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Medicated Shampoo

I have a thing about found shopping lists. I love how they are a microcosm of someone’s or a family’s life. I love the succinctness of them, a kind of shorthand of needs. That jumble of requirements, only they know what they mean. A private code. But I also just like handwriting. It is becoming a rare thing. I wish I’d kept some of hers. And hers. What would they say?

He is suffering from spots on his scalp. Who knows what it is? It may be the mix of medications he takes, or it may be hormones. Anyway, he uses medicated shampoo to try and ease them. (The fact that they never really disappear is a constant source of frustration for him (along with, in no particular order, selfish parking, seagulls and their shit, fellow residents not shutting the door into our foyer/hall and bad bin management.) The smell of it pervades the house following his shower last night. A smell of tea tree oil and carbolic soap. I don’t mind it. There is a secure, safeness to the smell that resonates from something in childhood, not from home but from school perhaps, or another family’s home. It smells of care.

I’d been thinking of the scene myself before he mentioned it. Our thoughts so often match. Do we spark them off in each other or is it something more esoteric that does it? The scene was from Victoria Wood’s Dinnerladies where Celia Imries’s character Philippa’s mother had arrived uninvited to a ‘Bring Your Parent’s to Work Day’ at the canteen. Her presence clearly unsettled her daughter and she immediately began finding fault with her job and her appearance. Oh, Flip, she said, pulling at her blouse, you haven’t ironed between the buttons. Oh, Flip why does it ALWAYS have to go wrong?

We sat outside the University café waiting for time to pass till I had to go to work. The sun was out. It was a Graduation day. In the distance I saw a girl in a bunad. I felt a pang of homesickness. It looked so unusual. To her it is natural to wear her national costume on high days and holidays. Her family was with her. No doubt so proud.

Town was full of revellers as I walked. Students back for Graduation week and living it up for the last time with their friends. A couple were sitting on one of the huge deck chairs in the sandpit snogging. Another couple were doing the same on a bench just beyond Pier Pressure. Walking towards South Marine Terrace I watched as a girl appeared to push a boy outside the front door (she was in the glassed porch in her underwear). She raised her finger to her lip when she saw me. He looked resigned and slumped against the wall. Approaching The Angel , a gaggle of boys talking ten to the dozen passed me. At first I couldn’t catch what they were saying. They talked fast, excitedly. It was just a noise. However, in a brief lull I heard one of the one’s at the back of the group say: ‘No wonder I was so fucking out of it this afternoon’. A ginger cat dashed across Llanbadarn Road as I neared home. There was a dead seagull smattered across the tarmac, its wings still in tact raised as if in flight to the sky.

We sat in the sun for an hour or so before work on a bench over looking the bowling green. Some people were playing tennis on the practice courts and a man was spraying insecticide along the edges of the wire fencing separating the courts from the green. I could do that job, he said. While waiting for him to park the car a couple had passed me. She was in leggings and a garish long t-shirt, he wore baggy shorts and sandals. They were probably in their sixties. I’d nodded my head and greeted them. Warm enough for you? the man said in what sounded like a Yorkshire accent or was it Lancashire? Yes, I said. He was a portly man with a rolling walk. I watched them walk away and noticed that there were still marks on his ankles from where his socks had been.

He was tired and tetchy this morning and his ears were blocked. It’s probably the weather, I said. He’s bucked up now. Good-o.

He’s just called the health food shop have let him know they’ve got fresh gooseberries and blackcurrants for us. And my lovely friend is sending some. I shall have a glorious glut of soft fruits!

She writes to tell me it will cost $19.50 to send that tiny ball for my brass bed from the US. I feel a little silly and tell him so. Do it, he says. And I thought she was a man. How wrong can you be?

By Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.