Everyone seems to have a story about Ellie. She was one of those people you could meet only a few times and she’d still make an impression to last a lifetime. I’m lucky. I’ve got several.
Once I was going to Palestine to support the olive picking in 2013 as an international observer with ISM. I’d got everything packed and ready, so I went out to the offy and got a beer. When I returned, I realised I’d forgotten my key and my phone. I couldn’t contact anyone and the only had a spare key lived miles away. I didn’t know when anyone was due back at the flat. If I couldn’t get back ASAP, I may as well forget going to Palestine. Suddenly my familiar, city centre street seemed strange and unforgiving. And I felt like a right dick.
I set out on a desperate mission to see if I could find my mate with a spare key. On my way across the bridge into Grangetown, I bumped into Ellie and some of her mates. “You look really worried!” she said. I told her my sorry tale. Instinctively, she pulled off her jumper and she gave it to me. “And it’s getting cold, too,” she said. “Put this on. I’ve got this t-shirt so I’m fine. Send me a photo of you wearing it once you get to Palestine.” She seemed a lot more hopeful I’d get there than I did. I thanked her profusely and promised I’d send her a pic with the jumper. It was vivid blue with the word “LOVE” woven on in red.
As she and her mates disappeared into the early evening crowd, I looked up at my flat window. And – would you believe it? – I saw a light. Someone was in! I ran back and rang the bell. One of my flatmates, an oaf of a guy called Dave, answered the door. I had no love for the man, so had no idea what his comings and goings were, but right then I gave him a massive hug and told him he’d saved my life.
“Er…:” he said
I look back now and I see that meeting with Ellie as a turning point in what could have been a disaster. From that point on, my mission went very smoothly. And I was as good as my word. I got a photo of me standing in front of an Israeli army checkpoint with loads of tooled-up squaddies in Ellie’s blue jumper with my arms outstretched and the word “LOVE” emblazoned on my chest.
The last time I saw Ellie, she wasn’t well. After that, her health declined and the next thing I’d heard she’d died. Her connections to the queer/activist/DiY scene ran deep, and the shockwaves that went round the community and beyond were palpable. Shortly afterwards, several of the most talented, badass women I knew – activists, musicians, performers and much more – got tattooed with the phrase “Ni Allwn / Allwn Ni” – Welsh for “I couldn’t / We can.” It was a fitting memorial from an amazing group of women. Ellie’s energy was still fizzing around.
As we entered 2016, there was much discussion and arguing about the concepts of trigger warnings, safe spaces and painful discussions about trans politics. They generated a lot of heat – they still do – and at times it was difficult to know what to make of it. Hannah, one of the women who’d got a tattoo, said one day: “I think someone should start a band called Trigger Warning and the Safe Spaces!” Molly, another one of the tattoo posse, took up the challenge, and within a week or so we had our first get-together at Ben’s house. Grainne was on bass, Molly played drums, Ben guitar and me …. I wasn’t sure what to do. I felt like a bit of an interloper. So I settled on playing second bass. Fuzzed up through an old distortion pedal. And that was that.
Trigger Warning and the Safe Spaces was born.
Ellie was very much the ghost in the machine at that and subsequent gatherings.The humour, irreverence and sheer joy felt like it came from her. When anything got too serious and conflicted, she would always have just flipped it on its head. It seemed we all needed a bit of that at the time: a homage to her spirit. And when we found out that Trigger Warning and the Safe Spaces had the acronym T.W.A.T.S.S… well, what could you say?!
Musically, it was – I dunno?! – hardcore trans-feminist-queer punk-punk. We did covers of songs such as I Only Fucked You As A Joke by Childbirth, and Tits On The Radio by Scissor Sisters. But I noticed there was some real traction in the original stuff we all wrote together or in various combinations of the band: Fanny, Chemically Castrated, Oppression Olympics and the ode to trans-baiting “feminist” Julie Bindel Oh, Julie!
Our first gig was at a queer gathering in Cardiff city centre. I donned a t-shirt saying “Token cis het white male ally” and hid behind a pink wig. We were always somewhat fearful when we played: maybe people wouldn’t get the joke?? Maybe there wasn’t a joke?? Maybe we shouldn’t be joking… !! But we needn’t have worried. We had Ellie there in spirit and we seemed to capture a vibe. There followed a run of local and out-of-town shows and an album, Everything is Problematic!
So thank you, Ellie, for the chance to engage with your spirit and make music with and for some incredible people. Oh, and thank you very much for the jumper. It felt like it turned everything around for me that day.