Author Archives: Ellen Bell

About Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.

Witch

I saw her walking ahead of me. Well it was more like waddling. She was tiny, at least in stature. The width of her was about equal to her height. I thought she might have Downs Syndrome, she had that same rolling, waddle of the girl we used to see walking through Jesus Green in Cambridge, happy-as-a-sandboy (as my mother used to say of such simple bliss) singing away to her Hp3 player. But then I thought, surely not, who would let her wander out at this time in the morning (it was by then about 3.30 am)? She sat down on one of the Prom benches and as I passed I saw that she was crying. She didn’t have DS, that was clear. Her face was heavily made up, her dress, black and figure-hugging was stretched tight across her chest revealing two barely matured breasts. On her head she wore a black woollen hat pulled down close to her eyes, emblazoned along the front was the word WITCH. The tears were streaking her mascara. I went over and touched her arm. Are you alright? Then it all poured out. She’d lost her friends and her feet really hurt and she needed to go to the Spar but couldn’t walk. Her boots, faux Doc Martens were in her hand, her stockinged feet, now wet and curled at the toes, rested on the sandy pavement. Don’t you have your friends numbers in your phone? I asked. No, she said, still sniffing, they’re my flat mates. How will you get home? I asked. Taxi, she said. Patting her shoulder and stroking her face, I suggested that she call a taxi and get them to take her to the Spar (though it was only about 500 yards away) on her way home. And then she could see her friends when she got back. She stopped crying and thanked me. God, they are so young, these fledgling girls sent to University, unformed and unready for the bigger world (though this town is hardly a Mecca but all things are relative). Her loneliness in those post-club-post-booze hours was palpable. Bless her. Bless all of them, squeezing themselves into tiny fake leather dresses, dolled-up and expecting some kind of deliverance. It won’t come, it never does. I want to wrap them all up.

A fully-lit Christmas tree still sparkled from a back upper window in one of the flats along South Marine Terrace. A chocolate digestive, still whole, still round lay in a puddle on the pavement along Llanbadarn Road.

She told me of her daughter who is studying podiatry at Cardiff and the challenging stuff she’d already encountered. She hesitated about telling me. Are you squeamish? she asked. Yes, I said but she told me anyway about the homeless woman whose toe came away when her daughter was observing a podiatrist at work. And of the little boy who was asked to press his foot into oasis at the gait clinic so that they could make an impression of his sole. But it hurts, he kept wailing.

My greed in ordering too many library books has borne fruit. Three came at once.

Elephant and family have moved.

Interior Life (2)

I’ve been calling her once a week for over seven years now. There were a few others that I used to call too. One, a woman who was deemed a trouble-maker and was thus taken off the books, and another, a man, Irish and much given to ranting (though I was fond of him), who died a couple of days after returning to Ireland for his daughter’s wedding. It was such a trip, one that took an age for him to arrange (fretting mostly about who would care for his black labrador whilst he was away) and then he just up and died. He was home, though, some compensation I suppose, if there is any. So now it is just her. Once a week, every Friday. I’ve ‘seen’ her blossom, though not in the visual sense for we’ve never met. But she has grown bolder, braver and more willing, though it takes it toll upon her, to leave the house and meet new people. It’s just the two of them, her and her daughter. I can only imagine their home – cosy but perhaps a little austere. They don’t have much but they have enough. They live on their nerves the two of them, sensitive to the outside world and all the uncertainty it brings. I don’t think she has ever travelled abroad, maybe her daughter hasn’t either. She is not curious to do so, it seems. She belongs here. She just wants to be safe. She walks with the neighbour’s dog in tow. They have a cat that lives in the shed. A feral thing, it shuns the domestic. They have chickens and a cockerel who runs to greet the daughter’s car when she returns from work. They have a small garden with a greenhouse where they grow tomatoes. She talks of her carrots and runner beans. They are both particular about their food. I love to hear her voice, the lilt of it, the Welshness of it. She is gentle. She feels things deeply. She sometimes has nightmares. Her ex-husband and father of her child hurt her. She keeps things close. She always thanks me for calling. I value her, deeply.

Interior Life

I don’t know why it captivates me so much but it does. And LW writes very well, unexpected really. I know that I have a romanticised view of that time, so much so that a little part of me is scandalised when adaptors of the novels, like AD, appear to take great liberties with the originals. LW does take some of the sheen off my pre-conceptions but only a little. I can understand that her life must’ve been hard, insecure and at times lacking in lustre, just as it was with the Brontes. But we cannot see the past as equal to the now, it wasn’t, isn’t. Their capacity to endure hardship, physical deprivation and discomfort must’ve been greater than ours, for they didn’t have our relative comfort or security. But perhaps they had other things – is that what I crave?

