Eat Life to the Full

Bedtime Stories, 2009 - detail (2)

As I walk I notice that the Pier Pressure nightclub’s lights are on.

Three lads stand about at the junction for Terrace Road. Here, one of them says, pointing to the small dark-haired one, why don’t I carry you on my back. He bends over and gestures to him. Two girls and boy are walking towards me as I pass the Bandstand. The boy is giving one of the girls a piggy-back. She says something in his ear and giggles. He drops her to the floor. You knob, he shouts, laughing, you knob head. She turns her back to him, still giggling. He slaps her hard on her bottom. Her large buttocks, tightly held in white denim, judder with the force. Come on, says the other girl, let’s do this at home.

The giant security man from yesterday is standing in the doorway, smoking a cigarette. A paper coffee cup rolls on the pavement.

Coming down Great Darkgate Street I notice what looks like woman in the doorway of Thompson’s Travel Agency. She has shoulder-length permed hair and wears a dark navy fleece. We make eye contact. Take a message, Sergeant Major, sir, she shouts at me. Is she talking to me? I smile as I walk past. She continues to shout. I can’t make out what she is saying. Her voice echoes through the dark.

There is a Cornish pasty wrapper on the ground. Eat life to the full, it reads.


I feel privileged to have been a thinking being on this beautiful planet, Oliver Sacks is said to have said when he knew he was dying.

Rest in peace.


Dog Walking in the Dark

The Gift, 2002 - Nigel Cassidy

We wake early, at three, study, do our work and then retire at eight, the Dutch monk from Caldey Island, is telling the interviewer on the radio.

Mostly I walk in silence. It is what I walk for. In the early morning. There is a young girl walking a small wire-haired terrier. The girl’s hair is a white mass in the dark. It is not yet 5 am.

I am walking along the Prom towards the Pier Pressure nightclub. It’s lights are still on. The silence of North Road and the north end of the promenade has been broken. Walk away, Mike, a woman is shouting. There are a cluster of people at the entrance to the club. Two of OW’s taxis, their engines running, wait at the roadside. There is a smell of heat, cigarettes and beer. Walk away, Mike, she shouts. Now, Mike, walk away. A large, stout man is pushing his chest against a giant security man in a yellow high-vis jacket. Walk away, says the security man. Walk away or I’ll put you on the ground. He is static. A rock, a boulder of a man. He looks down at the man, who is Irish, unflustered, unshaken. The Irishman pushes forward, his head waving, reeling, his fists raised. Walk away, Mike, the woman continues to wail, walk a-fucking way, she shouts. WALK A-FUCKING WAY! I am now by the castle. Walk away, Mike, she keens, dragging him away up Pier Street. Walk away.

Coming past the castle playground and along the walk-street to The Angel, a young man turns into the street by the Clock Tower, singing a Charlie Rich song. Hey, did you happen to see the most beautiful girl in the world? He is smiling. And was she crying, crying. Hey. I remember a holiday spent in Menorca and playing Dad’s cassette tape of country love songs. And Mum, so tense, so on edge.


A white feather is momentarily suspended in the black, night air.

To aim for perfection would make life too serious, intones the Dutch monk. Earlier on the radio, the writer A. N. Wilson talked about Iris Murdoch. He hated the film. It made her look like a derelict, he says. She became just a Alzheimer’s sufferer, nothing else. He thinks that the fact that she knew she could only be a mediocre philosopher brought it on.

I want to write about the film that Terry Pratchett hosted about assisted death. I’d put off watching it. There is something so private about dying, it felt voyeuristic. And yet, to have denied myself the vision of such grace would’ve have been a sadness. The man died with such acquiescence – drinking the poison. You must drink it like this, said the doctor, straight down, if you sip it you will only sleep. His wife had brought some chocolates to help take away the taste. Which one shall you have, she asked, the praline? He had such manners. Thank you, he said to everyone. It has been an honour. He died snoring. He has gone to sleep, the Dignitas helper said to his wife. You can cry now. You’ve been holding it all, let it out now, it will do you good.

If I have to go that way, may I have white sheets?

The other night I dreamt I was interviewing David Cameron. Oh, no, he was saying, we set that picture up. Later there was a swan, its wings beating through the sky towards me.

