Sunday, 18 September 2011


Actually, that was a lie. That isn't what happens, the crucial (and possibly slightly smug) difference being that I do often have very clear memories of my dreams, sometimes for years afterwards. I'm not saying they don't fade. And I'm not saying I remember everything. I'm not even saying that I remember any more than a tiny fraction of the total amount of nocturnal visualised brain activity that must occur during the many, many hours of my life that I spend asleep.

But, most mornings I will wake up with the after-images of a dream safely washed up on the beach of my consciousness. And, insofar as any of this has any meaning or importance, I find this a satisfying and stimulating state of affairs.

What I don't do is spend a lot of time agonising over what my dreams mean.  I'm not looking for clues to explain the inner workings of my mind or suggestions from my unconsciousness as to how I should manage my life. Having said that I do get recurring dreams, or rather recurring situations which get re-staged every now and then. That's quite interesting, but they don't tell me anything I didn't know already.

No, what I enjoy is the act of creation, the idea that my brain can spontaneously spin a scenario out of nothing for me to experience. I'm fairly certain that this was what I am trying to ape when I am writing, but I get discouraged by the wearying reality of having to think about it and having to write it down. All I really want is to have the story play out effortlessly in the comfort of the visual centres of my own brain, thank you very much!

So when that does happen and I wake up and am able to consciously remember the narrative, I find that quite amazing. And the more complex and long-winded the salvaged dream is, the more exhilarating it is to go back through it once I'm awake.

I feel I must warn you that the gnawing dread that's been building inside you, the growing fear that I might actually tell you one of my dreams, is now about to be realised. You may look away now. But I promise it's a good one: brief, vivid and not particularly weird as far as I can see, but you may be the judge.

It happened this morning and prompted this whole post, of course.

Today I spent an indeterminate time before I woke up staring out of the top floor south-facing window of the house I don't own overlooking the San Francisco Bay. I was looking across to the city. I knew all about my house already, obviously, I didn't need to examine that. But for your benefit I'll mention the pale brown hardwood floors and the luminous bare white walls, all washed clean by the sunshine that splashes in through the green shutters. Not much in the way of furniture, but then we've only really just moved here, haven't we? And that's why I'm checking out the view.

Despite it being a beautiful sunny day with clear unbroken blue skies, a thick mist has moved in off of the ocean, obscuring all but the tops of the tallest buildings of the SF skyline. When I peer carefully, I can see the cables and hawsers of the Golden Gate Bridge reaching out of the fog, although the bridge itself is in completely the wrong place. Well, it would be rather in the way of my view if it had been left in its original position.

I can see the walled garden beneath me with its dark green lawn and beyond that there's the road that dips down the slope towards the Bay itself. I should be able to see the large mossy rocks that rise out of the dark blue water. But I can't see them because the water is suddenly in tumult, writhing like a monster. Then I realise that it is crashing towards me, uphill, swamping the road and drowning grass and trees with frothing white foam. I'm not perturbed. I can see this is a small, albeit dramatic looking inundation and judge it not likely to endanger the house or garden which do, after all, have a wall. I'm just about to shout for L to come and have a look when, JESUS, EVERYTHING IS SHAKING!

Books are falling off shelves, toys are rolling across the floor (I am a conscientious unpacker after all), but that's nothing because the floor is moving, the window, the house, the whole headland is rocking and buckling. I swear I can feel the juddering climbing up inside my legs, sending my knees in useless directions, making me reel, even as I turn and try a staggering run towards the stairs. The children are downstairs, I've got to get to them whatever, but I'm thinking that I don't yet know what the rules are for an earthquake and that scares me. Am I supposed to find a lintel to shelter under? A doorway? Does my new super-duper house have a special room for such an emergency? I do hope so.

Plaster dust is falling from the ceiling. I'm just getting to the stop of the stairs. It's a beautiful staircase (more bare hardwood) but it's so steep, with several sharp, square turns. I can barely stand, but I'm just going to have to pour myself down it.

And then the shaking stops. Completely, like someone's thrown a switch. The quake lasted a second, maybe two. Everyone's all right. I return to the window. Nothing has collapsed or fallen, but there is water nearly everywhere, running along the road, sloshing and churning around drains or marooned in pools amongst the trees. Everything is still, even my hands on upon the white window sill.

And of course, suddenly, that's that. I'm awake and elsewhere.

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