Baptist Church sign

We finished watching it last night. Oranges Aren’t the Only Fruit. It was brutal. Brutally sharp, brutally funny, bleak yet somehow hopeful. I’m going to go to University, she says. She survives it all, even the ‘ropes of love’. Oranges. I love them. Her mother arrives in hospital with a large string bag full of them. In the TV play Jess had a friend, Elsie, an 82 year-old woman from the congregation. I think Jeanette Winterson wrote in her autobiography that this was a fiction. I’m sorry for that.

Northern skies. Rain on cobbled streets. Outside lavs, best place for it, says Elsie, all that muck. Hair nets in bed. Silent husbands. I seem to know it and yet I don’t. The child making the best of it. Will I get a new hat in heaven? She scares the other children with her talk of the devil. Next door are fornicating, she tells the ice-cream man. Are they? he says.

It will stay with me for a long time. Just like The Crucible. Both distortions of love, in the name of God. And yet, within there is so much. So much.

I walk in the light of the moon. Silvery. In the light of the silvery moon, I love to spoon, I sing in my head as I walk. The students are back in force. They sat on benches this morning as I strode by, heads lolling forward. The sea was lapping. The Perygyl was lit up white. I listened to music, to stories, to Norwegian in my headphones. I missed the silence, the sound of the sea, the birds. Tomorrow I will leave them behind.



I write my 1,000 words. I don’t read them back. Not yet. Write 20,000, no 30,000 before you do so. Let it shape itself. Get it on the page and then go back. Give it life, breathe into it first. Give it a life of its own. And then what? Wait. Just wait.





Excuse me mate, the man said after knocking on our car window, have you got a torch? A pheasant flew into me car, he said, and I think he might ‘ave damaged me radiator or it could be the air-conditioning. Do yer know anything about cars? It’s making a hissing noise, could that be the air-conditioning?

He shakes his head. Sorry, mate. The caravan up ahead might have a torch, he said, and there’s a garage about five miles up the road. Cheers, the man said, sorry to ‘ave troubled yer.

At the motorway service station there had been a cluster of starlings. They’d spun around chattering, shell-shocked, lost. They must be babies, I said, and scattered some seeds on the ground. It took awhile before they realised it was food. One of them pecked half-heartedly before the others followed suit, scrapping and flying up at each other.


Below my studio window there is a tiny apple tree in a pot. It is on a balcony and there are apples, six. The fruit looks fake upon the virtually leafless branches, pulling them down with their weight.

A large woman stood adjusting her apricot-coloured jumper in the mirror before asking a girl by the hand drier to help tie the bow at the back. Initially I’d thought that they knew each other. The girl looked wary, embarrassed. I don’t think she appreciated me asking her, the woman said to me afterwards. Is a special occasion? I asked. Very, she said and beamed revealing a missing front tooth. I’ve left me teeth in the car, she said, I’m going to put them in after.


The reviews kept talking about the water and the actors ‘sloshing’ about in it. I keep thinking about it. What do I think? It was meant to be a crucible, a vessel for turning base metal into gold. The circle of white light was fantastic and it remained lit throughout the performance. The water. The water was discomforting, and necessarily so, I think. What was it? A baptism, a baptism of what? So many symbols, too much to digest, to think about. Don’t think then, just feel. How did it make you feel? Moved. Deeply moved. And it is still so resonant. So resonant.


I heard them talking about the eclipse on the radio. I’d forgotten about it. And then I saw it, as I walked. It went pink. The moon was rosy. Then the black came and then slowly, ever so slowly the white returned. It was a while before I realised that the birds had stopped singing.


Witness (2)

Acts of Love, (2) - detail (2)

I am a maker of lists. I make lists, often hastily scribbled notes, of what I want to write about here. Just in case, just in case I forget. I’ve been away and came upon one such list. It begins with the line ‘spitting rain’. It must have been almost two weeks ago. Was it raining when I walked? Yes, I remember now. A Sunday morning, and the rain was coming down in a fine wet mist. I had my umbrella up. Walking past the Pier Pressure nightclub there was a man standing outside talking to a young woman. Neither wore coats. I’m from the valleys, the girl was saying, I’m not posh. The man saw me walk by. It’s not raining love, he shouted. I smiled at him and kept moving. You go for it, girl, he said.

I’ve been away. It seems like forever. There is much to write about but not yet, not yet. I want to bear witness. And I will, soon. Soon. Soon.