Sometimes phrases play out in my head. Life is a profound act of forgiveness, it is saying.



Under the Stars - EMI 2015 (cropped) (2)

I woke for a pee about 1 am. I heard an owl but it wasn’t the usual twit-ter-woo sound, it was more of a wit-wit without the woo. Bird noises reverberate in the night air, making the black seem infinite, endless. Everything appears intensified, though perhaps it is that my senses are more alert. Leaving for my walk at 4.45 am one of our neighbours came in to the hallway. He was carrying one of those polystyrene food containers. The smell was of re-heated baked beans. Oh, hello, he said, tottering. We both paused. Bye, then, I called out. It all felt a little strange. Where had he been? And perhaps he was thinking, Where is she going? Yesterday, at about the same time, two taxis drew up outside in the courtyard off-loading a family of bodies. The usual hush was broken as they giggled their way into houses.

I finally got round to listening to the repeat of Maya Angelou with Anthony Clare, In The Psychiatrist’s Chair. She was spellbinding. Her command of language, that slow way she had of delivering every word was mesmeric. But she was soaked in sadness. Drenched in it. And yet, there was always that courage of hope. Some people’s lives are fit-to-bursting.

My to-do list continues. Next is the film Terry Pratchett made about assisted dying.

I’ve got two alarm clocks on my bedside table. One works, the other is rather unreliable but I like its loud tick so I keep it.

A spider has drawn a line of light across the outside of my bedroom window.

I am writing myself clean. It is good to have a project. Does it really matter if it is any good? And what is good, or indeed, bad? I will write myself good. Yes. That’s it. That is it.



Joan Hickson

Photo detail (2) - Talk to Me

A new film came. What is it? he asked. An Agatha Christie, I replied, with Joan Hickson. Oh, great, he said, I love Joan Hickson. Is she dead? I suspect so, I said, this must be from the 70s or 80s.

I love Joan Hickson, too. She reminds me of Nanny Clarke. There’s something so safe about her, I said as we sat down to supper. She is so solid, so no-nonsense, so unsentimental. Nanny was the same. I miss her. She ended up in a home, went a little do-lally.

He called Harry Daniels. I’d cajoled him into doing so. Don’t rush me, he said. But he did it anyway. Well, what did he say? I asked. It’s still 1800 quid. What, I said, even without the funeral. Yes, he said, after all they’ve still got to deal with the body. Yes, I suppose they do. You could do some of it yourself, I suppose, use a wardrobe instead of a coffin, deliver it in an estate car and whatnot, but someone’s still got to embalm it. Yes, I know, I said. I know. It’s not easy getting rid of matter, is it? There is something so weighty about it all. Of course, traditions have to be respected. And the body respected. But when we’ve gone, we’ve gone. It’s only the symbols that are left. I just don’t know. I don’t know how I will feel when he goes. He is all to me. And yet, I can and must see life without him.

I like this community. I like its sounds. Peter below us with his odd hours, smoking through the window and racking cough. And his mother, Margaret, a sharp-faced lady of ninety-odd. She talks of her five children with pride. And still walks into town each day. Are you renting or buying? she barked at us when we moved in. She softened a little under his charm. Besides he went to school with Peter and knew her other son, Snowie. I offered her a lift up the hill, he said, but she was having none of it. And the others? A mixture of young and old. I like to see the windows lit up at night. I feel like I belong to something interesting. Each flat is distinctive, with its own history. Did I tell you that this used to be a school? His old school. He went to see his old girl friend yesterday. I did my A levels in your living room, she said, when he told her where we’d moved to. I’ll come over and see it. No, he said. No, you won’t. We don’t have visitors. Why not? she asked. Because we’re private people.

Was it difficult to say no to her? I asked. Yes, I felt uncomfortable in my chest, he said. Pete (her husband) understood, he said. That’s good, I said.



