Dreams have always intrigued mankind. For some they are a window into the deepest recesses of the human soul, to others they are a source of obscure portents and signs, and for some they are just noise – the sleeping mind seeking to make sense of stray synapses firing at random.

Often dreams have been associated with mystical or religious experiences, so closely linked with visions are they.

During Tsarist times Siberia was first used as a place of internal exile. The surviving Decembrists and many others were sent east into the eternal taiga.

Over time communities of the exiles mixed with the native inhabitants of Siberia and through a process of syncretism Christianity and the shamanism of the natives at times blurred and odd new heresies and beliefs were born.

Someway north of Irkutsk one such community, isolated by distance and winter, became lost in dream.

An innocent question started it; β€œDid Adam and Eve dream?” The people of the community had little to do while winter gripped their world other than to sleep and talk. So they considered this issue while doing the slow things that occupied the winter such as stoking the fire or making cups of birch bark tea.

In Genesis, Adam did not sleep until the Lord put him into a deep sleep to remove his rib to create Eve. So Adam neither slept or dreamt.

But we sleep, we dream. Then sleep is something that must have come with the Fall, and so dreams too must be a result of that Original Sin.

One group proposed that dreams were sent by God to remind us of what we had lost. Others, quoting nightmares and dreams of lust, said that dreams must be sent by the Devil to tempt and taunt us.

The debate might have remained a winter fancy had not a child dreamed of gold.

In the dream, the child had been deep in the taiga. There, under a white sky in a white landscape it had met a white fox and the fox had told the child that there was gold buried near the village.

The adults smiled and ignored the child. Until the next morning when another child spoke of the fox and its message about the buried gold. People shook their heads, laughing softly but in their eyes a question was forming.

No one spoke of the dreams but adults started to seem to seek out sleep. Gradually more and more of the villagers spent their time asleep, seeking the fox.

To speak of such a thing would seem ludicrous, so people kept their own counsel. Even within families no one would admit to the dream hunt so over time the word β€œfox” began to disappear from conversation.

Then one night, a dreamer found themselves out in the taiga, and there about them were other villagers. Were they just figures in a dream or were they too after the fox?

Sheepishly at first, people began to sleep with tools. Perhaps with some distant part of the mind they rationalised that to hold a shovel in your sleep might mean that you held a shovel in your dreams.

Slowly, imperceptibly the balance of life began to shift. Dream became the priority, the waking hours were an imposition. The winter had always been a quiet time and so no one remarked on the gradual transition.

Some years back, I found myself deep in Siberia in the deep winter. I had left Irkutsk and was heading to Khabarovsk. Having time to spare and being awestruck by the deep silence and beauty of the taiga I broke my journey to explore the landscape.

One day I found myself in a long abandoned village. The houses were derelict, quite literally frozen in time. Possessions were still on shelves, wood neatly piled by doors. The village was here but the people were gone.

As I walked away, a flicker of movement caught my eye. I stopped and looked across the village to the edge of the trees.

It was a fox.

The House of Monkeys and the House of Bears

At the very heart of the forest stands a vast stone building. It has 3 towers, a belfry, several dozen turrets, more crenellations than you could count and, because a builder held the plans upside down, at the very top of the building is a crypt.

The building is on the bank of the wide, slow river that dawdles through the forest and which is home to fish and the fearsome crocogator. Few people have ever seen a crocogator but all agree that their seeming non-existence just makes them all the more fearsome.

Carved into the stone arch above the entrance to the building are the words “The House of Monkeys and the House of Bears”. They are inlaid with gold leaf, or if not gold leaf, then at least something that sparkles nicely in the sun.

There are two tall, imposing doors at the entrance. The one on the right has the figure of a monkey carved on it, whilst the one on the left has a bear. The face of the monkey seems to be smiling whilst the face of the bear looks almost quizzical.

Once through the doors you find yourself in a large lobby, light streams through narrow windows high in the walls illuminating a polished stone floor and walls hung with tapestries.

The tapestries depict famous events in the history of the forest such as the discovery of the first banana tree, the invention of the scratching stick and the signing of the treaty between the monkeys and the bears.

A few potted plants and some uncomfortable looking wooden benches make up the remainder of the contents of the lobby.