Red Hat

Night Murmurs (2) - detail

I often see her coming down Penglais Hill. She is a tiny, wee thing of a woman, always dressed in outlandish clothes. Sometimes it is a South American-Indian style cape or tartan stockings. Nothing fits and nothing matches. It is as if she has rifled through a dressing-up box and found various oddments she fancied. She likes crazy hats. The other day she had on a polka-dot skirt, a black anorak and a bright red woolen hat. I nod my head at her but she barely notices. She walks with purpose, without, it appears going anywhere specific. She wanders. She has a key on a chain around her neck.

A blood vessel has burst in my eye. I get them now and again. When I’m tired or overwrought. It must be from Thursday when I had three bookings, the last one being ten at night. Too late. I only four hours sleep. It takes its toll, that. And I shall be fifty-three next Wednesday. I feel fit but I need sleep. Good sleep. Deep sleep. I try to see the beauty in the spilling of red. Watching its shape.

A seagull flies past my window, wings taut in the window, wing tips like fingers spread against the breeze.

Earlier I caught a young wasp in a cloth and set it free through the window.


How I love Public Libraries. You walk in and come out with four new books to read. What a pleasure to choose. I don’t want to own them, to borrow is such pleasure. A dipping in. A lightness. No committal. Grahame Greene, Ali Smith, Tove Jansson and an author I’ve never heard of, Jim Grace. I wanted slim novels. Handbag-size with beautiful covers. White Noise will have to wait – it is too big to take with me. I suppose I should get a Kindle, I say to him. They’re not doing so well, he says, they haven’t taken off the way they expected. Are people going back to books then? I ask.

I never left them. It is all in the handling of them. The bookmarking. The things left inside them. The date stamps. The smell.

It is time. It is time for an adventure. Are you ready?



On Reading (1)

We went out for the day. We went to Aberdovey, to the hotel on the hill. The sun was out. All the guests were outside. The lounges were empty. They sat on benches and plastic chairs, on the grass looking down upon the links golf course and the sea. Some sat at tables under umbrellas. One woman lay fully-clothed on a sun-lounger reading the Daily Mail, another sat with her Labrador.They read papers, did crosswords and drank tea poured from metal pots and carried to them on silver trays. Many walked with walking frames or sticks, slowly and steadily like determined snails making their way back and forth to the WC.

We’d saved the Times Jumbo Crossword. He read out the clues while I lay on the bench, eyes shut to the sun. The Labrador sniffed his mistress’ teapot.

My back unclenched. Scaramouche, I said. How did you know that? he asked. I wouldn’t have got that. I bet Ken won’t either.

Later a party of four inched their way onto the lawn beside us. We’d watched as a car had deposited them on the tarmac. One of the party was a tall woman of about forty wearing a sun dress with a low neckline and narrow straps. She strutted on ahead, her heels sinking into the grass, to find seats, carrying a large wooden chair back and forth before she could decide upon where to settle. The other three followed her. A middle-aged woman and then what were clearly her parents. The elderly man came last, his trousers pulled up high over his chest, a hearing aid in his ear and navy-blue slippers on his feet. He was tiny. Can you manage? he said to him. Oh, yes, he said, thank you. And thank you again, he called out, once he had sat down.

Earlier on two women had sat in the same seat. A mother and daughter. The mother deaf. The daughter shouting, in Welsh. When they weren’t talking they sat, both of them, faces lifted to the sun, flat and opened out like the wings of butterflies.


He has had sciatica for quite some time now. A few weeks ago he told me that he’d booked to see Veronica, my masseur. I was pleased. That’s brilliant, I said. It will hurt. But she is so good, I said. I saw her last week. How did he get on? she asked. Has it helped? Oh, yes, I said. She went into the room to prepare the bed. She came to the door and signaled for me to enter. Shutting the door behind her, she said, he’s not very brave is he?


The woman with the handbag was back in the gym this morning. Today she was on the bicycle reading an Sunday supplement magazine pull-out called Originals.



Ellen Bell: Photography by Simon Cook 01736 360041

It’s a piece of piss, isn’t it? a man is shouting from the doorway of his flat across the road to a man standing outside Saparito’s Café. They hate it with a passion, he continues, kicking off his tartan slippers and bending down to push his feet into white trainers. He has on a navy blue cardigan over grey tracksuit bottoms.

I heard an owl as I walked this morning. The sound it made wasn’t a twit-ter-woo but more like a wow wow. It echoed through the cloudless dark. As I walked back up St Davids Road the streetlights came on. Five o’clock, I murmured to myself. As clockwork.

Every Monday night we go for an Indian, early. We are usually the first one’s there. Wellington’s bought a Burton suit, Melvyn told us. For the wedding. It’s bright blue. Which wedding? he asked, not his? No, no, said Melvyn. It’s his cousin’s. It’s wedding season in Goa. We saw the Polish guy, this afternoon on the Prom, he told Melvyn. You know, the one who helps out here. Oh, yes, Genius. Genius? he says, laughing. No, no, says Melvyn, I thought it was a nickname too. But no it’s his real name, Genius. We ask him what he does on his day off. What’s to do? replies Melvyn, I go on the phone to my wife, skype my family that’s all. He grins, I’ll go and get your starters.