Ellen Bell:Photography by Simon Cook 01736 360041


..the choice of a book presented some difficulties, since when she was writing she could only read something she had read before…(Anita Brookner, The Hotel du Lac)

Why do you do it? he said, why do you read such stuff? You’re too sensitive. Yes, I say, I know, but it’s just the writing is so good. We were talking about Cynan Jones, Everything I Found on the Beach, and its main protagonist who works in an abattoir. And then, I think, perhaps I shouldn’t, not because of the subject matter which is distressing (though Jones, is never lurid for the sake of being so) but because of the way it may influence my own writing. I feel like a sponge sometimes, still so uncertain of my own voice, my own way of being even, that I soak up what I read and reflect it back. Is this good? Is this the way to learn, like trainee painters copying the old masters in the National Gallery, stroke-for-stroke, imbibing the knowledge. I just don’t know.

My back is rigid with the fear of this present encounter. The encounter of myself as writer and all that I do not yet know about what I can and can’t do. Just write. Just write your one thousand words a day. That’s all you have to do. OK. I will. And then? Wait and see. You have to get it down first. Yes, I see that. I can see that. Do I read in the meantime? And if so, what? There was a programme on the radio the other day about the woman who typed Jean Rhys’ manuscript of her biography, Smile Please. It made me want to read it. I want to feel in safe hands, present with someone who I know can write. So this is how you do it. Now, I understand. And yet, will I be intimidated? Struck numb, dumb by their brilliance? Is it best, as does Edith Hope in Hotel du Lac, to stick to more familiar landscapes, to reread what I already know? I could return to Philip Roth, reread the memoir of his father’s death or to Richard Mabey and his beautiful book about depression. I’ve given them both away. All to often I end up having to rebuy books. Don’t tell him, will you?

Two twins in the gym yesterday. Lithe as gazelles. Are you dancers? I wanted to ask. First they went on the treadmills, then the step machines, before going into what is called the ‘Ladies Gym’ to do their routine. They slump down of the floor to check phones between moves.

We went to Cardiff yesterday to see Art. Art in the making. Oceans of rain pelted down on our car as we drove over the mountains. I slept and woke, slept and woke. In one of my semi-waking dreams I saw a sign by the side of the road. You are mystified, it read. See that tree, he said, it’s going to fall down. Another dream. A full moon is due on Saturday. Is that why we were both tetchy.

Fragile. The National Museum was chock-a-block. Kids everywhere. Running around like mice. Shouting and screaming. It was joyful and manic at the same time. The Ladies toilet was full of four-year olds in yellow high-vis waistcoats with Foundation Fun Day written on them in pen. Two teachers were standing there directing them into the cubicles and counting their heads. It was hot and clammy.

It wasn’t there. The piece we had driven 100 miles to see. I was disappointed. Clare Twomey’s artwork has been temporarily removed, said a sticky label attached to one of the walls. Not even a ‘sorry for any inconvenience’.  So be it. There were compensations. The shelves of Edmund de Waal forms that made me long to make again. The Picasso jug. The Claire Curneen angels dripping gold. And that fact that it was quiet in there. Children were stopped at the door. A hand up. No running. Hold their hands, please.

I like going to galleries with him. He is open, he is curious. He reads everything, wanting to understand. Did you know this? he asks. No, I say, no, I didn’t.

Shall we eat in the car? I ask. I don’t think I can stand the noise any longer. We do and do half The Guardian crossword. It’s good to get away, we say, but so good to get home. Yes.

He remembered Dolly this morning on the way to Morrisons. And I turned round and what’sname, she said, he said. What’sname, he said, what’sname. God, she was funny. Do you remember when she put her hand up to her mouth to take out the fag and there wasn’t one there? Yes, I remember. Such a long time ago.



Plinth Project - book pile (2)

The rain was torrential.

On the radio she was talking about water and how it had rained on her wedding day. We had no contingency plan, she said. Then she began to talk about a leaflet she’d received along with her water bill for a water charity. It reminded me that water is precious, she said.

It continued to pour.

Temperatures in London are set to be almost 30 degrees, intoned the weatherman on the radio, rain elsewhere.

We didn’t walk. I missed it. We read instead, cosy on his bed. I fell asleep and dreamt of insects – butterflies, blue-bottles, bees – cascading out of our fridge.

