Ellen Bell: Photography by Simon Cook 01736 360041


The flower beds on the Promenade are full again. There’s petunias, geraniums and marigolds. They’ve been empty, just soil for so long now. Cutbacks no doubt. I love the neat rows. ‘Neat-and-tidy-bodgers’ Dawn used to them, gardeners of my persuasion (though I am no gardener), she preferred the wild, the haphazard. I do too, but the rows, the lines calm me.

It’s been a while. I’ve been busy on this and that. Not much to show for it. It’s all in my head, as usual. Lists. I still make the lists, on scraps of newsprint and post-it notes. Pink socks, reads one – referring to a pair of child’s socks I seen one morning abandoned on a bench, the form of the infant’s foot still preserved in their form. It’s been warm these last few nights and the beach is littered with little blackened mounds of stone and wood. Barbecues. The smell of smouldering embers hangs in windless air. I love it, slightly sweet, slightly acrid. The smell of summer. As I walk a police car slowly crawls towards the harbour, turns and drives back towards town. The moon, ah the moon has been lovely.

Any sign of Donny-don? he asks as we sit in our seat looking out to sea. Sometimes it is Donny-don, sometimes it is Donny-doris. Of course there are more than one. A whole school. A pod. Are they dolphins or porpoises? Does it matter? A couple sit in the cloudy gloom close to the sea’s edge on fold-up deckchairs. He is staring through binoculars. Any sign? Look there, and there. It is a marvellous thing. I get a lurch in my tummy.

The coast-guard huts are out. Another sign of summer. And the aroma of cut-grass. I find some strands of grass on our windowsill. Blown by the zephyrs.

The year is nearly ended. Exams nearly done. And the early mornings are noisy with students. Some swim, all carouse, their voices too loud, their bodies tripping, falling, too loose, too trusting. A man lies spread-eagled on the ground under the shelter of the new bandstand’s canopy. A space-machine from a bad B-movie it has a necklace of blue lights around its rim. A girl speeds down Great Darkgate Street on a child’s bike. Weeeeeee. A boy runs alongside her. She is too fast for him. He stops running, breathless now, his body doubled-up with the strain. A couple walk down North Road arguing. You’re not listening, he is saying. You’re not listening. He repeats everything twice. He walks ahead of her, not looking, just talking, his voice is flat, monotone, unforgiving.

A vase of dying purple carnations. The perfume of the honeysuckle. The peeping of the oystercatcher. The echoes of students carolling in the castle grounds.

It’s all about telling the truth. Simple really. Just tell the story. Be yourself, he says. Yes.

Poppies. Yellow poppies. Irish poppies. Breakfast. He is reading to me from an article. Apparently, farmers used to revere the poppy, he says. They were considered mystical, magical. Now they kill them with pesticide. Sometime they only last a day.

I remember such fragility. You can’t pick them. The petals with flake, fritter away. All it takes is a little wind. Brave flowers, they come anyway. A thousand rescued. A thousand. They seek hope. They seek safety. Brave flowers. Brave flowers.



Love, 2007 (detail) (small compression)

They say that both Mercury and Mars are retrograde. They say all sorts of things can go wrong,  planes missed, trains cancelled, computers kaput. The good thing is, they say, is that one is forced to go backwards, seemingly like the planets, and re-visit the past. Go over things. Review, consider again. I’m doing it. I found myself doing it yesterday. Looking through notebooks, sketchbooks from two even three years ago. The same conundrums, the dilemmas, the same preoccupations. It was always words, Jeanette Winterston wrote, never the plot (I paraphrase a little). I’m a detail person. That’s always what I see in my mind’s eye. Up close. Personal. You need to get the overview, they’d tell me. Why? I should’ve said. This is what I do. Words.

According to Charlotte Bronte (and according to Mrs Gaskell) Harriet Martineau kept early hours. Rising before dawn to bathe, breakfast etc. so that she could begin writing early. A singular woman by all accounts, not unlike CB herself. A singular woman with singular habits. In the Spring it makes sense. Dawn rises now as I walk. No longer the pitch black, thank God.

Solitude. Melancholy. What is that clue a mournful lament? God knows. God knows. Made sick by it she was. All that heavy Victorian solitude. And when she do go and commune with people she got headaches. Poor love. Poor C.