The boss’s name is Mohammed but they all call him John. Sometimes he is in the kitchen peeling the potatoes.

I caught the end of a radio play this morning as I prepared breakfast. It was about a German couple during the Second World War who left anonymous postcards in public spaces that questioned Hilter’s authority. We must do our bit, the man says to his wife, even if we have to lose our lives doing it.

I dreamt that a large chunk of the ceiling fell in. Later there was a fish high up by where the ceiling had been. I asked him to get it down for me. Is it still alive?

I’ve come to see if there is any mackerel said Genius on the Perygyl.

The sun shone yesterday and warmed my skin.

Any sign of Doris? he asked




Test text (12)

I knew someone in Bath who collected heart shapes. He’d wander around the city with his camera taking pictures of stuff on the ground that had inadvertently formed into a heart. Chewing gum, a stone, a bit of spittle, a leaf, a torn piece of paper, seagull shit anything. I started to see heart shapes too. Everywhere. I still do.

The countryside is black with writers walking, said the man in the film.

Writers are often walkers, he said during a seminar.

During the week I end my morning walk down Great Darkgate Street so that I can go past Slater’s Bakery. It’s the smell. Sometimes it catches me before I approach, the corner where Boots Opticians is say but mostly, it is afterwards, when I am nearing Rees Astley Insurance Brokers. It is a gorgeous aroma, warming, salty, yeasty and familiar. Like being inside a womb. Life-giving. Enriching. Today there were three white floury footmarks outside.

Two slugs are pulling their way along the tarmac. One on the hill by Alexander Hall, the other by the Castle. I step over them. Their slime shimmers in the yellowy glare of the street lights like Christmas glitter mixed with glue.

A fishing boat was just leaving as I entered the Harbour. Its tower of lights, red, green and white was ablaze against the black. The engine chuddered softly, the boat clinging to the wall, reluctant to leave. There was no swell, the searchlight was a perfect unbroken line of white on the sea. The boat edged its way out of the harbour, the pull towards home still strong. Then it broke free, upped a gear and it was out into the wide blue-black.

I heard a noise, my back stiffened, I turned. A front door had opened, a woman wearing a cycling helmet smiled at me. Safe. One the Prom nearing South Marine a man comes towards me wearing a hoodie. His eyes are furtive, looking inside. No contact is made. Nothing. My hackles bristle. I want to smile but it would be lost, unaccepted.

He’d told me that there would be no more birdsong but this morning there was. Blackbirds, robins, finches – and it was still dark.

As he gradually lost both the will and ability to speak he started to wave. Everything was put into that wave – a strange, uncharacteristic fiddly, flapping gesture, like long feathers moving separately in a wing. The wave would say hello, yes, I know, that’s funny, I hear you and goodbye. It was a feminine gesture, a gesture of acquiescence, of grace, of defeat.


Firework for W. G. Sebald

Mum & Dad cambridge (1)

The air was chill this morning. A clear sky. The stars bright and the moon, a fat crescent, shone white. My finger tips, in black leather gloves, stung with the cold.

A girl, barefoot and coatless, stands outside the Pier Pressure nightclub. Excuse me, she calls out to me gesturing with an unlit cigarette, do you smoke? No, I say, I’m sorry I don’t. Later, as I come down Great Darkgate Street, I see her at the far end of Terrace Road. Bye, she is shouting to a friend. Byeeee!. I walk behind her as she runs, still barefoot, down Llanbadarn Road.

A loaf of bread has been spilt outside Lilley’s Coffee Shop, slices of white scattered on the pavement.

The seabirds on the shore faced landwards this morning. Was it because of the cold?

Last night in bed I heard a chit chit sound, was it a chaffinch?

The light is on in Coral bookmakers, it isn’t yet 5.30 am.


We finished watching the film. I’m sure it wasn’t the same one, he reiterated. Melancholy aids creativity, one of the talking heads claimed. Only children really feel a sense of home, another said, it is a romantic notion. The artist Jeremy Millar (I think that was his name) made a series of photographs of fireworks that he had let off on the spot where Max Sebald died. Only the smoke remained. With the last one they superimposed an image of Sebald’s face. The smoke emulated its contours exactly. A sleight of hand, a cheap trick. Possibly.

I took a heavy sadness to bed with me. And slept fitfully, dreaming of Dad. I have a sketch of him that I have pinned on my studio board. It is a small pencil drawing that I made just before he died. He looks immobile, gone inward.

