It does absolutely nothing..

It does nothing, wrote Nan Sheperd of a mountain brook, nothing but be itself. I heard this on the radio. Robert MacFarlane was recording a visit he made to the Cairngorms in Nan Sheperd’s wake after she wrote a book in the 60s or 70s, I can’t remember what he said, called the Living Mountain. How to do absolutely nothing? It flies in the face of all that I’ve been told or indeed led to believe. That fine Protestant/Lutheran infused upbringing of mine, encourages action over stillness. It is my life’s work, I think. To do nothing but be yourself. Ah, that is another thing. For what is yourself?

I find myself in my sketchbooks. I keep them all. All those writings, those drawings, not done for any real purpose but to capture the thought, the passing idea, a stranger sitting opposite me in a café. This one is from a series of drawings I made of hyacinth. She had given them to me during Christmas. A kind thought. I needed it in that dark, darkness. I was in Norway at the time and deeply unhappy. At least so my sketchbook tells me. The days out in town, the cafes were my solace, even if the ride back on the bus through the dark and snow was a challenge.

Six years on and it is New Year again. We’ve had a sad, low time of it he and I. Yesterday was the crux, the crisis. I couldn’t talk for fear of exploding. The boil has been lanced for the moment. He is calmer. He’s found a sympathetic doctor from Sheffield. What are you doing here? he asked him. I fell asleep on the train, he said.

I woke to fireworks bursting, then a text from my dear friend. It woke me from a dream I wanted to remember. It’s gone. I walked the other way round again this morning. I wanted peace. A few revellers hung around the Pier Pressure nightclub. A girl’s cleavage virtually falling out of her top. Another woman, in white lace shorts and gold sparkly strappy heels, lit a cigarette in her mouth as she traipsed behind a man, creasing up her face as she did so. I kicked a can in the dark as I walked. I didn’t see it. It rolled behind me, clanking three times until it was finally silent.

I remembered a dream from yesterday. I was in a butcher’s shop with a woman from my writing course. She is Icelandic. There was a queue, I must’ve complained. It won’t take a lifetime, she said, laughing in that way she has. I looked at a display of cold meats, why was I there, I didn’t want any of it. I think I asked her if they had such choice back home. And she replied talking about the cleanliness of it being dodgy. Was I really interested in the response or just making questions up to fill in the silence? Then it wasn’t her but one of my tutors from the course and it was now a fish shop. He was eating mussels I think. At least trying them before buying. I prefer them raw, he said. As we prepared to go, he called out. Don’t forget my soup.

Is there some wisdom to be had?

By Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.