Tightrope Walking


Hardeep Singh Kohli was hosting a programme about high wire walking. It mostly featured a famous French man who walked a tightrope across the Niagara Falls. During the half-hour programme Singh Kohli is himself learning to tightrope walk. Circus hurts, says his trainer, you have to trust your feet.

Trust your feet. Keep going. Forward.

I am walking home from my 5 am stride. Outside Cartref, one of the University’s Halls on Terrace Road, I can see a bulky figure in dark glasses and grey tracksuit. As I approach he blocks the way, removes his glasses and shouts HALT. He leans into my face. HALT, he says again. Pardon, I say. Gender, he says. G-E-N-D-E-R, he repeats, annunciating every letter. I look him straight in the face, then patting his arm, wish him goodnight and stride on. I hear a door close behind me.

Trust you feet. Keep going.

There are two skull and cross bones flags flying from Aberystwyth’s Public Library. Why?

There’s Lanky McBurney, he says. Hey, Lanky, how’d it go? Chances, he shouts, chances. Who’s Lanky McBurney, I ask when we get into the restaurant. He went to school with me, he says, you know, we saw him the other day on the Prom. He was going on a blind date, said he was shitting himself.

What’s that? he asks. What? I say. That mark on the picture. Just like my father, he says. What is? I say. Pointing out marks. We used to call them his ‘spot days’.

There is a tiny slither of a moon this morning. A ghost of white.

His light is often on when I sneak out first thing. Before it is light. 4.30 am. A yellow light behind the white slats of his venetian blind. Pete the Beast he calls him. Why? I ask. Oh, it was his nickname at school, something to do with a jumper he wore. It was all hairy. And it just stuck. God knows what  he is up to that time of night, his mother says. He thinks he is playing online poker. He always loved gambling, he said. In the pub he’d be straight on the machines. In the afternoon he is often leaning out of his window, smoking. Been for a walk? he asks.

I wanted to give blood, my one good thing for the day, the week, the month even. But I wasn’t allowed, nor was he. Next time, they said. You’re welcome to stay for a cup of tea and a biscuit. There’s custard creams.

A young mother jumping to her death from a bridge taking her four day old baby with her. An escape from misery. They told a similar story in Call the Midwife. She is saved, talked down from the bridge. She wanted to clean her baby in the river, rid it of germs. She is put in a sanatorium and given EST. The ending is happy enough. Happy enough. Though something has been lost. We expect to be happy but sometimes we just are not. No one is to blame. Are they?

The mother of the real-life mother spoke with such dignity outside the court hearing. She wants to understand, to encourage funding so that we all understand. How can a time with such potential for happiness bring such misery?

Driving home we pass an animal feed warehouse. A large sign advertising sheep food reads: FIT, FAT, FINISHED.

By Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.