My interest lies in the interior lives of the women. The middle-class gentle gentrified women with seemingly little to do (though LW lifts the lid on this assumption as does AV). Why this is the case (my interest that is) I’m not wholly sure. Because I am ostensibly always at home, perhaps? Because I have battled with my need and love of home and how to treat it comfortably as safe, hiding place and working place, maybe? But I think it is more to do with how such women made their small lives large. As Austen did. The singing bird in the cage. The jaguar in the zoo. The wild forcibly tamed, living out their pulse, their metier in confinement. A throbbing acquiescence.

I read to learn. I read to escape. I read to become more.

Library Book

I finished my library book yesterday. I can’t say I’m sorry, it was rather heavy going, not so much for its content or story, which at times were engaging but it felt bleak, was bleak. I love choosing books, even if these days libraries’ stock of books is sadly depleted. I love that possibility of the unexpected coming to me, though sometimes I do chose something I’ve read before. It’s like putting on a favourite cardigan, warm and familiar. I’m not sure what I want this time. A classic perhaps. A Dickens or maybe I will return to Austen. I’m not sure.

We’ve begun writing letters to each other. She hand writes her, whereas I type mine. Nevertheless, it is an unlooked-for pleasure. Long may it continue. Oh to be so cherished.

The front door creaks and it really gets to him. Shut up, shut up, he said to it when we returned laden from the supermarket. Then he told me of an ex-next-door neighbour from Cambridge. She was in her seventies and he told me how one day her heard her listening to You and Yours on the radio and how she suddenly shouted out ‘Shut up, Shut up!’ at it. And then how he once happened to glimpse in through her window as he passed by and saw her doing some exercises. She was naked above the waist. It was then that she looked up and saw him looking and promptly dived behind the curtain.

I’ve got the chiropodist this morning which breaks up my work sadly. Heigh ho. My feet must be tended to. And a letter from the cardiac unit finally came through with a date for an appointment. Shall I go? He says he will support me in whatever I chose to do. So be it. Shall it be nothing then?

Bluebell Wood

I hear things on the radio as I do my yoga, snatches of programmes that have already begun. I listen as I stretch, absorbing the odd word, the odd sentence, savouring it as I bend and open. Yesterday it seemed to be set around the time of the French Revolution though the people talking were musicians. A girl and her teacher. The teacher was a haunted soul who talked of a painter he knew who’d gone blind. Just before he’d lost his sight completely he’d asked this teacher to take him to a bluebell wood. The music teacher had watched as the painter had laid down amongst the flowers and immersed his face, his head, his eyes in the bed of them. A cloud of blue, I think he said. Or was it a sea? He did this, the teacher told ‘us’ to remember them, to imprint the blue deep into the memory of his eyes, boring it, them, the scent of them into his brain so that he could remember. In the darkness he would recall the blue.

I’ve been watching, sometimes mesmerised, the links to the two films he made – one of Adam Buick making a huge moon jar and the other of Claire Curneen making a half torso of a woman. Both were captivating. Little happens but it’s the watching of the hands in the process of making and the gentle lull of both of their voices as they work.

I have no craft. I yearn for it. What am I? Fraudulent sometimes, I think. I make. I ape others. But essentially I am a magpie, a borrower, a maker of botch jobs, a putter-togetherer of stuff. These two are the real craftspeople, their passion, their commitment to one material, to one kind of form is utter. I revere them for it. I flit about. I’m too excited by too many things. A jack, a knave. Alas. This is my life. I write about and I celebrate the work of others, let it be. Enough. Let it be enough. This craftswoman manque. Aching. Forever aching for her lost craft. And that yearning to do something really really well.

Woolly Head

Somedays I just can’t get my brain to function. Woolly. A mass of wool. I sit at breakfast staring at the sudoku puzzle getting nowhere. Other days I can do two or even three in one sitting. My body is much the same. My legs just didn’t want to walk. I, they did it anyway. It was slightly milder this morning though the cold still bites the end of my fingers. I don’t do well in the cold. Perhaps that is the explanation. Everything has frozen solid. I’ve got to go into work this morning. A broken morning. What shall I do inbetween? There is a mass of small things and big things to deal with. It all feels so disparate. Will it ever come together, or will I always feel this ragged?

A spent Christmas tree lies against several bags of recycled stuff outside those ‘troubled’ flats along Mill Road. It has turned brown. The bin men won’t take it, he says whenever we pass another tree that has been dumped, equally unceremoniously in our refuse area.

The hyacinth he bought me last week is beginning to open. It’s scent slowly begins to ooze. How I love it. That hint of sweetness. Ah, Spring. Shall you come soon?

Time for tea or will it be coffee this morning?

Breathe (10)

I finished it in a day. A surge of expression. They are rare. But instead of resting a little, just for a wee while, on my laurels I brought the next thing to fret about into my head. I can’t turn it off. It’s a constant turning machine. I need to do it, if only for a moment. Breathe. To just concentrate on the simplicity of breathing in and out. And yet things are looking up. Why not allow that to feel good?

A cold morning that has its own beauty. I love the glitter of frost on the road and pavements and the steamy heat of my breath as it hits the frozen air. Shopping done. Food put away. Admin almost done. This and then work. Two cups of tea consumed and I’m beginning to thaw from the inside out. People slowly respond and it feels better. There is a turning that is being to match that of the one going on inside of me.

