Ants, Balls, Black Ties and Sequins

It must be May Ball time. Though there is only one here. And that has become a much reduced affair. They used to have it out in the sticks somewhere, didn’t they? he said at breakfast. Yes, they used to bus people out there, I said, sounding like I knew what I was talking about. They lost interest, or it was too expensive, I said. It must be May Ball time (even though it is June, an Oxbridge thing, don’t ask) because there were some couples walking down the hill and the men were wearing black ties. Not bow ties and dinner jackets, just black ties and white shirts. I used to love dressing-up. It marked the occasion as out of the ordinary. There clearly isn’t the will here. The girls wear short, tight dresses or shorts, anything that reveals legs and cleavage. Though when I see them in the morning they are passed their best. As I walked towards The Angel this morning there was one that sparkled in the lamplight. A shimmering. It was beautiful. From afar. Up close it was just another sequinned dress with a swirly pattern of lines embossed with glitter. She clearly felt wonderful in it, though and pranced about as they called out her name. Another girl was standing in the pub’s doorway, singing. You don’t like my singing, you don’t like my singing. The boys wore their shirts out of their trousers, which were tight and black. Some looked awkward, unsure how to behave. Lip Lickin’ was open.

I saw one yesterday. An ant crawling along a flex in the kitchen. Is it just one? Or is there a nest? Bide your time. I didn’t kill it. I don’t like to kill anything. I remember getting the insect man in when we lived in Cambridge. He’d come with his spray, its container strapped to his body, and spray inside and outside. We had to leave it till the next day. I hated it. All those nasty chemicals. A taciturn man, who took real pride in his job. It just seemed a little over the top. There were only a few. Give ’em and inch. Its just a balance. The world, the universe teems with insects. I saw another one this morning. Or was it the same one? It’s the food, he said, they come for the food. But I don’t leave food out and I’m always wiping down the surfaces, I said. I found it later and put it out of the window.

The plaster came off in the night, he said, calling from the bathroom, still bleary from sleep and peeing. It’s gone all over the sheets. And it had. God, I said. One tiny blister making all that mess. It gets to me. I try not to let it. I can’t contain it all, him, the bits that come off us, the chaos, the grime. I just want order. Its unreal, impossible. Like putting all the insects we find outside. The house, the world, even we, teem with them. It is gestural. He will age, as indeed, will I. I just need to accept the mess of it and not make him feel uncomfortable about it.

I think about our trip to London. All those muggings in the papers. I want to be safe. At least I want my work to be safe. To be able to do my work. It’s all about the writing. I want to write about it, fathom it out. I think about a ‘stuck’ diary. A journal about Artist’s Block. Can I do it? Is there enough in it? Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans, wrote John Lennon. I’m interested in the work we do when we are not working. Not able to work. Blocked. What happens in those spaces? The negative spaces.

The washing machine has finished. I need to go and unload it. Sometimes writing this doesn’t give me the relief I hope for. Sometimes it is just too pedestrian. A light spotting of rain on the window. Murky white clouds. An inside day. Much to do. Much to do.


By Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.