On the Food Programme the presenter met her ‘food-hero’. Her awe was obvious. He was self-effacing, reserved and clearly uncomfortable with the heroic status she was conferring upon him. Farming is Art, he seemed to be saying, just like making something, anything, is Art. It is the ordinary made significant.

A spider has spun a web outside my bedroom window. Every time I open or shut the window he wobbles. It takes a few seconds for him to become still again. The specks of flies I see in the web are gone by the morning.

Bartleby – the Scrivener, a short story by Herman Melville was on the radio last week. It’s melancholy still lingers. Do you know it? Bartleby had no-one, no past and no future. He was discovered to be living in the lawyer’s office where he was employed. He ended up in prison for trespass. When he died his employer found out he’d been sacked from his job working in the ‘dead-letter’ office. How apt, he said to himself, and how sad. I think about the man I heard of in Nerja. He died in a home out there. No one wanted to take responsibility for his body, his funeral. Seemingly he no one. No one to tell. No one to care. No one.

By supper time the rain had stopped. The sun shone warm again.



High Five

Timepiece, 2010 - detail

He used to pet him whenever we saw him on the Prom. He was a puppy then, full of the joy of being alive. Ouch, he’d say. Yes, his owners would say, he does nip doesn’t he. Stop it, Sam, they’d chime, naughty dog. They don’t bring him anymore. He doesn’t like the heat, they say, as we pass them sitting on a bench along South Marine Terrace. But it’s not hot, I whisper, as we walk on. No, he says, it isn’t. She has a large mouth which smiles enigmatically. Sometimes we see her in Morrisons. She works in the bakery there. You’re missing him, aren’t yer? she calls out, when we pass them again. Not missing being nipped, he says, and we all laugh. See you, I call out. They’re not happy, he says, and where’s Sam? Perhaps they’ve let him go, I reply. Perhaps.

We make stories of other people’s lives.

The sun comes out in the afternoon, a hot, burning sun. Gorgeous. We sit on our seat in the wall. I strip to my underwear.

By The Hut a man takes off his cloth cap, puts it on the bench and sits on it.

At 5.00 am the morning dark is warm. A fine rain falls. A couple sit on the window ledge of The Angel. She is clutching the neck of a half-empty bottle of wine. Their voices are low, intimate. Outside the Pier Pressure nightclub four lads are negotiating fares with two taxi drivers. The car engines purr. A smell of stale alcohol lingers warmly in the doorway. Two girls, panda-eyed and coatless, sit in the next doorway, staring vacantly as I go past. A jacketless man walks towards me his hand raised in the air, palm open. I smile warily. He comes closer and we pass each other. High five, he calls out, high five.


I want to write about voices. The voices of actors on the radio that pepper my day. Some I keen toward, others not. Some are so solid, so calming, so comforting, such as Alex Jennings, currently reading Somerset Maugham’s, Ashenden, the Gentleman Spy. Or there is Anton Lesser, reading Falco. And there are women’s voices too. Anna Massey always settled me. A rich, deeply rounded old-fashioned voice with that trace of melancholy. There are more.

How hard it is to describe a voice. That is, without lapsing into cliché. There is so much I want to talk of, to capture, share about my day. The richness that goes on inside. I look empty. At least I believe I do and yet, there is so much inside. A continual bursting of thoughts, of ideas. Is the bursting enough, even if it does not come to anything?

I fantasise about his death. Not to bring it on, no, oh no, but to show myself that I will survive it, that there is a plan. It’s magic, he always says, when he anticipates the worst, it stops it happening. It’s magic. And yet, we all know it’s going to happen. To all of us. Look at all these people, he says to me, what do they all have in common? No? he asks. They are all going to die. Yes.

It is mainly my belongings I worry about. My pictures and all the things. The things that I have. When he goes. When he finally leaves me I will have to retrench, cut back. Live small again. Live simply. I fantasise then. I will have an open weekend. I will invite my family, my friends, my patrons. Come, I shall say, bring your cars, I will provide refreshments. Come and choose. Take whatever you like. I want my pictures, my things to go to good homes. And then the flat will be empty. Cleaned-out. I will just have my small suitcase. And then? Then I will travel. Live in hotels. Watching life. Waiting till my time is up. It will do. It will be enough to be light again.