The warmer evenings and early mornings keep them from their beds. The young. The youth. Exam-time. A time of hysterics and winding-down. At 4.00 am the town is teeming with them. Towards the pier a young man in a still crisp white shirt is shouting as he walks alongside two girls. How do you think  the fuckin’ people on the Titanic felt? he asks. Seagulls screech overhead. The tide is out. The harbour silent. Walking through the Castle gardens I see what looks like an elderly white man in a wheelchair, seemingly being accompanied by a young, slim black boy. I live just down there, the old man is saying pointing towards Laura Place, in one of those terraces. I pass them and say good morning. The young lad calls out, hey, wait, and runs over to me. The man in the wheelchair stops and turns to watch. What do I feel? Is there fear? I mumble something about having to get back for work. His face is up close. A nice face, open, smiling. He reaches out to touch my chin. Gentle, stroking. Staring into my face he speaks softly. You look hot, he says. I smile. And move to walk away. Let me learn your name, he calls out. I tell him. Nathan, he shouts in return. Nathan.

Nathan Jones you’ve been gone too long, hums in my head all the way home. I am laughing too. Me, hot in all this wet-weather gear. Hatted and gloved. Hot. Hot. Nice. I tell him my stories over breakfast. And get irritated when he is being literal. I’m old, he says, I thought he meant you were too hot, you know with all those layers. It’s what they say, I reply. I know, he says, I know NOW.

Work is quiet so I do my own. It is good to have this time. Thinking time. Making time. Creating time. I think about being still. Keeping still. A forced stillness. A forced being at home-ness, like C. Sometimes she couldn’t write. A turgidity overtaking her. I read through some of my notebooks from Duras, those two weeks I went there alone. What a rush of pleasure it gave me. Is there something there, something authentic? A forced stillness and the needle remembering the freedom. What is mine? What is genuinely mine? It can be for me. Just for me. The paradigms have shifted. Let it be so.

The baker from the Pelican Bakery, in black linen shorts and apron, slips out of the shop. A smell of hot, salty yeast suffuses the morning air. Sublime.




Ellen Bell Call Me © Stephen Lynch Photography 034

I love to come across new words. Gewgaw a trinket or gaudy bauble. A crossword clue. Is it an eighteenth or nineteenth century word? I don’t even know how to pronounce it. Sounds like a noise a donkey would make. Are the donkeys still in Borth, in the field by the railway track, resting in readiness for their summer stint on the Prom? All those, mostly wary, children hoiked up onto their backs, clinging on and calling or waving to Mummy. I did it, not here but on beaches around the country. It felt good to be up high, surveying the world from a different level. I was nervous but awed. Look at me, I wanted to say, but didn’t for no one was looking anyway.

The cherry blossom is almost gone, blown like confetti along the pavements. Specks of white sticking to the soles of my shoes. The magnolia too. Replaced by fresh green. The warm mornings have been infused with the smell of honeysuckle and mock orange. Fuggy sweetness, glorious. The warm mornings bring out the youth too. Or it makes them linger longer, reluctant to go home. They sit on benches, legs sprawling, their voices too loud. Girls trip barefoot across the stones, brave boys swim shouting at the cold of the water. Exams have begun and after each one there is euphoria. I pass a group of lads. I literally fell, one of them is saying, and it was like……

Getting her onto the stool was a little tricky. The mugginess of the day had made her sticky. Can you feed the microphone up through your dress? I ask, handing it her. Breathing heavily, she proceeds to pass it through the buttons. I get a glimpse of tights. A toilet czar and medium, I am disappointed when I discover she’s come to talk about the former. What can one say about toilets? A piece to camera. They have to find something, something to fill the air, the screen. She is a warm woman, a gentle woman, but there is nothing, beyond common sense, to say.

Serendipity some call it. I don’t know. I send out a request and it is granted. Small things, inconsequential things. A Lord Peter Wimsey on Radio 4 Extra. And then more subtle connections. A book, two books I recognise. Read before. Re-visited. Marilyn Robinson’s Housekeeping was one.  Mark Lawson interviewing her. She didn’t write again for 23 years. What do they do, creative people, when they cease creating? I am interested. I am interested in the spaces in-between. A topic for study? It’s lucky they got me today, the woman is saying, I’m on annual leave tomorrow. Going anywhere nice? I ask. Don’t know yet, she says, though I’ve got to be back for me slimming club on Saturday. There’s a weigh-in.

