Bank Holiday

Neither of us like them. They unsettle. Everything is up-ended by them.

We got to the supermarket early and were waiting by the door with a bunch of others. S. was there leaning on a trolley and wearing a pink baseball cap. S. is short in stature and wide of girth. She has that energetic cheerfulness that makes me like her. He is less favourably inclined, re-telling the story of her move from the COOP to Morrison’s and what she said to him when she did. I sense a kindness in her that he doesn’t see. She told us that she was planning to do some shopping before her shift started. He said something to her. She knows him name. I might be a mystery shopper, she said. We know the other early shoppers but not by name. The man with the lump of his head asked if I’d gone to the Festival. He meant the one in Lovesgrove where there had been a tribute band 3-day concert. No, I said, it’s not really my thing, did you? I was being silly, but he laughed, not my thing either, he said. J. ex-Tree House, now seemingly not ex,  turned up, his only concession to the sharp wind was a grey woollen tank top over his short-sleeved shirt and shorts. He wears shorts the whole year round. He doesn’t feel the cold, apparently. He collared me near the apples and told me that he hadn’t realised it was a bank holiday. I could’ve stayed in bed, he said. And I was just off to the Tree House and it’s shut. And then he told me of his daughter ringing up yesterday asking if he could give her a driving lesson. Her partner has just got a job at Ultracomida, he told me, leaving the one he had here. So the lesson ended up in here, he said smiling ruefully, using up his discount card. Another impossibly optimistic person. How can you not warm to him?

I enjoyed my walk this morning. The wind was slight and town was hushed. There was a man in waterproofs hurrying past on the opposite side of the road, then an elderly man with a white beard who’d dashed out of his flat along South Marine and dumped a black bin bag of rubbish next to a town bin. I saw the woman who smokes and carries a carrier bag, and another man later, who stood reading his phone in red shorts and vest by Slater’s Bakery. Was he one of the bakers? His arms were choc-a-block with tattoos. So often, I find, people who prepare food have unsavoury, unhygienic appearances. A few cars drove about and there was the single police officer on watch outside the Belgrave. Other than this it was quiet. Two youngsters walked towards me past what used to be Lilley’s café. The boy had a strong Northern Irish accent and she had a pretty face and wore an opened Parka. And plus, he was saying to her, we don’t know that they won’t take it…She interjected with, I know but.

I told him of my wish to buy my own home. Someday. He accepts it. Knows me. It eases the ache to talk about it. It may never happen. It may not be possible. But I can live it, if only virtually. It all came on because I looked at things on John Lewis’s website. I am not avaricious. I don’t need things. It’s just sometimes I long for the beautiful in our home, a la Morris. I want to pass on those wooden bookshelves and get him a decent bed and chest of drawers. They are so cheap and tacky. There is an alternative me who is living in light-filled elegance. Everything is immaculate from her body to her living space. There is no building site outside, her furniture is not bashed-about IKEA stuff. Her clothes don’t have wool-pile. And her work is exquisite. Not a foot is put wrong.

Another me is a baker. But that is another story.

I shall dream it up.

I listened to Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont Hotel by Elizabeth Taylor on the radio. It was superbly read by Eleanor Bron. So moving. I love the detail, the minutiae of her small concerns. The immensity of her small concerns, her love for the strange boy who became her grandson manqué. And I sewed. I want to be at peace with it. To see it as an interim. I don’t know what to do so I do this. I will do. It is a track to follow. As I walk I judge and my back tightens. Let it be. Be in that space of not knowing, of foolishness, of hopefulness, of blankness, of grief.

I thought of her again last night. I sat in her cell with her. Gently, being present.

By Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.