Checkouts and other trivia

The News comes on the radio and with it a shattering. More deaths, this time in London. I feel the shock of it. The fear of it. The pain of it. The realisation that trust has been shattered. That trust we feel that tells us it is OK to be at large, to wander amongst strangers and know that they will not hurt us. I know so little. And the older I get I realise just how little that is. And yet, for all this shattering I know that all we can do is continue, to behave as well and as kindly as we can and nurture that trust. It is all we have in this illusion we call life. To trust. To trust that all is as it is meant to be. Reason is  nothing to do with it. Reason cannot always be employed. I am so sorry for the pain. The pain those people are feeling. If the 6 degrees theory is true I will know them, some of them, however, distantly. They have my empathy and love regardless. I am so sorry that their perception of the world has been shattered. It isn’t fair. But then what is? I am an optimist. I believe in goodness, my own and that of others. But I still wobble. I am human. This morning for instance. At 4.00 am turning that corner and the young man appearing, just before my face, too close, a hoodie pulled tight over his head. I felt it then. A frisson, a shiver of fear. I was sorry afterwards. Stereotypes. Not truth.

I meant to write about something much more prosaic. I’d got angry, or at least rather worked up. How much easier it is to let rip over the small things. We knew it was coming. We’d heard the rumblings. No staff to man the checkouts during the early hours of opening. It was all to be self-service then. You know, scanning the items yourself. Well, I wasn’t having it. It would take so long. So I raised my hand in complaint. The assistant manager came scurrying. It will be noted, he said. What was that, he said later, it will be noted. Pah! The rota manager was rigid. I’ll help you, he said. No, thank you, I said, we’ll do it. But I’m not happy. What about the chat? The stories. No chat about cross-stitch, knitting and ex-husbands. And their shift times now awry. Change. We’re always told it’s in our interest. Is it? We will adapt. We always do. We have to. Nothing stands still. We think it does. But it doesn’t. Changing, in mighty seismic shifts.

I catch tiny snippets of conversation as I walk. The words hang in the air, and ring in my ear. Three Asian girls, dressed as punks. One of them shouting at her friend, if you don’t do, you’ll never know. Her voice as warm as honey. Earlier on Great Darkgate St. three lads waiting by a row of engine-humming white taxis. Let’s go to the fucking beach, suggests one of them, an enormous opened pizza box in his hand. It’s freezing, man, said another. Then today outside Pier Pressure night club, a cluster of men, leaning against the doorway to the ice-cream shop. What is it you want? one is asking a large man, who is being pushed hard against the wall. Do you want to know where you are going?  It’s a kind of layering of noise. Indistinct conversations, one of top of each other that I strain to catch. Buoyed up by drink, the lateness of the hour and tribal-rightness they shout, holler and sing. I walk into the wall of sound and then through it to the surging silence of the harbour.

On the beach stands an office chair. A commoner-garden blue seat with a back rest, plonked in the middle of the sand. It looked like a set for a small studio theatre.

What can I say? What can I say? If I could hold you I would. If I could make it better, take it way, take it all away I could. Stories swirl around inside my head. Francis Spufford’s Golden Hill, with Mr Smith going to 18th century New York to buy slaves their freedom, and From Our Own Correspondent’s reporting of a black girl expelling from school because of her colour. Expelled, I might add by the other parents’ insistence. And the graffiti on their house, one with a drawing of the child with a noose around her neck. It charges on. So much fear. Racism is fear. It perpetuates it. Fuels it. We are all the same. We are all the same.

I sit on our seat and watch the sea and cry. Hush, now, he says. Hush. Bear witness to it all. Know the stories. And trust. Just trust.

By Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.