The barista in Starbucks is a chatterbox. It is unceasing. Ebullient, flowing over, her voices carries across the canteen. There are no full stops, it is constant. Beyond the need to converse, she isn’t interested in replies. On and on. She’s talking about her colleague who has an ear infection. I can hear her talking to him. She’s a one an a ‘alf, she is saying.

It was colder this morning. The sea was still, benign. Walking up towards the castle I saw a small cream-coloured camper van wrapped all the way round with a whole roll of cling film.



Bedroom Fragments (1) (detail 5) (smaller)

Where’s the story? was always the implication. Sometimes there just isn’t one, merely a hotch-potch of observations. To keep until later. I notice things. Signs, bits of speech, a quote from the radio and I want to store them, or maybe just let them swirl around in my head, detached and floating. See where they land. See what happens. The speech thing still haunts me. Something said, seemingly randomly but which has huge import. Why sew them? I keep asking myself. Why? Why? And my shoulders get taught. Why not? he would say. A good voice, a tender voice, a supportive voice. Why? Anna Noel had to work at home in the end, she was too vulnerable to deal with all the whys. I didn’t have the words, she said.

Breadcrumbs available, reads a sign on the window of Slater’s Bakery.

We talked about her Gran. She calls her something else, a Welsh name that I cannot now recall. She’d had a hip replacement over forty years ago. They are only meant to last twenty, she said. She never walked, she said. What never? I asked, flabbergasted. Nope. Grandad drove her everywhere. (Again, she had a name for her grandfather, a special one, I can’t remember.) They’d drive down to the Prom and sit in the car with sandwiches and a flask. Her Gran died recently, I did tell you. She had to go to Camarthen, her replacement hips were so out-of-date that Bronglais Hospital couldn’t deal with them.

A few sad days this week. It’s all a little in the air. Chaotic, uncertain. How we respond is in our gift. I wobbled. Was unkind. And yet, the sadness brings with it a sharpness of seeing. I stood waiting for him and looked down at a hedge of box pushing against a black painted wrought iron fence. The intensity of the green of the box and blue-black of the fence was stunning. Then later, walking to our seat I saw what looked like a layer of diamonds on a rock out at sea. Then there was the sun shimmering on the water. A sparkling effervescence. Pure beauty. A gift.

There are splendid lives. (Rose Tremain)

Podiatry tales. She talked about a particular client. Cantankerous. He’d call me the ‘farmer’, she said. And do you know, when I was at his house doing his feet, I heard him refer to his wife as ‘horror chops’. No, I said. Yes, she said, and she answered to it. Didn’t seem in the least bit perturbed. Horror chops, she said, I ask you.

It was the May Ball last night. We saw them from the studio. Girls tripping in heels across the grass. Boys in black suits, hands in pockets, awkward. This morning I saw them on the Prom, weary now. Dishevelled. Walking back home along Llanbadarn Road there were three boys ahead of me. One turned to look at me, moving away to let me pass. Guys, he called, GUYS. They turned and promptly moved aside. Nothing to fear. So polite, even in their cups. Bless them. I hope they had fun. I remember. I remember.


Flip Flop

Newsprint Humanity (detail 1) 2009 (small)Pleasure, 2010 (detail) (small)

Town was teeming with young people this morning. I walked out earlier than usual, it was not yet 4.00am. They lolled about on benches, some barefoot, none with coats. It was warmer than of late. A wind but southerly, not bitter. I strode along the Prom towards the Harbour. Pier Pressure was still heaving. The air smelt of fried chicken, stale beer, cigarettes. There was laughter and loud screeching voices. A couple leaned into each other on a bench. Two girls sat on a step, both in tight shorts, the thighs all flesh. Another couple walked towards me. Her hair was piled high and she teetered in heels. She carried a pizza box in her hand. Do you love me yet? she asked her companion. Yeh, he said, offhandedly then with stress, OBVIOUSLY. She linked hands with him. He leant away. She giggled as they walked, clearly satisfied with his answer.

Yesterday, was the same. Busy. A single red flip flop lay in the road outside the nightclub. Two girls sat on the ground, leaning against the clapperboard exterior of the club. Several boys hung around the entrance talking to the bouncers. Cath, one of them shouted to the seated girls, you a’right? There was an ambulance opposite the Belle Vue Hotel. It was like a dumb play. No one spoke as a tiny girl was led towards the car. The siren was still. All was calm.

The moon was a half. Large, resplendent. Half light. The owl hooted. Later the birds. A cacophony. Dawn comes up as I approach home these days. A relief. A joy. That blue.