Tales from the chiropodist’s chair

Talk to Me - photograph 2

It always calms me having my feet handled. When he strokes them I go into a kind of trance, mesmerised. She is gentle, fastidious even, the nail clippings and dead skin falling like snow on her blue plastic apron. I like to watch her mouth as she talks. She wears a milky, chocolate coloured lipstick, dark against her pale skin. We talk of her family. She offers her stories generously, happy, it seems, to share them with a relative stranger. Yesterday it was mostly about her father. He has Alzheimer’s. It is changing his personality. He’s lost his filter, she says. He makes outrageous comments, he is rude. Look at that fat arse, he had said, pointing at a woman across the street. At another time they were both in the Penguin café, she and he, and he loudly accused an ex-copper (in he earshot) as being ‘known as the thickest policeman in Aber’. She smiles ruefully as she recounts these tales. I like her. She is open. She shares her pain and her joy. I wonder why? When the session is over she closes down. A clam. Odd, is it something to do with the room? Or perhaps the intimacy of the procedure? My naked feet in her hands.

Then she tells me of a little boy she knew. I have forgotten his name. He was only fourteen, she said, when he had the accident. Some child had thrown his schoolbag across the road, he ran out to get it and a car hit him just here, she says pointing at the forehead. He was brain-damaged, in a coma and has been so for over twenty years. Such a nice boy, she says, so kind. I think about his mother, does she visit everyday? I don’t like her, she says. You’ll think me awful. No, I say, just honest. I wonder at her warmth and the way she seems to take against people. Sometimes he comes home, she says, I have no idea how they manage it. Some people’s lives seem to be beyond endurance. How do they cope? Is it true that we are only given what we can manage? Who can say?

She cuts two ovals of padded plaster and sticks one on each of my soles (they will come unstuck later on my yoga mat). Her oven is broken. And I have fourteen for Christmas, she says ruefully. I just want the repairman to call me to say when he is coming. I’m a control freak, she says. Yes, I say, so am I. Why do I feel so comfortable with such women? She talks about stress but there is no sign of it. At forty-nine she is three years younger than me but there is a solid, grounded-ness to her that calms me. No histrionics. Grounded. Her husband is a farmer. A turkey, duck and a goose. Perhaps I’ll end up cooking them in the caravan, she says. It’s the largeness of the life. The carol concert (her daughter plays the cello), the singing at the weekend at the old people’s home (they love it, she says, I can see the tears in their eyes) and then Sunday at chapel (I’ve got a party the night before and I do like to have a drink, she says). It sounds rich, warm, full. I don’t want it, that life, but I can, for a moment, step into it and feel pleasure.


Words. I write them down, stolen from the radio. A Dr Who story in which he talks about ‘origami brains’ and later a programme about famous composer’s manuscripts where a handwriting expert mentions ‘stroke heads’. Lovely words. Words that make me full with their possibilities. I collect them. Saving them till later.

We are watching The Go-between. I didn’t know that Harold Pinter had written the screenplay. Alan Bates is marvellous. Fierce. His blue eyes alive with passion. So masterful. Barely contained menace. And yet. And yet there is gentleness in the way he bathes Leo’s knee. And later, she also bathes the knee – to be closer, closer to her lover. Much of the book is lost. Stories. I return to them again and again. Always something new to be found.


Her grandmother also had Alzheimer’s. She recalls her shouting in front of her six-year-old daughter, where’s the shit house in this place? And then seeing her daughter’s green eyes wide open in amazement, shock at such profanity. My mother swore yesterday, she says. I’ve never heard her swear before. No. We both laughed, she said, I think it did her some good. She is such a shy lady but sometime it just gets too much. Yes, I say.


I have another story to tell, for next time maybe. A story about a woman. Last Monday, talking to a woman. A woman, just like me.

By Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.