He said it was ‘Letter Week’. At least that’s what the researcher told me, he said. I googled it but there was nothing. Nothing mentioned. Is it just a Welsh thing? Shame, it would be a nice to celebrate them. I love letters. Handwritten letters and all of their paraphernalia. The stamps, the post-marks, the address on the back. I think I said that during the 19th century there would be up to five deliveries a day. They could be just notes. An acceptance for dinner that night, a request for an invoice, a bit of whimsy, a billet-doux. The penny post was slow, the three-penny post faster. People used writing desks, pigskin cases that held paper, envelopes and stamps. And blotting paper. Several Agatha Christie stories have Poirot trying to read the impress of a pen on the blotting paper for clues. I remember the flooding of ink. Wanting to write beautifully. The ink stains on my middle finger. It is a concentrated form of communication. A tangible, physical thing. Read them. Read the letters of the past. Read Charlotte Bronte’s, Jane Austen’s and Elizabeth Gaskell’s. They write to amuse, to cajole, to share, to give love. I miss the opportunity. Don’t you?


At 5.10 am man was sitting under the town clock, a bottle of beer beside him. He was talking to himself. His hands were animated, hovering then diving and ascending, like gulls in the air before him.


Happy New Year, I say to her as I shut the studio door. No, thanks I’ve got a key, she replies, not lifting her head as she yanks at the hoover flex. No, I say, I said Happy New Year. Oh, sorry, she says, putting her hand on my arm. Did you have a good one? I say. Yes, she says, but it’s nice to be back at work. To get back to normal. She is always so cheerful. She gets there early and by 6.00 am has mopped all the toilets and hovered the foyer.

It was a programme dedicated to L T Rolt. I’m not sure if that is how you spell it. He wrote about what fascinated him, steam engines, bridge-building and all kinds of hand craft. As a child he’d sit amongst the artisans, watching them at work. ‘With handworkers their craft is their prayer’, he said. Noble work. Sometimes I crave it. Just that knowledge. One particular kind of knowledge. The knowledge of how to make something, something useful, something beautiful, extremely well. There is pride in that. A sense of self. Surely.

We finished the film. It was hard. The other two Alan Parker films I have seen have been the same. We watch them in two parts. The first night was harrowing. I took it to my dreams. I lay awake trying to imagine if I could be calm, accepting in the face of enforced suffocation. The second night was easier. There had been love. And a great sacrifice on both their parts. It will stay with me. Laura Linney and Kevin Spacey. They act with such contained power. It is good for me to step outside what is comfortable. To enter the possibility of other lives not as safe or as kind as mine. So be it. Take me there, if you must.

But I must be at peace with my work, myself. This is what I have been given. This between-worlds kind of knowing. Neither artist or writer. A bit of both. A maker of facsimiles. A seeker of truth. Of understanding.

I did it. I wrote 500 words. It was stilted today. It didn’t flow. But I took myself to the page. It is enough, some days. Just to do that.

By Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.