The storms didn’t come last night. I shut the windows just in case, but there was no need. No need.


Rock crop

Talk to Me - why not, detail

It was the answer to a crossword clue. I’d never heard the phrase before. Rock crop. And now I see them everywhere. I saw some this morning. Straggly roots finding home between the stones of a wall. Leafy tendrils sprouting perfect, yet minute purple flowers. What tenacity. They ask so little, just a modicum of soil, a little rain and some sun. They are mostly overlooked, theirs is not a showy existence. It is enough to just exist, I think.

Crosswords. We do them all the time. Saturday night being the ‘big one’. The Times. And then Sunday, The Independent. We do crosswords over supper. Then on Wednesdays he takes the unfinished ones to Ken. Ken ‘ll know that one, he says, the bastard! Or, I’ll get Ken over that one. The virgin one is best. All that potential for thought. Keeps us alive. Keeps us alert. I’m alive. I am alive.

The light mornings are going, the dark is approaching. The realisation brings on a melancholy. The light is so transitory. The dark feels too permanent. So be it, I sigh. So be it. For there is a beauty in the dark walking. The lights. The lights of the promenade, custard-yellow lines reflected wavy in the sea. The red lights over the bridge. The squares of light from the non-sleepers, a dotted patchwork against the black. And there is always the promise of that unfolding blue. Morning.

Coming out of Morrisons the man with the tattoos, earrings and the long white beard is with a little girl. They stand slightly apart clearly waiting for a taxi. He is usually with his mother on Saturday mornings, pushing her trolley and reaching for the shelves she can’t. A tiny little woman. I smile at her. He’s so good to me, she says. I’ve got a daughter but I never see her. Where’s your Mum ? he asks him. She’s giddy today, he says.


His death shook me. I hardly knew him and yet I did. I allowed him in. He was part of my Friday, between the cleaning and the ironing. I listened. I’m shaken, discombobulated. After all, they are the same age. He was also born in 1947. It makes me want to cling.

We talk about funerals over coffee. Don’t give me one, he says. It’s a ridiculous amount of money. But people will expect it, I say. Fuck ’em, he says. This is about you and me. And you won’t have the money. Give my body to science, he says. No, I say. You wanted to be put next to your Mum and Dad. Ok, but no funeral, he says. He calls them professional mourners. He knows lots of them. Perhaps its a small town thing. They put on the suit and the black tie and turn up solemn-faced. What is it about? For most of the time it is just the death of an acquaintance. Does it make them feel important? Is it about belonging? Death is a great leveller, after all. Perhaps it is that, it grounds people, gives them a sense of something other. I remember my father’s slow passing. I had to tear myself away. I found it difficult to be there but at the same time wanted its importance. This is bigger than my little everyday life, I kept thinking, this intimacy, this opportunity to be in the presence of grace. I’ll call Harry Daniels next week and find out what it costs, he says. Yes, I say. And you must do the same for me. But you want your ashes scattered at the top of Scotland, he says. Well, I say, perhaps over the Perygyl will do. After all the wind will take me where I need to go, eventually. And it will. It will.


Wasps’ Nests

Telephone image

One of my telephone befriending clients has died. I sensed something had happened but wasn’t sure of the protocol. After three weeks of getting no reply I called his daughter. Daddy died, she said, after a fall. It wasn’t the drink. No, he wasn’t a well man. Nevertheless, he’d taken himself to Dublin, alone, but for his dog. She was getting married. He was to give her away, wearing a new set of dentures and good suit. I won’t have you giving me away in your tracksuit bottoms, he’d told me she’d said. She doesn’t mince her words, my daughter, he said. He looked so handsome, she said.

I liked him. He’d been given an ASBO, his daughter told me. They all had. They’re just old people, she said, and ill. He just spoke his mind, that’s all, she said, it’s the Irish way. Yes. I liked him. His language was colourful, certainly, but his heart was big. He loved his music, his computer and his black Labrador. He called me ‘love’. I liked that. Once when I called he was sad, but mostly he took life on, raging. I liked him. Rest in peace. Rest in peace.


