usual way of working. I’m usually in control. I usually work alone, in my kitchen. And yet, taking oneself out of one’s cocoon is sometimes a good thing. Or at least, it can be.

It isn’t nosiness, this listening (though of course, I am interested in people, who isn’t?), it’s about speech, about what is being said, and how. I love the vernacular, the ordinary chitter chatter that goes on with all those missings out. So much of the meaning is carried through by gesture, by intimate knowledge, by intonation. How does one get all that across in a written sentence? That will be my challenge, I suppose.

I like to collect speech fragments. I have little sketchbooks full of them. They are like bubbles in the air. Like the washing-up liquid bubbles that we used to form by blowing through those plastic circles on sticks. I loved them. It was magic to me. See how big I can do them. Will they burst? What is said is so different to what is written down. The ownership is lost. What is said becomes rootless.

I like to listen to conversations in public spaces. Many of us behave differently, at least initially. We are made self-conscious. We may alter the words we use, or change the timbre of our voices. We try to say what we think we should, particularly in galleries, I think. It’s all about what we like, what makes us comfortable or vice versa. And the spaces are so open, so exposing. Literally.

The gallery I shall sit in next week is relatively small. I can’t hide. And there is to be a sign, warning the general public that I am there. They did the same thing in The Walker Gallery in Liverpool.There is an art journalist wandering around with a tape-recorder, or something similar, the notice said. I attracted stares, that’s all and people tended to clam up as I approached. Who wouldn’t? People tend to clam up anyway when they think they can be overheard. And I don’t blend into the background very well. Perhaps I should wear black.

We shall see. All will be well. If I give myself over to the experience something will come. It always does.


The sun has shone this week. Glorious. There is no better place to be when the sun shines, she said. How could I not concur? Though, it is busy. He hates it. It’s my town, he says. Yes, it is. It is.

The flat is ours.



A Room of One’s Own

House Wife (2) 2008 med

He is annoyed because the estate agent hasn’t yet returned his call. Perhaps we haven’t got it, the flat, that is. Perhaps he’s given it to someone else. He had someone else who was interested, he said. Did he? I said, I don’t remember him saying so. Why don’t you just call him back? I ask. I don’t want to chase him, he says, his brow now angry with disappointment. Did I want it? I don’t know. It promised a room, a room of my own to work in and space to hang my pictures, all of them. But otherwise? I don’t know. The floorboards are too dark, and it wasn’t clean. Though that can, of course, be remedied. And the view from the bedrooms of the building site leaves much to be desired. Nevertheless, it is quiet up there and there is room to breathe. I was surprised by my sanguinity. It didn’t seem to matter one way or another. The prospect of it, moving and everything, makes me feel weary but it would bring new possibilities and I like those, always have.

So what is it about this room thing? I remember her saying about her colleague at work, about how the fact that he hasn’t a studio means that he can’t make work. Does it? Isn’t it just that the work has to change, become more portable, smaller, snappier? I have managed over these last three years. I have made my work and my writing on the kitchen table. Made. For they are both a process of making. Writing is more portable, obviously, but requires a certain amount of privacy. At least for me it does. I think about that third room. It wasn’t, isn’t what I had dreamt for myself but it would’ve done. My work has been changed by each new space that I have made it in. Each studio, each flat, each table have each had their input – shaping and forming the outcome. I like that. I like to think it isn’t just me that’s talking. We are porous. Life affects us, environment effects us – it is as it should be.

I am sorry that he is disappointed. I want him to be happy. I have to trust to life. And I do. The right space will come at the right time. It’s just a question of waiting and living as well as one can until it does. And believing that one has all one needs in this moment, now, right here, now. Right now.



talk to me - book installation comfort me (small) (2)

The prom was busy yesterday afternoon, so we walked by the river. I thought he would say no, he had before. I don’t like the rocks, he’d said. This time he acquiesced. Ok, he said, why not? There were a few people around, mostly walking their dogs. The dogs wagged about, drinking from puddles, dragging sticks, barking and generally being happy to be there, to be alive. They don’t hold back, they are not reticent about expressing joy. It beams out of them. They live now, here and now. The river flowed fast. The noise of its rushing was gorgeous. A gorgeous kind of vital bubbling. It is the sound of pulsing life, of cold freshness, of constant change. We walked on grass, delighted by its cushiony-ness. Might we see a kingfisher? I asked. No, he said. No, probably not. The habitat is too open. Do remember the kingfisher in Cambridge, along the backs, by the stream there? I do. That shock of electric blue. Stunning. I was stunned, questioning the truth of what I saw. It caught my breath. It stopped my breath, making me feel part of something other than this fog inside my head. It pulled me out of myself into a bigger, far more vibrant existence.

