They were out in force again this morning, police, ambulance crew and observers. At least, that’s what the little tags on their high vis jackets said. Observers. Observing what? Freshers getting drunk, being sick, shouting? Everyone appeared amiable enough as I passed a cluster of them by the town clock. Equipment was strewn across the road, cases open. Were they practising for an emergency? Does the University fund such exercises? Perhaps they should. The students seem so young these days, perhaps they need babysitting. When we were studying we were left to fend for ourselves. It was part of it, that traversing of the big wide world. I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Aber is cosy, the University coddles them. An insurance thing, maybe, or am I being cynical? What do the observers do? Do they take notes? Are they observing the police, the ambulance staff or themselves in the act of watching? There were two policemen standing at the door of The Angel. One looked so young, short hair, glasses barely twenty.

I’m an observer. It’s what I do. At least, it is what I like most doing. I do it on holiday. I watch. I take in the detail of other people’s lives. I watch from cafés, when I’m out walking. It is restful, it takes me out of my own head. I watch the details closely, they are clues, giveaways about how people live. Standing waiting in the arrivals hall at Birmingham airport while he went for a pee, I saw a man coming from the gents with splashes on his shoes, a young child in a pushchair singing to herself, a woman snatch her handbag from her husband, two blonde women hugging, one saying to the other, see you at the school gates and I heard another couple, standing quite close to me arguing about how to use the parking barrier, they’ll recognise the registration number, the wife was saying, pointing at the piece of paper in her hand, it says so here. It was barely a moment, but an intense one. I really saw, heard. I was lost in the seeing, the hearing. A recorder, an observer. My tension dissipated. I was nothing. No thing. Just being. Being part of the flux. Everyone so tired, tetchy, lost, discombobulated, longing for home, for security, normality. I love airports for that very thing. I used to go there to draw. Just watching. Is it enough? Is it a valid way to live?

I don’t know. I don’t know anything. We’ll talk about it later, love. At our seat. But it’s going to rain. Sleep then. If I went to bed at 5 pm I’d get eight hours. Wouldn’t that be something?

As I walked I thought about work. So much of our self worth is wrapped up in it.

I don’t know what’s wrong with me, it’s like…. a student, scaling the hill up from the Prom, is saying to his mate.

Is it just about making money? Much of my early learning as a child was that it was. It is hard to shrug such indoctrination off. And not just some money but lots. His friend wants to make his fortune. Even into his seventies this is still his imperative. Get rich. Get rich quick. I earn money. Some money but not much. I am driven by other things. What? To make good work. What is good? How do you define it? Work that pleases, satisfies, engages me. My accountant calls. You didn’t let me have the details of your stock. I try to explain. I’m not doing that now. I’m not making things, framed things. So what am I doing? Being an artist, an artist with artist sensibilities. How do I explain performance to him?  We do not share a common language. And yet others do engage. Axisweb chose me as one of their Five2Watch and I was much tweeted. ideas. You’re an ideas person, he said. Yes. But what to do with them.

I hate this airport, said the woman next to us in the queue at Malaga. My husband usually comes with me but I’m alone this time. I feel unwell. I’m nervous. I’ve got a poorly tummy. She looked so miserable. Clinging to us. He went off to the loo and I tried to calm her. She didn’t want it. I heard her later talking to another couple. Better get them to give you some sick bags, a woman was saying to her.

Two boys sitting on a bench in the dark. Are you a fresher? one calls out to a girl walking past.

Passing Lilley’s café, I see the lights are on. It is not yet 4 am. Through the window I can see various people, one of them is dressed in a sombrero and poncho.

By Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.