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  • Ellie Harrison

The Second Residency

Written by Roshana Rubin-Mayhew


Our second residency (weeks three and four) of What Is Left? was spent in the North West, based in Lancaster…well, in an idyllic cottage in the middle of nowhere: Roeburnscar.


Meals around the large table, late nights in front of the wood burning stove, waking up to the sound of the stream, opening my bedroom door onto the patio and gazing out at the lichen covered trees. This place was an utter joy to leave from and come back to. Though I have to admit a part of me did miss Ellie’s (slowly deflating) blow up mattress that I spent the first residency on. I affectionately named it Bertie. We had a good time, me and Bertie the blow up mattress.


Most of our residency in Lancaster was spent on the road. Grief tripping. Long car journeys from city to city, visiting up to 5 different places in one day. Our PB (personal best) being 9 hours in the car. Leaving early after a large pot of coffee, returning late to demon-eyed sheep taking over the drive.


On these epic journeys, I claimed the role of resident car DJ. Our first residency in Yorkshire was dominated by Fleetwood Mac – partly because of the love, partly because that was the only CD we had in our hire car. This time, we were more prepared, in our flashy white hire car (that entertained us every time we unlocked and locked it, watching in amazement as the wing mirrors opened out and tucked back in). I brought along the last 3 CDs of my yearly compilation: ‘Pick n Mix’…and Kyla La Grange’s album Ashes. Her song 'Walk Through Walls' became the soundtrack to our mornings. “Get up! Get up! Get up!” blasting through our tranquil cottage as we punched the air with toothbrushes or morning cups of coffee. Powerchords setting us up for the day.



( - If you look it up, listen out for the line that I’m conviced is - “Enough for Ellie”)


It’s the small things like this, moments of shared joy that punctuate the project for me. It’s a lovely process to be part of, an honour to be invited into unknown homes with the generosity of cups of tea and biscuits (or homemade cake!). Everyday we are meeting fascinating people and it surprises me how familiar it can feel, intimate almost…and celebratory. During one sitting, we were even offered bubbly! This sense of celebration is threaded though the work. And rightly so, it’s about life…sometimes more so then it is about death. Even so, it can’t be ignored that this work impacts on us in ways unconscious and uncontrolled.


So I have to admit, there is always one point everyday when we tip into the hysterical. Generally when we’re sitting in the car and something of nothing tips us over the edge. And we laugh. Uncontrollably. It is wonderful and life affirming, and I think we need it; in-between moments of pure joy to help us stay balanced. I think our bodies probably jolt us into periods of sheer hysteria to allow a fresh flow of positive hormones. And apparently through laughter, life is extended.


These are the times that bring us together. I think it’s part of the web weaving process that Ellie wrote about in the last blog. Sharing laughter, meals and wine all help with getting to know each other. We are forming a solid bond and a strong base to help us with the long days and listening to different experiences of grief. This way, we remain strong and smiling.


So games that seem daft, like What’s your inner animal?’(Ellie is a koala bear, Kate a deer and I’m a bird) or If you were a piece of furniture what would you be? (Ellie prefers this one. She’s a welsh dresser, Kate’s a sturdy wooden bookcase and I’m a hatstand…slightly reluctantly.), are actually quite significant. As is singing out loud to Bieber. Not that we do that…I definitely don’t know all the words to the rap in As Long As You Love Me. Oh, beautiful times.


During these residencies there is not so much downtime, just transitional time, as we make around 20 journeys a week (the satnav once sent us down the wrong road 5 times in a row). So we seize the instances we do have, with determination and elation.


And at the end of each week, I find I am left with a refreshed and fierce appreciation of who I have in my life, and an energized force to celebrate them to the max.

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