Nettle Stings

There is too much. Too much to share. Two days of paying attention. Close attention, partly due to the two library books I took with me. Heavy things they were but lovely to hold. Hard backs wrapped in a shiny cover. Richard Mabey on Flora Thompson and Karl Ove Knausgaard’s book for his unborn child, Autumn. So I will have to resort to lists. Just for now.

I put them all in my little book, quick scribbles. How ugly my handwriting is when I do it fast. I have to get it down. No time for prettiness. And I’ve just come upon one from the week before. Did I write it down in here? An overheard conversation between two women on a train from Guildford to Waterloo. I could only see one of the women. Well to do, well-dressed. You can do Coronation Chicken, she was saying, salad and the breads, I can do tomato tarts.

Yesterday the entry begins. Killed pheasant. I was sleeping and heard the bump. He was distressed. I hate it, he said, but it just ambled across the road, there was nothing I could do. We had coffee in Carluccio’s. We were way to early for my train. As always but I like it. Then down below in the subterranean depths of the station, sitting on the train waiting to leave I see three people, one is a woman in a wheelchair the other two are Network Rail staff all sharing sandwiches out of tin foil. The man next to me asks for a tissue. Is that the Home Secretary in front of me, talking on a mobile phone in the quiet carriage? He keeps saying Chuck, obviously talking to his P.A. Next time can you book me an aisle seat, he says, I get claustrophobic in the window seat. He has two phones and spends the whole journey looking from one to another. Is Ellen in? he asks at one point. Good. And then asks if she could prepare some research on policing in West Bromwich. I’m off to New Scotland Yard now, he says.

I felt alive. So much to take in. The walk, the sun, the little bird that bobbed ahead of us cheeping in distress. The little hide. The nettle stings. The bramble, the thistles. All caressing my bare legs. Getting lost and not minding one bit. And talking. And talking. The wonder of her. The pleasure of being with her. The taste of food when I was so hungry and then the bed when I was so tired. And her soap, was it carbolic? I wanted to take that smell of it away with me. It was black and grainy. It stung in the morning after my shower. The lost glove. The box of fruit she’d prepared and left out for me. Her telling me she works in bed. The lipstick on the woman’s coffee cup. Reading and reading. The homeless man on the street in Norwich with the gash across his nose telling me he was living in a tent. I am full up with it all. London. Rushing for trains. Feeling free and high and dog-tired. Then home with him. Mis-communication. my phone not recognising his. Why? So full. So alive. Thank you.

By Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.