Penelope Wilton talking about her character in one of Alan Bennett’s Talking Head series, on Radio 4’s Reunion. She’s a timid woman, with a very large inner life that expresses itself in her garden.

I didn’t manage to write away the greyness. Not today.



Patience (2)

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I write a list of food. It is awkward. It is such a private thing. And yet, food is a site of love. We cook for others, for ourselves, with love. But it is the ingesting. We have so much while others have so little. It has become complicated, we have lost our ease with it all. I buy rhubarb, great long fat sticks of it. I love its tartness. What will you have with it, he asks, custard? No, no custard. I just like it cooked as it is. No sugar. The taste of metal in my mouth, furring my teeth. And there were broad beans, too. So many, all for a pound. I am sorry for the farmer. I shall shell the rest and freeze them. Such abundance. I am thankful. Look at all the colours. What a joy.

Will they understand? I was brought up to be thankful, to finish my plate. To eat what I was given and be grateful. A site of love and site of power, of control. The turkey fricassee and my sister pretending to gag. For what we are about to eat may the Lord make us…. At every meal time at school. We said it off-pat. Who will say grace? Grace, anybody?

I see them on these dark mornings, massing on the sea shore. A mass of sea birds. Gulls and terns and oystercatchers. They stand on the sand facing the sea, in silence, waiting. My thrown shadow can stir them, one will screech, maybe shift a little. Mostly, they stay still, waiting. Each on their own piece of ground, close to one another but separate. In communion. Safety in numbers.

Excuse me, a man driving a white jeep called out to me. Sorry to bother you, but is there somewhere I can get petrol near here? I was almost home. He took me by surprise. I was looking inward, cocooned. It took ages to find my voice, to pierce through that membrane of inwardness. The words stumbled out. Was it left or right? Thanks, he said, and drove off.
We’re watching it again, that film about Max Sebald. I don’t think its the same one, he said, there was definitely a motorbike, though I do remember the picture with the bodies, though not the one with the fish. It’s called Patience. Jonathon Pryce is the narrator. I remember him at Stratford-upon-Avon, years ago, on stage astride a motorbike. Taming of the Shrew. His voice is like syrup. In Britain we walk to recover, one of the contributors says, whereas in America they walk to discover. What about my walking? What am I doing? A little bit of both. I walk things out and yet, I also walk inwardly, finding, looking for something inside. Feeling the warmth within and the cold without.

I went to sleep with the cold air on my face. I was woken by a gust of wind.

The wind was strong this morning. No one was about. I enjoyed the solitude. Too windy for a brolly. So be it, though I don’t usually like rain on my face. So be it. The wind blew me dry. Blow dry.

They offered him refuge in Canada. He doesn’t want to go. Not now. He wants to remain in Syria, to be beside the grave of his wife and children. Was that him crying on the front of the paper? Won’t you try? Is all lost? I cannot imagine such grief. Is there anything we can do? Is there anything to be done?

I want to do something about it now, he said. I will offer my homes to four refugee families NOW, he said. He has two spare, in London and in Kent. Now. He is angry again. He acts. He inspires action. The Independent had a montage of people holding handwritten placards – welcome refugees, welcome. They cried when they got to the border. We are welcomed here. We are welcome. You are welcome. Come. Find refuge. And you, my love, and you.



Letters Home, (Red) 2007 - detail (2)

We often see her on the Perygyl, on her maroon mobility scooter. She is generally parked right at the end staring out to sea. Her legs are water-logged, her hair blowing in the wind. She is large woman. Her bags are balanced on the scooter, a handbag in the basket at the front. When we pass her, as we did yesterday, she is writing postcards. She holds a wodge of them in her hand, using it to rest upon. Who is she writing to? Is she describing the scene? When the dolphins have been there she will say that she’s seen them. She doesn’t write then just stares out to sea, wrapt. Good afternoon, we say. Afternoon, she says. Though sometimes she ignores us. That’s OK, I say to him.

Sometimes it is a wrench to go out into the dark. I wrestle with my fear particularly when I see figures coming towards me. This morning I heard them but didn’t see them. Their voices were warm, they would be no threat. I move past, my senses sharpened. I walk down the middle of the road. I always do when I’m wary. It is away from the bushes, the leaf cover. I stride. Soldier, he called after me. On the Prom there is another figure. A student I think. He has headphones on, he doesn’t look at me. A bad sleeper perhaps. Lonely. I haven’t seen the smoker for a while. When it is dry there is often more people about. By the new bandstand two men walk towards me. My stomach dips. There is something. Good morning, I say, trying to take control. They walk past me and then one of them shouts out, do you want sex?

No, thank you, I reply and keep walking.