Hotpotch (7)

Patterns on tiles Nerja

Snippets. Scraps of overheard conversations, like the two women in a café in Camarthen. One wore an orthopaedic boot. Her voice was loud, distinct with a northern accent. Her clothes were loose, flowy, expensive. The scones could be very nice or horrible, she said to her friend. Then later, she said, the things with Crems is that they’re usually not religious.

And when I’m walking. I hear them as I walk past, the young, usually carolling at that time of the day. The other morning a group of them were singing outside the entrance to the Why Not? night club. It took me awhile to place the song. Ah yes, I thought, as I marched down Great Darkgate Street. Bring him Home from Les Miserables. At the top of their voices. Another time one of them approached me. It is rare. We inhabit different worlds. He was very drunk. His body swayed. He lurched towards me, a hulk of a young man in a heavy raincoat. He didn’t look at my face but instead he talked to the space between us, his eyes half-shut. Is The Angel open? he asked. The Angel pub was a couple of doors down. I inclined my head to look towards it. No, I said. He seemed satisfied and lurched back towards his two friends.

It is a finding of sorts. Found conversations and found things. I see them when I’m paying attention. A plastic leg from a Sindy doll, transparent and tiny. A false fingernail, French-polished. A penny. And a pressed wild flower between the pages of a book.

Other times things come as gifts. Thoughts, quotes, all connected with what I am doing, what I am searching for at the time. Sometimes it is just a confirmation, something reassuring – a crossword clue, a word that jumps out at you. Most times it is from the radio or from meeting a guest at work.

I liked her. A matriarch but soft, with a cloud of white hair. She talked of being head of drama in the 70s. The only woman in Senate, except for a female student-rep. When she got up to speak a professor had delivered an audible stage-whisper. It’ll be embroidery next, he had hissed. I liked her. She took time. Asked questions. Was generous. She asked me what I did. Few do. I appreciated it. Then there was a Sheila Delaney play on the radio. A trilogy. Excellent. Four girls in a convalescent home in the 50s run by nuns being made to sew nightdress cases. Who uses nightdress cases? one of the girls asks. We did, I muttered, we did at boarding school and bed-jackets. And then Dorcas Lane in Lark Rise to Candleford. All that cosy schmaltz, not a bit like the book. Hey ho. Dorcas Lane showing Laura her darned stocking. Her mother cutting out the heels so that Dorcas had something appropriate to work on in the evenings.

I think about wild flowers, an installation. Has anyone done it? Are my ideas mine or filched unwittingly? Are we ever original thinkers? Does it matter?

Six degrees of separation – I need to research it. The thought of it hovers.

Three students banging out of a house at 4.30 am. One has a dog on a lead. A speckled, brindled short, stocky dog. Come on Cookie, said the boy, giving the leash a jolt. Come on.

What can we do? Believe in the best of people? I am so sorry. Sorry for your pain, for your loss. Rest in peace those of you who are gone, heal those that are left. It is precious life, n ‘est-pas? Live it while you can. Wholly, open-hearted and in love.

By Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.