He knew you, said a woman, dressed in a Morrisons’s bakery uniform. I watched him turn to face her, perplexed. Sam, she said, he knew you on Saturday. His face became a smile. Yes, he said, he did didn’t he? He is gratified, I thought, pleased as punch that a little puppy knows him. We’d cottoned on who she was together. So often that is the case. A shared dawning. It was the woman with the Sam the puppy. I didn’t know she had blonde hair, when we see her walking Sam on the prom she is usually dressed in black, hat and all. Oh, look, said Mags from behind the till, he’s bought you a passion fruit. Aren’t I a lucky girl? I reply, smiling at her.

I walked my whole walk this morning. All of it, including the Perygyl. My legs are better, still stiff but better. I strode forth. It was good to feel the power of me again. So many people walk here. Up and down. Solitary walkers. The man with the too-big jeans and the brown face. The man who he calls the ‘richest man in Aberystwyth. And the man with the stick. He walks and walks. He isn’t well. His legs are like matchsticks and his hair flies out behind him. The smell of him is strong – a mix of sweat and anxiety. He doesn’t seek eye contact. He walks inside himself.

My eye catches the front covers of the women’s magazines in front of the till. My new philosophy, announces Clare Balding, is to do less and do it better. Or something like that. She looks happy. She got married recently, he says over breakfast. That’s nice. Her girlfriend is beautiful, I say. An actress, what’s her name? She’s an announcer, he says. I know, but she acts as well. I remember her in a radio adaptation of an Agatha Christie – Murder at the Vicarage, I believe. What is her name?

Do less. Sometimes that is what I want to do. Slow it all down. Stop all the fretting. Just stop and listen. Listen to that blackbird, the car that has just driven by, the sound of my fingertips on the keyboard. Do less, live better.

Alice Arnold, he says. Yes. Alice Arnold. Beautiful eyes. Blue, like the today’s sky. Happy Easter.




Wall markings (2)

You need to turn your life upside-down, he said. Yes, I said, yes, I think I do. But how? I wanted to say. How do I do that, where do I start?

I spent the week in Middlesbrough. I was there to learn. To learn about type, about the machinery that produces type – how to cut it, etch it and form it. I followed her about. I observed, listened and asked question after question. I watched the laser cutting machine do its tender work – cutting with light. I went into workshops that reeked of fibre glass with all those damp-smelling boys in white coats. Watch your language, she told them, and their voices became muffled, shamed into whispers. They won’t help us, she said, when we were looking for strong arms to carry the stuff to the car. The technicians did though. I’d bought them Captain Pugwash Easter eggs as a thank you. They were happy to help.

Her students were working on an important project. It was good to be around students again. All that flurry and passion. I thought I wanted it again. Knee-jerk, he used to call it. Yes, he is right. It was. Someone else’s life. It isn’t that I don’t want my own, I do. It’s just sometimes I get lost. Dry up, he’d said. Other people’s lives seem simpler – that’s all. So I thought I wanted it, what she has. I don’t, well not completely. I want this, this life, this space, though it’s scary. This sitting here with the white page not knowing what to say, what to write. Leave the mind, move to the solar plexus and find the truth there. There, there it is. That, that is you. There everything is right. Everything is true.

It was hard to be there without belonging. I think that was it. That not belonging. Out of one’s comfort zone, they call it, don’t they? I am out of my comfort zone every time I begin to write. It is all new. I have no sense of whether it is any good. You do not have to be good, wrote Mary Oliver. So what do you have to be? Genuine. Authentic. True. I want to write about faith, wrote David Whyte. I want to write. Those applications. I managed three in the end. All that flurry. Do something. To what end. What have I learnt? What I don’t want, perhaps. What do I want? A room. A room of one’s own. My own. And then? Will the work, the ideas come then? They are already here but I can’t always access them. In that room I can lay them out. I can survey them. Sort them out. Yes.

It is a gloomy Good Friday. A gloomy anniversary of a good man’s death. A brutal death. I can’t watch it. I wear red today and it makes me edgy. Itchy. I am itching to begin. I need to be in something, immersed. Just sit. Sit in the edginess and watch it fall away. It is not what you think.

He told me to wear a pearl. And to say a mantra to the moon. I felt self-conscious, even in the dark and the pearl earrings seem too clean, too much like the girls of my teenage years. Nice girls with pearls.

Nothing matters. At least not as we think.

We went to look at it yesterday. It’s all upside-down, he said. Yes, I said. That’s good. I’m happy to say yes, I said. Are you sure, he said. Yes, I said, yes.