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.

By Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.