When we got back into the car I could smell bleach. They’d just finished mopping the floor in Morrisons. The smell jettisoned me back to childhood. Bleach was used on everything. An odour associated with cleanliness. A friend told me that as part of her OCD she used to wash her hands with it. I can’t bear the smell. I can’t explain why.

I think about cleaners, cleaning ladies, chars. Mum used to have them, though she never worked. I can’t do it all myself, she’d say, the house is too big and I’ve got you lot to look after. I remember Mrs Carter the most fondly. She was Scottish, from Glasgow. I loved the warmth of her gentle brogue. The chrome of the bathroom taps always shone when she’d been. I wanted to miss school and be around when she was there. Friday, always a Friday. In the holidays I could be. Do you miss Glasgow? I’d ask. Oh, yes, she’d say, it’s ma home. Now get one wi’ you, I’ve work to do else yer Mother will have my guts for garters. They were never good enough for Mum. Her standards were high and exacting and I just don’t think she’d learnt to see the best in people. I knew it would come soon enough, the finding fault. I believe Mrs Carter survived the judgement and stayed until we moved. She loved her ‘girls’ in Spain, though. Two sisters. Neither could speak any English so Mum communicated with them by a series of big expansive gestures, generally pointing at things that needed special attention. Geoffrey just shouted English words at them. They grinned and giggled throughout it all. Coming to her funeral, they sat at the back and were the only ones of her acquaintance that wept.


I had two bookings for the World Service News Hour. Both about Bangkok. This is important stuff, he said as he drove me to the studio. Yes, I said. I remember. I remember listening to the World Service in Amsterdam on the canal boat. My only connection, at times, with all that I had left behind. It was a comfort. Yes? the girl snaps at the end of the phone. Can I speak to James, I have the contributor in the studio? I ask. James! I hear her call out, phone! Yes. They are important, an importance that communicates itself through an urgency, a sharpness that is rarely found here. So be it. What do I know? Yesterday, a man came to the studio to give a live piece about Welsh chapels. A gentle man with trousers that were hitched up a little too high. Coming into town is too much for me these days, my other befriending client says, everyone is racing about. Town is Camarthen. Marks was packed, she said, and it was so wet.

She is my only one now. I love her voice. Lyrical yet tender. She is shy and reticent but has warmed to me. Asking questions. Being polite. Brought up proper. After the call I notice I have perspired under my arms. Just like when I teach. An involuntary reaction. What is it? Phones, I suppose. I’ve never liked them. I cannot see peoples’ faces. I worry about whether my call is welcome, whether I am doing it right. The guidelines are vague. Be kind, I tell myself, give yourself over to the listening. Stay still. Listen. I project myself into their lives, feeling what they feel. I’ve always done it. It’s an uncomfortable way of being at times, too much, too physical, too emotional. I lose myself, my core and become as one with them. Does it make a difference? Calling my aunt, my family, does it make a difference? Is it enough just to connect? See, I think of you. You are with me now. I am with you. Standing beside you. She coughs down the phone. She isn’t well. Mustn’t complain, she says, there are many worse off. Yes, but what of you? This is about you. Talk to me. Share it with me. Let me carry it awhile. And then I grow tired and need to withdraw. I’ll speak to you next week, I say. I look forward to it, she says. Take good care, I say. Bye, sweetheart. Bye.


These warm muggy early mornings bring out lovers. I see them huddled on promenade benches. Mostly sitting in silence, they stare at the sea, beyond sleep and aimless. Time is stretched, the night  extended. This morning there was a couple under an umbrella by Alexandra Hall. A black form, temporarily motionless. They finished their embrace and moved as one towards Constitution Hill. The rain misted down.

On the radio a woman is talking about having ECT treatment. Afterwards, she says, I couldn’t find my sewing things. It’s all there. A whole life in one sentence. Do women still have sewing things? My mother had a sewing basket just for mending. She kept her needlepoint and embroidery in a drawer in the lounge. Nor could I remember the names of plants in my garden, the woman is saying. I said I didn’t want it anymore, and I had three weeks with nothing. I began to cry again, to feel things, to be normal again. See, the specialist said, you need it. And I let him persuade me, she said.

