Butcher Benny

A fretty morning. You’re a born worrier, Nanny used to say. Our lovely Nanny whom I think of so often. Her with her big, masculine face, dark, heavy eyebrows and good, solid, steady kindness. And she is, was right. I am. All the time. Mostly about minutiae, sadly. I worry what people will think of me, I worry about what is best to do, I fret over what to eat, what to wear, what to say, how to make money and where to direct my creative energies. There is no right or wrong, not really, not with the small things. And there is no certainty. Nothing is certain. Except death. That is. That surely is.

And then I am chided by hearing of the big things. The real stuff of life. The life and death of life. Such as those who spoke with Sue Macgregor on her Reunion programme yesterday. Just voices. Voices recounting the terrible atrocities of Sierra Leone’s civil war on the 1990s. Beyond comprehension – public rapings, eyes gouged out, limbs cut off, maiming and child soldiers forced to kill. The ex-High Commissioner spoke. Seemingly a bit of a stereotype at first, worrying about his highly-polished dining table when the rebels came to call with their Kalashnikovs, but then turning into a good man who still visits out of a true love for the people. Two women also spoke, passionately, one who was at the forefront and the other who cares for the ex-child militia. How do you ever recover? How do you find your way back to any notion of safety? And yet amidst such horror there is always kindness, someone steps out from the shadows full of light and love. Is that what it is about? Or is that kind of knowing, understanding beyond our reach? I can but marvel at their lust to survive and to do what is good.

I woke from a rich tapestry of dreams. I was walking first through a city, then a town then out in the countryside. I was trying to find a place to meet my friend H. There was a café I popped into. But it had no coffee and only seemed to offer boiled dumpling-like breads. A woman called out and pointed to the board, indicating the range of teas. She seemed to want my company. Should I stay? No. I opened my rucksack and it was full to the brim of white sticky rolls. I didn’t want them. I was hungry but didn’t want to eat them. But didn’t want to throw them away. Then I was out on the road. There were two paths. One higher than the other. I opted for the wider more popular route for there were birds to see and lovely landscapes. Then I was inside and I had to go down through a hole to continue my journey. I was a tiny hole, and I couldn’t see how I’d get through it. There were metal pipes hanging down inside it. Then people started to come through the other way. A large man, then an old woman. Thanking me for letting them come through first they shook plaster dust from their hair and walked on. A woman sitting behind me, apparently on a bus seat, told me that she’d asked them to make it easier for her. You can apply for them to remove some of the pipes (the obstacles), she said.

I woke with the words ‘Butcher Benny, the gift of Denmark’ in my head.

It made him laugh. How does it go again? he asked.

It’s the two worlds not matching. Lost in translation. A tower of babel sort of babbling.

Crimson Rhino is shut. I am sad. I never went in. Have they gone on to better things? I hope so. So much enthusiasm. It all has to end in the end. All of this. None of this will matter.

Till then. Well, just do the best you can, eh?


By Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.