Her brother died. I am sorry for her. They suffered much together. What a childhood, but then it was the war but to lose your father in that way. I cannot imagine the grief and the fear and the displacement. She is such a gentle soul and strives so hard to do good. She has much of him (I imagine, as I never met him) in her. Cousins, though from a different generation, she means much to me, though the distance geographically that separates us is huge. May he rest in peace. I never met him either but feel him, through her. God bless sweethearts.

Rich

Yesterday was a rich day, full of experience, thought, talk and people. I was sated by it. Over-sated in fact. And now I must make sense of it, order it, and form it into a cohesive whole. What to say? I liked her. I liked her very much. I felt her vulnerability, her need. I want to be kind but also to be informative. How sympathetic I am to Faure’s plight. I too am the same. There is much to say but I must be succinct. I talked and talked and then we talked and talked on the drive home. I fumbled with words, hearing the sound of me, stumbling to make sense of the jumble in my head. They are just sproutings – some good, some bad, some indifferent. Can I make it work? Can I make something good?

Moving Elephant

There is a For Sale sign on their fence. They are moving then. I think they rent it, so it must be the owner that is selling it. I’ve seen several women going in and out of the house. It can’t be easy, we said at breakfast. No, he said. But owning houses aren’t that safe either. I wonder where Elephant and her family will go. She has grown since they moved in here, noticeably so, and not just in height but in boldness too. I saw her one day last year playing on scooters with a group of other children, most were older than her, and she was in complete control. There is alway change. Always. There is no point trying to stem its tide. Just acquiesce and welcome, if you can, the newness that is coming.

He is a boy scout, always has been. He loves to help, to be of use, to be kind. Especially, that is, to seemingly frail old ladies. He found one yesterday while he was having his lunch on the Prom. She was lost. Her name was Diane and she was here with a coach party from Sheffield. They had come to Aberystwyth for the day and she’d lost the coach. I’ve had some fish and chips, she told him but she’d lost herself at the same time. He tucked her into the car and went in search of the coach. He soon found it, just outside the Belle Vue hotel and she was happy again. She was so tiny, he said. I didn’t make enough of it. I was scratchy yesterday, everything felt wrong. I’m sorry for that. He was kind. He made a difference for someone. I’m proud of his kindness. He is worth his weight in gold.

Smithereens. It was the answer to a crossword clue. What a lovely word. It sounds nautical. I have more work. A commission. A small one but is something and they are happy to extend the deadline. And one of the braille producing companies have welcomed a site visit. How exciting. I love to see inside such places – another world. To learn, to extend to become more than I presently am. I reach out to the world. Give me courage to do it well.

I dreamt we were sharing a house with lots of other people. I didn’t mind, it was warm and communal but I fretted as to when I might do things like washing. And then I was making us a drink and the kettle broke. I folded it up ready to be recycled and then noticed that there was another one and my panic eased. A gentle solution. I felt it in the dream that there is always a solution. Like with this laptop of mine. It wobbles. It needs fixing but I need it to hang until I completed my work – the review this weekend and now the commission. Will it hang on?

Surfacing

There has been a sign on the side of Llanbadarn Road for weeks now warning that the road ahead would be closed from 7 pm to 6 am for five days. The surface had been scraped away but the road had remained open for traffic. This morning as I walked a red sign ahead signalled that the road was now closed. The scene was satanic. There were lights, about eight men in high vis jackets and trousers and helmets, two trucks melting the tar with burners aboard that belched fire and smoke and a wall of steam as the hot asphalt fumes mingled with the morning air. It’s usually so quiet and still at that time in the morning and now I was confronted with this industry, noise and churning machinery. Though to be fair the men themselves were quiet. No one spoke as each got on with their task. Some raked the tar flat, others were line painting. I stood a moment and watched as a young lad formed a perfect S on the bus stop marking just outside the Chinese take-away, something ‘dumpling’ I think it’s called, though I’ve never seen it open. The hot smoky smell of tar obliterated any of the gorgeous smells of warm dough usually emanating from the Pelican Bakery at that time in the morning. I didn’t mind. The yellow light of their spotlights was comfort enough.

I’m too switched on. There is so much in my head. It is exciting but I can’t switch off the need to plan, speculate and problem-solve. My back is rigid with it. I feel myself gritting my teeth, my jaw is tight. I keep trying to breathe. We scrap over breakfast. Small things. I know I am being antagonistic and he in turn becomes so. It is my fault. I’m too tight-wired. It matters too much. And the need to do things well, to do things right, everything, overwhelms me.

It’s taken an interesting turn. I like it. I like where it is going, for all its unexpectedness. I want to understand how those without sight or hearing perceive the world, to stand to their shoes, their skin so that my work might engage them, stimulate and indeed edify. But, as always, I have much to learn. Show me. Show me how.