Earlier, I am caught by a programme on launderettes. Yes, I remember those too. Not wistfully. They were a necessity. They were always cold, drab places, windows running with condensation. The presenter visits one in London where they have a internet café. We want people to talk, have a good time, says the owner, not just wash their smalls. On Sundays mornings in the Heaton Moor one I used to read his green book. This was before we properly got together. I read them all. They were his words. I lapped them up. It was a comfort.


Turning off the roundabout I see a small sign attached to a chicken-wired fence. Wasps’ Nests Taken, call this number.




Photo - detail - Talk to Me (small)

I don’t have to do it. I know that. But I feel compelled to do so.

I think I have always been afraid of the dark. I believe I have told you so already. As a child I had a night light. I thought it magical. It didn’t turn or play music or anything fancy like that, it was just a light, with Disney images, I think. But it was constant, it was alight, just for me. Now when I do my morning walks it is dark again. The morning light is coming later and later, minute by minute, and I am sad for that. And yet I still go out.

As I leave the flat there is a little bit of road that remains unlit. No doubt a cost-cutting exercise. I have to feel my way forward. My steps are less confident. I slow down my pace. Alert. Sensing with every hair on my skin. Sometimes there is a cat, slinking out from under a car. It is too dark for the birds. They only come out when their eyes can see the breaking of dawn. First light. By then I am almost by the Prom and in front of the sea.

I push into the dark. No, no, says my scared little self, let’s stay in. Where it is warm and safe. I push into the dark arriving at the Terrace Road junction. A woman strides out before me heading for the station. Her form is caught briefly by the yellow of the streetlamp. Along North Road I begin to hear the birds. The first ones. The ones with the largest eyes. The screeching of the gulls and then the whistling of the blackbirds. Then by the shore I hear the oystercatchers peeping their alarm. Is it about me? There is no one else. Earlier I did see a man coming out of a house. The slam of the door. Then a car engine. Diesel. Juddering. Then silence. Sounds lie heavy in the dark. Resonant, getting under my skin. Sometimes I see the smoker. She sits on a bench across from her house on North Road. She is closed-off. Wrapped up inside of herself. I say Good Morning, but I sense her reluctance to engage. She smokes and stares into the black.

Why do I do it? To master it? To challenge my fear?To walk into my fear and find it is alright? I have got through another night. And now? Now there is the joy of the day, the daylight. And today, yes today, the sun.

Bits of something like wisdom come to me from the radio. My new wee radio. Duck-egg blue. A Roberts radio, naturally. First from a short story by Brian Aldiss. ‘I think we work so hard because living, pure living, is too intense to endure.’ Yes. I concur. Sometimes one can be near exploding with it all. Work is a distraction. A way of escaping ourselves and those endless, unanswerable questions. I walk in the dark full of those questions, chanting my way, walking my way towards acceptance.

And then there was another. A play about some girls who chartered a barge during the war. The Maidens’ Trip by Emma Smith. ‘I felt so alive’, said one of the girls, ‘so full of sap.’ Yes, I remember that feeling. It comes less now. Now there is a something more akin to peace. Sitting in our wall, facing the sun, watching the sea, alert to the dolphins.

Any sign of Doris? he asks. No, I reply, not today.

We watch the passersby. Mother’s pushing prams, dogs on leads, middle-aged couples arm in arm, strolling. A child with a balloon. Anyone coming to join me? a woman calls from the sea.

Later, our Monday night Indian. Wellington, Cruz and Mohammed but no Melvyn. The table next to ours is taken by a three Muslim women and their young children. Everyone is chattering at once. Cruz turns up with a plate piled high with Nan breads and another of chips. Hands reach out and tear the bread scooping up curry. A little boy slides down off his chair to stand before us and beam. Hello, we say. He sidles back to his mother. She smiles. Proud. They are overtired, one of the women says. After they’ve left he notices a yellow plastic car under a seat and hurries out of the restaurant with it.

Did you find them? I ask when he returns. Yes, he says, pleased, a good turn done. My very own boy scout.

I was too tired for University Challenge. That’s the price you pay, he says, for getting up so early. I know, I say, but I need to do it. Have to do it. It’s my calm, you see. My way of walking myself into something that feels like peace.