Chicken Licken

There were lots of people about this morning, ambling along the Prom, too hot to think of bed. I passed a couple. They were middle-aged and clearly drunk. She reeled about, leaning into her companion as she walked. A man in a white shirt came up to them. Any pizzariolas near? he asked. At least that is what I thought he said. He clearly meant pizzerias. No, she said, with what sounded like an Irish accent and gesturing along the Prom, but there’s Chicken Licken up there. Chicken Licken? her friend said. You mean, Lickin’ Chicken, he said and elbowed her in the arm and laughed. It’s Lip Lickin’, I wanted to say but didn’t. Chicken Licken was a character from a child’s rhyme, I think, something to do with the sky falling down. It distressed me as child. It felt unsafe.

Susan Hampshire was on an archive recording of Sounds Natural this morning as I prepared breakfast. I remember her face from my childhood, hers and Anita Harris’s. They felt safe to me, those women. So perfectly pretty, they had to be kind, I’d told myself. They must have perfect lives too. Butter wouldn’t melt, people used to say, though I’ve no idea what they meant by it. Cool. Not heated. Not volatile. Reliable. Loving. Kind. An illusion of course. She spoke of filming in Africa, of her fear of performing with wild lions. I thought of fear as I walked. The sounds of those lions, the hyenas and the leopards. Primal sounds. They could get your jugular in a moment, she said. And yet, it is so potent too. So absolute. So alive.

I lay on the grass eating my lunch. It was glorious in the garden. The inside bits were stressful. I liked the silence but my body was tense the whole¬†time. I felt so self-conscious. She did her best. She is kindness itself. But I wanted to withdraw. I can’t do the sharing. And I tried to get away. Running away, she said to the group. Was I? I suppose so. No, I was taking care of myself. This opening up is not for me, not publicly, not like that. It was such a surprise when he came. There’d been a noise in the porch, the hallway. She went to investigate. Come in when you’re ready, she said. A disparate group, no gelling, no relationships. And she was off, a little off, I think. He was a mass of dreadlocks, they hung round his face, down to the floor some of them. He came with instrument case, rucksack and various bags. Was he homeless? Is he homeless? At one point he walked across the floor and onto the stage to plug in his mobile phone. He didn’t participate much but sat smoking outside and reading a small book with a very ornate, leather bound cover. A bible? Interesting but disparate. I only knew one face. That is all. The garden was lovely but I don’t think I will go again. My gut is still tight.

A beautiful morning. He complains of the heat. I embrace it. It is joy to me. Such morning, such warmth, such light.

By Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.