On the right-hand side of the lobby is an archway painted in bright vibrant colours and decorated with images of plants and animals. On the left-hand side is another archway, identical in size and shape, but painted a subtle shade of blue and decorated with abstract figures that seem to invoke memories of dreams, music and, oddly enough, cakes.

There is also a small door directly between the two archways. Made of plain but richly polished wood, it bears a small sign “No entry unless on official business – Red Mamba”. And there is a door handle shaped like a snake, made from red gold.

The House of Monkeys

If you walk through the right-hand door you will find yourself in a large chamber, filled with light from a large glass canopy that covers the space.

Along each side of the chamber are rows of strange objects that look like someone tried to draw a chair, a tree, a hammock and ladder all at the same time. In the middle of the chamber is a long table with a line of coconuts along the length of it and a large wooden box at one end.

The wooden box is richly polished, with an ornate carving of bananas on the lid. At the moment the lid is ajar revealing a plain wooden interior which smells faintly of ginger and bananas.

At the far end of the table is an imposing seat. It stands at least 4 metres tall and over a metre wide with a bright yellow, very comfortable looking, cushion covering the broad seat. The seat has a light green linen canopy which filters the light from the glass roof, so if you sit in the seat it is like being bathed in the forest itself.

The House of Bears

If you walk through the left-hand door you find yourself in a high ceilinged room whose walls are a faint blue grey in colour. For some reason everyone who sees the walls for the first time seems to catch a faint smell of the sea.

Hung about the walls are a number of long thin banners which descend from the high ceiling almost to the floor. These banners are rich, deep greens, browns and blues with subtle patterns.

At the far end a very dark blue, nearly black banner hangs down, decorated with the stars of the night sky and with a full moon right in the centre.

A long table, similar to that in the other chamber, runs down the centre of the room. There appear to be teeth marks in one corner of the table which someone has tried to cover up.

The table is empty save for a large bowl of flowers and a forgotten pencil.

Along both sides of the table are long, low benches scattered with comfortable cushions.

At the far end, beneath the banner of the moon, is a smaller bench, slightly higher than the others and with a pillow at one end.

(Work in progress)

A Place

As I mentioned in an earlier posting I got back from a short break in Croatia a few days ago.

It was my first trip there and I had no idea what to expect. My vague ideas of the Adriatic coast were based entirely on readings of Eric Ambler and Wu Ming’s wonderful 54.

The place, Rovinj, turned out to be beautiful and fun. Imagine a place like Venice only on a human scale and without all those flooded streets πŸ™‚ Venice is a special place, we share a patron saint after all, but Rovinj felt like home. Or rather, like a place one would like to have as a home.

Some rough and random memories of the trip –

  • Driving through Slovenia while the England vs Slovenia World Cup game was on and listening to it on Italian radio where suddenly in the middle of the flow of Italian the commentator said ‘David “Calamity” James’ and the world seemed a smaller place.
  • Discovering Galerija Brek and a whole new use for old computer parts as well as Ogi and Dena (woof!)
  • Eating with friends outside a wonderful restaurant and watching in awed wonder as a huge fish was consumed with lots of spuds and laughter.
  • Wandering through the vegetable Market and buying tomatoes and soap while being reminded by the anti-fascist memorials of the terrible price people paid so that we could enjoy these simple pleasures.
  • The mad ice-cream cone which made the mundane, though delicious, into a stunning pop art confection.
  • Sitting in a terrace, laughing and telling stories.
  • The sound of roinking πŸ™‚
  • Pivo and delicious paprika flavoured crisps!
  • The nice apartment owners and their lovely restaurant with wonderful pizzas and fun customers.

But most of all, the simple pleasure of time with friends. We have created lives for ourselves that seem to fill up with meetings and meetings and presentations and meetings and paperwork and meetings. It is so easy to fall into the trap of assuming that that is how life is, how fortunate then to have beloved friends to remind us that life is very different indeed.

The Continental Operand

The city was hot, the savage sun bleaching colour and sanity from the world. I sat in my office, cooling my heels and my head, sipping a long iced drink in front of an asthmatic fan which wheezed mournfully as it struggled with the temperature.

