Gingerbread House

They’ve begun hanging the lights in town. There were two strings of them this morning suspended over Great Darkgate Street and just outside The Angel. They turn them off at night. I’m saddened by this for I love to see them. They lift my spirits immeasurably. I need such comforts in the dark. I seek them out. The smell of baked bread from Slater’s and The Pelican Bakery is one, but in winter their doors are invariably shut and that delicious salty scent of yeast is faint. What else? The birds? A sudden eruption of song this morning as I turned into North Road. There is a little public garden on the right hand side, with a bench and a lawn that is often left to grow wild. I heard it there. Was it a robin? I know so little about ornithology. A warbling, throaty chirruping that was met with another, louder rendition. Two robins? One often follows me down North Road, bounding from hedge to fence, just a little in front. Are they after food? Have they learnt that we are bringers of sustenance, or is it just a social thing? There’s one at the University too that follows me up the path to work. And we used to have one in Cambridge that would perch on spades or clumps of mud just ahead of us as we worked. No mass of gulls on the beach this morning but the starlings were keeping up their din. I tried to describe the sound to myself. It’s a kind of peeping, but a mass of it, almost a hissing. The rafters under the Pier teem with them, hundreds, maybe even thousands. It’s an eerie, almost ominous sound. Do they ever sleep, are they ever silent? Even in their murmuration there is that chattering.

Have you put your tree up? I asked her, as I loaded the bags. Yes, she said. No, I said. Yes, she said. And did your children decorate it? I asked. No, she replied, I don’t let them. Decorating the tree is my job. She is delighted with it all. I love Christmas, she says. And will you bake biscuits with them? No, I’m not much of baker, she said, though I noticed the Gingerbread House kit they’re selling here. I thought about having a go with that. With your kids? I asked. Oh, no, she said, they make too much of a mess. I can’t stand it. I like her. A small woman, with large fleshy arms. She gives a little giggle now and again when she talks. A perfect mix of fun and rigour.

The fair has come to town. It comes this time every year. Ever since I can remember it has been here, he said over supper, and always in the same place. I heard it when I went to bed. A distant clamour of music and a voice shouting through a tannoy system. A comforting noise. We used to go to the fair as children. I was both enchanted and scared. It had an edge, a hint of danger. Had I picked up on my mother’s wariness? Run by gypsies, she’d say. And yet they fascinated me. They all looked like David Essex, earring-ed, with unkempt dark curly hair and that disdainful, unsmiling stare. I loved the Waltzers but they would make me nauseous, and the more I screamed the faster they would go. Make it faster, don’t make it faster. A wildness, it was a feral place the fair. Feral and thrilling. Out of our safe living room into that feral darkness lit by fairy lights. A wonder. A fairy kingdom. I wanted to go last night. To try to win something pink and tacky, to taste candyfloss and to come home with my hands reeking of metal.

I think about asking her to do an interview. I could do it in her break over a pot of tea in the café. So tell me why do you do cross stitch?. I want to understand, to get inside her motivation. She has a flat voice. I like her. I feel an affinity, that is both nice and at times a little alarming. What would she make of such a request? And what would I do with it? So much groping in the dark. All I can do is try.

A gentle day today after all that racing about yesterday. A trundly day. A getting somewhere but slowly day. Sew. Sew and sew. That’s all, that’s enough. And listen. That too. Always.

By Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.