Ambergris & Sea Silk


I called my aunt at the Home in Oslo. One second he said in Norwegian, I’ll go and get her. She took a while to come to the phone. I heard various clunking sounds and the noise of buttons being pressed. Halloo, halloo, she shouted. It’s me, I said. Oh, she said, that’s nice, before asking, you’re not in Norway are you? No, I said, why? It’s just I’m rather busy at the moment with a friend, she said, we’re staying at a rather nice place up in the Mountains. How lovely, I said, is the weather nice. Oh, yes, she said, lovely. I’m rather busy at the moment, she said, perhaps you could phone another time. Of course, I said. Of course. I think about you, I said. Pardon, she said, what did you say? I think about you, I said. That’s nice, she said, I think upon you too. Have a nice time, she said. Bye. Bye. Bye.

A day of radio stories. First a female voice talking about sea silk. There were tales of it being so fine that when spun into cloth it could be folded up and kept in a walnut shell, she said. Just like Donkeyskin, I thought, with her three dresses of the moon, sun and stars. And then another narrative about a man and his dog finding what he thought was ambergris on a beach. Sea gold. Oil from a sperm whale. Precious. Worth a fortune to a perfume maker. A great media furore follows – TV, radio and newspapers. It wasn’t ambergris. It was most likely palm oil, said a scientist, that had been in the sea for years. His dog dies of poisoning. The man becomes depressed until a friend brings him a new puppy. What did you do with the stuff? asks a reporter. Its under the sink, he replies. A reminder. Fool’s gold? Not he, he was sanguine throughout. It was the dog that found it and it killed it, he said. Best keep it so that it doesn’t happen again, eh?

The morning is heavy with a warm moistness, it makes me feel sleepy, groggy even. Crows caw outside my window.

I spent yesterday going through my slides. Neat little things. Old-fashioned now. But for some of my work that is all I have. A record of what I have done. What I have made. It was a good process. I felt richer for it. They hang now in other people’s spaces. In other people’s homes. Clearing is all I can do presently. And wait for something to come into the space. It will come. It will.


They gathered around the fishing boat. Indistinct figures in the morning dark. There was laughter amidst the silence and the thrum of the engine. A man and a young boy bounded out of a maroon van to stand against the wall and watch the sea. Not talking. Waiting.


By Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.