The phone rang, it was a bad line and the person on the other end sounded like they were gargling marbles at the bottom of a coal mine but I heard enough to pick up the word “murder” and an address out in Twotown. I gave the fan the last rites, finished my drink and headed out into the bitter heat. That was my first mistake.

Twotown was endless rows of identikit suburbia. Two’s prided themselves on their diligence and their commitment, aesthetics to them were what a doctor used to knock you out. I stood out like a sore thumb in their placid, orderly world. And I would not have changed that for anything.

I arrived at the address. It was a standard suburban house with a lawn front and back and a large garage taking up the lefthand third of the ground floor. What was not standard was the figure nailed to the garage door.

I parked and walked over to the small group who were gathered around the door and the body. A couple of photographers were capturing the scene so that sometime later jurors could lose their lunches as they saw what the human mind is capable of. O’Carroll from my team directed a group of uniforms as they kept sightseers away and searched the scene.

The body was that of a middle-aged man, dressed in a grey flannel suit, he was completely unremarkable save for the fact that he was nailed to the garage door, held up by large steel bars through his shoulders. He looked like a normal Two apart from that.

‘Not really the season for decorations,’ I said to O’Carroll.

‘Well he ain’t Santa, that’s for certain.’ O’Carroll waved one of the uniforms over and took a clipboard from him.

‘His name was Martin Dewson, he worked for the Corporation as an accountant and he lived right here. No criminal record, a wife and 2 children – all away visiting her parents for the last week, and no signs of a break-in or struggle. We are just waiting for the Coroner before taking him down.’

He held the clipboard out and I took it. I glanced through it and could see nothing in it beyond the life of a normal Two, definitely nothing to explain such an extravagant death.

Handing the clipboard back I looked around the scene, and paused.

‘Found something?’ O’Carroll asked.

‘Why is he wearing 1 black shoe and 1 brown shoe?’

O’Carroll smiled, ‘Yes, no self-respecting Two would ever do a thing like that. So is it a clue or a sign?’

‘It’s a headache.’

I stood back and looked up at the sky, there was not a cloud in sight so why then did I have such a strong feeling that a storm was coming?


On Delirium

I had a very nice few days in Croatia – great food, great company, great scenery. And then I sprained my foot.

Not waterskiing or climbing or demonstrating Drunken Master style but by falling off a very low step. Oh the ignominy.

My foot swelled to twice its normal size, turned black and became very VERY painful. Fortunately this was near the end of the trip so I pottered around and took Ibuprofen and then flew home.

As I travelled home I started to feel odder and odder – feverish, faint …

I got home and collapsed into bed as delirium took hold.

As we all know, when we are ill our energy levels drop so our brain moves slower and we feel dumber – the dimmer switch on our IQ is turned down.

Delirium is similar but while the consciousness is dialled down suddenly random parts of our mind suddenly fire vividly into life!

I found myself not drunk texting but delirious texting. I sent weird texts to a number of friends – some channelling my 16 year old self, some announcing great revelations about the nature of the universe and at least one in Finnish – a language I do not speak. I can only apologise to the recipients and hang my head in shame.

The interesting thing about this for me though is the connection between energy levels, consciousness and sanity. I agree with Sartre, consciousness is always consciousness of something. It is like the old art of plate spinning – we can keep so many plates spinning but there comes a point when  it all comes crashing down.

I wonder what that means for our time poor, attention demanding lifestyle?

Whither Weather?

People might find these links to travel and weather information useful in the current #uksnow adventure:

UKOnline’s Travel Information Page

BBC Travel (London)

BBC Local weather (London)

National Rail Enquiries (when it is up!)

Met Office

Live Departures – Charing Cross

Live Departures – Victoria

Live Departures – Waterloo

Live Departures –Cannon Street

Live Departures –Liverpool Street

Live Departures – Kings Cross

Live Departures – Euston

Live Departures –  Paddington

BBC Travel Alert Twitter page

Ben Marsh’s #uksnow page

These sites tend to get a lot of traffic so if you cannot connect you may want to check the status of the site.

The Most Difficult Post Revisited

My thanks to everyone who commented on my post about depression. I am very touched by the expressions of support and understanding. I am thinking though the interesting and deep points people made and I will be doing a followup post soon.

Many thanks to you all, seriously πŸ™‚