Joan Hickson

Photo detail (2) - Talk to Me

A new film came. What is it? he asked. An Agatha Christie, I replied, with Joan Hickson. Oh, great, he said, I love Joan Hickson. Is she dead? I suspect so, I said, this must be from the 70s or 80s.

I love Joan Hickson, too. She reminds me of Nanny Clarke. There’s something so safe about her, I said as we sat down to supper. She is so solid, so no-nonsense, so unsentimental. Nanny was the same. I miss her. She ended up in a home, went a little do-lally.

He called Harry Daniels. I’d cajoled him into doing so. Don’t rush me, he said. But he did it anyway. Well, what did he say? I asked. It’s still 1800 quid. What, I said, even without the funeral. Yes, he said, after all they’ve still got to deal with the body. Yes, I suppose they do. You could do some of it yourself, I suppose, use a wardrobe instead of a coffin, deliver it in an estate car and whatnot, but someone’s still got to embalm it. Yes, I know, I said. I know. It’s not easy getting rid of matter, is it? There is something so weighty about it all. Of course, traditions have to be respected. And the body respected. But when we’ve gone, we’ve gone. It’s only the symbols that are left. I just don’t know. I don’t know how I will feel when he goes. He is all to me. And yet, I can and must see life without him.

I like this community. I like its sounds. Peter below us with his odd hours, smoking through the window and racking cough. And his mother, Margaret, a sharp-faced lady of ninety-odd. She talks of her five children with pride. And still walks into town each day. Are you renting or buying? she barked at us when we moved in. She softened a little under his charm. Besides he went to school with Peter and knew her other son, Snowie. I offered her a lift up the hill, he said, but she was having none of it. And the others? A mixture of young and old. I like to see the windows lit up at night. I feel like I belong to something interesting. Each flat is distinctive, with its own history. Did I tell you that this used to be a school? His old school. He went to see his old girl friend yesterday. I did my A levels in your living room, she said, when he told her where we’d moved to. I’ll come over and see it. No, he said. No, you won’t. We don’t have visitors. Why not? she asked. Because we’re private people.

Was it difficult to say no to her? I asked. Yes, I felt uncomfortable in my chest, he said. Pete (her husband) understood, he said. That’s good, I said.

By Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.